“It is flotsam…. You could maybe write a short dissertation on ‘Feet’… Mine are killing me but they are cruel executioners!” (Comments: Chris Foster 22/01/2019)

Although we have all made claims to the contrary, I can find no concrete evidence of anybody ever actually being killed by their own sentient feet. Feet have, to all intents and purposes, a benign influence upon our lives and actually play a key role in our continuing resilience, being a key element in the predominant survival strategy of most of us: running away. As we grow older however, little, outside of the weather, chocolate and alcohol, preoccupies our minds as much as our feet. Old feet are, in almost all respects, a complete pain. There is no doubt that we all become increasingly footsore with age, but why? Is it perhaps an increasing tendency to shuffle? Is it something to do with a hitherto unrecognised reaction to Velcro fastenings? Is it (probably more likely) the price we have to pay for sixty years of pavement pounding and unsuitable shoes? I suppose the most common cause of foot pain in people of advancing years is the corn or bunion (I don’t know the difference although I’m sure there must be one). I have never suffered myself, but I have seen them and boy, do they look sore. I once worked with a man who had a carbuncle on his bum. Thankfully, I never got to see that, but I did see the expression on his face when he had to sit down and that was enough to tell me that I never wanted one. I feel the same about corns. I have enough trouble putting my shoes on when I’ve got a hangnail. God knows how people manage with corns. Perhaps it explains men in sandals.

Feet are an integral part of what it is to be human. When our distant ancestors first hauled themselves up onto their two feet (discovering at that exact moment just how dusty it actually was on that top shelf) they were quite suddenly faced with the dilemma: ‘so what do I do with my hands now?’ Newly bipedal hominids began to find a whole panoply of novel uses for these previously underused limbs, mostly to the detriment of other species – especially if we could eat them or dress in them – and our specific strand of human evolution had begun. The point at which the first of our ancient forebears began to complain about their feet is lost in the mists of time, although it is safe to imagine that bunion comparison, along with a detailed discussion on the state of their piles, was one of the earliest forms of human interaction.

Now, it is usually apposite to carry a quote by William Shakespeare at this point in an article of this nature: it adds gravitas and painlessly pushes up the word count, however I could find no trace of the bard having ever written anything witty, pithy or even mundane about feet. It is probably out there, along with a guaranteed method of eating Spaghetti Bolognese without getting it up the wall and down my trousers, but I have yet to find it. Despite the importance of feet to mankind, they are rarely celebrated in great literature. Perhaps a severed one here and there in detective fiction, but, by and large they have seldom, if ever, been the main focus of great works. I can think of no great poetry associated with the subject of feet (possibly, I suppose, due to the paucity of suitable rhymes for metatarsal) except that all poetry consists of feet (look it up – I did!). I do not, for instance, ever recollect feet being compared to a summer’s day; I do not remember mention of a host of golden tootsies ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’; I do not recall ‘If you can keep your feet when all about you are losing theirs…’. Even in myth and legend, save, perhaps, for poor old Achilles (although I would argue, in any case, that the heel does not, in the strictest sense, constitute part of the foot, being merely one of any number of hinges the foot employs) I can think of no mention.

Unattended, feet do have a tendency towards the unsavoury. It has to be admitted that even in the freshly laundered state, feet do have a certain must to them. I once went to a place where they made Stilton cheese (it cannot have been Stilton, because I have just read that cheese produced within the village of Stilton, can no longer be called Stilton Cheese – I’m not sure why, except that it is an EU ruling and must, therefore be for sound and logical reason). It was dark, damp and cave-like and smelled like a day-old sock. I doubt that it is relevant. I doubt that, left to their own devices, our feet would produce a nice, mature, blue-veined number over a period of time, but, having spent many a youthful hour in post-football match changing rooms, I believe that it is possible. Scientists tell us that the human body is essentially self-cleansing, but it has to be admitted that, in the case of feet, it seems to make a very poor fist of it. Left to their own devices, encased within a pair of trainers that have never experienced gym or running track, feet depart on a journey that passes through damp and malodorous and terminates at rot and corruption within hours. Athlete’s Foot is remarkably egalitarian for a fungus.

My own feet are not that bad – roughly uniform, with no particularly noticeable asymmetrical corruptions – although I do have a couple of toe nails that require something akin to oxy-acetylene equipment when being trimmed. And I do have a definite tendency towards the verruca. The merest mention of a public swimming pool is enough to get me reaching for the Bazuka (other treatments are available) to counter the spores which I believe my feet actually suck up through the soles of my shoes. Whatever happened to the little foot pools you had to walk through (or normally jump over) between the sub-zero changing room and the pool? Gone, with the man who told you to put your cigarette out before you got in the water. (And while we’re on the subject, why do they instruct me to shower my nigh-on antiseptically clean body before I enter their chlorine, spit and urine enriched swimming pool? What are they trying to say about me?)

Leonardo da Vinci said that the human foot is ‘a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art’. I’ve looked really hard at mine and, if they are a work of art, they must have been done by Jackson Pollock. There is no beauty that I can see in a foot, other than it stops me falling over at the bus stop. I must admit, if I was to become obsessed by any one area of the human body, the feet would be a long way down the list. However, a brief glance at Google will confirm that foot-fetishism is surprisingly common. And, because foot fetishism is considered a, you know, fetish, it provokes wild reactions. Who could forget the furore over the Sarah Ferguson toe-sucking incident of 1992? (Possibly the large number who were not yet born.) It wasn’t the intimacy of the action that was the problem it was… well, he was sucking her toe for god’s sake. Her toe! I think the problem was probably three-fold. It is possibly all in the angle of the shot, or the fact that the camera was three quarters of a mile away with a lens the size of a dustbin lid but, in all the photo’s I have seen, her foot looks HUGE. The red-nailed big toe receiving the attention looks something like an oversized Strawberry Mivvi. It would definitely have melted before he finished it. Also, he was bald and he was a financial advisor. Let me be honest with you, to put this into some kind of context I would have to admit that I would probably suck your toe if you put enough chocolate on it. Nobody knows what she might have spilled on her flip-flops earlier in the day.

So, there we are, for most feet, those that are not lusted over or sucked, the unlovely and the unloved, life is spent hidden away, left to fester and ache, encased for long stretches of time within the semi-flexible sarcophagi of inappropriate footwear. The prehensile extremities that waved us off on our path to evolutionary domination, that enabled us to rise above the beasts of the field, now lay fallow and reeking within leather upper and man-made liner. Yet, unloved as they are by poet and playwright, it is our feet we have to thank for making us what we are: for giving our hands the time and the space they needed to ‘do’ and our minds the time to think and plan. We owe our brainpower to our feet (just imagine where dolphins would be now if their ancestors had feet) we owe our dexterity to our feet. Our feet made us what we are today, and being killed by them is just the price we have to pay…

Footnote: Each foot has more than 250,000 sweat glands, and they can produce up to half a pint of moisture a day! I think, spread over the average size sole, that should make us all about half an inch taller by the time we take our shoes off – just a thought if you need to gain a little height at Alton Towers and you don’t have any paper with which to stuff your socks…