When I was fifteen I met a girl my age called Janice. After walking with her along Gorleston seafront, I took her home and at her front doorstep asked if I could kiss her. Her lips were soft, warm and tasted of the salty crisps she had just eaten. I closed my eyes and for a few moments stepped into her heaven. When space came between us once more I asked her if I could see her again. She looked down at my shoes and said not if you’re wearing those. ‘Those’ were my school shoes. Black Oxford brogues, regulation, but with personalised toe caps from kicking flints along the roadway on the journeys home from school, scoring goals for England. They were the only pair I had. There was a spring in my step as I walked home that evening with a plan.
For a month I had been working weekends in the food hall of Arnold’s department store in Yarmouth. Filling shelves, delivering orders, serving and the like. My first pay packet was due. We were paid at the end of Saturday, cash in a brown envelope, with the details on the front. On the way home that day I looked in shoe shops until in Stead and Simpsons window I spied a pair of winkle picker boots with Cuban heels. Shoes with murderous points. The ticket stated latest fashion. I tried a pair. The assistant said sublime to the ridiculous as he compared new with old. I marched up and down in front of the mirror. I felt ten feet tall. Janice would be my girlfriend. They nipped a bit but the leather would give, I had heard my mother say that. I also knew she would go bananas when she saw them and make me take them back, but there was a plan for that too.
The assistant went to take them off me but I told him no and asked if he would put my old ones in the shoe box. I strode out of the shop and watched myself in shop windows. I walked with a twist of the sole on the concrete. The heels clicked and turned heads. Nearing home, two girls sitting on a wall watched me pass. One said “Dig the shoes.” They burst out giggling, before the other replied “Shame about the rest.” I ignored them both, but dig the shoes was fine by me.
The entrance to the back of our house was through a passage shared with the neighbours. I stopped there, changing my shoes, putting the old ones back on. I walked quietly to the back of the house slipping the gate latch slowly and trying to hide the green box under my arm. I pulled the back door handle down as silently as possible and opened the door slowly. Mum was not in there so I started to tiptoe toward the hallway. Two steps were managed.
“Patrick my lad, what’s in the box ?”
” What box?” I tried to conceal it by my side. My face was burning.
“That green Stead and Simpsons shoe box behind you.”
I told her it was nothing but she said you don’t need a box for nothing, bring it here sonny Jim. She wrested the shoebox from me and lifted the lid. A horrified expression crossed her face.
“What on earth did you buy them for? They’re exactly what riff-raff would wear. They can go straight back to the shop on Monday.”
I argued that they were scuffed and couldn’t go back. She looked at the soles.
“We’ll see about that my boy.”
She stormed out to the front of the house. I watched from the front room window. Straight over to the Johnson boy opposite, who was polishing his Triumph motorbike. As she approached he looked up and stopped his work. Mum handed him the box. He took out the shoes and held them up, before trying them on. He looked down over his shoulder at them, then mounted the motorcycle. He nodded to mum, then took out his wallet. They both looked towards the house and laughed as mum took the money. I felt like shouting out of the window is that the riff-raff you were talking about.
I did not see the shoes or Janice again for that matter. What use is a girlfriend who places so much importance on shoes anyway? Nor did I ever buy pointed ones again. At eighteen when I had my first fitted suit from Hepworth’s the tailor, the shoes that matched it best were Oxford style brogues. There is some irony in that. My mother’s strictness has left a legacy. When I look down at my feet, they are straight and true, just as she was. All the toes point forward without deviation. She steered my early life and for that I am eternally grateful.