Walk a mile in my shoes

I wasn’t born with oddly shaped feet. They just grew that way. It’s not actually the shape that’s so weird. It’s the aspect ratio of roughly 1.0 (which corresponds to HHH you’ve-got-to-be-joking ultrawide fitting). This would be hard enough to accommodate but my arches are on a par with Macdonald’s. For this reason, when I was at the sensitive age of sixteen, my feet were described as castors by a woman of my acquaintance.

Now there’s absolutely no truth in the story that a man’s shoe size is related to any of his other bodily dimensions, absolutely none, no, none at all. No….just because my feet stopped lengthening at size 8 (oh alright, 7 ½ would be a better fit). By the way, if you happen to be reading this in mainland Europe or the US, then apply the usual size conversion factors, taking into account the phase of the moon, room temperature and a safety factor of +/- the first number you thought of in c/deg.kg-1/ms-2 ).

The buying of shoes was always a traumatic experience so I have only ever had about 30 pairs in total (that’s including a yearly pair of rugby boots: studless and flayed to ‘nubuck’ after the first week’s use). Most of these fitted so badly they could have been swapped left for right without me noticing. Blisters? Let me tell you about blisters…..Scabs and corns etc just became a way of life (as well as a form of entertainment in a pre-gameboy age).

When dragged shoeshopping by my mother (a normal, and therefore guiltfree, size 6) I was always encouraged by the ladies with cold hands at the local shop, to buy pairs three inches too long ‘to allow growth’. Under this regime, I spent many successive summers shod in a variety of girly, cross-strap brown sandals with crepe soles. This meant that I never got the pair of Clarks Trackers that I so coveted: the shoes with the compass in the heel and the woodland animal footprints embossed on the sole. I had absolutely no interest in woodland animals, but the adverts showed boys splashing aggressively in puddles in a lord of the flies drama which had a terrifying appeal to every nine-year-old whose parents had cruelly denied him a Johnny Seven Combat Ranger Assault Blaster. This was probably to the relief of all woodland animals.

I was therefore astonished when parental assent was given to Desert Boots. They had been glamourised by association with the British 8th Army…hard to believe that these louche loafers could have caused much concern to even a single wadi-full of sweaty jackboots.

After having pulled out all the normal shoes (for those with feet like bananas, not oranges) shop assistants would usually pause for breath, photographs or to call the Guinness people. They then had to move on to searching for any suitable, ancient unsaleable spherical orthotic devices that might have been rolling around the stock room. When they couldn’t be bothered to keep looking for anything to fit my monstrous leg-ends, I had to start wearing size nine shoes in order to accommodate my width. My foot length more closely resembled a six. (A contemporary at school whose feet were size 14 ended up wearing black dress shoes, painted white, to play cricket in. They were big enough to play a test match in).

This had disastrous consequences for the development of my legs – namely a balletic, quarter-to-three orientation of the lower limbs. In ballet dancers, it would have been balletic. My body shape was tending more towards baleen. You try getting any exercise when you’re effectively wearing ill-fitting skis permanently attached to your ill-fitting feet.

My first pair of vaguely normal shoes were black slip-ons which I was entreated to take special care of (They did cost a whole £5 -or £500 in today’s currency). Being both a literal-minded and conformist child, I spent several days attempting to walk without creasing the leather: ie without ever bending my feet at all. It would have been a chaplinesque performance, had no-one laughed.

To undertake my duties as Usher at a cousin’s wedding, I had to revisit the eternal footwear question. After the usual traipsing around shops for a week wearing whatever shredded footwear remained to me, my feet emerged from the process looking like a pair of platypuses that had been carelessly playing too near a steam hammer. My new shoes were no less offensive than the beige flannels chosen to accompany them. They fitted really well -at least well enough for a bit of low-speed ushing. The leather-effect papier-maché from which they were pasted together was a testament to quality control procedures at the Viet-Min People’s Eggbox factory.

Way back when retro trainers were still originals and people hadn’t even heard of nike (still less pronounced it nykee) I got my first pair of training shoes. They were Pumas; white with a light blue suede flash on the side. But amazingly they fitted my feet (or at least after a bit of wear the real leather stretched enough to allow me to undertake a passable impersonation of locomotion). I was immensely proud of these and managed not to get them a) wet or b) stained for all of about the first day. Sadly, white wasn’t that practical a colour for someone who had to walk home from school through the northern winter (colour: Dirt). They were eventually replaced by baseball boots in sensible black. God when I got these, I felt as if I was so cool. It didn’t matter that my ankles never actually corresponded with the white rubber ankle cups.

Moving towards my version of adulthood, I bought myself a pair of orange slip-ons to ‘go with’ my green velvet jacket. These were to be worn to formal dances. I quickly learned that women found the charms of a comedy leprechuan easily resistible. The castors woman had a field day ridiculing these dayglo monsters. Eventually my father, no style guru himself, adopted them.

Yellow cowboy boots? ‘Fraid so. Seduced by the promise of cuban heels, I decided to dye them black and in fact turned them purplish. They still didn’t come close to fitting, even after several tortured days of ‘wearing them in’. It soon became obvious that I would have to seek the help of a podiatrist -just to get them off.

Roots. I bought pair of these natural, low heel, recycled high-fibre shoes whilst a student. They were made of genuine hide and as such probably alienated their target market who had by that stage adopted sections of old car tyres as being fairer to endangered species, like the cow. Anyway, they transformed the Clapham pavements into cushioned spring meadows. At least that’s how I remember them after the cowboy boots.

I then got a pair of black Nature Treks which were cleverly made from a single piece of leather wrapped and stitched into ghastly, knobbly pouches with external seams -exactly the shape of my feet. They came with airfilled plastic soles (sadly without any animal tracks) that three years of wear couldn’t even scratch. By that time, the uppers had long given up and of course when I went to buy a new pair, they had been discontinued -evidently not enough people had feet the shape of real feet.

It took me years to realise that shoes without uppers might be a solution to malign metatarsals. My Jesus boots (“athletic open-bed, all-terrain walk systems”) were worn once at the seaside in order to protect my battered tootsies from the stone shards which cover the east anglian coast waiting to become sand. They then lay in a cupboard, unwashed until the beach bacteria threatened to transform them back into primordial soup.

Once the swelling had gone down, I decided to finally bite the bullet and lash out on some handmade footwear. Wooden lasts were duly carved of my feet. Inspecting their contours from a viewpoint other than the usual one, of almost-six-feet-or-so-above, was a real out of body experience (the same effect as being told the price). Despite multiple resolings and reheelings, they remain the only pair that have always fit and don’t raise questions about my sense of fashion -or balance.