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Thurso: 26 July

ThTh150726-1As a result of having a couple of my ganseys on display in the St Fergus Gallery next door as part of their display of old photographs, I’ve been visited at work by a number of people curious to know more. So I’ve been holding impromptu gansey workshops in my office, which is not as easy as it sounds without yarn or needles—at best it looked as if I was doing the knitting equivalent of playing air guitar, and at worst like someone who’d overdosed on amphetamines indulging in a spot of tai chi.

ThTh150724-3In passing, one lady told me her mother remembered the bombing of Wick in World War Two by the Germans. She’d been sent out to buy some mince (US = ground beef), and decided to take shelter in the Cinema; but the bombs continued to drop, and the whole building shook. When it was finally over she looked down and found that she’d unconsciously been clenching her fists and the mince was all over the floor, squeezed out from between her fingers.

The good news on the gansey front is that I’ve almost finished the second sleeve: just a few inches and then there’s only the cuff, the darning-in of ends and then the blocking to go. (And I could do with it, too—temperatures continue to hover around the 10-14ºC mark and the wind’s been so strong the trees already seem to be shedding their leaves.)


John o’Groats on a sunny day.

As ever, I’m already thinking about my next project. This will be for my friend Jan; it will be in Frangipani seaspray, and will be based on a traditional Scottish Fleet pattern (number XXVIII in Gladys Thompson’s book, illustration number 134, if you’re curious and/or impatient).


Betty Martin?

Finally this week, we’re starting to think ahead to our autumn holiday this October in the States, and if the planets align correctly we might be able to visit the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival at Rhinebeck. Granted that it’s too late to organise an official Gansey Nation Clan Gathering of our own, it’d nevertheless be great to meet up with any members of the Clan that might be heading there. So, if you’d like us to look into organising something over that weekend, drop us an email or post a comment below.

And who knows? Maybe we should try and do this properly one year, have a Gansey Weekend Stateside, with workshops and talks and whatnot (topics might include: “The ethics of cabling”, “The impact of zigzags on the decline of traditional fishing”, and of course, “That Betty Martin, she didn’t half put herself about, know what I mean?”

Thurso: 19 July

ThTh150720-1 As Shakespeare so memorably observed in one of his Sonnets, ‘I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles’; but how far would I drive to avoid the Caithness County Show? The answer, it turned out on Saturday, is about 107 miles.

ThTh150718-2Each year the show alternates between Thurso and Wick, and this year was Wick’s turn. The showground is in the fields across the road from us, and we watched in fascination as within the space of a couple of days a village of marquees appeared, animal pens, a funfair and enough vintage tractors to plough Ohio. It was like the Field of the Cloth of Gold, only instead of jousting matches between Henry VII and François I we had stunt bikes and burger vans.


They are out there

Now, agricultural shows are not altogether my thing, fond as I am in general of sheep and mud (and other stuff that looks at first sight like mud but really isn’t); so we tactfully made our excuses and headed south for Chanonry Point on the beautiful Black Isle. There we braved the cold wind and flurries of rain to watch a pair of dolphins or small whales (‘whalettes’ I believe is the scientific term) fooling about in the Moray Firth, their arched backs as they slipped beneath the surface looking like undulating coils of the Loch Ness Monster.

We took a scenic detour on the way back around the Dornoch Firth, so that by the time we returned home the show was just about over and only the funfair remained, as if life wasn’t sufficiently full of sadness already.

ThTh150720-2Meanwhile I’ve been working hard on the gansey, helped by the fact that so much of the sleeve is plain knitting and thus relatively quick to knit, and requiring less concentration than a full-length pattern. So I have finished the first sleeve, picked up stitches around the armhole of the second, and am now on the home straight. I should get it finished within the next fortnight, i.e., by the end of the month, if I’m lucky. It’s been a joy to knit.

As I mentioned last week, the St Fergus Gallery next door is using a couple of my ganseys as part of its exhibition of old photographs from the Wick Museum’s Johnston Collection. There’s a much-enlarged photo in the display of a fisherman (Fergus Ferguson) with a very fancy gansey; the image is so clear I think I can chart out the pattern, and if so  I have an idea to try to recreate it for the museum, maybe next summer. Watch this space.

Against my better judgment I posed for a publicity picture next to my ganseys. Here it is, for what it’s worth; though I do rather look as though I’ve just been interrupted while eating the thighbone of a rather plump child, which I’ve hastily hidden just out of camera shot. The things one does for art…

Thurso: 12 July

ThTh150713-1Summer has come to Caithness; at least I think it has. Certainly the tourists have started to arrive—they’re the ones you see huddled under awnings, peering out through curtains of rainwater, watching their hats, snatched off their heads by a playful tornado, vanishing somewhere in the direction of Siberia, and wishing they’d brought a jumper, or a coat, or a return ticket.

It’s all a bit disappointing. While the rest of the country has been basting like a turkey in the heat, with people shedding clothes like autumn leaves, we’ve still got the central heating on; whenever the weather map of the country has sprouted yellow suns like a field of daffodils, Wick’s been permanently hidden under a dark cloud, like Mordor. (This, of course, adds weight to my theory that the reason orcs are bandy-legged is not genetic but due to rickets, caused by not getting enough Vitamin D from sunlight.)


At the Jardin du Canal du Midi

Oh, well. Margaret’s been off enjoying la bonne vie in the south of France (see her Blipfoto link for pictures to make you jealous), while I, a Cinderella who never got invited to the ball—not that I fancy a glass slipper, mind you: think of the damage you’d do if you stubbed your toe and it broke, it’d be like strapping a steak knife to your foot and going skating—have been knitting; and rather a lot, at that.

I’ve finished the back; finished the front; knit the shoulders together; completed the collar; and started the first sleeve, even managing to get the upper arm pattern band done. Altogether, this has been one of the easiest ganseys I’ve ever knit, which may be the reason it’s gone so quickly. Everything’s just clicked (something of a relief after having to abandon the last one halfway).

I decided to make the sleeve chevron the same size as its counterpart on the body—it is quite large, and I wondered if it might be a bit overpowering on a sleeve, but it seems to fit in so far.


Quaint? Yup! And there’s wifi at the cafe!

In parish notices, there are some more baby pictures from Den, whose Filey gansey is entering the home straight in fine racing form, and Judit, who’s started a new project, which also happens to be one of the many Filey patterns that’ve come down to us.

I was talking to someone this week, and he mentioned an acquaintance, an old fisherman, who had once had several ganseys his mother had knitted for him—but who had thrown them out years ago, for what was the use of keeping the old things? So when I think of the numerous patterns that we have for Filey (and Flamborough and Polperro, and all the rest) I thank heavens for Rae, and Gladys, and Michael, and Mary et al.

Finally, in a few days the St Fergus Gallery next door to us is holding its annual exhibition of old photographs from the wonderful Johnston Collection. This year one of the themes will be fishermen in their jumpers, and I’m loaning them two or three of mine so they can show visitors what ganseys looked like in the flesh, as it were. Fame at last! (Though you never know—unless the weather improves soon I might be nipping next door and “liberating” one, just to stay warm…)

Thurso: 28 June

ThTh150628-1According to the BBC’s weather presenters Britain is experiencing a heatwave just now. Standing in front of a map alarmingly coloured orange and red, they flash their unnaturally white teeth and warn of dehydration, sunstroke and death.

And it’s true. Here in the far north of Scotland the temperature has touched the giddy height of 15ºC, and in the fields hecatombs of sheep and cows lie panting on the parched earth; and lambs, instead of frolicking gaily through the meadows, drag themselves wearily along on their bellies, as though swimming the breaststroke through grass.

Truly no one can survive such temperatures for long, and I fear the worst: soon clothing will be shed, and then where will we be? Only yesterday I saw a Scotsman in shorts walking his dog, and the motion of his bare knees reminded me so strongly of someone juggling a pair of potatoes I had to go and lie down in a darkened room until my pulse returned to normal.

ThTh150628-1-2Ha! It’s unfair, isn’t it? England gets a heatwave; we get 15º and the rain stops for a few hours. Not that I’m complaining—not really. I remember one summer in Somerset when it was in the 30s and actually too warm to sit and knit with a gansey in your lap.

Well, there’s no danger of that up here, and so I’ve been knitting away like billy-o. I’ve almost finished the back, just an inch to go and then it’s onto the shoulder straps. The pattern stands out clearly, the chevrons so well defined you could practically grate cheese on them—if it was a hard cheese like parmesan, say.



I started the pattern a little before the gussets because I wanted to give it room to breathe. If you recall the chart I posted a couple of weeks ago, the gansey is split vertically into two equal halves: 14 inches from the very bottom to the garter ridge, and the same to the top of the shoulders, making 28 inches in length. (That’s the plan, anyway!)


Marsh Orchid. Probably.

In parish notices, Den has sent me some more baby pictures of her Filey gansey, which is coming on apace. I must admit, I’m a big fan of incorporating moss stitch into designs, it gives a jumper a really three-dimensional, tactile quality.

Finally this week, the neighbours are back so their cats no longer need us to serve as mobile back-scratchers. Now they stare at me with an aloof, cold distain and, if I ever get too close, strop their claws on the stone wall in a meaningful sort of way, like a movie gangster playing idly with a flick knife; I half expect to wake up with a severed hamster’s head in the bed next to me, as a warning. (Until, of course, the next time the neighbours go away.)

We’ll be taking a break next week while Margaret is off enjoying herself in France. Gansey Nation will return on Monday 13 July, no doubt laden with joie de vivre and a dash of sophistication, if Margaret can manage to smuggle them through customs…

Thurso: 21 June

ThTh150622-1The neighbours are away just now, and Margaret is dropping by to cat-sit. But it’s clearly not enough for the two bored and lonely moggies in question, so they’ve set up a sort of Black Ops operation in the front yard to watch for whenever we open the front door so they can demand attention.

ThTh150622-2One of them is permanently on guard, alerted by the scrunch of gravel, and gives the cat-signal so that the other suddenly materialises as if beamed down from the starship Enterprise—on the wall, or on the front step, or even, one memorable time, apparently inside my trouser leg roughly halfway between the ankle and knee.

ThTh150615-4Once when I thought the coast was clear I heard the urgent whisper: “Bravo-Niner-Zero: Smoky, are you reading? The goose is in the nest, repeat, the goose is in the nest, over”—and when I looked round, there Smoky was, lying on her back on the gravel, waving her legs invitingly in the air as though practicing feline synchronised swimming, and mewing like someone trying to tune in to Radio Teheran on an old dial-up radio.

I can tell they’re desperate for attention because they let you pat them without stripping your fingers to the bone—usually they act more like piranha fish that’ve learned to negotiate a cat flap. All the same, there’s a look in their eyes that tells you this is just temporary—like a Christmas truce in the trenches—and that once the neighbours are back I’d better invest in some oven gloves if I plan to indulge in any more of this tummy-tickling nonsense.

ThTh150622-3Meanwhile—while I still have the use of my fingers—I’m getting plenty of knitting in. I’ve been putting in some serious hours on the gansey, and have just divided from front and back after completing half the gusset. You can see the pattern better now, a good, strong, classic design that works really well in what is, after all, a fairly dark colour.


Impromptu sculpture at John o’Groats

One interesting thing is that my row gauge for the pattern seems to be 11 rows to the inch, whereas on the body (plain knitting) it was 10. It can’t be that I am knitting more tightly—if anything, the reverse is true, as I’ve deliberately loosened up a touch to compensate for all those double cables, which inevitably draw in the knitting. Scientists are baffled, and I believe the Large Hadron Collider at CERN is currently working on the problem, but it means that my brilliant calculations of last week are now only fit only for wrapping chips in.

Incidentally, I’m writing this on Sunday, which in the Northern Hemisphere happens to be the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. In Wick the sun rose at 04.04 and set at 22.23 but by 20.30 it was raining and it so dark we had the lights on (also the central heating—our high today was 10ºC, which qualifies as a heat wave since it’s the first time we’ve seen double figures all week). To quote PG Wodehouse, we are, if not actually disgruntled, then far from being gruntled…