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Filey 2.20 / Mrs Laidlaw 1: 26 August – 1 September

F20109a It’s September, which means autumn has arrived wearing its best Sunday-morning-evangelist clothes and is walking up the drive with a handful of leaflets, preparing to ring the doorbell (though up here in Caithness autumn arrived around the end of June this year, I think to save time)—and schools are back.

This time of year always brings back memories. You see, I went to an old-fashioned English grammar school, and when I think about it now it reads like something out of Dickens. Looking back I marvel that I never complained to my parents at the time, but instead came home each night like a traumatised veteran of the trenches or Vietnam, unable to find the words to describe to the civilians back home the horrors my lacerated soul had witnessed.

ML0901aYou think I’m exaggerating? On our very first day, moon-faced and innocent, aged 11, we were shepherded into a classroom, and introduced to our form master, avuncular, smiling Mr Young. As we sat in stunned silence he produced a coil of electrical flex like an extension cord, and pointed to a long split in the surface of the desk in front of him.

‘See that?’ he demanded. We craned forward to look. ‘That was done when I was flogging one boy with this cord for misbehaving and I missed.’ He brought the flex down on the desk with a sudden crash that made us all jump, and two or three of the weaker boys at the back fainted. ‘I don’t usually miss.’

F20109bIf he had produced a pistol and casually shot one of us through the head we could not have been more appalled.

First day at school, eh? All Harry Potter had to worry about was Voldemort, Lord of Darkness: we had smiling Mr Young. (Mind you, we should have been prepared; after all, the school motto was ‘Northampton Grammar School: The Living Envy The Dead’.)

ML0901bAh, well. Autumn is, as we know, not only the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, which is hard to say with a mouth full of toffee, but also of starting a new gansey. Many years ago—before I’d even started this blog, even before the 21st century had been invented—I knitted several ganseys I don’t have pictures of, and whose patterns I’d like to revisit.

Foremost among them is Mrs Laidlaw’s pattern from Seahouses (or Eyemouth, depending on which book you read; she lived in both places). This is a classic pattern, very popular (it appears in most of the books), and one of the very best. There are no cables, just panels of trees-of-life interspersed with half diamonds and moss stitches. Although I’ve used the trees in many patterns since, I haven’t returned to the whole pattern; well, now’s my chance. I’m knitting it in Frangipani claret, 380 stitches cast on for the welt, increased after 2.5 inches by 28 to 408.

Meanwhile I watch the children as they go to school, and wonder what their first day will be like. As Shakespeare’s Henry V so eloquently put it:

Mrs-Laidlaw-Chart“He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil turn off his television,

And say ‘To-morrow is the start of term’:

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.

And say ‘These wounds I had in Mr Young’s class.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall tell him to shut up so they can sleep…”

23 comments to Filey 2.20 / Mrs Laidlaw 1: 26 August – 1 September

  • Suzanne Muir

    Hal had a TV? Who knew?

    Yes, early September is a time of great nostalgia, paired with a yearning to start something new: which you have done. I’m sure you will do Mrs. Laidlaw proud. Ever the grasshopper, I shall not even think of turning my attention to knitting until I start feeling cold. My ‘start something new’ is a life drawing class; which is very challenging.

    Now to find a recipe for plum tart….and Indian summer will be perfect. Do you happen to have one? I think I mentioned to you the charming habit of the hamlet of Renges (Vaud, Switzerland) of firing up the ancient communal bread oven to bake stacks of plum tarts for the jeune federal. That is my main September nostalgia. I always looked forward to a ramble across the fields to buy a couple of slices. Now, I shall have to bake my own.

    • Gordon

      Hi Suzanne, how nice to hear from you!

      As for Hal, well, any king who can get 4 syllables out of “remembered” is all right by me. Autumn’s a great season, isn’t it? There’s something about the lengthening nights and early morning bite in the air to make you feel alive. But as for waiting till it’s cold before you start knitting, well, up here that basically gives you a knit-free window of July 23-27, I think.

      Your Swiss plum tarts sound divine, but then anywhere where they “fire up the ancient communal bread oven” sounds like paradise! (The picture in my mind of the “jeune federal” is of a rather handsome young policemen who was given presents of food every year. Of course, I may have got this wrong?)

      No recipes, alas. Maybe someone can suggest one?

      Best wishes, and good luck with the life drawing! (Maybe if I get one I can draw it…)

      Gordon

  • Great writing as always. Margaret routinely pummels me at the scrabble game. I think that there are just more words in the UK.

    • Gordon

      Good evening, Helen. You’re right, for such a small island we are overrun with words, and by coincidence the Government recently announced a cull. Even as I type, sharpshooters are roaming the countryside with hunting rifles, ruthlessly annihilating outdated and redundant words: “infangthief” was tracked down and eliminated on Saturday, and only yesterday the last surviving example of “crapulous” was run to earth in a burrow near Taunton. A “spermologer”, which isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds, has been spotted in East Anglia, and I fear it may not be long for this world.

      On the other hand, considering this is the language that brought you “lunting”, the word for walking while smoking a pipe, maybe it was time to let go!

      Gordon

  • Lynne

    The finished gansey is definitely one of my faves and I hope we get to see it modeled on the recipient someday -that should be a prerequisite of his accepting such an extravagant gift. And I love the color of the Frangipani Claret, it’s such a rich color, and I wear mine with pride.
    Even here, in the warmest area of Canada, there is fall in the air, especially in the evening, and the cooler nights are a real blessing.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, yes I’m hoping that if it’s accepted I’ll get a picture of someone wearing it in action for the gallery. I have another gansey that is surplus to requirements and might see if they’d like that as well (the confusingly named Mrs Laidler of Whitby – see http://www.ganseys.com/?page_id=18).

      As for the weather, I think there’s only been 3 weeks this year I haven’t needed a hot water bottle, dammit!

      Gordon

  • Suzanne Muir

    As always, Gordon, you crack me up. I was too lazy to dig the appropriate accents out of charmap. Sorry to disappoint you: no handsome young police officers. The actual spelling is jeûne fédéral ‘federal fast’ – a day of penitence and prayer that falls mid-September, whose origin reaches back several hundred years (to the Reformation?). What makes no sense at all is that the plum tart is to be the only thing served at the noon meal. Hardly smacks of hardship, does it? I could go for fasting and prayer in a big way if it was always accompanied by plum tart.

    • Gordon

      Hello Suzanne, well, I can’t be blamed if reality once again falls short of the alternative reality playing out in my head!

      I think the penitence and prayer is a pre-emptive atonement for the plum tart that is to follow, so you can enjoy it without guilt…

      Gordon

  • OMG, that claret color is gorgeous. I’m deeply impressed. The blue gansey is stunning as well – I never get over how many of the sweaters you finish!

    SongBird

    • Gordon

      Focus, people, focus, that’s the secret. Since pullovers is basically all I do, I have to finish them or I’d end up with a gansey hundreds of feet long, or the world’s largest—and warmest—novelty condom. (Hey, now I come to think of it…)

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Good evening Gordon ! You are very diligent – the new gansey looks very interesting. In the meantime I am also working on a new pullower, colour light brown, pattern: diamond and fern panels from Robin Hood´s Bay, Rae Compton´s book page 68. And imagine the pattern you are knitting now is on page 70 in the same book :).

    • Gordon

      Hi Judit,

      Yes, that’s the fella (though—not that it makes any difference—I’m using the Pearson book, the pattern on p.54 is identical, but Pearson has a photo which always helps me visualise how things will look).

      Robin Hoods Bay is a lovely little former fishing village just down the coast from Whitby; we visited there once, and you go down a steep hill to the village and have to leave your car at the edge, as the old streets weren’t designed for traffic. That pattern looks interesting, and I look forward to seeing it knit up!

      Gordon

  • Judit M./ Finland

    Hi and many thanks for your answer. I hope that the “gansling” will be ready around Xmas – so Santa will show you the picture of it.
    Best regards,
    Judit

  • Karen

    Hi Gordon, I wonder if you can share where you got your blocking equipment. I just blocked my first ever gansey in Frangipani breton and am incredibly proud of myself as its the first jumper I made that actually fits me! It’s also the first time I ever blocked anything – its pretty amazing what a difference it makes.
    I’m now going to make one for my husband in seaspray colour with horizontal patterns just like the ‘white gansey’ in Beth Brown-Reinsel’s book.
    Regards,
    Karen

    • Judit M./ Finland

      Hi Karen !
      I have knitted Beth´s white gansey and the photo of it is here on Gordon´s page in “Readers gallery” – under my name: Judit
      Have fun, this is a nice gansey :).
      Best regards !

    • admin

      Hi Karen
      Margaret here.
      The blocking wires came from Amazon: Deluxe Knit & Lace Blocking Wires Kit- – but if you Google for ‘blocking wires’ you can get them many other places.
      The foam squares are very similar to these: Interlockable Tile Mats, though I bought them somewhere else.
      The foam tiles are invaluable because you can block something anywhere – you can even stand the blocked item up on edge if necessary, tho’ it can bow a bit. But the wires are brilliant, and avoid the ‘stretched with pins’ look. Also, unlike a woolly board, you can thread them through the garment to avoid stretching the ribbing.
      Happy blocking!
      Margaret

      • Karen

        Thanks for the links Margaret, I think I’m going to treat myself as I did end up with the pin marks on my jumper like you say.
        Best wishes,
        Karen

  • Helen Edwards

    Hi Gordon

    We were in Whitby a couple of weeks ago, accidently coinciding with Folk Week (more Morris dancing in the streets than you could dream of!)- and there in the harbour for the occasion was The Reaper, complete with volunteer crew from Anstruther. She was open to the public, so we were able to chat to the crew and explore below decks. A wonderful floating museum. Your just completed gansey will have a perfect home if allowed on board.

    Best wishes

    Helen

    • Gordon

      Hi Helen,

      Now you’re just making me jealous… Folk week, Morris dancing and the Reaper, and the wonderful town of Whitby too. I’m going to be depressed for the rest of the afternoon, now.

      I thought the Reaper was fascinating, though the rocking motion below decks, even in the gentle swell of Wick harbour, was enough to persuade me that if my livelihood had depended on fishing, I’d have starved to death in a fortnight!

      Gordon

  • Judit M./Finland

    Gordon, do not be depressed ! Blog opened via Firefox! Heureka !
    Best regards,
    Judit

  • Joshua Issac

    It sounds like it used to be a really strict school before I went there. At my primary school, the teachers’ favourite weapon was cane made from calamus rotang, but an electrical cord is much worse.

    • Gordon

      Hi Joshua, well, it was fairly strict, but it was an old-fashioned school with some very good teachers and a few incompetents and, especially with regard to the games masters, a few genuine psychos. (When I listen to Pink Floyd’s The Wall all those songs about the protagonist’s horrid schooldays feel like a documentary to me!)

      No one was ever flogged with the electrical cord. It was just a cheap and shabby trick to scare us into obedience – and that, it seems to me, is how I ended up feeling about the school as a whole. But I’m sure it’s changed drastically since my day! When I talk to the young whippersnappers at work about my schooldays they look on me like something out of Dickens…

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