Whether or not we stand on the shoulders of giants, it’s on our own feet. Not often do I review my feet. When, for the first time in many moons I seriously consider them, I am pleasantly surprised. Apart from a minor, and apparently congenital, skin problem, progressively collapsing arches, a somewhat rustic cut of the toe-nails and a couple of dormant corns, all is well.
Take the skin issue. Way back, four decades or so, I was diagnosed by the local hospital’s dermatological consultant, whose name, believe it or not, was Mr Cream. (Nominative determinism or what?) He took one look at my feet, before whisking me away into some obscure corner of the hospital’s smaller intestine, which accommodated, unexpectedly, a well-equipped photographic studio. He led me onto a small podium, where I stood, trousers rolled up to the calves, blinking into the floodlight, while Cream, whose emollient, even unctuous, handle contrasted with his abrupt manner, flash-snapped close-ups in the cause of medical education, if not patient equanimity. You have, he told me proudly, an extremely rare, mildly irritating, skin disease, which is neither infectious nor contagious, probably inherited, and completely incurable: Kyrle’s disease; a fine example now recorded for the edification of future dermatologists.
So it’s on these specimental feet of Kyrle that I’ve yomped through the years to where I am, where I am. It’s not a big deal. Its symptom is the continual formation of small hard-skin nodules, keratotic papules no less, that grow on the surface of the foot, around the junction with the toes, and heel. In the hottest weather they occasionally itch a tad, but eventually they grow old (though what ‘old’ for a keratotic papule is, I’m not sure), dry up and fall off, to be replaced by the next generation. They’re marginally disfiguring, mercifully odourless, a minor imperfection and less debilitating than, say, myopia.
Resigned to the curse of Kyrle, I went to great lengths to arrange suitable arch support, including forking out a load of lucre for bespoke insoles. Money down the drain it was, for I soon started to get corns in the padding of the soles where the lateral metatarsals join the little toes. Here, the fatty tissue that cushions the bone, had, with the tide of time, ebbed somewhat. I was very slow in the uptake. I mean it took me a couple of months, perhaps three visits to our genial local podiatrist and the concomitant devaluation of my wallet, before I clocked that the custom insoles changed the weight distribution on the feet, provoking the development of painful corns in a mere three weeks.
Then there was the added complication of changing foot size. Did you know that when you shop for shoes, you should always try them on in the afternoon, because even in the course a single day your feet spread and swell a little? A snug fit in the morning could be agony in the evening. Yet, unlike noses and ears, feet don’t actually continue growing after about the age of 20, but they do spread, both daily and long term. In a word, it’s gravity. As the foot’s arch gradually collapses, the foot lengthens with age; one estimate is about a half-size per decade after the age of 40, which is my experience. Once a nine-and-a-half, today I’m an eleven. Thing is, my feet are getting a bit out of proportion, and now I’m constantly rucking up and tripping over rugs and carpets, as my toes drag the floor when advancing for the next step. Tread carefully, says Joan. She doesn’t want my next trip to be exclusively down her memory lane.
My jovial podiatrist once showed me the corn he’d just excised from the footpad under my little right toe. It could easily have passed as a piece of stone grit. Bigger that a grain, smaller than a pip, a yellowish brown, the cornish oucher was revealed. Corns are made of keratin, the protein of your hair, skin, nails, claws, hooves and horns, as appropriate. It’s bad enough having a stone in your shoe, but a horn in your hoof….those of you who’ve suffered will understand.
The solution came, as so often, by chance. I was hobbling around prior to another appointment with the scalpel, and put on my Adidas ZX Flux trainers, which I hadn’t used for weeks due to corn problems, in the hope of finding relief. Flux have some inbuilt arch support and I noticed how much more comfortable they were. I’ve worn them ever since; not the same ones of course; I’ve three identical pairs. They’re dark blue with white soles and would easily be mistaken for beach shoes. Vanity and convention aside, they so suit my feet that I’ve not suffered a corn for 18 months. To the foundation of Flux I’ve added a simple foam insole for additional cushioning, and that’s it. It works. Thanks to Adidas, pain-free perambulation. Not exactly a giant leap for mankind, but certainly a small step in the right direction for an old man. And so I shuffle on.
Cobblers? A load of flat-footed old corn about flat-footed old corns, more like.