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Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 9 – 18 October

Have you ever heard of the celebrated “Dreadnought Hoax” of 1910? It sounds like the plot of a Marx Brothers movie, one that the brothers rejected as too implausible, only it really happened. Back in the early 20th century Britannia ruled the waves (as opposed to just waiving the rules, as I’m afraid we do now, ahaha: sorry, Europe), and the battleship HMS Dreadnought was the flagship and pride of the Navy, the most powerful ship afloat. There was a friendly rivalry between ships’ crews, especially between those of Dreadnought and HMS Hawke, and some officers from Hawke approached celebrated prankster Horace de Vere Cole to see if he could hoax the Dreadnought. What followed became a national scandal, and some aspects are still pretty shocking today—or would be if it wasn’t so utterly ridiculous.

Fisherman’s hut by the harbour

Cole and several of his friends—among them the young Virginia Woolf—dressed up in Arab costume, donned false beards and (*cough*) “fake tan”, and sent a telegram to the Commander in Chief of the Fleet Lord Fisher to say that Prince Makalen of Abyssinia and his retinue were coming to see the Dreadnought. When their train reached the fleet at Weymouth (having blagged a special VIP carriage at Paddington) they were met with an honour guard and given a full ceremonial tour of the battleship. One of their number posed as an interpreter, while the others spoke garbled Greek and Latin or exclaimed “Bunga Bunga!”

And the really shocking part? They got away with it. The hoax was only exposed several days later. I mean, fair enough, it was a simpler time, but Virginia Woolf in blackface and a fake beard? Seriously? (Look it up: there’s a photograph.) Ah, well. All I can say is, in retrospect maybe Brexit shouldn’t have been quite such a surprise after all.

Image from the Johnston Collection displayed at a local street corner

Meanwhile in parish notices, Judit has sent us pictures of another triumph, a rather fetching Wick leaf pattern gansey in navy (the image colour has been tweaked to show the pattern more clearly). What a great pattern this is. This one has a narrow welt and the collar is quite short, as requested by the lucky recipient. As ever, many congratulations to Judit.

My own gansey project is drawing to a close, as I’m almost halfway down the second sleeve. This is always the point where I start to panic over the fit (more so in this case as the first measurement I was offered suggested an improbable body width of 14 inches, subsequently revised upwards to about 20 inches after some hasty work with a tape measure). I may not quite get it finished this week, but I’ll be disappointed if I’m not at least within hailing distance of the cuff.

St Fergus’ Church through the hawthorns

Unsurprisingly, the poor old British Navy became something of a laughing stock following the hoax. Apparently visitors who were subsequently shown over the Dreadnought used to exclaim “Bunga Bunga!”, and Admiral Fisher—who was actually a cousin of the two of the group but had failed to recognise them—suffered the indignity of small boys shouting it at him the street. In 1915 HMS Dreadnought heroically rammed and sank a German submarine, and among the telegrams of congratulation was one that read… well, you get the idea. There was even a popular song about the hoax, to the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind Me”: When I went on board a Dreadnought ship/ I looked like a costermonger/ They said I was an Abyssinian prince/ ‘Cos I shouted “Bunga Bunga!”…

Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 8 – 11 October

I saw the doctor last week about a growth on my face. I’ve had it a few years – the growth, that is; my face I’ve had longer – and, apart from occasionally being mistaken in the street for a James Bond supervillain, it doesn’t particularly bother me. A specialist said a few years back that I only had to worry if it changed shape or bled or told me to burn down an orphanage. But here’s the thing: it’s on the side of my face, just out of sight, and the nearest eyeball is the one with macular degeneration. So how can I tell if it changes shape? I’ve tried taking photos, but honestly the images look like something the Hubble Space Telescope would reject as too blurry; I sent the images to NASA in case their image enhancement computers could help, but they thought I’d discovered a new supernova and offered to name it after me.

A Bird in the Bush – female goldfinch

“It looks like a seborrheic keratosis,” the doctor observed after examining it. As I aways do in these situations, I explained that I was an arts graduate and had no idea what that meant. She smiled tolerantly. “Of course—we doctors commonly use technical terms that don’t mean anything the layman. How shall I put it? It’s a type of keratosis that is seborrheic.” At which point I nodded sagely and said, “Ah, of course.” So it’s a referral to specialist in Inverness “just to be on the safe side”. She picked up on my vocal problems too—unsurprisingly, as I sounded like a cross between someone making balloon animals and a transmission from one of Pluto’s moons. That means another Inverness referral, this time to ENT—which always sounds as if some of the talking trees from The Lord of the Rings had taken a degree in medicine—and apparently involves a camera down the gullet to take pictures of my larynx. Oh, good. I understand NASA is already on standby.

Curious cow

In gansey news, I am effectively at the end of the first sleeve. I’ve said before that the gansey is definitely a SMALL, whereas I usually knit closer to XL. The difficulty I always have with small ganseys is scaling down the sleeves, so they don’t balloon out like those of a romantic poet. My solution is to continue the pattern all the way down the sleeve, since, other than looking very swish, if you’ve chosen wisely there will be enough purl columns to act as pleats, which means you can choose how wide to make the sleeves at any point. The only downside is, until it’s blocked the sleeve looks though it needs inflating with a bicycle pump.

Front yard fungus

Finally this week, I came across this great anecdote. There was a formal dinner to mark the retirement of the American General George C. Marshall as Secretary of Defence. Among a host of dignitaries present were General Eisenhower and his wife. The diplomat Joseph Grew made a speech, but ended with a fatal slip of the tongue when he announced that in retirement Marshall “was going to go down to his beautiful little farm in Virginia and spend the rest of his days with Mrs Eisenhower.” The audience cracked up. Covered in confusion, Grew hastily wrote a note to Mrs Eisenhower and slipped it down the table: “My apologies to you and the General.” Mamie Eisenhower read it and passed it back with the wonderful question: “Which General?”

Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 7 – 4 October

King Theoden sits in his battered old Ford Cortina, queuing for diesel at his local petrol station. There are, he estimates, about a dozen cars ahead of him. More than half the pumps are coned off for lack of fuel. He has advanced perhaps ten yards in the last half hour, and now the man at the head of the queue has disappeared into the shop and appears to be looking at donuts. Theoden sighs wearily, and begins softly to recite: “Where now the car and the driver? Where is the horn angrily tooting? They have passed like bugs on the windscreen. The tanker has headed north up the M6 into shadow, or, as I prefer to think of it, Manchester. How did it come to this?” And in the passenger seat Aragorn shrugs and says, “Don’t blame me, I voted Remain.”

The Sinclair Aisle of St Fergus’, Wick

Yes, we’re back in Caithness after our well-earned break, and are duly offering thanks to any gods which happen to be listening. You see, Northamptonshire and Wick are about 600 miles apart, or a little over a full tank of petrol; and having to fill up to get home during a fuel crisis adds an element of unwanted anxiety to any holiday. My only real experience of this sort of thing is watching Mad Max movies, so I made sure we had plenty of crossbow bolts and hair gel just in case; but in the end we were lucky, and found a gas station with enough working pumps to see us through.

Autumn crocus

In gansey news, I’ve finished the collar and made a start on the first sleeve. So far the trickiest bits have been fitting the recipient’s initials on the gussets, and knitting the hearts upside down compared to the body. In most other respects the pattern remains the same. I plan on knitting the pattern down the length of the sleeve almost to the cuff; I know this isn’t exactly traditional, but I find it helpful on smaller ganseys, as it gives me the same flexibility with the width ofthe sleeve as it does with the body.

We were staying with my brother in my parents’ old house on the Grand Union Canal. It was a marvellously relaxing time, even though the farm next door had chosen that week to erect a new barn (from the size of it I’m guessing they’re moving into the Zeppelin rental business). Every time I looked out the window I saw a farmer leaning dangerously out of a cherry picker, wailing an iron beam into place with a sledgehammer and looking like a man for whom health and safety risk assessments happen to other people. I did suggest that it might’ve been quicker if they’d called in the Amish, but the only part of his reply I caught was “off” – it was a windy day – so I tactfully left him to it.

Capital at Gayton Parish Church, Northants.

The canal still feels like home to me. There’s a lovely scene in The Wind in the Willows when the Mole asks the Water Rat if he really lives by the River: “By it and with it and on it and in it,” said the Rat. “It’s brother and sister to me, and aunts, and company, and food and drink, and (naturally) washing. It’s my world, and I don’t want any other. What it hasn’t got is not worth having, and what it doesn’t know is not worth knowing. Lord! the times we’ve had together! Whether in winter or summer, spring or autumn, it’s always got its fun and its excitements.” And that – except for the washing, of course – and maybe the aunts – oh, and the food and drink too, now I think of it – is exactly how I feel about the dear old Grand Junction…

Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 6 – 27 September

I’ve lost my voice, and as the old joke goes, my nearest and dearest have phoned the doctor and asked them to come urgently in a month; maybe two. There go my dreams of a career as a ventriloquist. On a good day I sound like a cross between Muttley from the Wacky Races and a Darth Vader choke hold victim. Other times it’s more like that glop-glop sound just after the last drops of water have vanished down the plug hole.


It disappeared just over a week ago; I’ve looked in all the old familiar places – down the bottom of the sofa and in all my old coat pockets, the back of the cutlery drawer, everywhere – I’ve even put missing posters on telegraph poles – but there’s still no sign of it. I’ve made a mental note, and when it’s time for his next performance review I’m going to have some harsh words with my guardian angel, who’s been rather slacking on the job lately.


Ah, well, luckily one doesn’t need vocal cords to knit. (Though they come in handy for swearing when you drop stitches or discover a mistake 24 rows back.) I’ve finished the front and the shoulder straps, joined both shoulders and picked up stitches round the neck for the collar. As ever with Flamborough patterns, the more of it there is, the better it looks. And Frangipani Moonlight really shows up those moss stitch panels to advantage.

With perfect timing, my voice vanished just in time for our late summer holiday, staying with my brother near Towcester and visiting family. Conversation with one elderly aunt proved especially awkward and offered a pretty good indication of the challenges we’re likely to encounter when we make first contact with an alien species. I gave up ordering food in an Italian restaurant when the waiter got as far as, “Sounds like… sounds like… Meets a? Beats a? Nope, still not getting it.”

Flower stalks by the canal

Oh, well: I’ll get it back one day. It’s reached the point where all I can do is notify the police and wait for the ransom note, and meanwhile pray that maybe one of the neighbours has taken it in and is feeding it up until it’s strong enough to return…


Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 5 – 20 September

If you ever feel like humiliating yourself and destroying any residual self-esteem you might have – and supposing there’s nothing on tv and it’s raining – I can recommend reading a verbatim transcript of yourself being interviewed, with every pause, ellipsis, fumble and hesitation left in. I’ve always rather prided myself on my ability to be coherent; it’s one of those attributes, I felt, along with my ability to sink in water and not be attracted to rotting meat, that distinguished me from the insect kingdom. No longer. If you open your window, stick your head out and listen closely, that noise you can hear is that of another illusion shattering.

A sloe day by the canal

I sounded like Boris Johnson’s inebriated twin brother, only with less Greek. It fell about on this wise. I was being interviewed by a student whose dissertation was on visual impairment in the cultural sector, a subject I am, alas, well qualified to talk about. Or so I thought. At the time, God help me, I thought it went rather well. That lasted until I read the actual transcript… A typical utterance went something like this:

“Well, the, er, the, er, the thing about, er, visual, ah, visual impairment is, of course, that, ah, the, um, the, ah, traditional model of a, ah, a, uh, librarian, or even an, uh, an, ah, an archivist is that they are expected to, uh, to, uh, to, as it were, to-to-to, ah, to read the materials that they, as it were, they, er, they have, you know, in their, in their, er, in their, uh, their keeping…”

Trees by the river

But let us draw a veil over the rest and hastily turn our attention back to the much safer world of ganseys. I am at the top of the back, negotiating the topmost diamonds with all the aplomb of a steeplejack trying to position a weathercock on top a church spire in a gale. In fact, I’ve adopted the common Caithness practice of running the pattern up the shoulder straps, which is a nice variant of ridge and furrow (and avoids the awkwardness of a half-diamond at the top, hem-hem).

Narrowboats at Gayton marina

Meanwhile, after my recent experiences I find myself wondering about birdsong, given we are told it too is a form of communication. I now picture the blackbird in our garden merrily trilling something along these lines: “I say! This is my, er, my, ah, my patch, doncherknow, my, ah, my actual territory, so to speak, and, er, yes, so you chaps jolly well, ah, clear off, and, er, if there are, you know, any blackbirdettes, of the, of the, uh, the female persuasion out there, well, er, you know, we could, as it were, um, well, let’s just say if you play your, ah, cards right, some nesting could be, er, could possibly be involved…”