(This story was submitted to Euroffice as an entry into the #OfficeStory competition which took place throughout the month of November 2014, by Joanna Campbell)
Life is like the self-grip stocking. It lets you down just when you’re getting the hang of it.
I wore my first pair for my first job in the typing-pool of Pennyman’s Plastics. I felt grown-up at last. Although at
five feet eleven and three-quarter inches – all right, six feet – you could say I was pretty grown up already.
But how I’d suffered. Throughout the torture of the teenage years, I endured the same questions: “What’s the
weather like up there?” and “Where’s the box you’re standing on?” And of course each wag assumed I’d never
heard such wit before.
Always polite, I laughed at school. And at home, I cried.
One day a shortish boy asked me – for the millionth time, I might add – if I played basketball with the Harlem
Globetrotters. And I snapped and said, “No, do you play miniature golf with the Seven Dwarves?”
The trouble was, he was popular with everyone. Whereas I hovered on the edge of all the friendship groups.
And he’d spoken with humour, whereas I’d squawked with anger. I can see that now, swinging from the lofty
perch of hindsight. No one joked with me again, but they didn’t have much else to do with me either.
So my first job mattered. It was a chance to begin life afresh and remember how to laugh at myself. I knew the
banter would bubble up like toads in a witches’ cauldron. I’d have to react as if I’d never heard it before.
Too long in the leg to feel hand-in-glove with tights – they were a stretch too far – I wore self-grip stockings for
extra-tall ladies. Wildly expensive and soft as a kitten’s fur, they gave me the necessary spring in my step. But
– here’s the snag – they were also the iron hand in the velvet glove. The grip-effect around the thigh was
merciless. They virtually cut off my circulation.
Gangrene or not, I felt properly elegant at last. I sprang into work like Tigger.
In those days, the men circled typing-pools like anglers around a lake bristling with fresh trout. The confident
ones threw out sophisticated lines with their best bait dangling, the all-singing, all-dancing kind with colourful
feathers. They probably had bells on too.
But David from Switches and Sockets, a tiny man with shy eyes, stuck to the shallows with his shrimping-net.
Quieter than most and more sincere, he understood I was guarded. He didn’t make one allusion to my height.
He’d heard it all himself. Short jokes are just the same as tall ones. Just substitute down for up. And instead of
‘Do you kick the moon when you do a back-flip?’ it’s ‘Do you do back-flips under the bed?’
David knew there was more to life than inches. Or lack of them. He waded in and asked me out.
About to agree to my first ever real date, I felt the stocking on my right leg lose its hold on things. It was a
relief for a split-second, freeing me from its armour-plated clutch. I smiled at him. He smiled back. I held my
It was letting go, gathering speed. The entire shoal in the typing-pool was listening goggle-eyed. Type writer keys
stuck up in the air. I swear you could hear a strip of correction-paper drop. Or a stocking. And it did. What
The left one fell within a heartbeat of the right. Hot on its heels, you might say. My legs felt outrageously
naked. My ankles were swathed in silky nylon like a heap of deflated parachute. I plummeted to earth from my
Fallen from grace, I hobbled to the Ladies. Not easy with stockings frothing round my feet. Laughter rang in
my ears, echoing around the cold cubicles. I couldn’t face anyone, least of all David.
I waited for silence, crept out and kept my head down for the rest of the day. When he tried to talk to me, his
face creased – with concern or laughter, who could say? – I shrugged and kept typing. My speed doubled. My
mistakes did the same.
It was easier to wear a mask of indifference. I worked hard and went home. I bought normal tights, put them in
the wash and stretched them while they were dripping. I kept three spare pairs in my office drawer. I would not
be caught with my panty-hose down again.
Until the next time.
A girl called Skinny Lizzie and I swam out of the typing-pool together to share an office two floors up on dry
land. No one bothered us there. She was one of those stick-thin girls who ate all the time and stayed hollow. If
she’d turned sideways and poked out her tongue, she’d have been mistaken for a zipper. Her words, not mine.
And she was terribly shy and unassuming, glad to avoid the sharks below.
“I swear David’s gazing at you,” she told me in the canteen one day. “You know, he didn’t laugh when you lost
your stockings. When he told the others they should be ashamed, they were like guppies gawping at the worm
that turned. And I don’t mean he’s worm-like. He isn’t small, pink and disappearing into a hole at all.”
Actually he was. He was all those things. Especially when I glanced his way and he ducked behind the salt
and pepper pots.
“I suppose they’re not all evil predators,” I told her, my heart well and truly hooked by David. “By the way, I’ve
seen you looking at Gormless Gary from Plugs and Bungs. A bit chunky and crusty, but nice underneath.”
“Like cod in breadcrumbs?” Lizzie said. “I could fancy that. With chips of course.”
Lizzie persuaded me to go to the office cocktail party. But this was not the era of the cocktail dress. It was the
era of the Mini. I was way too long to squash into the car version, but my legs looked endless in the skirt.
Despite trawling the entire stock of Walk Tall boutique, the only hosiery long and special enough to wear
beneath my tiny tartan mini was a pair of self-grip fish nets from their Beautiful Beanpole range. Midnight
Promise was the shade I chose. I felt like the bees’ knees.
It was a change from feeling weak at the knees. Every time David’s name was mentioned, they turned to
water. I could have kicked myself for passing up my chance with him. Which, with my long shanks, would have
been quite a sight.
Reasoning that a short dress would make her look like a six-year-old, Lizzie chose a long silver-sequinned
strapless gown. I didn’t say she looked like an ironing-board wrapped in tinfoil. And I guess she was
withholding the opinion that I looked like a daddy-long-legs doing the Highland fling. We just admired each
other and set off to the balloon-strewn canteen.
“For the record, I reckon it’s Gorgeous Gary these days,” said Lizzie, emboldened by her glitter, yet blushing
all the same. But Goggle-Eyed Gary was being swamped in the foyer by the man-eating Trudy Honeyman.
“May the best girl win,” I muttered to Lizzie.
“Well, in that case, give a bouquet to Trudy Honeyman,” Lizzie whispered.
“Hold on,” I replied. “It’s not over until the thin lady smiles. Look, Trudy’s only pretty with her mouth closed.”
Trudy was circling Gary with her teeth bared as if he were a succulent plankton, or whatever piranhas eat. She
wore a lacy dress that clung like scales. It looked see-through, but somehow wasn’t. It was backless, strapless
and almost dress-less. But it stayed put. How do some people manage to pull these things off? Or in this case,
keep them on.
Unlike poor Lizzie. She survived for hours by using sheer will-power – certainly not cleavage – as her only
weapon to fight the force of gravity. But at the very end, just as she and Gorgeous Gary were sharing a Martini
with two straws, the Conga brought her down.
Throwing her usual reserve to the wind, she led him into the fray. But it proved to be her undoing. Or the
undoing of her dress.
Gary kicked out gracefully, keeping his size twelves to himself. But Trudy Honeyman was enthusiastic in the
extreme. Teeth unsheathed, she drove her stiletto hard into Lizzie’s hem. As the heel harpooned her, Lizzie’s
dress was pinned down. And Lizzie pinged out.
It was a case of her cup runneth over, so to speak. Or it would have been if she’d had more up top than the
equivalent of two aspirins on a bread-board.
She was mortified, especially as it took a moment – sweet Martini and the closeness of Gary being a potent
mix – to realise she and her clothes had parted company. Not an uplifting experience.
“Don’t let it upset you,” I said in the Ladies. “I don’t think Gary noticed.”
That made her more vexed than ever. I’d never heard Lizzie squeal before. But rocking in my hindsight chair, I
can see it was a tactless remark. And it wasn’t helped by Trudy Honeyman strolling in to offer Lizzie a halfinch
piece of sticky-tape from her clutch-bag.
“That little bit should be enough to fix it,” she said. “No one minds, Lizzie. And at least it’s livened things up a
bit. You should hear the jokes out there. Someone said if you’d been arrested for baring all, they’d have let
you off for lack of evidence.”
I took Lizzie outside. Someone dashed after us with a paper plate of consoling cheese straws. Someone else
threw his jacket round her shoulders. David and Gary had sprinted to the rescue. Or scuttled in David’s case.
And Gary lolloped. But it was still the best chivalry Pennyman’s Plastics could provide and good enough for us.
“Hello,” I said to David. “I didn’t see you in there.” And even though I towered over him, he seemed taller.
“I’m easily missed,” he said with a huge smile. “I’m tucked away in Coats and Bags. To be honest, I need the
sit-down.” He pointed at his shoes. “My feet are killing me in these stacked heels. I don’t know who I’m fooling.
I’ll still be five feet six when I take them off. And when I put them on, I get vertigo.”
We laughed with him because he was enjoying the joke against himself so much. “I was thinking,” Lizzie said.
“I must have made a disappointing turkey emerging from my oven-wrap. A Christmas wren, perhaps?”
While we laughed, I found I was standing more upright, proud of my extra inches instead of wanting to saw
them off. It probably took me several minutes to notice the sudden gathering of black fishnet around my
Sometimes it’s best to throw caution to the wind. I slipped off my shoes and kicked off the stockings – a
liberating experience, if a bit chilly. I watched with horror as a gust of wind whirled them in the direction of the
scorned Trudy, storming out with her entourage of lesser-toothed piranhas. Midnight Promise slapped her
right in the face.
“I should be serving Soft Drinks and Savouries,” Gary said, gazing into Lizzie’s eyes. “Fancy giving me a
“See you inside, Butterball,” I whispered to her. “Will do, you Glamazon,” Lizzie whispered back. She looked invincible now. The best girl had won.
I retrieved my useless lingerie and apologized to Trudy. It was almost a rewarding experience. Not for a
diamante garter would I have swapped my height for her mouthful of teeth. Remind me never to let her have a
bite of my crayfish bap.
David turned to me. The crown of his blonde hair shone in the moonlight and smelt gorgeous too. I had a very
good view of it. When it came to our first kiss, it was easy. He kept his shoes on. I left mine off. And stooped a
Yes, life is like the self-grip stocking. And the strapless dress. It can let you down at the most crucial moments.
But all that matters is holding on and pulling yourself back up again. Getting the hang of it can be rather
pleasant. And after that, just walk tall. And never forget to keep the spring in your step.
by Joanna Campbell
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