I spent the better part of last week in the company of the Royal Navy. It was an eye opening experience getting the low down on the enormity and variety of tasks involved in keeping her majesty’s fleet fighting fit. Some of these tasks are perhaps obvious more obvious: Radar operators, gunners, engineers, medics. Others less so: plumbers, chefs, and launderers. On a ship that could be at sea for 6 months at a time they have to be self-sufficient.
However, I confess that what was most eye opening were the highly polished shoes, everywhere on display. In civilian settings, I encounter men with highly polished shoes as exceptions to the norm. In a military setting, in a service that is particularly male dominant, there were highly polished shoes everywhere.
It is rare that I find myself as the man with the scruffiest shoes in the room. Yet that was my experience for most of last week.
What was most unusual for me was the fact that on the naval base it appeared that virtually everyone I encountered had highly polished shoes. It sounds a small matter. And yet it completely challenges your concept of normalcy when virtually everyone you encounter, both male and female, has clearly spent a good amount of time polishing their shoes.
I came away wondering what it might be like to live and work in a context where people take shoe care seriously. I also wondered how much training you get in polishing shoes when you join the navy….
Polished shoes are hardly useful in battle. But they look great with a uniform.