You are all familiar, I assume, with the phrase “Bless his (or her, or its) cotton socks”, sometimes given as “Bless his (or her, or its) little cotton socks”. But I wonder how many of you are aware of the ceremonial rite from whence it originates? Well, because I care about these things, and do not wish to see you plunged in ignorant darkness, I am going to tell you.
The Blessing of the Cotton Socks (only very rarely given as the Blessing of the Little Cotton Socks) is almost as old as the wearing of cotton socks by persons of all ages and stations in life. It is well to remember that for most of human history, not only were no cotton socks worn, but no socks at all. Oh, our ancestors wrapped various materials around their tootsies to keep them warm, but even in relatively recent times, when civilization was pretty far advanced, the sock as we know it, if it was worn at all, would have been made of rough, prickly, scratchy fabric. Now I do not wish to career pell mell into a history of textiles and costumes and cloth manufacture and so forth, for the simple reason that, were I to do so, I would betray my unfathomable ignorance of such matters, and you would mock me, and call me a fool, just as, admittedly in a different context, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull called the person who was kissed by a witch one night in the wood a fool. Mr Anderson had his reasons, and so would you, so it is best if we avert the possibility of you feeling it necessary to call me a fool. Let us just accept that the ceremonial rite known as the Blessing of the Cotton Socks came into being shortly after it became common for cotton socks to be worn, by humans.
Now, I realise how easy it would be for me to pull the wool over your eyes and make up a ceremony. That might even be what you expect me to do. I could cobble together some farrago of twaddle, littered with little details that make it seem convincing, and you would go away happy, or happyish, or, I don’t know, possibly not happy at all, rather dejected and downcast and brimming with black bile. I always have to bear that possibility in mind. Don’t think for a moment that I simply tippy-tap this stuff out, endlessly, day after day, for no apparent purpose, without giving careful thought – very careful thought – to my readership, even if, upon reflection, I have absolutely no idea who most of you are. Upon further reflection, I realise it is perhaps reckless of me to make the assumption, as I did in the very first words of this piece, that you are familiar with the phrases “Bless his (or her, or its) cotton socks” or “Bless his (or her, or its) little cotton socks”. For all I know, you may never have heard the words before. Well, you will almost certainly have heard the words, but perhaps not in that precise order. Individually, yes, broken up, in separate contexts, I am as sure as eggs is eggs you will have come across all those words. But hearing them, or reading them, in isolation, snipped or chopped out of the phrase, is not the same thing at all as hearing, or reading the phrase. Let me put them in alphabetical order and you will grasp what I am driving at.
Bless. Cotton. Her. His. Its. (Little.) Socks.
I placed parentheses around “Little” because, in common usage, the phrase is equally valid with or without it. I suppose I could have done the same with “his” and “her” and “its” because they are alternate choices, depending on whose (or what’s) cotton socks are being blessed. One would only use more than one of them if more than one person’s (or thing’s) cotton socks were being blessed, for example if there were to be a double blessing, of the cotton socks of, say, a boy and, say, a girl, but in that case one is more likely to say “Bless their (little) cotton socks”, rather than the somewhat clunky “Bless his and her (little) cotton socks” or “Bless his (little) cotton socks and her (little) cotton socks”.
Ah. I say “Ah” because, in speech, “Ah” often precedes the blessing. Interestingly, “Ah” also comes at the beginning if we rearrange the words of the blessing in alphabetical order, as above. Well, it is perhaps not that interesting. Christ, what a palaver.
All these reflections have made me realise, better late than never, that I would be wasting your time, and mine, by scribbling some drivel about the – entirely genuine – ceremonial rite of the blessing of cotton socks. Of far more interest, it seems to me, is a related blessing, the one adverted to in the title of Jefferson Airplane’s 1969 live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head. Though even then, the “it” referred to was a being whose tootsies were ensconced in (little) cotton socks, or so I am told by my sources, who shall remain nameless, and wholly unblessed.