Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Cars, shoes and other distractions

1 comment

In England in 1995 I espied a pair of casual shoes that appealed to me in a London shoe shop window. I found a perfect fit, but was disappointed in the price which seemed unreasonably high. The shop assistant informed me they were made in France as though the trip across the channel, which is so insignificant that hundreds of people have actually swum it, somehow allowed for the high price tag. My wife however remarked that no one ever regretted buying quality, so I flashed my credit card and somewhat reluctantly made the purchase.

Incidentally the ‘no one ever regretted buying quality’ catch phrase reminded me of a slogan I used to use when advertising my meat wares in the distant past. My by-line was “The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.” The word “long”, for obvious reasons, was expressed either in capitals or italics.

I wore my new shoes intermittently for the first ten years, but over the last nine years I have worn them virtually every day. Try as I might I can’t seem to wear them out. I don’t know if they were in fashion in 1995 or are in fashion 19 years later. It’s entirely possible they went in and out of fashion at different times over this rather lengthy period. All I know is they are hardly showing any signs of wear and tear and are just as comfortable today as they were when I bought them in the closing stages of the last century.

Another surprising feature is that they still have the same laces which play a prominent part in the whole appearance of the shoe. It’s just as well; I’m not sure that I would be able to buy laces of a similar colour, length and strength down here in the antipodes.

The name of the manufacturer is still clearly shown on a sturdily attached label: Mephisto. I looked up their website and learnt that the company was established in France in 1965 which means they had 30 years of practice before they made my shoes. I scrolled down to their 2014 line of casual footwear and found nothing in the range that looked anything like my 1995 model. It could be that the company would welcome mine back to display in their archives.

So I’ve never regretted buying quality, but over the years I confess I have regularly been persuaded to unnecessarily upgrade one particular item for the newer model. I have unwittingly become a follower of fashion and on reflection this will have been a costly exercise.

For instance in the mid-1960s I bought a second-hand Wolseley Four 44. This black car was a classic in its day and was regularly seen on our grainy black and white TV screens in UK crime dramas as the police car of choice for the British constabulary. The Four-44 had a big brother, the Wolseley Six-80, which was probably the chief inspectors car.

Despite being second-hand the Four-44 had still maintained the glorious smell of the luxurious leather upholstery and the walnut burr dashboard and door trim make todays plastic versions look positively tacky.

Its only fault was that it was a tad underpowered, but I saw a Four-44 that had been lovingly maintained recently and nostalgia and more than a touch of sheer envy swept over me. I tried not to think of the tens of thousands of dollars I would have spent over the intervening year’s purchasing the latest models of whatever marque took my fancy.

The world’s car makers of course are past masters at continually adding so-called improvements to their new models which then allow the slick sales people to convince you that you desperately need to trade up or somehow live less fruitfully.

They will claim, perhaps with some justification, that some of this new gadgetry is potentially life-saving. ABS braking and front and side air bags spring to mind, but the gimmickry of a GPS navigation system where a lady of indeterminate age sits somewhere within your plasticised dashboard and demands you “make a U-turn if possible” after you’ve strayed down a lane which is not part of the circuitous route she has planned for you, is probably a distraction you could well do without.

If only I’d stuck with my Wolseley Four-44 as I have done with my Mephisto shoes the money I would have potentially saved might have meant my second car was a Rolls Royce Phantom.

Leather upholstery, walnut burr et al.

“The people recognise themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split level home, kitchen equipment.” - Herbert Marcuse

1 comment :

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