Sally Emerson's Week

Sorting Socks
Feb. 6 2002 2:47 PM

Sally Emerson's Week

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Last night, when I was writing at around 1.30 a.m. (I prefer to write at night), a helicopter stayed hovering over our house for a good while, sending down searchlights into the garden and making enough noise for around half an hour to wake the soundest of sleepers. It sounded as if it wanted to land on our roof. Perhaps, I thought, I am finally getting my wish and the police are paying attention, or perhaps there is something about my family I don't know. But then the noise stopped, and to my amazement there was a police van in the street and a young hooded man was being led into the van. They had caught a burglar! With the help of a helicopter! I slept easily, my faith restored. The man had burgled the house opposite, I found out today.

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I spend much of today trying to establish when exactly my novel Broken Bodies is to be published in Greece, and if they need me over there to promote it. It's in part about Mary Elgin, the first wife of Lord Elgin, and her role in the removal of the sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens in the early 1800s. Her letters, and the divorce proceedings in which he tried to destroy her reputation, show what a loathsome man he was, which no doubt pleases the Greeks. His nose rotted away, probably because of syphilis, so that in the end he resembled one of the broken-nosed statues he pulled off the Parthenon. The controversy over whether the Greeks have a hope in hell of getting Elgin's treasures back to Athens continues. Only a couple of weeks ago the Director of the British Museum insisted there was absolutely no chance of the museum handing over the marbles. The Greeks had suggested a loan would be acceptable, but I don't believe the British will agree to this because they probably think that the Greeks would never give them back again.

My son Michael, 14, is off school with a cold, and I cruelly detach him from the television to help sort out a huge pile of odd socks. "But why?" he says. "We take two socks off. Why is there only one left now, why?" "It's just one of those things," I say, continuing sorting. "James's mother buys James black socks, one brother grey socks, the other white ones, and their father blue." I stare at Michael. "But that's brilliant." I lean forward. "Why didn't you tell me before? Why Michael?" He begins to laugh at the long row of single designer socks—one with a black Nike tick, one with a blue tick, one with a W, one with a snappy tennis racquet pattern. "We must find another of these," he says, waving the one with the black Nike tick. "I'd really like two of these." Some have name tapes recording the history of his friendships. "Ah," he says, lifting up a limp grey sock that says Geoffrey Summerskill on it. "I remember him. He was in my class in year 5. But his parents took him away." He picked up another sock. "Gosh, it's Ollie Rayne's!" "Yes," I say. "But it's too small for anyone in the family."

I am about to throw it away, but he grabs it and struggles to put it on like one of the ugly sisters. He fails. It just about covers the toes of his Size 12 feet.

A friend tells me that the novelist Ian McEwan believes that missing socks vanish into washing-machines, that they are simply sucked up into them in some mystic way.