I have this blog on the brain. Last night I had a dream in which Kate told me my word was ‘algorithm’. If anything of consequence happened after that I don’t remember. It’s telling that an exercise based on a kind of automatic writing should worm its way into my subconscious. But anyway I’m not here to write about algorithms, but the word Kate sent this morning in our shared reality: slippers.
There’s a line from a Smiths song that I’ve been thinking of as a sort of unofficial tagline of this blog: ‘How do I feel about my shoes?’ It’s a typical early Morrisseyism, yearning and sad and self-conscious in a very adolescent way, yet attuned to the textures of everyday life in a way pop music rarely is. Footwear is important (another pop lyric comes to mind, from Paul Simon’s Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes: ‘The boy changes clothes and puts on aftershave/to compensate for his ordinary shoes.’) Shoes are important I suppose because they ground us. They are the only part of our body that, in our waking lives at least, are almost always in contact with the earth. They ground us, and they mark us out as ‘civilised’ (one of my brothers went through a phase in which he went everywhere barefoot, and I remember him being thrown out of a bus and a cinema as if he were a suicide bomber).
I remember, during I suppose my first growth spurt when I must have been fourteen or so, feeling crushingly self-conscious of how big my feet had become in relation to the rest of my body (another song lyric comes to mind, Fat’s Waller’s Feets Too Big – ‘man oh man those things are gunboats!’ The Beatles used to cover at early gigs, McCartney singing ‘feets too fuckin’ big’. I knew just what he meant). Kate, who provides the words for these free-associative ramblings, introduced me a couple of years ago to the term ‘sneans’ – a distinctly daggy look comprising blue jeans and white sneakers made famous by Seinfield. I think that was my look when I was fourteen, starting out in high school, and yes those sneakers looked (and felt) like gunboats.
But, to come back to this week’s subject, shoes are not slippers. Slippers are, by contrast, private, almost illicit. They signify age more than anything else, or the kind of flight into comfort young people are not supposed to take. I have a pair, which I’m wearing now, that I think my partner bought for me, or perhaps persuaded me to by. They’re comfortable and warm, though tend to get a little sweaty around the edges of the cotton lining. They’re inside shoes, obviously, not fit for public consumption – though I remember the packaging contained a marketing spiel that insisted their soles were sturdy enough for outside wear, and indeed sometimes wear them to take the bins out or feed the chicken. It seems strange that such utilitarian footwear shares its name with the shoes made famous by fairy tales about glass and golden slippers. I suppose all the word indicates is the method by which we get them on, that is to say, in this case, by simply slipping our feet into them – no laces or buckles, nothing so constraining that they can’t be kicked off in a moment. They’re the t-shirts of footwear, though without the street cred – something I’m all too aware of when I drag the bins to the curb wearing them, conscious that someone might be looking and, heaven forefend, judge me (god knows I’ve judged others for wearing Ugg boots to the cinema). Might my neighbours think me unemployed, infirm, crazy? Might they think I’m older than I am? I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in slippers, and yet they’re almost all older than me. Thongs, yes. And barefooted. ‘How do I feel about my shoes?’ ‘How do they feel about my shoes?’ It’s like, for a moment, I’m fourteen again. But then I’m inside, and can wear them without judgement – perceived or real – and can slip out of them any time I want.