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Matt Cammish Week 7: 30 October

cam161031-1Monday night is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve. It’s also the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, or Summer’s End, the end of the harvest season and the onset of winter. Traditionally in Scotland this was the night when the boundaries between worlds became thin and porous, allowing the spirits of the dead to cross over from the other side and walk the earth.

I used to think this was as creepy as hell, and sinister, but these days I’m not so sure. After all, if I ever go back to a place I used to live I don’t threaten the people who occupy it now, or try to scare them by walking through walls or uttering unearthly shrieks; and I don’t see why the dead should either, other than for a bit of light-hearted amusement.

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Hawthorn trees by the river

No, these days I think of Halloween as a sort of nostalgic coach trip for the deceased where they can wander around places they used to live, criticising the wallpaper and reminding each other that there was fireplace Annie was sick in after she ate too much cake at Auntie Morag’s birthday party. That ghostly moaning you can hear in the small hours of the night is probably just your great-great-grandmother doing a spot of spiritual vacuuming, as she’s noticed some dust bunnies under your bed.

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Installing tidal energy turbines near John o’Groats

I had an idea for a ghost story about ganseys once. Imagine a Victorian boat’s crew that was lost at sea in a storm. Their spirits couldn’t rest and the boat endlessly sailed the waters off Caithness, endlessly foundering in storm after storm. Then one day someone found an old photograph of the crew all in their ganseys taken the day before they sailed, and decided to recreate the patterns. After a year or two of hard knitting the last one was finished on All Hallow’s Eve. That night the ghostly crew came to claim them…

Well, it was just an idea. Meanwhile I’m making good progress on the current project. The first sleeve should be finished around midweek, which is always a sign that the home straight is near. I’m decreasing at a rate of 2 stitches every 5th and then 6th rows (i.e., 4 stitches every 11 rows)—the sleeve will be 18 inches long with a 3-inch cuff. Like the body, the sleeves should stretch out nicely when they’re blocked.

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Open Day at the Highland Archive

And as Samhain draws near I find myself wondering where I’d choose to haunt, if I were a spirit, given the chance; all the people who’ve wronged me, all the regrets and wasted years. Then I had a happier thought: it’d be a lot more fun to haunt Lord’s cricket ground and spend eternity watching cricket matches; or the Royal Festival Hall listening to concerts; or the British Library, just reading. In fact, this is my new theory as to why ghosts are seen so seldom: it’s not that they don’t exist, it’s just that they’ve got better things to do…

13 comments to Matt Cammish Week 7: 30 October

  • Lois

    It seems somehow that ghosts and ganseys are intertwined. My husband originally comes from a small fishing village. His father was drowned 70 years ago today on Halloween, when my Dave was just a toddler.

    I hope his spirit has lingered to see the kind and generous man who grew out of that small son that he left behind.

    The gansey tradition comes from my side of the family. So each of our boys has a gansey and now it’s getting to the point where I will have to start working on ganseys for grandsons. If they ever stop growing, that is.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, I’m sorry to hear that, very sad. Every fishing family has one tragedy or more, it seems. But I still think that if the dead could see the living they’d feel the same pride and love that grandparents do, or great-grandparents.

      And at least ganseys last—probably best to just knit two or three of every size and then each generation is covered as it grows up!

  • Colin Reid

    You don’t need to be dead to spend an eternity watching cricket matches – it’s normal for a test match !!

    • Gordon

      Hi Colin, yes, in some ways cricket does resemble a near-death experience. So long as they have leg spin in heaven I can accept the possibility of an afterlife. (Or as Bender the Robot says in Futurama after the death of a pharaoh: “He’s whipping angels in heaven now…”)

  • =Tamar

    I love the photograph of the hawthorn trees. The gansey is good too. Isn’t it funny how the plain spaces next to the diamonds ripple and take over the appearance, until it’s blocked and they recede into the background again. Sort of like ghosts?

    I’m impressed by how tidy the archive looks. I have a tiny personal archive and just wish I had that spacious-looking room to sort it in.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar,

      The hawthorne trees are great, aren’t they? They contain the souls of witches imprisoned in them for a thousand years, but don’t tell anyone just in case they get spooked.

      Archives have to be tidy, or else mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. But as to spacious? Imagine that room with 14 customers all demanding attention and trust me, the Black Hole of Calcutta ain’t in it!

  • Jane

    I like to see myself as thin and porous at times, no, think porridge and toast, just porous! I do so agree there is a crispness in the air, heat is gone, mellowness nearly gone. The colours are glorious this year. Six ducks, bribed by copious peanuts have stopped on to trash the pond some more. And the cats have taken to the soft seats, musical chairs with added hair at night. I quite like it!

    The gansey looks magnificent, I am looking forward to its further progress! I love the hawthorn tree, with matching colours! And I am totally impressed with the photo of the archivist at work! Take care.

    • =Tamar

      I hadn’t noticed but you’re right – all four pictures have the same colours!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, However much I think of myself as thin and porous a glimpse in the mirror, or the prospect of trying to squeeze inside my trousers in the morning (not unlike stuffing a dead antelope inside a bin bag) persuades me I am deceiving myself!

      Your autumn sounds admirable. Every time I think we’re settling down to some lovely crisp autumnal weather the 40-mph winds start and it pours with rain. Much like tonight, except we might even get some snow!

  • Lois

    That’s an impressive shoreline where they are installing the tidal turbines.

    That type of turbine is presently being installed on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy. There have been several attempts before, but with the highest tides in the world, the turbines were ripped apart in a short time. This is a new design, so we shall see how these ones fare with Mother Nature.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois,

      That’s the celebrated Pentland Firth between John O’Groats and the Castle of Mey. It has a massive tidal rip and boats which wished to navigate it would call on pilots from the island of Stroma to help them make it through the treacherous currents. Once on the other side, some of them would then refuse to let the pilots off again, as they were too impatient to get going—there are several accounts of the families getting a letter from the luckless pilots in New York saying they were alive and well and looking for a passage home …

  • Gordon- I wonder if Ghosts get to choose where they hang out? I do hope so.

    My son’s Gansey is done and dusted. That’s 2 completed this year- onto the next one, but maybe I’ll wait until 2017.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lorraine,

      I assume you get to look at the heavenly equivalent of Trip Adviser and decide which destination you prefer gets the best ratings. “I think I’ll haunt Weimar Berlin in the 1920s please.” “Boston just before the Revolution for me, I think”. “Great-uncle Ronald’s out-house—that’ll teach the swine to cut me out of his will…”

      Congratulations on the gansey! (Though I don’t usually dust mine…) Well done. Take a well-earned break and treat yourself to about a pint of gin. You know it makes sense.

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