Support Gansey Nation -

Buy Gordon a cuppa!

Many, many thanks to those of you who have already contributed!

Filey 2.9: 3 – 9 June

F20609aEach night, as I soak my dry eyes in a warm cloth, I listen to 10 minutes of Proust as an audiobook. The books aren’t so much a novel as a fictionalised autobiography, an extraordinarily detailed meditation on time, childhood, and how we behave when we’re in love (so far, at least: I live in hopes that it may contain scenes of wacky nude alien mud-wrestling later on, but I’m only on book 2).

I find it strange how fascinating Proust’s narrator finds his own life, sent spinning back through the years by a piece of madeleine soaked in a teaspoon of tea; for in my own case, I try to avoid thinking about the past as much as possible.

In fact, it wouldn’t be too much to say that I regard my own memories as a sort of asylum for the insane, each recollection firmly locked away—but in the night I can hear them howling and banging on the doors to their cells, demanding to be let out.

You think I’m exaggerating? Suppose we open a door at random, lulled by the silence within, in the hopes of finding a docile patient.


The River at Helmsdale

Here is the café in Birmingham New Street railway station one dreary, wet Saturday afternoon in 1979, and here is our hero, sitting at a table, waiting for his connection home after the ugly termination of some commonplace affair or other. In front of him is a big cup of coca-cola of the kind you find in movie theatres, untouched.

A smart wedding party enters the café, which is crowded, and settle at his table. Just then, our hero hears his train called and gets to his feet—and in doing so, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, knocks over the cup of coke. A tidal wave of black, sticky liquid is launched across the table, directly towards the middle-aged lady opposite: it resembles the blast wave of a nuclear explosion as seen from the air, or one of those animations of the Black Death spreading across Europe in the 1340s.


Gorse in bloom above Helmsdale

Everyone freezes and stares, fascinated, as it pours remorselessly across the surface, reaches the lip, and cascades in a frothing waterfall directly into the lady’s lap… And when the mist clears, our hero realises that his well-intentioned attempts to dab up the stuff with a napkin have left glistening handprints on her dress in places that…

But no. Best we close the door again, and leave this inmate to rave on in dark seclusion. And after all, if I’m going to spend my time reminiscing, I think it’s best if it’s somebody else’s life, such as Proust’s; mine is a bit too, well, personal.

Back in the present, this weekend we went for a jaunt south down the coast to Helmsdale (which always sounds to me like it should’ve been besieged by an army of slavering orcs in The Lord of the Rings); it’s a scenic fishing village just over the border into Sutherland, with a harbour and a museum—which was the reason for our trip.


There’s gold in them thar hills?

The museum has a modern feel, open and airy, well worth a visit if you’re in the area: it’s not bursting with exhibits, but the ones they have are well displayed. (Or at least I presume they are: when we went they were having trouble with the lighting, which kept flicking on and off as if a 10 year-old with ADD was operating the switch; such was the effect on epileptics that the foyer resembled the “Atlanta wounded” sequence from Gone With The Wind.)

I’d been told they didn’t have any ganseys, but we were delighted to find that this wasn’t the case—there was one on display, knit in that lovely old-fashioned silvery-grey yarn you don’t see any more. It had a buttoned collar and the body consisted of an open diamond pattern; the shoulders were patterned with a > > > > .

(By the way, strange but true, did you know there was a short-lived gold rush in the hills behind Helmsdale in 1869? Over 600 prospectors piled in and a shanty town of huts sprang up in the bare uplands. But the gold ran out, winter set in and within a year most had gone back to the herring fishing. You can still buy a licence and go prospecting up in the hills, though whether you’d find even enough gold for a filling these days is an open question.)

F20609bFinally, the gansey: I’ve almost finished the back—just 3 more rows and it’s on to the “rig ’n’ fur” shoulder straps. (I’ve also, mirabile dictu, just finished the first cone of Frangipani yarn, something I was beginning to doubt would ever happen: like those magical goblets of wine in Irish legend that replenish themselves when emptied I thought I’d discovered a cone of fairy yarn.) Hopefully by next week I’ll have started the front.

And now it’s time to go soak my eyes, and listen to some more reminiscences. As the great Bob Dylan says in one of his songs, “Maybe someday I’ll remember to forget…”

7 comments to Filey 2.9: 3 – 9 June

  • Gracie

    Excellent post Gordon.

    At first I thought the pictures were accompanying the spilled coke story. I saw the cafe just at the bottom of the rail bridge. I imagined a young, shy man heading for a home visit from college or his first job. I was on board and then you stopped. I want to know what happened next! It was becoming possibly hilarious. I’m hanging here. Did the lady and the wedding party have a good sense of humor and enjoy a good laugh, slapping you on the back and begging you to miss your train for drinks all ’round? Arrrrrgggghhhhh! Tell us!

    What a stunning place is Helmsdale! If you could have worn your current gansey and appeared in photo #2 (“Gorse in bloom…”). just imagine the perfection of colors. I am really loving this sweet gansey.


  • Marilyn

    Hi Gordon! Helmsdale, Helm’s Deep, only a few letters off. What a charming bridge! I agree with Gracie, the blue of your current gansey against the yellow gorse, yum.
    G’day mate, happy knitting.

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn,

      We made an interesting discovery this weekend, namely that gorse smells of coconut. To achieve the authentic scent of the Highlands this time of year, open a bottle of coconut shampoo at the nearest drug store and impress your friends.

      Helmsdale is very picturesque—it’s also, crucially, 45 minutes closer to Edinburgh and civilisation, which may be another reason I’m so fond of it!


  • Gordon


    There’s a very British thing where someone says, “No, no, please don’t mention it, it’s fine, really,” with their lips, but what they’re really saying is, “You bastard, I’ll disembowel you with this butter knife and gut you like a herring, then rip your head off and stick it down your throat so you can what it looks like from the inside.”

    They eyed me a like a pride of lions would eye a gnu which had just spilled a big cup of coke over the mother lioness of the herd and had then apparently taken advantage of the situation to cop a feel. There was no back slapping, trust me—instead, saliva-moistened sharp yellow teeth were bared and there was a certain amount of roaring. (Or was that the train?)

    It fades out there: maybe Sigmund Freud on a good day could’ve got me to confront these memories—no one else is getting close!


  • Gracie

    For crying out loud, I laughed even harder at your response – the butter knife, a gnu, the sharpened yellow teeth (owch – that’s visceral), and oh yes, the “big gulp”.

    Please people, and no offense to my fellow American gansey fans, American fast food must be the worst gastronomical blight inflicted upon the world at large. I remember seeing a “Dunkie’s” and a Pizza Hut in Prague back in ’98 and I knew the camel’s nose was in the tent. With every ounce of your pride and reverence for the beloved, well-rooted, fondly-remembered foods of your homelands, I urge you to pass by. The big gulp indeed – “don’t mention it.” Ummpphh!!


  • Sue G.

    American southerners have a similar saying, “Bless your/his/her heart.” It can range from a sincere blessing to something unprintable. My MIL, born and raised in the south, uses it often.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sue,

      I think this is one reason civilised people have avoided slaughtering each other for centuries – ambiguity is key. There are 62 million people living in the UK: if we all said what we thought of each other there’d be no one left alive by Christmas!


Leave a Reply to Gracie Cancel reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.