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Balerno 11: 1 – 7 August

In shock news this week I’ve been reminded that I’m still, technically, an archivist (you can take the boy out of archives, but you can’t, etc.). First of all I’ve been approached out of the blue by the professional association of archivists in the UK to be their new Vice Chair.

I did explain to them that I do not, on the whole, seem to see the world in the same way as most archivists, which is one reason I tend to keep a low profile, professionally – the association conference is in Edinburgh this year and I’m still not going (as the great Liverpool football manager said of local rivals Everton, “If Everton were playing at the bottom of the garden, I’d draw the curtains”. Well, it’s not like that with me, but I’ve learned down the years that there’s no point in arguing with people who disagree with you). But like some white-haired Roman senator, sick of the decadence of the imperial court who retired to his country estates to grow grapes and write iambic pentameters, I’ve been called back into service. My first move will be, I think, to propose that we rename the Board “The Parliament of Saints”, and take it from there.

I also found myself having lunch in the unlikely surroundings of an officers’ mess in a regimental HQ last week. (Note to self: next time, wear a tie, put on your jacket without being prompted, and forget about being a vegetarian…). I’d gone to give them some advice on looking after their archives; perhaps the only collection I’ve come across where “pigsticking” is a useful indexing term.

They have a really good little regimental museum, too – and I wore out more shoes than I care to remember traipsing round dispiriting local museums in the South West, so I know whereof I speak. They don’t have much storage space and, of course, there’s no money to build more (everything you need to know about the modern world is contained in the fact that they were recently turned down for a grant to build a store on the grounds that it “wasn’t strategic”). So most of what they have is on display, including some splendid old uniforms.

Incidentally, do you feel the same way I do when you see an historic uniform – it looks so small, you wonder how anyone could fit inside? But then, I once saw an exhibition of costumes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and even Worf’s uniform looked like it was intended for a teenage member of the chess club, so go figure.

Meanwhile, I’ve been recreating the labours of Sisyphus (replacing the enormous boulder he was forced to roll up the hill, only for it to endlessly roll back down again, with a ball of yarn – well, it’s me back, you see) and have – finally! – re-knitted the rows which had to be ripped out last week. So in one sense I’ve only done about 7 rows this week, while in another, more accurate sense, I’ve done about 40. If anyone wants me, I’ll be in my room listening to Pink Floyd with the curtains drawn for a while.

I’ve also finally drawn a line under the “Wars of the Roses with magic” novel, which clocks in at a respectable 71,000 words (something in the region of 270 pages or so if it were a paperback). As usual, I’ve gone from being quietly pleased with it to despairing at its shortcomings in the space of about 3 days. (I wonder if plumbers ever feel this sort of insecurity about a washing machine, waking up days later at 3 in the morning, wondering if the connection is tight enough, if anyone will like the hose? “I tell you Liz, I should have been a novelist, I can’t take the insecurity…”)

Heigh ho, there’s always bread. This week’s bread is one of my most successful sourdoughs to date, light, full of bubbles, soft crumb, crisp, crackling crust, and with that authentic sourdough tang. Maybe I should set up a Bread Museum, like the dwarves in Terry Pratchett? In fact, if I could think of a strategic use for bread, I’d probably get a grant, too…

20 comments to Balerno 11: 1 – 7 August

  • Lynne

    I’m hoping that the new archivist Vice Chair gets PAID for his expertise?! The gansey is looking very smart, one of my favorite patterns to date and ‘uncle’ will be very pleased.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    Ha! I wish. No, it’s the story of my life, the only time I’ve ever been head-hunted, it’s for an “honorary” job. Still, I’m flattered to be asked of course.

    The gansey is looking good, isn’t it? It’s one of the great things about the yarn, in some light it looks black, other times it glows like the Virgin’s robe in a Renaissance painting.


  • Lynne

    Regarding the color, I’m amazed that it looks that ‘virginal’ blue in the photos because I remember you saying it was true navy. The gansey I did 18 years ago is navy in one of the Flamborough patterns and patterned all the tunic length – and still great on a cold Canadian winter day!

  • Gordon

    Hello again, Lynne,

    I think of it as the bluebottle effect – yes, it’s navy, and is very dark (especially on a typical grey, dark Edinburgh day!) but catch it just right in the sunlight and it shines almost electric blue. If you look at the back numbers of this blog & its photos you’ll see it comes out every colour from black to almost green! (But mostly navy.)


  • =Tamar

    Too bad about not being paid, but it could add a line to your CV. I don’t quite understand the concept of pigsticking as applied to archives, but then my heaps of stuff (“my house has hemorrhoids, piles all over”) don’t bleed.

    I haven’t knitted a sweater in decades, but now I’m tempted; I love the thought of that yarn, and I’ve often thought vaguely about a proper guernsey. Incidentally, I’ve had equally vague speculation that it was originally pronounced “jarnsey” or maybe “zhernsey” and then the soft “g” was changed to a hard “g” when the word was taken into English.

    I’d love to read your novel. I’m terrible at constructive criticism but I really like fantasy.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    Pigsticking was a favourite occupation of army officers in places like india, and there are numerous photographs and diaries, etc., which mention it. As a signed-up pinko vegetarian liberal I’m rather opposed to hunting for sport, but apparently it was also a term used for riders on horseback spearing a stuffed sack, so that’s all right.

    I can’t comment on the pronunciation of guernsey – linguistics isn’t my field, and the rules keep changing! – but there’s no doubt that historically pronunciation was very different, as Shakespeare’s rhyming of words like “here” and “bear” show; it sounds odd to us, but was perfectly natural to them.

    You’re very welcome to read the novel – I just hope you won’t be disappointed. Think Tim Powers rather than George RR Martin or Steven Erikson! I’ll send you a pdf.


  • Nigel

    Gordon, how smart is that!
    I think Balerno man will be chuffed to bits.

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel, and thanks. I just hope it fits now – or else I’ll have to manufacture another badger-related “accident”, if you know what I mean…

  • Lynne

    So . . is this the ‘new’ novel that’s ready to send in the pdf file? If so, me, too, please.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    Winging to you as I type…

    Happy reading!

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Looking at your amazing gansey is a wonderful way to take a break from reading St. Augustine’s Confessions. Way too philosophical in the later chapters. I run to your blog to get a fix of practical, hands-on, un-stuffy reality. Thanks.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for the kind words. (Perhaps I can use that as a quote on the back of my novels – “more readable than the Confessions of St Augustine”!)

    Many, many years ago I did my degree in medieval studies, part of which was medieval philosophy. So we studied St Augustine, concentrating on The City of God, and exploring how Augustine was vital in bringing neo-Platonism to Christianity, and really cementing the idea that for Christians the eternal life is the only reality, while the world we live in is really an illusion (a concept closer to Buddhism, and of course showing the Eastern roots of Christianity).

    St Augustine of course dodged the crucial question, is there knitting in heaven?


  • Hi!

    Can I have a copy of the newest novel as well? Do you actually WANT crit or just praise? (I can provide both, or either, if you like.)

    And as usual, your gansey looks great. Inspiring as well; I really don’t have time to knit one, but you’re making me want to!

    I do have time for bread, and I think I’ll see about getting another sourdough starter up and running.


  • Gordon

    Hi there,

    Do you know, I thought of sending it you, but then it seemed presumptuous, so I didn’t. Will do.

    I think honest feedback is all I’m after. After all, if I’m trying to get my stories published, I have to be grown up about it. (As Bob Dylan says, “Well, the devil’s in the alley, mule’s in the stall / Say anything you wanna, I have heard it all / Only one thing I did wrong / Stayed in Llandrindod Wells a day too long…”).

    Gratuitous cruelty may mean you don’t get any almond croissants or stollen for Christmas, of course… (If anyone wants to get into a discussion about any of my books Im happy to engage and try to explain myself, too.)


  • Oh, always just send them to me! The stories, I mean.

    And hmmm…. stollen. I wonder if I could make that. I tried a boiled pudding for C’s birthday and it wasn’t quite right. Too dense, I think, and he’s too damned polite to tell me the truth. I should go back to those experiments!


  • Gordon

    Stollen – I find that as the dough rises in the oven it leaves an annoying gap between the marzipan and the bread. I’ve tried it with the “stick of rock” tube up the middle technique, rolling it up like a swiss roll, all to no avail. Scientists are baffled.

    Still tastes good, mind…


  • I… haven’t actually tried stollen. I should look up recipes. I thought it was a sponge-type cakey breadlike thing, with dried fruits in. There’s a marzipan bit? Cool. I like marzipan. I should make another Boozy Fruit Cake this year. Only, maybe several small ones instead of one large one; we can’t eat all of a large one ourselves.

    Hey, I could mail one to you!


  • Gordon

    Hi Song,

    Stollen is kind of a German panettone, a heavy bread cake with dried fruit. It comes in many forms, but the best-known is where you roll out the dough into a shape like a manta ray, place a tube of marzipan in the centre, and then fold one “wing” over and seal. It’s supposed to resemble the infant Jesus in swaddling clothes – apparently – and has strong Christmas associations. They have some jolly nice ones at the Edinburgh German market each year!


  • Eva

    have any of the gansey knitters ever made socks the way you make ganseys? I bet those would be fabulous socks…

    Just wondering,


  • songbird

    Eva –

    Lighthouse Gansey Socks

    Fishbone Gansey Socks

    There are loads of gansey socks. And, thanks for the reminder. I do have time to make socks, so maybe I should start there!

    Yay, socks!