Some people fetishise them, others abhor them. The more I look at mine, the odder they seem. Is that all I have holding me up? Upon close examination they look wholly inadequate. Too long and narrow to provide ballast – surely a better design would have been a broader base, like duck feet or snowshoes. Yet they work. And besides, you couldn’t fit duck feet into a pair of Louboutins. Having said that, we shouldn’t be contorting our feet into shoes that are more like instruments of torture than something to protect the part of our body that propels, roots, bounces us, and provides us with self-esteem: walk tall, stand tall, rise up on your own two feet.
I have a friend who was gifted a DNA testing kit two Christmases ago and only got round to doing it lately. Turns out she is an unglamorous soup of Irish, English and Scottish (potato and leek with half an ale on the side). Additional notes provided by the DNA analysis told her she couldn’t hold a tune and had a propensity for bunions. ‘And I bloody well do have bunions,’ she said, crestfallen by the whole thing. ‘Didn’t need them to remind me.’ When I was a child, I remember being fascinated by particular old ladies’ feet, the ones with strange knobbles protruding from sensible shoes. I asked and was told they were bunions. I assumed – because of the close rhyme and the shape – they had something to do with onions. I imagined the old women had eaten pickled pearl onions that had then bypassed the digestion process and slipped down into their feet to be lodged there in an onion-bunion. I vowed never to eat pickled onions, a decision that, so far, has served my feet well.
It was after this brief bunion chat that I opened a conversation in the bath with my own feet. Gave them a quick rub with a pumice and asked them how they were doing. They told me they were ok, that they were wintering out, and they were a bit tired of the season. They spoke of their wish to see more sun, soil, sand. ‘It starts and ends with us, you know,’ they said to me. I have wise old feet. I rubbed them a bit more and thanked them for the walking and running and Bat-Out-Of-Hell dancing, for the kicking and pushing and bouncing. Christy Brown could paint with his – I told them – and my two-year-old nephew uses his as a pretend mobile phone, he can hold a foot to his ear and speak into it. The more I looked at mine, the more I realised how much I under-rate and take for granted the most amazing things.
After the bath I slathered them with hand cream put my socks (so I didn’t slip), and stood up on my tip toes to make them all crack. Ten pathetic little bony appendages can hold me upright, it’s amazing. I did my one-foot balances, and that thing where I try to separate my toes (too hard for me). I wouldn’t call myself dexterous, yet my feet manage incredible tasks, day in day out. No wonder it takes babies a year to master their use as a hold-me-upright tool and not simply something to chew on. My Pilates teacher tells me to watch TV or to sit at my computer in bare feet so I can roll my soles over the spikey ball and massage all pressure points. I’m trying to do it right now but realise I can’t type and roll a ball under my feet at the same time – so much for dexterity. The spikey ball is bigger and softer than a tennis ball and (this takes a little getting used to) is studded with little plastic pyramid spikes – think of Sid Vicious’s leather jacket. The pressure of it against the sole of my foot provides a satisfying discomfort, similar to walking across a stony beach in bare feet for the first time in the summer before my soles have acclimatised, each step accompanied by an ‘ouch, ouch, ouch’ refrain. These winter feet are looking forward to that shoeless, summer day of liberation.