Leona and Sally got to know each other properly at the Job Centre.
Leona had already been sitting for at least an hour with more than
twenty others in a huge open plan office. There were similar clumps of
people throughout the space. Most, as she was, were trying not to look
directly at anyone else. Leona was not used to being in such a
situation and felt oddly ashamed of it. She was horrified when Sally
came in, looking round to see where she had to go. Illogically she
didn't want to be seen in there, especially by anyone she knew. Also
she had problems with knowing Sally at all.
Leona was still not used to Sally's changed appearance. When she had
first known her, Sally was fresh from college. Leona had been impressed
by her stylish appearance. Sally was tall and wore gentle peaceful
colours. She remembered her with a sky blue skirt and tee shirt to
match. Leona sighed. She had looked fresh and smart back then.
She had spotted her and was coming over, Dr Martens clumping on the
hard floor. She was in her regulation black from the top of her
'haystack' black hair to the acres of black material of her outfit. It
couldn't be called a dress. She was quite restrained for her, no veils
on her hair, just six earrings on one ear and one huge cross on a long
chain clanking round her neck. Her eyes were black rimmed as usual, but
there was no black eye shadow.
Leona still couldn't accept that Sally had been a 'Goth' for five years
now. She knew that in spite of her appearance Sally was a gentle girl,
sweet-natured and helpful. Watching her coming over, causing visible
unrest even amongst the most hard-looking of those she passed, Leona
wondered for the umpteenth time. Why?
Sal had spotted Leona immediately and was in two minds about being
pleased to see her or not. Leona had always seemed an authority figure
to her, cool and distant, but now she was a welcome sight in these new
surroundings. She was quite glad to see a familiar face, even Leona's.
The Benefits office intimidated her. She was fully aware that she
probably made the same impression on it. She smiled, her black lipstick
giving the peaceful gesture something akin to a threat. She really
wasn't displeased to see Leona. They hadn't been friends at work. In
fact they'd had nothing in common. Leona was older than her, small and
neat. She thought of her as a pastel person. Her hair was 'washed and
ironed', as Sal thought, at her necessary weekly visit to the
hairdresser. Sal knew she lived with her husband, an inoffensive
neutral sort of man, and had no children. Apart from that her life was
Leona was wondering about Sally at the very same time as she watched
her approach. She knew that Sally lived with her parents. She had even
met them once, a quiet grey couple, rather bemused by their daughter's
urge to dress only in black and wear boots all the time. Her father
worked in an insurance office. Her mother didn't work 'outside the
home', as she always said defensively.
After another hour or so Leona and Sally had discovered that they had
more than being out of a job in common. For a start, being made
redundant from the small firm where Leona had worked for twenty years
and Sally for six, had disorientated them both. Leona had been the
accounts manager, a fancy name for the only person dealing with
customer accounts. Sally had started as an office junior and become a
'secretary', eventually the only one. Apart from the boss, Robert
Black, six or seven salesmen and two warehousemen, that was the sum
total of the workforce.
They had both been made redundant because of new technology. A new
computer accounting programme had replaced Leona, and Sally had been
replaced by voice recognition software on the word processor.
Their bosses had declared that everyone would do their own accounting
and dictate their own letters to a machine that would magically spew
out invoices and balance sheets and beautifully printed letters only
requiring signature. When they heard of the plan, Leona and Sally had
looked horrified and not just at their own predicament.
'Yeah, dream on. . . ' said Sally.
'Well, I don't know if . . . ' said Leona.
Now to each other, they said 'Good luck to them. Even if they do get
the software to work, they won't get a computer to make coffee just how
they like it, or tell them what to give their girlfriends for their
Leona and Sally were astonished to find that they were having their
first real conversation.
When they had mutually moaned at length about the undignified process
of being declared unemployed, they eventually staggered outside and
with one accord made a beeline for the nearest coffee shop. Sal was
rebellious and Leona was attempting (not for the first time) to calm
her. She felt very depressed herself. It was the first time she'd had
such an experience and doubted whether she could go through it
fortnightly as they'd just been instructed.
'I'm never going back there.' Sally was adamant. 'I felt as if I was
trying to get money out of them as a scam or something.'
'It's just the system, Sally. They've got to make sure that all the
claimants are genuine.'
After three cappuccinos each, they went window-shopping. It was
astonishing to both that they liked the same things. Sal insisted that
she didn't want to wear the fashion she obviously admired, just yet.
She wasn't 'ready'.
Leona was pondering this as they went into a shoe shop. Sal had spied a
pair of boots at sale price. They were stylishly square and clumsy
although ballet shoes compared to her 'Docs'. Leona liked them. A fact
which did not put Sal off, as well it might have done when they were at
work together. Leona's shock came when Sal removed her 'Docs' to try on
the new boots. She was wearing pastel pink socks with lacy frilly tops.
She looked a bit sheepish when she caught Leona looking at them. She
knew full well how incongruous they were with her gothic outfit.
'The only clean pair,' she muttered.
'I think they're very nice,' said Leona, and could have bitten off her
tongue. (Sal's expression at the 'nice'. . . ) 'Well, I mean, why not
have something sweet on your feet.'
Sal laughed. 'That could be an advertising slogan. Maybe that's where
we'll make our fortune. We'll sell sweet socks, or subversive socks, or
sexy socks. We've got our redundancy money after all.'
Hilarity continued for ten minutes more, and then silence fell. By this
time, Sal had bought her boots and they were outside the shop. Leona
looked at her watch. She spoke carefully, obviously thinking something
'Why don't we have a walk through the market? It should be still on
although they'll be packing up. Perhaps we should do some market
They started to giggle, but headed to the square where the weekly
market was held. They walked through, calling each other's attention to
various items. There was no specific 'sock stall' although, of course,
they appeared on various clothing stalls. From the owner of one of
these, who was a bit depressed with a far from busy day's trading, they
managed to find out who to approach to hire a stall. Leona proved that
she was an able communicator, so Sal left it all to her. She didn't
want to create a negative impression. By the time they had walked
across the square, they knew the name of several suppliers as well.
They were on their way.
They had several hilarious planning sessions at Leona's house when her
Derek had left for work. Thinking of their target market was quite
easy. 'Everyone,' said Sal, and Leona had to agree. After all, everyone
wore socks at some time. They also decided on a 'dress code' for their
new partnership. Sal would give up the more outrageous of her outfits,
and Leona would attempt to become more casually dressed.
They decided on a two-section stall, one part dealing with
'conventional' socks, the other, the adult section, would be called '
socks with soul'. It would deal with socks with logos and images on the
sole. 'The boss' was a favourite here. 'Why let the boss walk all over
you, walk over him for a change,' was the current best idea for an
advertising poster. Sal liked the idea of socks with a printed fist on
the sole for kick boxers. Leona censored Sal's more graphic ideas, but
said she could have reflexology points, or clouds, ('Walk on air. . .
'), or hearts and flowers for the shy. ('Take your shoes off and show
how you feel').
The extra input of ideas from the unlikely pair of entrepreneurs gave
the stall the focus needed to become a landmark in the little market.
Not only were they successful in attracting customers to their stall,
but the whole market got a welcome boost.
The high spot of their first month's trading was a visit from their old
boss. He didn't bother glancing at what they were selling, just begged
and pleaded for them to go back.
'Major accounting error,' he muttered. 'We're in the red well and truly
and customers are complaining that their invoices are always wrong.
Can't do letters at all. The computer won't work when we speak to
'No doubt you swear at it', Sal muttered.
'Well, yes, but it doesn't even print that out&;#8230;.'
Leona felt sorry for the man. He'd always had such a superior air and
now he was defeated, lost, fallen from his pedestal.
'We're very sorry, Bob (she usually called him Mr Black, respectfully),
but we are far too busy with our own business. However, we will soon
need office and storage space. Perhaps we could work out a leasing
agreement for part of your premises?'
He fled. 'Tail between his legs,' said Sal.
Eventually they took over the whole premises. They began to franchise
the 'soul sock' idea and didn't look back. Except to be grateful that
Sal's only clean pair of socks was pink and frilly on the one and only
day they went to the Job Centre.