It’s the festival season again. And there’s something to suit everyone—music, film, food, books, hot air balloons, comedy, walking, scarecrows, stone carving, worm charming…the choices on offer increase with every year, and in the UK there are now hundreds of music festivals alone, covering every imaginable genre.
But the biggest, and many say the best, is still Glastonbury. When I made my list seven years ago that was one of the first things I added. It had been years since I’d been to a festival and I longed to be carefree again. I was lucky to get tickets on my second attempt and loved my four days of abandonment—everyone focuses on the mud and the loos but none of that mattered. It was just enormous fun. Dancing to pulsing music in a dark field with a 50-tonne metal spider shooting out coloured flames, certainly gives your brain a break. I whirled on a podium with people dressed as prawns and mermaids; loved Blondie, Bryan Ferry, The Wailers, Lily Allen, and the Arcade Fire; tried all kinds of inspired street food, and will never forget a surreal moment when a large group of men, women and children in insect outfits got muddled up with a Punjabi marching band. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world and it’s definitely one of my favourite treats so far.
However, not all treats work out so well and I’ve written before about my attempt to make a patchwork cushion. I cut up my first wedding dress, dyed it bright colours, and stitched away enthusiastically for hours, only to have Molly, my younger daughter, wrinkle her nose, and suggest kindly, “You could give it to someone you don’t like very much.” My knitting treat has proved to be similarly problematic. On one level it’s been good; I love knitting—there’s something magical about creating wonderful textures and patterns simply by twisting wool. It’s also extremely relaxing. I can’t quite manage what people did in the Middle Ages, which was to knit whilst walking along, but for me it’s the perfect accompaniment to a film or TV programme, and enhances the experience considerably.
The trouble is that I adore the clicking and clacking but find it difficult to produce any kind of worthwhile end result—and it seems futile to go through a creative process without creating anything. That brings to mind the sad tale of my first boyfriend’s granny. She was nearly blind and used to pass the time by knitting dishcloths. Each time she finished one, the care home staff would take it away, unravel the yarn, and give it back to her. Then off she’d go, on the path to another doomed dishcloth.
Some years ago, I thought I’d cracked this problem of end results when I managed to knit a couple of jumpers for my son, Will. My impression was that they were quite good, but half-way through the third one, I had a moment of doubt. “You will wear it, won’t you?” I asked. He shifted about, and looked uncomfortable. “W-e-ll…” he said, playing for time until he came up with what was a remarkably tactful response for an eight-year old—“…perhaps, I could wear it in the house.’ I got the message—unpicked it— and knitted a cushion cover instead. That wasn’t great either.
All of this left me with a gnawing dissatisfaction. I really wanted—just once—to make something that someone could enjoy wearing. It didn’t seem fair to impose my handiwork on someone else, so I thought I’d best make something for myself. “A jacket to wear over jeans…that would be useful,” I thought. So I put it on my treats list.
I started with some pretty fuchsia-pink wool and a stylish pattern in rice stitch. Unhappily, after several months of effort, the end result was disappointingly lumpy so I stuffed it in a drawer and tried to ignore it. It took about six months until I was ready to try again and this time I used navy blue yarn. It started off well, and was looking quite promising but then life got complicated…I lost interest… and then I lost the pattern.
Several years later I felt settled again and ready for a new project. So I spent a pleasant afternoon browsing in the John Lewis haberdashery department where I chose some attractive Air Force blue wool and a pattern for a short, collared jacket. For the next few months I clicked and clattered and at last all the knitting was done. That’s the bit I enjoy; I hate the unavoidable sewing up stage but I pressed on determinedly with that, all the while quashing the doubts that rose up and nagged at me. Eventually I tried it on.
It wasn’t good. It turns out that Air Force blue just isn’t my colour and like its predecessor, it was a bit lumpy. “I’ll give it a wash,” I thought. “Perhaps that will help. And if all else fails, I could just wear it in the house.” So, I put it in the washing machine and it came out toddler-sized.
That was several months ago, and I’ve now gathered my strength again and will have one last attempt. I think I’m learning that sometimes there’s no point in doggedly ploughing on. The problem in so many situations—relationships, jobs, ambitions, and yes, even knitting—is knowing when to call it a day.
This time I’ve chosen a long jacket in shades of green and purple. If it works out I will be very happy but if not then ‘knitting a jacket I am happy to wear’ will have to be an abandoned treat. Not the same kind of abandonment as Glastonbury, but abandoned nonetheless. And then what? How will I relax in front of the television? I guess there’s always the dishcloth option.