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Filey 19: 23 – 29 July

I’d like to dedicate this week’s blog to the memory of my uncle John, for whom I knit the “Balerno” gansey last year, who died this week. I never really got to know him well, but he always struck me as a kind, decent man, with a similar sense of humour to mine—a delight in wordplay and, let’s face it, excruciatingly bad jokes. He was a talented amateur artist, too, and we have a painting of his hanging up in our dining room which he gave us in return for the gansey.

I think as I get older there is a risk that this blog simply becomes my doctor’s medical notes—instead of going into the surgery, he can just log in to check my symptoms and prescribe medicine accordingly. This week it’s one blocked ear and one ear infection, which makes my head feel like I’m scuba diving through the Mariana Trench. So: antibiotic drops in one ear and olive oil in the other, and the sensation of worms crawling inside my ear canal en route to the brain to lay their eggs.

All of which would have been fine if I hadn’t also decided to bake bread this weekend. I didn’t fully realise my mistake until I started kneading—both hands thickly plastered up to the wrists in wet, sticky glutinous dough—and to my horror noticed that drops were trickling out of my right ear. I quickly discovered that tilting my head to the left, while solving that problem, merely created another, in that it started a leak from the other ear.

For a time I tried alternately tilting my head slowly back and forth, like a mime artist playing a sailor, or someone listening to an iPod with a dying battery, conscious that none of my recipe books, even the ones which encourage you to experiment and take risks, recommend ear medicine as a flavour enhancer to rustic bread. Then, fatally, my mind wandered, and I suddenly became aware of a cold, clammy, squirming sensation in my left ear. Yes, while my mind was busy elsewhere, my hand had inserted a dough-laden finger into my ear and—horribly—started wiggling it, like a soldier practicing how to kill an enemy with a bayonet.

So I now look forward to an interesting interview at the doctor’s next week when I get my ears syringed. (“Yes, there’s quite a lot of wax and—good God, what’s all this grey stuff encrusted in there? Porridge?”)

Right—retunes the dial to the knitting station. As you’ll see, I’ve finished the first sleeve. The double-length roll-back cuff is always a bit of a slog, as its six inches always takes longer to knit than I expect. I decreased down to 108 stitches, or 27 ribs of knit 2/ purl 2, and cast off in pattern as usual. So now I’ve got to grit my teeth, pick myself off up the canvas and the stitches around the armhole, and do the other sleeve. I made really good time on this one—I expect the next one to take rather longer.

Two splendid gallery contributions this week—first of all Sandra’s traditional Norfolk gansey, a very striking herringbone pattern, which looks like a perfect fit, too. And secondly, another couple of projects from Judit, who continues to put traditional gansey patterns to all sorts of innovative and versatile uses: a kantele cover (I had to ask what it was too!) and a cushion. Congratulations both!

Finally, a heads-up for those who usually wait till later in the week to read the blog, that I’m publishing my second novel The Bone Fire on Amazon for kindle next weekend. It’s not a sequel to Inquisition of Demons—I actually wrote it a year ago, and I’ve been revising it on and off since then. (You can read the blurb here if you’re curious.) I’m mentioning it now, not just to whip up a fever of excitement and expectation, though that would be nice, but because it will be on a free promotion from the 5th to the 7th August (along with Inquisition of Demons again). More details to follow next week!

12 comments to Filey 19: 23 – 29 July

  • Lynne

    Awww, so sorry to hear of Uncle John’s passing, I remember well traveling through your blog with his gansey. Your ‘ear drippings’ didn’t seem to have an effect on the final product of the loaves – I can nearly smell them coming out of the oven!
    I love the look of the finished sleeve; such an impressive all over pattern, you will have a very happy recipient – in red!

  • =Tamar

    I think the neighbors are beginning to worry about the shrieks of laughter coming from this room. You’ve got to watch out for those habitual, unthinking motions. Or keep cotton-tipped swabs handy in the kitchen.

  • Gail

    So sorry to hear about your Uncle John.
    Maybe you could just stuff your years with cotton.
    Everyone, read The Bone Fire – it’s great!

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne,

    It’s great to get back to some proper baking—even if the oven doesn’t get quite hot enough (it only goes to 220C, when I need 250C or so). Far as I’m concerned, though, if people eat olive bread they should have no trouble with ear medicine—ear medicine actually tastes better than olives, I think.

    Tamar, I’ve given up hoping my mind will man up and focus. Just as well I never became an air traffic controller! (And in my wilder moments I have fantasised this week about a boatload of sailors with ear problems being told, “Avast, ye swabs!”)

    Gail—happy birthday! And thanks for the plug. Your cheque is in the post…

    Good night all,

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Good morning Gordon,
    Your uncle John has gone from the present, but the past is not over when you remember. And ” Balerno ” keeps him even in our remembrance. R.I.P.
    Many thanks for your kind words concerning my knitting. I am returning to the old tradition and started a sweater 🙂

  • Veronica

    My sincere condolences to your entire family, Gordon.
    And your leaking ear story had my eyes leaking — with tears of laughter. Sent the dogs into a frenzy, too. I’m starting to think that my first burst of laughter sounds the same as “get the kitty!” in dog. Think I need to learn to be a bit more lady-like. Of course since that means giving up my weekly doses of gansey.com, it ain’t happenin’!

  • Sue G.

    Sorry to hear about your uncle. I read the Bone Fire and it was good. If only I could get my kids to leave me alone when I near the end of your books, when I really, really want to keep reading…

    I’m working on the yoke of my 5 yr. old’s gansey and I find your blog invaluable for reminding me to keep plugging away at it, even when an evening’s knitting yields only 1 inch of fabric. It would also help if I could remember the first set of measurements in the pattern are cm, not inches. I don’t think I’ve ever misread a pattern the way I have this one. So it’s mostly Alice Starmore’s Scarborough, with some improvising.

    Your ear problem must be uncomfortable, but it’s very funny.

  • Dear Gordon,

    I’m so sorry about your uncle! I hope things were peaceful at the end.

    And oh dear, I’ll have to add my voice to the chorus of people laughing at the image of you with doughy ears. Poor you.



  • Gracie


    I’m very sorry about your uncle. When I first found your blog, I perused past posts and saw the marvelous photo of your uncle. I wondered who he was. He looked delighted with his new gansey. He also looked like a man who had some good stories to tell.

    Mmmm – yes, an ear infection. Do you warm the olive oil first – improves the experience? I hope you feel better soon.

    About the bread – I say it’s like the “10-second rule” – throw it in and the oven will kill it. Nice loaves. Wish I were there. Knob of butter and a brisk wind. Oh, and tea.

    Astounding fast work on the sweater! Also inspiring work from your genius pals, Sandra and Judit.


  • Gordon

    Thanks everyone for your condolences and good wishes. As Philip Larkin said, in a different context:

    The first day after a death, the new absence
    Is always the same; we should be careful

    Of each other, we should be kind
    While there is still time.

    And the ears. Yes. I’m now worried the doctor will think I’m indulging in some bizarre sexual fetish, which might result in a future visit from the police. Also, numerous flying insects this time of year seem attracted to olive oil, leaving the inside of my ear looking like one of those bromeliads in the rainforest that drown hapless flies. When I was a lad at school nobody suggested “travelling midge paddling pool” as a career option, but you never know what fate has in store, do you?


  • Suzanne

    It took me a while to get through this post: mists of mirth kept making the words swim on the screen. Mirth occasioned neither by the passing of uncle John, nor your ear afflictions, but by your hilarious description of preparing dough while under the influence of the latter. The gansey is looking bright and cozy. Hope you feel better soon.

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    Hope all is well with you. I get my ears sluiced tomorrow, which may not be as much fun as it sounds, and will probably have to go round turning down all the radios and tv! It’s so cold and dark here (fog! in August!) the gansey is the only thing that looks warm in the house…


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