Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Care and maintenance

My poor old walking boots have taken a bit of a hammering over the last few weeks. They are the only footwear that keep my feet warm enough in this weather, so they have been worn a lot. Salt, snow and grit aren't a great combination for the leather, however, so they were looking rather sad this evening.

R was very conscientious about looking after shoes and boots. Cleaning was usually a job for Sunday evening before he went off for the week. He had a vast array of cloths and brushes and pots of polish, and each had to be used in the correct order. I loved to see the shoes all neatly lined up on a sheet of newspaper, laces removed, waiting for their final buffing and shine.

On the morning of his funeral I totally fixated on the need to polish my boots. I spent about an hour sitting on the step with the little pot of parade ground gloss he always used to give shoes that extra-special shine. It was always the polish of choice for weddings, funerals and interviews, so how could I do anything else? People moved around me, chatting and getting ready, as I sat with my brush and duster. My SIL said a few months afterwards that she thought I was going to rub a hole in the leather. Mechanically brushing, buffing and polishing - over and over - proved to be an effective substitute for thinking that morning.

Walking boots required a different approach.
That was always done in front of the woodburner as the warmth from the fire helped the wax to sink in. As he rubbed the wax in with his fingers, he would explain why it was important, particularly in damp, muddy Wales. Wet boots would be brushed clean of mud, stuffed with newspaper and allowed to dry naturally. Then they received the Nikwax treatment.

R practically lived in his walking boots when he was at home, so they needed a lot of maintenance. After he died I couldn't bear to see his boots on the rack in the porch. Other shoes didn't bother me so much, but seeing his boots there was torture. So one morning, fairly early on, I took them to town with me and dropped them in the Salvation Army clothes collection bin as I couldn't stand to have them in the house any longer. None of his other clothes or shoes had that effect on me - just those boots.

So I know that he would be cross to know that I hadn't Nikwaxed my walking boots since he died. They have been neglected for nearly 2 and a half years. Definitely worthy of a disappointed look. When I got back from walking Moose this evening I finally noticed how sad they were looking. It was time.

I always feel very virtuous when carrying out this type of maintenance job. It is daft really. All it involves is rubbing in some wax, but it makes me feel like the latest in a long line of thrifty housewives, darning socks and applying their stitches in time. The scent of the wax is very strong and heady, and quickly fills the room. Not exactly pleasant, but again homely and upright. My fingers move in greasy circles, paying particular attention to the seams - just as it says on the tin. The parched leather drinks in the wax, deepening in colour as it does so.

It doesn't take long, certainly not long enough to justify avoiding the task for all this time. My comfy old boots now sit ready for use once more. Sure they are a little battered and worn - just like me - but they polish up OK and seem to still have a few miles left in them yet!


  1. And I'll just bet R is smiling down. Job well done J.

  2. It's matt's boots I can't give away. He.was.just.in.them. That, and his knee pads for working on floors. As a friend said soon after, it's funny what things become precious.

    I love the smell of that wax. I have non-leather barn boots now, and (sigh) no woodstove, but I can feel it. A waxed pair of boots is a wonderful thing.

  3. This was a beautiful post. I could almost see R whilst reading it.

    I hope you have a peaceful Christmas J