Pad Life: Summer's Here!
It’s toes weather.
I am, for the greater part of the year, a socks and shoes kind of girl. I like a nice, bright sock, but I do have my rules. Only viable sock couples are allowed out in public, in the open shoes that replace the winter boots. Desolate single socks must take their pleasures alone, in the dark privacy of those same boots. There is something liberatingly risqué about having purple cats in one boot and scarlet butterflies in the other.
But now, it’s toes weather.
Every year it’s the same process. Fish out the sandals or, if the strap’s gone, buy a new pair. Remove soft feet from socks and place them in sandals. Return home with feet cut to ribbons. Next time, apply plasters to relevant areas. Return home with plasters nowhere near original application points, and feet only slightly less shredded. Repeat as necessary. Eventually manage to walk home without weeping. Or swearing a lot.
Why not buy sandals that fit, I hear you cry. I do buy sandals that fit, when I try them on. I buy old lady soft sandals that are supposed to float you along the pavement. Maybe my heels have one less dermatological layer than everyone else’s. Maybe I am a throwback to the days when peasants wore those wrap around animal hide things, for all purposes and in all weathers. Maybe my feet were irradiated by the x-ray machines they had in shoe shops in the 1960s, and have mutated into something hitherto unknown to podiatry. Pedibus Attenboroughensis. (No, I know the Latin’s not right. I made it up. Put the red pencil down.)
Or maybe it’s just another sign that I’m really not cut out for the summer. Some people blossom in the sun. Their limbs seem to grow longer and their backs straighter, and they move with a certain grace. I look like a sweaty hobgoblin, scuttling between the dark places. In my no-nonsense green Millets sunhat, I look like a sweaty hobgoblin on safari, and on the rare occasions I try a big floppy flower-child titfer, I look like a sweaty hobgoblin that can’t see where it’s going. Add a face mask to that, and I am the horror that lurked under your bed in your darkest childhood nightmares.
Are you doing the face mask thing? If you’re not in the UK you may have to, but we’re still being frightfully British about it and trying to make our minds up. Don’t want to do anything that might make us look like foreigners. I’ve got some – face masks, not foreigners - and I always carry one in my bag in case I should get a sudden urge to catch a bus or go in one of our ‘quaint’ little shops, where two metres can only be measured on the diagonal via a detour round the ceiling. Sorry, one metre plus. Plus what?
Our city centre has pretty much returned to normal, except that there are even more people than usual lolling about clutching disposable cups on benches, steps and anything else that doesn’t move, because you can’t get in a café. It is interesting how the human perception of distance (or perhaps just the British perception) varies according to the motion of the object to be avoided. Walking along the street, most people are still making at least a desultory effort to mind the gap. If, however, you are sitting down with your take-away coffee in your hand, people will walk right over your shredded feet to save a couple of paces on their journey.
It felt like old times, to pop into Waterstone’s for a book browse. A very helpful man at the door directed me to the hand sanitiser and pointed out the trolley for any books I handled but didn’t buy, so they could be quarantined for the required time. Since most of my visits to Waterstones involve handling but not buying, I felt very self-conscious, and ended up just getting my fix from the look of the books, neither handling nor buying anything. Also, I couldn’t tell, could I, if people had put their handled books on the trolley. All sorts could be lurking on those pages.
The library certainly isn’t being that trusting. You have to reserve a book online and make an appointment to collect it. I find the authoritarianism of that quite nostalgic. It brings back memories of my childhood when, after having my feet mutated, I was deposited in the children’s library while my parents selected books from the grown-up section. The librarian watched any unattended child like a hawk, apparently convinced that our main aim in life was to smuggle out a volume unbranded with the due-by date. I never dreamt of doing that, because at least half the joy of the library was the librarian’s enormous, clumpy date stamp, which sounded like a recoiling gun. I always used to take out the maximum number of books allowed, just for the sheer thrill of rapid fire stamping. I asked for an ink stamp for Christmas one year, so I could play libraries properly, and my Dad nicked the nearest approximation, with ink pad, from the stationery cupboard at work. I was ecstatic, my mother less so when I stamped all the books in the house and got ink on my sheets.
So, here in the UK, are we now more or less back to normal, or more or less at the new normal, or more or less having a bash at some manifestation of normality? Well I think we’re doing our best, because as usual an astonishing number of Brits are taking the first sign of ‘nice weather’ as a signal to walk around in the minimum clothing needed to avoid arrest, ladle as many intoxicants into their gaping maws as they can manage, and piss against other people’s walls and behind other people’s bushes. It’s what we do. We do it here, we do it abroad, I have no doubt that one day we’ll be doing it in outer space. In addition, due to the headiness of lockdown release or, quite possibly, rank stupidity, quite a lot of us are driving a couple of hundred miles to poo on beaches and deposit enough litter to build an artificial island.
Bournemouth has had to declare a ‘major incident’, as you would if there were a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. I mean, Bournemouth. One of the jewels of the English Costa Geriatrica. I did hear someone on the radio opining that this rampage was partly due to the government’s mixed messages about easing lockdown. Now, I think our government is appalling, our Prime Minister’s an incompetent nincompoop, his cabinet is made up of venal idiots, and the list of things they should be blamed for stretches from here to Mars. But even I can’t pin this one on them. The messages about lockdown have not been mixed, they’ve been nonsensical, no-one knows what the hell’s going on, but I’m not quite following the train of thought that runs, ‘The Prime Minister’s a twerp and I’m not clear how many people I can have in my Bubble on a Tuesday, so hey, let’s sit in the car for hours and then go poo on a beach.’ Nope. Still a bit of a puzzler, that one.
I shall be undertaking what feels like a major expedition in a couple of weeks’ time. Assuming it’s fine, I shall be getting my mutated toes out, donning my hobgoblin hat, putting my mask on, and catching a Coastliner bus. I’m not going as far as the beach, just to the village where a friend lives; she has offered her garden for a socially distanced and smaller than usual writing group meeting. I haven’t been further than the shops since this whole rigmarole began, so I am quite excited. However, we haven’t discussed what happens if it rains. Can we go inside? What if we need the loo? At my age I’m not going to get through a ten minute walk to the bus stop, half an hour on the Coastliner there, a couple of hours writing chat, another half hour on the Coastliner back and another ten minute walk home, all on the strength of a couple of Tena Ladies.
Yes, I’m so looking forward to my day out that I haven’t planned properly for the weather or inconvenient bodily functions. Wilful thoughtlessness. So very British. But what the hell. Like my compatriots, I see the sun is shining. Summer’s here, and the time is right for breaking in the feet.