I have dusted off my award-winning shoes
The shoes are more orthopaedic than elegant, big blocky black things that cost a lot of money
The cheque was eagerly anticipated, but the possibility of having a play produced was the real prize
Years ago, around the start of the millennium, I won an award. The award was for playwriting and consisted of a cheque and a kind of vial of hope that, down the line, the theatre nominating me might produce another piece of my work.
The cheque was eagerly anticipated, but the possibility of having a play produced, rather than seeing it languish in laptop aspic or grow old and gnarled in the pages of a yellowing printout, was the real prize.
I won’t bore you with too many details, but there aren’t a whole heap of outlets for new plays in this country, and while there are some deservedly successful playwrights about, equally there are other good writers who might have enjoyed more fruitful careers if they had resisted the urge to write plays and taken up something less esoteric, like sugarcraft or ice sculpting or building sustainable teepees out of rabbit droppings.
Anyway, on the day of the award I went shopping for some shoes to wear to the party. The shoe shop was local, and I’d been looking in the window at a particular pair for months; in retrospect, the shoes were more orthopaedic than elegant, big blocky black things that cost a lot of money, money I didn’t have.
I vacillated, but, I reasoned with myself: if not now, when? I wrote a cheque, handed it over and took the shoes home. I figured that if I lashed into the bank the next morning with my prize money and whacked it into my hungry dustbowl bank account, the cheque wouldn’t bounce.
That night I approached the prize winners’ podium, clumsily (the shoes kind of obliterated pedi-sensation), and thanked the theatre management and the bank that sponsored the award. A bank whose name, a few years later, would spit like spilled blood over the ruined embers of the Celtic dream.
The cheque was handed over to me. Only it wasn’t real. It was a big pretend cheque, the kind people are presented with on television game shows when the wheel stops, a giant cardboard replica of a cheque.
The next morning I rang the bank manager and pleaded. I told her that I would be good for the money as soon as my toy cheque got converted into the real thing, and could she please honour the cheque for the shoes because I’d be dead embarrassed the next time I met the shoe-shop lady in the butcher’s. She obliged, an act of kindness I’ve never forgotten, but that was in the old days when banks still allowed human contact.
I waited weeks, a month or more, before someone on some financial board or other momentarily desisted from converting their green plastic houses into big red hotels and sent me the sponds.
Months later I was invited to a follow-up arts award dinner with some of the bankers. “What did you do with the money?” they asked.
“I paid for my shoes,” I answered, pulling my leg from under the table and treating them to a view of the still-nearly-new clodhoppers that I was wearing under my sister’s dress. They thought I was being funny.
Later, having run out of banking chat, I asked the executive beside me if he dreamed. In fairness, it wasn’t that random a question: he had been assuring me, or maybe himself, rather proudly, that he didn’t have a creative bone in his body, no imagination whatsoever.
He didn’t dream either, he replied, or if he did he certainly couldn’t recall what about. He was a busy man, he said, and had more urgent things to do in the morning than lie there wondering why tigers had been stalking him in the night.
Dusting off the orthopaedicsI was thinking about all this the other day. I was nervous because I’d been invited to a party full of people I’d never met before, people with businesses to run and politics to practise and connections to make and flights to catch and wives to prop up and husbands to appease and canapes to swallow, and I never have the right shoes for these occasions.
You’re too long in the tooth to wear your runners over your shagging tights, I told myself, pulling the sturdy orthopaedic shoes from the bottom of the wardrobe and dusting them off with my sleeve.
Looking at them, undiminished in their brazen inelegance, it occurred to me that their time, and that of much of the old guard, may have come again. And that really is a scary thought.