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Flamborough, Week 11: 16 July

Strange how the mind works, isn’t it? Last week’s blog on Camster Cairns and the human remains found inside them put me in mind of something, and someone, I haven’t thought about for twenty years or more, a true story I thought I’d share with you.

Many years ago, when I worked in an archive in Mid Wales, I had a—how shall I put it?—rather impressionable young lady for a colleague. County Hall was brand new, built on the site of a former hotel. The archive was off to one side, behind a high stone wall and a fringe of trees where the old stable block had stood. It was a single-storey modern building: the strongrooms formed an extension to the rear, covered by a flat corrugated tin roof.

ref=”http://www.ganseys.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/18Flam180714-1-2.jpg”> Breakwater, Ackergill Harbour[/ca

The point is, there was nothing unusual about the archive itself, except possibly the exaggerated sense of isolation provided by that high stone wall; and the musty, weighty drag of history that several hundreds of years’ worth of records provides. Certainly when things were quiet sounds became queerly amplified.

Every now and again a crow would flutter down from one of the trees onto the roof, to do whatever it is crows do, and as it strutted about its claws made a high-pitched scraping noise on the metal. Well, one winter’s afternoon, when the sun had already set and the wind was making the trees creak in an ominous sort of way, and there was only the two of us in the building, the crow paid us another visit. As soon as she heard the high, thin, skreek-skreek of its claws my colleague jumped to her feet. “What’s that noise?” she cried, her hand actually to her mouth.

“Well,” I said without thinking, “you do know that the archive was built on the site of an old Indian burial ground, don’t you?”

The next thing I knew she’d grabbed her coat and was running for the door. In vain I tried to explain that I’d been joking; that this was Wales where, to the best of my knowledge, there was a notable absence of Native American burial grounds; or that it was just a bird and probably not the spawn of Satan come to claim her soul. It wasn’t until the following morning that she’d even consent to set foot in the building again. Not long after she changed her name to Esmeralda and left to study drama at Aberystwyth University, and I like to think I played some small part in her decision…

Meanwhile, back in the wonderful world of ganseys, the Flamborough is finished; and very splendid it looks too. It was blocked to 23 inches across, but given all the cables and purl columns it has relaxed to a comfortable 22 inches. (The concertina effect means it has room to expand with my waistline, should occasion demand, an important consideration.) I have, of course, already cast on my next project: more about that next week.

Finally this week I had some very sad news. It’s the nature of my line of work that I meet a lot of people who visit the archive to research their ancestors, who stay in Caithness for a brief time and move on. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely couple, Arlene Raeburn and her husband, Professor Sandy Raeburn. We spent some time talking, and then, as ever, went our separate ways. Last week I learned that Sandy had died suddenly. I can’t honestly say that I knew him at all well, but in a our few conversations together he made a strong impression on me as an erudite man who wore his erudition lightly, thoughtful, self-deprecating, with a keenly developed sense of humour. Every such loss diminishes us a little more. My condolences to Arlene and their family.

14 comments to Flamborough, Week 11: 16 July

  • Nigel Southworth

    Honestly Gordon, what do you do with all your ganseys? Maybe you should start an archive …

    • Gordon

      Hi Nigel, ha, sometimes I ask myself the same thing! (Maybe it’s time to buy a bigger house, or build that Gansey extension I’ve been thinking about for a few years now…)

      But the truth is, as ever, more prosaic. I’ve given away most of my ganseys, or knit them for friends and family down the years. Just now I’ve built up a small collection of Caithness patterned ganseys, which I plan to donate to the local museum in the autumn.

  • Lois

    One of my husband’s fellow workers is firmly convinced that their building is haunted. Since he is alone on security duty at night, he insists on having every room in the place lighted. There are certain buildings that he refuses to enter at all, and he absolutely will not go up to the top floor. Up there it sounds like voices whispering.

    My husband has tried to explain to him that the noises are merely the sound of water circulating through the heating pipes, but to no avail.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, the building I work in is built on old wartime accommodation at the airfield. Our security guards believe we have a ghost too! This impression is reinforced by the fact that certain taps in empty rooms have timers to run for 30 seconds every now and then to stop bad things incubating in the standing water. Walking an empty building at 4am, and hearing a tap suddenly start running behind a locked door must be pretty spooky!

  • Beautiful gansey, that one. I’ll show it to my husband and ask if he’d like something like it.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lillemor, it’s a great pattern, isn’t it? I can’t think of a gansey that’s been easier or more enjoyable to knit.

  • Arlene Raeburn

    Hello Gordon,
    I am Arlene Raeburn whose husband Sandy died so suddenly 12 hours after arriving home from Caithness.
    He so enjoyed talking to you 10 days ago. Visiting the archives was all part of the rich tapestry of past and present and our connections with Caithness and I thank you very much for your lovely comments about Sandy.
    It has been a great shock and immense sadness to me that he should die last Monday.
    Best wishes
    Arlene Raeburn.

    • Gordon

      Dear Arlene, I know I speak for the whole team at Nucleus in offering our sincere condolences. Our thoughts are very much with you at this time.

      Kindest regards, Gordon

  • Sharon

    Lovely sweater Gordon!! I think I like this one so much because of the color as well as the pattern. And you look pretty damn spiffy in it too!! Now, if you could just quit scaring people out of the archives . . . .
    I always have socks on the needles. People are always asking me what I do with all those socks I make . . . there always seems to be someone who wants a pair, from friends, raffles, monthly prizes & old folks who wait in line.

    • Gordon

      Thank you Sharon! I suppose one advantage to only knitting ganseys is I only have to concentrate on what I’m going to do next three or four times a year!

  • Julie

    A beautiful gansey and a cheery, cheering colour for long winter days.
    Victoria, BC, Canada

    • Gordon

      Hi Julie, you’re right, a nice warm autumnal colour for those long dark winter days! The sun is setting before 10.00pm now for the first time since spring – I have bad feeling about this…

  • Lynne

    I’m just catching up with your blog after not checking with you for a couple weeks (house guests and life in general gets in the way sometimes) – and I see you photographed wearing the autumnal gansey! That color looks SO good on you, I certainly hope this isn’t one you plan to gift to someone else. We need another photo in the fall with a tree in fall colors.

    • Gordon

      Hello Lynne, yes, this one’s definitely for me! It nay be the best I’ve ever knitted in terms of fit and colour and pattern. I’ll definitely be wearing it in the autumn, assuming the heatwave ever passes, that is. Mind you, given the winds up here the leaves don’t usually hang around long enough to get much in the way of colour…

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