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Denim “Homophone” Gansey: Week 1 – 1 November

I was listening to the news in the bath the other day, and was just heaving myself out of the billowing foam when I was arrested by a startling report. I’d missed the beginning of the story—in my younger days I leapt from the tub more like a graceful gazelle than anything human, whereas my method now more closely resembles a mad scientist heaving his latest corpse onto a slab, requiring considerable concentration—and I tuned back in just as the announcer was saying, “The animal waste is dried and processed into pellets which can then be placed directly into the bouillon.” For a moment it stopped me in my (wet, soggy) tracks: a sudden desire to rush to the kitchen and check the ingredients on the packet of stock cubes seized me. Then my brain caught up with reality as the report continued, and I realised that the operative word was “boiler”, and that the pellets were, ahaha, intended as fuel, and not in fact as flavouring for soup.

Raven on the cliffs

And now it’s Hallowe’en, All Hallows’ Eve, or in its Celtic form Samhain, that ancient pagan festival celebrated by our ancestors when they all put their clocks back on the same night. Apparently some modern scholars argue that the tradition of bonfires and dressing up at Halloween derives from a belief that this will prevent the souls of the recently departed returning to earth and generally making nuisances of themselves. I must admit, if I were a recently departed soul—and living in Caithness is as good a preparation for this as any I can think of—I’d probably have other things on my mind. Stephen King probably has an unpublished novel tucked away in which a small town in Maine is besieged by an army of the undead, only for them to be driven away after 800 pages by a bonfire and some children wearing Trump masks.

Winter light near the Trinkie

This year I’m marking the occasion by unveiling a new gansey project. It’s for my friend Elizabeth, in Frangipani Denim. When I get to the yoke it will combine elements of two of my favourite patterns: the cables from Mrs Laidler of Whitby and the trees from Mrs Laidlaw of Seahouses. I hope this works out, otherwise it will be the knitting equivalent of the apocryphal riposte of George Bernard Shaw to Isadora Duncan when she allegedly suggested they have a child that would inherit her looks and his brain; to which Shaw crushingly replied, “But what if it inherited my looks and your brain?”

Rush in the rain

I love tales of folklore and ritual. Not because of what we are told the people who practised the rituals believed, which is mostly patronising and fictitious; but because it’s a glimpse into a lost world before iPhones and GPS and televangelists. A world when people did the thing that was right in the place that was right, because that was what was done, and had always been done, time beyond remembering. And so tonight I shall do my best to honour the tradition, mutatis mutandis—in place of a bonfire I shall light a gas ring on my cooker, ritually slaughter a veggie burger, and keep a watchful eye out for any recently-departed spirits; and if any drop by I shall offer them a hospitable bowl of nourishing, hot—but no; on second thoughts, maybe I’d better not offer them soup…

4 comments to Denim “Homophone” Gansey: Week 1 – 1 November

  • Gordon

    P.S., I’ve called it a “homophone gansey” because of the Laidler/ Laidlaw patterns, homophone meaning “each of two or more words having the same pronunciation but different meanings, origins, or spelling.”

  • I do agree on patronising pseudo-history. It’s ‘would have’ that’s the giveaway on past beliefs. ‘They would have seen the river as a god’, not washed their smalls in it, then? Not used it to get from A to B at all? ‘Would have’is a crime against clear thinking. Harumph!

  • Wendy Lorimer

    I do remember reading once upon a time that Native Americans used to use rabbit droppings to thicken their stews. I have never tried this.

  • =Tamar

    Most really old traditions are, as you say, done because they have always have been, but the reason is forgotten, like the group of people who routinely seasoned their food with a kind of small pebble that they would grind up. They just said it was what they do. Investigators observed that the pebbles were calcium, which was otherwise lacking in the local diet. But they didn’t do it “for calcium” – they did it because the ones who did that were the ones who survived and passed the habit on.

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