Brown Shoes


By Mattie Lennon


The late, great, John B. Keane was once accosted by a man, in Killarney, who accused him of not having written about bucker-handles. That most prolific of Playwrights retired to his writing-room, overlooking the Ballybunion Road, and penned a thousand-word essay on the handle of the humble galvanized-bucket.


The last sentence read: “There is no subject under the sun about which a decent treatise cannot be written.”


Well, an illusory bus passenger has appeared in my less than fertile imagination and challenged me to write about brown shoes.

Psychologists and other observers of the human psyche have put labels on those who wear yellow ties or carry their keys hanging from their belt. Any shrink will tell you that a man who prefers big women is ambitious, and white socks are like an encyclopedic chip.


But has anybody done a study of gobshites like myself who have a persistent yet inexplicable dislike of brown shoes? I didn’t always harbor this …


On Tuesday 19th March 1974, when I entered the training school, as a trainee Bus Conductor (with CIE) I was wearing a pair of brown slip-on shoes. During my first weeks employed by this august body I wore the said corn-cases without any conscious feeling of repulsion. (It was the first job I ever had where I didn’t have to walk through muck.)


I cannot put a date on the onset of my irrational dislike of brown shoes. I must point out that it is a dislike and not a fear. (Although a Chief-inspector once told me that it could be an “…. amplified trace of a basic instinctive fear.”)


All I know is that in the early summer of 1975 I remember using a bottle of black dye, in a flat in Ranelagh, to transform brown footwear to black. (I suppose if the Chief-Inspector had been around he would have quoted William Congreve; “And black despair succeeds brown study.” )


Later a present from my spouse received a hue-change making the tin of “Dark Tan Water Resistant” Nugget redundant. Like erectile dysfunction, hair dye, the Luas and other sensitive issues, my idiosyncratic approach to brown shoes is not something which can be comfortably, discussed in the canteen. Of course, given my present job and lifestyle my peculiarity is no great drawback.


But just imagine if I were a cattle-jobber, a Horse-Protestant or a traffic warden? Wouldn’t I be in a right predicament?


Have you ever wondered why the brown shoe has featured so little in literature? Although a passenger upstairs on a Cabra bus once, when pointing out to me that my penchant for black footwear could have something to do with ageing, quoted Edward Gibbon. And how he (Edward Gibbon, not the passenger) maintained that the abbreviation of time and the failure of hope; “…..will always tinge with the browner shade of evening.”


Since the passenger in question had just exceeded his fare I was pedantic enough to quote Arthur Millar and inform him that he was now: ” riding on a smile and a shoeshine.”


Anyway, back to the near absence of the brown shoe from art and culture. Elvis had his “Blue Suede Shoes”, Nancy Sinatra had shoes that “Were made for Walking” but I’ll bet they weren’t brown.


Hob-nailed boots get a mention in the prologue to “McAlpines Fusiliers” and Christy has a line about when; “I put on me wellin’tons.” But, there’s not a bar written about the brown shoe.


Yes…..yes…..I know. You’re going to hit me with:

Brown shoes don’t make it

Brown shoes don’t make it

Quit school, why fake it?

Brown shoes don’t make it?

TV dinner by the pool

Watch your brother



That’s not a song, for God’s sake. It certainly won’t give the brown shoe its place in history.


The victims of ills, stresses and addictions are well looked after by my employer; with therapies and counseling available for most complaints. Now, there is a possibility that my disorder is job-related. It did start shortly after I was recruited here.


Come to think of it reversion to black shoes could have been a subconscious desire for promotion; you don’t see many Bus Inspectors wearing brown shoes.


I have been putting out feelers about my chances in a compensation claim. And according to the Union Rep, the Company would call in a specialist witness; A Psychoanalyst, or some such, who would claim that the whole thing was a throwback to the past. “Atavism,” he said they’d call it. Seemingly it means the reappearance of a trait after it has apparently vanished for generations.


“They’d only titter and grin at you,” Says He “You’d be a laugh an’ a cod.” And I must say the way he explained it to me it would make sense not to enter into any litigation. Say for example some male ancestor of mine had been caught under a bed because of the glint of the candlelight on his well-polished brown boots. And just imagine if it was proven that I, had brought this whole thing out of the genetic memory as a Conductor, attempting to chat-up some fellow’s wife on a number eighteen bus. Wouldn’t that be a grand looking dose on The Wicklow People!


I must say I am a little peeved with Freud. In all his revolutionary theories of the mind and the roots of its abnormalities was the brown shoe mentioned? He analyzed lies, jokes, dreams, the unconscious and the superego. But once again my antipathy was ignored.


However, I do have one other layman’s theory and it is broadly speaking in the “throwback” department:

In my youth, part (or more often all) of the first pay packet of nearly every young male was invested in a pair of brown, brogue shoes. The socio-economic climate of Kylebeg militated against my joining said majority.


I mentioned this to a woman at a dance and she checked with her brother (a road sweeper who had studied Psychology). His prognosis was; “Yes….there might be a connection…. and then ….again there might not.” You can’t beat the bit of education.


Surely a support group isn’t too much to ask for. How about DOBS; (Dislike Of Brown Shoes?)

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