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Humber 5: 24 – 30 October

So, Halloween. Many people in Britain get annoyed that the American tradition of “trick or treat” has become commonplace over here, displacing native customs like the grey squirrel driving out the red. So I have already started the time-honoured response by boarding over the doors and windows and electrifying the door knocker, while seeding the doormat with landmines (the Tescos superstore really does have everything).

But I was interested to learn that Caithness has its own variant of the festival, called “Kickie Doorie”. This happens on the night before Halloween, and cleverly avoids giving the victim a choice. Instead, gangs of children go round playing harmless pranks, like egging houses and cars, setting fire to bags of poo, and smearing baked beans on cars and windows. (This was told to me with an air of civic pride, which may be the most worrying thing I’ve experienced since I came to Wick.)

The Library Crocodile

… and dressed up for his 100th birthday in 2009

On the gansey front, eagle-eyed readers may notice a tragic falling-off in the quality of the photos this week. This is because Margaret has returned to Edinburgh with her trusty camera, leaving me to fend for myself with an aging smartphone and no talent. But hopefully you can see progress from the chevrons, which are slowly accruing like tree rings. My only problem now is that we re-wound the 500g cone into a ball, and after a trouble-free few weeks I’ve reached the stage where it keeps snarling up into a massive tangle, like someone’s dumped an enormous pan of cold green spaghetti into my lap or I’m being attacked by a carnivorous plant from outer space. Imagine someone laying out a giant jellyfish to dry in their living room and that will give you the general idea of my technique for dealing with it.

Special thanks to Sue for permission to show a gansey she knitted for her brother in our “Reader’s Gallery” – looks pretty splendid, doesn’t it? Congratulations to artist and model!

I’ve been asked if anyone knows an American supplier of guernsey 5-ply yarn. Any suggestions? [a quick Google reveals that Kirtland’s Yarn Barn in VA carries Frangipani, as does Churchmouse Yarns & Teas in WA, and Handknitting.com in WY has Wendy Guernsey 5-ply – admin.]

Snappy & Chompy and friend

Highlight of my first couple of weeks at work so far is the time when the cleaner came in on the day we’re closed to the public and I was on my own, and she decided to set the alarm on her way out – so when I stood up all the alarms went off. And the key to the alarm cupboard was downstairs in the library, which was (inevitably) empty and locked (though it is, bizarrely, guarded by a genuine 100 year-old stuffed crocodile all the way from India). Picture me standing there like Oliver Hardy covered in whitewash, looking into an imaginary camera, with a curious persistent ringing in my ears.

Right, time to get the alligators (Snappy and Chompy) out of their crate and into the moat, and then I think my Halloween preparations are complete. All I have to do is try it out by phoning for a pizza delivery, and then we’re in business…

10 comments to Humber 5: 24 – 30 October

  • Ha! C left for work hours late today. He says it was because it was nice and warm in bed, but really I know it’s so he can stay at work late and skip all the kids who try our dark and unwelcoming front door in vain hope that This Year we’ll have candy.

    (Protip: We won’t.)

    Maybe I should get some candy, though. Just for myself.

    (Son of Protip: Don’t. It’s half off, tomorrow!)

    Anyway. I should be knitting, so I’m off.


    PS: Lovely crocodile. Does anyone ever put a ticking clock in him, just for Peter Pan laughs?

  • Gordon

    Hi Song,

    Yes, I’d thought of slipping a clock in just for a laugh, but it occurred to me it might be mistaken for a bomb and be exploded by the bomb squad – and since I want to write a novel in which the ending involves the hero riding the crocodile out to sea, it’s a risk I can’t afford to take!


  • =Tamar

    I have a vague impression that there was a Scottish tradition called “guising” that was done before the US developed Halloween. The US version was invented in an attempt to prevent the mischief by bribing the twerps – note that it’s “trick /OR/ treat”, not both. At least we got it down to once a year. Reading UK folklore, it appears that in the 18th and 19th centuries the neighborhood louts would come around in costumes demanding free beer about every month or so, and would plow up the dooryard if they didn’t get it.

    The crocodile is impressive, especially that bulbous snout tip. Somehow that didn’t get into the drawings I’d seen. Would the library object if you draped the yarn from crocsnout to crocsnout, for the purpose of rewinding?

  • Sue

    Hi Gordon, many thanks for uploading the phtos – must send the link to my brother. Incidentally, he does use it when sailing – he regularly takes groups from his school on weeklong trips on a converted Thames barge which is very similar to the old ‘Fifies’ like the Reaper. Not during the day of course – he sticks with fleeces under the waterproofs when on deck – but of an evening when he’s doing fo’csle things with the kids.

    When I first moved up to the east coast of Scotland in 1989 ‘guising’ was still going strong. No tricks and the kids had to provide the treat in that they’d knock on the door, sing the guising song together and then each would perform a ‘party-piece’ in the form of a solo song, reciting a poem, telling a joke etc. And then, and only then, did they get an apple or sweets plus a small monetary reward!

    But now all the kids on my lane are grown up and moved elsewhere in the locality so it doesn’t happen anymore but I’m hoping that when their kids are of an age they’ll be knocking on my door too when they come to guise for their grandparents.

  • Lynne

    Gordon, isn’t it easier to knit from the cone than to re-wind?

  • Gordon

    Hi guys,

    No sign of any guising last night, sadly, nor even any trick or treaters – and after all my preparations, too. Almost makes me wish I’d stocked up on chocolates now, so I could scarf them myself.

    Tamar, I have occasionally wondered about a guerilla knitting exercise on the croc! So the librarians come in one day and find it well and truly shrouded.

    Sue, it’s a fine looking garment. (am now curious as to what fo’castle things may be!) I practice looking pensively into a stiff nor’ easterly I nthe mirror for half an hour a day, like a pianist practicing scales, in the hopes that one day I’ll get to wear a gansey on a water-borne craft and can look the part. (I’ve got the “Yarr” down pat, though.)

    Lynne, you are of course right. I can’t remember if it started out as an unwound aborted gansey from way back, or a stupid attempt to stop the yarn twisting. Either way, I don’t recommend it, as I now spend more time unravelling the yarn than I do knitting!


  • Sue

    On the old sailing ships the forecastle (alternatively rendered as fo’c’s’le in the OED to reflect the pronuctiation and which perhaps I should have used, Gordon) was the crews’ living quarters in the below decks area at the front. The officers lived at the rear! So their social life revolved round it and having clarified the spelling I might now be telling granny how to suck eggs – knit a gansey might be a more appropriate metephor:-). But essentially I was referring to the activities that they engage the kids in when off watch in order to keep them out of mischief! So probably not that different from the days of the great sailing ships 🙂

    Us folk music pedants, therefore draw the distinction between ‘shanties’ which were work songs with a strong regular rhythm and ‘fo’c’s’le’ songs which were the, often maudlin, ballads and love songs about sweethearts left in port etc that would be sung when off watch.

    Macrame probably started off as ‘fo’c’s’le’ thing too – I rmember as a child the endless hours of fun we had with the shipboard hammocks made by my great grandfather and great uncle which were decorated at each end with the most incrdible knots and fringes in the cords for hanging then hanging them up with. Not that I fully appreciated that at the time and unfortunately both are long rotted away now.

    Sorry, I seem to have gone off topic for a gansey website in a big way but there is evidence that knitting was also a ‘fo’c’s’le thing too. It was the said great uncle who helped my mother learn to knit socks in the round on double ended needles and who always did all the darning in our household when I was a child. Were he still alive I’m sure he’d be in the queue for a gansey now.

    So the next one will probably be for my Dad who, now 83 going on 84, celebrated his retirement by living out his chldhood fantasies with a week long voyage on a sail training ship (the Lord Nelson) so I supose I need to start researching suitable associative motifs. But as he sailed around the Outer Hebrides on that trip I’m inclined to have a go at one of those wonderful Hebridean gansay in cream wool – I just might get it finished in time for the 20th anniversary of his trip because anything with holes in it (apart from utilitarian buttonholes!) is outside MY comfort zone.

  • Nigel

    Regarding Guising oo Trick or Treat and it’s relationship with bad, or over-excitable behaviour in young ones; my mother taught me to knit when I was five, as a way of stopping myself, my twin brother and older brother tearing down the house.
    I always enjoyed it and began again when I was blessed with two daughters. I am currently knitting Jean Greenhowe’s toy rabbits for them, which they love. Next will be her dinosaurs and cavemen.

  • Gordon

    Hi Sue,

    Very interesting. My knowledge of nautical matters is derived from the novels of Joseph Conrad and Patrick O’Brian, so it’s fair to say there are gaps!

    As a folkie, do you know Kate Rusby’s version of the shanty “Bold Riley”? I’m a big KR fan, and this is one of my favourites (second only to her version of the hauntingly beautiful ballad “The Wild Goose”).


    Are you going to teach your daughters to knit too? And does Jean Greenhowe have a Raquel Welch 1 Million Years BC pattern?!


  • Nigel

    I am teaching them to knit yes, and they like it. I sometimes knit in bed. Not sure if I shall get away with taking Raquel to bed!