My piece from today's Guardian
As I walked down Oxford Street a couple of weeks ago, my eyes slid to the left and I noticed a window full of sensible shoes, and they were quite nice in a modest sort of way. But in despair I saw the sign above the entrance: Clarks, the home of regulation school sandals, the shop where I was taken by my mother to have my feet measured and x-rayed with an exciting machine that could see through to the bones.
Yet peering further, I noticed that the shop was crammed with fashionable young people trying on footwear with low heels and rounded toes. Venturing inside, this startling vision was confirmed. All around were rows and rows of shoes that looked comfortable. My feet sighed with pleasure at the sight of them. They had nice straps to hold them on and the soles were airy cushions of padded leather. There was not a single pair of what the magazines call "fierce heels", shoes inspired by Chinese footbinding, designed to cruelly entrap the toes in sharp points and elevate the heels to such heights that walking becomes a hobble. There were no bondage shoes at all. Nor were there many ballet flats, those flimsy little numbers with papery soles, sending shock waves up your spine every time your foot hits the pavement, making your calves scream.
The shoes in Clarks had low, stumpy heels. They were visitors from a strange world. But were they in fashion again now? Not a single magazine article had proclaimed the death of the uncomfortable shoe. At London fashion week, models continued to wobble along the catwalk in vertiginous platforms and there had been no reports in the financial pages of the decline of Manolo Blahnik (who refuses even to make wedges) or Christian Louboutin. Yet the shop seemed to be minting money. I sat down next to an exquisite Italian woman in the kind of skinny jeans that are artfully folded around the ankle, requiring the centuries of visual acuity only granted to a country of people who can wear beige without looking like a geography teacher. She carried a Prada bag, and dozens of shoes lay all around her as she kept trying on more and more pairs. Every time she cast one off, I moved them towards me.