Up Front by Emma Hart


First Footing

I'm not, as has been pointed out before, much of a chick. Any sentence that begins with 'women like' is probably going to end with me saying 'you what?'. When it comes to Mother's Day, the family will be set when they can work out what it is that's the exact opposite of fluffy slippers and a book recommended by Oprah. I don't like chocolate or ice cream or hating Keira Knightly. I regard a Women's Lifestyle Expo as the kind of thing that would leave me in desperate need of a beer and a fag after about fifteen minutes.

And I don't get shoes.

I've always hated shoes. It's possible I was savaged by a shoe as a child and I've blocked out the memory, leaving only a lingering morbid dislike of footwear. Whatever the reason, the chief glory of spring for me is the ability to once again go barefoot. Freedom from the tyranny of footwear is totally worth all the dodging of broken glass and weird smears of unidentifiable 'stuff' on the footpath.

As a result, I have the sort of feet you get from thirty-odd years of going barefoot – the sort of feet beloved by the Khmer Rouge. They're broad and flat and peasanty, and I don't care. For a while my party trick was shoving pins into my feet – you had a good centimetre of callus before you even hit skin, let alone any kind of responsive nerve ending.

As I've grown older, I've started to notice something very odd. Other people look at what people are wearing on their feet. People look at me funny for not wearing shoes, and some – and I mean at a 'strangers in the supermarket checkout queue' level – will make comments about my feet. Sometimes they'll even make those comments to me. I particularly love the remarks about hygiene, as if the soles of my frequently-washed feet are in some way inherently dirtier than the bottoms of their shoes.

I've also had to sign waivers on occasion, declaring that I won’t sue the movie theatre should I slash open my delicate little bare sole on a particularly vicious piece of popcorn. That's not even slightly weird compared to the apparent requirement for me to wear shoes while flying. I struggle to conceive of the kind of accident I could have involving an airplane where shoes would be of any protective value. Still, the next time I'm required to dig through my luggage for safety reasons, I want to be able to pull out a pair of these. (Why yes, there is no length I will not go to in the cause of sarcasm. Try me.)

My mother is particularly bugged by my habit of digging over the vegetable garden in bare feet. When I was little, she gave me a book of cautionary stories for children which featured a story where a girl was digging her garden in bare feet, and put a fork through her foot. Unfortunately from a 'correcting behaviour' standpoint, the explicit moral of the story was that this had happened because she was gardening on the Sabbath, instead of holding it sacred by not working (and cooking her family a huge roast and then washing all the dishes instead). Rather than making me wear shoes for safety, this just entrenched my suspicion that God was a Vindictive Bastard

I’m slowly learning that noticing feet is normal. Not at this level, there’s nothing normal about that, but my total inability to notice people below mid-calf is apparently kind of weird. Ugg boots, platforms with fish in them, clown shoes – I promise you, I won't notice. Never in my life has the phrase 'what a pretty shoe' gone through my head, let alone made it all the way out of my mouth.

And it's not that I don’t care about clothes. I like clothes. I like hippy skirts, jeans that come all the way up to my waist, and bras that push my breasts together instead of tucking them discreetly into my armpits. I'll get all dressed up for an evening out, jewellery and hair and makeup, and then get all depressed when I realise I have to put something on my feet or I'll look weird.

My total loathing of shoes, and the discarding of them at the first possible opportunity, is I'm sure in no way related to either my current protracted bout of bronchitis, or my on-going hip problems. When my physiotherapist suggested corrective insoles for my non-existent shoes, I just stopped going to my physiotherapist. And yes, it has been suggested that I’m in need of the kind of therapy that doesn’t start with 'physio'.

I was in the supermarket the other day, and a woman looked at me a couple of times, then furtively scurried over. "I just want to say," she said, "how nice it is to see someone in bare feet. I'm from Auckland, and you never see people in Christchurch with bare feet". I was very sweet and thanked her, instead of suggesting it was either to stop people spotting the webbed toes from the in-breeding, or to protect us from the debris from the constantly-exploding P labs.

Let her find that out the hard way.

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