Take a shine to London, but take one home, too

Updated: 2016-06-29 09:43

By Mike Peters(China Daily)

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Take a shine to London, but take one home, too

Tom Beecroft shines shoes in the lobby of the Marriott Park Lane in London. [Photo by Mike Peters/China Daily]

If you do nothing else in London, get a shoeshine from The Jaunty Flaneur.

The phrase refers to a lively, confident gentleman who saunters around observing society, according to the dictionary. That sounds like the fictional Lord Peter Wimsey.

In real life, however, it's Tom Beecroft, an affable Brit who found life as an international banker too corporate-ie, boring. Shining shoes for a living may not seem like a huge improvement to most people, but Beecroft says he "wanted work where I could see results".

"I like the social angle," he adds, after a casual riff over my shoetops.

"I do a lot of weddings and regular setups at private clubs."

He also trains other shoeshine pros "as a sort of mini franchise".

Sitting in his chair in the lobby of the Marriott Park Lane, I'm a little intimidated. I'd brought casual walking shoes for my week in London, and the shoes that surround me like an alligator flotilla awaiting Beecroft's ministrations look out of my league.

"There's probably nothing here that cost less than 800 pounds," he concurs when I ask.

"But I can help any shoes."

I'm here for a quickie-about a half-hour of wax and chat.

The shoes that have been left for serious attention will get a longer polish, "a few hours on and off, with creams as well as wax". He also offers suede service with a suede shampoo.

There's no sign of Kiwi or the commercial wax polishes familiar to wearers of casual loafers.

"Leather is skin," he says seriously.

"I use natural polish, mostly beeswax from France, and always applied directly with my fingertips.

"So if a product is too harsh for my skin, it's probably not good for other skin."

He spends about 15 minutes on the actual polishing of my own shoes, working in what seems like a tiny amount of wax.

"With a quality product"-meaning his beeswax, not my shoes-"you need less. Doing it by hand means you work with a fine layer-there's no caking or crumbs."

I express surprise at a pair of tan wingtips on the floor that seems too shopworn for even Beecroft's touch.

"Good-quality leather always can be brought back to life," he says.

"England produces the best leather and shoes. Italy has one or two good makers and very stylish shoes."

He explains the intricacies of "Blake stitching"-where the upper is stitched directly to the sole, as opposed to the "Goodyear" style, stitched to an intermediate layer.

"I've learned a lot about shoes and especially how they age," he adds.

My shoes may age faster than the average charges in his care, but I walk away a little taller-as if the Jaunty Flaneur's confidence has rubbed off on me as well as my shoes.