Me, Dad and Seven Shoes

Irene Joseph

© Copyright 2020 by Irene Joseph

Photo by Bakhrom Tursunov on Unsplash
Photo by Bakhrom Tursunov on Unsplash

It's magical, how an assortment of fond memories can spring from a pair of shoes from the past! When I think about particular shoes, memories of me and my Dad appear. It is ten years this Christmas that I lost my Dad, and so as a celebration of his life with me, here are seven pairs of shoes, whose memories I'd like to share.

1. Dad's Shoes

Back in the late seventies, Dad would sometimes wear his beige platform shoes – like those worn by John Trovolta in Saturday Night Fever. I loved John Trovolta's walk in those shoes! Dad and I devoured as many of his films as we could, sat together on the sofa, munching on doughnuts!

When I was four, I remember thinking that Dad was the tallest man in the world, especially more so when he wore his platforms. As I grew into adulthood, the magic wore off, because as I grew taller, Dad grew shorter.

Dad always dressed smart when he went out – unless we were going to the park or popping down to the local shop. I had to dress smart too: smart for school and smart for visits. Dad would wear his black shoes, and not his platforms, for these occasions.

As it was the early eighties, Dad's seventies platforms eventually retired to the hall amongst a row of shoes, which I loved playing with! I remember being fascinated by the cubic-shaped heels of Dad's seventies throwback platforms. I was fascinated by the hollow sound when I knocked the heeled blocks together, curious of what might be inside. I was convinced that little elves lived in Dad's heels. I'd made associations with the story of 'The Elves and the Shoemaker.'

Dad's platforms were worn with age, but I could still feel faint suede beneath my fingertips. At school, I was taught Elvis Presley's song 'Blue Suede Shoes' and that day, when I got home from school, I coloured one of my Dad's shoes with a blue felt-tip pen. Of course I got into trouble, but an hour later, when Dad had calmed down, he asked for an explanation. That evening, I taught him the song. He had a wonderful singing voice that I'd never heard before. I also found out that when he was younger, he used to be part of a band and played the banjo.

Dad kept the 'blue, suede shoe' for me to play with. I noticed how it always smelled of his favourite aftershave – Old Spice. I would watch Dad putting it on his face and often wondered how it went from his face to his feet, to make his shoes smell of Old Spice. He once told me that if I kept drawing on my hands with felt-tips, the ink would go through into my blood, travel all through my body and make me poorly. He never explained why, so I just kept doing it. At least it answered my question of the face to feet scent!

2. The Black, Patent, Scuffing Shoes

I had a thing about smelling shoes! At the age of five, I took to sniffing new school shoes: black, patent, buckled shoes, sometimes plain, sometimes with a simple pattern on the top. My feet were growing so fast, I had to have new school-shoes each term. It was a good thing that Dad was such an avid money-saver. I was taught how to save from an early age, but it went to pot once I started university, and I discovered how easy it was to get store-cards. Dad had to bail me out for those. He wasn't happy.

I remember getting into trouble with Dad for scuffing my shoes. I hadn't realised I was doing it as I had been daydreaming, waiting for Dad to finish a quick carpentry job, before he took me to school. I was moving up and down on tiptoes in time to the beat of his saw as I was watching him (I loved watching my Dad when he was working!) and this meant my school shoes were rubbing on the wall's paintwork, dirtying them with black scuff marks and, in turn, my shoes had chips of white paint. I was pulled out of my reverie when Dad said: “Irene, look what you're doing - your shoes, the wall!”

Whenever Dad raised his voice, I'd get a lump in my throat. I hated upsetting Dad. I'd cry - even if he wasn't upset. But when his voice rose, I associated it with him being cross and me being in trouble, which was very rare.

I was a bit of a wimp, I think. I'd cry at anything with babies or animals. Dad watched a lot of nature programmes. I couldn't bear them. The sight of animals attacking each other, taking baby animals or eating each other, didn't appeal. I couldn't even watch The Littlest Hobo, Lassie or Flipper either...or Black Beauty come to think of it. The soundtracks to these programmes didn't help. As soon as they'd start, that was it. Tears streamed down my face and I'd have to wipe my snivelling nose. Yes, I confess, I used my sleeve, even though there was always a box of Kleenex in the living room. I'm glad Dad never found out about my snotty sleeves!

I learnt to block the mental images and sounds from the nature programmes, as I would sit behind the sofa with my eyes in lots of books, absorbing words in stories and creating my own storyworlds. Perhaps that was my first lesson in escaping from reality. As I played in my own fantasy world, I got away from the torment of nature in real-life.

On the day of the 'scuffing incident,' Dad had been surprised by how quickly I'd eaten my breakfast. He assumed it was my excitement for school (true), but I hadn't actually eaten it... I'd stuffed my Weetabix down the side of an armchair whilst Mum fed my baby sister. I did this at all mealtimes, when no one was looking. Also, I was such a slow-eater (and I mean really slow), that my parents sent me to their bedroom where I had to eat all on my own. I was scared of being in a room on my own, so I would make me eat all my supper much faster. They were pleased, but little did they know that a lot of food was being emptied down the side of the armchair in their bedroom too! I was found out in the end as they searched the flat high and low for the disgusting smell of rot that was starting to linger. 

I was taken to see the doctor, who reassured my parents that I didn't have an eating disorder and that it was just a phase. Eating wasn't my favourite thing and I was being stubborn. He recommended Cod-Liver-Oil each day to make sure I was getting appropriate vitamins.

Dad put the disgusting concoction on my supper. It was the day when Channel Four first appeared on TV, and as a treat I was allowed to eat in front of the TV and not at the family dining table. I took one mouthful of that poison and I was sick. Dad felt so bad he gave me a bag of his favourite crisps - Prawn Cocktail flowers from Sainsbury's. I never had Cod-Liver Oil again.

The very first programme to air on Channel Four was Countdown – presented by Richard Whitely and Carol Voderman. Carol Voderman had a degree in Engineering and Mathematics, and as Countdown was the making of her, she's had a very successful career in the TV industry. But despite her success, the thing she will be tarnished with forever, in my book, is Cod-Liver Oil.

Anyway, back to the Scuffing Incident. So, that day after school, armed with a small mixing bowl of soapy water, I was to clean the few marks left on the walls - Dad had already cleaned some whilst I'd been in school. Once I'd done that, I was allowed to play with my toys before supper.

The incident had happened in the bedroom I shared with my brother, who was a year younger than me and my baby sister. We lived in a fifth floor, two bedroom flat in a tower block in Bigland Street, East London, so the three of us shared a double bed, with lovely thick blankets and pastel-rainbow striped soft sheets. Two of my most favourite blankets, were ones which Dad used, to keep warm, as he suffered a lot with flu and chesty coughs in his later years. To this day, there is still a faint smell of Vicks vapour rub on them!

One blanket was mauve, patched and padded, with one side silky and the other side fleecy. It was a perfect comfort blanket, especially useful during thunderstorms, which terrified me. Dad and I would call them the 'Big Bang.' My baby sister used this blanket a lot, so it always had the lingering smell of puffs of Johnsons Baby Powder.

The other favourite blanket of mine was a giant brown and cream one, edged with chocolate-coloured fringe-threads (I remember twisting them into plaits, then pretending to eat them as they reminded me of Cadbury's Curly Wurlies!) This blanket brought great joy to my brother and I: we'd build tents to hide in or we'd fold it up like a horses saddle, put it on the corner of the bed and bounce up and down, pretending to ride horses, like the cowboy films Dad always watched. The game got more exciting when my parents bought us cowboy hats and a sheriff's badge. In the summer, we had the addition of brightly-coloured water pistols!

3. The Toy Boot

As well as playing cowboys with my brother, I loved playing with my toy boot – it was my favourites. The boot was based on the nursery rhyme: 'The Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe.' It had a rooftop lid that had a clock with movable hands and there were laces to thread and tie. The boot had a playground set, that included a spinning roundabout with letters of the alphabet on it.

It took me a long time to learn to tie my laces, tell the time and recite the alphabet. Dad spent a vast amount of time trying to teach me these concepts and, at one point, he got me teaching my brother, in the hope that the learning would sink in. And yet all my school reports said that although I was shy and quiet, I was intelligent, a fluent and avid reader and excellent in writing!

Left and right was difficult for me too and even today, I still get them mixed up – embarrassing in a shop trying on shoes and not knowing which shoe should go on which foot! Poor Dad (who was forever taking me to get new shoes) had to put up with the embarrassment, but he was very understanding. Although, I did get a stern look if I started giggling when the sales assistant was measuring my feet – my feet were terribly ticklish you see. I think Dad was pleased when I became an adult. It meant he could go off and buy me shoes as gifts without any embarrassments! Nowadays, it's easier to buy shoes online to save my left-right embarrassment.

With my Dad's encouragement and the educational value of the toy boot (although it took forever and a day), by the age of ten and eleven, telling the time, tying shoe laces and reciting the alphabet, finally clicked.

                                                                                      4. The Real Boot

My black, pointy, buckled ankle-boots did a lot of click-clacking. They were like the ones my favourite rock-stars (Whitesnake, Bon Jovi), would wear, and so, of course, I wanted a pair.

The boots were ordered from Littlewoods catalogue - I was addicted to the smell of the pages and their newness as I often flicked through it. Dad had left a page open and asked me which out of the boots I'd like. I remember the knowing look and smile Dad gave to Mum, the 'I told you so!' look and it was then that I knew Dad had made the same choice.

I was allowed to wear my boots for school. By then I was in my second year at Mulberry Secondary School for girls in Tower Hamlets. Mum thought I should wear 'proper' shoes, but Dad didn't see a problem because I wore long skirts anyway. As long as I wore the burgundy tie, he was happy with me wearing my rock-chick boots. The school tie wasn't compulsory, but this was Dad wanting me to look smart and presentable, so for me it was compulsory.

Those boots lasted a good two or three years – surprising really as I lived in them. Thinking back to those years, my interests included a love of American football. I would try and remember all the names of the teams in the NFL and I had a map of America, where I'd plot their locations. Dad would watch the NFL with me every Sunday evening and get me to explain what was going on. Looking back, I don't think he paid much attention. Dad preferred his Snooker and Cricket instead.

By this time, boys became an interest – a subject where Dad drew the line! I started keeping a diary which I called Billy. Billy was short for the actor William Baldwin, who I had a teenage crush on. I think he was in the film Backdraft.. And, move over John Travolta – in came Sylvestor Stallone with Rocky, which Dad and I enjoyed watching together – we liked our Boxing.

The other crush I had, was on an Italian model in a Levi advert – which I'm sure the soundtrack was The Clash's Should I Stay or Should I Go? He was from Sorrento. I think I read about him in Smash Hits magazine or maybe it was in another teen magazine like 'Look In' or 'Just Seventeen', and the day I discovered Sorrento was the same day I declared to my parents that I wanted to travel there.

But the only place I was going was Oxford. Dad had decided to move us out of London, to a place with better education, especially with its two universities. But what he didn't know was the fact that putting me into a mixed comp school – St Augustines – (and not a girls school as I had become accustomed to) at a time when I was into boys, meant my academic interests would temporarily wane - only a little though!

5. Flip-Flap-Flop

I did travel eventually, but not Sorrento. My first time travelling out of England and on a plane was when I was around twenty-three or twenty-four. After graduating from Oxford Brookes University armed with a teaching degree and job as a Primary teacher, my new found friends and colleagues decided to book a girls holiday to Portugal.

Dad was very reluctant to let me go – me being his first daughter - but eventually, he came round. I'd already flown the nest, renting a house with my boyfriend. Dad came with me to look at flip-flops for the holiday. I'd never worn flip-flops in my life – clumsy feet you see, maybe even to do with my left-right confusion! I'd always stuck to sandals as they were more secure on my feet and avoided any embarrassing trip ups.

So why did I not stick to sandals? Well, simply because the girls at work (or the 'Portugirlies' as we came to be known) were so excited, they would bring into work their newly-purchased holiday clothes to show and there wasn't a single pair of sandals in sight. Just flip-flops. Flip-flops of all kinds - styles and colours. I'd never seen so many flip-flops in one room!

The locals in Praia de Macas - the village we visited every May - would hear us all a mile off as we'd walk into the village for our morning shop or evening meal and drinks! The sounds of the numerous types of flip, flap, flopping from our range of stylish flip-flops and our cackling laughing voices along the dusty roads, became well-known throughout the village.

In 2006, we used our annual trip to Portugal as my Hen do. This was where our Portugirlie motto was formed: “What happens in Portugal stays in Portugal.” I'm sure the motto was founded when we all went a bit wild that year! My wild bit was a developing crush on a waiter in our favourite restaurant and, through my drunken moments, I would declare undying love for him and that I didn't want to marry my boyfriend after all. I remember having a private conversation about this episode with Dad. He'd asked me if I was one hundred per cent sure I'd chosen the right man to marry, which did get me questioning myself again, but I loved this man and I was going to go ahead with it. Dad gave me his blessing and that was all the reassurance I needed.

6. Wedding Shoes

Dad had been a bit shocked when my fiancι and I announced we were finally setting a date. As with most men I dated (and believe me these were far and few between), he was never really happy with who I chose. But with my husband-to-be, he saw good in him and came round. Mind, if he were still alive today, he'd still be saying he wasn't right for me. As always, Dad proved right, eventually, as I left my husband five years later, falling back in love my long-lost, childhood sweetheart, who'd always been my one, true-love – another story for another time.

Originally, I had wanted to marry in a red dress, as red was Dad's favourite colour. We'd searched high and low, but there was nothing suitable – either too expensive or too flamboyant. Yes I know the Bride is supposed to be the centre of attention, but I'm a shy and modest person.

We settled on a simple two-piece, silk, cream bodice and trailing skirt. Dad wanted to spend more than what the dress was worth, but I'd never have been comfortable on the day. Dad understood. But there was on thing we definitely agreed shoes. And I found them, one day, out of the blue!

I know I should've been with Mum when I bought the shoes, (as was the original plan), but one day, whilst meandering along the high street, there, in a shop window, was a pair of shoes, pulling me in like a magnet. They were burgundy, silk sandals, with a small heel and studded with small diamonds (fake of course – I didn't earn that much as a school teacher!). It's not often that something in a shop window makes me stop and peek - unless its a special wine offer of course! I just had to have the shoes. They were perfect! Mum and Dad had loved them too, when I took them home to try them on in front of them (with help from Dad over which shoe was left or right of course!) Mum was especially pleased. She loved me to bits, but hated shopping with me!

I still have my wedding shoes. They are at the bottom of my wardrobe gathering dust and cobwebs. I cannot bare to part with them because of the memories of that beautiful day when friends and family united to celebrate our love for each other. My husband and I aren't together anymore, but the memory can still be cherished and live on in those shoes.

7. The Red, Patent, Pinching Shoes

Next to my wedding shoes in the wardrobe are my patent-red shoes – a present from Dad. He got me those chunky-heeled shoes for my birthday with a matching red hand-bag – I'm sure it was a Debenhams job and no doubt he'd chatted up the Sales Assistant, whilst she helped him find exactly what he was looking for. Unlike Mum, Dad loved shopping expeditions!

That was my Dad – jolly, happy, charming and full of laughter. I remember a photo I had, of him sitting at the dining table in the house my husband and I bought a year after our marriage. It was Christmas and Dad's birthday and Mum and Dad's Wedding Anniversary. My in-laws had come for Christmas too and it was a true, loving family Christmas.

Dad had dressed up in his old Wedding Suit (which I now have stored away in the corner of my bedroom) and on his head, instead of one of his stylish hats (that are now displayed on my living room wall) he wore a paper hat he'd pulled out of a cracker with my mother-in-law. Fuelled with Vodka, Wine and Turkey, he's beautiful smile and laughter penetrated through that photo. That's how I will always remember my Daddy, not the sad bits towards the end of his life.

My red-patent shoes are rather too tight for me now. Age has meant my feet have got wider and chunkier, so my toes squeeze in and get pinched at the open toe bit of the shoe. But I will never get rid of them. They were the last pair Dad bought me.

As well as his wedding suit and hats, I still have a pair of Dad's shoes. Very smart ones: black lace-ups, not a single mark on them and there is a faint smell of shoe polish. But what is astounding is that I can still smell Old Spice aftershave on them. Ten years on from his death, I believe Dad's soul lingers in these shoes. I treasure those shoes – they are the only ones that get a good dusting now and then. Life still lives in the shoes I've kept, both those in my memory and those in the bottom of my wardrobe. I'd wear Dad's black shoes like brogues if I could.

But Dad was a size nine and I'm a size seven.

By day, Irene spends time satisfying hungry college students and Lecturers as a Catering Assistant in a local college in South Wales, UK. By night, she feeds her hunger for story-writing, particularly short-stories and flash fiction. She enjoys reading, cooking, criminal psychology and true life crimes. Irene is currently having a stab at writing a psychological crime thriller entitled 'The Ticking TimeBomb'

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