Wick II: 29 March

2W150329a As promised, here is the finished Wick gansey, blocked and ready to go. The pattern still remains something of an enigma, but it is what it is, and so I send it out into the world to take its chances, in much the same spirit as my teachers parted with me at the end of my schooldays: unsure if I’d end up as prime minister or on death row—or possibly both.

We’re just starting our Easter break, and will be spending the next few days at my parents’ house in Northamptonshire, out of reach of the modern world, or at least that part of it that involves the internet. So apologies: I won’t be able to respond to any posts or emails this week.

2W150329bThere’s just one parish notice: Bobbins of Whitby have moved—please see their comment on the Suppliers page for further information, and we wish them all the best in their new home.

As it’s not a regular blog this week I hope you won’t mind if instead I share something with you. One of my favourite books is a slim little volume by the German author Hermann Hesse called Wandering, published in 1920 and consisting of brief essays, sketches and poems inspired by a walking tour he made over the Alps into Italy.

2W150329eIt’s a sentimental, naïve, thoughtful, wise and touching collection, out of print now as the values Hesse espoused are seemingly out of fashion in our materialistic age.

Here’s one of my favourite passages, inspired by a mountain pass, in which he reflects on how his response to nature has changed from when he was younger:

2W150329dEverything belongs to me more than ever before. It speaks to me more richly and with hundreds of nuances. My yearning no longer paints dreamy colours across the veiled distances, my eyes are satisfied with what exists, because they have learned to see. The world has become lovelier than before.

The world has become lovelier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my loneliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is. I am ready to let myself be baked in the sun till I am done. I am eager to ripen. I am ready to die, ready to be born again.

The world has become lovelier.

Gansey Nation will be back on Monday 13th April; till then—happy Easter from Gordon and Margaret!

Wick II: 22 March

2W150322a There was a partial eclipse last week, and we were fortunate that the clouds parted just enough to let us see the sun reduced to a brilliant golden crescent. In fact, the clouds added to the spectacle, roiling furiously around the eclipse like smoke, as though some vast celestial weapon was being forged in the heavens.

In olden times, people thought of eclipses as harbingers of mighty events; and this is still the case today, as I bring you tidings of great joy: for lo, the Wick gansey is complete.

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Ye Eclipse

I still have the ends to darn in, and then it has to be washed and blocked, but those are mere details. It’s done as done, the best use of a leftover stash of navy yarn as I can think of. We’re going to take a break over Easter as we go down south to visit my parents, but we’ll put up pictures of the blocked and bedarned gansey next Monday to round off this project.

Before then I have to pay a visit to the doctor’s to get my ears syringed. I’d never really thought much about earwax till now; it’s just been there, like nature’s play dough. In fact, as a result of reading a particular horror story as a child, I’d always assumed it’s main purpose was to act as a barrier so that tropical caterpillars couldn’t crawl inside your ear and lay its eggs in your brain.

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New Keiss Castle

Now for no reason at all mine has caused me to go partly deaf, or makes a sound inside my head like a slug crawling over a microphone; it affects my sense of balance so that I tend to walk like someone crossing Niagara Falls on a unicycle. Sometimes it partially melts in the night and I awake to the sound of bursting bubbles, as though Fairy Earwax had paid me a visit and was sticking her index finger in her mouth and popping it out at me with a wet smack. (Sometimes I swear I can hear sniggering in the darkness.)

2W150322bThe cure isn’t much better, to be frank, consisting of a pressurised jet of water fired into the ear in the hopes of flushing out the offending substance, along with any caterpillar eggs that may be lodged in there, loose bits of brain, that sort of thing. Isn’t growing old fun?

Still, once it’s over I’ll be able to start rebuilding my life, planning the next project. Time to revisit an old favourite, I think—and looking at the dregs of my teacup and swirling the leaves, I think I can see cables coming back into my life after a long break…

Wick II: 15 March

2W150315a The good news is, I’m on my feet again, the worst of my cold being over; the bad news is, I feel like I’ve been assembled from a variety of badly fitting parts, none of which seems to work properly—a sort of Frankenstein’s Archivist, lumbering across the countryside, scaring villagers and randomly cataloguing old documents.

2W150315bI’m tired most of the time, and sleep like the dead—except for the weird, vivid dreams. The other night I dreamed that Batman was being psychoanalysed: the analyst kept explaining what aspects of his psyche his enemies represented—the Joker, and the Penguin—while a frustrated Batman was explaining that no, they were real people, real criminals he had to fight. (I woke up before the end; hope it worked out okay—Batman really looks like a guy who needs help.)

Meanwhile, spring has come to Caithness; or, if she hasn’t actually arrived, is peeking through a crack in the door, checking out if it’s safe. The snowdrops are out, the gorse is just coming into bloom, and the birds outside the window sound like a handful of pennies in the tumble drier (or at least they do at 4.00am, blast them).

2W150315dIt’s still windy and cold—about 5-7ºC—but on Sunday the sun shone bright and clear. Soon I’ll ask Margaret to fetch the secateurs and cut me out of the greased bearskin I’ve worn all winter, and then—who knows?—maybe it’ll even be time for my yearly bath.

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Lybster Harbour

I’ve been knitting assiduously, partly because I’ve been doing the plain knitting down the sleeve (much easier under artificial light than knitting the intricate pattern on this gansey) and partly because I’ve knitted myself back into the zone. I’ve finished the first sleeve and cast off, and am now well underway on the second.

It’s starting to look like a gansey at last. Most of the time it’s hard to make out the actual pattern definition, it looks like a jumble of boiled spaghetti, or Yorkshire seen from space; but then the light catches it just so and it all falls into place. But I won’t really know until it’s blocked.

I should finished it sometime in the next fortnight. (I’m already thinking of the next one, so I’m at the stage where I’m keen to move on.) Maybe then too, like an invalid who finally trusts himself to take his first few faltering steps without the aid of crutches, I’ll be able to leave the Lemsip in the box…

Wick II: 8 March

2W150309aJust a short blog this week, as I am currently down with a bad cold, and have had to take a few days off work.

It’s one of those colds where your face feels like it’s been injected with lead, and when you blow your nose your handkerchief resembles a map of the universe just after the Big Bang (come to think of it, we watched an episode of Mythbusters last night where they tried to paint a room using explosives, and the overall effect was not altogether dissimilar).

2W150309bI’m currently looking for a good, cheap immune system on eBay, as the one I have seems to have broken down. (Or perhaps someone could lend me one? Just for a few days. Promise I’ll let you have it back by Friday…)

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John o’Groats Harbour

But, other than sleeping, I have done a lot of knitting; in fact, other than sitting with my mouth hanging open and trailing strands of drool, which I’m hoping will add to the general waterproofing effect of the yarn, this has probably been my main activity over the last few days (i.e., averaging about 3 hours per day, in 40-minute instalments).

As a result I’ve finished front and back, joined the shoulders, knit the collar and am now well underway on the first sleeve. (I always hoped to finish the gansey by Easter, and that looks eminently doable now.)

Assuming we make it that far—we’re going through a phase of deep low pressure systems barrelling their way across Scottish Highlands every few days and the next one is due tonight, winds gusting up to 70 mph. As I type this, the tree at the bottom of the garden is thrashing about like Treebeard with a beetle in his boxer shorts, and rain and wind are lashing the windows as though God’s caught my cold and is sneezing his heart out.

Me? I’m going back to bed. Wake me when it’s summer…

Wick II: 1 March

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The Back

Welcome back to another trip, not so much down memory lane as paragliding off the cliffs of senility; memory off-roading, if you will.

Riffling through the rolodex of memory we find Lowestoft, where I had my first job as an archivist. Lowestoft is an east coast fishing port fallen on hard times, and even when we lived there it was broadly shabby-genteel, only without the genteel part. But I loved it, much as I love Wick, for the gansey-wearing ghosts; and for the days when I would walk to work along the beach and see the sunrise far beyond the horizon and the boats dwarfed to insignificance by the flat perspective.

Well, one day we learned that a collection of rate books dating back to c.1900 had been stored in a disused gaol in the town, and so we went to have a look.

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The Front

The cells had been abandoned for over a decade and the dirty old volumes were piled up any old how—huge great things, the sort of books Bilbo Baggins wrote his laundry lists in. We only had enough room in the archive to take a sample, one book for every five years, so we had to open each one to find out the date.

Now, this was back in the 1980s, before health and safety had been invented, so we wore no gloves, no overalls and no facemasks. I picked up a volume that had been resting on the toilet, and made the mistake of glancing in the bowl—and you know those nature documentaries that take you down a mole-rat’s burrow? This was worse, and apparently hadn’t been cleaned since Gladstone learned to shave.

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Diamond detail

Supporting the book with one hand, I opened it with the other. And as I did so I realised too late that edges were covered with a furry sort of mustard-coloured mould; and that strands of the mould were extending even as I pulled the covers open, stretching like elastic until they suddenly snapped and I was enveloped in a cloud of spores, like a sneeze in a talcum powder factory.

The dust settled in my hair, on my glasses, on my jumper. I tried to hold my breath but my timing was wrong and all at once I had to take a great gulp of air, sucking in millions of spores like a vacuum cleaner. I could taste it in my mouth, a sharp, bitter taste, like rancid sourdough yeast.

I had an urge to go and shave my tongue, but I can’t remember suffering any ill effects afterwards—though, come to think of it, I suspect the reason I get so many colds these days is because I used up all my antibodies in one go…

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Camster Cairns

The front of the gansey is now complete, and I’ve started on the back. I won’t quite get the body finished next week, but almost; and I’m finally settling into the pattern so that I don’t have to look at the chart every row. I must admit, I’m getting curious to see how it turns out.

And finally this week, in parish notices Judit of the Busy Needles has completed a v-necked sleeveless jumper, or slipover, with the traditional tree motif up the centre and the rest of the body plain—a very elegant pattern. (I have to admit that, living in the far north of Scotland, a jumper without sleeves seems to me reckless to the point of madness and an invitation to hypothermia; but apparently they organise these things better in Finland…)