Danielle Murray: Bare feet soothing to the sole and the soul

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Day after day, my kids go to school in shoes and come home barefoot. Photo / APN
Day after day, my kids go to school in shoes and come home barefoot. Photo / APN

I am at home watching Air New Zealand's in-flight Hobbit safety briefing online and spot big bare Hobbit feet. I am confused. Just last week at the airport, I observe a passenger as he is told he is not allowed to board his aircraft without shoes and as he grabs a pair of thongs from his carry-on, I conclude this is definitely a conversation he's had before.

I am not a barefooter - I have a deep, loving and loyal relationship with footwear which cannot be broken. But that doesn't mean I have a problem with naked feet. It's one of the things I like most about Head Hobbit Sir Peter Jackson - through all his great success, that he shuns shoes makes him seems real.

So I'm curious if he, too, is given grief at the airport and must pack flip-flops on his travels. Or maybe he has his own plane and it's not a problem. I don't really know. But since I can't see much difference between human and cheap synthetic soles, I Facebook-message Air New Zealand and request clarification.

"Why aren't people permitted on planes without shoes?" I ask. "This is Middle Earth - Hobbits go barefoot."

"Passengers are required to wear footwear for health and safety reasons," replies Air New Zealand.

They do not specify what footwear or comment on the Hobbits.

Not that it matters because I quickly fixate on the issue of health and safety. Day after day, my kids go to school in shoes and come home barefoot. I don't like it but neither do I think it does them any harm. Gosh, have they been in peril all this time?

I need to know more and contact ACC. My question is simple - "Do you keep info on numbers of accidents related to or caused by bare feet in New Zealand and if so, what are the stats?"

They do not, says Stephanie Melville, a very helpful and kind senior media adviser. But only because as a "no fault" scheme, no one is under obligation to supply such "comprehensive information on how an injury is caused".

I am no wiser. Until I run into a lovely woman and her shoeless tootsies on Dominion Rd and put her through an inquisition.

"It's perfectly safe," she assures me. "You are not a bad mum."

She even lets me cop a feel. Her feet are no worse for wear than mine and no, she says, she doesn't have to plaster them at the end of each day. She can't remember the last time she had a cut.

I'm feeling better and hit the computer where I learn that going barefoot is better for posture and that hip, back, knee and foot pain are often traced to shoes. Mind you, I also read that two billion folks worldwide suffer from parasitic diseases which can be prevented by wearing proper footwear. Which seems a lot. And that many people in developing countries go barefoot and not by choice.

I read about a wellness trend called "earthing" based on the idea that since people are positively charged with electrons and the earth is simply brimming with free-flowing negativity, direct contact - by walking barefoot on any natural surface (like soil, sand and grass - Dominion Rd and shoe shops do not qualify) helps smooth things up a bit. Earthing can detoxify, increase antioxidants and reduce inflammation as well as increase the surface charge of red blood cells, benefit skin conductivity, moderate heart rate variability, improve glucose regulation, reduce stress, boost immunity and regulate the endocrine and nervous systems. Of course, I have no idea what I'm saying but it's a pretty impressive list all the same.

I hit upon a letter written to the Listener a few years back by an expat Canterbury lecturer who states barefooting is "not only backward and uncivilised, but dangerously unhygienic and repulsive to North Americans".

I realise that while Kiwis might be laid back about bare feet, some visitors aren't quite so chill. Case in point is self-titled New Zealand newbie who pens a travel piece about Aotearoa in the New York Times.

"People walk around barefoot. On the street. In supermarkets. All over. It's not everyone, but it's a significant enough minority to be quite striking and a bit disconcerting. Sure, city sidewalks are clean. But they're still city sidewalks," writes a clearly disconcerted SethKugel.

The funny thing is, I'm beginning to think that Kugel's significant enough minority is no longer quite so significant. Because these days I see far fewer naked feet on city streets and in supermarkets than I used to.

Have Kiwis simply developed a deep, loving and loyal relationship with footwear that cannot be broken (okay) or are we bowing to North American pressure to conform (not okay)?

It's a worry. Especially when I read that actor Ian McKellen says Peter Jackson has been in shoes a lot of late.

"Most days Peter shot Lord of the Rings barefoot as a Hobbit. But on The Hobbit filming he was always well shod, padding through the leaf mould and rubble of the sets in regular footwear," reports Gandalf.

I am gutted and wonder if he is suddenly disconcerted by his dangerously unhygienic and repulsive feet.

I am relieved when I see a recent photo of his feet not well shod in the Herald and hear that some time last year he was spotted walking barefoot in the Wairarapa with Kate Winslet.

But I still want to know if he must pack thongs on his travels.

Danielle Murray is a freelance writer.

- NZ Herald

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