Opinion

Jake O'Kane: At my advanced years, I simply don't have time to waste fighting my Dr Martens footwear

Dr Martens shoes are as dangerous as loaded guns until made safe by being beaten into submission. At my advanced years, I simply don't have time to waste fighting my footwear

Jake O'Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake is a comic, columnist and contrarian.

Jake prefers to dress down when he breaks-in his latest pair of Dr Martens
Jake prefers to dress down when he breaks-in his latest pair of Dr Martens

I was 10 when I got my first pair of Dr Martens boots; it was 1971 and the Bay City Rollers were in the charts with Keep On Dancing. Belfast looked like a suburb of Glasgow with everyone wearing tartan scarfs and parallel trousers halfway up their legs.

Ten-eyelet oxblood DM's filled the gap between the bottom of our parallel trousers and our feet. I've often though it must have been surreal for the patrolling Scottish regiments to be battered by rioters dressed from head to toe in tartan.

My choice of colour in parallels was fluorescent red, which I thought looked great when combined with my oxblood DMs. When asked, my mother flatly refused to shorten my parallels up to my knee, then the fashion, so I precociously asked an older girl called Mary Campbell down our alleyway, who kindly agreed to alter them to my desired length.

This was my one and only dalliance with keeping up with fashion. After this, I reverted to type, wearing tweed jackets, slacks and sensible jumpers, while all around my friends splintered into the various subcultures of skinheads, mods and punks.

My only constant purchase over the decades has been DM shoes. When I worked as a barman and was on my feet for up to 10 hours a day, their trademark 'AirWair' soles really made a difference. But with DMs there was always a trade-off, namely comfort.

I'm a size 10-and-a-half in shoes, sadly not recognised by many shoe companies including Dr Martens, who steadfastly refuse to make half sizes.

The company advises customers to buy the smaller fitting and wear thick socks, not something I can do as I'm closer to size 11 than 10.

On top of the sizing issue, DM shoes are legendary for needing 'broken in'. This can involve anything from getting the shoes stretched to beating their razor-sharp backs with a hammer to make them wearable.

Not having bought a pair for a few years, I had forgotten about this ritual and went for a walk wearing new DMs. Within half a mile the backs of my new shoes began cutting into my heels, I hobbled back to the car, then home to put plasters on my bleeding feet.

I can't think of anything else I buy which needs alteration or modification before wearing. For instance, I wouldn't consider buying clothes if I was told they needed to be soaked then tumble dried a couple of times before they would fit.

Yet, since 1945, DM customers have accepted their new shoes are as dangerous as loaded guns until made safe by being beaten into submission. There's even a 'WikiHow' page listing the various methods to tame the shoes. It explains that while Dr Martens are "comfortable and sturdy", they're also "cast-iron to break in, resulting in blisters, bruises, and lots of pain".

I'm now doomed to a few months of discomfort before my shoes either soften or the skin on my feet harden to endure the inflexibility of the stiff, full-grain leather used in their construction.

I wonder if it is beyond the imagination of the manufacturers to produce footwear in half sizes, and made of leather more malleable than steel? For me, this will be my last pair of DMs; at my advanced years, I simply don't have time to waste fighting my footwear.

Already the owner of aged feet, it would be the definition of insanity or sadomasochism to deliberately buy shoes which may add to my collection of corns and callouses.

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STAYING on feet, my 14-year-old son had an ingrown toenail partially removed last week. This had nothing to do with ill-fitting footwear and everything to do with genetics, as I had a similar problem in my twenties.

The difference between myself and my son is that he went through the very unpleasant procedure without complaint, needing no pain relief afterwards.

I, on the other hand, had syringes of anaesthetic and still needed held down on the operating table. While I took to bed for a week, he went to school the next day.

Naturally, I refuse to accept this in anyway indicates weakness on my part.

Indeed, I've pointed out to my son it's been scientifically proven his ability to endure pain better than me is solely due to the fact he's half-Protestant, and everyone knows us Papish are much more sensitive to pain.

This, of course, isn't true, but I'd prefer he eventually discover his father is a liar rather than a wimp.