For my birthday last year, some friends – a married couple – bought me a book of patterns for making knitted cakes. At the time, I oohed & aahed over the yummy looking creations but doubted my own skills in being able to produce such items. I just didn’t feel that I was good enough at knitting to even have a go.
Fast forward twelve months, et voila! The photographs show the two pieces of chocolate gateau that I have made for their forthcoming birthdays, complete with the tea & coffee cups I’ve picked up to accompany them (I’m also including a box of fancy teabags & some freshly ground coffee beans, although I’m tempted to keep the latter – their aroma is lovely every time I open my cupboard!).
While I’m over the moon with the results of the cakes, what pleases me most is their symbolism. They represent a huge leap forward in terms of my crafting skills, the product of many happy hours working both on them & earlier, simpler projects. They represent a creativity that I had longed for but never realised I was capable of. They represent so much change in my life: from a time when I felt lost & empty & desperate to just live in a different way to a time when I can make things for people & they like & use & enjoy them (admittedly there is perhaps little use for knitted cakes, but I hope they’ll make them smile!).
Last week, during the Race for Life, I watched the runners & joggers passing our motley group of walkers with slight envy. Although I enjoyed the camarderie of our venture, I felt saddened by the thought that I could no way have run the 10km even if I had wanted to. Looking through a chest of old photographs trying to find the image of my dad & Uncle Paul running in the early 1980s (the image that I wore on my t-shirt at the race), I also felt saddened by the various photographs of me over the last ten years or so. What struck me about them all was that each one showed a time when I was engaged in some kind of battle with my body. Since leaving school, I have almost constantly been trying to lose weight or trying to get fit or both. And I have never succeeded. Sure, I have achieved my goals on many occasions: hit a certain weight; run a certain distance in a certain time etc. But I have never felt the way that I want to feel about my body.
I want to feel strong. I don’t mean body-builder strong, I mean strong in the way that lower weight boxers look when skipping. This realisation – strength not skinny – was a revelation to me, explaining why getting thinner had always been a disappointment, not delivering the feeling that I had expected. I’m sure there are many pop-psychology explanations as to what drives this desire, some of which stem from my experience of being a woman in late C20th & early C21st century Western society, some of which arise from more specifically personal experiences. One thing is for certain: despite this realisation (which struck me on a rainy night on a train arriving into Manchester Piccadilly during the early days after my breakdwon), I have never really done anything about it. There have been a few half-hearted exercise classes, a few weights sessions in a gym, but nothing consistent or committed. In all honesty, I am scared that I can’t do it. I am scared that I don’t have the mental strength to develop the kind of physical strength that I long for.
But, ironically enough, cake has inspired me to think about fitness. I am looking at the two parcels a few feet away from me, parcels containing the knitted gateau. Twelve months ago, I didn’t think I could knit cakes. Now I can. I did it. In twelve months time, I am going to run the Race for Life. I can do it. I will do it.