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North Sea 13: 27 November – 2 December

It’s December and winter has arrived in Caithness, sub-zero temperatures and ice and snow. Roads and pavements so slippery you see people walking over them as gingerly as if they were balancing on a tightrope with someone twanging the other end. People walking in slow motion, like an army of zombie tai chi practitioners.

With the same degree of common sense that led me once to try to fix a light socket without turning off the electricity first I decided it was probably all right to cut across the car park down by the river to get to work. I got about a third of the way before I realised the scale of my mistake, round about the time I noticed a seagull skating elegantly across the surface of a puddle, finishing with a pirouette and triple Salchow. (Fortunately, a British person’s fear of humiliation is a force strong enough to defy gravity, so I didn’t fall over; but it was touch and go once or twice, and one or two hungry seagulls started following me hopefully, like vultures in the desert.)

This far north, at this time of year the sun doesn’t get all the way up but describes a low, lazy rainbow arc across the sky, like a hungover college student who can’t be bothered to get out of bed. But at least some of the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular, so much so that I have to turn the radio on to make sure the nuclear power plant up the road isn’t getting frisky.

On the gansey, I’ve divided front and back and progress is once more rapid, if not swift. Or at least it would be if I didn’t keep making mistakes! Part of the trouble is my deteriorating eyesight, which makes it hard to notice if I miss out a couple of pattern rows. Fortunately Margaret is usually able to delve back an astonishing number of rows to fix things for me, like those divers who swim down to the deep ocean depths and come back up with exotic coral. (My only worry now is it’s happening so frequently she’s given me an automated helpline number to call.)

I’m working on the back first, as is my wont, to make sure I get the pattern bedded in properly first. (It doesn’t really matter, but it means that by the time I do the front, the pattern is in my fingers, as it were.) Like all Hebridean patterns, the rich detail is pretty stunning, like a woollen mosaic.

Right. Time for some parish notices. First of all congratulations to Lynne for this rather stunning cardigan. It’s from an old Vogue Knitting magazine, and the original designer is Isaac Mizrahi, though Lynne has freely adapted it. Just in time for winter!

Secondly, we get a number of requests from people looking for someone to knit them a gansey (see Sam’s plea here). I’d like to add a page to the site featuring knitters who take commissions. So if you know of anyone who does this (or you do it yourself), please drop me an email.

Finally, and for Christmas, we’ve decided to develop some Gansey Nation merchandise using designs from the ganseys and Margaret’s photographs—coffee mugs, tote bags, baseball caps and even a gansey-themed Christmas ornament. So watch this space—in the course this week we hope to go live with a modest range. If it works out, who knows? But in the meantime, if you’re looking for that elusive Christmas present for the gansey knitter who has everything…

8 comments to North Sea 13: 27 November – 2 December

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon, the gansey is looking very sculptured in the light wool. Nice work. Re: ice walking: my mother referred to this activity as Norwegian break dancing. Feel free to adapt at will!
    The light will begin to return soon, if the pagans do their Yule work. Fingers crossed.

  • =Tamar

    At least they know how to walk on ice. Where I live, people don’t see it that often and many either forget or never learn how. Be careful, it only takes one slip to really ruin your day. There used to be metal ice-gripper things that strapped onto your boots; do they sell them where you are?

  • Lynne

    I wouldn’t be without my http://www.yaktrax.com at this time of year – I carry them in my car. I’m loving the yoke on this gansey, Gordon, and so effective in the white- as you’ve done before.

  • Gordon

    Evening All,

    I’m happy with the dancing part—not so sure about the breaking! As for the pagans and Yule, I considered putting an advert in the John o’Groat Journal looking for a virgin to sacrifice, but thought it wouldn’t look good in court.

    Margaret has a pair of those metal-gripper thingies, and they look very useful. I haven’t tried them yet, relying on my army surplus second-hand German paratrooper boots, but the time is definitely coming! (In fact, what with my boots, my army greatcoat and my ushanka hat at this time of year I rather belie my pacifist, vegetarian liberal-commie-pinko credentials.)

    But yes, watch your step on the ice. My former boss and good friend once fell over onto gravel and cut her palms so badly she had to have them bandaged like mittens. For a week she couldn’t use her hands at all, couldn’t do a thing for herself and learned a lot about herself and the need for a supportive partner who wasn’t squeamish!


  • Veronica

    “I considered putting an advert in the John o’Groat Journal looking for a virgin to sacrifice”. A virgin you can burn with alacrity, Gordon, is the virgin plant (Mimosa pudica) or strawberries (which used to be called Fruitful Virgins in Medieval times apparently). 🙂

    Just out of curiosity, what size sweater does Margaret wear? (Why ever would you think that I’m planning to nab it? It just so happens that I’m using her size as a first stage goal for my weight loss. Really. No connection whatsoever.)

    I like the anchor picking up the zigzag and the trees reflect the shape of the diamonds nicely. It’s a lovely sweater.

    And thank you for the pics and snips about your surroundings, Gordon. It’s such a different land from what I know that it’s stimulating my interest in visiting the Highlands. But definitely in the sunny months!

  • Gordon

    Hello Veronica,

    Well, if I was Wotan, king of the gods, I’d feel a little short-changed if I was expecting a fresh, ripe virgin and all I got was fruit. I imagine for a god it must be a bit like being put on a vegetarian diet. (Wotan holds up a strawberry between thumb and forefinger and peers at it with his one good eye.
    “And what,’ he says contemptuously, “is this?”
    Across the breakfast table, Fricka spreads some honey on her toast. “It’s a strawberry, dear.”
    “I know it’s a strawberry. I can see it’s a strawberry. What I want to know is, what’s it doing here? I specifically requested a virgin.”
    “What, in Wick? Don’t you read the newspapers?’
    “And what sort of sacrifice is this? I mean a virgin, yes, that’s worth getting out of bed for. Million and one different uses for a virgin. Soft fruit, not so much.”
    “You can eat it. You know your gums have been a bit tender lately.”
    “They want the bloody sun to rise and they give me a strawberry. Time was I’d have given them a good smiting for that, just to teach ’em a lesson.”
    “But your back, dear.”
    “Oh, yeah. Oh, the hell with it. I guess I’ll just eat it. Pass the sugar and cream.”
    “Cream cheese, dear. You know what the doctor said about your cholesterol.”
    “I’m a god! I shouldn’t even have cholesterol!”
    “…and your blood pressure, dear…”)

    This is, of course, why the sun seems to have stopped rising in Wick.

    Far be it for me to bandy a lady’s vital statistics about the internet, not without private browsing switched on anyway, but Margaret’s Fife cardigan is a deliberately baggy one for lots of extra layers, and like the one I’m knitting now is a 44-45 inch chest.


  • Veronica


    $5 inches? Cool, Only a couple of sizes to drop and then I’ll book the ferry. Didn’t you say something about taking a vacation next summer? 🙂

  • Veronica

    That was supposed to be “45 inches”. Need to learn to spell-check BEFORE hitting ‘post comment’.

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