Ever heard the expression “Every journey starts with a single footstep”.
So in theory when you open your front door to do a 100 yard saunter to the post office you could actually be starting out on a polar expedition.
That is exactly what Harold Fry decided to do when he got a letter from an old work colleague, Queenie, saying she was dying. Harold wrote a response and as he walked to the post box he had an epiphany and decided that if he walked to Queenie she would have to keep fighting her cancer and live long enough for him to arrive. Unfortunately he was in Devon and Queenie was in Berwick on Tweed. Some 600 miles away, and the opposite end of the country.
Undaunted by this off Harold goes. In his yachting shoes, with no mobile phone and no map. Just putting one foot in front of the other.
This is a journey of epic proportions for all sorts of reasons. What starts as a single middle aged man washing out his only pair of socks in a Bed and Breakfast sink soon becomes a gaggle of supporters, PR machines and press. The people that Harold meets on the way all have their own demons to fight but Harold doesn’t judge, he accepts them for who they are. The Slovakian cleaner is actually a qualified doctor and this book makes you question if you would have found that out or would you have taken the cleaner at face value? As “just a cleaner”.
Alot of this book had me looking at myself, though I don’t class myself as middle aged the nuances that Rachel Joyce creates in Harold’s marriage to Maureen are very real.
I had the pleasure of joining the author and her publishers, along with some other readers, via webcam recently. It was lovely to hear why Harold did the things he did. Why Rachel decided that Harold wouldn’t stop and buy walking shoes, but that it was important he carry on wearing his yachting shoes. Why the people he met en route didn’t necessarily stay for the whole journey. Rachel explained what was important for Harold and it was such a privilege to hear an author speak about where a character has come from and what has shaped them.
I won’t tell you what happens on Harold’s journey but I would implore you to read it. Do the journey with Harold. It is one of those books that you will remember for ever.
I now see Harold wherever I go. Maybe that chap hasn’t just popped out for a pint of milk and the Racing Post. Maybe, just maybe it’s Harold on the way back from Berwick upon Tweed.
Out now, published by Doubleday, priced £12.99.