‘We had to mend and make do’

Jan 29, 2022
"I yelped and caught the eye of the nun and her ever-ready cane lifted in the air." Source: Getty

I walked into school after parking my bicycle in the gloomy bike sheds. I could feel a sharp pain in the soles of my feet. Wincing I made it inside to my wooden desk amidst the clamour of the busy school morning. The smell of ink being replaced in the ink wells, chalk dust, old sandwich smell and slightly rancid ‘nun’ smell hung in the air. Sitting down was not too bad until we had to stand up and say our morning prayers as the nun who taught us watched us with her eagle eye. There it was again. The pain in my feet. I yelped and caught the eye of the nun and her ever-ready cane lifted in the air. 

“It’s my feet” I yelled. She must have deduced that it was genuine pain so made me peel off my socks. There on the soles of my feet were neat rows of bloody puncture wounds. Puzzled she looked at my shoes. There poking up through the inner lining were rows of tiny nails. After a bit of questioning, she accepted that my father had repaired them over the weekend – gluing on new rubber soles he had hacked from a tyre tread and then banging in the nails to keep them in place. He had not meant to torture me, but in the economy of our four daughter family, new shoes were not a regular occurrence. We had to mend and make do.

And then there were the bowl haircuts. I would howl in fear as he took me out to his shed for a haircut. He would balance a stainless steel pudding bowl on my brown hair and drape a tea towel around my shoulders. He would then carefully hack around the edges. I hated those bowl haircuts. I was a plain, gawky, pigeon-toed child and the ugly haircuts would add insult to injury in my opinion. One day he was blithely hacking away with the kitchen scissors when he hit a tough bit. I yelled out. It was my ear. Blood ran down my neck as I leapt off the stool and inside to mum. Not much sympathy came my way. It was my fault for squirming. 

And then there were dad’s attempts at home decor. As a foreman in a vinyl flooring factory, he would come home with offcuts in various lurid tones which he would insinuate into the flooring in our modest three-bedroom home. Poor mum would roll her long-suffering eyes as he fabricated a vinyl-covered bench that would fall off its’ hinges in the middle of the night, or insert orange circles into the brown vinyl in the kitchen floor. He was being artistic. Poor mum.  Vinyl made its way everywhere. It lined the bottom of my school case. It lined the cupboard shelves. Its only redeeming feature was that we could do good skids on it when the floor was polished. But only if mum was not looking.

I bought one of those mats that you lie on with sharp pointy bits on it. It’s called a ‘Shakti mat’. You lie on it and it’s meant to stimulate your blood flow. I’ve given it a good go, but inflicting pain reminds me too sharply of those nail embedded shoes. I will find another way to unwind. Walk on the beach, anyone?


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