The world at my feet

23rd January 2015 at 00:00

With a keen eye for a bargain, I recently snapped up a new pair of sensible shoes for only pound;17. I thought that such frugality would earn some approval from the budget-holder of the household, but instead she asked anxiously, "You didn't buy them from Shop X, did you?"

Apparently we had previously bought two pairs of shoes there for our daughter - poor thing. Didn't I remember how one pair had deteriorated within a matter of minutes and the other had melted in the searing heat of an Oxfordshire autumn?

I assured her that my pair would tell a different tale. Both shoes looked as solid as rocks (in fact, bore some resemblance to them) and had a chic-sounding name printed inside, suggesting a rather exclusive Italian heritage.

When I debuted them at school I was soon attracting prolonged gazes - partly on account of their considerable bulk, but mainly because of the deep, militaristic noise my feet were making. I felt and sounded at least a foot taller.

Every step I took seemed to advance my professional persona by a mile. No management training course ever achieved such a thing. No longer did I come across as a soft-centred humanities teacher, silently padding around other people's space in an unassuming manner. I only had to take a few paces to become a man of steel; someone with presence and gravitas; a figure people would listen to very carefully if they knew what was good for them.

Playground duty suddenly began to feel like Call of Duty, with children meekly backing away as I approached. In my head, I became the bad guy in one of those old-style radio dramas, where the slow approaching footsteps are amplified to ramp up the tension. In my classroom, the synthetic flooring converted my shoes into something less menacing and more clippy-cloppy, but even the horse association provided me with a degree of respect and authority I had never before experienced.

From the very outset, however, it all felt unreal and unsustainable. The dream-like status created by my new shoes would not last. It was fun for a few days but I knew that something would have to give.

And it duly gave when I was on patrol. The corridor has a slight downwards slope, although the descent is not normally undertaken quite as rapidly as it was by me and my shoes. Usually I would arrive successfully at the marginally lower section of the corridor without even thinking about it. But this time I immediately began sliding as if on skates - then both my feet left the floor completely. I was soon flat on my front, sliding inexorably towards a classroom door. "Are you OK?" came a sympathetic voice from a nearby huddle of straight-faced students.

The game was up. My tough-sounding soles, which converted into some kind of banana-based lubricant on certain innocuous-looking surfaces, had been revealed as a sham. But my downfall was inevitable. Anyone can sound impressive for a while in this business, but only for so long.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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