Before you jump to conclusions, no, I haven’t got gout

My feet are cold. They are cold because I have nothing on them and the floor is chilly. I have nothing on them because my left little toe cannot stand the pressure even of a slipper and all my socks are wet from the laundry. And I cannot put something on my right foot because
the only OCD thing I suffer from is a profound discomfort that arises when my feet feel dif­ferent things.

For example: if I walk on the nobbly bit at the edge of a tube platform or pedestrian crossing a certain number of times with one foot, I have to make sure the other one has exactly the same experience. Otherwise it's all over and the universe becomes consumed by a quantum bubble expanding at the speed of light squared. This is the only weird thing about me, even if I am ultimately proved right.

“Aha!" I hear you cry. "He has gout. I knew he'd get it one of these days. He certainly deserves to. In fact, he deserves worse, for if Lezard chooses to swallow that much rich red wine, and even the odd bottle of port when he can afford it, down his gullet each evening, then Serve Him Right. Our only surprise is that it has taken so long, and that only the least significant part of his body, not counting his brain, is affected."

Suited and booted
Well, nuts to you, because I don't have gout. This is a walking-related malady and an unavoidable one, if you care about how your shod feet present themselves to the world. Since about 2000, the only shoes I've wanted are classic, elastic-sided Chelsea boots, which are effortlessly timeless and add an immense amount of class to one's gait and bearing. (The Converses that readers of the proper, paper-based magazine see in the
accompanying photograph are summer wear and the gift of a now ex-lover, besides. I wouldn't have bought them for myself. Lord, how cheapskate online readers are missing out. You really must subscribe.)

But eventually they wear out and develop lacunae that not even a cobbler can fix and you have to get a new pair. This can be traumatic. Properly made boots have to be broken in, like (readers: insert "men" or "women" depending on sexual preference and who has the upper hand in the relationship; or "horses" if you're a Spectator reader who has strayed here by mistake); which is a painful and protracted business.

And this pains me, for I want to be nice to my feet. I think of the horribly under-celebrated Christopher Twigg's lines in his poem "To My Feet": "Compassionate extremities!/Lovers of carpet and meadow!" It's the "compassionate" that gets me particularly right now (although putting "extremities", with an exclamation mark to boot, after the word, is poetic genius).

One should be compassionate towards one's feet, for they uncomplainingly put up with a lot of crap from the body above them. I treat my feet like princes most of the day: except for the occasional excursion to the loo, or the park, or to buy groceries, or the papers, or wine, they remain rested,
on a level with my hips, as a result of their owner staying in bed from bedtime until about six in the evening. There are many reasons to be bitter about expulsion from the family home but the ability to stay in bed for much of the day without rebuke is a con­siderable compensation. I make up the exercise quotient by walking everywhere I have to go in the evening, which means I still manage to get at least four miles' walking done a day. The problem only arises when you do it in a new pair of boots.

Bachelor pads
Actually, this time I've got off pretty lightly, with my mangled toe. The last pair of boots but one nearly crippled me - the insides were literally stained with blood - and I had to get a packet of those gel-filled pads that fashion-conscious women who wear high heels know all about.

The trick, I gather from the man who sold me the latest, from a key-cutter's and resoler's shop down the road (you wouldn't believe the offences against taste they're selling in John Lewis and Clarks these days; I now have Loakes, at ruinous expense, but I can tell they are going to be worth every penny), is to let the feet recuperate for a couple of days before putting the boots on again and letting them know who's boss. Then repeat.
Wise words, I suspect, and a good reason to stay in bed for another day or so. As Beckett, in a loose but not ultimately that loose translation of Chamfort, said: "Better on your arse than on your feet,/flat on your back than either,/ dead than the lot."

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 02 January 2012 issue of the New Statesman, And you thought 2011 was bad ...