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Humber 19: 30 January – 5 February

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.

Moray Firth from Helmsdale

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…

12 comments to Humber 19: 30 January – 5 February

  • Lynne

    The gansey’s looking great, Gordon – You’re on the ‘home stretch’. I left a reply to Sylvia on the Book section – that photo comes from Rae Compton’s book of Traditional Ganseys.

  • =Tamar

    I’ve read that an 18th century word for “to enlarge” was “to biggify” – but I’m not entirely certain that it wasn’t one of those suspiciously modern “quotations” that are randomly attributed to famous people. Your testament that “biggings” was actually used gives some support to the authenticity of “biggify.” I rather enjoy such things even though to a modern ear they tend to make our revered ancestors sound childish.

  • Gordon


    Many thanks for responding! All my life is packed in boxes in Edinburgh just now…


  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    Well, Scots is its own language in some ways, so anything’s possible.

    The Simpsons’ town motto is, I think, “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man” – which, as they say, is a perfectly cromulent word!

    How will our ancestors look back on our obsession with Twitter and “tweeting”?


  • Sue

    That we must have all behaved like a flock of clamourous starlings? And leave them wondering whether this has any etymological connection with the phrase ‘to witter on’? And does this mean that we were obsessed with circulating trivia that was of no consequence with the sole purpose of filling time that we had nothing better to do with?

    PS The gansey is looking great – I’m currently working on a new aran inspired sweater where I’m trying to make use of techniques learnt from my recent excursions into knitting gansey and nordic circular yoked Fair Isles. So I’m knitting it from the neck down on circular needles and aiming for a totally seamless garment!

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue,

    I can’t be doing with twitter; keeping up with the blog takes up a lot of time already! The Japanese could encapsulate an emotion or an event in 15 syllables, or whatever, in a haiku – we have 140 characters to record for posterity what passes through a celebrity’s mind. As King Lear said, nothing shall come of nothing…

    The thought of knitting from the top down is giving me a toothache in my brain! Noooo! (But good luck with it nevertheless.)


  • Now I want to twitter, but in haiku only. I wonder…


  • =Tamar

    Clever Songbird.

    I once read a short
    story written entire-
    ly in Twitter posts.

  • My days overflow with
    errands and tasks for others.
    I miss selfish times.


    Knitting everyday
    I have socks, hats, and sweaters.
    Also strong fingers.


    Ganseys look tempting.
    I don’t like stockinette stitch.
    Give me more lace shawls.


    I am often told
    I talk more than other folks
    but I amuse some.




  • Gordon

    My gansey’s small gauge;
    I watch Laurel and Hardy,
    Another fine mesh.

    (So I have insomnia!)

  • lorna adams

    I was so thrilled to find this web site and love your stories and information. I was just telling my husband this afternoon that I needed to find one theme to knit as I am always working on different projects and themes…..The Gansey I think will have my undivided attention for the next while…..Thank you so much for this site. Lorna Adams – living on the west coast of British Columbia

  • Gordon

    Hi Lorna,

    Good to hear from you! And thanks. Best of luck with your gansey project if you go with that – any patterns you’re interested in pursuing?