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Wick (Cumming Bros): Week 8 – 20 January

Back in the Middle Ages people believed that their destiny was watched over and affected by guardian angels or malicious demons. I’m starting to see what they meant. For example, on Saturday I decided to walk up the road to Tesco’s for a loaf of bread and some grapes. I checked the skies for clouds before I set off: nope, nothing. Light breeze, blue skies, crisp snap in the air. Traces of frost on the lawn like the skin on a rice pudding. Perfect. Off I went, possibly even with a merry song on my lips.

Moon Tide

Within four hundred yards the sky was black from horizon to horizon, I was battling a howling gale like Scott of the Antarctic, supposing he had nipped to the supermarket to stock up on some snacks en route, or possibly even en croute, and my face was being shredded by a blizzard of hailstone spicules. In seconds I was soaked to the skin, so I decided I might as well carry on as go back. When I reached Tesco’s, carrying more than my own body weight in melting hailstones, the skies cleared and the sun came out. I trudged wetly around the aisles, a team of shop assistants following me discreetly with a mop and bucket. And when, with a bulging knapsack, I turned to leave, the clouds rolled back in and it pelted down with hail again. At least this time I had a tail wind, though the hail accumulated on my back until I looked as if I was giving one of Frosty the Snowman’s nephews a piggy back. When I got home—well, you’re ahead of me, I see: sunshine and blue skies. And all I can say is, I wish I’d kept the receipt for my guardian angel so I could trade them in for one who doesn’t take quite so many cigarette breaks.

Ribbon of Trees

In gansey news, it’s that moment when it all comes together and it starts to look like a pullover. I’ve finished front and back, joined the shoulders, knit the collar and picked up the stitches around the first armhole. Knitting this one has been a bit of a slog, to be honest. Partly because the yarn—Wendy’s—is so uneven; but mostly because of my cold, which has left me with precious little energy, even for knitting. Thankfully it’s finally starting to wear off, and and as the days get lighter everyone’s mood improves; as though spring might actually one day be a possibility.

Finally this week, an update on our robot vacuum cleaner. So far it’s been a huge success, for all it keeps getting stuck in blind corners, eating the curtains and has to be changed as often as a diarrhetic infant. It’s a truism that British homes are always far more spic and span once we employ cleaners, on the grounds that we’re so appalled at the thought that a stranger might see our homes in a dirty state that we clean them thoroughly before the cleaner arrives. I haven’t quite reached that state with the robovac, though I have caught it regarding a particularly dusty corner with a disapproving tilt of its carapace, and making “tut tut” noises under its breath. I have a sneaking feeling that in a year I’ll be doing the vacuuming while the robot swings lazily in a hammock drinking cocktails…


Here as promised the much-delayed pattern chart. It’s a very simple pattern, and not the kind of pattern I usually knit, but as so often the simplicity makes for a very effective combination when it’s done. 

Wick (Cumming Bros): Week 7 – 13 January

Right, deep breath: it’s confession time. Here we go. Ready? All right: we treated ourselves to a robot vacuum cleaner in the New Year sales, one of those black discs that randomly trundles across your carpets, hoovering. There, I feel better already. And let’s be honest, anything that can turn vacuuming into a spectator sport has to be a good thing.

It takes a bit of getting used to: it’s quite big, with brushes that behave disconcertingly like feelers, so it’s not unlike having a robot trilobite patrolling your carpets searching for prey. It has sensors that stop it banging into chairs or tumbling down stairs. It seems to have a grudge against net curtains and trailing wires, though, and tries to hoover them up, leaving it gorged and choked and paralysed, like the last time I tried to eat a whole naan bread at an Indian restaurant. It beeps when in distress, and it’s rather touching to watch it limp brokenly back to its charging base when low on power, like a student crawling home to bed after a particularly rough night.

Rising Moon

It’s surprisingly quiet, though I’m starting to worry that not only is it smarter than I am—I don’t have sensors that stop me walking into table legs or falling down stairs—but that all the vacuuming is a blind while it secretly cases the house for hidden jewels, or failing that, loose change. (On the plus side, our house has never been cleaner; on the downside, we just received an unexpected Amazon delivery of bags with “swag” embroidered on the sides; honestly, this could go either way.) Now we just need one with a built in jetpack so it can take care of all the dusting and change the duvet cover. Hmm. Every day I learn a little more about myself. A few years ago, faced with a robot enslavement of humanity I’d definitely have joined the resistance; now I think, vacuuming you say? Dusting you say? Let’s talk.

Sunset on the river

In gansey news I still have my cold, so I still haven’t really made the progress I’d have liked to. I’m definitely miles better, unrecognisable from the horizontal me of New Year’s Eve, but it’s still been a bit of a slog. It’s easy to make mistakes when most of your energy is devoted to closing your mouth instead of letting it hang open like the exit ramp of a landing craft; so unpicking and redoing has been rather a thing lately. All the same, I’m halfway up the front and expect to join the shoulders sometime this week. I will post the charts soon, I promise: it’s just that my vacuum cleaner says it now wants weekends off plus sick pay, and I’ve got a meeting with its union rep at three.

Finally, it’s very easy these days to take a gloomy view of my country for reasons that hardly need to be stated. However, Manchester Council recently held a competition to name the council’s new fleet of winter road salt spreaders. The best names (as reported on national news)? Gritty Gritty Bang Bang, Snowbi-Gone Kenobi, and the fantastic—are you ready?—Gritter Thunberg. You know, I think there may be hope for us yet…

Wick (Cumming Bros): Week 6 – 6 January

It’s Twelfth Night, so I guess Christmas is officially over for another year. Christmas traditionally ends with the feast of Epiphany, celebrating the visit of “we three kings of orient are” to the Nativity; my own personal moment of epiphany comes from the realisation that the sun will rise here at 8.59am on Monday, the first time in over a fortnight that it’s risen before 9.00am. (Time to nip to the chemist’s for some sun cream, then.)

Riverside at Dusk

But alas, within a day of returning home after our travels I came down with a cold which has afflicted me all week: it’s just a cold, not flu, but a bad one all the same. It’s knocked me sideways, and there are times when even holding a knitting needle feels like too much effort. I read once that we all produce about a pint and a half of mucus every day, which we just swallow without noticing. Well, I seem to be producing about a gallon and, trust me, I notice. The best way to visualise my handkerchiefs after use would be to round up about twenty garden slugs and pop them in a blender, and—OK, OK, you get the idea, I’ll stop there. My only consolation is that I’m probably immune to vampires while it lasts, as mucus is so much part of my constitution I bet it’s gradually displacing my blood.

All this means I haven’t done as much knitting as I’d hoped this week, though the back is almost complete. But I have, ahahaha, somewhat miscalculated the number of rows I’ll need to get an even distribution of patterns. My initial plan of three bands (two zigzags and a herringbone) has left me about an inch short of the shoulder. I’d like to be able to blame this on the cold, but no: it’s just a combination of stupidity, poor maths and a sort of breezy insouciance that everything would work out in the end. (Which it will, of course: it’s really very hard to irretrievably screw up a gansey.) I should be able to fix it by adding another herringbone and turning it into the shoulder straps: viz., half a herringbone on the back and half on the front with the cast-off row and a bit of rig’ and fur’ as the centre of the pattern. If it works I can pretend it was a deliberate strategy all along and no one will ever be able to tell. (So long as no one ever reads this. What? Oh.)

Five of the ganseys on display in the Wick Heritage Museum’s Fishing Hall

By the way, I donated eight of my completed ganseys to Wick Museum before Christmas, including the ones replicating those in old photographs from the Johnston Collection. The Museum had an open day on 2 January (a public holiday in Scotland, on the sensible principle that everyone will be too hungover from celebrating Hogmanay to be expected to work) and they were kind enough to make a feature of the ganseys. You can read more about the day here, including the ganseys, along with all the other fun things they organised to welcome in the New Year.

Meanwhile we wish all our readers a very happy 2020, and remember: there’s only 354 sleeps to Christmas…

Apologies for the delay in posting; there were technical problems over which we had no control.

Wick (Cumming Bros): Week 5 – 30 December

And so that’s Christmas over for another year; all that remains is to put the wrapping paper in the recycling, plan next year’s vendettas on the basis of who didn’t send us a Christmas card, and wonder where another year has gone. As I get older I’m coming to the realisation that Christmas is a pretty good metaphor for my life, in that every morning is like waking up to discover the batteries weren’t included and all the shops are closed.

We spent Christmas in Northamptonshire, where the weather was unseasonably warm and wet. The land had clearly absorbed as much rain as it could hold: the fields were saturated, and a number of rivers overflowed, turning low-lying roads into impassable, muddy pools. Country walks became grim slogs through mud, and the evenings were spent looking up synonyms for “clag” in the dictionary. On the plus side, there was an hour and half’s extra daylight compared with Caithness; a fire blazing in the hearth on demand; and Christmas seeing family and friends. What’s not to like?

I didn’t spend as much time knitting as I’d expected, largely because I seemed to lapse into a sort of coma in my downtime, but I’ve still made progress and am about to divide for front and back. The original of this gansey was evidently knit on narrower needles than mine, and with yarn of a finer gauge than this particular lot of Wendy’s, which resembles the sort of rope used to rig a man o’ war in Nelson’s navy. We’ll see how it works out, but the plan is for the yoke to consist of three pattern bands (two zigzags either side of a herringbone), of which the first band is almost complete. (I’ll hopefully post pattern charts next week, once the jet lag wears off.)

Christmas by the Canal

Fire in the Inglenook

One memorable evening last week my brother took us for a drive to look at the Christmas lights in some nearby towns (Daventry, Towcester and Brackley). The civic illuminations were really rather lovely, but it was also fun to drive through some of the backstreets and estates. Most people hadn’t gone overboard on their houses, but suddenly one would flash vividly out of the darkness, as tasteful as a Las Vegas casino offering Santa stripteases. We felt like deep-sea divers encountering new and exotic forms of life, dancing with bioluminescence, and it was all rather wonderful.

Next stop: New Year, or possibly Hogmanay. However you choose to welcome in 2020, may your year be joyful and full of good things, always remembering to be, in the words of the Ghost of Christmas Present, most excellent to each other.

Wick (Cumming Bros): Week 4 – 23 December

It’s almost Christmas, which means it’s time for the now-traditional Gansey Nation Christmas singalong:

Rudolph the blue-cheeked reindeer
Had icicles upon his nose,
So bad was his circulation
He could no longer feel his toes.

All of the other reindeer
Bought him thermal underwear,
But none of it made any difference,
He was frozen everywhere.

Then he knit himself a gansey,
And suddenly was warm as toast,
Though it was hard to hold the needles
With his best hoof uppermost.

Trees Reflecting at Delapre Abbey, Northampton

All of the other reindeer
Made fun of him behind his back,
And said if he wasn’t careful
Santa would give him the sack.

They said it looked too tricky,
But Rudolf laughed into the night,
He said, the yoke is easy,
And as for the burden, it’s light.

Then one frosty Christmas Eve,
Santa came to plead,
“Rudolf with your gansey grey
Won’t you pull my sled today?

“All of the other reindeer
Are frozen solid in the snow,
I’ve tried oxyacetyline,
But nothing seems to make them go.”

Inside the Christmas Tree, Southport

So Rudolf went with Santa
And off they soared into the sky
And Rudolf was warm and toasty,
For all that they flew so high.

They delivered all the presents,
And shared the sherry in the sled,
Till Rudolf got so tipsy,
Even his nose was red.

All of the other reindeer
Were sorry then and had the blues,
But none was as sorry as Dancer
‘Cos Rudolf threw up on his shoes.

Now all the reindeer are knitting,
And a gansey’s what everyone wears,
While Rudolf’s hungover and grumpy
But Christmas was saved, so who cares!

A merry Christmas to all our readers from Margaret and Gordon. Let’s do it all again next year!