There’s an art to not wearing shoes at the office. . .
Firstly, you have to not give a shit. Colleagues will remind you that you’re not wearing any shoes (as if you forgot). They’ll look for an opening, a crack of insecurity in your wall of shoeless self-assurance. Don’t give them anything.
You gotta do it stylishly. You’re a shoeless office worker, not a homeless man. Wear socks, wear a collared shirt. Make sure your hair is clean. I find that walking with socks on is better than strutting around with my naked feet, because no one wants to see my two big toenails (victims of the previous week’s soccer game/war) first turn a sickly blue and then black before falling off. Your feet want to be free, but not objects creating offense.
Why walk around without shoes, is it worth the stares, snarky comments and queer looks from management? Absolutely.
When you have to climb out of bed every day to compete with the commute-gladiators before doing that thing they call work, it’s the small freedoms like good office coffee and freeing your feet that makes it all worthwhile.
Going barefoot has some limits. . .
Normally I have the common sense to go running with shoes on. Sure I admire Zola Budd and Abebe Bikila and I think there’s a lot of truth to the barefoot running craze. In fact my nicely shaped, lady like, ankles and running style is well suited to barefoot running. But tar is hard.
I once heard it said that a poor person doesn’t have a shoe size. Well sometimes a poor student doesn’t have a shoe. Last year I survived largely on lentils, peanut butter and baked beans. (Tip: baked beans taste remarkably better if you add Nando’s hot sauce.) So when my three year old entry-level Adidas running takkies decided to die, funding was on the short side.
This was a problem because I have always managed to avoid emotional breakdowns in public thanks largely to running. From around midday, my being starts to pine for that afternoon run. The hour-long bliss, when the frustration of deadlines and thoughts of triviality is silenced by the slap-slap of shoe on tar. I need my fix.
And so I embraced barefoot running.
The Men’s Health advice for barefoot running is to do it gradually. The muscles inside your feet aren’t used to the new motion. It takes time. But I’m a cowboy, so I waved gently at this advice as I ran past it.
It’s amazing how many sensations your feet feel during a 10km run. Initially I was a bit in love with the tingly feeling of a thousand nerves enjoying the massage like effect of the road. You feel like a child again running around after a ball, or away from that other kid who wants to bully the ‘rooinek’.
The next 4km is a gradual descent down the enjoyment scale. At first, I refused to flinch. Proudly increasing pace as I ran past one of the many groups of varsity women that, together with the mountains, make Stellenbosch a beautiful place. I was sure they were remarking favourable things to their friends about this runner – who must be super tough with his bare feet. More likely they were uttering, “what an idiot”.
Around 5km in, my feet start to scream. No longer in a nagging “you-have-to-stop” way, but in a shrill, “why-are-you-doing-this-to-me” manner. The gravel walkways had transformed into grey strips of hot coal.
At this stage any reasonable person would give up, pat themselves on the back and walk home, hoping to have avoided serious blisters. For reasons of ego, I am not one of those mythical reasonable persons.
Eventually, after my ego died on the hard scratchy pavement, I walked the last kilometre back and spent the next two weeks in mild amusement, watching the various stages of blisters formation and eventually skin re-growth. A week later I humbly loaned money and bought some trail runners.
We have our own cult. . .
We seem to be drawn towards one another. My significant other has no problem with my shoelessness, in fact she’s probably barefoot more often than I am.
My cousin’s husband and I like to dash up Plattekloof Gorge to the top of Table Mountain barefoot. By now we’ve learnt to go before sunrise, so that shouts of “het jy nie nie skoene nie” don’t irritate us both. We may be odd, but like the NSA, we’re all around you.
It’s only since I descended to the Republic of the Western Cape that my farmboy ways have garnered attention. When I studied at NWU-Potchefstroom, around half the male population discarded their plakkies for bare-feet regularly. No-one looked twice when guys went to class on a freezing winter morning sans shoes.
I have a friend who did a six month jail stint. When he came out, the first thing he did was remove his shoes and walk on grass. He says it’s one of the feelings he missed the most.
Us – members of the barefoot cult – never want to miss such experiences. We know that the floor temperature changes dramatically when you’re standing at the meat section of Checkers. We know exactly how hot tar gets in December. We love it because unlike the zombiesque masses that strut through life with their ears plugged in, fixated to their mobiles. We are sure that we’re alive.
The Urban dictionary even has a term for us. We’re a bunch of nelipots, Ones who walk barefoot. It’s time we own it.