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Wick Trees and Diamonds Revisited: Week 3 – 17 January

At the time of writing, I’m about halfway through the course of medicine for (what I’m hoping is just) an infection on my vocal cords, and so far the only change I’ve noticed is that my sinuses feel like they’re packed with lead. You see, to give the medicine a chance to work I’ve had to stop taking a nasal spray for my mystery allergy. (I know I’m allergic to something, but not exactly what; I did the test and it’s not dust, pollen or catsheavens! Can it be wool?) Anyway, as a result of stopping the spray I’ve got so much gunk in my sinuses I can only assume I’ve been caught up in a matter transportation accident, and have crossed my DNA with a snail.

View of Wick

I did have a moment’s unease when I learned that the medicine is most commonly used to treat fungal infections of—here one lowers one’s voice and whispers, in case there are any elderly aunts within earshot—those parts of a chap or chapess that do not normally see the light of day. (Yes, I know technically that includes the vocal cords, but you know what I mean.) I had to double-check the instructions to make sure I really was supposed to swallow them.

Local Wildlife

Meanwhile, in parish notices, over the last couple of weeks we’ve been sent several pictures of ganseys to share. Rather than splurge them all at once, we’ve decided to space them out for maximum effect. So here’s a partially completed one from Lee, a reader from Brittany in possession of a curragh, designing an “Aran gansey” to complement it based on an old photo from c.1920, using Breton wool. As regular readers will be aware, we usually only feature completed readers’ ganseys, but this one is well worth seeing. Lee’s provided some detailed notes on the project too which are well worth a read. Many thanks to Lee for adding another piece to the endless jigsaw that is traditional knitting, and we look forward to seeing the finished project (hopefully modelled in the curragh!).

Burgeoning Snowdrops

Finally, turning away from the (admittedly fascinating) topic of my health, I wanted to share with you the story of an amazing Native American woman: Buffalo Calf Road Woman (d.1879). I’ve been reading a book on Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn—I’d hoped there was also a Big Bighorn, and a Middle Bighorn which was just right, but sadly not—and learned about another battle that happened a few days earlier on the Rosebud River. In the summer of 1875 three columns of soldiers were marching on Sitting Bull’s village: one moving north, another east and Custer working west; the one coming north was the first to run into a force of Indians and battle was joined. A Cheyenne warrior, Comes in Sight, was wounded and trapped in no-man’s-land between the Indians and the soldiers, with the soldiers trying to finish him off. Whereupon his sister, Buffalo Calf Road Woman, braved the gunfire and rode down to where he was, caught him up and took him back to safety. She also fought at Little Bighorn, and the Cheyenne credit her with striking the blow that knocked Custer off his horse. And though her story ultimately ends in sadness, as that of so many Native Americans did, she has her place in history—so that while to the soldiers the first battle was known as the Battle of the Rosebud, to the Indians it was remembered as “the Battle Where the Sister Saved her Brother…”

Just before sunset

Wick Trees and Diamonds Revisited: Week 2 – 10 January

I returned to the hospital in Inverness this week to see another consultant and get the results of my various tests. And it’s good news (mostly).

As I walked into the consulting room I noticed a large computer screen with several photographs of what was evidently my throatal area; I had a general impression of pinkness with a large black blob in the centre. Oh Lord, I thought: if that black thing is malignant, no wonder they’re concerned. The consultant asked me to sit down and said (rather ominously) that we’d come to the photos presently. Meanwhile the biopsies had come back inconclusive but none of the cells showed any abnormalities. Was I now or ever a smoker? No. Did I use an inhaler? Did I get acid reflux? Yes and yes. Had my voice improved over Christmas? Also yes. Then she did that sneaky trick of sliding a camera up a nostril and down the throat (and how it gets there, as opposed to, say, exiting through an ear, still baffles me) and took a shufti.

Marsh by the path

Finally she showed me the photos, and I was relieved to discover—I’ve said before that biology isn’t my strong suit—that the big black blob was in fact (ahaha) my oesophagus. Close up, my vocal cords resemble a wishbone; the right side is smooth and sort of buff-coloured, but the left, which is the problem, looks more like an octopus’s tentacle, pink with white nodules. Anyway, she thinks this might be an infection (and not something more serious beginning with “c”). She’s going to put me on a course of medication to see if it clears up, and I go back for a service and MOT in three months. Meanwhile, we keep our fingers crossed…

Backlit reeds

 …or we would, if that didn’t make knitting needlessly challenging, and an intricate dark navy gansey in midwinter is already challenging enough. I’ve finished side A, and have turned the record over to side B. And even though it’s a smallish gansey I’m pacing myself, trying to get as much done as I can in the hours of daylight (about 90 minutes on a good day if it doesn’t rain).

When I got the good news from the consultant I was minded to do my best Harry Potter impression and start styling myself “The Boy Who Lived”. But that, I felt, would be tempting Fate (and not only because I had images of wrapping the car round a tree on the way home, Fate as we know having a nasty sense of humour); after all, I’m still waiting on the results of last week’s chest scan, and there’s also the question of the shadow they found on my thyroid. Even so it’s a huge relief, and I can’t help tempting Fate a teeny bit; so I’ll leave you with the words of Ancient Pistol in Henry V, when he and his companions go to visit Falstaff on his deathbed (and things worked out pretty well for them in the play, I believe): “Let us condole the knight—for, lambkins, we will live!”

Wick Trees and Diamonds Revisited: Week 1 – 3 January

Well, here we are, a brand spanking new year just out of its wrapping to play with. Sometimes I look for a sign from Fate to indicate what the new year might bring, so there was great anticipation when we turned on the tv the other day. It was a nature documentary on ants, and David Attenborough declared, “The males will soon achieve their purpose and die”; and I thought, wow, bit harsh there, Fate. And what, I wondered, is my purpose anyway, and how will I know when I’ve achieved it? In the ants’ case it involved mating with the Queen, which seems rather a long shot; though I’ve written to Windsor Castle and am just waiting to hear back.

Snow in Sunlight, the Cairngorms

One of my purposes is obviously knitting ganseys, and I know I’m not done yet because I still have patterns to try and plenty of yarn to knit them with. Or else I get a commission which comes with its own yarn, as in the present case. I’m revisiting the celebrated Wick “trees and diamonds”, one of those marvellous Caithness patterns, last seen when I knit it in Frangipani Cordova a few months back. I’ve reworked the pattern slightly, as this one will be somewhat smaller: I’ve kept the centre panel roughly the same, but have scaled back the flanking trees and lost a couple of cables and the edge panels. It’s a rare treat for me too, as I’ve been given some vintage Poppleton’s navy yarn to make it with: a real blast from the past, which feels a bit like attending the Last Supper and being presented with a bottle of wine someone had saved from the wedding at Cana.

Willow by the path

In parish notices, Rebecca has sent us a selection of pictures of ganseys she’s been knitting, some familiar patterns and others less so. They look amazing, and if you ever wanted some inspiration for your new year’s knitting you’ll find plenty there. Many congratulations to Rebecca, and many thanks for sharing them with us all!

We had a slightly truncated Christmas away as I had to be back in Wick for another scan, this time of my chest and throat. I was duly hooked up to yet another needle—this took a while, as I’ve had so many tubes inserted recently it’s a challenge finding a patch of unpunctured skin—so I could be injected with a contrast dye to enhance the images. I was then slotted into a device that resembled a miniature Stargate while the nurses left the room. 

Redshank on the search

The scan itself only took a few minutes. An automated voice like a Dalek sergeant major barked out helpful instructions (such as “BREATHE!” and “STOP BREATHING!”) and then it was over. Once the images were checked and approved I was allowed to leave, taking with me, apart from some indelible memories, the contents of my stomach (something of a first in my dealings with the medical profession), a migraine, a queer metal taste in my mouth from the dye, and a bruise on my arm roughly the size and colour of an eggplant. (The migraine and taste wore off next day; the bruise will take a little longer, as I watch it spreading slowly across my forearm like an exploding supernova.)

I don’t know the results of all these tests and biopsies yet, but “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” is my current motto; or in other words, as I’m not (or wasn’t the last time I looked) a male ant, I shan’t tempt Fate, but will keep my head down for now and carry on knitting. Here’s to healthy and happy 2022 for us all!

Scarborough “Ragamuffin” Gansey: 27 December

As regular readers will know by now, occasionally I have more than one gansey on the needles at one time—especially if the main gansey is very ornate or in a dark colour, when it’s relaxing to alternate with something simpler, or lighter. This is a gansey I’ve been working on for several months. It is, of course, the classic Scarborough pattern. But what makes this one a little special is that it’s made out of a variety of leftover yarns I’ve accumulated down the years: a mixture of Frangipani (about 60%, five separate dye lots), British Breeds, Wendy’s, Classic Elite Yarns and Island on the Edge. And here’s the thing: as I was knitting it, the assorted dye lots and yarns stood out “like a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake” (in Raymond Chandler’s wonderful simile), but as soon as it was washed and blocked, they virtually disappeared. You’d hardly know it wasn’t all the same yarn and dye lot. It’s a sort of alchemy. It fits me perfectly too, and somehow the fact that it was, in a sense, free, only makes it more fun to wear. Next week we’ll start the year by revisiting some familiar Caithness patterns.

Northamptonshire lane

And now it’s time for the traditional Gansey Nation Christmas Singalong (stop sobbing at the back). We’re not featuring a carol this year, since Christmas is so last week, but instead turn our minds to Gilbert & Sullivan, and their overlooked operetta, The Knitters of Knaresborough:

Oh, I am the very model of
     a modern gansey knitter
A finished gansey jumper sets
     the knitting world a-twitter,
Short of going jogging there
     is nothing makes you fitter,
Oh, I am the very model of
     a modern gansey knitter.

I knit patterns from the Hebrides,
     old Whitby town and Flamborough,
From Filey and from Eyemouth and the
     Lizard and from Musselburgh,
From Thurso and Seahouses, Wick,
     Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough,
(My shoulder straps are quite ornate
     or else they’re ridge and furrow).

Christmas Cosmos

The fishermen when out at sea
     would don a plainish gansey,
But those they wore on Sundays were
     spectacularly fancy,
A fisher lass went overboard
     knitting for her fiancé;
The patterns are so intricate
     they look like necromancy.

There’s marriage lines and heapies,
     chevrons, diamonds and cables,
Print o’ the hoof and anchors, and
     yarn-overs if you’re able,
There’s moss stitch, ladders, tree of life,
     there’s zigzags and there’s herringbone,
(The yarn is guernsey five-ply, there’s
     500 grams on every cone).

The patterns on the front and on
     the back are quite identical,
So you can wear them backwards and
     be smart for the conventicle,
The Humber keel men had a star with
     five points in a pentacle,
Some disagree that necks were shaped
     (the question’s ecumenical).

Foggy Dew

Oh, I am the very model of
     a modern gansey knitter,
It helps you keep your temper cool
     and stops you getting bitter,
If your sister wore one in the dock
     the jury would acquit her,
You’ll end up getting tons of likes
     when posting pics on Twitter,
But make sure that it’s genuine,
     not from a counterfeiter,
You can sparkle in the sunshine if
     you sprinkle it with glitter,
Ohhh… I am the very model of
     a modern gansey knitter!

[With apologies to, well, just about everybody, really]

Wishing all our readers a very Happy (and safe) New Year!

Denim “Homophone” Gansey: Week 8 – 20 December

And here we are, the Mrs Laider/Mrs Laidlaw gansey finished just in time for Christmas. I don’t really have much to say other than that I’m really pleased with it, and it just goes to show how creative you can be in combining patterns and still be confident that the end result will look stunning. And what a great colour Frangipani Denim is, and how well it always seems to show the patterns to their best effect. Next week, a one-off project that has me smirking with quiet satisfaction.

I had my neck scan in Inverness this week. The good news is that the lumps the surgeons spotted last week appear to be perfectly normal lymphy-type things. The bad news? Well, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but while she was looking the doctor discovered a hitherto-unsuspected growth on my thyroid. These are usually benign, she said, but she just wanted to take a sample to get it checked out. That was when my day, which till then was up there with the last act of Singin’ in the Rain in terms of happy endings, suddenly turned into something even Thomas Hardy might have rejected as too gloomy.

Christmas Decoration Bombing

The scan itself was a breeze, though the sensation of the scanner sliding over my neck on its film of cold jelly put me in mind of princess Leia being slobbered over by Jabba the Hutt in Return of the Jedi (I was wondering why they made me wear that gold bikini instead of the more usual hospital gown), or possibly someone about to be devoured by a many-tentacled horror from the abyss. Then the doctor produced the needle… and, look, if you’re at all squeamish you might want to skip the rest, enjoy the pictures, and rejoin us next week.

Still with me? Well, don’t say you weren’t warned. The needle went in at the base of my throat, and only hurt a little thanks to a local anaesthetic. The initial probe for a sample lasted a minute or so and then the needle was withdrawn, and I thought, well, really that wasn’t so bad. Ha! Turned out she was finding it difficult to reach the right spot, and had to try again. This time it lasted several minutes, and I was aware of both a mounting pain and pressure in my breast (possibly, taking her cue from the dwarves in The Lord of the Rings, she delved too greedily and too deep). I started feeling anxious, then remote, then I blacked out.

Hawthorn & St Fergus’

When I came to I was on my side, surrounded by concerned medical staff. Apparently the needle had touched a nerve (literally: the vagus nerve to be precise). I’d had something of a seizure (gone rigid and bit my lip so my mouth was bleeding) and fainted. I was sweating so much it soaked through my clothes, the bed, the floor and several floors beneath, prompting an investigation in the basement into burst pipes. I felt woozy and weak, and was sick at regular intervals for the next two and a half hours, by which time the novelty had definitely worn off. I was finally allowed to leave around 4.00pm, pumped full of anti-dizziness and -nausea drugs; given that I’d turned up at 10.30am for a 30-minute appointment, I pretty much felt I’d had my money’s worth. Oh yes, and the icing on the cake? The doctor who checked me over cheerfully opined that I had Menieres disease, which I must say didn’t improve my mood as much as he may have hoped.

Sunset at Loch Watten

But really, what does it matter? The trauma’s already fading, the bruises are too, and I can go into the new year with cautious optimism and only a biopsy or two to worry about. So now let Margaret and me wish all our readers a very safe and happy Christmas, and especially all those health care professionals who’ve kept services going so heroically over the last couple of years. See you next time, and happy knitting!