Crocodile Shoes 

“Look at my shoe,” says a little girl in the lunch queue

She lifts her right foot into the air and the shows me the sole and the upper gaping apart almost to the heal. She laughs and waggles her foot, making the two separated parts snap together like the jaws of a crocodile. I laugh with her. “You can’t walk around like that all afternoon – let me try to fix it for you. Have you got any other shoes you can put on?” 

The answer was no, so I leave her to hobble to her table with her lunch tray and set off to find something for her wear while I play at being a cobbler. 

Lost property – we had dozens of pairs of old trainers and shoes and plimsolls which have been lost around the school. Where does that live these days…? The answer is that it has been recently washed and sorted ready to be distributed to parents through our free uniform shop. It’s in the cupboard in the hall. 

I squeeze in through the door and there are indeed several piles of almost new school sweatshirts and polo shirts (with no names in and which no one has claimed) which have been laundered and stored on the shelves. 

I have a slight panic at this point. I’m in the cupboard (actually a separate room) and the children are in the hall eating….and I have left the key in the door. Rookie error. Twenty years of teaching in primary schools has taught me never to go into any locked area and leave the key in the door. It only takes one bright spark to think it’s funny to lock Mr Rice in the cupboard and that’s the afternoon gone.  

I quickly slip back out and retrieved the key. I look up and see the children happily eating their lunch. A few of them smile and wave (as they constantly do) and I feel silly again – as if any of these children would lock me in the cupboard. 

Anyway, no trainers or shoes in the cupboard, only neatly folded uniform. I ask the kind teaching assistants who have done this and they say they have repatriated all the shoes (or thrown away the smelly ones). Why not try Mr Bartram – he might have some spare PE kit. No luck there. Someone else thinks Mrs Spurling might have an old pair of children’s trainers. 

I’m on my second lap of the school now. My little friend with the crocodile shoes is still eating her lunch. I tell her I’m still looking and she gives me a thumbs up. As I walk through the lunch hall again an excited group of Year 4s rush up to me and ask, giggling: “Mr Rice, do you like rice?” I really think I should organise a prize for the 10,000th child in my career to ask me this. I’m sure that milestone is approaching.  

Mrs Spurling isn’t there. A colleague looks in her classroom cupboard for me, but I can see through the door it is immaculately tidy and contains nothing but books and folders.  

I eventually find some size three plimsolls (thank you Miss Davies) and return to my crocodile friend. We swap shoes (hers are actually ankle boots) and I set off to fix them. I just need some glue. 

Mr Murphy has a sign on his desk which says ‘Fixer of Everything’. This mainly refers to technology, but can mean anything. I know he’s got some Gorilla Glue, which would be perfect, so I set off back to our shared office across the car park. A mum is waiting outside the nursery. She looks at me and the shoe and laughs. I don’t know exactly how to explain what I’m doing so I laugh too.  

Unfortunately Mr Murphy has left his Gorilla Glue at home. I walk back outside with my flapping child’s boot and, like a guardian angel, one of our caretakers, Mr Wright, appears with his customary smile and says: “Would you like me to fix that for you?” 

A few minutes later Snappy The Boot is back on my desk with its crocodile jaws firmly shut, bound with some tape and a couple of cable ties. An hour or two later I’m able to return it to the little girl in a state of repair which will at least get her home. She smiles and says thank you. It’s PE day tomorrow so she’ll be in trainers, she adds. 

Mission completed. Of all the things I have to deal with in a day, very few are actually completed. It’s very rare that I can claim to have started something and finished it all in the same day. And of course, I didn’t actually fix the boot – Paul did. But the sense of seeing something through, a team effort from lots of different adults, and a smiling face and a thank you at the end….well, it’s the little thing isn’t it.