Not a question that I reflect on very often, but my situation is a broken boot, a lecture that I must give and a lecture that I would like to attend. And in itself this provides my own conservation dilemma.
The sole has come away from my boot, it is hanging ‘just’ by the remaining section of the toe, as I walk the sole flips back up making the regular ‘clop clop’ of the boot more of a ‘clop woosh clop’, and I don’t have (a) a spare pair of boots with me or (b) enough time to drive home swap boots.
I’m in ‘panic mode’ – a trip to the Cobbler (I am lucky that I work within walking distance) suggests this is a long repair, I can’t just walk in from the street and get this repaired. Moreover if I apply a ‘quick fix’ using super glue the cobbler won’t be able to repair the boot as at a later time they won’t be able to get in to the materials to do the repair. And so in a microcosm this presents a window into heritage conservation thinking.
I’m driven by the tangible and aesthetic qualities of my boots. My boots are not just functional, they have a patina from years of wear, these are comfortable, I’ve worn them in and I like them. These were already 2nd hand when I took them over and they have already been repaired twice before. These boots have a biography. In thinking about the patina and quality of my well-loved boots I’m reminded of the conservation philosophies of John Ruskin and Alois Riegl who both noted ‘age-value’ is important in how we value monuments and buildings.
So what of their repair? The quick fix using superglue would limit my future options for repair. Whilst investing in the longer repair with the skilled cobbler is a longer-time commitment. I’m going to have to plan that repair in advance (and wear different shoes in the meantime). And as an example of conservation decision making, quick, reactive fixes that limit future options have unintended consequences (I will be paying for superglue and I won’t be paying for craft skills, what will the addition of the superglue do longer term to the materials the boots are made from?). Planned interventions take longer, but will use appropriate materials and will make use of traditional skills in undertaking the repair.
And so I know what I should do, I should get the repair done properly. So I make amends I tie a rubber band around the boot – if I can keep going today then I can get the boot repaired properly in the future. As William Morris says through the SPAB manifesto I am ‘propping a perilous wall’ and I am going to invest in the proper repair with the cobbler.
But there are some other things I’m doing as well in my perilous boot:
- I am also avoiding puddles as unintended water ingress in my damaged boot might result in a much more complex repair.
- I’m also making this conservation dilemma a social process, I’m seeking advice from colleagues, students and friends.
- I’m also wondering if I had maintained and monitored the condition of the boot I might I spotted signs of its poor condition.
- I’m also bemused that if I had followed best conservation practice around Disaster Risk Preparedness I would have an emergency pair of boots with me, and a plan for ‘what if’.
- I also know retaining and extending the life of my damaged boot is going to be a better option for the environment as well.
And so it is just a boot but the dilemmas posed can be modelled back to the decision making in heritage conservation. We know that all buildings do need a good hat (roof) and a good pair of boots (foundations) in order to survive and I like to think William Morris would have adapted in this situation with an equally stylish rubber band around his boots.