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Have you tried to
buy a pair of training shoes recently? I have and I don’t want to sound like
I’m a million-years old, but when I was at school, it really was terribly
simple - for indoor work, you had the simple black pump and for outdoor
activity, the Green Flash tennis shoe.

I’m aware, of course, that fashion has
goose-stepped its way into the world of leisure footwear in recent years and
that certain brands are now very uncool. This, however, was not the problem.
Whether I’m identified with the bassist from Travis or one of the Sugarbabes
does not interest me overmuch.

No, I had flown to New Zealand and realised
that the penny loafers that I’d packed might be a trifle unsuitable for
scrabbling up a chunk of giantised magma, so I hurried into a sports shop
hoping that I might buy a pair of comfy size tens.

But it wasn’t that simple. What did I want
them for, asked the man in the shop. “Well, my feet really,” I replied. No, no,
no. What was I going to do in them? “Well, sort of walk about”.

This wasn’t good enough. He needed to know
what sort of walking and on what sort of terrain. So I explained that I’ll be
starting off on a road, then I’ll be walking up a well trodden path which will
become progressively more rocky and Janet Street-Porterish.

This elicited a sucking in of air through
the teeth. “Hmm,” he said. “Road, track and rock. Now that’s a tricky
combination”. By this stage in my shopping trip, my car had a ticket, and the
New Zealand parliament was sitting to decide whether or not they should
introduce some kind of tow-away scheme for persistent offenders.

I couldn’t believe it. And I especially
couldn’t believe the shoes he produced. Finished in suede and leather and
equipped with a price tag that appeared to have fallen off the space station,
they had soles of such enormity that even a Ukrainian prostitute would have blanched.

“I can’t drive in those things,” I said
incredulously. “No,” he replied laughing. They’re not for driving. You need
another pair for that… and another for getting out of the car and another for
getting to the side of the road and another for the light track and then, I
could change into the leather and suede breeze blocks which would make me about
27-feet tall.

And what’s more, none of these shoes could
be used should I abandon the policy of a life time and do sport of some kind.

You don’t just buy a shoe for running any
more. You have to be specific. So you must say whether you want to do short,
fast stints, or a long slow plod. Nike, for example, bills its Air Structure
Triax as a shoe for the runner who needs motion control and cushioning without
any sass.

What does that mean exactly?

There are now magazines devoted to the
myriad of choice and in ‘road tests’ the ‘journalists’ talk about high rebound
compound, rubberised GTO cushioning pads, thermoplastic devices in the midfoot,
composite wave plates and my favourite, the DuoSole forefoot with blown rubber.

Did you know that training shoes are now so
technologically advanced that there are industry recalls. I mean it. In July
2001, Nike recalled 425,000 pairs of Jordan Trunners because a piece of metal
could protrude from the heel, causing injury.

It’s all jolly interesting, chiefly because
it’s all rubbish. You simply don’t need this amount of technology, or this
amount of choice, in a bloody shoe.

And I suspect it’s much the same story in
the world of cars. Honda develops variable valve timing - the automotive
equivalent of composite wave plates probably - and the damn thing is bought by
a little old lady who never exceeds six miles an hour and doesn’t know what the
radio is for.

Then there’s the
question of choice. In the beginning, you had three cars to choose from: the
saloon, the estate and the off-roader for farmers. Then along came the MPV.
Then the Mini MPV. And then the Mini MPV with four-wheel drive. And strangely,
in the case of the Honda HR-V, the four-wheel drive with two-wheel drive.Whoa there, boy. This is all too complicated. And that was before we
got to the Renault Avantime, which is an MPV coupe. Or to put it another way,
 impossible.

“Did you know that training shoes are now so technologically advanced that there are industry recalls”

It got to the point where the simple saloon
was looking awfully forlorn. Small children would climb inside and enquire:
“Where are the wings, daddy, and how do we turn it into a submarine?”

The fact is, however, that the saloon, for
all its alderman Fifties austerity, is actually a pretty good compromise. You
get seating for five, a boot in which things can be locked and an engine in the
front. You get, as a by- product of this, refinement because the noisy rear end
is outside and you get, if the stylist knows his onions from his swede, good
looks too. I like a nice saloon car.

And that’s why I was delighted to see the
Ford 427 at the recent Detroit Motorshow. Most people, of course, were drawn
away by the air sole blown rubber Aston Martin V8 but I liked the simple Ford.

Finished in black to make it look sinister -
“We want people to feel like they’re doing something wrong even when they’re
not,” say the designers - it has a seven-litre V10 engine. So actually, chances
are you will be doing something wrong anyway.

The main reason why this car was there,
though, was to remind people that Ford still does saloons. Because with all the
Sports Utility Vehicles and Mini Sports Utility Vehicles and Sports Utility
Vehicle Multi Purpose Vehicles, it’s easy to overlook the Terry and June-mobile
in the far corner. Overlook it at your peril, though, because let’s not forget,
shall we, that Ford’s best car is the Mondeo.

Furthermore, the car everyone buys when they
make it is not a Ferrari or a Lambo. It’s an S-Class Mercedes-Benz saloon and
the best new car I drove
last year was the Mazda6. Which is a Green Flash tennis
shoe with windscreen wipers.

The saloon car
is like the saloon bar. You may be drawn to the fancy new bistro with its crisp
white wines and its exotic nuts. But for a pie and a pint…

This article was first published in March 2003.

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