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Filey 6: 23 – 29 April

It’s the end of April, the sun is shining like it means it, the wind has – whisper who dares – dropped, and I’m a whole year older than I was last week. I turned 52, thanks for asking – somewhere there’s a painting of me that stays the same age, pristine and unraddled, while I meanwhile rapidly decay, my once-fine features disintegrating like a Nazi in an Indiana Jones movie.

For my birthday I finally got a Kindle ebook reader, so I spent the weekend doing what all my friends who bought one did, downloading dozens of free books I’ll never read, just because I can. (The complete works of James Joyce, you say? Why, of course! It would be rude not to.) Then there’s the bizarre urge to buy my favourite books all over again as ebooks, even though I already own them in hard copy.

Dunnet Head

But you can at least download the wonderful novels of Thorne Smith for less than £1 each, so it’s already proved worth it for me. If you don’t know Smith’s work, he was an American writer in the 1920s and 30s, and, according to his rather po-faced Wikipedia entry, wrote “comic fantasy fiction involving sex, much drinking and supernatural transformations” – so a man wakes up to find he’s turned into a skeleton (Skin and Bones), another man falls in with a bunch of charmingly crooked ghosts (Topper, and the brilliant Topper Takes A Trip), or a married couple end up in each other’s bodies (Turnabout). If you haven’t read him I strongly urge you to give him a go – he’s absurd, silly, a little bit sad and very, very funny.

Also this week I’ve been contacted by Yasmin of the Hebridean Isles Trading Company on the island of Colonsay, who asked me to mention her website. Yasmin offers wool and fleeces from her own flock, as well as ganseys knit from it and residential knitting courses. Looks well worth supporting.

My own gansey project is continuing apace, albeit slowly. I’ve settled into a steady rhythm, an hour a night (or 2 rows), more at weekends if I can. So far it’s giving me just what I wanted, a relaxing, stress-free knit, and unless my wind wanders all the way to the cliffs and falls over it’s impossible to go far wrong with such a simple, repetitive pattern. As it grows it seems to get redder, and bizarrely it even seems to get warmer, no doubt by association (red = hot). But the time I’ve finished the body I’ll be knitting with oven gloves.

Finally, I decided to celebrate my birthday by baking some rolls – the first baking I’ve done since last summer. Well, it wasn’t a success. For whatever reason – out of practice, old flour, cold kitchen – I ended up with nine leaden lumps (I started out with 10, but one collapsed under its own gravity and became a black hole). I toyed with the idea of using them as paperweights before running into an old fisherman who took them off my hands; he said they’d be perfect for sinking his deep-sea fishing nets.

Next week: I patent the baguette anchor!

21 comments to Filey 6: 23 – 29 April

  • =Tamar

    Happy Birthday!
    My first exposure to Thorne Smith was Night Life of the Gods. Sadly, I found that in my opinion his later books were not up to the quality of his earlier work.
    My bread baking unfortunately never progressed much past the black hole stage, despite years of trying. I do better with sweets.

  • Annalies

    Congratulations Gordon,so young.
    i love my ebook and the gansey looks great and dunnet too.


  • Hi Tamar, thanks. Yes, I agree, not all of Thorne Smith’s books work. Also he does write to a sort of formula. But I still love Topper for its bittersweet relationships, Topper Takes a Trip for the wonderful chapter where the ghosts decide to fix a French race meeting so they can clean up with the bookies, and Skin and Bones for the scenes where the skeleton gets drunk and tries out a coffin before deciding to dig his own grave. Quite insane. (He and PG Wodehouse got me through a tricky adolescence!)


  • Hello Annalies, and thank you too. We took a walk along the beach at Dunnet – when Margaret took that picture – and we were the only couple there for a while, the only survivors of a devastated humanity, just us and the waves and the gulls. Then a retired couple appeared with tiny dogs which whizzed about like radio-controlled model cars and the illusion was shattered!


  • Lynne

    I SO much prefer reading on my Kindle, it’s easier on my hands, the font is easier to read, I can read one-handed, etc. Paper-backs are still traded with friends but when reading one, I find myself pressing the right side of the page to turn it!
    The red gansey is looking great, at least if it doesn’t look like spring outdoors you just need to knit a couple rows to brighten your day.

  • Judit M./Finland

    ” Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. – Mark Twain”
    Happy Birthday!

  • Hi Lynne, yes, I can see what you mean. Though I still haven’t found the knack of holding it as naturally as a book! I’d like it to be a little bigger too, so I don’t have to turn the page so often – but it’s a great little device. No going back now.


  • Judit – and thanks – yes, but as they say, it’s not the years it’s the mileage!


  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon! I found your site a week or so ago, read all the archives, dreamt gansey design and then to wait for the next post- torture. Thanks for your humour, literary reviews and “ossum” knitting. A pleasure to make your aquaintance. Marilyn from Minneapolis, Minnesota, US of A.

  • Phebe

    Happy Birthday Gordon–you have years but no age!

    ‘Topper’ sounds vaguely familiar to me. There was a very successful American TV series in the 1950s called ‘Topper’ featuring a husband-wife team of ghosts and their drunker St. Bernard, Neil–any relation to your books?

  • OMG, I missed your birthday. HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

    I’m glad you got the Kindle – which one did you get?


  • Phebe, Songbird, thanks. Phebe, yes apparently they did make a series out of it, following on from a successful movie with Cary Grant. I haven’t seen either. The first Topper book is quite touching, as a lot of it is about the estranged relationship of Topper and his wife; with the sequel he just played it for laughs!

    Song – it’s a “Touch”.


  • Hi Marilyn, and thank you! Hope you continue to enjoy the site & please keep in touch,

  • Mary E Morrison

    Happy Birthday, Gordon, you kid you 🙂 I have both a regular Kindle and the Fire and they do come in handy (I put both Johnson (Tour to the Hebrides) and Gibbons on the reader and discovered to my amusement they’ve turned into much better writers than they were when I was in college). But it has, unfortunately, put almost no dent in my book buying–sometimes AbeBooks is just so much cheaper 🙂


  • Hi Mary, and thank you. I’m a huge admirer of Joseph Conrad and DH Lawrence, so to be able to get their complete works for the less than a fiver – some out of print – is amazing. Also no more big heavy wrist-busting hardbacks for me!

    I have a friend who had to downsize, so he got rid of all his books that were published before 1910 so he could download them onto his kindle for free. Very challenging! (Luckily I live in a big enough house not to make any difficult choices – yet…)


  • Sue

    But Gordon, a Kindle will never smell like a book, that slightly inky smell of a new one holding out such promise – nothing will ever compare to the feel of a book that’s never had its pages turned. And by the way, the gansey’s looking good too!

  • Hi Sue,

    Yes, I agree with you – and one of the great pleasures for me is buying a brand new paperback, several hundred pages of crisp, new pages, an uncracked spine, all yours to discover…

    But I’m old enough that many of the Penguin paperbacks I bought in the 70s are falling apart, the glue has dried and the pages are falling out; or young enough to buy a new Neal Stephenson novel in hardback and find the damn thing is 1,000 pages, and too heavy to hold up to read in bed!

    So I can see it from both sides. The best thing so far is the thought, “I’d like to read …”, and instead of having to wait several days, there it is, in your hand, in just a minute or so.

    Whaddya mean a minute? Aw, I don’t want to have to wait that long!


  • Veronica

    A belated happy birthday, Gordon and wishes for many more. I just wanted to say that I’ve turned into a red gansey addict. I like the pictures of it so much that several times this week I’ve caught myself popping back in here to have another look. Can’t wait to see more.

    That and the roll baking paragraph which has be snorting with laughter every time.

    And while I am here, thanks for the link to Hebridean Isles Trading Company. Unfortunately with my sheep allergy I won’t get anything for myself, but I’m passing the link around. I so love that the internet can help cottage industries and what a cool place for a vacation!

  • Hello Veronica, and thank you. As 50 recedes into the distance, I find myself torn between thinking hopefully about retirement and trying not to wish my life away!

    Colonsay looks rather nice, doesn’t it? It’s astonishing to me that the archive service I belong to, affiliated to the Highland Council, takes in Wick, Inverness, Fort William and Skye – so I’m hoping to wangle a trip to the west coast one of these days on, ahem, business…

    I’m going to have another go at baking bread tomorrow, though I may end up recreating Terry Pratchett’s famous dwarf battle bread by mistake!


  • Lisa Mitchell

    Is dwarf battle bread like Klingon blood wine?

  • Hi Lisa,

    Dwarf bread was so hard it was used in battle as a weapon – Pratchett writes of a Dwarf Bread museum, with exhibits such as guerilla crumpets and defensive bagels, which I think I may have created once by accident.

    Also, you never starve if you have some dwarf bread – it’s so unappetising, you always find something else to eat rather than have to face eating the dwarf bread itself…