Home » Ain't life great. » Barefoot in the park

Barefoot in the park

Briefly taking stock, or indeed sock, of my situation, as a fairly typical older representative of an advanced economy, I am wondering why I am now in the curious position of having no shoes?

Is it some sort of wake-up call? Have I in some sense ‘let myself go’, in a way that might perhaps demand the immediate intervention of social workers?

I had been imagining, you see, that all was well; that, in my 65th year, I was still relatively young and virile and ambitious for more life, love and laughter.

But it seems that I have neglected to provide for myself in the most basic department: the bottom shelf of my wardrobe.

I look in the mirror and am convinced that before it stands a man who is not excessively wrinkled, grey-haired and baggy of paunch, like many younger men I know. A Hercules who can still put in an eight-hour shift in someone’s garden, and is proudly committed to heroic feats of strength and endurance in the continuing war on weeds, for a modest return.

His amazing bass voice grows ever stronger and more mellifluous, as the ladies d’un certain age in his choir flatteringly remind him. He still puts in up to ten miles a day with poor Hunzi, as they stride man-and-dogfully round the sewage works, or stumble along the pebbly foreshore, eyes fixed firmly on the horizon.

Never mind, that the small print is no longer visible even as a grey blur.

So, as I sit here in my socks and sandals, awaiting the predicted arrival at long last of some late-Autumn weather, it occurs to me that I may be deluding myself; and that, at my time of life, I ought rather to be thinking more about moving to warden-assisted accommodation than about emigrating to more adventuresome climes.

Surely, the Social Fund would find me some shoes?

But whatever happened to shoeshops, that they became these barely-one-step-up from warehouses, long racks of the year-before-last’s unfashionably retro designs in no half-sizes, pointy toes and ineffectual Velcro fastenings attracting fluff; in muddy, mismatched colours, the entire collection reeking of noxious, resinous compounds?

A small financial windfall in June (I got paid!) enabled me to revive my waning wardrobe with one pair of everyday shoes and one pair of semi-trainers. I acquired them with some trepidation from the local branch of Brantano Footwear, as there really are no decent emporia left in town purveying bespoke shoes combining style, quality and affordability.

Both pairs are already in ruins after only a few months’ foot-wear. I have patched-up the plimsolls with the addition of home-made inner linings cut from supermarket bags and card, but it is at best a temporary solution as the soles are already worn to holes. The heavy-duty crepe lowers of the US-made outdoor shoes recently parted company with the leather uppers, and no amount of supposedly waterproof mastic glue squelching from under my toes will keep them united for more than one day at a time.

Thus, on carrying out a full audit, I am left with:

a) a pair of redoubtably strappy Clarks’ sandals, marketed as being suitable for SAS missions to Benidorm, that I refuse to wear in winter: especially as I stopped reading The Guardian and voting Liberal nearly two years ago in a hopeful attempt to cure my depression.

b) A pair of cracked black leather court shoes, acquired in an emergency from a charity shop and consigned to a cupboard since the concert, seven years ago; now wearing a faint, musty green bloom of Botrytis fungus.

c) A pair of down-at-heel hiking shoes, or boots, that I have previously blogged about as they were once the focus of an intense etymological discussion with the curators of the Lost Property office at Bastia station, on Corsica; and which I now use for gardening purposes only.

d) Their exact replacements.

e) A pair of slippers in brown fluffy Dralon, practically bald after only a few hours’ wear, acquired for a theatrical production some years ago in which I impersonated the old man I have clearly now become: ‘Blind Captain Cat’ (see photo, above).

f) A pair of enormous, neoprene-lined green wellies, by L’Aigle of France.

The choice this represents is, as you can see, quite limiting. I am reduced to wearing the one working pair of hiking boots for everyday visits to the supermarket, or to choir practice, as well as indoors, and for best; or pretty much going barefoot, which can, I know, for some people be a lifestyle choice.

However did I get into this state?

I am acutely aware of the likelihood that only someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s would borrow several thousand pounds at 19.5 per cent, and later submit to penalties of £10 a day, having exceeded his authority buying food; whilst nominally holding a much larger sum invested with the same bank at only 3.7 per cent, that he cannot access for 18 months.

But that is the nature of banking, that we are persuaded of the vital strategic importance to the nation of financing the banks; in much the same way as a little old lady living alone might be persuaded to let the visiting bogus gas-meter reader hang on temporarily to her well-stocked purse.

My second action on recovering what is left of the money will, of course, be to trail despairingly round the High Street, looking for a shop to sell me a decent pair of reliable, water-resistant, size 10.5 shoes in which to trudge through another winter; knowing full well that there isn’t one to be found between here and Birmingham.

There is something symbolic about all this, if I could only remember what.


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