Column July 21, 2010: Once upon a time there was a strange man in a shoe shop

I WAS sitting in a shoe shop at the weekend, at once completely bored and at the same time marvelling at the range of the shoes on offer, and thinking: “If this is your Big Society, Cameron, you can stuff it.”

And I found myself wondering just what was so unique about Cinderella’s feet that the glass slipper she left behind would fit only her.

Surely there would be at least one other person in Fairytaleland who’d be able to slip her foot in.

If that is not the case, it’s a wonder poor Ella’s nickname was Cinderella, based on the fireplace cinders which made her grubby, and not Weirdofeetella.

Maybe that is why Prince Charming couldn’t describe Cinderella’s face when he sent out Dandini on his quest. Maybe he spent the entire time staring at the servant girl’s unlikely tootsies and wondering how they could possibly exist in nature.

However, that is not the most unbelievable part of the story for me. I find it difficult to accept that somebody named Charming could actually be charming, even if he were a Prince. In my experience, naming somebody after a positive attribute is the single most effective way of ensuring they grow up into absolute horrors, Charity Dingle in Emmerdale being a case in point.

It set me wondering about other fairy tales. Jack and the Beanstalk, for example. How did the giant, so high up in his castle in the sky, get basic provisions and groceries, given that the only way to access the castle was up a beanstalk which had only grown that morning? Even his goose laid golden eggs, which he was unable to scoff. No wonder he was prepared to eat an Englishman, he must have been starving.

But fairy tales are a model of internal consistency compared with nursery rhymes. I wonder how our modern world, with its DVD players and packets of Space Dust popping candy, would cope with the sheer lunacy of nursery rhymes. And here I am, wondering . . . 


FRAN: Honest, Bel, worst thing I’ve ever seen in 12 years of social work. I turn up, and the baby’s in its cradle at the top of a tree.

BEL: You what?

FRAN: Honest. The wind’s blowing and the cradle’s rocking all over the place. God knows what would have happened if the bough had broken.

BEL: So what did you do?

FRAN: Well, I get the baby down and go in to see Mrs Hubbard. In her shoe.

BEL: What, she lives in a shoe? An actual shoe?

FRAN: Yeah, an everyday 25ft tall shoe, and dozens of kids all milling about. She doesn’t know what to do with them.

BEL: But how can you live in a shoe?

FRAN: Well, she’s got a little stove. But there’s no food in the larder. Cupboard’s bare. And there’s no water. She’s been sending a couple of the children up the hill to get some from the well.

BEL: What? She sends the children?

FRAN: It’s worse than that. When I get there, two of them have had an accident, and fallen down the hill. The boy’s got a serious head injury and what does mum do? Phone an ambulance? No. Pours vinegar into the wound and wraps his head up in brown paper. Not even a proper bandage.

BEL: So what did you do?

FRAN: Took ’em all. Applied for a court order. You can’t keep children in those conditions. So, what case you working on?

BEL: Kerry Katona.

FRAN: You poor cow.

Ah, well, fairy tales, nursery rhymes, children’s stories. They might be unbelievable, but they’re good training for believing the unbelievable, a quality we’ll need as adults if we are to give credence to Cameron’s Big Society.

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