Ian McMillan: Getting all tied up in knots over a pair of shoelaces

Look at the state of that thing, bending over in the kitchen, his face as red as those sunsets over Manvers Coking Plant used to be, his breath coming in short gasps, his hands flapping uselessly like flippers. Why, it’s our old pal Ian McMillan, once described by the Radio Times as “the 22nd most powerful man in radio” and he’s trying to fasten his shoes. And he’s struggling.

Ian McMillan has always had an uneasy relationship with shoelaces, and that’s putting it kindly so as not to hurt his fragile feelings. When he was at Low Valley Junior School in the early 1960s he recalls with horror a little display they used to have on the wall in Mrs Hinchliffe’s class. It was a representation of a giant shoe with the caption I CAN TIE AND UNTIE MY LACES and all his classmates’ names were written around the shoe in Mrs Hinchliffe’s careful West Riding hand. There was Peter Wake and Lynne Chadwick, Noel Marsden and Sheryl Lang. And where was Ian McMillan? He was in the boys’ toilets blubbering with his shoes unfastened, the laces flapping like mocking snakes.

Ian McMillan hasn’t got great hand/eye co-ordination, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Chuck him a ball and it stays chucked, not caught. He’s useless at jigsaws and that’s another part of the problem: Mrs Hinchliffe once took him to one side as the rest of the class were writing in their News Books and told him he was a clever lad and that tying shoelaces wasn’t as hard as he thought it was and what might help was to imagine the laces fastened, the job done, just like you start a jigsaw by imagining the finished picture, the one on the box. This just baffled the future 22nd Most Powerful Man in Radio because when he picked up a jigsaw he had no idea what to do and the pieces just looked like, well, pieces.

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So in the end Ian McMillan just gave up with the shoelaces and let his mam tie them in the morning and Mrs Hinchliffe tie them in the evening and his name remained absent from the edges of the giant shoe on the classroom wall. It didn’t seem to matter too much because he was good at reading and writing, his number work was okay and he could recite all of Henry VIII’s wives.

Secondary school was a bit of a problem but he just persuaded his mam that slip-on shoes were acceptable and Ian McMillan went through the next few years without ever having that anxiety dream he sometimes used to have where his feet were in huge shoes like that one on the classroom wall and he was trying to tie laces as thick as bellropes and all his classmates were laughing.

Now, though, as a mature man-about-Barnsley, he’s gone back, tentatively, to lace-ups. And he still can’t do them properly; his mam and Mrs Hinchliffe aren’t around to help so he has to try to do them himself. I know: it’s pathetic. He sweats. He wraps the laces around his thumb. He pulls too hard and they snap.

He knows what he wants for Christmas, anyway: some nice slip-on shoes!