It was 1991 and the sports shoe stood alone as the most important fashion accessory (at least to the 14 year-old boys in my year). One kid was strides ahead of anyone else I went to school with – Sloth. It wasn’t that he had amazing fashion sense or a gay uncle in the clothing trade, he just had a truck-tonne of the things. I don’t remember exactly how many he had but the bottom of his cupboard was… well, you know that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indy drops the burning torch to the floor of the hidden chamber and a writhing fury of snakes is revealed? It was like that but instead of venom and scales and fangs think white faux leather, multicoloured laces and names like Jordan, Pump and All-Star.
In prep one evening (20 boys all sharing the same room for two hours every night to prep-are their homework for the next day) the sixth-former who was supervising us (I don’t remember his name but he was a lanky wanna-be English surfer type) got bored and started making the rounds. He wandered around the room looking in people’s lockers and tuck boxes (yes, some people still had tuck boxes; no, we didn’t use words like ‘what-o’, ‘gosh’ or ‘spiffing’) for food to borrow. When Surfer-boy got to Sloth’s he let out a “Fuckin’ Hell” when he saw how many trainers were in there. The older boy then proceeded to empty the locker of shoes into a pile on the floor counting off as he did so. I forget how high he got but I imagine it was somewhere in the mid-twenties. “Why the fuck do you need so many shoes?” the pseudo-slacker asked. Sloth just shrugged and said that he liked them.
For no reason at all I decided to chip in with “Yeah, his mum’s Imelda Marcos.”
The sixth-former looked confused and turned to Sloth, “Is your mum someone famous?”
I should have realised that my attempt at a joke had been pitched at the wrong audience. Instead of walking away from the microphone and working on my material some more, I decided to try and clarify matters, “She was this wife of the leader in the Philippines and when they kicked her out they found thousands of shoes that she didn’t even wear.”
I had made the cardinal adolescent mistake of making the biggest guy in the playground look stupid. For the remainder of prep he made sure that I was mocked as much as possible. He went through all my stuff, pointing fun at my Dungeons and Dragons dice (RPGs are never cool), the Chelsea magazine I was reading (we didn’t start playing well until the mid-nineties) and the picture of Niki Taylor I had on my notice board (“That your girlfriend?”). I didn’t enjoy the experience but it wasn’t actually that bad as the idiot never came up with anything more witty than “Ohh, say something clever now Clever-boy”. The thing that hurt the most was that as if by magic all my food was missing by the time the teenage Nazi had left the building. He even took the packet of emergency Chedders that lurked at the bottom of every tuck box, only to be opened if you’d eaten every other source of food including (non-chocolate) Hob-Nobs, black jellybeans and toothpaste.
Afterwards Sloth gave me a dead arm. I don’t think he had a specific reason but somewhere in his Neanderthal brain he’d picked up that I’d made fun of him. He wasn’t exactly sure how but it was easier for him to hit me than to try and defend the Marcos government’s footwear purchase policy.