The last time I got my feet seen to, it must have been ten years ago. Maybe. Or eight, or fifteen. I never was good with time. I went to an alternative health centre in my old town – proper carpets, it had, and those leather-look plastic armchairs that make a kind of sighing noise when you sink into them; prints of sailing boats on the wall; a receptionist in a white uniform, with a name badge; tasteful displays of leaflets for soothing-sounding, alternative-type things: acupuncture, counselling, reiki, aromatherapy. It was expensive, but I was working then and I justified the expense by leaving over-long gaps between visits and reminding myself that you should never skimp on your feet, a saying I had adapted from one of my father’s: You should never skimp on brakes or tyres.
My then-chiropodist was a lady. She was nice, but in a loud and terrifying sort of way. As soon as I was safely tethered on her couch she, giant-thighed astride a stool at the foot of it, busy with her mini-pliers, her tiny sanders-and-polishers, her sharp little razors, would start to interrogate me about the most intimate details of my life. Somehow it seemed impossible not to answer her. In full. She didn’t so much speak as boom, and had a way of repeating and amplifying every juicy detail she had just extracted from me. I was always afraid that those in the plush waiting room outside would hear. In fact I knew they would because I myself had been waiting in that plush waiting room and overhearing.
Today I went to another chiropodist at the day-care centre up here. Cut rate because of it being an old people place. Worth being an old person, for cut rate. He met me at the door and signed me in and I followed him into a kind of utility room-cum-workshop. There was a washing-machine going in the corner. It had just reached rinse-and-spin. Part way through my appointment a Chinese gentleman dressed in a donkey jacket with a tabard over the top entered with another pile of washing. He didn’t knock, but then it was only my naked feet he was catching a fleeting glimpse of. Everything appeared to be covered in a fine film of feet-dust, not all of it mine. I was reminded of what they said about crematoria and dead people’s ashes.
However, my feet got done, nicely and professionally, and I fairly skipped back to the car park thinking My toes, my toes, what twinkling toes I do have! I had forgotten, through all the years of skimping and scrimping, what it felt like to look after myself in any physical way. Somewhere along the way I had mislaid that sense of deserving any care. It also occurred to me that that apart from fleeting interactions with the neighbours, the post-lady and the visiting Jehovah’s Witnesses – with whom, unfortunately, I now seem to be on first-name terms – the conversation with the chiropodist was probably only the second real conversation I had had here in the past four years.
And then tonight on TV there was yet another Island programme – in this case Fair Isle, which I gather is half way between Shetland and Orkney. I’m a sucker for programmes about Islands since in my younger days I had a fantasy – one of many fantasies, all totally unrealistic – of going to live on a Scottish island and becoming, somehow – how, given my total inability to join in or mingle? – part of a close-knit community. Yes, I would be knitting lovely jumpers from wool spun from Island sheep, which would be fluffy sheep, not large and greasy and obstreperous as I know real sheep to be.
I would be doubling as the island’s postmistress, pottering around windswept, rain-lashed lanes in my little red van, or possibly red tractor. I might have a workshop and… paint stuff…even though I have no artistic talent. I might help out on a fishing boat in my spare time, even though I’m a vegetarian and couldn’t bear to hurt a fish, or teach in a little school with five charming children. Any more than five, charming or not, as I discovered as a hopeless student teacher would be quite beyond me. I would be weather-beaten, spare and romantically tough. I would twist my hair up into a loose knot, with some sort of tortoiseshell slide and it would stay put, not fall apart immediately. I would wear faded jeans, check shirts, woolly hats and muddy wellingtons and I would be competent and… useful.
Subsequently it occurred to me that dreams can be very dangerous things. This indulgence in fantasies of future lives is one massive great tempting of fate. You are likely find that you have been vouchsafed instead the pale cousin of that life, its echo – its wraith, if you will – and that may be worse, far worse, than having been granted nothing at all. On the other hand, of course, it may be necessary to dream first of nectarines to pave the way for the inevitable lemons and the lemonade, of sorts, that might be made from them.
What wondrous life is this I lead!
Ripe apples drop upon my head;
The luscious clusters of the vine
Upon my mouth do crush their wine;
The nectarine and curious peach
Into my hands themselves do reach…
From: The Garden, by Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678)