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Dunbeath: Week 1 – 8 February

In his final case Sherlock Holmes muses on the coming threat posed by an expansionist Germany and says ominously, “There’s an east wind coming, Watson”; to which dear old obtuse Watson replies, “I think not, Holmes. It is very warm.” This forces Holmes, not to break a whisky bottle over Watson’s head, as you might expect, but to spell out his metaphor more clearly. (Incidentally, there are few scenes in literature that can’t be improved by inserting Watson into them. Take The Lord of the Rings: “Though I don’t know what the likes of me can do against, against –” the innkeeper faltered. “Against the Shadow in the East,” said Strider quietly. “I think not, Aragorn,” said Watson, taking out his pocket watch. “The sun will have set and it’s too cloudy a night for there to be any shadows, even in Mordor.“)

Well, even Watson couldn’t deny the east wind just now, a bitter, biting wind blowing in rain, sleet and snow fresh from Siberia. It’s been cold so long that when I look up frost in my dictionary it just says, “see perma“. But I can’t stay mad at snow. It always takes me back to my childhood, and the sense of wonder I had, as a child of the more temperate parts of the North Island of New Zealand, at coming to Britain and experiencing snow for the first time. (The child is father to the man, of course; a saying that, taken literally, set me back about six months in biology class.) Even the lightest dusting, the merest pither of snow blown in on a wind as easterly as this, is enough to gladden my heart; however pessimistic it might make Sherlock Homes.

Wind & Waves

New month, new gansey: this is a special commission, requested by Graeme Bethune, whose Caithness yarns I featured back in December. It’s made from his own yarn, and the pattern will be based on that of his great-grandfather, a fisherman from Dunbeath, a little fishing village on the east coast of Caithness. All we have to go on is the slightly blurry photograph that appears in the Moray Firth Gansey Project book, but the pattern appears to be a variant of the classic Staithes/Henry Freeman of Whitby pattern. More on this next week.

Snow in Dunnet Forest

Also in parish notices, Judit has knit another splendid gansey, a very fetching combination of zigzags and moss stitch in a very lovely colour. It’s a Valentine’s Day present, and I was interested to learn that in Finland the 14th of February is celebrated as Friends’ Day, Ystävänpäivä, not just a day for lovers. What a wonderful idea! Many congratulations to Judit and a very happy, chocolate-enhanced Valentine’s Day to all.

Winter Fishing

Meanwhile I’ve been listening to the audiobook of The Godfather while I knit, quite possibly the sleaziest book ever written. But it’s got me wondering what would happen if the Mafia ever moved into my own line of work, that of libraries and archives…

The room is in shadow, the blinds drawn. Joyful Sicilian music filters through the window from the wedding party taking place on the lawn outside. The Don is seated behind a large desk. Behind him stands his counsellor, who leans towards him attentively. The Don sighs.
“Is that the last of them?”
“There’s just one more. Shall I call him in?”
The Don gestures weary assent. The counsellor brings in a nervous middle aged man carrying a book.
“What favour do you ask of me, my friend?” the Don asks.
“I’d like to borrow this book, please.” He holds it out. “It’s Mary Berry’s latest cookbook.”
The Don is offended. “You come to me, on this the day of my daughter’s wedding, and you ask me for this favour. But you show me no respect. Why have you never visited me till now?”
“It’s only just been published. I thought I might give her bubble and squeak a try.”
The Don considers. “All right. I’ll make you an offer you cannot refuse. Bring it back in three weeks and phone the consiglieri here if you want to renew. Fail to return the book and you will sleep with the fishes.”
“Look, I only want to cook them, not— Oh, I see what you mean. Thank you, Godfather.”
He kisses the Don’s ring and departs. The Don sighs.
“When I said we should take over the books on the East Side, I must admit this is not exactly what I had in mind…”

Finally this week, it was a great pleasure to be invited to chat with Dotty Widman and her lovely gansey knitting group of Cordova Alaska. Gansey knitting can be a solitary occupation, and, even in these grim lockdown times, it’s nice to be reminded that a whole community exists out there of like-minded people: You’re not alone, as David Bowie observes (though it’s possible he wasn’t thinking of knitters at the time). Many thanks to Dotty for the invitation!

7 comments to Dunbeath: Week 1 – 8 February

  • Felicity

    Dear Gordon,

    How lovely Mondays are when we have you in our mailboxes to read.

    Tell me, are you able to order this particular yarn put up on cones?

    It looks lovely.

    Wishing you some warmer winds,
    Felicity

    • Gordon

      Hi Felicity, yes, you can get it in 500g cones. In fact, Graeme has a new shade out, a lighter brown, and I’ve talked my bank manager into letting me buy two cones. But I’m already thinking I need a gansey’s worth of this shade for myself too!

  • =Tamar

    “Ah, but what variation, Holmes?” asked Watson. “It’s so blurry…”
    “You see but you do not observe,” said Holmes triumphantly. “Where it’s too blurry to tell, I am free to place my own interpretation upon it! I have written a small monograph on the topic in my own code, which I haven’t bothered to give you a chance to learn.”
    FRACAS AT BAKER STREET, the headlines read.

  • Judit Mäkinen

    Hello Gordon,
    many thanks for mentioning my gansey. The pattern is from Rae´s book page 82. “It is called the multitude on the Northumberland coast but more commonly known in a two-line version which is called marriage lines ”
    I knitted this pattern once in ecru for my son.
    Ilove the color of your Dunbeath.Happy knitting, days are longer, so dark colors are not that much of a challenge any more.

    • Gordon

      Dear Judit, it is always a pleasure to see what you’ve created, and allowing us to showcase your ganseys lets people see a much wider range of what’s possible. So thank you.

      I love this colour too—but I just bought some of Graeme’s other shade of yarn, a lovely new one he’s just got made up, a sort of oatmeal/light brown shade; and I don’t think the piggy bank has got quite enough halfpennies left to run to another gansey’s worth just yet!

      I know spring is just around the corner—the sun rises in Caithness before 8.00am now—but, Lord, what a long, cold corner it’s been!

  • Twas so lovely to have you and Margaret join us for our Thursday Net Loft Cordova Gansey zoom, and share stories of gansey life. Thanks and look forward to your next visit.
    Kind regards,
    Dotty

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