Friday, 10 April 2009


It was time for a holiday. Unfortunately I was still at work. Tired from a lingering virus, I started the countdown: two weeks till I get away, one week, five days, two days. And that's when the button flew off my favourite shoes.

I found the button and re-attached it as firmly as I could with needle and thread. That button needed to be in place. I'd planned a trip to Paris which didn't involve limping barefoot on the Metro. But I knew my sewing wouldn't hold. The next day I put on different, inferior shoes and headed to the Timpson's nearest my office.

Timpson's staff have been helpful in the past. They've done quick repairs when catastrophes occurred on my way to work. But they looked sadly at the button and told me it couldn't be done - that my emergency sewing was the best that could be achieved.

That's when I remembered the local cobbler. Every so often I come across a cobbler who is a real craftsman - who actually loves shoes. Years ago, when I lived and worked in London, there was an Italian who occupied a small basement workshop. He praised well-made shoes, scolded his customers gently for unnecessary damage and worked on repairs slowly and with love. There was a temporary disaster when he was rushed to hospital and for weeks the shoes he loved languished on shelves and workbenches while customers gazed anxiously at the notice on his door. He was probably the best cobbler in the whole of London - and one of the cheapest.

It was evident that my shoes needed the attention of a serious cobbler. Luckily I know where to find one. He occupies a small concrete building with corregated metal roof - probably a temporary wartime structure. There's a model of a cobbler in the window. He's the best cobbler I know - last year he came to my rescue by repairing a sword-bag. He hadn't seen a sword-bag before but, once I explained how I carried my swords, he realised what was needed and came up with a solution. I had to delay my departure for work to take in my shoes but it was worth it.

"Timpson's said it couldn't be done," I told him, hoping to interest him in the problem. I don't think it needed that incentive. The cobbler saw my shoes as a problem to be solved. "Wrong type of glue," he said, easing a knife into the point where the button was fastened. Evidently he could solve the problem. He looked for pieces of elastic to reconnect the button and explained how he could make it secure with two stitches which wouldn't show when the shoe was fastened. There were two or three options and he would work out which was the best.

Then there was the problem of collection. "You could pick them up tomorrow morning," he said. I explained that I was going to Paris then, and hoped to wear my shoes. "3.30 today?" he offered. I looked doubtful, remembering a work meeting. "I mightn't be able to do it," I explained. "I don't think I can get here before 4.30." He looked sympathetic. "I was planning to close early - but I'll wait till you get in."

In the end my meeting was brief and I reached the cobbler's shop just after 3.30. The shoes had been mended perfectly and were as comfortable as ever. It must have been a tricky job and I was prepared to pay accordingly. But the charge - for expertise, work and materials - was £5.49. I'll be back.


katie said...

I love the Beeston Cobbler. And Timpson's are rubbish. They told me my watch couldn't be repaired either, which was clearly a great big lie.

Kathz said...

Timpson's are very good at dodgy buckles and don't always charge. But they don't reach the high standards set by the Beeston Cobbler - and don't have the same love for their craft. I suspect they are constrained by rules, the price list and a very small range of tools and machinery.

Elizabeth McClung said...

One of the things I miss the most about the UK is the cobblers, as they really can do wonders not just on a tricky leather job but on resole the shoe or boot. There was a boot we had done in the UK for 7 pounds, but we took it to a guy who had 'imported' the equipment from the UK and the same job would be about 65 pounds - I think having the equipment from previous generations is a huge advantage as well as the skills passed on.