Ah, the kindness of strangers. Or, in this case, of my brother. Yes, he's back. I'm on holiday and unlikely to scribble anything much for a week or more, so what follows is a Godsend or, more accurately, a Ronsend. Thanks bro. Please keep them coming so that I can sidle off into the wings and bask in your reflected glory.
Donnie’s mention of knitting, alongside an earlier thought from Bill, about the dangers of public promises, sent me back to my days as a year leader at middle school. It was the pupils’ first assembly at the big school and their first glimpse of me as a potential role model. I decided the theme would be ‘Challenge’ and, to strengthen my message, I showed them that I was as good as my word – that I wasn’t going to ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.
What I should have done was learn to play a new tune on my guitar or take up juggling with three balls (each of which were within my grasp and could be demonstrated at a subsequent gathering). But I decided it had to be a genuine challenge, something way outside my skill set. So I declared that I would knit a pair of socks.
Those readers who knit can look the other way while I outline the process. Socks are knitted on four small needles with points at both ends, so there’s nothing to stop the wool falling off. The knitter creates a circular ‘weave’ rather than the flag-like rectangle in conventional knitting. And it’s bloody difficult. All of which fitted the challenge motif admirably.
After six weeks I had managed a short green tube that would have made a bad mini-skirt for a Barbie Doll. Unfortunately, the children were impressed. I had secretly comforted myself with the thought that they would forget my boast, get bored and want to move on. But I had reasoned without their persistence (and I hadn’t even done the ‘Persistence’ assembly, due in week ten). I had also reasoned without my sadistic female colleagues, who regularly asked me to bring in my work and show it to the pupils.
What finally did for me -and my status as mentor- was the most technically difficult bit. I won’t attempt to describe the vortex of psychological torment I fell through as I failed to TURN THE HEEL of that first sock. Had they been regular needles, I would surely have fallen on them in the manner of a disgraced Samurai. As it was, I didn’t finish them – or it. My wife did, and I wore them to an assembly, confessing nobly that I’d had ‘some help’. But the children were not fooled; their memories persisted for a generation. As their younger siblings joined the school, they would playfully ask, “Finished your socks yet, sir?”
And the photograph you see is of a miniature one knitted for me by a mum – probably with one hand, during an episode of her favourite soap – and presented to me at the end of the year: possibly the world’s first ironic sock.