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Scottish Fleet Cardigan: Week 3 – 14 September

There’s a cartoon doing the rounds just now, by the New Yorker cartoonist David Sipress: a couple are walking down the street and she says, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to stay sane”. As this is the week when the British Government modelled its approach to international law on the moral philosophy of Edmund Blackadder (“Sir Thomas More for instance, burnt alive for refusing to recant his Catholicism, must have been kicking himself as the flames licked higher, that it never occurred to him to say: ‘I recant my Catholicism…'”), I kinda know how she feels. So let us temporarily avert our gaze from the ghastly present, and focus on the distantish past.

Statue at top of Mervyn’s Tower

During lockdown I promised I’d say more about the stone building at Nybster, the rather grandly named Mervyn Tower. There’s an Iron Age broch at Nybster built on a spur of land overlooking the broad sweep of coast between Wick and Duncansby. A few yards back from the broch stands this strange tower. If you risk the rather unsteady steps leading up, you get a superb view over the broch and the bay. The tower was built around 1900, when the site was first excavated by Sir Francis Tress Barry (and is named after his nephew). Barry’s foreman was the local farmer and artist John Nicolson, and he it was who made the tower and carvings using stone spoil from the excavations. (The modern archaeologist might raise an eyebrow at this, though when you consider the German archaeologist Schliemann used dynamite to blow away nine levels of history at Troy to get to the period he was interested in, maybe not.) The tower was originally erected right in the middle of the broch site—in your face, history!—but was relocated to a more respectful distance in the 1980s. One of the statues is of a youth, and stap me vitals if it ain’t a gansey he’s wearing—the classic Staithes pattern, by the look of it—disarmingly appropriate to the time and place.

Autumn colours by the riverside

Speaking of ganseys, I’m making good, steady progress on my latest project. I’m almost to the gussets, in fact: I just need to make sure I’ve got the balance right so the trees finish naturally at the shoulders. (I did my calculations of the number of rows I’d need based on an average of the last few ganseys, but of course each batch of yarn varies in thickness, and you have to account for the actual tension you’re knitting at, wind speed, etc.) I’m very happy with the overall effect; it’s nice to combine two separate patterns and get more than the sum of the parts.

Blowing in the wind

And as for Sir Thomas More, there’s a great quote from A Man for All Seasons that’s been in my mind this week. In the play Sir Thomas says he’d give the Devil himself the benefit of law. Indignantly his son-in-law, William Roper, declares that he’d cut down every law in England to get at the Devil. And More devastatingly replies, “Oh? And, when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you – where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?” For without the rule of law, to once more quote Edmund Blackadder, “We’re in the stickiest situation since Sticky the Stick Insect got stuck on a sticky bun…”

8 comments to Scottish Fleet Cardigan: Week 3 – 14 September

  • Song

    Schliemann did WHAT!?!?!!!!!

    • Gordon

      Hi Song, you know it makes sense – cuts out all that tedious scraping away with trowels and cuts straight to the chase. Similarly, when I graduated from archive school they gave me a cigarette lighter and a can of paraffin and advised me to get stuck in…

  • Dave

    You can always rely on Sir Edmund for a good quote. Excellent piece Gordon.

  • Maureentakoma

    Greetings from the U S of A where I’ve been living like Sipress’s woman for many a month now. Hooray for a Blackadder reference!

    • Gordon

      Hi Maureen, and greetings to you too! I have a sneaking feeling that our lords and masters are basing their strategy on that of Lord Melchett: “ If nothing else works, then a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through…”

  • =Tamar

    What Maureentakoma said…

    Though to give him his due, the modern techniques didn’t exist then. Schliemann was the first European in modern times to believe that Troy ever really existed, and he proved that it did. It’s a love/hate situation.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, that’s a fair point, though the irony is that he may have destroyed the evidence he was looking for by trying to reach the Homeric age too quickly.

      But do not judge that ye be not judged, is my motto – well, along with never work with children and animals, of course…

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