foot forward

(Photograph taken January 9th, 2010. I had my stroke a little further along that same path a couple of weeks later.)

Well, for those of you who were interested in the coat, it is from Cabbages and Roses Autumn/Winter ’09, and it is probably my favourite garment in my wardrobe – I absolutely love it – not least because its fine woollen cloth was woven in a mill in Delph, close to where I grew up. I was actually wearing that coat when I had my stroke on February 1st. It says something about me – or perhaps just about how much I like it – that one of the first things I did when poor Tom appeared, ashen-faced at the hospital, was to ask him to check if my coat was ok. There was a small tear in the lining from when I fell over, but the coat of dreams was happily otherwise unscathed. That anecdote will suggest to you (if by some miracle you didn’t know already) that I am very attached to my clothes. I suppose this is true of everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, and everyone has their preferences and foibles. I think of myself as someone who loves coats and dresses most of all, but I am also very fond of shoes. I’ve now decided to get rid of all the pairs I can no longer wear.

(Remember these?)

The bits of me that have been most obviously physically affected by the stroke are my leg and foot. I can mostly get about just fine, in a lopsided sort of fashion, but the ankle has no stability and the foot and lower leg have quite a limited range of movement. I have some great orthotics which stabilise the ankle, and with them I can now walk in a reasonable range of shoes that are entirely flat – any sort of raised heel sends me woefully off kilter. Now, I really feel very lucky to be able to walk at all, and, being a committed walker, appreciate the sturdy, reliable qualities of a good, comfortable shoe or boot. But I have many shoes in my wardrobe that do not fall into this category. Even the pair pictured above – whose virtues I celebrated in a couple of posts from Philadelphia last year – are now unwearable because of their unsupported sides against which my left ankle flops uselessly. If I can’t walk in those shoes, imagine the insurmountable challenge that is posed by these babies:

When I came home from hospital, I put all such shoes away so that I didn’t have to look at them. But I’ve been unable to pretend that they’re not there. For several weeks now their dumb presence has been really annoying me. I feel that there are things I have to do – big things like looking forward – that these shoes are preventing me from doing. Somehow I have to get rid of them, to accept that I am now a person who will walk into the future on the flat and not in any sort of heel.

In all cultures, footwear is deeply symbolic, and I can understand many of the obvious Western feminist arguments that have been made both for and against high heels. Personally, I have never regarded them as agents either of empowerment or oppression, but they are certainly bound up with my identity, if not my femininity. Like all special objects, they are invested with individual significances, and each pair has their history – a set of meanings tied up with the moments of their wearing. There are the shoes I kept for conferences and interviews, and regarded as being ‘lucky’; there are the shoes I liked to to teach in; the whacko pair bought just for fun. . .

. . . and the pair I got on a whim, and had been sort of saving for a very special occasion.

This blog has also kept a record of my shoes, and different pairs have accompanied many different hand-made garments and occasions over the past few years. There are blue shoes in this post; the fun red pair that I am wearing on my birthday here; the suede stilettos I wore when modelling Manu, and another green pair of which I was particularly fond.

Perhaps this all seems rather vain and self-regarding. Perhaps it is. I say again that every day I feel immensely lucky to be able to walk – and indeed to be alive. But I wouldn’t be human (or perhaps I just wouldn’t be me) if I didn’t have the the odd wallow-y moment of regret for what my leg and foot could do before. These shoes – these objects, these ornaments – are bound up with that regret, and that’s why it is now time to say goodbye. So a few days ago I took a deep breath, photographed seventeen pairs of shoes and boots, shed a few tears, and put them up for sale. When I mentioned I was thinking of doing this a few weeks ago, several of you emailed me to ask about it, so if you are in the UK and fancy a pair, you can find them all here. Please don’t feel weird or sad about this – I’m sure you can see that it is an entirely positive and necessary step for me, and I intend to buy myself a fabulous pair of flat-heeled boots with the proceeds.