In summer our feet are more often seen in public. Noticing my own sandalled feet recently has prompted me to think, and to write, about our shared history.
My feet may not be what you’d call shapely, but I think they are far from being misshapen from wearing tight shoes. Whatever shape they are in, it must be thanks to the care my mother took with our shoe shopping when my sisters and I were young.
She patronised the shoe department of an old-fashioned department store. The staff (they were never called ‘salesmen’) were dauntingly well-shod and well-dressed, in waistcoat and shirt sleeves (with arm-bands to hold back the cuffs). They had a detailed knowledge of their stock, and took pride in knowing what Madame required, almost before being asked.
Some readers will remember these establishments, with their ‘Lamson’ vacuum tubes that took payments to the cashier’s office and coughed out your change with the receipt – or perhaps they had one of those aerial railways, fascinating to adults and children alike. And the x-ray machines! Those were different times…
My poem had no room for as much detail, but I hope it conveys my belief that, back in the day, shoe-shopping for growing children was a serious business. Thank you, Mum!
Shoe-shopping with my mother
To put your feet in a stranger’s hands
calls for certain preparations:
you wash them first, put on clean socks,
no holes, mind, no darns either,
and while you’re at it, polish your shoes!
At Gents Footwear, what the shoe-man wears
are both reproach and inspiration.
My old shoes hide beneath the seat.
But he knows what we’ll want, we’ve been
sized up: school wear, and black: this pair.
He has already laced his choice,
his shoehorn slots my heels in place,
he snugs the knots: time to decide!
Stand up now, wriggle your toes …
Fingers and eyes approve the fit.
Now for the scientific test,
the foot x-ray, where we inspect
my black-and-yellow skeleton:
Bunch up your toes, then spread them out?
I can do that, and so can they.
One last check: take them for a walk
from Gents Footwear to Manchester –
ka-dok ka-dok – and suddenly
taller, as if I’d grown longer legs,
I clump awkwardly round the store.
We pay cash. We carry them home.
We wear new shoes indoors at first
to warm their leather to help them fit.
Rituals we have to observe
because our feet were in her hands.