ELLE Talent Contest 2013

Read 2010’s winning story


The ELLE talent competition 2013 is now open. This year’s writing subject and all the details on how to enter can be found in the September issue of ELLE, out now.
Back in 2010 we asked the question: ‘Do you really need another pair of shoes?’ Harriet Hawksworth wrote the winning answer, read it below.

My Dad is sitting on the edge of the sofa. He’s in full evening attire: a black linen suit, a crisp white dress shirt, puce socks and velvet slippers embroidered with golden fox heads. On the floor lie yesterday’s papers and on yesterday’s papers lie his polishing paraphernalia.

A fat, square brush shouts ‘Off’ in thick marker, a thinner one meekly proclaims ‘On’ and its oily black bristles concur. Around the brushes are rags in varying conditions and there’s a smell of feet and a spike of petrol-y polish. Dad’s deep in concentration, he’s biting his lip and one hand’s shoved in an oxblood boot whilst the other brushes it’s toe with vigour, stopping now and again to apply a thick slick of deep red lacquer.


I’m watching him from the doorway, small for my nine years, spindly and excitable. I creep over. ‘Dad, what do you think of men who wear grey shoes with Velcro straps?’ His brow creases and a look of incredulous confusion ensues. No matter how many times I ask this question his reaction’s always the same. It’s as though he’s witnessing the offending vision and refusing to absorb its vulgarity. ‘Well… it’s… just not… right.’ It’s the answer I want. I love my Dad’s predictability.

His innate, whole and uncompromising pleasure gained from the vast shoe collection, housed in three bespoke cupboards upstairs, is as much part of him as the few strands of hair he has left.

There are the ski boots from 1900, heavy and square toed with odd protruding heels where the skis once sat. Mum objects to those. There are the riding boots, Chelsea boots, square-toe boots in suede, leather and patent, brogues and loafers of every description from Loake, Trickers and John Lobb. Soft caramel, blood red, tawny brown and always, always sparkling black.

Each pair has a story: ‘The lady in the charity shop refused to believe they’d fit, said she’d had a man in tears because his feet were too fat. I slipped them on and snapped ‘em up.’ Or: ‘Remember when we missed the plane because Dad was driving around Madrid trying to find cow-hide espadrilles?’

His shoe fixation could be traced to his own father, an army officer, who left one day when he was three and never came back. Mum likes to muse that it’s one of the things he remembers about his own dad: polishing his boots. Not that Dad would ever say that- in fact he’s never mentioned his father. When a letter arrived from a lady claiming to be his sister, he silently threw it in the bin.

I think he just loves shoes, like he loves The Archers, cassoulet in a can, or me. Needless to say I’ve inherited his obsession and now, newly single, shoes are one of the first places I look. Nice face, good beard… Oh my god, WTF? Campers?

I once had a relationship with a man who committed the cardinal sin of wearing winkle pickers. He turned out to be a bad egg. Dad’s words rang in my ears: ‘You can’t trust a man with the wrong shoes.’

And in a sludgy grey world shoes are as comfortingly simple as right and wrong. On my way to work I gaze out of the 149 bus window. The sea of city girls in slouchy boots makes me feel sick. Modern life is dishearteningly slobbish. When did we throw aesthetics to the dogs for something as overrated and lazy as comfort?

It’s worth a bit of pain for a beautiful pair of Charlotte Olympia shoes. Everything of any value hurts and is hard to achieve. Beauty is no different.

So I’ll let Dad answer the question ‘Do you really need another pair of shoes?’

He called me last week from Lewes Antiques Fair – ‘I’ve seen a pair of Women’s Trickers, Chelsea boots, size 4. You want them?’

‘Do I need them Dad?’ I said.

‘What?’ he shouted. ‘What the hell do you mean ‘need’? OK, I’m ignoring you…’

I got a text five minutes later. It said: ‘They’re yours.’

ELLE talent competition 2013

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