Not Forgetting the Whale
Weidenfeld & Nicolson £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70
FOR nearly 50 years, the small Cornish fishing village of St
Piran has celebrated at Christmas the Festival of the Whale.
Central to the celebration is the memory of their hero, Joe Haak.
It was his naked body that was washed ashore one autumn day, nudged
there by a great fin whale. When, two days later, that same whale
became beached, it was the resuscitated stranger who galvanised the
community into hauling the whale back into the sea.
What the village did not know was that Joe had fled his city
investment bank when Cassie, the computer programme he had
invented, had apparently lost his firm millions. Abandoning his
car, he had plunged naked into the sea. Now lodging with the
retired doctor, Joe is drawn back to his supposedly invincible
Cassie to find her forecasting total financial collapse.
In the face of impending disaster, Joe determines to spend all
his considerable savings on stocking up food and essentials from
the local supermarket to enable the village to survive. Some of the
funniest passages in the book are the manager's response.
Eventually, all the villagers take part in filling the four floors
of the church tower. As the chairman of Joe's Bank had warned him,
"Society is only three square meals away from anarchy." Then the
apocalypse begins in the form of a flu pandemic and cessation of
all oil supplies. So Joe persuades the villagers to block
themselves in from the outside world.
Alongside Joe, central to the novel are the austere Vicar, Alvin
Hocking, and his much younger flirtatious wife, Polly. As a result
of what occurs, all three find a depth of humanity which has eluded
But the anarchy that Cassie had predicted, based on the
assumption that self-interest and greed motivated human beings, was
not in the end irreversible. Neither has the last word, and Joe is
able to fulfil his dying mother's final wish.
So, thanks to Joe - and not forgetting the whale - the village
celebrates Christmas luxuriously, and the lights go on again.
Canon Phillips is a former headmaster of The King's School,