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Scottish Fleet, Week 9: 5 October

IMG_3067I got onto the subject of embarrassment in conversation with my next-door neighbour this week, those moments of maximum humiliation that cause you to wake up at four in the morning red-faced with shame and mortification at the recollection.

For me it had been what the aviation industry calls a near miss. You see, I had to get a blood test recently. I rolled up my sleeve and laid my left arm on the desk, my hand open, fingers loosely cupped, at rest. The nurse leaned forward to get the needle into the vein just so, and in the process I felt her right breast slide into the cradle of my upturned palm.

Time seemed to stand still. I froze like someone wired to his seat by explosives, horribly aware that the slightest muscle spasm or sneeze might result in a lawsuit. I tried to think of something neutral but for some reason only giant octopi or bowls of trifle came to mind.IMG_3069

Of course, for some people the right course of action would have been a hearty squeeze and a jovial cry of “Honk honk!” to break the ice—but somehow it just didn’t feel like the right time.

Well. The moment passed—the nurse, a consummate professional, finished the task in hand and leaned back (though she did ask, when taking my blood pressure moments later, if I could think of any reason why it was a little on the high side…).

IMG_3071Moving on, I have this week finished the front and back on the gansey,
joined the shoulders and knit the collar. Also, since the main picture was taken, I did something I’ve always meant to do but never got round to: as I had a little bit of yarn left on one cone I picked up the stitches around one armhole and knit a few rows, then, when the yarn ran out, placed all the stitches on a holder (i.e., more yarn) before starting the other sleeve.
I have a couple of reasons for doing this. Firstly, as you know, I hate picking up stitches, so this way I get it all over with at once, and after one sleeve is done I can just carry on where I left off with the other. Secondly, I always find it hard to get back into the pattern when I start the second sleeve—it always feel like a twice-told tale. So I’m hoping this will make it easier and, if you’ll forgive the expression, seamless.


Sunset at Wick with added sheep

Oh, and you may be wondering where my next-door neighbour comes into things. Well, after I told him my story, he told me of a time he worked in a bookshop. There was a devastatingly attractive and sophisticated American lass there who all the chaps wanted to impress. One day, she dropped some books. One of her male colleagues at once said, “Allow me!” and bent over to retrieve them… Alas, an unfortunate compression of internal gasses meant that, as he bent down, he emitted an almighty fart.

I don’t know how you get over something like that, if you ever do. Probably changing your name and joining the Foreign Legion is the only course left to you. And at least, the next time 4.00 am comes round and I’m staring hollow-eyed at the wall, I can always think, well, it could have been worse…

Scottish Fleet, Week 8: 27 September

IMG_3037I was contacted by a very pleasant journalist this week, who was researching a piece on the ganseys of the north-east of Scotland.

Now, I’m always wary of dealing with the media. Partly this is because, like Mr Toad, I do rather get carried away when faced with a receptive audience (“Well, well,” he said, “perhaps I am a bit of a talker. A popular fellow such as I am—my friends get round me—we chaff, we sparkle, we tell witty stories—and somehow my tongue gets wagging”); so I have to watch myself.


Ye Front

But then there’s the tendency of journalists to behave, well, like journalists. It’s as if they can’t help themselves, the creatures.

Many years ago, when I lived in Wales, I was contacted by the local paper about claims that the Victorian founder of the town of Llandrindod Wells had kept a brothel. This was news to me, but acting with a discretion beyond my years I made a guarded reply, merely saying that I was not aware of any evidence to suggest that was the case.

Next week the headline on the front page of the rag in question read, “County Archivist Denies Brothel Claims” and my mother was on the phone…

Well. Now you can understand why I await the eventual publication of the article in question, much like the dying man in Yeats’ poem, “dreading and hoping all”.


Rainbow south of Wick – I went for the pot of gold but the leprechaun had a knife…

In gansey news, I have reached the beginning of the first shoulder, just the rig ‘n’ fur shoulder strap to go. I made the neck a full diamond deep, or 22 rows, so with a decrease every second row that meant I had to take 11 stitches from the centre to make a nicely indented collar (I hope). Over the next week I hope to finish the other shoulder and the collar.


Wick Marina in what is technically ‘summer’

Meanwhile, Margaret is on her travels again, in America this time. (I’m joining her in a fortnight, once she’s established that it’s safe.) So, once again I’m having to cope with tying my own shoelaces and, more immediately, take my own pictures for the blog—which is why the gansey once again looks blue, instead of the seaspray that it really is.

Finally, a short poem in honour of the true hero of the Wind in the Willows:

Those fisher girls of olden days

They knitted and they sewed,

But none of them could knit half as well

As gansiferous Mr Toad..

Scottish Fleet, Week 7: 20 September

SF150920-1As I’m feeling knackered today I’m going to cop out of writing a regular blog, and instead regale you with one of my favourite jokes. It’s an old joke, and you’ve probably heard it before, but every time I think of it I can’t help but smile.

Before we get to the joke, though, I’d better explain the general beknackeredness. You see, I spent a large chunk of Saturday at Berriedale Church down the coast from Wick, beautifully situated on cliffs high above the ocean; I took some old maps and documents along for the church open day, and by the time I’d carted all those heavy boxes up and down the fire escape at work I was about ready to be put down myself (the original meaning of the word “knackered”, of course). As a result today I feel every bit of the aged and decrepit 55 year-old I truly am, instead of the sprightly and nimble 54 year-old I believe myself to be inside.


The Back

In gansey news, I have finished the back. As you can see from the photos the yarn and the pattern make a splendid combination, though you won’t see it in all its glory until it’s properly washed and blocked. (It’s only just struck me that this is a close variant of Matt Camnish’s gansey pattern.) I almost used up an entire 500g cone of yarn in finishing the back, and have started a second cone with the front.


Cromarty Firth

Well, and so here’s the joke. I’ve copied it out from Daniel Wallace’s wonderful novel Big Fish. Just don’t blame me if you’ve heard it before…


And another thing . . .

One day Jesus was minding the pearly gates for St Peter when an old man walks shuffling up the path to Heaven.
“What have you done to enter the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus asks him.
And the man says, “Well, not much really. I’m just a poor carpenter who led a quiet life. The only remarkable thing about my life was my son.”
“Your son?” Jesus asks, getting interested.
“Yes, he was quite a son,” the man says. “He went through a most unusual birth and later a great transformation. He also became quite well known throughout the world and is still loved by many today.”
Jesus looks at the man, then embraces him tightly and says, “Father?”
And the old man hugs him back and says, “Pinocchio?


View from Berriedale Church


Scottish Fleet, Week 6: 13 September

SF150913-1Autumn has come to Caithness, as the nights draw in and the leaves turn burnished gold—at least I assume they do; it’s hard to tell, as the wind is gusting so strongly there’s just a vague suggestion of yellow as the leaves are stripped from the branches and sent scything at passers-by like ninja throwing stars. On our street alone there’ve been three leaf-related fatalities this week.

I treated myself to a new ebook reader, one of those fancy ones you can read in bed without having to turn on the light. Partly I bought it for ease of reading; partly because I got fed up reading a heavy iPad in bed, losing both my concentration and my grip and having it slam into my face (it got so embarrassing turning up to work with a bruised and swollen nose so often I had to pretend I moonlighted as a bare-knuckle fighter).


Waves at JoG

I’m a big fan of ebook readers. I know their main selling point is being able to read 50 Shades of Grey in public without anyone knowing, or in my case Ulysses without being beaten up, but I love having all my favourite books with me wherever I go. And, yes, I love the physicality of a good book—but the binding of a number of paperbacks I bought in the 70s has cracked and broken, so that all I’m left with is a handful of loose pages and some fading memories. Typeface or electronic ink—in the end, it’s all written on water; it’s the words that matter.


Giant reels at the harbour. Alas, they’re not loaded with yarn.

In gansey news, I’ve finished the half-gussets, divided front and back and am now well advanced up the back. You can see the pattern more clearly now: although it’s another very simple pattern, and delightfully easy to keep track of, the combination of knit and purl stitches, light and shade and cables, make it a something of a classic.

SF150913-2Finally this week, I was told the following story which comes from the Second World War. Well, the county’s Home Guard platoons all took part in a great exercise in which they had to pretend to attack one of the small villages on the east coast of Caithness. All the way there, this particular contingent argued as to how best to make their attack; some said one way, some said another. The arguments dragged on and on until at last they agreed to attack along the coast. They crept along the cliffs until they finally reached the command post and rushed in—only to find everyone was sitting around drinking tea. They’d spent so long arguing about how to attack the exercise was over before they got there…

Scottish Fleet, Week 5: 6 September

SF150907-1The world turns, as Michael Tippett so memorably said in his great oratorio A Child of Our Time, on its dark side. And this is certainly true in Caithness, where it’s dark, and cold, and wet. (On Saturday the Met Office forecast was for 9º, but “feels like 7º”.) Summer, which seems to have lasted from about 3.00pm to 4.30pm on August 17th, is well and truly over.

John O’Groats, in 35-mph gusts and horizontal rain, resembled nothing so much as the heaving deck of one of those Deadliest Catch fishing trawlers in a storm (Deadliest Groats, coming soon to a Discovery Channel near you). One by one cars would pull up. After a few minutes a couple would get out, run up to the famous signpost, stand hunched miserably in the rain for as long as it took to have their pictures taken, and then run back to their cars and drive away.


But there were rainbows!

While there we met a very soggy Australian couple: he was in shorts, and she was just a voice of misery hidden under about seventeen layers of gore-tex. She looked around, taking it all in, and then said simply: “This a bad place. Let’s get back to the car.” And, I have to say, she had a point.

SF150907-2Well, and so to ganseys. Here at last is the big reveal, the pattern emerging from the plain knitting of the body like a newly-hatched chick from its shell. You won’t be able to see it properly for another week, of course, but there’s enough to get the idea. It consists of diamond panels alternating with betty martin and cables: it makes for a nicely chunky effect, quilted like Robin Hood’s archer’s jacket. I like it a lot, and it’s not surprising it’s been recorded more than once (there’s also a version from Whitby that has moss stitch diamonds instead).

SF-chartIt also has the advantage of being very regular, and thus easy to keep track of. Every two rows are identical, both for the diamonds and the betty martin, so you always know where you are—indeed, once you’ve laid the foundations, the pattern chart’s not necessary. I’m cabling every 7th row, though, so I do need to keep track of that.

SF150905-1An apology to Suzanne, and to anyone who wanted to comment on her gansey pics last week—a technical glitch shifted things around and wouldn’t let anyone post on her page. Anyway, it’s sorted now.

Finally, on Saturday we dodged the showers and visited the wonderful Neolithic Camster Cairns, hunched and brooding on the secluded hillside. There were a few other visitors there, and some of them were getting down on hands and knees and crawling in for a look at the dark, enclosed interior chambers. As we left we heard one of them call out cheerfully to another of the party who’d just disappeared inside, “Look out! There’s a ghost in this one…!”