The Foot Woman

It all started with an in-growing toenail, and a very painful one at that. At least that’s what my dear wife, Lara, told me and she should know as it was her nail that was doing  the in-growing. The doctor had done his bit, the out-patients department at the local hospital had done theirs, and I had done all the house work while Madam had barked out orders from a reclining chair.

‘Don’t forget,’ she declared one morning, just after breakfast, ‘I’ve got an appointment with the chiropodist later.’

‘Yes dear,’ I replied fighting a losing battle with a pile of dust on the mantelpiece. ‘Half ten’. I said and hoped she would be done before the Test match coverage started on television at eleven.

‘You won’t miss the football,’ she said. She called any game with a ball in it ‘football’, and even some that didn’t come to think of it.

‘No dear’, I sighed and blew the offending dust onto the top of a bookcase.

We pulled up outside the clinic,’ I’ll wait in the car,’ I said, tuning the radio into the pre cricket commentary.

Lara gave me one of her looks, not exactly one of loving helplessness, more sort of, ‘You better be here when I’ve finished with the bloodshed mate!’ Not wishing to appear in a hurry, I got out and opened the back passenger door, removed her crutches and manhandled her out of the car, through the front doors of the clinic and into the waiting room.

It was when I wandered over to the magazine rack that I first saw him.

Why I hadn’t noticed him before, and he was breathtakingly noticeable, was entirely due, looking back on it, to my thoughts on whether I could safely nip down the road to the White lion, embrace a swift half of bitter and watch the first few overs of the test match on their television while the memsahib was under the knife, therefore in no fit state to debate.

It might have been the best example of an imploding face, that I have ever seen which caught my attention. The single brown, stump of a tooth, like a solitary decrepit turret in the middle of two bright red gums, sat comfortably below a purple cratered overhanging buttress, which once passed as a nose. The eyes; I couldn’t see the eyes, they were there I’m pretty sure, but the eyebrows that covered them would have been highly commended at Crufts, if they were attached to an Old English Sheep dog. However, they weren’t, they were attached to a shock of bright red hair that spouted out of a skull in all directions. Exactly the sort of effect experienced if he had plugged himself into the nearest wall socket and had two hundred and twenty volts of electricity coursing through every strand. Then again it might have been the trousers. They looked like old maize sacks, roughly stitched together, with scant regard to the art of fine needlework and fell to ground level completely covering any footwear. But the gusset, for that is where the eyes were inextricably drawn, was made from, wait for it… a strip from an old rubber tyre with holes burnt in it to accommodate the twine that attached them to the aforementioned maize sacks.

Now I didn’t actually make a close inspection of this fabrication, but as I said to Lara afterwards this fashion, if that is what, it was may be alright in the wilds of West Cornwall, but I couldn’t see it becoming snazzy enough for a Buckingham House garden party!

Anyway, I was still pondering upon the haute couture aspect when the Chiropodist wafted in holding a cup of coffee, bade ‘a cherry good morning to all and bade my better half to join her in the torture chamber. This was accomplished in record time, aided by a method of ejecting Lara from her seat that I had perfected during the course of her incapacitation. It involved me hooking my foot under her knee and hoicking her to her feet. Not pretty, I grant you, but effective!

‘Only be ten minutes,’ said the pretty chiropodist, as she led the way down a corridor. I felt quite sorry for my beloved as she hobbled after her and decided there and then that love and duty must overcome any selfish thoughts of beer and wickets.

Have you ever tried to avoid eye contact with someone when the need to scrutinize them becomes an overwhelming desire? Well I tried and failed miserably on this occasion. Our fellow patient, for that is whom I presumed him to be, after all I surmised he couldn’t be the husband, or any relation come to that of the delectable young thing that at this very moment was digging away at Lara’s big toe…or could he? I wouldn’t be surprised at anything in this ‘neck of the woods’.

I started to roll a cigarette. The days of correctness, political or whatever hadn’t reached this outpost of the Empire yet and every waiting room was liberally supplied with ash trays. Deeply engrossed as I was in this act, I saw our friend shamble to his feet and set forth in my direction.

‘‘Spect you’ll be lightin’ up dreckly,’ he said.

I looked up. It was not a pretty sight. He was rummaging through the haystack on his skull with fingers shaped like telegraph poles. After what seemed an eternity he produced the stub end of a fag from somewhere behind his left ear which looked as if it had last seen a flame at about the time the last King died.

‘Mothers paid the ratting money this week,’ he went on,’ ‘er says buyin’ matches ‘ave to wait ’till ‘er gets ‘er pension.’

‘Ratting bill! …ratting bill’, I thought. ‘Is he a rat catcher? Well at least it would explain his mode of dress and especially the Michelin X covering his, er…more sensitive parts. ‘Council sent us one ‘o they red letters. Mother said first class post.’

‘Red?’ I said, mystified.

‘Said if we didn’t pay we’d be cut off’.

The mist slowly cleared. Rates, that’s what he was talking about. His rates demand.’Oh dear,’ I said, and passed him a box of matches. He looked too old to have a mother, in fact, it was hard to put an age on him; somewhere between fifty and ninety would be a rough guess, so I presumed he was talking about his wife. But you never know! I decided to clarify the situation. ‘Has your er, wife gone to the council offices?’

‘‘Ers up there now.’ He pointed out of the window, in the general direction of town.

‘That’s all right then,’ I said, ‘you won’t be cut off.’

The concave face with just the lone brown stump standing as a lonely sentinel, split into two, it was split from ear to ear like a fried tomato skin. I grinned back, just as idiotically. But what was he doing here,’ I thought. Perhaps his wife while passing here had a quick look in and thought it was the very place to deposit him, while she went and did battle up at the council offices. I picked up an old edition of ‘Punch’ and idly turned the pages.

‘They books got good pictures,’ he continued, ‘I seen ’em all.’

‘Proper job,’ I said, relaxing into the vernacular.

‘Every time I comes ‘ere.’

‘Do you come here very often then?’ I asked, intrigued.

‘Every time doctor send me ‘ere.’

I put the magazine down.

‘Won’t do the job ‘eself.’

‘What job is that?’

He bent forward, I thought for a minute he was going to attempt a hand stand, but it was just to pull one of the maize sacks up, uncovering a Wellington boot. ‘Cutting these ‘ere buggers off.’

The mind boggled.

‘Sends me ‘ere, to the foot woman ‘e does, and ‘er does the job…proper.’ He looked around the waiting room. ‘Don’t mind, though. ‘He pointed to a fluorescent light on the ceiling and then lent forward towards me as though         a revelation from on high had suddenly hit him. ‘They got ‘lectric in them tubes.’

‘Hell,’ I thought not wanting to get involved in technicalities, let alone try and follow this thought process. If I did it might well be catching, I could be as batty as him by the time Lara came back.

‘Why?’ I inquired, ‘have you got to come here to have your boots cut off.’

His face screwed up into a fair imitation of an orange that had been left on the shelf for three months.’ ‘Cos Mother says they mess the blankets up!’

‘Blankets!’

‘‘Er don’t take to me goin’ to bed with ’em on.’

‘ Well,’ I said, the mind doing somersaults,’ I can’t say I blame her.’

‘Well, I can’t take ’em off due to my ‘artherities’ and Mother can’t due to ‘er not ‘avin’ the pullin’ power ‘er used to’.

‘So that’s why she sends you to the doctor,’ I said, having a stab in the dark.

‘‘An he give me a piece of paper ‘an I brings it down ‘ere and then the foot woman…’er cuts the buggers off for me.’

‘I see.’ I said, not seeing at all, but trying to grasp the concept of what seemed to be a significantly new area of foot fetishism.

”Bout every three month,’ he did a bit of mental arithmetic on his telegraph poles.’ I comes ‘ere.’ He threw his chest out,’ ‘spect I be ‘er best customer.’

I watched him walk over to the wall. It was covered with notices extolling the virtues of reinforced toe caps and the need to keep an eye open for athlete’s foot. He stood and scrutinized these for a few seconds and then moved to peer intently at a print that someone had stuck on the wall between the opening times and a dire warning about pricking chilblains.

‘See this ‘ere,’ He said, prodding the picture with an index telegraph pole.

I got up and walked over. The print was one of those reproductions depicting farming life in the last century. It showed a handful of farm workers standing around a high sided cart with a Shire horse standing forlornly between the shafts. The men were holding pitchforks and to a man staring, with inane grins on their ruddy faces, into the camera.

‘ That’n be Grandfather,’ my companion pointed to a young man. ‘An that’n be ‘is father.’ He pointed to another.’ ‘An this one ‘ere be his father.’

‘Good lord,’ I exclaimed, ‘how d’you know?’

‘‘Cause I got ‘riginal at ‘ome.’

It was then that the penny dropped. All the men were dressed like my friend. They all had maize sack trousers with formidable gussets, and they were standing in a broccoli field. They were broccoli picking! And the fact that my friend was in town for his quarterly visit to the ‘footwoman’, in the middle of the picking season, didn’t mean he was going to alter his mode of dress!

‘Where do you farm?’ I asked this son of the soil.

‘I farm for any bugger who want’s me…worked for most of ’em.’ He scratched his head and I rolled a cigarette and handed him the pouch.

‘I expect you’ve got your favorites though?’

‘Well,’ he said licking the paper and rolling the tobacco up into a fair sized imitation of a squashed daddy longlegs,’ I ‘ave an’ I ‘avn’t. Most ‘o the buggers got these ‘ere tractors now…an’ me an’ tractors don’t get on spectacular together.’

I was saved having to think about technicalities again because I heard Lara shuffling up the corridor. ‘Finished?’ I said, stating the completely obvious, as I watched her swinging her way into the waiting room.

‘ For the time being,’ she said,’ Got to come back in a week’s time, just for a checkup.’

‘Good,’ I thought and then remembered my new found friend and was about to introduce them, but he was already half way into the surgery.

‘Who on earth was that?’ said Lara as we reached the car.

‘You wouldn’t believe me,’ I said,’ He’s a dying breed. They don’t make them like him anymore.’ Then I thought about it. How do I know they don’t? Out in the wild reaches of west Cornwall, out Sancreed way, the countryside’s full of them. It’s just that they don’t come into town very often; why should they; It’s a different world, a world full of cars and noise and tourists, of strangers and officialdom. Why, I bet some of them have never been into Penzance in their lives, why should they?

It was about two weeks later and I was passing the same clinic on my way to the library. I had thought of the old boy quite often and wondered how he was getting on. This time I found out.

He was walking towards me on the same side of the road with a lady. Well he was sort of waddling actually and she was a good ten yards in front of him. The fact that she was his lady was unmistakable – they just went together. His attire was the same eye catching ensemble and although she wasn’t wearing a pair of maize sacks, the pair of trousers that hung down, gusset wise, were large enough to accommodate half a broccoli field.

‘Hello,’ I said as we drew level.’ How’s the boots?’

He looked up from the cracks in the pavement he seemed to be studying and screwed his face up into the familiar dehydrated orange.’ ‘Ello my bird,’ he replied after kicking the memory banks into gear. ‘Don’t talk ’bout they buggers!’ Lifting the maize sacks up, he showed me a pair of Wellingtons that looked pretty decent, at first sight.

His wife, a small fiery woman with darting gray eyes  marched up. Not a woman to be trifled with I realized.

‘Mothers takin’ me to see the ‘foot woman’, he said.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.

‘ Five poun’ an’ some funny stuff,’ she shrilled.’ That’s what’s wrong!’

I presumed she was talking about decimal coinage which had only been in circulation for fifteen years or so.

‘An the silly sod,’ she went on, ‘gone ‘an put ’em on the wrong bloody feet!’

I took a closer look at the offending articles. Sure enough, they were. He looked like Charlie Chaplin on a bad day.

‘‘Ed bin wearin’ ’em for a bloody week ‘for I found out why ‘e were walking funny!’

‘You bought the bloody things’ he countered, as though it was all her fault.

‘ You shut up,’ she shouted,’ Go on,’ she pointed across the road towards the clinic.’ you go ‘an tell the ‘foot woman what you done.’

He waddled off across the road, feet stuck out at right angles and disappeared through the front door,.

‘ Well,’ she said, as we watched him go.’ can’t stand ‘ere gossopin’ all day, got ‘lectric light bill to pay.’

‘Goodbye’, I said and stood and watched our wonderful heritage trundle along the pavement and round the corner.

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Brick Walls and Vimto

An illustration of times past, when drinking in the English country Pub meant just that. When father and son built a relationship,  a relationship not  learnt at mother’s knee.

 

 

            Cast your mind back, if you’re old enough, and see if you can remember this scenario. It could be anywhere in the country and it lasted some forty years, from the nineteen twenties to the mid sixties.

Just before six o’ clock on a warm summer’s evening, usually at the weekend, when insects are high on the wing, chased by swallows and swifts. The time of day when the delicious fragrance of pasture and meadow flowers in full bloom bestow their bouquets.

Now picture the Country Pub, stone clad, ivy covered, with an inviting red glow emanating from leaded windows. The front door is unlocked from the inside and gently propped open by a kindly, ruddy faced and somewhat portly gentleman of some fifty odd years.

Suddenly the first car arrives. Inside, the driver staring fixedly ahead, pulls up sharply between some roughly drawn white lines, as close as possible to the now open front door. The passenger, a petrified boy of perhaps ten years unfolds his hands from his panic-stricken eyes and stares at a brick wall, inches from the front bumper.

The driver, obviously the thirsty father, turns the engine off, smoothes his hair into a semblance of respectability and alights with some alacrity. He is oblivious of the cigarette ash cascading down his sports jacket and rumpled flannel trousers as he makes a beeline for the open front door. With a series of judders the overwrought engine eventually shudders to a standstill. From under the bonnet a faint wisp of steam escapes, accompanied by various ticks and the aroma of hot oil as it drips gently from assorted vents in the engine onto the car park.

Within a few minutes other cars arrive, all roughly in the same manner and all parked as close as possible to the pub door for quick access, complete with freaked out sons and the occasional terrified daughter. Very rarely do they contain the mothers of these children at this ‘early doors’ time. These whole family groups role up later, with much more decorum.

Usually it takes about fifteen minutes for the first Vimto and straw to emerge, carried by a much less stressed father. The handing over of the said victuals is always accompanied by the immortal words, ‘Won’t be long.’ It’s a fallacious statement, both parties know it, but it’s mandatory nevertheless.

As time goes on the lad gets bored, remember there were no car radios, let alone Play Stations in those days. He has studied the wall and determined the number of bricks or stones that fill the windscreen. He has accounted, with as much knowledge as he can muster, the types of vegetation that the wall sustains and dug as much gunge out of his nose as is humanly possible.

By the time the next Vimto arrives, father is so full of sweetness and light, and half-full of best bitter that a bag of crisps may also be on the menu. The aforementioned ‘won’t be long’ humbug is again enthused and back goes father to continue his replenishment.

The lad now knows that it’s safe to move over into the driver’s seat and enter the world of Stirling Moss and Silverstone. The seat is adjusted, the rear view mirror, if there is one, is tilted downwards and throaty rasps start emanating  through pursed lips until the sound of a Jaguar’s highly tuned engine is judged to be just the ticket.

Foot flat down on the accelerator, the lips convulse with paroxysms of vibration and floods of half digested Vimto and crisps cover the windscreen. The steering wheel is wrenched from lock to lock as the gear stick is forced into gears that it wasn’t designed for and a scream is unleashed, denoting the screeching of tyres, as each corner is encountered. Feet are stabbing at pedals like a demented tap dancer as double de clutching manoeuvres are executed whilst death defying four wheel drifts through Woodcote corner are fought with the expertise that only a ten year old lad knows. And he knows them because he’s learnt them from his father on the way home…but more of that later.

It’s about this time that cars containing families arrive. They drive in with much more propriety than the first flush. The cars are parked so that the families have a view of the meadows and distant hills. Tractors still plough the occasional furrow with flocks of rapacious birds following in their wake. The unmistakable fragrance of haymaking assails their nostrils. The whiff of hot oil and burnt rubber is not for this category. Not for them the paltry study of brick walls and what grows out of them.

The father leaves the car and ambles across the car park, leaving his wife and children to their vista and returns in quick time with the requisite bottles of Vimto, bags of crisps and a medium dry sherry for mother. Occasionally he will bring his own half pint of bitter with him and actually stay with the family. This scenario however is unusual; the call for the Gent’s only bar is compelling even for the most downtrodden husband.

At this point in the evening’s production the next round of Vimto is normally brought out by the early starters. This is characterised by respective fathers weaving passages, through the now more congested car park, with only a hazy idea of the placement of their own car. It is often a circuitous route which necessitates a call at other cars in order to find their own. Quite often their own cars are never found and consequently boys find bottles of Vimto thrust through the car’s window by complete strangers. It is not uncommon for some boys to end up with three or four bottles and conversely of course, some with none. It is, as ever accompanied by the ‘Won’t be long’ gibberish.

Eventually, of course the father has had his fill. The realisation that home beckons is often brought on by the sight of his offspring peering in through the window in a forlorn, waif like manner. The fact that he is well into spending next week’s house keeping/gas/electricity and even mortgage money is immaterial. He bids the ensemble a fond farewell and after a lurch to theGent’s lavatory or sometimes the Ladies, proceeds with varying degrees of animation into the fast gathering dusk. He stands swaying gently outside the door and surveys the cars, then eventually makes a concentrated effort to walk steadily and with purpose to the one he perceives to be his. More often than not his son, being used to this performance, has to go and rescue his father from the far reaches of the car park and guide him back before a felony is committed involving the taking and driving away of a stranger’s car and the kidnapping of the chap’s petrified wife and mother in law.

Eventually the right car comes into focus and father girds his loins for the drive home. The car has, if you remember just completed a full Grand Prix at Silverstone and apart from the driver’s seat being covered in spilt Vimto and crisps, is now pushed as far up towards the sticky steering wheel as possible and has been turned onto full right lock. All this, plus the fact that the windscreen is covered in spittle and the gear lever is in first gear, goes completely unnoticed as father engages the starter and the car performs a stunning bound forward into the brick wall, modifying the dents on the already dented front wing.

The offspring learns lots of new words and perhaps earns a cuff around the ear at this stage of the proceedings and scrunches himself into a ball, ready to dive into the footwell if the need arises.

It is however, a well known consequence that six pints of best ‘Bitter’ bestow an automatic driving mode in this phase. This was a natural phenomenon which due to new laws and a changing perception seems to have been lost on today’s generation.

Never mind that, in those halcyon days the drive home was always incredibly exciting for sons of a certain age and it was the whole reason for accompanying father in the first place. A time to unite with a parent when the rest of the week was a ‘seen and not heard’ existence.

In those days, the Austin Seven and Morris Eight could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be thought of as fast, but could in the hands of a chap with a few pints of best bitter under his belt, certainly be made to perform in various ways not intended by the manufacturer; especially by impressing the young sprog, when the inducement to impress is most buoyant.

Instead of the son zooming around Silverstone at astronomical speeds we now have father zooming through the countryside at speeds sometimes approaching forty five miles an hour.

Being flung around the countryside by a father showing off his driving skills on these memorable drives home, adds another facet of the offsprings education, other than controlling out of control cars. Earlier he had learned a little more about the types of vegetation that grow out of brick walls and now he learns balance, more words not in common usage, two finger saluting and last but not least, bowel control.

My father showed me marks on such things as stone bridges and iron railings that his father had caused by inducing overzealous four wheel drifts. I showed my children where chunks have been taken out of telegraph poles and kerb stones where my father had under estimated braking distances and no doubt my children will show their children particularly large gaps in various hedges which I made during courageous forays, on the way home, by provoking the limits of tyre adhesion.

Upon arriving home the motor car is parked, scratched, dented, bits of flora and fauna hanging off the door handles and bumpers and steaming like a burst boiler. Father and son eventually get out and stagger to the front door. This is when the last and probably most fundamental piece of advice ever conveyed from father to son is imparted,

‘Needn’t bother to tell your mother…she wouldn’t understand.’

Rum Bum & Whacky

   Cover for 'Rum, Bum & Whacky'

 

Not so much about ships, more about the characters that sail in them.

A veritable richness of oddballs grace the British Merchant Navy and here are a few reminiscences about those I’ve sailed with over a quarter of a century.

It is probable that those unlucky not to have gone to sea will believe the stories are fiction, but every seaman will nod their heads knowingly and mutter,

‘That reminds me of…’

It was wonderful knowing every one of them.

Available in all digital forms from Smashwords www.smashwords.com/books/view/102648

Available in book form from Lulu                      www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/rum-bum-whacky/710498

Cheers Comrade Lenin

Cover for 'Cheers Comrade Lenin'A first hand insight by the co-author into the life of an ill-assorted family living in the USSR during the 1960’s, during her teens. Set deep in Ukraine’s farming community, the book describes the methods employed by the Gavrishko family, during a typical summer, to not only overcome the Kremlin’s dictates and petty rules, but to use them to their advantage. The family, a self confessed war hero father who craves for a quiet life, a Lenin inspired workhorse  mother, an eccentric  grandfather who spent many years in Siberian Gulags and a nonconformist grandmother. Add a mad beekeeper uncle, a once famous alcoholic actress aunt, an arrogant Moscow based cousin and an ignorant, alcoholic Communist party  collective farm manager combination, evokes a recipe for a mad cap way of life.From the first day of spring to late autumn, the narrative places various members of the family into outlandish predicaments that are dealt with in ways that, to a western orientated observer seem quite farcical, but to the Gavrishko family were a natural way of overcoming the odds.

Available in all digital forms from Smashwords www.smashwords.com/books/view/101836

Available in book form from Lulu

http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/cheers-comrade-lenin/12130567