Often, when people meet me and discover I am a stand up comedian, they will say, “I’ve got a joke you can use.” Which is odd because we don’t do that with many other professions. If you meet a boxer you don’t say, “I’ve got some punches you could have a go at,” before hitting them in the face. Or if you chat to a brain surgeon you don’t remark, “I’ve always had this vague idea for a neurological surgical procedure that you’re welcome to have a crack at, if you fancy it.”
I don’t really mind. Because I am hoping that one day I will meet a conceptual artist and be able to say to them, “I’ve got an idea for an art installation for you.” I’m always coming up with them.
other day I couldn’t find the shoes I’d worn the night before, so went to the
wardrobe to choose another pair. I noticed some slightly dusty ones at the back
that I hadn’t put on for almost a decade. Ten years ago, these were my
favourite shoes, but now they were forgotten, unwanted and discarded. I decided
to give them one more run out for old time’s sake. Perhaps I would feel young
What was once familiar and normal now seemed alien and weird. My feet looked wrong. I couldn’t imagine why I had liked these ugly trainer-cum-bowling shoes. But then most of our body’s cells replace themselves once every seven years, so technically I was walking in the shoes of a different person. It still surprised me how different our tastes were.
I didn’t feel younger, just alienated from the clueless idiot who had considered these monstrosities to be suitable footwear to go dating in and confused about how it was we shared the same DNA.
But it made me wish that I was an artist who had had the foresight to keep every pair of shoes that I had ever owned. I could then display them in a gallery in chronological order: from tiny booties, through sandals, little wellies, to my first pair of Clark’s sensible shoes (bought after measuring my feet in that futuristic foot sizing machine), then the awful maroon Cornish Pasty shoes I favoured at Middle School (not literally pasties - I know I grew up in Somerset but the days that children there wore baked goods on their feet largely ended in the 1970s), the Doc Martin shoes my parents let me wear as a compromise when all my friends got into Doc Martin boots (not a good compromise), the clunky fashion disasters of my twenties, my mid-life crisis trainers, the running shoes that I now wear most of the time because they’re comfortable to walk in or stand in if I am doing a jigsaw.
If you could gather all the shoes from one dead person’s life and display them in a long corridor in an art gallery, that would be an amazingly evocative work. It would demonstrate how that person grew physically, but also emotionally, how their tastes shifted over the years. Some shoes were worn until they fell apart, whilst others were pristine and barely used. The shoes from the latter part of our lives would be more uniform, I’m guessing other than those in the first half of the display.
And now, the life over, the empty shoes would make us consider our own mortality, how few steps we get to take and how much of our spirit could be defined from our foot wrappers.
If you’re a conceptual artist, you can have that.