Sunday, March 30, 2008

Grumpy Old Paxman - M&S and Me

It may not have escaped the notice of my few regular readers that not only am I becoming even more of a grumpy bastard recently, my political thoughts appear to be making steady progress from fairly left-of-centre towards the point where Norman Tebbit starts to appear over the horizon.

Not a thrilling thought!

Equally disconcertingly, I now find myself in agreement with professional controversist Jeremy Paxman on a subject so gratingly middle-class even Hyacinth Bucket would be ashamed. Namely the declining quality of Marks and Spencer's products.

Paxman had M&S underpants in his sights. The subject of my ire is a relatively new pair of plain black shoes purchased for work purposes.

When buying shoes for work, I'm generally looking for something smart, unobtrusive, and sensible. Gucci loafers are not in my thoughts.

Only once can I recall owning a pair of work shoes I had any real enthusiasm for, and that was an accidental purchase. A pair of Rockports bought on a US holiday at the same price in dollars I'd have paid in pounds back home in rip-off Britain.

On my return they became my work shoes by default.

Having size 10 feet, the lightness of their sole was a thing of beauty to me, and I mourned their demise, but I was fucked if I was going to pay the going rate in the UK for a replacement pair.

As winter descended upon us, I decided my current work shoes were showing their age and another re-heeling didn't seem justified. Given that I'm trying to prioritise time over money at present, the quick and easy solution seemed to be a visit to the M&S store.

Sure enough, they had exactly what I was looking for. Albeit slightly overpriced, I felt, at £50.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that fifty quid doesn't even entitle one to a cardboard box these days, as the shoes were plonked straight into a plastic carrier bag.

At first they performed exactly as expected. Until, that is, the rains came...

I should point out that my daily work commute consists primarily of car and train, with roughly a ten minute walk between office and train station. Therefore in total the exposure to the elements consists of less than half-an-hour each day.

With that in mind, the rapid deterioration of my not-so-cheap shoes pissed me off more than a little.

Within weeks they'd begun to stain white, necessitating frequent resprays with waterproofer, and a nightly polish.

Within a couple of months, I was starting to get a damp feeling in my socks by the end of the journey home.

After three months, as I was already contemplating a replacement purchase, the sole gave out and invisible leaks were replaced by a hole the size of a 5p piece.

I won't be back in M&S for a while.

It seems to me that the ceaseless drive to keep down prices in the face of competition is driving more and more companies into cutting corners to the point where quality is abandoned in pursuit of another 2% saving.

Not just on the high streeet. My work encounters with Indian IT outsourcers could fill a volume or two with tales of anguish, but that's for another day.

My shoe woes have been soothed by a most unlikely source. Amazon are now selling shoes - more specifically a huge range of Rockports at generous discounts - and my sub-standard M&S pair have now been replaced by these Rockport Conors for a mere £4 more.

The sole isn't quite as light as the earlier ones, but it has some sort of patented spring mechanism, which makes the walk to work feel like a rather pleasant trampoline exercise.

More importantly, they don't fucking leak! Take note Stuart Rose and M&S...

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