All posts by speccy

on saving my sanity while shoe shopping

It’s an annual trauma. Back to school shoe shopping.

I’m super at internet shopping, or browsing in fancy shops, but I freak out in supermarkets. Too much noise, too many people, specific requirements and too much choice. Exhausting stuff. School shoe shopping has all of that, with the addition of style conscious girls. With strong opinions.

I hardly remember my own school shoes. My feet stopped growing when I was about 13, so it’s entirely possible I had the same pair of shoes for the next 3 or 4 years. Black. Regulation. Styled like a pair of boats. I didn’t mind. I had no interest in or opinion on my appearance. My enormous glasses, frizzy hair- attended to with an ‘afro’ comb- and general lack of concern drove my poor mother mad. Eventually I developed enough interest in clothes to gather a red ra-ra skirt  and white court shoes, but I’m not sure Herself regarded that as much of an improvement. She’d be delighted with her granddaughters caring what they look like.

We had to buy football boots, trainers and black shoes. It was maybe ambitious to try to do all at once, but Spurs Fan is a dedicated shopper and determined to get a bargain or five, so we went to the local outlet centre.

I was defeated straight away by the wall of brightly coloured football boots (what happened?) and moved to the many, many boxes of trainers. It took about 10 minutes to work out that they were labelled with US rather than UK sizes. The reading glasses had to come out. I was fit for the hills before anyone had even tied a lace. All the sizes, all the colours. Twice.

I went for a reviving coffee and wander about. I tried on some unflattering clothes and decided to return to WeightWatchers. I wasn’t just overwhelmed, bored and tired. I was fat too. I wasn’t having a great day.

A preliminary potter round the sensible shoe shop filled my heart with dread. There were loads of sensible flat black shoes to be worn by sensible little old ladies. I wouldn’t wear most of those shoes, never mind expecting the girls to. Being patient souls, they tried, but their faces got longer.

In the midst of it all, I cheered up enormously. It’s not just us. School shoe shopping plagues all the houses. Children the world over make their opinions known. We’d have another go.

The magic moment came courtesy of Tinman. His post about a teenage daughter and school shoes popped into my head just when I needed to smile. He tells tales that make me laugh, and pluck at my heart. This one saved my sanity that day.

there's more!
there’s more!

We still have to buy a pair of school shoes.

12 August 1994

A dry day, a white Rolls Royce and a country church.  A hotel by a lake. Family and friends cleaned up and dolled up. We all had jobs to do.

The Brother had to keep his hair in place, Davy B had to look after Herself. Lorraine was reading, J & S had to carry things, while the Incredible Singing Cousins were out in force. H and Dawnriser had to wear shiny frocks and pose beside me. I got to be the bride.

wedding, 1994, big hat, uncle, aunt, granny, mother, brother, bride
bride, family and hat


A lot has changed since then. Herself and Lorraine are gone, as is the Brother’s hair. Others have left us, some are unwell now, others still we hardly see.

Long gone, too, is the marriage that brought us all together. We grew apart, fell apart and lost our way.

20 years on we are not what we might have been. But we re-found our friendship. We managed to remember that we cared about each other, before we lost it all.

A wish for our spouses, children  and all of our families and friends…



It’s been a long time since I’ve reread chunks of a book as I went along, for the poetry of it all. To savour that paragraph again. To wonder at the skill which makes it all seem natural. To admire the beauty of images. To pause in the moment.

There are many glorious moments in Colum McCann’s Transatlantic. Stories of individuals and a family. Stories of flight and landing, and what happens after.

McCann explores issues through stories of  people we’ve heard of-  airmen Alcock and Brown, abolitionist Fredrick Douglass and (man of enormous patience) George Mitchell- and the generations of another family- Lily, Emily, Lottie and Hannah.

I don’t like flying with 21st century safety and comfort; McCann’s version of the first transatlantic flight (in 1919) is practically heart stopping. What those men did, with their compasses, goggles and polished shoes was astonishing.

Douglass visits Ireland in 1845 and is feted by society, wined and dined. A former slave, a powerful speaker, he experiences no racism. But he witnesses poverty unlike he’d ever seen. He hears whispers of famine, yet sees boats laden with food.

George Mitchell is now 80. He’s a regular human being, with faults and flaws. He’s won all the prizes and medals, but if there is a heaven, I’d to think there’s a special spot reserved for McCann’s version of him.

But this is not the story of a life.
It is the story of lives, knit together,
overlapping in succession, rising
again from grave after grave.
Wendell Berry, from 'Rising', quoted by Colum McCann in TransAtlantic

Each of these men interacted with Lily Duggan or her descendants Emily, Lottie or Hannah. We know Lily and Lottie best- the servant girl who left Ireland, and the young woman who made it her home.

The last part of the novel focusses on Lottie’s daughter Hannah, elderly now, and making her way through not unexpected challenges. And the world moves on.

Believable characters weave their way through historical events. Real, imperfect people make history happen. Little details (ham sandwiches, wet hair) ground this book, while the writing soars.

Can you tell I loved it?