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Navy Gansey, Week 6: 22 October

It must be autumn: the leaves here are turning golden, just briefly, before being stripped from the branches by the gales and turned into compost by the rain. It has rained a lot. There’s an old sea shanty whose opening verse is: Oh the rain it rains all day long / Bold Riley-o, Bold Riley / And the northern wind, it blows so strong / Bold Riley-o has gone away. And I can’t help thinking, if Bold Riley had been living in Caithness I’m not altogether surprised.

Trees by the river

Here by the coast at least it’s not too bad. The ness of Caith—the promontory whose tip is at Duncansby Head, near John O’Groats—is a rocky triangle rising sheer out of the North Sea: surplus rain cascades away over the cliffs in waterfalls like water from the scuppers of a ship. But inland it’s another story and the ground is fairly saturated. Every now and then I pass a cow in a field, submerged past its fetlocks in mud, gazing at the passing cars resignedly as if to say, Little help?

Ishmael in Moby-Dick famously went to sea whenever it was a damp, drizzly November in his soul. But what do you do if it’s a damp, drizzly November out of doors—and it’s only October? Well, knitting is part of the answer, clearly.

Loch Stemster, looking towards Achavanich Stones

I have finished the back and am now embarked up the front. So far so good. The secret with knitting this sort of pattern back-and-forth is to ensure that the alternate plain rows are knit on the front-facing side, and the pattern row on the back (or purl) row: I find knitting an entire row a lot easier than purling it. It’s a very straightforward pattern to knit, very relaxing, and just what I needed. It suits the navy yarn, too. But I must admit my thoughts are already straying to my next project: a rather fancy Wick gansey from the Johnston Collection of photographs; a pattern that has, to the best of our knowledge, never been charted before. More on this in December, if everything goes to plan.

Keiss Harbour

Finally this week, few stories have given me as much pleasure as the one about a Coca-Cola vending machine in New Zealand, the land of my birth. In a move that backfired more than a little, the machine apparently displayed a greeting in what the company obviously thought was a disarming blend of te reo Māori (the language of the indigenous population) and English: “Kia ora, Mate,” or “Hello, mate”. Unfortunately, “Mate” in te reo means something quite different; and the message actually given was, “Hello, Death”…

6 comments to Navy Gansey, Week 6: 22 October

  • meg

    for a cola machine thats quite appropriate….great acidic properties for dissolving tissue etc

  • Well Kia Ora kia koe. I didn’t know you were born in NZ – I lived there for 17 years, came back here for 6 months in 2002 & got hooked on Ganseys (in NZ it was kete, raranga harakeke). Another Mate blooper happened when supermarkets began importing actual Marmite but had to change the name as there already was another viscous brown goo called that; so they renamed it My Mate. As every wahine in NZ know, that’s what you call your period. That particular label lasted about a week.
    You’re charting one of the Johnston collection? Respec’. Kia kaha mo te mahi nei!

    • Gordon

      Hi Deb, yes, both my brother and I were born out there, and I had about 10 years before my parents came back to the old country – my chief memory of which was going from decimal currency to imperial and then to a different decimal, all in about a year!

      Margaret is the one actually doing the charting – I should credit my sources. But some of those ganseys seem to provide the “missing link” between the ornate Hebridean patterns and those of Anstruther and Fife. They certainly deserve to be better known, and I’m hoping to knit up a few for the town museum before I finally hang up my needles!

  • =Tamar

    A pattern never before charted… oooooh…
    Uncharted Territory!

    The navy gansey is looking fine.
    Thanks for the tip about working the fancy stuff to take the curse off the purl row, and let the knit rows be plain and easy!

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, ha, yes uncharted indeed!

      I like these sorts of patterns, they’re very relaxing to knit – you don’t have to concentrate quite so hard. But after a couple in a row I’m about ready for the challenge of something a bit fancier…

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