Sole food

I have red ones, blue ones, green ones and beige.
Black ones, brown ones, patent ones and suede .
I have leather ones, canvas ones, strappy ones and flip-flops,
Wedges, sling backs, sandals, pumps, stilettos, boots and clip-clops.
I have ankle boots, deck shoes, espadrilles and sneakers.
Flat ones, high ones, platform ones and peep toes .
But I wasn’t always that well heeled.
Shoes lasted until they didn’t. You got what you were given. And you were grateful for it.
As we waited for the tube train, I would tightly grasp my mothers fingers as I stared at the advert on the wall of Aldgate East Station. Two children holding hands as they set off, in their Start Rite shoes, with nothing but each other and a road disappearing into the distance, winding its way to their future. How lonely life looked.
Start Rite shoes, with it’s Royal seal of approval walking their way to happiness since 1792.
Shoes, played a big part in my childhood. From the ballet shoes I yearned for and never got, to the Gum boots, black rubber, which kept the rain out and the cold in.
Now as I walk the lanes I wear a pair of purple ‘Nike Free Three’ trainers. They are falling apart but are oh so comfortable. They have a rip in the back but my feet can feel the ground. For my 65th birthday the dawter bought me a pair of luminous orange replacements. They are slightly wider so my old feet can spread and spread. I wear them for best.
I have black and white trainers, pink and grey trainers and flip flops. My father would have had something to say about that.

My father was a spit and polish kinda man. If she ironed his shirt collar with a crease she got a cuff. He was always immaculately turned out even when the table was bare. So smart, his size eight feet dapper in shiny Brogues. Cherry Blossom shoe polish, brown, ox-blood and black, kept in a tin box with two brushes under the stairs.
My mother sitting in the kitchen with her Christmas box. He’d bought her a pair of brown brogues. I couldn’t understand why she was crying. How could she be so ungrateful? It was years later that I realised that Cinderella wanted party shoes not sensible shoes, frumpy lace-ups that kept her tied up in the kitchen.
I started buying shoes from jumble sales when I was fifteen. Scouring the church halls for round toed, solid heeled shoes from the 40’s, or red dancing shoes with pointed toes and concave heels from the 20’s. Didn’t matter how big or small my frame my feet stayed constant. They served me well. They kept their shape and size. High instepped with brown skin. I still have them at the end of my legs.
I love my little feet. Hence all the shoes.
Then my first pair from ‘Russel and Bromley’. Blue canvas with an orange and green stripe near the toe. A small square heel and little blue laces. Bought in Watford, for getting into the music school – I think – I still have them. They were bought in 1964.
My brother, arguing with fierce Rabbinical reasoning, for ‘Winkle Pickers’. No self respecting art student could be seen dead without a pair of pointy shoes. He won his case. Those winkle pickers worn with shiny grey trousers and a blue Fred Perry shirt kept their shape as he did handstands in St. Albans Abbey and got expelled from the Art School for his blasphemous acrobatics.
Then the controversy over the brown outdoor shoes and the brown sandals that were necessary for my Girls School in Bushey. The uniform was supplied by Harrods, I was allowed into the school because of my musical prowess, my fathers budget did not extend to the full monty. I was excluded from events, not by the children but by the teachers. When the whole school went to Wimbledon I was left behind with my inappropriate footwear and a bitter taste in my mouth. I lasted 6 terms.
And then a prize for a show I wrote at drama school. To my left Marie, 5ft 9″, green eyes, red hair. She wore green seven inch heels. To my right Lou, 5ft 9″ violet eyes and blonde hair also in seven inch heels, only hers were purple. I was in the middle, 5ft 1 & three quarters wearing tiny black ballet pumps. They towered over me. They got the wolf whistles, I got the laughs.
I have shoes for all occasions, a drawer under my bed full of flats and sandals, one cupboard with soft shiny brown leather boots and umpteen pairs of black ankle boots with variant heels. My wardrobe in the attic has red, green and even leopard skin boots with heels so high I have to chassis like a tight rope walker to keep my balance.
I even have a pair of baby blue handmade shoes from a sex shop in Soho. Powder blue patent leather with hearts carved in the chamois coloured leather soles.
From aged 8 until I was 11 I walked to school past bushes with dew dripping spiders webs. Spring blossom, Summer hay, Autumn blackberries and frosty Winters. Each season throwing out its own scent. Past the farm with its milk churns and endless kittens, past the little shopping arcade, through the estate and into the school gates. A solitary child with wild hair and utilitarian shoes.
Then the regular trips to St. Albans for my sheet music. The old music shop with its wooden shelves stacked with exam pieces. Grades 5/6/7/8. The smell of Chopin and Bach wafting through the store. The new music book safe in a paper bag, we went off to buy the annual pair of school shoes. They were totally wrong but the most beautiful shoes I had ever seen. Orange leather with a t-strap. I looked up at my mother, incredulous that she agreed to buy them for me.
I walked to school, past the farm, through the shopping arcade, into the estate and through the school gates. I got to my desk. Took off my shoes. Spat on the souls, rubbed them shiny new with my clean handkerchief, opened my desk. Lovingly laid them next to my ruler, fountain pen and protractor. Spent the day barefoot. Then when the bell went at the end of the day, I opened my desk and put back on my beautiful orange, t-strap shoes. Walked home through the estate, the little shopping arcade and past the farm, never daring to skip in case I scraped the orange off. Walking as lightly as I could to preserve them for eternity. Once home, took them off in the hall, spat on the souls, cleaned them with my grubby hanky and left them where I could see them till the next morning.
I hadn’t realised that for most of my adult life I had been searching for those orange shoes
And then forty one years later on a trip to South Molton Street, I finally closed a chapter in my life. There they were.
A very, very expensive pair of shiny, orange patent single strap, flat shoes. Okay they don’t have a t-strap but they are as near as Damn it.
I’ve only worn them a few times. I am preserving them for eternity. They hurt on account of them being slightly too small and when the button came off I had them mended by an able cobbler. They are soft and very pleasing on the eye. As noble purchases go they are up there with all my lipsticks and perfumes and fancy underwear. All the girly accoutrements my mother was forbidden.
Those ridiculously impractical shoes are an homage to my youth, which I bought for me and my two little feet.
Brogues they aint.

4 thoughts on “Sole food”

  1. Dear Jeni
    I’m enjoying your trips down memory lane enormously. I don’t know how you go about getting a newspaper column but I bet you know a man who does, and you should go for it.

  2. When I was a child my feet were a size 6, with really high instep and quite broad. Over the years my feet are now a size 8, still with high instep (which so limits my choice!) and a tendency in the summer months to puffiness. A couple of years ago, I had made for me by a female artisan cobbler a beautiful pair of blue suede loafers – coincidentally wearing today. They are a little worn now and I wish I had the wherewithal to get another pair made …

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