Visiting the RA last week required thought. There are only two stops on the Underground between home and Green Park, but first I had to make my way to the station over a street of compacted snow. Leather-soled shoes would clearly have been fatal, wellingtons inappropriate. I opted for a pair of robust boots inherited from my father-in-law, and donned them with gratitude.
Halfway around the ‘Byzantium’ exhibition, however, I felt something under my foot. It was a lump of rubber in the process of detaching itself from the sole. Not wishing to attract the attention of the warders, I put the evidence in my pocket. But that fragment was followed by others. To begin with, I thought I could limp round the remaining galleries, but no.
I made a Mr Bean style exit, with the peculiar gait of a man who doesn’t want to be seen to be hurrying, yet is anxious to get home before his footwear disintegrates entirely. Another deposit was left on the station platform. Could I make it in bare feet?
Never fear: what remained of the boots held out, but it was a chastening experience. We may live in an age that is defined by ease of travel, not only to Piccadilly, but to the ends of the earth, yet we are human; we need shoes.