Tuesday, 10 February 2015


So I'm writing this in an Outlook email note to myself because Word is currently off limits. Why? Because I'm running a batch file on my PC and it can’t cope with Word running at the same time. You don’t need to know that. I don’t know why I told you. Probably to fill an awkward silence. I can’t abide them. I am putty in the hands of people who practice ‘silence as a tool’ to get other folk to talk. It works on me. Oh God how it works.

I'm just grateful to the elder powers that I've never had to sit in court and give evidence; I’d go in as a witness for a minor traffic infraction and end up talking myself into being the Second Gunman. Curse you, you wily psychoanalytical types and your clever silences and NLP witchfoolerery. Why don’t you interrupt me like a decent person and save me from myself? I hate you.

Something very similar to the above happened at work yesterday. To fill a moment’s silence between myself and a colleague on our way downstairs to the canteen, I spontaneously confided my secret soap project to him. It just came out. I couldn't help myself. It’s a sickness.

What is the secret soap project, you ask, and well you might. Well, it happened by accident…

It helps if you imagine a flashback sound effect at this point. Perhaps on a harp.

We favour two soapal variants in our household, three if you count the modern handwashy dispensery thing that we have installed in all washrooms as a sop to 21st century sensibilities. As I say, two: the soft yet pleasingly concave and strangely matt-textured Dove and the somewhat waxy hard-as-Cap’s-shield Simple. Both selected for their friendliness to my stupidly sensitive skin.

In the normal course of events a bar of soap is purchased, unwrapped, placed upon the sink and utilised in the process of handwashing, and with each use said bar reduces in size in a fairly predictable pattern, thinning and flattening until it resembles a white wafer the size of an artisanal potato crisp. At which point it inevitably breaks in the hand and is either scrunched up into a wee ball to get a few more uses out of it, or is unceremoniously bunged in the bin.

Only with this one, that didn't happen.

It started off as an ordinary bar of Simple, as unremarkable as its many forebears. But there was something different about this soap, something other. As time went on, it got smaller sure, but it didn't get flatter; it got squarer. Actually it got rectangularer, until it resembled a waxy white fish finger. Not rounded, not oval, not right at all.

I continued to use the rectango-soap, and as I did, it started to wear in the middle. The strange mechanics of handwashing dictating that fingers and thumbs would unconsciously steer away from the nasty right angled corners and gravitate toward the bar’s more forgiving middle regions, rubbing its cleansing flanks until it started to narrow in the centre, becoming somewhat hourglass in shape. Now it resembled a small bone as if drawn in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Useful for distracting an irascible guard dog with the voice of Jimmy Durante say, but as an aid to hygiene it fell somewhat short of the mark.

At this point I started to interfere.

You see, I could see where this was all heading: the bar would get slimmer and slimmer in the middle until it snapped in two, leaving me with a pair of nobbly soap ends to deal with, and I simply couldn’t face it. I needed some way to restore this mutant, this sport of soapy nature, to the shape that God intended. But how? Simply squeezing it wouldn't do; the substance was far too hard and brittle for that. I need some way to shore up its slender middle area, something that would adhere and mold and ultimately becoming One With The Soap.

The answer was obvious of course: another piece of soap. Fortunately the other bathroom – yes, we have two – held just such a candidate. A skinny sliver of Dove ripe for the plucking. Or squeezing in this case. I sized it up, lined it up and smooshed it right in there. It fit like a glove. A glove made of soap that was not shaped anything like a glove. The bar was slightly less bone-shaped now. It wasn't the correct soapy disc shape by any stretch of the imagination, but it was better. And yet it wasn't enough.

What I needed now was more soap. And so I washed. Oh, how I washed. My hands have never been cleaner. Or drier and more chapped. It’s been a couple of months now, and the original soap has been enhanced by several overlapping layers of ‘donor’ soap, each placed at strategically and mathematically precise positions around the core. Any excuse I can find to wash my hands, boom I'm in there, working away at the latest bar, waiting for the day that it reaches its target slivery weight, at which point I have just the spot on the secret soap project for it.

The original bar is unrecognisable now, under its mismatched layers of soap grafts, and shows no sign of breaking or wearing away. I think I may have created something akin to eternal life, V’Ger in fatty acid form.

Like a moderner Prometheus, I am a’feared I may have become obsessed with my creation, foul in aspect and yet oddly beautiful. I cannot destroy it; I can only work at it relentlessly, seeking out new donor material, washing, rubbing, moulding, pressing.

Or I could just chuck it and get a new bar of soap.

So that’s what I told my colleague on the stairs down to the canteen. He chuckled. I think it was in amusement. He has yet to offer me any tales of soapmancy of his own though. Weirdo.