What are they on about

14th January 2000 at 00:00
Sole-searching David Newnham looks for an alternative explanation

I am going to talk about other things. Other than what? Other than nothing. Just other.

You're not comfortable with that, are you? You think I ought to say what the first lot of things are before I bring in a bunch of others.

Maybe you're right. But how come I always have to stick to these rules when other people get away with murder? People who sell children's shoes, for instance.

I have a clothes catalogue with a Kit-Teen page, "for fresh and funky females".

The Pan Dictionary of Contemporary Slang says "funky" refers to "the odour of the female genitals". But we'll skip that, with your permission, and move straight to soles.

The Kit-Teen page describes six types of shoe, and in each case the soles are made from "other materials". In fact, not one shoe in the catalogue has soles made from anything other than "other materials". Other than what, though? Lead piping? Reconstituted turkey protein? Pollen?

Sometimes, the list of ingredients actually kicks off with "other materials". It's like I've come in halfway through a conversation. "Oh, hi David. Julie and I have beenchatting about materials. Sorry we started without you, but you'll pick it up."

Listen. There's no way I'll pick it up. And if I can't pick it up, I'll have to make it up.

When I was a kid, people spoke with nauseating reverence about children's shoes.

The argument went: Our children are the future; children have feet; children who wear cheap shoes grow crooked feet; children with crooked feet fall over. Therefore, buy them decent shoes, or we're all doomed.

But around this time words like "synthetic" and "plastic" began to take over from "tinny" as synonyms for "cheap and nasty". This presented the marketing people with a problem. I can almost hear the discussion.

"What are these soles made of, Ken?" "Well basically, Richard, elastomers - rubberlike synthetic organic compounds of high molecular weight (polymers), made by chemical combination of the simpler compound 2-chloro-1,3-butadiene (chloroprene)."

There follows a silence so deep that those present will later swear blind they could actually hear the pattern on Ken's funky tie. Then Richard clears his throat. "Okay," he says. "So we just go with 'other materials', agreed?"

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