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Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 4 – 15 April

So there I was, innocently flossing between two of my back teeth, when the floss snagged on something. I wiggled it back and forth to free it and, with a crack resembling part of the Greenland ice sheet giving way, a chunk of tooth broke free, leaving a jagged hole about the size of the cave the dwarves took shelter in in The Hobbit.

I duly betook myself to the dentist, who took a chin-stroking sort of x-ray. Turns out the tooth had an old filling, and decay had taken place underneath the filling, like a sapper tunnelling away invisibly below the enemy’s walls. I didn’t know they could do that! I feel like those characters in Doctor Who, who, evading a Dalek by running upstairs, are just congratulating themselves on a lucky escape when they see the little blighter fire up the rockets and come floating up after them. It hardly seems fair. I shall draw a veil over the next half hour in the dentist’s chair: suffice to say that more than one nerve was removed (“Aha! I see by the way you flinched that that one isn’t dead!”), with the promise—if all goes well—of a root canal to come.

Dunnet Bay from the edge of the forest

It’s lucky I have knitting to console me, while I partake of my dinners through a straw. The Wick gansey continues to grow at about the same rate as the average oak tree, but a time-lapse of previous photographs will reveal a geological sort of progress (at 2 rows a night). The Scarborough—playing the hare to the Wick gansey’s tortoise—on the other hand has moved on to the point that I’ve started the pattern, and the gussets.


Meanwhile in parish news, Judit has sent pictures of another gansey she has knit, this time in brown. It’s a variant of the classic Staithes pattern, still one of my favourites. The very first jumper I knit was a Staithes gansey-inspired pattern, my entry drug for a lifetime’s addiction now I come to think of it—and it still has a place next next to my heart. (Well, literally, of course, that being the pattern for the yoke, but you know what I mean.) Congratulations again to Judit! The classics are classics for a reason—and doesn’t brown suit it well?

Primroses at Castletown

Meanwhile Easter has arrived. The grass is greener and the sky—on those rare occasions when it isn’t grey—is bluer. As the Song of Solomon says, “The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land”—though if our land is Caithness, what the turtles are mostly saying is, “Windy, ain’t it?” and, “Got any lettuce?”

So however you like your chocolate eggs (milk or dark, vegan, or, in my case, ground to a fine paste) may your Easter be all your heart and your dentist desires. A very happy time to all.

Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 3 – 8 April

I came across a great quote this week. Admittedly, I read it in the comments section below an online article on Brexit—I know, I know, I keep promising myself I can quit any time, and yet here I am. To quote the Biblical Proverb: “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so Gordon returneth to articles about Brexit in the Guardian newspaper”.

Anyway, here’s the quote: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Apparently the exact origin of the phrase is disputed, but it was said most famously by Eleanor Roosevelt, which is good enough for me. As a warning against mean-spirited gossip it’s excellent. But it also seems to me that most of the trouble in this world is caused by people with small minds being seized with big ideas, which leads inevitably to bad events. (“That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent”, as Wittgenstein famously said when someone asked him what he thought about Brexit. If only others felt the same.)

Old Lifeboat Shed, Wick Harbour

Well, knitting ganseys is a great idea, and finishing one is always an event, so we probably qualify for the Eleanor Roosevelt seal of approval. The Scarborough gansey in navy is clearly outstripping the Wick gansey in cornish fudge, a reflection of the respective hours I’m working on each. Plain knitting, as in the Scarborough body, is always a breeze; but I must admit I find the Wick body pattern hard to warm to. Don’t get me wrong, it looks great, especially at the end when it’s been blocked. But the pattern of knit 5, purl-knit-purl-knit-purl-knit-purl is like running with shin splints: just when you’re hitting your stride you have to keep stopping for a few halting steps, then you’re off again. But my routine of a couple of rows a night is already reaping rewards; and as we know, people who knit ganseys shouldn’t be in a hurry anyway.

Driftwood on Keiss Beach

Finally this week, I came across a rather delightful mishap from the newsletter of the Dounreay nuclear facility, which is currently being dismantled and decommissioned. Well, the iconic building at Dounreay is the Fast Reactor, which is basically a vast ball or sphere (known, unsurprisingly, as “the Sphere”). Some decades back a worker inside was leaning on the rails, facing towards the walls of the Sphere when “he sneezed energetically and his dentures flew out of his mouth and disappeared down into the bottom Sphere skirt”. Who knew? Nuclear waste with bite…

Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 2 – 1 April

The clocks have just gone forward, which is always a shock to the system. Sure, you get an extra hour of daylight in the evening, but the mornings are the equivalent of nature throwing off the duvet, spraying water in your face and shouting, “Surprise!”. (Actually, to be fair, most of my mornings feel like that anyway, but you get the general idea.)

York Minster, south side

I’ve never fully got my head round daylight savings time. I just assume it’s got something to do with Einstein’s relativity, or possibly cows—or possibly not. When I was younger it was a source of some irritation every six months to manually twiddle every clock in the house forward or back an hour; now I find I only have three clocks that require a manual adjustment, and one of those is in my car. All the others are apparently sentient, and probably have an opinion on Brexit. Even the central heating just “knows” the correct time. I feel that the AI enslavement of humanity is creeping closer, one radiator at a time.

I found myself standing in the lounge this morning adjusting the hands of a carriage clock and feeling like one of those bygone workers of old, a cordwainer perhaps, or a lamplighter, a fish curer, or a knocker up (best not to ask). I imagined myself getting a job in a museum, explaining to parties of enthralled schoolchildren how we used to tell the time before computers were invented, starting with dandelions and working my way up to sundials, and reflected that I have now lived long enough for my life to become its own heritage. I thought with a surge of pride, Ha, I may not know how to use WhatsApp or Twitter, or even be sure what they are, but I can adjust the hands on a carriage clock: take that, technology! And then it dawned on me that I was using the display on my mobile phone to tell me what time to set the hands to…

Stone balls, Edinburgh

In gansey news, it’s been a heads-down just-get-on-with-it kind of week. It’s week two of my perhaps rash attempt to knit two ganseys simultaneously, and already the navy gansey is pulling ahead. The is partly because it’s more of the Wendy chunkier yarn, so there are fewer stitches and rows. But I’m also just knitting it more. The Wick pattern is a long-term project, just a couple of rows a night at the moment.

Rooftop cat sculpture, York

Finally this week, the sad news that Shane Rimmer, the actor who voiced Scott Tracey in Thunderbirds, has died. He was a voice of my childhood, and what a distinctive voice it was. Though even as a child I was troubled by the grammatical implications of the Thunderbirds slogan, “Thunderbirds are go!” Shouldn’t it be, I wondered, “Thunderbirds are going”? Or possibly “Thunderbirds have gone” (or even, in Northamptonshire dialect, “Thunderbirds have went”)? But I looked it up. Turns out, in military jargon, it means “Thunderbirds are now doing something which was previously discussed, and we’re not referring to it by name for reasons of operational security”. Who knew? (Other than the military, obviously.)

Anyway, tune in next week to see how my ganseys are go. Going. Went. Whatever…

Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray), Week 1: 25 March

March came in like a lion, and it’s going out like a lion too; a bad-tempered lion who’s lost his car keys and has just learned his favourite TV nature documentary series has been cancelled. (And I can’t help thinking that sooner or later evolution is going to produce a lion savvy enough to sign his own contract and demand royalties from David Attenborough; after all, it worked for the Pink Panther.)

It’s been a wild week outdoors, rain and hail and gusts over 50mph, with just enough passages of glorious sunshine to keep you off balance. All the daffodils had come out early, lured by the unseasonable warmth, and now they obviously regret it, hunkered down with an unwilling, miserable air. I took a holiday last week, just to potter about. Pretty much every time I ventured outside I got soaked, no matter how clear the sky looked when I started: it was like living in a Roadrunner cartoon. On Saturday I got rained on horizontally, and the nearest cloud I could see in any direction was about fifty miles away in Sutherland; if I hadn’t got in the way I expect the wind would have carried the rain all the way to Sweden.

Waiting, St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

Well, with Margaret being away just now, I’ve had lots of time to myself, which means plenty of knitting and listening to audiobooks. I’ve decided to start two ganseys at once; and no, despite the rumours, I’m not knitting one with my hands and the other with my prehensile toes. The first, in Wendy navy, will be the popular Scarborough pattern (one of my favourites), and I’ll be knitting this one in the hours of daylight (mostly weekends). The other, in Frangipani Cornish Fudge (a new colour to me, and one I’ve always wanted to try), is another pattern from the Johnston Collection of old photographs held by The Wick Society; this one I’ll be knitting in the evenings. I’ll see how I get on.

Scott Monument from Advocates’ Close, Edinburgh

To keep myself company I’ve been listening to an unabridged recording of Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo, all 45 hours of it. It’s a cheerful little tale of injustice, revenge, suicide and death, but one phrase made me laugh. The Count is impersonating an Englishman: “And he laughed too, but he laughed as the English do, at the end of his teeth.” Isn’t that great? A more perfect way of describing a sort of insincere snicker, a laugh that isn’t really a laugh, I cannot imagine.

Mind you, the French have always trolled the British. And they do it so well. My favourite story this week—in a week not exactly full of good news—concerned the French Europe Minister, who’s decided to call her cat “Brexit”. She said she’s done this because he always miaows loudly to be let out, but when she opens the door he just stands there, and when she puts him out he gives her an evil look…

Doors on Advocates’ Close, Edinburgh

I’m laughing. But I’m laughing as the English do, at the end of my teeth.

Scottish Fleet/Yorkshire, Week 5: 18 March

Well, first things first: the gansey is finished, washed and blocked and drying in the (intermittent) sunshine. And as always, there’s that moment when it’s stretched into shape and the pattern reveals itself in its right proportions, like one of those origami puzzles that seem at first just a scrunched-up piece of paper but which, with a twist and a slide, turn out to be an elegant paper swan. I’ve said before how much I like the colour; it sets off the pattern perfectly, and this pattern really is one of the best.

Nybster Harbour

As TS Eliot said, these fragments I have shored against my ruins. Here are a couple more fragments I came across this week. The first concerns the D-Day landings and subsequent campaign. Apparently as they pushed inland, Allied ground forces marked their positions with signal flares—smoke canisters that showed their positions so the air forces wouldn’t bomb them by mistake. Well, one of these flares went off accidentally inside a British tank. The crew all scrambled out unhurt, choking and coughing, and no harm was done … except that the commander was so deeply saturated that not only his clothes, but also his skin and hair, eyebrows and moustache were dyed a deep, rich hue, like the Jolly Green Giant; and they stayed that way until the pigment gradually grew out…

Rainbow & St Fergus’ Church

The second is a quote from Somerset Maugham’s downbeat World War One spy novel Ashenden. I may have it inscribed over my bathtub. The hero, dishevelled and dirty from travel, has just lowered himself into a scalding hot bath, in which he luxuriates in a very British way: ‘”Really”, he reflected, “there are moments in life when all this to-do that has led from the primeval slime to myself seems almost worth while…”‘

Next week: another gansey from the Johnston Collection. But which one?

Salvation Army Hall, Wick

Our thoughts inevitably go out this week to all those affected by the horrendous events in Christchurch. I read that a group of expat Kiwis had gathered in London for a vigil the day the news broke, and they sang the hauntingly beautiful Māori song “Pokarekare Ana”. There are many recordings of this song available on the internet, but here’s one to which someone has added a montage of pictures of the Land of the Long White Cloud. I like to think of this as a single candle, lit against the darkness of our times.

E kore te aroha
e maroke i te rā
Mākūkū tonu i
aku roimata e.

(My love will never
be dried by the sun,
it will be forever moistened
by my tears.)