‘Philosophical wool’, as a lovely friend told me last night, was a rather wonderful alchemical term, many moons ago, for zinc oxide (which forms into woolish white clumps when burnt… or something like that). And, as I was knitting (a sort of a scarf) when she told me, I might have been slightly over-inclined to believe in the power of the poppy-red wool slowly growing itself on my needles as a metaphor for life, the universe, and everything – but, then again, anyone who knows me (or this blog) will know already how over-inclined I am to see metaphor in everything.
I’m a terrible knitter. If knitting were writing, my work would be riddled with grocer’s apostrophes, comma splices, adverbs, linking verbs, and two of my least favourite words: ‘replied’ and ‘realised’. I have an idea of a scarf in my mind (anything non-scarf-like is so far from my reach I’d need NASA to get there). The scarf in my mind’s eye is fragile and wispy, with sequins and maybe a tassel or ten, and the person who’s wearing it (me) is a Photoshopped version (a Facebook profile, say, as opposed to a picture I’m tagged in). Reality, though, shows me something quite different: a long, wonky oblong in cheap greasy wool with missed stitches and holes in. No Photoshop in the kitchen mirror either, where light pours particularly harshly at certain cruel times of the day. But to vaguely (by which I mean incorrectly) quote Hilary Mantel in Giving up the Ghost (courtesy of another lovely friend): you’ve only got one body. You have to live in it.
You’ve only got one ‘scarf’ as well (by which – well, of course – I mean life): it’s the one you’ve been knitting, without even knowing you were, for as long as you’ve been on this earth, and it may be that yours is the wispy perfection I see in my own mind’s eye when I dream, but the life that I’ve got on my own clunky needles is closer by far to the long, wonky oblong that’s currently curled in my knitting basket, and sadly that’s where the analogy ends because lives, unlike scarves, can’t ever be unpicked. If the rows that you’ve knitted so far have got holes in, those holes will remain, and the best you can hope for, I think, is to knit better rows in the future. And as for my novel? You might well ask. There’s been nary a word for six weeks. But my scarf isn’t done yet. There’s oodles of wool in my basket still waiting for knitting, and maybe those future rows will have words in.