And the moral of the story is, when you’re not feeling well, whatever you do, don’t tell your doctor…
You see, my cold had finally obeyed the laws of gravity and sunk to my chest last week, so I was off work for a couple of days, breathing with a sound like a very old dachshund, or someone letting air slowly out of a balloon.
As it happened I had a doctors’ appointment on Thursday afternoon anyway. He listened to my breathing, checked my oxygen (low), frowned a doctorly frown and said he’d like me to pop along to the hospital for a couple of tests then and there, just to be on the safe side. So along I popped, and it was then my Kafkaesque nightmare began: for it turned out that the hospital intended to keep me in for 24-hour observation, and they were already preparing a bed for me.
Somehow “shortness of breath climbing the stairs” had been translated into “severe chest pains”, as though everything I said was being filtered through Google Translate into Japanese and back again. The hospital doctors (no fewer than four of them as the evening wore on) kept telling me that it was for my own good, while nurses (with forearms the size of a be-spinach’d Popeye) cracked their knuckles and kept themselves between me and the exit. The more I protested it was just a cold the more they shook their heads and smiled, like wolves who’ve just been asked the quickest way home by a very naïve sheep.
It was like a movie where you’re driving through a strange town, get pulled over for a minor traffic violation, and the next thing you know you’re in a chain gang breaking rocks in the desert (and about to discover, as the song says, that—ahem— “fist can be a verb…”).
At last we cut a deal: I would be taken to A&E for some tests, and if they didn’t turn up anything bad I could go home. As it happened, before I could take all the tests some genuinely sick people turned up in ambulances and everyone kind of lost interest in me. (I have to say, it’s a desperately sad experience sitting in an emergency room pleading to be allowed to take your pathetic little cold home, while from next bed you can hear doctors fighting to save the life of a cardiac arrest patient.)
Finally, some time after 9.00pm, remembering I hadn’t eaten since noon, I decided to discharge myself by the simple expedient of walking out—home for a late-night Thanksgiving supper of ice cream with lashings of self-pity.
Still, as Margaret pointed out to me next morning, at least I wasn’t dead. In fact, I’m determined not to die for the next few days, just so the doctors can’t say at my graveside, We told you so.
Also, the Hebridean Island at the Edgists have been in touch to say that they have (English language) copies of Stella Ruhe’s splendid new book Dutch Traditional Ganseys for sale – see their website for details. (And while you’re there, take a look at some of the stunning photographs on the blog—and try not to break the tenth commandment!)
Oh, and Mrs Laidlaw’s claret gansey is now washed and blocked. Tune in next week to find out what comes next—assuming I don’t run into any doctors in the next few days…
Well, we had our first touch of winter this week with a dusting of overnight snow to go along with the frost and ice. This has prompted me to wrap myself in several layers of clothing—base layers, flannel shirts, jumpers and a Cossack hat—so that if ever I fall over I bounce gently for a time like a man encased in bubble wrap, and if I end up on my back I can only wiggle my arms and legs feebly like a tortoise until someone comes along.
We’ve also dug out the winter duvet, which is so heavy it’s like sleeping under a dead bear. Getting out of the warmth of a cosy bed is like leaving the hearth of a Scandinavian sauna and running naked through the snow, albeit without the thrashing with birch twigs part—though I believe you can pay extra for that if you so wish.
There’s still nearly a month to go till the shortest day, and already the sun isn’t rising till 08.20, and setting at 15.35. Daylight is becoming something you read about in books, a precious commodity like money that you have to spend carefully and make last all week, and not waste.
I finished the claret gansey on Sunday—the cuffs cast off and all the ends darned in—and all that remains is the washing and blocking. Three months is all it took, which is a record for me, though this was a little smaller than the ones I usually knit. Now it’s time to think about the next project. It’s going to be another one for a museum, but I’ll say more about that next week.
As for the pattern, well, in the same way that every life can be measured in a number of heartbeats, so my knitting life can be measured in the number of ganseys I’m going to knit. A few years back I identified the patterns that I liked, and which I wanted to try, from all around the country. And, while I’m in no danger of running out just yet, the list is definitely growing shorter.
Anyway, now I’m up in the far north of Scotland I thought I’d turn my attention to Scottish ganseys. Seeing as how I’m in Wick, sometime capital of the herring fishing industry in Britain (even earning the name of “herringopolis”), I thought it was about time I knit a Wick gansey from one of the old photographs. Again, I’ll say more about this next week.
Till then we wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, on the grounds that even those of us not living in the USA still have plenty to be thankful for, such as the knowledge that spring is only 4-5 months away, or, if you live in Caithness, 7…
How am I feeling today? Well, I’m glad you asked: matter of fact, I’m getting over a slight cold and a weekend migrainette.
As Bertie Wooster once said, there are six types of hangover—the Broken Compass, the Sewing Machine, the Comet, the Atomic, the Cement Mixer and the Gremlin Boogie—and I find this works pretty well for migraines too.
The one I’ve got just now is relatively mild—somewhere between the Sewing Machine and the Comet (I’ve renamed the Atomic “the Dounreay”, in honour of the nuclear reactor just along the coast). I tend to get a Cement Mixer migraine just a couple of times a year, and then it’s simpler to just stay in bed. Luckily Gremlin Boogies are much rarer: as I’ve mentioned before, the last time I had one the doctor thought it might be a brain tumour.
Anyway, although I’ve been reduced to a mildly vegetative state, and one in which the words “mired in drool” crop up surprisingly often, I’ve still been able to knit. I’ve finished one sleeve and started on the next; and at this rate I should finish the whole gansey in a week or two.
Margaret’s been busy too.
I’m not quite sure how this has happened—after all, this project was supposed to last the winter. My only explanation is that the gansey fairies come in the night and hold drunken knitting parties, which would explain the dirty wineglasses, cigarette butts and dead woodlice. (“Oh no, what shall we do, Fairy Fiveply? The silly creatures’ve overdosed on our, ahem, ‘special fairy dust’.” “Quick, Fairy Slipknot! Dispose of the bodies under the rug: you know how seldom the humans vacuum in here…”)
Moving on, we’ve been asked if we know of anyone who’ll knit ganseys for other people for money. This is a question that arises periodically; the last time I looked into it was a couple of years ago, so my information is a little out of date; but I thought it would be helpful if we included some links on the website. So: any suggestions? Please post below (or drop me a line) if you know of anyone, and we’ll compile a list.
The going rate for a bespoke hand-knit gansey seems to be about £300, by the way. (What would I charge? Oh, about £750-£1,000, I think—well, either that or an iPad…)
Right. Time to stop squinting at a computer screen and go back to my current supine, three-toed sloth existence. (Hey—is that a cement mixer I can hear in the distance…?)
I was going to post something about Halloween this week, but since there were no fireworks, and no trick-or-treaters round our way (unless you count my windscreen wipers dying—but that’s more of an Act of God, and I prefer not to think of God as the sort of deity who plays pranks on non-believers if you don’t give Him chocolate), it was all a bit of an anticlimax.
So instead I shall talk about the two cats next door, Smokey and Gigi, both of them Black Ops cats, trained in stealth and the arts of surveillance. Now that the nights are drawing in they stalk me up the garden path in the darkness like sharks shadowing a boat, then try to slip in between my legs to get inside the house. Their expressions of baffled rage when they discover we have an inner door is better than a play, and the cat-shaped dents their heads leave in the woodwork make for an interesting conversation piece.
Smokey is the good time girl, who in daylight trots along in front of you just out of reach, frequently stopping and looking back over her shoulder like a feline Betty Grable, as if to say, ‘How about it, big boy?’ She drools excessively when stroked (something else she has in common with some actresses), so that sometimes during a hosepipe ban all you have to do is hold her upside down over the plants and tickle her tummy.
Gigi is a tougher proposition entirely. She usually sits on the wall, looking cold and proud, like Judi Dench discovering she’s been mistakenly booked for a stag night. The one time I made the mistake of patting her on the head my hand was engulfed in a furious ball of whirling claws of teeth, not unlike putting one’s fingers in a blender. I couldn’t shake her off, and for a time had visions of her eating her way up my arm to the elbow, like a cartoon piranha. Eventually she just let go and ran off, snickering like Muttley, while I tried to staunch the bleeding.
Black Ops Cat, or, A Catsicle
Even with bandaged fingers, somewhat to my surprise I’ve almost finished the gansey’s first sleeve: I really must knit more ganseys for petite individuals. I decided to include one tree at the top of the sleeve, and made a border from the same purl half-diamond that acts as a border to the tree pattern, but this time running horizontally round the sleeve, so it’s broader and shallower. Just the cuff to go, and the next sleeve, so I might even finish this one by Christmas.
Gus models the latest in cat hoodies. Made with doubled sock yarn.
In parish notices, I’ve received some splendid pictures which, now that Margaret is back from her holidays, I can finally share—apologies to those concerned for the delay. The first is from David Scholes, of a Staithes gansey in a sort of Lincoln green, which you can see here. The other is a cream Robin Hood’s Bay gansey from the indefatigable Judit, which you can see on her gallery page, here. Both look just the thing for the winter that seems to be in store.
Finally, Lindsey posed an interesting question on the Suppliers page, about modern gansey yarn versus the traditional kind. If you have any thoughts, please feel free to join the discussion.
Oh, and speaking of cats, Margaret’s been knitting winter coats for Faith’s hairless cat Gus, to help keep him warm and help make him look marginally less like the sort of cat the creature from Alien might keep as a pet; well, a girl can dream…
This week’s blog is dedicated to Annie, a shaggy Gordon Setter belonging to Margaret’s sister Gail and brother in law Bill in the States—a sort of canine floor polishing machine with an overactive battery, twitching and shuffling and jagging as if moving to music only she can hear, broadcast on a frequency only audible to dogs.
When Annie wants to sit down she just picks a spot and collapses, like the soldiers in Goldfinger pretending to be gassed. When I made the mistake of riding in the back of the car with her I got hit by her tail so regularly as she spun giddily round and round, unable to decide which of the four windows offered the best view, that it was like being assaulted by a ninja with a feather duster. She became a sort of hairy perpetual motion machine: hook her up to a battery and you could power a small township for months.
Perhaps her most endearing trait is a sort of misguided belief in her powers of hypnosis. If you’re holding something she wants, say a piece of bread, she just plants herself down in front of you and stares intently, like a canine version of Thunderbirds’ The Hood, as if that will be enough to get you to hand it over. (Though, now I come to think of it, I actually ended up handing it over more often than not. Hang on a minute…)
Annie considers her next move…
I’ve had some bad experiences with dogs down the years. Perhaps the worst was when I was 16 and had a Christmas postal route in my village. There was this really classy lady-of-the-manor type I had to deliver a parcel to one day. As I went up the front drive I saw she was round the back in the courtyard (yes, really) with her dog.
As soon as the dog saw me—it was a giant black slavering monster, the sort of thing Sauron would keep to fetch his slippers and morning paper—it gave an excited bark and bounded towards me, trailing strings of drool like party streamers. I just stood there and waited to be savaged and shaken to pieces, but instead of annihilating me it skidded to a halt on the gravel and buried its nose in my groin, where it proceeded to root around like a pig after truffles, making happy slobbering noises until hauled off by its mistress.
Collar and shoulder detail
If you take your dictionary off the shelf and look up “mortification” you’ll see the following definition: “The emotion felt by Gordon Reid when he looked down and noticed the large damp patch on the crotch of his trousers steaming in the bright winter sunshine, and then caught the amused smile on the face of the lady. See also incontinence pants and rubber sheets.”
Moving on from today’s dose of deep trauma therapy, you will see from the photos that I have finished the shoulders and the collar, and have started on a sleeve. The collar came out rather well, nicely rounded and indented; it’s about an inch, or 12 rows plus cast-off row high.
Sunrise over Wick Harbour
I had a decision to make regarding the sleeve pattern. The original only has the traditional “Betty Martin” check pattern on the upper arm, but I wanted to use the body pattern again if I could (I just think it looks better). The only problem was, one tree would be too small, but two would be too long. So I’ve decided to go with one tree, and I’ll use the purl half-diamonds as a sort of border below it, which should give me what I’m looking for. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean next week.
And now, as I see the weather for today is for heavy rain showers, winds gusting over 30 mph, and a temperature that “feels like 2ºC”, I shall close my eyes and go to my happy place: the deck out back of Bill and Gail’s in the autumn sunshine, watching Annie, the eternal optimist, stalking bees in the hopes of making friends…