Losing My Shoes
One of my earliest, and most stark memories, occurred in the summer of 1974, the transition year from junior to senior school, or what would now be known as moving from year 6 to year 7. I should explain that my parents were, by the standards of the outer
London suburb of where we then lived, poor. Enfield
There were 7 of us, my parents, my four sisters and I living in a 3 bedroom suburban semi, and getting by on the stipend of a lowly paid Church of England curate.
Moving school required a whole new uniform, and the excitement of the rite of passage of going from short to long trousers.
So after a long morning in the schools section of the dusty old department store, where I had been measured for long trousers, blazer, shirts and tie, not to mention acquiring all the sports kit and other bits and pieces which were on the long list that had arrived in the post a few days before, my mother looked at the list and remarked to herself “so only shoes to go, no point in buying them here when they’re cheaper at old Mrs Roswell’s shop”.
Leaving Pearsons by the front entrance we crossed the road towards the old market square, and I snatched a glimpse of my new school, nestling behind the parish church where my father preached on Sundays, as we hurried on towards
As we pushed open the door the bell in the back jangled, with its slightly careworn and cracked note.
Mrs Roswell greeted my mother “Well good afternoon Mrs Warner, and what can I do for you today?” With five children ranging in age from 5 to 16 my mother was a regular visitor to the shop, and as Mrs Roswell was also in the church choir she knew my parents and us children well, and as she spoke it struck me that her voice had a similar tone as her shop bell.
Pointing at me, my mother replied “David starts at the Grammar School in a couple of weeks and needs new shoes”, turning to me she said “sit over there and take your shoes off so Mrs Bridges can measure you properly”.
As Mrs Roswell fiddled with the complicated measuring device pushing and prodding my feet into it, she gossiped with my mother about the last church scandal; I paid no attention as I was much more interested in the adverts for the new range of Clarks Commando’s shoes that were this year’s must have, and the accompanying cartoons of Commando Kit Carter.
“Well “ said Mrs Roswell getting to her feet “he’s a growing lad and you’ll not be wanting to come back too quickly, so I think a pair of size elevens as he is almost a ten and half now, and that way they should last him for the whole year and so they stay on in the meantime he can wear two pairs of socks or a pair of thick ones.”
Looking at my mother I said “can I please have a pair of Kit Carter Commandos?” and pointed to the cartoon. I saw my mother and Mrs Roswell exchange glances and my mother said, “Oh I doubt if Mrs Roswell will have them in your size, will you Mrs Roswell?” at which point Mrs Roswell slowly shook her head.
“I do have these in the right size” and as she pointed to the advert for Bata’s Wayfinder shoes, she turned to me saying “and they have a secret compass in the sole of the right shoe”.
It was rare in those days that I got any new clothes, so this was a very exciting moment, and I was very proud of my new shoes (especially the compass). Walking home, weighed down with bags and boxes, my mother turned too me and said, “now when you go to school I want you to make sure that you look after all these expensive clothes, no fighting and getting your blazer or trousers torn, no kicking football or tin cans with your shoes, you must look after them as we can’t afford to replace them. Do you understand?”
A few days later, and just before the before the new school term started, I was out playing in the road with my friends Gareth, Tim, and his twin sister Sue, and the boys from across the road, when Gareth suggested going for a cycle ride to Forty Hall to play War in the wood. Rushing home to get my bike, I told my big sister Susan, who was looking after us that afternoon where I was going, and quickly changed into my new shoes so that I would have the compass available to lead my soldiers in the right direction to storm the island.
Sneaking out of the back door, as I knew my sister wouldn’t let me wear my school shoes, I grabbed my bike from the garden, sped out of the gate and met the rest of the gang at the end of the road.
Arriving at Forty Hall we made straight for the densest part of the wood, where the island in the middle of the fishing lake was, and where if you fought your way into the thick undergrowth, you could get to a narrow stretch of water, and a rope hanging so you could swing across.
Gareth, possibly because of his red hair and build, was one of the leaders of the gang and he quickly took control and divided us up into two armies. His army was going to make camp on the island, and the other army, lead by Jamie with me as his 1st Lieutenant, was going to have to try and capture the island.
Jamie and I led our men, and Sue, into the wood and made camp under the old oak tree, to discuss our campaign. Following a long discussion it was agreed that I, being 1st Lieutenant and one of the tallest would go around the far side of the lake to the other narrow point, but where there was no rope.
We knew that Gareth would be making camp by the rope swing as he would be sure that we would never try and jump across the other side, so that’s what I would do. Once on the island I could then sneak round behind their camp, and attack them from behind and create a diversion. At which point Jamie and the rest of the “men” would swing across and capture their camp.
As Jamie wished me luck, I saluted him and then pulled my right shoe off, removed the compass, and got my bearings.
I crawled very quietly to the far side of the island, keeping as much as possible in the undergrowth, and checking my compass bearings as I didn’t want to get lost.
Arriving at the narrow point I cupped my hands into binoculars and surveyed the island. As expected there was no sign of the enemy, and helpfully on my side of the water I could see a clearing that would provide a long enough runway for me to then leap across.
I checked my watch, and noted that there were a five minutes to go before zero hour. Just enough time to apply my camouflage, so I scoped some of the silt from the river bank and spread it across my face. Now I would be almost invisible, and provided that I could get safely across the river, with out altering the sentries in their watchtowers, I should be able to get to the camp boundary without being seen.
Glancing again at my watch, I saw that it was now zero hour minus two, and after a quick look across to see where the sentries where, I go to my feet and run quickly to the back edge of the clearing. Pressing my self into the shadows I watched the second-hand slowly tick around the dial, and waited for the beam of the spotlight to pass by.
As the hand of the watch moved from the number 11 to 12, I started to run hard towards the river bank. Gaining speed as I got closer to the edge I launched myself off at the last moment and leapt across the river.
Suddenly, in mid air, I could feel my right shoe slipping off my foot, almost as if in slow motion it slipped further and further down so that by now my heel was totally exposed to the air. The thought “Would I land before it came off completely, and what would my mother say if it did” went through my mind and my stomach contracted and I felt physically sick.
At which point two things happened, my shoe fell off splashing into the water, and Gareth’s face appeared from behind the bush I was aiming towards, bang his gun went and I knew I was dead!