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May 10 , 2011

Being Down, Looking Up: The Adventures of an Itinerant Shoeshiner


This book is about an unusual journey: a unique journey through everyday surroundings. A few years ago Rob Walters decided to become a shoeshine boy. He stowed his shoeshine kit, a tent, and a few items of clothing in a trailer, connected the trailer to his push bike and set off from Oxford to visit the old shoe-making cities of middle England. Along the way he polished many shoes, met lots of interesting people, pedalled many miles, and gained a fascinating insight into his own country from a rather unique perspective.

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Rejected by some, welcomed by many, he polished shoes in shopping centres, solicitor’s offices, a kite festival, railway stations, campsites, street corners, and a bewildering selection of pubs.

He polished the shoes of dossers, company directors, criminals, Morris dancers, publicans, bikers, policemen, schoolboys, reporters, a bowling green groundsman, an Icelander, and a Latvian – to name just a few. He slept in fields, in woods, and on the edge of golf courses. He was ejected from the Norfolk Show and welcomed into the offices of lawyers and fruit importers.

During his journey he met members of the Household Cavalry, topless protestors, a homeless joss stick seller, a man who stole baths in hotels, a submariner, a beaten housewife, a disenchanted solicitor, a rubber recycler, a toyshop owner, and two ghost guides – amongst others. All of them had a story to tell: some sad, some amusing. It is their tales and Rob’s own incisive observations that are related in this unusual book. Reading it will transport you to Northampton, the centre of the English shoe making tradition; then through the Fens to East Anglia; back across the country to the Midlands; down along the River Severn to Gloucester; and then over the Cotswolds to Oxford. Progress is at a comfortable cycling pace along the country roads and through the sleepy villages, yet interrupted regularly by diversions into the vibrancy of the cities.

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