On Socks and Togs

Mum recently came down from Auckland for a winter holiday, suitcase of thermals in tow. Following her frigid experience over Christmas, and having equated pictures of the ski field with out back yard, she was prepared for a real polar blast.  There were skivvies and long johns galore, gloves, slippers and a possum hat – and one pair of socks.

Small and unassuming, those monogamous stalwarts of the wardrobe are often overlooked. Not to worry, a visit to the store soon turned up a pair of magnificently fluffy socks, ‘complete with a tog rating of 2.5’. A tog rating? Yes, tog – the garish label was most insistent. Despite our initial incredulity about this supposed SI unit, we were sold on entertainment value alone.

As for the validity of the claim, our Scottish friend was quick to put us right: tog is a measure of thermal insulation, often used to indicate how well a duvet retains the warmth. In Scotland, where insulation is not a foreign concept, people pay attention to such details.  (They also double glaze their windows and shy away from building single ply weatherboard houses, but that’s another story…) This new definition of ‘tog’ was duly filed away for future trivia nights.

We had a different take on the ‘tog’: up in the North Island, where even July is balmy, togs are for swimming. We did stop off at the hot pools to give our swimsuits their moment in the limelight, but it was the newly discovered type of tog that had us in its grip. There was only one thing for it – we had to pay a visit to the sock factory in Ashburton to find out more. To get any closer to the source of the knitted footwear that graces stores throughout New Zealand, you’d have to head out into the paddock and tackle a sheep.

The local sock factory is something special. Socks of all colours and styles abound, from brightly coloured technical ski socks through to premium dress socks that would look at home on the red carpet of a world premiere – and they were all toasty warm. Mum’s frosty feet had never had so much choice. Neither had Santa Claus – my sisters don’t know it yet, but St Nick is now well stocked up, and their stockings are likely to be filled with stockings for years to come. As for us, we all headed out to the Sunday night quiz togged up in our glad rags and sporting brand new snuggly socks.

For socks that have walked right the way across Spain and carried Ironman racers over the finish line, the trip back to Auckland safely stowed away in the hand luggage compartment must have seemed quite tame. Still, mum’s new socks can bask in the knowledge that not only are they providing a valuable heat retaining service for the extremities, but the story that led to their purchase might one day mean the difference between 3rd and 4th place in a local pub quiz. That’s some power, alright.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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A Dusty Window

There is a cobweb in the corner. A small green spider scuttles over the outermost threads and is pounced on, devoured, by a pair of thick hairy legs. Not devoured, sucked. Poisoned. Left for later. You don’t see many little green spiders.

This little green spider had a family, fifteen brothers and twenty-six sisters. Just like in the story books, except these spiders didn’t wear little bonnets and aprons because that would just look stupid. They actually led a very straightforward spiderly life and strung webs out in the evening and ate midges and occasionally one another. They had no qualms about cannibalism because blood always tastes better if it is not your own. These little green spiders had plenty of blood.

Just before this particular little green spider met his demise he had been knitting a pair of socks. Not because he wanted to wear the socks, but because he was experimenting with his identity. Someone had once told him that knitting was the path to true enlightenment, and being the open-minded little green spider that he was, he decided to give it a try. One sock was larger than the others. He used to wear it as a balaclava. This impaired his vision somewhat, and hence he failed to see the trip threads or the two thick and hairy legs, which were attached to two very lethal fangs, until it was too late.

This little green spider always tried to take an upbeat view of life. Hence, he experienced the tingling burn of the venom with a detached fascination. ‘How interesting,’ he thought. ‘I wonder what is going on?’ Then his legs fell off and with them his socks he had worked so hard to produce and the little green spider felt a pang of sorrow for all the effort he had invested in producing such fine footwear.

This development did, however, give the little green spider a moment to contemplate his existence without his legs and socks and other associated baggage. At this moment he happened to notice the dust on the window and the way the individual grains kaleideskoped themselves together and as this was the last thing the little green spider ever saw, he invested huge significance in the one blue spot of grime amongst the brown-red dust.