Last Summer, I had a friend round with her children for a playdate. Halfway through a conversation with me she suddenly said, "oh, don't look at my nail varnish, it needs doing."
"Oh!" I said, coming out of my reverie. "I was just thinking what a pretty colour it was."
And the conversation moved on, while I congratulated myself on my quick thinking. Because, actually, I was staring at her toes, not her toenails. And I wasn't sure how weird she'd think I was if I told her that what I was really doing was almost salivating over her beautiful, straight toes.
No, I don't have an odd sexual obsession with feet, although I know some people do. But increasingly, as my feet have got more and more deformed, I have found myself becoming obsessed with looking at other people's feet, and mentally marking them on my own 'bunion scale'.
My friend scores zero, because her toes are super-straight and just what I wish mine looked like.
I have bunions, one on each foot. I seem to have inherited them from my mum, who now also has hammer toes to go with them, as a result of the big toes pushing into the one next door for so long. Her mum had them too. I distinctly remember Nanny's bent feet, but then I just thought it was old age that made them that way.
I've had my bunions for as long as I can remember. I must have been born with straight toes, but I can't recall a time when I didn't look down and see my big toes pointing away from each other. It didn't used to be such a big issue. Although once, when I was at a salsa weekender, another dancer saw me take my shoes off between classes and gasped out loud at 'your old lady feet!' and made me feel like crying.
But then, they were just ugly and freakish, not painful.
Since I had my daughter in 2009, though, they've added pain to the deformity. Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, maybe the extra weight I was carrying, or maybe even a combination of those coupled with me getting older (I was 34 when I had her and am 37 now), but when it got to the point where even my boxy boots with plenty of toe room made my feet hurt, I decided enough was enough.
Interestingly, my GP didn't think I'd get surgery. "I'll refer you," he said, "but don't expect much." He didn't think they were bad enough for me to get surgery.
However, when I saw Ian Nugent from Reading's Royal Berkshire Hospital, he was very positive and immediately agreed to do them.
"Have both done at once," he said. "People never come back for the second one if they have them done separately."
I blocked out what that meant - it must be incredibly painful - and decided to go for it.
Due to personal reasons, I ended up not being able to follow up for a couple of years after my initial consultation, but earlier this year (2012) I reactivated my referral, and in July went to see Mr Nugent again.
I had both feet X-rayed, then he talked me through what he'd do. As I had my toddler in the room at the time, I must admit I don't know exactly what procedure he will do, but I know it involved shaving off the spur of bone that make the lump of the bunion, plus straightening of the big toes.
I'll find out more at my pre-op assessment on November 16, but I also know the recovery takes six to eight weeks, to get back walking again, and many more months before it is fully healed. I know from previous surgery that internal changes can take up to a year to heal completely, so I'm not expecting much for the first six months or so.
So that's where I am. I hope that this time next year I'll be staring at my own beautiful straight toes, and that my desire to gaze at other people's will have diminished.