Miles Kington Remembered: One of the great mysteries of life is unravelled at last

18 March 2002

Share
Related Topics


Today we continue our occasional series of People with Very Unusual Jobs Indeed

No 66: A Man Who Runs the Sock Exchange

That's right. You read it right second time. Not Stock Exchange, but Sock Exchange.

Bill Bobsley runs the Sock Exchange. It is the only sock exchange in the world. But why would anyone want to exchange socks?

"Oh, come on!" says Bill Bobsley. "Anyone who says that has never had to handle the domestic laundry situation! Do you have to handle the domestic laundry situation in your house?"

Well, I do actually sometimes empty the dryer...

"Sometimes empty the dryer!" mocks Bill Bobsley. "Big deal! I am talking, among other things, about getting the laundry upstairs and sorting it all out and putting the pants in the pants drawer and the pyjamas in the pyjama drawer and then coming to the bit that every housewife hates. Sorting the socks out."

Why does every housewife hate sorting the socks out?

(I think that I know the answer to this, but Bill Bobsley is the sort of man who feels good when you seem not to know the answer.)

"Because after you have sorted out all the socks, you are still left with a number of socks that have no mate. Do you know the feeling when you have two black socks that seem to be identical except for the trifling detail that one is six inches longer than the other? It is one of the great mysteries of life that you can put into a washing machine an even number of socks with their matching mates and get out at the end of it all several socks you cannot pair up. Sometimes you get socks that you have never seen before and that all the family recoils from in disgust. Very occasionally you get single socks with name tabs sewn on to them bearing names you have never heard of. What's going on here?"

Well, what is going on here?

"So what the housewife, or laundryperson, has to do," says Bill Bobsley, ignoring the question entirely, "is put aside the leftover sock or socks until such time as its mate turns up. You will find that almost every household has a pile of socks, or a basket of socks, or a drawer of socks, which are all missing their mates.

"It's a bit like a bar for singles. A Lonely Hearts Sock Drawer. And sometimes the missing mate does turn up. But more often the average housewife is left with a pile of socks that are never going to be paired off again, like unmarriageable Victorian daughters. So what do you do?"

So what do you do?

"You set up the Sock Exchange!" says Bill Bobsley happily. "A place where people can bring their socks to match them with other people's socks. A place with a great range of available single socks. A place where that single Tin Tin sock can team up with another single Tin Tin sock, or that turquoise sock you could never quite bring yourself to throw away at last finds happiness with another one.

"People bring us their socks, factories send us their unwanted socks, jumble sales send us their leftovers, and by the time most of them are matched up, we have brought a lot of people a lot of happiness. It's the little things in life that bring a lot of joy. We now have over 20 Sock Exchanges all over the country, where people can drop in, have a cup of coffee, chat and go through socks together. Do you know how many lasting friendships have been struck up in a Sock Exchange?"

No, I don't.

"No, nor do I," says Bill Bobsley happily, "but I bet it's thousands. If you can talk to people about socks, you can talk to them about anything."

And at the end of the year, if there are still obstinate, chronic mismatches, socks that look as if they will never find a mate, chunky purple socks or semi -see-through grey socks, will they be thrown away? Destroyed? Are there some socks that even the Sock Exchange gives up as a bad job.

"You have forgotten one thing," says Bill Bobsley. "There are still one-legged people out there. One-legged people who normally have to buy two socks to get one. That's where our end-of-the-year socks go to."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game