Brick by Brick: Santa’s stocking just got sinister

I am being half-deafened by the music in the department store changing rooms.

“Sleigh bells ring, are you listening…?”

“Have I got any bloody choice?” I mutter at the speaker attached to the polystyrene ceiling. The assistant scowls at me and flicks her ponytail as she officiously slams clothes onto a rail.

It’s that time of year again: the festering season.

Scrooging on the swimwear
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Danish Christmas – most especially the tradition of the Nisse. These mysterious elves with pointy hats live in attics and if you don’t feed them rice pudding they make mischief in the house.  is is way better than sinister, mechanised, plastic gnomes waving in time to American Christmas songs.

Which brings me back to the shopping expedition. A lack of evening wear has propelled me into Denmark’s most ubiquitous department store along with my daughter. You know the place I am talking about, but my resentment of free advertising and fear of being sued prevents me from naming names.

“It’s winter,” I whimper as my daughter picks out yet another item of clothing that looks like beachwear. “What’s wrong with sleeves?” I protest before realising nothing is going to be right in my Scrooge-like frame of mind and we head home.

Beats the Lord of the Rings
I have been buoyed recently by the discovery of how to activate the subtitles for the deaf when watching telly. It’s not just mastering the technology that feels like an achievement, as the subtitles really improve my understanding of Danish, most of the time.

And so a whole world of Danish TV has opened up from bake-offs to dance-offs.

My daughter and I settle down on the sofa to watch the  first episode of the comedy series ‘Rita’.

It turns out to be pretty unsuitable for a kid. Rita, a teacher, is having it away with the headmaster of her school on his desk. However the humour carries us
through and, besides, it completes the bake-off, dance-off, have-it-off trilogy.

Concealed in translation
To my huge pride I understand everything except one word and that is ‘gokkesokke’. Refusing to be thwarted, I pop it into Google Translate and get nothing at all.

Then it occurs to me I have been assuming the ‘sokke’ part is ‘sock’, but perhaps it’s an ‘okke’ that belongs to ‘Gokke’. Still nothing. And if my daughter knew what it meant, she was doing a good job at concealing it – a possible clue, it transpires.

The next day I meet a Danish friend and ask her. As she snorts her coffee down her nose in shock, I realise I should have perhaps let the gokkesokke lie.

Gently, she explains to me that a gokkesokke is a sock a boy used to conceal the result of what might have been referred to as ‘solitary pleasures’ in 1920. This is why Rita’s son is embarrassed when she mentions his gokkesokke. And I am fairly mortifed too.

Who knew Danish had a word for that? I remember rumours at school about the lingerie section of the Grattan catalogue being misused, and even hosiery, but nobody ever mentioned socks. And doesn’t giving it a name take away the mysticism of an aid most adolescent boys initially perhaps think
they’re the sole inventor of?

Still it all makes sense, and my cynicism will now be joined by the feeling of a certain loss of innocence whenever I see the rows of Christmas stockings in the shops.