One of my enduring memories of childhood holidays was the Sunday Times newspaper front page. My grandfather used to buy this religiously every week, and for the three weeks that we stayed there, there would always be one lying around the house. On the top right, just next to the word TIMES, would be an advert for Andy’s Big and Tall, a clothing shop in Woodstock for large men. Every week, year after year, that advert would always be there.
But time passed, and I grew up. I survived the phase when my shoe size was the same as my age, and ended up with with a size 14 foot (UK). The result was that I always had difficulty finding shoes. My standing joke was to ask a salesperson “So, which of these comes in a 13 or 14?” and observe the shocked reactions. You’d think that in a nation of large, bullish, 2m-tall rugby players, there’d be a big enough population of flipperish feet to sustain a decent market for providing boat-shaped shoes. But it’s not the case. Even when I finally made it to Andy’s many years after those childhood adverts, there was a putrid selection of shoes – about 13 of the black leather suit variety, and three overpriced Nike takkies. Most disappointing. (On a side note, I see that Andy’s have renamed themselves to Andy’s Man Shop – perhaps the population of the large is shrinking?)
Things looked up in Ireland, where Heather’s Shoe Shop on the Quay in Dublin gave me a regular supply. They even managed to be the first to offer a shoe that didn’t have my size on the wrong end: one variety was only on sale for sizes 15 to 17. But that was 10 years ago. And shoes don’t last forever. So by the time we moved to England, I had four pairs: work, takkie, hiking boot, strop. That’s all a man needs, after all?
But then I discovered England’s version of Big & Tall, named much more invitingly as High & Mighty. A quick search for size 14s yields 282 results. I have never dreamt of having that many options available. In fact, I’ve probably never owned that many items of clothing, never mind shoes. The wonders of having a large middle-class population and a decent postage system never cease to amaze me.
The outcome of this is that by the time I head back south, I’ll probably have stocked up on enough shoes to last me the rest of my life. However, my actuarial dress sense will no doubt dictate that all of them will be identical.