I was asked a few weeks ago if I could say something about what being an archivist is all about. The short answer is, an archivist looks after written documents, the way a museum curator looks after historical objects, or a Star Wars fan his limited edition collectible Jar Jar Binks action figurines.
If you’ve seen The Lord of the Rings, your impression of archives may be slightly skewed; I’m thinking here of the scene early on where Gandalf goes to Minas Tirith to look up the history of the Ring. For instance, most archives don’t have piles of parchment manuscripts lying around, alas, and they certainly don’t let you browse them with a naked candle flame in your hand. (If Gandalf tried that in Caithness he’d have his reader’s ticket revoked pretty damn smartish, I can tell you; from the look of him, he should have washed his hands first, too.) I was sobbing so loudly after that scene they had to ask me to leave the cinema.
Before any documents can be looked at, they have to be catalogued. So most of my time is spent reading and listing old manuscripts, papers and books, and arranging them into a coherent sequence. Currently I’m working through 150 boxes of legal papers from one of the largest solicitors’ firms in Caithness, the older ones in Latin. My favourite new word? The old Scottish legal term for an extension to property, which sounds like something the Simpsons would say, was “biggings”; isn’t that great?
Anyway, if you ever had occasion to think, “Archivist, eh? That must be interesting”, just remember me and my 150 boxes of title deeds – and bear in mind that a famous writer, whenever he was on a long train journey and didn’t want to be bothered with tiresome conversation, always used to tell his fellow passengers that he was an archivist… Strangely, they always left him alone.
On the gansey front, I’ve almost finished the first sleeve. I’ve been decreasing at a rate of 2 stitches every 7th row, and having started with 159 stitches, by the time I reached the cuffs (just under 19 inches later) I had 110. I decreased by 10 to give me exactly 100 stitches for the cuff, and am now just over 4 inches along. (As usual, I’m knitting a 6-inch cuff so that the wearer can roll the cuff back to suit.) Should finish it this week, and then we get to do it all again on the other sleeve.
Can I draw your attention to a query from Sylvia Sawatzky on the Books page? She’s trying to track down a particular book on ganseys that had a memorable photograph in it. As I don’t have my library up here yet, I wonder if anyone else has any suggestions as to which it might be?
Ah, well. I suppose I’d better get back to cataloguing my boxes of title deeds; after all I’m 9 down, only 141 to go…