Putting my foot in it with some funny looking shoes writes Steve Canavan

I met an interesting man in the work kitchen the other day.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 6:00 am
FiveFingers shoes... a pair of gloves for your feet  				           
Picture Shutterstock
FiveFingers shoes... a pair of gloves for your feet Picture Shutterstock

This doesn’t happen often, for I work at a university and most folk I meet in the kitchen wear brown blazers with leather elbow patches, don’t like to make eye contact or give off even the merest hint of friendliness, and always, for their lunch, bring in a Tupperware box containing two small sandwiches – usually cheese on white bread. They’re the kind of people who empty those little trays that catch crumbs under a toaster every night before they go to bed, never forget to put their bins out, and have a timer on their lights so that they come on when they’re out of the house to fool burglars (‘Geoff, there’s a light on in the lounge, they must be in’. “But Baz, their car hasn’t been in the driveway for 10 days, their blinds are at that slightly quirky angle – not fully shut but three-quarters closed to give the impression they could be shut - and there’s a note to the milkman on the doorstep saying they’ve gone to Llandudno and won’t be back till a week on Tuesday”. ‘I don’t care Derek, there’s a light on – we’re not going in. Let’s rob number 10 instead.)

In short, most of my work colleagues are not too exciting.

Imagine my delight then when a youngish man I’d never seen before, with a neat goatee beard in fashion circa 1985 and sporting a pair of small round glasses the type of which Gandhi would have been proud of, entered the kitchen wearing on his feet what appeared to be goalkeeping gloves.

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They were made of a kind of netted material, were a garish green and white, and instead of a rounded shape at the end – like most conventional shoes - there were instead five toe-like bits, presumably where his toes went (pretty clever of me to work that out).

I noticed them immediately – it was hard not to – because as he entered the room I was bending down to fill my water bottle from the little fancy filter machine we have. His feet were therefore the first thing I saw and I couldn’t help but utter – like a Tourette’s sufferer without the foul language – ‘ooo, that’s interesting footwear’.

I could tell straight away I’d made a mistake because he was clearly delighted I’d made reference to them.

‘These?’ he said nonchalantly, looking down as if he himself were viewing them for the first time.

“Erm, yes,” I replied, slightly puzzled as there was no one else in the vicinity so I’d quite clearly been talking to him.

He nodded his head and smiled, as if to say ‘yeah I get asked about these shoes A LOT’, and then – very earnestly, like he were discussing the cellular make-up of the human heart – began to tell me in great detail why he wore these shoes.

To cut a long story short, he had been doing a study into the body when he came to the conclusion that a shoe and a foot are not compatible.

‘I mean look at it,’ he said gesticulating in the direction of my trainer and shaking his head like he was looking at the victim of a fatal car accident, ‘does that look like a foot?’

I looked at my trainer, which, to me, actually did look quite a bit like a foot – on the account of it being the same shape and all - apart from the lack of five toes, obviously.

But I thought it best not to disagree, so I replied, “erm, no I suppose it doesn’t”.

‘So why are you wearing them?’ he barked, with such force I genuinely thought he had snapped and was about to physically attack me with a large hammer. ‘Hmm, hmm,’ he added, impatiently, as if daring me to come up with an answer.

“I’m not sure,” I dithered in slightly nervous manner.

‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘I don’t understand why more of us aren’t wearing shoes like these.’

I looked down again at his footwear. He was basically wearing a pair of gloves on his feet and I had to suppress a strong urge to tell him the reason more of us aren’t wearing them is because they look – and I’m being kind here - ridiculous.

He talked about his shoes for around 10 more minutes, which was frustrating as I’d just heated up some leftover spag bol in the microwave and was desperate to eat it before it went cold (I couldn’t reheat it again because according to my mum if you reheat meat more than once after cooking it leads to instant death).

However, the conversation did make me think – I mean I’d never before considered my shoes and questioned their design. Every shoe or trainer I’ve ever worn has pretty much looked the same.

My uni colleague told me the main reason he wore them was for the health benefits, less stress on the toe joint and overall less wear and tear on the foot.

On returning to my office I naturally googled them – just to check he hadn’t been winding me up and filming me for some sort of hidden camera show – and it’s true, these weird looking shoes are known as FiveFingers and are produced by a company called Vibram.

Its website reads, ‘these lightweight alternatives to average footwear allow your feet to engage the strength of natural foot motion, yet remain stable with the construction grip-driven soles that only Vibram can offer’. The pair I looked at – the excitingly named V-Trail 2.0 Men’s - cost 120 dollars.

I then read a little more and, with the words of my colleague still fresh in my mind – ‘I wear them for the health benefits’ – discovered Vibram had, in 2012, been sued for claims that their shoes ‘reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles’.

While the company ‘expressly denied any wrongdoing’ and didn’t accept liability, they agreed to a $3.75m settlement and paid refunds of up to 50 dollars to anyone who had purchased the product since 2009.

I printed the article off, stuck it on my colleague’s door, and ran away. I look forward to our next kitchen meeting, though I must remember to eat my spaghetti bolognese before we start talking.