Twelve years ago I bought my twelve-year-old daughter a pair of riding boots. Nubuck suede, with a thick, practical Blundstone boot type rubber sole. Not as fancy as the leather-soled R.M. Williams boot, but a good pair of riding boots.
She loved her boots and they travelled with her to the UK to visit her dad. They went tramping through wintery Somerset fields and laneways and welcomed in the year 2000 around the village bonfire. They went on school camps and excursions. But like all twelve-year olds, she grew and the boots no longer fit her.
But they did fit me. So I adopted the boots and they started a new life of standing on hockey field sidelines and gardening. They served me well on film and TV sets, even following in the footsteps of Tom Cruise on a cliff top in Malabar for Mission Impossible 2. They’ve scrambled through bush locations and kept me warm during sunrise shots at Palm Beach and night shoots in Kings Cross. These boots have stood toe to toe with some of Australia’s best-loved actors.
Over the years, the Nubuck has been smoothed away to a crinkled, well-worn leather. For a strictly urban dwelling pair of boots, they pulled off the rural work boot look very well. But since my third daughter was born four and half years ago and my film and TV days are behind me, the boots have been in semi-retirement. They’ve been replaced by far less practical, but considerably more elegant suede and leather boots.
But yesterday, I had some gardening to do at my parents’, so I retrieved the boots from their sad corner of my wardrobe, pulled them on and raced out the door. But before the gardening bee, we were visiting a relative in hospital. As soon as I stepped out of the car, something felt not quite right, as if something was stuck on my heel. I did that little twist manoeuvre you do when you want to scrape something off your heel. Didn’t work, tried again. Didn’t work. I glanced down at my heel. Part of it was missing, just gone. Well, that’s bloody annoying, I’d thought. No spare shoes and no time to buy any.
By the time I reached the main doors of the hospital, I realised there was something very wrong. My boots were disintegrating. Twelve years of wear had finally caught up with them and I was leaving a Hansel and Gretel-like trail of black rubber crumbs through Royal North Shore Hospital.
Soon the crumbs became chunks. I left an outline of black rubber crumbs where I’d been standing by my uncle’s bedside, like the chalk outline at a crime scene. My four and half-year old thought it was very entertaining to hold up the chunks in case anyone missed the fact my boots were shedding their sole.
By the time we left the ward, one heel had vanished and the other boot left a great chunk behind at the lifts. My eldest daughter and I were laughing hysterically. The kind of laughter you need to release the emotional pain of visiting a much-loved, but seriously ill, family member. The kind of laugh that only just disguises the tears that are welling and the very real heartache of grief.
So even as my boots fell apart they were still serving me well. And yes, I kept them on for the gardening.