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Navy Gansey, Week 9: 12 November

We were walking along the cliffs at Noss Head, the spiked promontory just north of Wick, when we heard the urgent barking of a dog. There was a curious echo, and we realised we were hearing the sound of two dogs coming from one of the narrow inlets somewhere below us, out of sight. It was high tide, and we wondered if they had been cut off; or else—the thought arose courtesy of a childhood devoted to watching Skippy the Kangaroo on tv—there had been an accident, and the faithful dogs were calling for assistance.

Sinclair Bay and Castle Sinclair Girnigoe from Noss Head

Well, it was nothing so dramatic. When we looked over the edge we saw the dogs and their master on a narrow strip of beach: the dogs advancing on the incoming waves, barking furiously and wagging their silly tails, skipping back when a surge sent water spilling over their feet then returning to the charge; while all the time their owner looked on indulgently from the safety of the rocks. It was as if King Canute had been reincarnated as a pair of dogs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two creatures so happy—the last time I had that much fun must’ve been sometime around 1975—and it was curiously uplifting. Wise men have sought for a meaning to life for many centuries, and have variously turned to religion, philosophy and chemicals, all in vain; when it turns out all you need is a couple of tame wolves and an ocean.

Fishing Boats in the Harbour

In gansey news, I am on the home straight: getting on for a third of the way down the second sleeve. As I said last week, I’m decreasing every fifth row down the sleeve. Because I started with fewer stitches around the armhole, owing to the thicker texture of the yarn (136 stitches in this case, as opposed to my more usual 145) I reached my requisite number of stitches for the cuff sooner than I usually do. By just over two inches, in fact. So I decreased down to 88 stitches and then knit straight for the last couple of inches, without decreasing further. This gansey was always going to be a trial—I still have two ganseys’ worth of this yarn to use—so next time I will decrease by two stitches every sixth row, and it should come out more or less right.

Bonfire Night Fireworks

I’m writing this on the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War: and I’d like to bring two sound clips to your attention, each of which, in their different ways, have moved me deeply this week. The first is the folk song, No Man’s Land/ The Flowers of the Forest, written by Eric Bogle and sung here by June Tabor. If you don’t know it, I can’t recommend it highly enough: the words and music perfectly suited, June’s voice soaring effortlessly, then segueing into the Scots lament The Flowers of the Forest—originally written to commemorate the fallen at Flodden Field in 1513 and now used in services to remember all war dead.

The other clip is quite astonishing. The Imperial War Museum commissioned a company to recreate the moment the guns fell silent at 11am on 11 November 1918, based on archive footage of the time. As you listen you can hear guns gradually falling silent; then the sound of the wind; and finally, tentatively, hesitantly, a solitary bird starts to sing…

5 comments to Navy Gansey, Week 9: 12 November

  • Eve

    Weeping, thinking of my great uncle lost to the mud of Arras, with just a name on a memorial. I also commend Peter Jackson’s extraordinary film “They shall not grow old” (a deliberate misquote) the most affecting use of colourisation and soldiers ‘ accounts.

  • Gordon

    Hi Eve, I’ve recorded the Peter Jackson film off the BBC last night to watch when I’m feeling stronger. The clips I’ve seen look amazing.

    There’s another great recording by June Tabor of an Eric Bogle song, “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, unaccompanied, which is available on YouTube – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HyzPP_DaTJY – another song I can’t listen to without resorting to tissues…

    • Eve

      Thanks for that Gordon, it resonates with me as my Grandfather was a veteran of the Dardanelles He was one of three brothers from Suffolk who went to fight in Great War he was the youngest and lied about his age, of his older brothers Charles Marmion was injured and died in his 40s disabled by shrapnel and gas and H Gordon was killed at Arras. My grandfather, Garnet William, survived to 85. His seven sisters, only one of whom married, paid a different price. Now to compose myself before reality bites and I have to go to Tesco.

  • Glenda Baily

    I just checked back in to your website after a long break and find we are at the same place with our Ganseys in the same yarn and very similar pattern. The only differences being it has taken me two years to get to the final run down to the second cuff and mine is red and likely not so neat as yours as this is my first proper Gansey with gussets and single garment construction. I have been reading your blogs about Navy Gansey and whilst I haven’t yet knitted with another five ply worsted agree with your assessment of Wendy, although mine is on unknown vintage as a pony friend let me have it some six or seven years ago as she ripped back and gave up after the welt and I have no idea how long she had it lurking in a cupboard. I bought some new a couple of months ago from a big on line supplier ( so assuming higher turnover ) of the same shade as a contingency ( I am not worried about dye lot as this sweater is for wearing on the croft) and if anything the newer yarn is a tighter more consistent knit. As a hand spinner from my own Icelandic fleeces I am used to lumps and bumps knitting but the original Wendy is not looking attractive so hoping improves with washing and blocking. As to pattern, I fully intended to do Vicar of Morwenstow having spent many years living in the village and walking his coast path and sitting in his wee hut on the cliffs, but opted for even simpler chequer board which was in the pattern options of the pattern I chose from Sue Blacker’s Pure Wool book although she did suggest Vicar of Morwenstow being only a few miles down the road but didn’t give the details only a reference to Mary Wright’s Knit Frocks book so I took the easy option. It is Wednesday and I have 60 rows to go including cuffs so as dreicht here on Loch Ness am going for it today! Good luck with yours.

    • Gordon

      Hi Glenda, I’m sure the Wendy yarn will even up in in the washing and blocking; it always seems to cover a multitude of sins. I’m a little disappointed at how fuzzy and uneven this particular lot has been—I’ve always had a soft spot for Wendy’s guernsey 5-ply, and this feels like a drop in quality. It might just be a blip, and it’s just bad luck that this dye lot happens top be like that; but as I bought 3 ganseys’ worth in a sale, I’m stuck with it now!

      That said, I do like the heavy, chunky feel of it. I know from looking at old photos that the old Scottish ganseys were knit in a yarn that’s even finer than Frangipani, but this gansey certainly feels like it’s ready for whatever the elements want to throw at it this winter!

      Hope it’s as glorious around Loch Ness just now as it is in Caithness. Happy knitting, Gordon

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