When Sam Kitteridge announces his job at parties, people tend to blink and ask him to repeat it. Did he say sex psychology?
‘No, sock psychology, I say. They then ask me if I study the behaviour of people who wear socks. No, no, I tell them. I study the behaviour of socks themselves.’
The study is based on Kitteridge’s profound conviction that socks behave in a way quite different from anything else in nature.
‘You yourself must have noticed that if you put five pairs of socks into a washing machine for an ordinary wash cycle, you will almost always get either eleven socks out or nine. Now, where does that extra sock come from? And where does that missing sock disappear to?’
Kitteridge also studies the way in which single socks with no matching sock build up in a household till there are as many as twenty or thirty unmatched socks, some of them not claimed by any member of the house. One of them is almost always a long red towelling sock.
He is also intrigued by the way in which a pair can increase to a trio of identical socks, as well as by the curious phenomenon of the unknown name-tape.
‘This simply means the way in which socks, usually grey school socks, can turn up with names sewn on them which do not match any of the family’s names. Very often, these names are of people totally unknown to the family.’
This sort of study may seem useless to people not familiar with academic research, but Kitteridge is convinced he is on the edge of an amazing discovery. He believes that socks contain the secret to some form of energy which is totally unknown to science.
‘I know it sounds odd, but the only explanation for all these happenings is that socks move around in a way which we do not yet understand, and if only we could crack this form of movement we might be able to harness it to more useful ends.
‘You yourself must have noticed that if you hang up a wash-load of socks on a washing-line, say over the bath, then the next time you come back some of the socks are lying in the bath. They may even fall on top of you as you take a bath. There is no way known to science in which those socks could move.’
At the moment he is working on a theory that socks somehow derive energy from the spinning of the washing machines in which they find themselves.
His early research was done in a Milton Keynes launderette, but he was banned from there for using too many machines, and he has now set up his research lab with six machines, four basins and a complicated system of washing lines.
So far he has isolated a pair of black dinner socks and a large woollen Scottish stocking which seem to have unusual hidden energy, but it is still too early in the day to draw any conclusions.
‘I have at last established that this behaviour is limited to socks. After exhaustive washing and drying of ties, pants, vests and hankies, I am convinced that they show no urge to move around at all. This is a sock-limited phenomenon, as we would say.
‘Only last week I stored a single green sock away in a sock drawer for further testing. It turned up three days later on my feet, matched to a grey sock. A female colleague of mine claims that ladies’ knickers have the same powers of movement, especially if there is a teenage daughter around, but this is unknown territory to me.’
Does he really feel he is pursuing a useful end?
‘Most certainly. At least, compared to my colleagues. One of them has devoted his life to comparing different books written about Milton’s poetry.
‘If he finds any hidden source of energy there, I will eat my hat.’