“The first thing I look at in a person is their shoes.
If they don’t have good shoes I know they are not the sort of person I want to talk to.”

A woman I met in a restaurant said this to me.

She looked very nice, a friend of a friend.

She went on about it for a bit. Just a little too long. She joked about it but admitted it was a serious ‘thing’ she had.

It was a dinner party for someone’s birthday and we were sitting at a long table.
I was wedged between two people I did not know and she was sitting opposite.
It was clear she did not know anyone on either side and so we got talking.

We had been discussing the peculiarities of talking to strangers, the oddness of sounding people out and trying to see if you liked them or not.

We had already established that we both had partners who were not present, Loz was on a shoot I think and I knew her boyfriend from pubs and workmates, a nice guy.
He drank bitter. 
As I say, nice guy.

We had run through the list of people we knew and talked about our other friends at the table.

I thought the conversation was going quite well up until then.

Polite, funny, not weird and fairly respectful.

I thought about the boots I was wearing.

We were not going to be friends.

I have very practical footwear.
Not walking boots or anything like that.
Not trainers.
Not even ‘shoes’ as such, or if I wear them it is not often and I look down at them and think ‘How odd’.

On this occasion I decided to keep to my seat and not take my feet out from under the tablecloth.

When I was leaving college my tutor gave us a lecture on interview technique.

“Come dressed to work. Don’t be late. If you think they are idiots, don’t work for them.”

I took him pretty much on his word and it always worked for me.
If you are going for an office job, look around the office in question and dress accordingly.

I worked in dirty, dusty places with lots of lifting and carrying.

I spent the best part of fifteen years wearing steel toe cap boots.

These days the steel has come out, surplus to requirements in the Arts Funding world.

I have worn big boots for so long now though that I can’t quite get used to not wearing them.
I have tried.
A nice pair of desert boots, some Vans low tops, Lambretta winkle-pickers, some DM shoes, a pair of trainers that would be no good training in.
All feel ok for a bit, but then, just, wrong.

Big boots and I stop thinking about it.

Perhaps that is what she meant?

I had always seen shoes as a decoration for the self, seen by the owner as an expression of the image they wanted to project.
Since I never really looked at shoes, perhaps I was foot ware illiterate?

Perhaps she liked the idea of shoes as ‘performance’.
Shoes to tell a story?

Are shoes witty?
Can you look at shoes and smile, getting the joke?

Are shoes sending a message?
Are we supposed to de-code shoes?

I lived with some Art Students once and came downstairs to find my work boots had been painted with hundreds of tiny pink and yellow flowers.
The paint did not wash off.
Frankly I could not be bothered about scrubbing the paint off so it stayed and for a long time after I had flowery boots.

I though it was a bit funny for a week or so but then forgot all about it.

I never really thought anyone else was thinking about it either.

What if they were?

Were my boots inadvertently screaming up and down the streets?

Was I broadcasting uncensored boot talk as I walked?

The boots wore out, I threw them away and got new ones.
Was the lack of foot ware static noticed I wonder.
Probably not I suppose….

I had never been so aware of being judged by my foot ware as that night in that restaurant.

I carried on chatting to the woman opposite until the coffee came round and she went off to chat to her friends.

As the bill was being taken she came back to pick up her bag and her shawl.

Are shawls any use?
I am glad that social pressure means I don’t have to find out.
Actually, I don’t think it is pressure. I don’t want to know. It’s more a social cocoon.
I would choose a terribly utilitarian shawl I feel.

We smiled and said goodbye and she asked if Loz and I wanted to meet up with her, her partner and some friends that weekend.
Greenwich Park, noodles after.

I was touched, we had friends in common, similar music tastes and we had had a friendly and pleasant evening.

She was nice but she did not know what I knew so I refused, made an excuse, said I would see her around sometime.

I still had my feet under the table so she never knew about my footwear.

I was not ashamed of my boots.

I just didn’t want to hang around with someone so judgemental.