There’s one thing I ask my relatives to bring every time they visit. You’ll be wrong to think it’s a favourite food ingredient. There’s no shortage of Slovak groceries in West Midlands and I can always get a bag of sweet paprika powder at the local Asian section. My appreciation goes to well made slippers with firm sole and mid heal, fitting snugly around my tiny feet.
For a few years I was muddling through with purchases from the Shoe Zone – remember those high heel slippers with feathers and pom poms? The shopkeeper tells me they don’t stock them any more. “My grannie used to love them slippers”, she smiles, “I remember them from years ago when I was a child”.
Ok, I am getting old and frumpy but I am unwilling to compromise on my slippers. After all, they were a perfect rite of passage into my socialist womanhood.
Yes, I am short. I was about 13 when I realised I wasn’t going to get any taller but my mum thought it was too soon for high heels. And there they were – my mums’ slippers, buying me some grace and dignity in 1985. I remember them maroon beauties as if it was today, tight fitting and slick, with a little peacock detail on the outside. I could walk in them all summer and they did not stretch, I could run around the house doing chords and I never tripped. They did not get smelly or soggy and looked good even when complemented with the iconic socialist joggers called ‘teplaky’ (translated here strangely as ‘warmers’).
But anyone who thinks this had anything to do with vanity would be wrong. There were house chores for girls to do every day – ‘wiping dry the dishes’, organising the cutlery, sweeping the floor or hoovering for the older ones. I remember my best mate Dana could not go out to play a few times because the bedding was not ‘straightened’. Her job was to make sure all the beds were ‘catalogue perfect’ before Mrs Rehakova entered the hallway.
Soon enough, scrubbing potatoes were added and so was the Saturday spring clean, table setting, table clearing, clothes sorting , and clothes hanging, My favourite was coating pork fillets in flour, egg and breadcrumbs – nothing beats a freshly made schnitzel.
All the little things that made a woman required a sturdy but attractive pair of slippers fit for the future socialist super-woman to run around. Visitors often commented on how ‘brisk and clean-loving the girls were’, a good steady pair no doubt helped.
Some habits die hard – and being the super woman definitely lives on in my community long after the socialist ideal has gone. But today I am thinking – all of these months and years, spent in slippers add up. I will start saying no to steady slippers. I will buy a onesie and those ‘ballerinas’ whose only purpose is to keep me warm when stretched on the sofa. I will put out some tweets, update my status on the Linkedin and maybe play a bit of piano. Or I might just finish that short story that is craving a publication. I will make visible what has for long remained hidden and I will get a cleaner once in a while to pick up the crumbs.
And so what if the kids eat a shop bought dumplings every now and then. We certainly won’t be telling the Grannie. It’s time to instigate another ‘rite of passage’ – this time it will be in the slippers of my own choice.