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Humber 18: 23 – 29 January

An Englishman’s home, it is said, is his castle; a Scotsman’s home, in Caithness at least, seems to be his hurricane shelter. Either way, we’re now in a position to find out, being the proud (and rather nervous) owners of a property in Wick.

On Thursday we “concluded missives” as the convention goes in Scotland (my plan for world peace now involves shifting one consonant and developing arsenals of tactical nuclear missives). We won’t actually be moving in for a couple of weeks – we have a lot of packing and sorting to do in Edinburgh, not to mention getting the “parfum de dog kennel” odour out of the carpets – but at least we can relax now.

Just the right half is Tarool

It’s a lovely old semi-detached house about five minutes’ walk from the centre of town down a cul-de-sac. The south-facing front garden is a long, thin strip of land, ideal for tobogganing or practicing the perfect length for an off-break in cricket. There are fields to the back and front (the front windows look out to the river, which you can see glittering in the distance). I was going to say it’s very quiet, but since the neighbours have kids, including a young baby with a good pair of lungs, that may not be altogether accurate.

There are three floors and numerous bedrooms; so many, in fact, that we finally have room for all our stuff. All we have left to decide is whether to redecorate or simply hide the hideous wallpaper behind bookcases and cupboards.

So it’s perhaps not surprising I haven’t got a huge amount of knitting done this week. I would have done more, but (shameful confession time) I dropped a stitch and somehow failed to notice for several inches; well, as I’ve said before, my eyesight isn’t the best, and the light in my rented house is pretty dim. Anyway, Margaret ripped it all back when she came up and I had the great enjoyment of Doing It All Over Again. (My “happy bunnyometer” wasn’t needed that day.)

Meanwhile I’ve been hearing lots of interesting tales about Wick during World War Two: how the house opposite where I’m living now, being near the airport, was taken over by the RAF to examine aerial photos from the planes as they landed; how the Peenemunde V2 bombing raids were inspired by intelligence gleaned from there. How, because there was an Admiralty station up here, Caithness was the only county in Britain that you needed a special pass to enter; there was a military post at the border and if you didn’t have a pass, you were turned off the train.

Goldeneye on Wick River

The  kind of thing that will vanish from the memory and be lost, as that generation passes. I asked the man who told me this if he’d write it down. “Och, it’s only history, he said. “It’s what happens now that matters.”

Finally, I have received an e-mail from Peter Spurgeon (Peter.spurgeon@mebooks.co.uk) asking for people to help with a knitting e-book project (see below).  If anyone’s interested, please contact Peter directly.

“I wrote ‘Easy Guide to Fair Isle Techniques . . .’ some years ago for use by machine knitters. Now, with some of my books available as ebooks, I wonder about re-working that book to make it suitable for hand-knitters also and formatted for eReaders. Whilst my original book was spiral bound to enable it to open flat it is relatively expensive to post, particularly foreign. As a .pdf download for Kindle etc. it would be easy to access and, by using the magnify function, to keep your place in the text whilst knitting with the other hands.
I should like to know if any of your correspondents are interested in helping with a knitting ebook project.”

21 comments to Humber 18: 23 – 29 January

  • Gail

    And Tarool means…? Congratulations on finally finalizing the house purchase.

  • Gordon

    Hil Gail!

    We don’t know what Tarool means – there’s a Tarroul in Caithness, & it may be named after that.

    I had the happy idea that next Halloween we could rename the house on the left “One Ring” and the next house on the right “Them All”…

    (Lots of room for visitors, hint hint.)


  • Lynne

    Great news on the house, and everyone’s taste to their own – but that wallpaper!!! They make some lovely thick textured paints these days. It looks like you’ve got some oupdated hardwood flooring and it also looks bright and cheerful – and, best of all, it’s yours!
    And the man who said, “. . . it’s only history . . “, did he actually know your occupation?!

  • =Tamar

    An enzyme cleaner worked wonders on my friend’s house. If there is no equivalent enzyme cleaner to be found locally, there is the home remedy:
    to 1 pint (roughly a half-liter) bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide (the weak, gargling kind, not the hair-bleaching kind), add 1 soup spoon of liquid detergent and 2 to 4 soup spoons of baking soda. Spray on (or pour, depending on how large an area you’re treating), and let fizz for about 20 minutes, then rinse with clear water.

  • Gordon

    Hi Lynne and Tamar,

    That wallpaper reminds me of certain migraines I’ve had in my time, spots before my eyes and everthing. That’s the worst, but it’s not the only offender – so some remedial decorating is a must.

    We’ve decided to bite tre bullet & treat ourselves and get the house professionally cleaned by a local operation that does everything from curtains to carpets – so we can make a clean start, in every sense. But thanks for the formula, Tamar – experience shows it will come in very handy!


  • Nigel

    Well done Gordon, delighted for you.

  • Oh that’s a lovely house!! And how nifty to be so close to such interesting history. Do get that all written up, if you can. At the very least, C would be deeply interested.

    And … well, at the risk of being banned from the site, that wallpaper’s not so bad. I lived in a rented apartment once with wallpaper in the bathroom. Wallpaper with pointillist images of naked women on. It was, erm, well. One was never alone in that bathroom.


  • =Tamar

    Oh, rip down the wallpaper immediately. If you don’t, it’s likely to be there as long as you are. I did rip down some after 17 years and it felt like something stopped hurting.

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel, and thank you. I wish we’d had the chance to grab another coffee while I was still in Edinburgh!

    Song, um, you don’t happen to know where one might purchase…? No. Probably not. Silly of me. Forget I asked. (Ahem.)

    And yes, I plan to write down as much as I can. Caithness not only has geography, it’s got lots of history too!

    Tamar, that’s very sound advice. If I don’t change things right away I cease to notice them after a while; but in this case, I’d have to take steps or I’d find myself watching the wallpaper and not the television in the evening. It looks like something the communists would put in your cell in the 1960s to get you to break under interrogation…

    Best wishes to all,

  • Brenda

    I saw on one of your recent blogs a comment about the Red Hot Chili Pipers.I thought I would listen to them while I was knitting my gansey. Well needless to say I couldn’t help it, I got up and started dancing to it so while no knitting got done I certainly got some excercise. What a great group. I am hooked. Any suggestions for quiet celtic music that will keep me focused on knitting?

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Red Hot Chili Pipers? Do tell me more…

  • Nigel

    Pointillist images of naked women wallpaper … do tell!

  • Gordon

    Hi Brenda,

    I suggest some good old traditional Welsh harp music, which is beautiful and unlikely to disturb the neighbours! Or if you were feeling adventurous, you could try the trad bagpipe form of the pibroch, which in the wrong light can sound like extensive tuning up, but is really rather effective.

    I’m also a big fan of folk singers with great voices , and recommend Kate Rusby from “oop north”, and Emily Smith from Scotland, who’s all the rage just now.

    I grew up on the Battlefield Band, my first experience of bagpipe folk, and would like their albums, Home is Where the Van is, and There’s A Buzz, to accompany me on my jouney to the afterlife to slay my enemies!


  • Gordon


    I came across the RHCPs on the lineup of a folk festival a short while ago and fell in love with the name – it almost doesn’t matter hwo good they are with a name like that, but the fact they’re contagious is a bonus!


  • Gail

    It is too bad that rather garish wallpaper is in your lounge. We’ve taken the hint, perhaps after the birthdays and in time for anniversaries. I’m committed to a Mahler’s Resurrection concert (singing with the Cape Cod Symphony) on May 5. Stay tuned…

  • Lisa Mitchell

    Anyone listen to Loreena McKennitt? She’s a Canadian vocal artist and musician (harpist, pianist, accordianist…). She’s set things like Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and *mumble someone’s* “The Highwayman” to music. She’s also done original pieces like “The Mummer’s Dance” and “Caravanserai”. Every other year or so she puts out a Christmas CD. If you like quasi-traditional and/or Celtic (as in all over Europe not just Britain)stuff you might want to check her stuff out. (Says a Canadian shamelessly promoting one of her own…)

  • Hey, Gordon – how would a person contact the guy who’s looking for knitters to help with his knitting book?


  • Gordon

    Hi Song,

    His email is Peter.spurgeon@mebooks.co.uk, and is happy for people to email him directly. All offers gratefully received!


  • Gordon


    Mahler’s 2nd is one of my favourite symphonies – the quiet Uhrlicht passage is unbearably beautiful, and the finale representing the day of judgement always blows me away, makes me wish I believed – o glaube indeed!

    After that you’ll need some R & R in sunny Wick…


  • Lynne

    I love Loreena McKinnitt and have a half dozen of her CDs. She has such a haunting voice so lending to Celtic music.

  • =Tamar

    Loreen McKinnit has a high-pitched voice that sounds lovely but my hearing is such that I would need printed-out lyrics to know what she’s actually singing. It could be the Congressional Record for all I can hear.