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  • Writer's picturemartha_mac

Where there's a wool there's a way

A few summers ago - acne-ridden and anaemic - I fell in love with both strangers and myself, I watched my sister get married, I discovered the ingenuity of nipple covers and spent more time on the dance floor than I did asleep in my own bed.

You’d be surprised how many of those events happened simultaneously.

I’d like to compare this summer to a hurricane to demonstrate the sheer movement of it all, the devastation, the magnitude. And, although an amply chaotic simile, I realised whilst sleeplessly watching the sunrise from my doorstep: it’s me who is the force of nature.

“I am invincible. I am loving every second of this. Who said millennials don’t have their lives together? I look great in this halter-neck crop top. Why did I ever feel scared? I feel great. This feels great.”

And it did feel great… until I got glandular fever and then everything felt much more swollen. Literally, who knew a person had so many glands? As the reality of my evidently non-goddess-like being came crashing down on me, it’s safe to say I was inconsolable. The world doesn’t look so pretty after being knocked from a high horse made predominantly of tequila-induced arrogance – and I learned that the hard way.

“What gives? I thought I was invincible. I thought I was becoming a halter-neck-rocking-heartbreaker for ever more. No one mentioned any obligatory inflammation as part of the deal. I want a do-over!”

Yet, the engorged tonsils festering in the pharynx of this indignant white girl wronged by the world and the Epstein-Barr virus ensured that no one did ever hear these shrill lamentations. Alas indeed.

From the get-go, I can tell you that I wasn’t taking kindly to being accurately described by the term ‘glandular’. Not only because this is possibly one of the most horrendous words to globule its way into the English language, but also because a number of things change when good glands GO BAD.

Things you wouldn’t expect to ever have to change shift dramatically when you’re glandular. For example, ‘drinks’ is no longer a thing. ‘Drinks’ implies beverages consumed, usually in the company of other like-minded, but crucially non-glandular folk, basking in a glow cast by the joviality of the occasion i.e. “let’s go for drinks”. All joviality, up to and including merry-making, lark-having and frolicking of any kind are now strictly and irrevocably banned. Get used to it. If your antibodies have found themselves in a losing battle with this anti-social virus, ‘drinks’ must be completely erased from your sphere of experience, to be replaced with the far more pragmatic and doctor-endorsed term, ‘fluids’.

I think this minor amendment to your vocabulary is intended as a kind of clinical solace as you reluctantly wave goodbye to overpriced hazelnut lattes served by cute baristas with man buns and usher in a new era of liquids which fulfil their intended purpose: namely, evening out the temperature of your pasty, puffy body and lubricating those pesky tonsils of yours which feel like they are trying to eat you alive from the inside out.

Aside from that, there was a much harder change which I had to come to terms with. After a summer characterised by movement, I was now forced to be absolutely still. The doctor prescribed rest, but I dosed up on a frustration that would ensure a particularly restless couple of weeks.

Everything was either sore or exhausting. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I decided it was hopeless. Reading made me tired, the sound of ice cubes clinking together in whiskey glasses from Mad Men haunted my feverish dreams and I was stuck inside all-day long whilst I was meant to be starting my third and final year at university in London.

None of this was supposed to happen. This is when I’m supposed to be living my best life. I’m supposed to be problematising literary criticism using words like ‘hegemonic’ and ‘visceral’ in some cushy seminar room with a view of the Thames, not painstakingly slurping down tinned peaches like some syrup-scented, puffy maniac. Why is life so unfair?

But I waited it out. Waking up in the morning to make the slow, glandulous (not a word) steps from my bed to another bed on the sofa of my family home. Night-time bed to day-time bed. I would watch TV, drifting to sleep and back to wakefulness as the hours ticked by endlessly. I was less enraged at the unfairness of it all, but with that calm surrender, I started to feel ghost-like.

What I needed was something wholesome, something productive, creative, something which harked back to a simpler time, something to keep my hands busy so I wouldn’t tear my hair out in clumps and bonus points if it was Instagrammable.

If you’re thinking that I was setting myself up for a fall with these weirdly specific requirements, then it’s clear to me that, like many regular human beings who probably lead interesting lives, you are not familiar with the art of crochet.

And thus, like Theseus embarking on his quest to slay the Minotaur armed only with a ball of wool, I too had a ball of wool and unlike Theseus embarking on his quest to slay the Minotaur, I didn’t have to get up from the chair, slay any mythical creatures or navigate a labyrinth to prevent an ongoing, grotesque ritual of human sacrifice to appease a tyrannical king.

It had been a while since I had last wielded my trusty hook, so I set about getting a few practice rounds in. Progress was slow but sure as I refined my technique, perfected the tension by adjusting my grip and refreshed my memory on the steadfast art’s quirks, its ins and outs, its twists and turns. When I was satisfied my prowess was up to the challenge, I began a journey few knitters have tread: the seemingly insurmountable task of crocheting a patchwork blanket.

I had spent a total of seven minutes looking at crocheted blankets on Pinterest, I was in the process of assembling colour-combinations and I was nearing the completion of my first patch.

Many tried and failed to warn me of the perils, the risks, but nothing now could stop me. Where there’s a wool, there’s a way.

Suddenly, my days were imbued with a new kind of meaning. I would still wake up and plod from night-time bed to day-time bed, except now a sensation that I had something to strive for was waiting for me there in the form of a brightly coloured, unfinished, woollen quilt.

I wove from morning until evening, chain stitching, half double-crocheting and slip stitching until the cows came home and swiftly left again because they were freaked out by the weird woman with the bullfrog-neck in the midst of what can only be described as a crochet frenzy.

My parents started to doubt my sanity around patch number eight, but, as I pointed out to them, if they had enough free time to stand around worrying about my mental state then they definitely had time to go down to the wool shop to replenish my ever dwindling supplies. They would dutifully do so (more out of fear, I think, than anything else); a strict colour swatch in their hands and my disproportionately aggressive words “I NEED MORE MINT GREEN. MAKE SURE YOU GET TWO BALLS OF IT THIS TIME”, still ringing in their ears.

Four weeks, three blood tests and 216 rounds of crochet later I had accomplished two things: I had recovered from glandular fever and I had crocheted myself a gigantic, multi-coloured patchwork quilt.

I finished stitching it together and I wept, suddenly overcome by the fact I’d made this whole thing with my own hands. After a month of being constantly disheartened and irritated I was elated, moved and shocked by the enormity of the thing as I wrapped it around my shoulders. With each stitch that I brushed gently with my fingertips, I felt my frustration at this month of stillness melt into gratitude.

I boarded the flight back to London thinking of all the things I was returning to that I had missed so dearly: my beautiful friends, drinking drinks just for the hell of it, my little flat and my plants that I talk to in the mornings, my university. My whole life was waiting for me on the other side of that plane journey, except for one piece that I was bringing with me: the twelve patches of crochet bundled up in my suitcase, made out of wool and a desperation to turn something hideous into something beautiful.

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