Shoes and Socks

We were on a day trip to Fermanagh to do some workshops and a forty-minute free concert in the Tourist Information Centre in Enniskillen. The event was organised by a charity that brought live music to the public, in places where it might not usually be heard. We played in prisons, day centres, nursing homes, libraries, psychiatric hospitals, you name it. The centre was quite a small place, warm and modern, and there was good demand for the traditional music; there were about ten rows of plastic seats, which soon filled up as the start time approached. Laura, our contact from the charity, had come with us this on this trip and was sitting to my right at a table with various piles of information leaflets about the charity. We’d already done several performances in schools around the area, and it had been a long day, with a lot of travelling; we were tired and looking forward to getting back to Belfast and maybe a last pint in the Hatfield Bar.

We started the set with some reels, The Navvy on the Shore and A Midsummer’s Night. Towards the end of the first tune a woman entered the room. She disturbed the mood completely, letting the door slam behind her, and walking across the room, in front of the audience, to sit on the floor to my right. She was in her late forties, dressed in a long skirt, white blouse and a brown-green tweed jacket. Her wavy, greying fair hair hung loosely down to just above her shoulders. Hung around her neck on a gold chain was a pair of tortoiseshell spectacles. I instantly and incorrectly stereotyped her as a prim librarian or schoolmistress. At the end of the piece she jumped to her feet, applauding energetically and whooping. After she had finished her performance we introduced the next set of tunes, three jigs. As we started the first one, she turned to the audience and announced that she was going to show them some Irish Dancing. She had been taught to dance properly as a child, and was dismayed at the way the children of today pranced about with no appreciation of the good old style. Michael O’Flaherty and his Riverdance nonsense was to blame.

I watched with a mixture of horror and amusement as she kicked off her shoes – too much of a heel presumably – and started to leap into the air, kicking her legs in front of her, arms rigidly locked down by her side. She zoomed up and down in front of us, making full use of the available space. At times like this it is difficult to maintain composure. I knew our guitarist, Alan, was trying to get my attention; I could feel his eyes boring into me. From experience, I knew better than to look at him; a laughing fit would spell disaster for the performance. She was a terrible dancer, like a puppet with some of the strings cut. After the jigs were finished, she again addressed the room, exclaiming that the floor was too slippery for her to dance properly, and she needed some dancing shoes. She sat back down.

There was a palpable sense of relief in the room. But it was not over: as the next set of tunes commenced I could see her gaze running searchingly round the band and the front row. It settled on my feet, and with rising panic I realised that she was eying up my shoes for suitability. Obviously, nothing was going to prevent her from dancing. Alan knew what was going on: he was managing to keep his face from view behind his long hair, but I could see his back shaking. Mercifully she rejected my shoes and approached a tall man in the centre of the front row who was sporting a pair of loafers. He handed them over meekly and she wasted no time slipping into them. No good: they were far too big. Undaunted, she approached Laura’s table, seized a pile of flyers and stuffed a handful into each shoe. Job done. The improved traction made her bolder; she flew up and down, producing daring turns and jumps with no fear of slipping. In terms of technique, the quality of her dance was no better, but the new zeal was breathtaking. She continued for the remainder of what had once been our show, and when the music finished, she led the applause for an encore. This was the good traditional music, the old stuff, the way it should be. Afterwards, as the crowd started to disperse, she sat on, relishing the afterglow of a great performance. The man in the front row was still sitting there in his socks after most of the others had left; it took him some time to pluck up the courage to ask for his shoes back. She pulled the flyers out, all mangled and damp with sweat, gave him his loafers and then handed the leaflets back to Laura: Here love, you might need to run the iron over them; they’re a wee bit creased.

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12 Responses to Shoes and Socks

  1. Uncle Brian says:

    Excellent piece, I like the atmosphere and you nailed the woman. Couple of things:
    1. Maybe change at the start “a woman entered the room.” to ‘she’ entered the room. Give an unexpected turn.
    2. I would make her speech a real voice “I have been taught to dance properly as a child,… The “Michael O’Flaherty and his Riverdance nonsense” is excellent!
    3. I would leave out “I instantly and incorrectly stereotyped her as a prim librarian or schoolmistress”, better not to express your opinion, directly, you could say “She said in a schoolmistress tone”.
    4. Sometimes you hinted at negativity toward this woman, your laughter was from your own embarrassment, but I think it could have switched around, say up till half way you could have emphasised the reverent classical primness of the event, your embarrassment, which then changed to the ruckus traditional music, clapping, whooping and joining in she introduced. You or you crazy friend could have stood and danced! She stepped out expressed herself, participated, took a chance indeed at being laughed at. Interesting that change in a group of people, a type of infective madness, GET UP & BOOGIE!
    5. Also a detail, you say you went down for a 40 minute concert but then that that day you had already done several performances in schools around the area?
    Great piece none the less! Very good ending.
    Uncle Brian

    • jasonoruairc says:

      Thanks for the feedback Brian, very interesting to get another writer’s opinion.

      In response:

      1. Yes, I could have used ‘she’ there, but I am conscious that I don’t want to over-use technique, and it’s present in some other pieces, where the impact it creates is more important.

      2 & 3. I didn’t give her a ‘real voice’, as this would interfere with the narrative structure: part of what I was trying to achieve here was a narratorial voice and character (this responds to point 3 as well, where I give the narrator’s opinion in order to characterise him).

      4. Hmmm. She wasn’t expressing herself, she was on an ego-trip, and we were laughing because what she was doing was comical and absurd. It would be unusual, but not unheard of, for me to get up and dance in the middle of a concert.

      5. Well spotted! I’ve corrected that.

      Cheers, J

      • Uncle Brian says:

        Ha ha, you makea de joke “another writer’s opinion”, I suppose that is a step-up for me (hey and you too)!
        1. Interesting … “over-use technique” eh? Well I would say, ‘woman’ is not there, not visual, wheras ‘she’ is a presence, which she actually was, immediatly. I once asked an experienced drama teaching writer advice on reading aloud: “Two things” she said “First go over the top. Second, and this is most imortant, go over the top of that!”
        2. The narrator’s opinion, if he is an actor in the piece, I think, would be in the what he thought, he would not correct himself immedialty, he would say, – Instantly I stereotyped her as a prim librarian or schoolmistress, incorrectly, as I soon realised. This holds a promise of more to come.
        Over the top people, both ‘Ego Dancers’ and ‘Narrators’, are much more interesting.
        Uncle Brian

        • jasonoruairc says:

          Hiya, I thought you told me you were a writer when we met at xmas; didn’t realise it was a ‘step up’ for you. I don’t understand why it would be a ‘step up’ for me – I have a PhD and a number of published essays and articles over the years.

          I don’t think the comments section of the blog is the best forum for this sort of criticism / discussion. May I suggest that we continue it by email? I am concerned that revealing too much of what I am trying to achieve would detract from the reading experience for some readers. There is a discussion group on Facebook called ReVerb which is good as well.

          Regarding your own work, why not set up a blog yourself? It’s free and easy to do. WordPress is the best platform in my opinion. Get the work out of the drawer!

          Cheers, J

  2. patricia mc cullagh says:

    Love this wee gem…….I can picture the whole scene………….strangely this week I was admiring a pair of boot that a work mate had bought over Christmas, and for some reason the boots made me think of boots from my childhood and from memory I was trying to count the number of shoe shops we had in the town when I was young. Three by my count in the 60’s . Very strange memory at the time……….all that was missing were the Jigs and the Reels.

  3. Sid says:

    I could picture the scene..

  4. Maria says:

    Hysterical….. well done

  5. Tanya says:

    Brilliant, Jason! Glad I stopped marking to read this!!!

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