Monday, December 19, 2011

The black and white of wearing school shoes

IN the old days, school uniforms made of cotton had to be starched before they were ironed, and school shoes had to be polished with shoe whitener. Before the bottled shoe whitener came along, which was during the late 1970s, shoe whites were made of lime.

These lime cakes sold for 20 sen a piece, were round in shape and slightly less than the size of your palm.

To use it, just add a little water into the lime cake and wait for the whitener to turn soft and creamy. Then, using a piece of clean damp cloth, a brush or a foam pad, you pick up a little bit of the creamy lime and brush it onto the shoes that had just been washed, before putting them out to dry.

There were two drawbacks of using this lime-based shoe white. One of them was that if the shoes were not dried well, they will turn yellow and smell like rotten fish. If your shoes got wet, the lime polish would turn grimy and smelly, as well.

The biggest drawback of using this shoe polish was that the lime ate into the canvas fibres. Instead of the soles running out first, the canvas tore, and usually happened where the canvas joined the rubber.

Gaping shoes were a common sight, especially among those who could not afford new shoes before the school term ended.

There were no fancy branded shoes for school-going children until much later.

The only brand I remember was the green-soled Badminton Master produced by Bata.

Our national badminton players made the Badminton Master famous in the 1970s, I think.

I have forgotten how much they cost but I recall that only my schoolmates who lived in brick houses were able to afford them at the start of each school year.

The rest of us had to settle for the green-soled look-alikes of little known brands like "555" or "Flying Man".

Unlike the real Badminton Master, look-alikes seldom lasted as long. If the soles did not give way, the canvas would tear. The soles also had little traction so you had to be extra careful when stepping into the toilet.

Teachers and discipline masters those days were less forgiving when it came to looking neat. If your shoe laces were untied or the shoes soiled or your pair looked like they have been chewed by a dog, you would be sent to the headmaster's office to explain.

Sometimes, you would also be asked to sign a tiny black book of "offences" that bore greatly on your year-end report card.

If you were lucky, your parents would not be called up to explain why you did not have clean shoes.

These days, teachers are not so strict with school shoes as long as they are white. And in some schools, a teacher told me, the students' shoes were more expensive than their teachers.

Instead of being a part of the dress code, the school shoes of these well-heeled students have become fashion statement instead.

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