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The Joy of Socks

I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with my clothes.

When I was a child, my family had an annual ritual. Just like everybody else in Yorkshire we would dedicate two weeks at the height of summer to sea, sand and bingo. We’d have liked sun as well, but since this was the north of England, the chances of sun in summer were small. Three out of four would have to do. Off we went to Bridlington, or Scarborough or Whitby – anywhere that had a beach and a bingo parlour.

Of course two weeks away from home meant that we had to take two weeks worth of clothes with us – and they had to be the best clothes because my mother would have died of embarrassment had we been caught on holiday not dressed in our best.

The logistics of wearing our best clothes on holiday required that we wear our worst clothes on the week preceding the holiday so that my mother didn’t have to do a special wash just before we left. She had a secret drawer that she opened once a year and it contained all our pre-going away clothes. For the week prior to the holiday my father and I wore shattered underpants and ragged shirts. We looked like charity cases. People stopped us in the street and gave us money out of pity for our neglected state. But mother was adamant – the good clothes were for the holiday.

Once we got back home, she would immediately do an enormous wash. The pre-holiday clothes that survived one more trip through the washer and the ringer were put back into the secret drawer and everything returned to normal for another year.

At various points during the year, if my parents were feeling rich or benign, (or rich and benign) it was possible that I would have new clothes bought for me. A big expedition to town would be mounted. The planning alone took days of effort.

We would visit all the clothes shops where I would be thrust forcibly into garment after garment. The clothes were always too big for me. The reason, my parents solemnly informed me, was that in order to get good value for money we needed to keep the clothes for a long time and I would, of course, grow into them. Consequently the sleeves of the shirts brushed against my knees and the waistband of the trousers had to be pulled right up into my armpits. I needed braces and two extra notches in my belt just to keep the trousers up. And we still had to roll up the legs so that I didn’t trip over them and break my neck. There was room in each outfit for both me and my twin brother. Since I didn’t have a twin brother, I had to occupy the clothes alone. A depressing thought.

Once we got the clothes home, they were hidden away in another secret drawer and I was forbidden to wear them because they were new and I might get them dirty or (horror or horrors) tear them. Eventually sufficient time went past that their newness was deemed to have worn off and I was finally allowed to wear them. By this time I had usually grown so much that they were far too small for me, but nevertheless I was crammed in to them anyway and my previous generation of clothes then got relegated to the pre-holiday drawer.

Like most students, I eventually discovered that my mother had lied to me about the length of time that socks and underpants can reasonably be worn. Experimental evidence soon convinced me that these garments can be kept on the body for weeks or even months at a time without any undue difficulty. It has to be admitted that, when I indulged myself in this manner, the garments did add an interestingly fragrant ambience to my bedroom, but I felt that was a small price to pay when weighed against the convenience of the habit.

However, if I was foolish enough to let my underpants and socks dry out overnight, they became quite brittle, and then they showed an alarming tendency to shatter if I treated them at all roughly when I put them on again the next day. Even the simple act of flexing my toes was fraught with peril until my socks had re-moistened themselves, and I had to severely ration my lecherous glances at attractive ladies until my underpants became flexible again. The only way I ever found of preventing that catastrophe was to sleep in my socks and underwear, thus keeping them moist and supple with my night time secretions.

There is much debate about the optimum length of time that must pass before you really have to change into new underpants and socks. I recommend the pragmatic approach. Throw your socks and underpants at the ceiling. If they come down, you can wear them again.

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