Wednesday 1 August 2012

Shawl and Harold

This was supposed to be my Hesfes project but when the yarn arrived it was so lovely I started it straight away, and it turned out quite nicely because it meant I did manage to finish it and wear it while we were there. It is a lovely simple pattern with just a variety of stitches to give it texture, stocking stitch, garter stitch, moss stitch, eyelets and wavy lines created by multiple dropped yarn-overs, and I have changed yarn every four or five rows, leaving the tail ends as a fringe.
 Here is the finished shawl being modelled by Kerry who wanted to run off with it. 
 ... and back home and smelling of bonfire ... but still in need of a bit of extra fringing. I am really pleased with it. It is a perfect size for wrapping around and the yarns are all soft and cosy.

My holiday reading was quite limited, we spent much time just knitting or wandering up and down or ... actually participating in the stuff that was going on on site. The stuffy tent and the need to get up and dressed to go to the loo meant I didn't lie in in the mornings. Since we had no fridge or cold-box that meant an extended wait for the little shop to open to get fresh milk for tea, so I sat each morning reading 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' by Rachel Joyce (that I discover is long-listed for the Booker Prize this year). 

As you might guess it's about Harold, who gets a letter from an old friend, Queenie Hennessy, telling him she is terminally ill and when he sets out to post his reply he ends up walking from Devon to Berwick upon Tweed in Northumberland to see her. It is about what happens to Harold along the way, the people he meets and who both help and hinder him, but it is also about Maureen, his wife left behind. It is about a married couple who hardly talk to each other, who exist in the same house but do not share anything; it is about their sorrows and how they arrived at this terrible lonely life. To begin with Harold assumes that people will think his pilgrimage is foolish, but he quickly discovers that the idea catches their imagination. He struggles on for some weeks and then, encountering moments of kindness, he gives away all his possessions and makes the remainder of the journey relying on the support of strangers. Before long the media is involved and then a band of followers turns the whole venture into something of a three-ring-circus, but in spite of all the distractions, inside his head, Harold manages to stay focussed on where he is going and why ... because the why is something that has preoccupied him for 20 years. 

Harold is this wonderful mixture of determined old codger and polite english gentleman. As a quiet unassuming man he launches himself into the unknown, having lived a totally safe life up to that point. He tells everyone he meets how he is walking to Queenie. He has spent his life feeling like he has let everyone down, particularly his son, who's story hangs like a shadow over his parent's life. Harold seems to feel that the walk to save Queenie is some kind of penance for all his other failures. But at the same time he allows the 'pilgrims' to hijack his walk and allows the media to put it's own spin on his aims and motivation. Back home Maureen finds new friendship and consolation in their lonely widowed neighbour, Rex, but even though Harold phones her from the road they are still unable to say anything meaningful. The story, although heartwarming on the surface, is in essence a sad one, and Rex sums it up (talking about his wife):

'I miss her all the time. I know in my head that she's gone but I still keep looking. The only difference is I am getting used to the pain. It's like discovering a great hole in the ground. To begin with you forget it's there and keep falling in. After a while, it's still there, but you learn to walk around it." (p.198) 

Harold and Maureen have been living at the bottom of their hole for a long time. Because the human body can walk on auto-pilot it leaves the brain free for thinking about all the things he had been avoiding thinking about, the things that both he and Maureen had been avoiding talking about. Harold thinks he is walking to save Queenie but in reality he is walking to save himself, and in consequence Queenie manages to save him for the second time in his life.  A very lovely book, about the difficulties of the human condition, and about how real human connections can help heal very deep wounds., and how sometimes it does take a very long walk to sort things out.


  1. I think there were a couple of real events where people walked home long distances, one of which was covered on Radio 4 a few weeks back.

  2. the shawl i very lovely...a really intersting premise to that book as well...i am in hte bookstore now...will see if they have it...


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