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Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 8 – 13 May

Here’s a useful tip for all spectacle wearers. If you’re suffering from, as it might be, a touch of migraine, and you wish to freshen up with a hearty splash of water to the eyes, don’t forget to remove your glasses first. Trust me on this. You’ll thank me later.

We have some records from Thurso poorhouse in our archive, and a researcher brought to my attention an extraordinary series of letters written by the overseer to the chairman in the 1880s, concerning the matron. He writes, “the Mischieff arises wholly from the Matron’s dissipated habits when in Liquor. She rails upon them, the inmates retaliate & tell her of her drunkenness and it follows then that she has little control over them”.

Still standing . . .

A month later matters reach a crisis. “I am sorry to inform you that the Matron was outrageously drunk at dinner hour to day, it took the Porter & 3 of the women (inmates) to force her out of the dining hall while the inmates were at dinner, her language was horrible. I sent the Porter for the Policeman who was not at home & now she is ranging through the house striking the doors with violence.”

Unsurprisingly a new Matron was appointed, and in another letter the overseer says he made her predecessor open her suitcases before she left, only to find “4 pairs of blankets with house mark, 2 pairs of sheets, 3 pillow cases, 1 pillow, 6 yards of scouring cloth, 2 dozen patent firewood and 4 cravats” belonging to the poorhouse. (Which makes me think, hang on a minute: firewood?) Honestly, where’s Charles Dickens when you need him?

Spotted in a charity shop

Meanwhile in the wonderful world of ganseys I have at last finished the body of the Wick pattern and am just embarked on the yoke. (This must be what it’s like to have children, putting up with unremitting toil in the hopes that one day they’ll become interesting.) The original gansey has a diamond border separating the yoke from the body, but the whole garment is too finely knit to be replicated by me, even with Frangipani’s fine yarn. So I’m omitting the border (not all Wick ganseys had them) as I want to focus here on replicating the yoke pattern. And the Scarborough gansey grows apace, with back and front finished, shoulders joined, collar completed and the first sleeve begun.

Snow & Gorse on the way to Inverness

Finally I thought I’d share with you a joke. (I understand it’s an old joke, and applies to many cultures, but I was told it this week by a Highlander.) There was a Highland fisherman who returned home from his day’s fishing and unloaded his catch on the harbour quay. A bucket was filled with crabs, and one of them was climbing up the inside until it nearly reached the top. A tourist who was nearby alerted the fisherman to the fact that one of his catch was on the verge of escaping. “Oh, don’t worry,” said the fisherman, “these are Highland crabs: as soon as it looks like one of them might escape all the others will grab hold of him and drag him back down…”

7 comments to Scarborough / Wick (Donald Murray): Week 8 – 13 May

  • =Tamar

    What’s wrong with washing your glasses? As long as it doesn’t make your migraine worse, that is.
    If I had found that gansey in the charity shop, I would’ve been in difficulty, as I dislike that color. I suppose if I had it I could try dyeing it – blue dye might turn it an acceptable green. Or it might have been cotton, which is a nuisance.

  • Dave

    It’s an interesting honeycomb colour which for me begs the question – what were the original dyes ? or perhaps they only used the natural colours of the wool ?

    I’m no expert on highland sheep, though I suspect they had their fair share of herdwick. However, that’s one hell of a coarse wool for trying to knit anything finer than a rug.

    • =Tamar

      Hi, Dave. I don’t think I’ve seen a naturally mustard-colored sheep, but I’m no expert. I read that Shetland sheep fleece naturally have officially eleven, but really up to thirty-six colors (black, grays, browns, and whites), including a kind that is considered blue-grey. What with both natural dyes and aniline dyes, the results can be very colorful.

  • Gordon

    Hi Dave, I’m no expert on Highland sheep either, despite the rumours, but I’m pretty sure it’s bees that produce honeycombs… No wait, colour. I think a sort of off-white is the default so it can be dyed almost any colour. Gansey yarn is very fine and spun into 5-ply which even then resembles cotton thread more than chunky “yarn”.

  • Your post has so many delicious nuggets of joy in it that I’m saving it for a reread when I need another burst of cheeriness! Thank you!
    Ps suppose you feed your sheep exclusively on beetroot, would you get pink wool? Carrots for orange? Oh, but then, all sheep would already be greenery/yallery coloured.

    • Gordon

      Hi Kirsten, thank you for the kind words! (I think I might title my autobiography “delicious nuggets of joy” now…)

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