Everything I knew about property renovation I learned from daytime TV. Yet here I was in a house that I had bought at auction, a modest little house that was going to need a lot of attention and plaster. I had decided that a new project would be just the thing to take my mind off a blinking cursor on a white page. The success of my first novel had been the death of my creativity- or maybe it was the pressure on me to write another that did it- whatever it was, the words would just not come.
With all of my belongings stacked up in the one habitable room in the house, I looked for inspiration outside. The garden reflected my state of mind. It was overgrown and impossible to gauge its full potential without getting out there and exploring the raw materials. With long days still on my side, I decided to tackle some demons armed only with a pair of gardening gloves, a stick and some shears.
Initially my progress was slow, but after two days of hacking, pulling and stomping I started to realise that the garden was much bigger than I had originally thought. By the third day I could make out the form of an old shed buried deep in overgrown weeds and brambles. My interest piqued, I ignored my aches and pains and chopped a path through the nettles. The padlock on the shed door had suffered in the elements and provided little resistance when I hit it with the shears. The door, now unlocked but still closed, excited me. My mind wandered to forgotten treasures, antique furniture or, at the very least, some much needed gardening equipment.
Lots and lots of shoes! The shed was filled with them from the floor to the roof. They seemed to have been stored in such a way that they resembled stones fitted together to make a wall. It was a solid mass of footwear. Men’s, women’s and children’s shoes huddled together in the dark. Not wanting to disturb the wall, I carefully removed a man’s scuffed black leather brogue. Taped inside the shoe was a piece of paper with looped handwriting clearly stating:
Found: Walter Road
Date: 25th October 2002
I looked at five more shoes, all different in style, colour and size but all of them contained a piece of paper detailing where, when and at what time they had been found. There were so many shoes, I couldn’t tell if they were pairs of shoes or single shoes. The writer in me snapped to attention. For the remainder of the day I carried boxes of shoes back to the house.
I set about laying each shoe out on the floor. The entire ground floor living space was covered in shoes and, from what I could see, there were no pairs. Each shoe was alone and it began to dawn on me that someone had made a habit of stopping to pick up abandoned shoes. Not only that, they had taken them home and recorded their discovery. I had looked at every shoe in turn and found the earliest recording to have been made in 1973. I wanted to know more. Had someone collected the shoes for a purpose or had they just been overcome by the sadness of a solitary shoe? The mind cursor began to blink furiously at me, demanding attention.
I started to wonder about the original owner of each shoe and gradually, as I drained my mug of tea, my house became too small for the many characters all jostling to try on their shoes. Having already forgotten that my new home was little more than a shell, I had started to think of the possibility of being able to reunite each shoe with its owner; maybe not for all, but even if just for a few of them, what a story that would be.