Like our thrifty King, I can't bear to throw away my holey socks

TOM UTLEY: Like our thrifty King, I can’t bear to throw away my holey socks – but Mrs U has other ideas!

Once every couple of months or so, a long-running matrimonial war flares up in the Utley household over the contentious issue of my socks.

It has been raging now, on and off, since the day my wife and I were joined at the altar, 43 years ago next week.

The latest offensive began last weekend, when Mrs U came downstairs after putting away the washing and ironing, and reopened hostilities with the familiar challenge: ‘When are you ever going to throw away some of your wretched socks?’

(In the interest of ruthless accuracy, I should report that she actually used a stronger and more colourful word than ‘wretched’ to describe the controversial footwear in question. But to spare her blushes and yours, I will not specify which.)

Her complaint, in a nutshell, is that I possess too many socks, having accumulated perhaps 50 or 60 pairs over the years — many of them birthday or Christmas presents from my kindly intentioned near and dear, who tend to be slightly uninspired when it comes to their choice of gifts.

Pictured: King Charles III and Queen Consort Camilla at a mosque on Brick Lane, East London  

For those who missed the evidence, it appeared in a photograph taken during His Majesty’s visit to a mosque in Brick Lane, East London, where he followed the Islamic custom of removing his shoes — and clearly revealed a hole in his sock between two of his toes


She feels, perhaps with some justification, that these are rather more than a man such as me, endowed with the conventional number of feet for a member of our species, may be reckoned strictly to need.

What’s more, she points out, several of the socks I keep on a shelf in my wardrobe have holes in them, while others have been separated for years from long-lost partners.

‘So why on Earth do you keep them, just rotting away in the wardrobe? You’re totally mad!’

At this point in our oft-rehearsed argument, I demonstrate how sane I am by adopting the voice of sweet reason. 

I tell her that the socks of which she complains are not actually rotting, nor are they doing anyone any harm. 

They sit there on their shelf, minding their own business and getting in nobody’s way.

In fact, my sock shelf is so wide and deep that there’s room for plenty more. I reckon it could accommodate at least 40 more pairs, without much of a squash.

Furthermore, I keep them because I wear most of them from time to time — including old favourites that now have holes in them, discreetly concealed by my shoes.

I’m always careful to avoid suggesting that her mania for de-cluttering is quite as bonkers as my hatred of throwing anything away. But between you and me, my dear reader, that’s what I believe.

So imagine what pleasure it gave me this week to see that I have what amounts to a royal endorsement for my reluctance to chuck out socks that have passed their prime. And it comes from no less a figure than the King.

For those who missed the evidence, it appeared in a photograph taken during His Majesty’s visit to a mosque in Brick Lane, East London, where he followed the Islamic custom of removing his shoes — and clearly revealed a hole in his sock between two of his toes.

Now, I know that the King, with his famous weakness for luxury, makes a pretty unlikely pin-up boy for the virtues of thrift. 

Wizened old cynic that I am, the thought also occurred to me that perhaps a shrewd PR man at the Palace might have advised him to cut a hole in his sock, knowing that he’d have to take off his shoes when he entered the mosque.

After all, stories suggesting Royals pay heed to considerations of economy tend to play well with the public.

Witness the excitement in the media when a picture editor discovers that, say, Princess Anne has worn the very same dress no fewer than four times since she acquired it more than 30 years ago (and never mind that a great many of her brother’s subjects wear the same outfit at least once a week — or several days running, in my case).


But away with such unworthy thoughts! I much prefer to believe that somewhere deep in the King’s psyche lurks a sense that it’s simply wrong to dispose of anything still capable of serving the purpose for which it was made.

I may be quite wrong, but I reckon this feeling is particularly prevalent among the generation to which he and I belong (Charles III is five years my senior), born in the years of genuine austerity after World War II.

I’m not claiming for one moment that I myself ever suffered anything that could be described as real deprivation — though even just-about-managing middle-class families such as ours had few of the luxuries taken for granted these days by many of the ‘victims of austerity’, whose plight the BBC bewails, night after night.

Still less, of course, did the King suffer hardship when he was a boy — unless you count the ice-cold showers and gruelling cross-country runs he had to endure at Gordonstoun, which sound like pure hell to me.

All I am saying is that our generation had it drummed into us that ‘make do and mend’ was the watchword — and even the offspring of the richest families were brought up to believe it was downright immoral to let anything go to waste.

With the welfare state in its infancy and benefits widely regarded as a last resort — to be accepted with a twinge of shame, rather than the affronted entitlement so many recipients express today — we were all well aware of how much the poorest families suffered.

For example, in those days there existed none of the food banks that have become such a blessing to families now suffering the pain of inflation. 

Indeed, I’ve often thought it strange that Labour seems to deplore these enterprises, citing their recent proliferation as a blot on the Tories’ record and a measure of the hardship inflicted on the vulnerable.


In fact, of course, the number of food banks per head of population is no reliable guide to anything. 

There are more food banks in Britain, after all, than exist in some of the poorest countries in Africa. 

Only a fool, however — or perhaps a Labour politician — would think this meant poverty is a greater problem here than there.

But I’m straying from my theory, which is that because we baby boomers were brought up in genuinely tough times — whether or not we experienced much hardship ourselves — we tend to be more reluctant than most to part with anything that may still have a use.

Speaking for myself, this doesn’t apply only to old socks — or a favourite shirt, with a badly frayed collar, which my wife has been plotting to chuck out for years. 

I feel the same way about rusting screws and nails, chargers for long-dead electric devices, good pub guides (dated 1976) and all sorts of other things we may be grateful for one day.

My only wonder is why Mrs U, who was born only four years after me, and belongs to the same thrifty generation, refuses to share my belief that if she throws something away, a day will come when we’ll have cause to regret it.

As a compulsive de-clutterer, she may call it neurotic of me to go on wearing frayed shirts and socks with holes in them, when I have more than enough others to choose from. I call it economical and practical.

I’m just glad that the next time she tries to launch a raid on my sock shelf, I’ll have my answer ready: if it’s all right for the King, it’s all right for me.

Source: Read Full Article