Chapter 3. First-day blues: Earning my dole money — in the Sock Room.
Oh, great! This was all I needed! Just how bad could things get?
Mrs Norma Newlove, my neighbour from hell, had actually come to the Sock Room to gloat over my hideous predicament … And, of course, to change her dirty socks — knowing that I was going to have to hand-wash them!
“Haven’t you got anything better to do with your time, Mrs Newlove?” I said disgustedly.
“Are you joking … community servant David double-oh-seven? Of course I haven’t,” she replied, sitting on the edge of one of the four recliners that overlooked the basement level of the Sock Room, the recliner that was situated just to the left of the six wooden steps leading down into those profoundly depressing environs. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world!” she gloated.
“And, I’ve come prepared,” she told me, patting the red leather sports bag on the floor at her feet.
Mrs Newlove untied the laces of her red and white trainers, pulled her trainers from her feet, and then swung her dark blue with white piping tracksuit-bottomed legs up onto her recliner. “Mum’s got the kids,” she told me.
From where I was standing — in front of the laundry boiler tank in the lower, basement level of the Sock Room — as Mrs Newlove relaxed on her recliner, the soles of her medium-high arched, rather wide-soled, white-socked feet were directly in front of my face, just three or four yards away.
There were grey patches, I saw, on the soles of her white cotton socks, where her foot sweat had soaked into them. And, Mrs Newlove having just taken off her trainers, those grey patches were damp-looking. Especially at her heels, the balls of her feet, and around the undersides and the pads of her toes.
I groaned inwardly. Hell! How did things ever come to this? Actually having to hand-wash Mrs Newlove’s dirty socks. And, I’m expected to get those filthy things clean! — “pristine, clean” — as my supervisors had instructed me.
Making herself comfortable, Mrs Newlove crossed her ankles, and started scrunching her toes. This movement, I saw, caused the soles of her white cotton socks to fold and crease, especially at the balls of her feet, and under her toes. And the compressed edges of these creases were discoloured a darker, dirty dark grey. “I’m here for the day,” she said.
* * *
Okay then, I thought: First things first.
I went to my janitor’s closet and, upon spotting a roll of black plastic refuse sacks, I pulled one free from the roll, tearing along the serrated edge. Now that I was equipped for the task in hand, I climbed the six wooden steps, past the smirking Mrs Newlove, to the upper (street level) of the Sock Room.
Up there, the light-grey linoleum floor was littered. Strewn, with the sticky plastic bindings and torn cardboard packaging from the single, and 3-packs and 5-packs of socks that the girls and ladies of Canford had carelessly dropped as, in exchange for their discarded dirty socks, they helped themselves to a clean pair of socks from the shelves.
There was a large, black plastic litter bin in plain sight. But it might as well have not been there at all. For, even as I picked up their litter and put it into the black plastic refuse sack, more of the females of Canford carelessly dropped more of these sock wrappings to the floor, after availing themselves of a pair of brand-new socks from the shelves.
Rapidly depleting shelves too, I noted.
On this, the opening day of Canford town’s Sock Room, the girls and ladies of Canford were ransacking the sock shelves. Like unruly female shoppers snapping up incredible bargains in some high-end shop’s every-thing-must-go closing-down sale, they were quickly laying the shelves bare.
Except, of course, nothing was for sale, in the Sock Room — it was a free socks, free-for-all. Free, for all females, that is.
Maybe things would calm down after today, I thought. After the initial early rush. After the opening-day excitement, of the Sock Room.
I watched the girls and ladies of Canford, as most of them lifted the lids of the white-painted wheelie bins (of which there were eight), and deposited their dirty white socks inside them.
Some of the females, though, stood at the four foot high, two-barred safety railing, and gleefully tossed their discarded pair of dirty white socks directly into the main, open-topped hopper, that was marked: White Socks Only!
These girls and ladies of Canford, at seeing me picking up their carelessly dropped litter from the Sock Room floor, smirked at me, and gave me a smug, superior look. As if to haughtily say: YOU, are going to be hand-washing my dirty, stinky socks!
I then remembered C.S.O. Linda’s instruction, for me to “Run a quick mop over the Sock Room floor.” And I had just seen the necessary tools for the job — a mop and bucket — in my janitor’s closet.
Carrying the black plastic refuse sack, that was now at least a third full bahis firmaları with sock-related litter, I was half way down the six wooden steps and passing the infuriatingly smirking Mrs Newlove, when I heard a female voice behind me call out, authoritatively, “Just a moment, community servant David double-oh-seven!” She had obviously seen my ID, which was emblazoned in bold black letters and numbers, on the back (and front) of my white uniform T-shirt.
I turned around to see a suntanned, very fit-looking, quite attractive woman in her mid-twenties, who’s long, platinum-blonde hair was tied in a pony-tail. She was dressed in a white tennis top, pale blue shorts, long white sports socks and white trainers.
She was just coming in through the double door entrance to the Sock Room, and dragging in with her two bulging black plastic sacks, similar to the one I was using to collect the sock-related litter.
Black plastic sack in hand, I turned around and retraced my steps, to see what the bossy-sounding young woman wanted. I hoped she wouldn’t hold me up for long — I needed to “get cracking,” as C.S.O. Linda had so eloquently put it.
“I am Miss Pardew,” the young woman informed me, in no-nonsense tones. “And I am the girls’ PE teacher, at Canford High … the Secondary school?” she added, when I didn’t say anything in response.
“And …?” I prompted, spreading my hands, in the universal So-what? gesture.
“And …” she said, her face darkening with displeasure, “I have a little job for you,” she told me, pointing to the two bulging black plastic refuse sacks that she had brought in with her. When she looked at me again, there was a smirk on her face. “This lot,” she told me.
Miss Pardew said, “There are two hundred dirty socks, altogether, in these two sacks.”
What, the …? I thought.
“One hundred pairs. Sports socks, belonging to the schoolgirls of Year Five. Canford High has four Houses, and Year Five has twenty-five girls in each House,” Miss Pardew explained. “Here, community servant David, look,” she told me, inviting me to view the contents of the two large, bulging black plastic refuse sacks.
Looking into them, I saw that they were both full of dirty, long white socks, that were double-ringed near the tops with either red, yellow, green or blue. The four colours, that represented the four Houses of Canford High … just like the Authoritarian Female Party’s colours, I thought glumly.
Peering more closely into the two large sacks, I saw that some of the socks were single, and some were balled up into pairs. Then I hastily curtailed my closer inspection, upon being assailed by the decidedly unpleasant, musky odour that was emanating from the two large sacks: the stinky, combined smell of all of those Year Five schoolgirls’ — 100 of them — foot sweat.
“Express wash, community servant David,” said Miss Pardew in commanding tones. “I want you to give these schoolgirls’ sports socks top priority. Do you hear? I shall be back at four o’clock tomorrow afternoon to collect them. And, it goes without saying, I shall be expecting perfect results — this time, and every time.”
What, the …? Where the hell did she think she got off, this Miss Pardew? Coming in here, and ordering me about like that — as if I was of no account!
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” I said. “Now, you just hold on a sec, Miss Pardew. I can’t just drop everything else — just on your say-so. Anyway, there are lots of those kind of socks on the shelves — just help yourself to those.”
“Oh, I have every intention of doing so, community servant David. But I’ll be taking those socks for Year Four — in which there are also one hundred schoolgirls. In fact, for your information, there are a hundred schoolgirls, in each of the five Years of Canford High,” she informed me with an unpleasant grin.
My God! I thought, as I did the math … 100 pairs, for each of the five Year’s … 500 pairs of socks — 1,000 socks!
And, these were just the schoolgirls’ sports socks — of which, they surely had more than just one pair! What about all of their pairs of regular, every-day, long white socks that they wore in class? What about all of their other socks: the ones they wore at home, and the ones they wore when they were out and about, socialising? In short: all of the pairs of socks that they would be bringing to the Sock Room — for me to hand-wash!
And — hell! — that was just Canford High! There were other schools as well. Including Canford’s two girls’ schools: St Kate’s, and St Esmeralda’s — ha! More like St Trinians.
Now, it really began to sink in. Some real inkling, some real insight into the actual, soul-destroying, mind-numbing magnitude of the dreadful drudgery that lay ahead of me.
I tried to hide my smouldering resentment, and my deepening despair, from Miss Pardew.
Affecting an air of unconcerned indifference; what I hoped was a half-decent imitation of nonchalance, I shrugged my shoulders. “Well, it doesn’t matter,” I told kaçak iddaa her flatly. “I’ve only got one pair of hands. Those socks are just going to have to wait, until I get around to doing them.”
“I beg your pardon? Perhaps I am not making myself clear — community servant David. I said: I want those socks ready for collection, by four o’clock tomorrow afternoon,” asserted Miss Pardew.
“Perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, either, Miss Pardew. I said: those socks are just going to have to wait, until I get around to them.”
“Such — such insolence!” exclaimed Miss Pardew in highly affronted tones. “Your manners leave a lot to be desired, community servant David double-oh-seven,” she shrilled. “In fact, your manners are not at all what they ought to be — for a community servant!”
Ah, I’d had enough of Miss Pardew’s nonsense. I had a lot of stuff to do, and I needed to be getting on with it — I needed to “get cracking!”
Turning my back on Miss Pardew, I flapped a dismissive hand at her, by means of indicating I was bringing this conversation to a close. That the matter was settled.
“Your behaviour is inexcusable, community servant David. Quite intolerable!” raged Miss Pardew.
And, looking at her over my shoulder, as I once again started down the six wooden steps, I flapped my hand at her again — this was all over and done with. “Get over it, Miss Pardew,” I said.
I had turned my back on the Canford High schoolgirls’ PE teacher, and I was more than half way down the six wooden steps, and passing by a scandalised-looking Mrs Newlove — who had been sitting up on her recliner, and looking over and absorbing every word of this exchange, when—
“Get over it …? Get over it — community servant David? Perhaps I should speak to your supervisors — C.S.O.’s Karen and Linda, aren’t they?” said Miss Pardew, instantly halting my progress.
“Do you think they, will tell me to “Get over it” — community servant David? Because I certainly don’t. In fact, I think your supervisors will see things rather differently,” she said ominously. “And in any event, they certainly need to be apprised, as to your egregiously disrespectful attitude.”
At Miss Pardew’s mentioning my two supervisors — C.S.O.’s Karen and Linda — a highly unsettling image filled my head, of their flexing their A.F.P. issue canes meaningfully. C.S.O. Linda in particular, I knew, was just itching for an excuse to use her cane on me. She was just itching, to pull my shorts down around my ankles, as per the C.S.O.’s textbook of chastisement, and …
“Er — er … no, Miss Pardew. I don’t think there’s any need for that. And … and besides, they’ll be very busy in their office … doing the real work around here, and … and I really wouldn’t like to disturb them. Er, you said you’ll be back tomorrow afternoon? To pick up Year Five’s sports socks? At four o’clock? No problem. No problem at all, Miss Pardew. Consider it done, Miss Pardew. Rest assured, I’ll make sure Year Five’s sports socks are all ready and waiting for you — and, with perfect results — when you come to collect them tomorrow afternoon, at four o’clock. And … and I’m very sorry, Miss Pardew, if there’s been any sort of … misunderstanding.”
Miss Pardew glared at me. She then looked at her watch, and seemed to come to a very reluctant decision. “Oh, I don’t think there’s been any misunderstanding, community servant David — I think I understood you perfectly … Oh, very well. Regrettably, I haven’t the time now to take the matter further, and to see that you are suitably brought to heel. So I shall have to overlook your appalling conduct — this time.”
Phew! That was a close escape. I understood now, that Miss Pardew was not a woman to cross; was not a woman to take liberties with. And I would have to watch my P’s & Q’s with her in future — that is, if I didn’t want be “brought to heel.”
Now it was Miss Pardew, who disdainfully turned her back on me. I watched her platinum-blonde pony-tail swishing behind her as she strode towards the door. And there was a spring in her step; a sort of jauntiness … as if she felt she had just won a small, but important and satisfying victory.
I was once again making my way down the six wooden steps, and passing by a now smirking again Mrs Newlove, who was once again getting herself comfortable on her recliner, when—
“Oh — and, commuunity servant David?” came Miss Pardew’s voice, as she held the door open after stepping outside onto the street.
Oh, what the hell now? I wondered. “Er, yes, Miss Pardew?” I said.
Peering through the gap of the half-closed door, Miss Pardew said, “And don’t forget to pull all of the socks through the right way!”
* * *
I took my nearly half filled sack of sock-related litter outside into the courtyard, and emptied it into the rubbish bin. No need to throw the sack away, I thought, as I could re-use it time and again to perform the same, demeaning chore: picking up the carelessly dropped litter, kaçak bahis of the sock-changing females of Canford.
I looked at my watch. It read: 10:30. So, I thought …
Two and a half hours, since C.S.O.’s Karen and Linda had rattled their canes on my front door, picked me up, bundled me into their A.F.P. van, and taken me to the Community Service Operations Centre. Where the Community Service Liaison Officer, Harriet Harmman, had issued me with five sets of community servant’s uniform: white T-shirt, white shorts, and two pairs of rubber flip flops (“There will be a lot of water, where you will be working”). And she had told me that, until I found gainful employment, by means of earning my £80 per week Unemployment Benefit payments, she was assigning me to work in the town’s Sock Room … And, of said establishment, my two supervisors, C.S.O.’s Karen and Linda, had given me their “Grand Tour.”
I looked up at the mid-May sky. It was a beautiful morning. Apart from just one or two thin and wispy cotton wool clouds, it was wall-to-wall sunshine … not that I’d be seeing much of it, stuck in the Sock Room.
I stared at the twelve nylon clothes-lines: three of each, of red, yellow, green and blue … The colours of the Authoritarian Female Party, led by Caroline Flynt — talk about a femme fatale! She had seduced me into voting for the A.F.P.
Not for a moment, did I think it coincidental. Those coloured clothes-lines would be an oppressive, ever-present reminder of my situation.
It was already feeling quite warm in the courtyard. The courtyard was south-facing, and I thought that, given the circumstances, that was fortunate.
Yes, I thought, as I stared at the twelve nylon clothes-lines, that were hung about five feet above the flag-stoned courtyard … it looked like being a good drying day.
I re-entered the Sock Room and, as I was passing by the short corridor, that led to C.S.O.’s Karen and Linda’s office, and that was on the other side of my ironing station, I could have sworn that I heard my name (double-oh-seven) being mentioned. So I crept stealthily down the short corridor, and I pressed an ear to my two supervisors’ white-painted office door.
“So, Lindz,” I heard C.S.O. Karen say, chuckle-voiced, “how do you think Sock Boy will get on, working in the Sock Room?”
“Ha! Double-oh-seven!” said C.S.O. Linda, her voice dripping with scorn. “That’s a laugh, isn’t it, Karen? Mr Licenced-to-hand-wash-girls’-and-women’s-dirty-stinky-socks — him, you mean?”
“Ha ha ha ha!” laughed C.S.O. Karen, obviously tickled pink by her colleague’s snide jibe at me. “I’ll tell you what though, Lindz … Isn’t it dead brill, eh, being able to boss him about? Order him around. Make him do anything we say — anything we want. Tell him to do this, do that, and do something else — or else! Lindz,, think about it: it’s going to be as good as having our own, personal slave! And, we are actually getting paid four hundred pounds a week — four hundred pounds a week, Lindz! — for our trouble. Not that it’s any trouble — ha ha ha! I still can’t believe it. We’re being paid four hundred pounds a week — just for making that loser’s life a misery. Ha ha ha ha! I would do it for nothing — just for the sheer pleasure of it! I could hardly believe it, Lindz, when the Job Centre told us that, not only would we be allowed, but that we would actually be expected, to cane the community servants’ bare bums!”
“Heh heh heh. Oh, you are so, so right, Karen! We’ve certainly landed on our feet here, haven’t we? Eh? And, I’ll tell you what, Karen … I can hardly wait for double-oh-seven to give me the slightest, tiniest excuse, to pull his shorts down around his ankles and cane his bare bum — chastise him … Oh, I love that word: ‘chastisement’. Don’t you, Karen? It’s got such a nice ring to it, don’t you think? And, I’ll tell you something else, Karen. I don’t think I’ll have to wait very long either … Like I said before, double-oh-seven is incapable of keeping a civil tongue in his head. Not to mention, the thicko is bound to mess up with his sock washing sooner, rather than later.”
“Ha ha ha!” laughed C.S.O. Karen. “Oh, my sides are still hurting, Lindz, from listening to him telling us what his Sock Room duties are! Hey, Lindz … shall we pop in to the Sock Room now, to see how he’s getting on — I could do with a good laugh! I mean … we are, after all, supposed to be monitoring him — ha ha ha!”
“Oh, we’ll be monitoring him, all right! But let’s leave it for a bit though, shall we, Karen? We’ll catch up with him later; see what the idiot’s getting up to … Here, Karen … choose from this box of latest-release DVD’s, courtesy of the A.F.P. Pick the movie you want to watch — that’ll take us nicely up to lunchtime. We’ll remind double-oh-seven we’re around, this afternoon,” said C.S.O. Linda complacently.
“Okay, Lindz,” said C.S.O. Karen agreeably, and she began scanning through the box of DVD’s. “Hmm … Seen it … seen it … seen it … Oh! Look, Lindz — we’ve got the latest James Bond …”
There was about three seconds of total silence … and then C.S.O.’s Karen and Linda erupted; shrieked, simultaneously, “Double-oh-seven!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!!”