Friday, July 13, 2012

Some things never change (11) – Kiwi shoe polish


For as long as I can remember, we’ve had a can of Kiwi shoe polish in our home. But we seldom used it because it was troublesome and we often dirtied our hands during the process of brushing our shoes with it. Often, when we wanted to use it, the cream had hardened from lack of use.

This can of polish looks exactly as it did decades ago. Even the design of the catch for opening it remains unchanged. Wow …. it says on the lid that this product has been around since 1906!

But that changed when I was enlisted into the army for my NS (National Service). As recruits, we not only had to keep our boots clean, but for the drill boots we had to polish them until we could see the reflection of our teeth in the toe cap. Man, how I hated those army days when we had to go back to camp early on Sunday night to polish our boots and iron our uniforms because we had drill the next day. I was never very good at it, and always resented my platoon mates for being able to make their boots so shiny. Mine always seemed to have a layer of oil on top.

Can you recall how it was done? I remember we had to apply a thick layer of shoe polish with the ‘orange cloth’ and wait for it to dry. After that I would polish the toe cap using a piece of cotton wool and water until it shone. But some my smart-alec platoon mates taught me how to use a candle to heat the toe cap before polishing. I did try it but it did not seem to work for me. Often, we had to continue with this arduous task after the "Light Out!" command, working in the dark in the candle light. I usually went to bed worrying if I would get into trouble the next day. Thank God, I never did. 

Our sons are so lucky. Nowadays, they don’t need to polish their boots; at least not to the extent that we did. Neither do they need to starch and iron their uniforms. Or paste their cupboards or …….

Some things do change.

6 comments:

Peter Stubbs said...

I well remember 'bulling' my boots during my army days. Many hours with a tin of 'Kiwi'or 'Cherry Blossom', a yellow duster and cold water in the tin lid. A dab of polish, a little water, and countless circles on the boots. Great fun - not, but a mirror finish on the boots.

I wrote a short piece about 'Kiwi'polish for a militaria magazine many years ago. The polish was developed by an Australian in the early 1900s, 1905-6 if memory serves. He was stuck for a name, decided to use his wife's nickname. She was from NZ, and thus called 'Kiwi'. The rest as they say, "is history".

FL said...

Like most NS boys then, I hated polishing army boots. I tried your method, too,but was not good at it. I was enlisted in 1970. Some of us advised to use white Kiwi with black one ! Of course, we had to buy the white kiwi ourselves as army didn't provide it. I recalled this mixture helped to shine somehow, but you must know the technique in applying it when polishing your boot caps. It took us precious time polishing boots which today NS boys don't have to do it. We were born in a "wrong" generation, eh ?

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. Thanks for sharing that bit of historical trivia. You learn something new everyday.

Lye Khuen Way said...

Allow me to share this method of getting a mirror smooth surface to begin with :
1) apply a thick layer of kiwi, allow it to dry,
2) smooth it by applying heat, using a lited candle or Brasso! (the solvent in the Brasso was the magic )

This Brasso method was something I learnt during my Army Cadet days.
My CSM during recruit days nearly fainted when he saw me applying Brasso to my Master Parade Boots!
Of course, there are those who would use a heated metal spoon bottom to iron out the dimples on the other part of the boots.

ROMI TOPI said...

Scottish expatriates William Ramsay and Hamilton McKellan began making "boot polish" in a small factory in 1904 in Melbourne, Australia. Modern polish formulas were introduced early in the 20th century and many of those original formulations are still in use today.
Some company is very well known for this types of work, Example : Kiwi Care, Shoe Shine Service, Shoe Shine Kit, Angelus Shoe Polish etc.

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