I'm on a park bench and an Irish woman is saying something to me, but I can't really hear her. I'm a little distracted because there is a hole in my sock and it's strangling my big toe.
I know what you're thinking,
"Why would you put on a sock with a hole in it anyway James?"
Well it all just looked so innocent this morning when I put it on. Just an ordinary black sock. Sure there was a hole - but it was tiny. Little Toe wouldn't have fit through that hole, let alone Big Toe. I'm not some kind of toe masochist.
But, over the short walk to the park "sock and hole" have "lured" Big Toe into a trap and are now busy throttling him. Like sock terrorists. Within my boot, unseen and gradual, the hole stretched just enough to allow Big Toe passage and then somehow constricted around the toe base, it feels like he's being garroted with cheese wire. I was moments away from removing my boot and sorting this out when a woman sat down next to me and started talking. She looked very nice and sounded very nice with her Belfast lilt and then her son started playing with my son and all of a sudden I felt too self-conscious to reveal my sock/toe situation to this person. The last thing she needs to see at the park is a stranger's angry purple appendage. She might summon the authorities.
I must pretend that everything is normal, ignore the growing pain and wait for her to leave.
"Sorry what did you say?" I ask
"Can I just ask what's on your son's boots?" she repeats,
"Oh it's probably just dogshit..."
"No, no I meant the character?"
"Oh right, it's Fireman Sam."
"We've looked everywhere for those. I might get my son a pair."
I nod in approval and smile, all the time thinking "Please go soon woman, I don't want to talk to you and my toe hurts."
"Is there a lot of dog mess in the park?" she asks
"No, no" I say "You get the odd surprise turd but it's not a problem. The owners are pretty good about putting it in the bin. The owners of the dogs, I mean."
I point to the purple dogshit bin.
"Oh I hadn't noticed that bin," she says
"Whatever you do don't open it" I say "It's not for litter."
She sort of just stares at me for a bit so I add "I put a nappy in it once. Figured that was ok? Sort of half litter, half shit?"
Suddenly she gets this haunted look and says "I remember when they took away all the bins from the parks during the troubles."
I think to myself "Please go soon woman, I don't want to talk to you about the troubles and my toe is about to fall off and if I'm honest, despite your lovely Belfast lilt, your conversational skills are somewhat lacking."
And suddenly I realise that she isn't going to go anytime soon. Anyone that uses the phrase "Oh I hadn't noticed that bin" is clearly desperate for conversation and company. I don't think I can move though, my toe is in agony, at best I will limp away in full view and at worst my toe will fall off.
I am trapped!
My brain starts to tick and I notice that our children have found something on the floor in the park, they are poking it with their fingers.
Suddenly a plan arrives fully formed into my brain.
Casually I say "I don't know what they've found but let's hope it's not one of those surprise turds eh?" and I watch as she sprints across the grass shouting
"CONNOR DON"T TOUCH THAT!".
I know I only have seconds now so I slip off my boot and survey the damage. It's not good. Big Toe looks angry and purple. I rip the hole a little wider and in doing so create another hole which helps me peel the sock off. I look up and the woman is walking back towards me with both the boys. I slip my foot back into the boot.
"Don't worry it was just a pine cone!" she says as they all arrive back at the bench.
"Dad what have you got there?" asks my son.
They all look at me expectantly so I do the first thing which comes to mind - which is to pretend that I'm holding a sock puppet.
I put my fist into the sock and pull it down my arm, unfortunately, because of the two large holes in the sock it looks a bit like my puppet is wearing a balaclava. It looks a bit like a Provisional I.R.A. sock puppet. How did this happen?
I look at the Irish woman in front of me and swallow the Belfast accent.
You do get some weird people at the park......