Useful And Fantastic: The Da Vinci Sock Mystery - 5
Val Yule concludes her surrealistic tale concerning a great man’s missing sock.
All over the world, every now and then, the British Guardian or the New York Times or some more local journal will dig up the Odd Socks Mystery again and have another worry at it. Weirdly enough, this tiny hole in creation has not become a field for lucrative research in psychology or, surely, parapsychology, with its own Journal of Odd Socks Research. Yet it is more than likely that the Mystery of the Universe will not be solved through some great maths or astronomical achievement, but when psychologists finally understand this one small clue about how the world ticks. Then the rest will unravel. Let the parameters and size of the task be estimated, and the call for research grants go out.
The Odd Socks Mystery is the fact that all over the world, people have drawers-full of odd socks, and the missing socks are never found. Some people are prone to this problem and others are immune. Is it poltergeist selectivity? What battery of tests can be devised?
I had never realised the importance of this Mystery until the baby's bootees started to become singletons. Then the children's socks began to be odd. The problem then expanded until it was my husband's odd socks that were disappearing - even from great thick hiking pairs. It was nearly always one of a nearly new pair that went - once a sock survived to become holy it never left us.
There was a great drawerful of socks by the time we moved house. None had been found inside the washing machine when it was repaired, although we took it thoroughly to pieces. None were found behind cupboards or under carpets when we moved - although for years this had been a naive expectation. Our son Peter's parents-in-law donated us 81 odd socks when they moved to Warrnambool, in the hope these might match some of ours; of course, none did.
Explanations for missing socks
There are as many theories as socks offered by fellow-sufferers. Mary Norton's theory of the Borrowers who live under the floor 'borrowing' items from biros to paperclips will probably be well-known to all of you who have been children. The Master of Ormond College held that there must be a little man who went around his College secretly collecting the students' odd socks. The State Premier was no doubt impressed by this theory, because the Master was later appointed the Governor of Victoria. Some people think the Mystery is a device of sock manufacturers to keep us buying socks, and they point to the fact that retailers make it hard to buy more socks of the same pattern. What would happen to the mystery if socks were sold in threes?
Some people have a Boggle theory- that in fact the old stories about the Little People could have as much basis in history as the dragons had a basis in dinosaurs. Their comings and goings of the Boggles are marked by all sorts of mischief, and only some of it gets attention from the Society for Psychical Research. It is possible that some people have personal Boggles as part of their Jungian Shadow. So this solution could be related to Ethology, or it could be Dynamic and Deep. Or all of them - like the Sellars and Yeatman theory of history that all theories of history are right. If this is the answer, then we could expect the research to be rather riddled by the Boggle's assistance too.
One puzzling clue is the number of odd socks that you see around in gutters and other public places - and come to that, odd shoes, and in ponds, odd boots. How do they get there? I once found a dirty old sock outside our back gate. Out of some impulse, I took and washed it; it was one of George's new birthday pair.
The problem may be worse than it seems. You notice when odd socks go missing - but what about the rest of your minor garments that you do not keep track of? Do they disappear too? You may not notice if there is no remaining partner to remind you, on the line or in the drawer.
Socks never return, and really valuable items like my father's Imperial Stamp Album never do. But other disappearing items can mysteriously return, such as keys, spectacles, scissors, documents, which disappear and then turn up sometimes years later looking as if they had been there all the time.
Some people's lives are so badly permeated by this Mystery Hole that they come to live a sort of Alice-in-Wonderland life. They themselves remain stable, but their worldly goods seem to come and go around them. Ballpoints and coathangers of unknown origin disappear and appear in tides - there are always dozens or none. To stave off madness, the inhabitants develop the strategy of gratefully making use of objects while they are visible, and when they aren't getting on with other things until they turn up again. This can take hours, weeks or years.
In our house, every now and then some curious item, a photograph perhaps, or a school essay, or a medal from my 91-year-old father's past will turn up - on top of a table, or on top of items in a drawer - always some place quite out of my father's ambit. I have never seen it before. No-one still alive has ever seen it.
Research in the mystery
How can the vital and necessary research investigate this mystery? The mysterious outcome of my own research interest in Odd Socks so far was that I was invited by the Koestler Foundation to join a Cambridge College weekend on 'Out of the Body Experiences at the Boundaries of Birth and Death' - although this was not quite what I am getting at - my socks research is more about Off the Body Experiences.
Serious research would require locating volunteers with home contents at every stage of De-visibility. Group A are those who lose nothing except in the ordinary way of losing. Group B share in the Great Sock Mystery, rarely or often. Group C are the badly hit, where anything can go.
Group C people are usually more at risk to this sort of happening, since they tend to be rather absent-minded and property-strewn anyway. I would claim however that this is like being vulnerable to any other outside agency or medical disorder - the virus or burglar or boggle attacks successfully what is most vulnerable to its ravages. Group C would need particular research attention.
Dated records need to be kept of everything as it goes missing, where it should have been, and where/when it turns up. Notice the active voice here - the missing objects are not regarded as static or even passive. They move - they do not have anyone moving them. In some cases, it may be necessary to record all the places that are examined, preferably with a witness, to establish that it was searched well, before the object turns up in a place where it was looked for, truly it was. Because there are many recorded instances of something being there and not being seen - de-visible though not translocated. Only sometimes it is that person's temporary problem of figure-ground discrimination that has allowed the thing to sit there and not be noticed.
Any theory at all can drive this important research. My own theory is that this world is not as stable as we would like to think, and things can fall through the cracks into the well-known Black Holes in the Universe. Black Holes are here too; they are not all safely out there in space. Then as the world spins, some things get spun back again. That is where solving the Mystery of the Universe comes in, for some lucky psychologist.
Find the missing Sock, and you may find the missing Ships of the Bermuda Triangle and more. 'Brother go find your brother' has always been a useful technique to find lost things. Whole civilisations and geological layers and vital evidence and committees of organisations (Morris 1991) have gone missing at times.
The only trouble with the proposed research is that the records will go missing. Not passively. Actively.
And see Morris, P, 1991. "Black Holes and committees", The Psychologist, 14, 48.