Magazine article The Spectator

Pauline Borghese's Feet, Wordsworth's Legs and Thoughts about Calves

Magazine article The Spectator

Pauline Borghese's Feet, Wordsworth's Legs and Thoughts about Calves

Article excerpt

I have been thinking about feet - my feet in particular, but also feet in general. The reason is this. Not long ago, my wife Marigold was troubled about one of her toes. She had never been to a chiropodist before but eventually found one, a nice Irish lady, not far from our house, at a health centre off the Portobello Road. She was so impressed by the treatment she received that she urged me to see the Irish lady too; and, as usual when Marigold urges things, I complied. The lady said, `Well, what is wrong with your feet?' I replied, `Nothing, really. I have just survived a week's strenuous walking in the Alps without any more damage than a little blister or two. But my big toes have a curious characteristic. Whenever I do a lot of walking in the hills, and however comfortable my boots are, my big toes turn black and eventually the nails come off. I have just got a beautiful new pair of boots which suit me excellently, but the same thing happened last week. I suppose my big toes stick out more than most people's, and the only solution is to have a pair of boots specially made for me.'

The foot-lady said, `I'll bet there's nothing wrong with your boots. Take off your shoes and socks and let's see how you walk.' So I walked up and down the corridor of the health centre while she scrutinised my tread carefully. Then she announced, `You have a walking defect. You tend to walk on the outside edge of your feet. That pushes your big toe up and explains why it gets damaged. It is a simple matter to correct.' So she has made for me a specially designed inner sole which pushes my feet in the right direction, corrects the imbalance and ensures my big toes are not hurt. I am impressed. All my life I have been walking, and I suppose running, in the wrong way. I have run the mile for my school, served in the Light Infantry, marching 140 paces to the minute, climbed in the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Atlas, traversed the Lake District from north to south, and the Scottish Highlands from east to west, in a day, and done many of the Munros. I regularly walk for 10 to 20 miles in the Quantock Hills and I always get about London on foot if I have the time. But it seems I have been doing it all wrong and, slowly but surely, turning myself into a cripple. The foot-lady says this is quite common. Many, perhaps most, of us have a way of walking which damages our feet, eventually leads to trouble and can easily be remedied if an expert is consulted in time. It is exactly like teeth. But whereas everyone goes to a dentist regularly, few visit a chiropodist at any time in their lives. Then they complain, `My feet are killing me.' That is why Margaret Thatcher, for instance, always kicks off her shoes if she gets the chance. What busy lady doesn't?

Feet vary enormously in size, as a result of nature and human agency. The feet of Pius X, the last pope to be made a saint, were colossal, as is revealed by his white satin slippers, preserved in his patriarchal church in Rome. At the other extreme, Jung Chang, the beautiful Chinese lady who wrote that enchanting book Wild Swans and who lives round the corner from us in Bayswater, owns a pair of her grandmother's shoes which are only four inches long - a result of the horrible Chinese tradition of binding the feet of well-born ladies. In between, history records some beautiful feet, notably those of Bonaparte's sister, Pauline Borghese. …

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