Sunday, 30 October 2016


It struck me, as I bent to do up my shoelaces for the fifteenth time yesterday, that it is rather odd, in the 21st century, that we continue to insist on strapping our shoes onto our feet with lengths of string. Of course, the problem I have at the moment is that the string my new laces are made of is quite unsuitable - not fit for purpose, as they say these days in nauseating circles. It is slippery where it should be incapable of sliding even the tiniest bit.

These are new laces. The old ones snapped, and then I tried to make do with their short remains, and then they snapped too, and so I had to buy new ones. Unfortunately, I assumed that lengths of string sold as shoe laces would not be made of material that undoes itself every few steps.

Not that I am advocating the other extreme, as embodied by the suede laces with which one rather beautiful pair of shoes in my cupboard arrived. Those laces are so non-slip that they will barely budge enough to let me slip my foot into the shoes to which they have been attached. Once I have at last coaxed them to loosen themselves to the bare minimum possible to allow ingress of my toes - plus the feet that come with them - these laces are equally difficult to tighten enough to give said toes and feet a sense of being safely encased.

The funny thing is that we don't actually need laces at all anymore. We could be using velcro or that amazing technology that is all the go on the ski slopes, where boots are moulded exactly to your foot. What sentimental attachment is it that keeps us sticking with string fastenings? Is it just that, having mastered the task as small children of tying our own shoelaces, we can't bear letting all that infant effort go to waste?

Or is it the fact that laces provide such a useful sociological tool when visiting unfamiliar places?  There are certainly people I know of - well actually one person - who use a shoelace related measure when travelling - vis. an undone shoelace - to work out what kind of a society they find themselves in.

The idea is to see what distance you can walk down a street in any locality before it is pointed out to you that you ought to do up your shoelace. Research to date suggests that it is in Vienna that the shortest distance can be covered before some concerned - or bossy, depending on your perspective - passerby draws your attention to the inadequate performance of one or other of your laces, which they report severely is slithering about at ground level, neglecting its central duty, which is to tie your footwear firmly to your feet.


  1. Years ago, we showed up to a baseball game for I suppose eleven-year-olds. One of the kids on our team went up to the plate, and a woman with a child on the other team said, "Batter, tie your shoe." I looked at her, and said, "OK, Mom." She laughed, and agreed that it was a mother's reflex.

    Thoreau's journals made a great difference in my life some years ago, for somewhere he records discussing shoelaces with a friend, concluding that they had been starting the knot wrong, and finding excellent results when they changed the first move. I tried that, and after fifty years of doing my own shoelaces, no longer had to double knot them or face retying them every half mile.

    My chief complaint about shoelaces is that shoe stores usually lace them in an odd fashion that may look good but that I find inconvenient.

    1. Shoe shops usually lace them across in neat lines and then one somehow does a huge diagonal from the bottom to the top - is that the kind of lacing you mean? If so, I agree. It is terribly difficult to loosen or tighten and I cannot see what is wrong with crossing both sides. What is this knotting manoeuvre that works so well? We need to be told.

    2. The knotting maneuver that works well is to reverse the first move that doesn't work: if you start crossing left over right, cross right over left.

      That is the short version. The longer version follows. (I remember that my father said that it is a test of exposition to explain how to tie a knot without gesturing. I may be about to flunk that test.)

      One aims to make what sailors would call a reefed square knot. Consider one side as a passive bight (sideways U). The other side should cross over and under the bottom arm, then over and under the top arm and back out. If one instead reverses the second side (under then over for one of the top or bottom arms), then a "granny knot" results, which easily slips.

    3. I may have to print that out for use away from a screen.