Pairing socks is my least favourite household task.
Everything else I can cope with. You name it, I’d rather do it, up to my elbow in the worst housework has to offer if necessary. Much better to have my arm up a cold drainpipe trying to unblock something unmentionable than to stand in the warm, turning through recently laundered clothes in search of one sock, and then something that resembles its mate. A passing similarity will do. I’m not going for exact matches here; god, that’d take even longer. It’s time I consider completely wasted and, frankly, I’ve had just about enough of it.
But I have persevered because, well, what’s the alternative? I’m just not a no-socks and deck shoes kind of bloke. I’ve got to have them. All boring and black is fine, but they’ve got to be cleaned at some point.
Then, late last year, something remarkable happened. Now, I’m not going to call this bad parenting, because I was kept alive in my youth and then sent out into the world with rudimentary cooking skills and able to get something approximating a job. But it still took 40 years for my mum to impart what is quite possibly the finest piece of advice she has ever given. “Get two net bags,” she said. “Put all your clean socks in one, dirty socks in the other. When the clean bag is nearly empty, wash the dirty ones. Then you’ll have a bag of clean, identical socks and won’t have to pair them.”
This is genius, I told her. “It’s a bit boring, isn’t it?” she said. Boring? Boring?! This news is the gift of time, and there’s nothing less boring than that. We may have nothing else, but so long as there is time, there is hope. And hope is all we have.
Perhaps you enjoy pairing socks. Perhaps you have someone who’ll do it for you. Or perhaps you think the time it takes isn’t worth worrying about. Well, let’s say it takes, I don’t know, 20 seconds a day. Done daily, or more likely compressed into a single sock-sorting stint on a Sunday evening, that’s 140 seconds per week.
Two minutes 20 seconds still doesn’t sound like a great deal, granted, but over every week for a year that’s 121 minutes – two hours. I’m hoping to live – and wear socks – for at least another half a century. In that time I could spend 101 hours – 4.2 days – pairing socks. Four days! Pairing socks! So, no, 20 seconds doesn’t sound like much, but I know that if it’s repeated lots of times it becomes loads.
Which is why, when faced with two lanes at a set of traffic lights, or with having to pick a lane in queuing traffic, we should make the right choice – without being an arse about it, obviously. Line up behind the Toyota Yaris with two people in it? Or the BMW 3 Series with one? The few car lengths you gain might get you through a phase of traffic lights ahead, or out of a T-junction before a line of cars. The seconds become minutes, the minutes become hours. It’s unquantifiable, but we owe it to ourselves, and those following us, to keep traffic flowing as easily as possible. It gives us time, and there’s nothing – absolutely nothing – more precious than that.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with my free 4.2 days, but it certainly won’t be laundry.