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Scottish Fleet, Week 1: 10 August

IMG_2933‘Yet man,’ as Eliphaz the Temanite observes in the Book of Job, speaking of things that are inevitable, ‘is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward’; and in much the same way, no sooner has the Thurso gansey been completed than another has appeared on my needles to take its place. (I’m not entirely sure how it happens: basically, I go to bed and when I come down next morning there they are, apparently cast on by the gansey fairies in the night. Or else it’s the woodlice.)

This is going to be another of those generic Scottish Fleet patterns that can’t be pinned down to a particular place – it appears in Sabine Domnick’s book as “between Hull and Edinburgh”, and a variant was also recorded in Whitby. (N.B. – not much hope of identifying a drowned fisherman wearing this pattern, hmm?)

I’ll post the pattern when I get to it, but this is going to be another plain body / patterned yoke design, like the Thurso one. (It’s being knitted in Frangipani seaspray; but my iPhone seems to think it would look better in light blue, so that’s how the photo came out, god rot its shrivelled metal soul.)

Dunes beach and Dunnet Head (archive photograph - your summer may vary)

Dunnet Beach and Dunnet Head (archive photograph – your summer may vary)

Now, I’ve been threatening for a while to post some archive pictures of myself Morris dancing, and this seems as good a time as any. They were taken about 25 years ago when I was with the Brackley Morris Men—a time when I could still see my toes, let alone touch them, and waists weren’t just something that happened to other people. Morris dancing is a ritual folk dance dating back to who knows when (“time whereof memory of man runneth not to the contrary”, as my favourite legal saying puts it) and somehow it’s survived the industrial revolution, the First World War and the supplanting of Christianity by football as the national religion of these islands.

Gordon (right, front) leads formation surrendering

Gordon (right, front) leads formation surrendering

Why is that important? I don’t know, but it is. It’s like knowing that Wednesday was Woden’s Day, or that Thurso was the town on Thor’s River; that Caithness derives its name from being the headland (ness) of the Catt People, a Pictish tribe. The echoes resonate down the centuries even if the meaning is lost.

Gordon & Margaret at festival

Some enchanted evening… Gordon dances a solo jig while Margaret plays pipe and tabor

Well. It’s many a year since I last shook a bell in anger and my hair, unlike Mr Eliphaz’s sparks, has fallen like the autumn leaves; but I could probably manage a step or two yet. What’s that? Well, if you insist…

There’s one thing more needing mention / The dances we’ve danced all in fun / So now that you’ve heard our intention / We’ll play on to the beat of the drum…

6 comments to Scottish Fleet, Week 1: 10 August

  • Jane

    Wonderful photos, quite a blast from the past, thank you for dipping into your personal archive!

    I like the new colour, and the choice of quote! Wick must be a special place, very, very few of us have knitting fairies and very lovely they are!

    This geographical thing with ganseys is so interesting. Gladys, as soon as she goes North of the Border, apparently using the ‘bus network, refers to everything as “Scottish Fleet” and numbers the patterns. Yet, she is quite precise about Filey and the other East Coast places.

    Meanwhile, the South is still very chilly and Spike is still being beaten up. At the son-in-law’s suggestion, Baxter has been deployed at night, a large, able animal, more Beast of Bodmin than cat! Take care.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      Not so much a blast from the past, more a sort of muffled distant farting noise at this stage, alas…

      I wish there was a Gladys Thompson Archive so it was possible to go through her notes and find out more about where she collected the Scottish patterns. Of course Rae Compton and Michael Pearson did a lot to supplement the Scottish information, and it’s interesting that whereas, say, the same patterns tend to crop up for Sheringham or Polperro based on the same old photographs, the Scottish patterns vary widely from book to book. I think there are enough patterns now from ganseys in museums, from the Moray Firth project and from photographic collections such as the Johnston Collection that it would be possible to produce something really comprehensive and, dare I say, definitive.

      What you need is a sort of “Karate Kid-type mentor/ sensei” for cats who could teach yours the way of the warrior and enable him to find, if not inner peace, then the skills to beat the living tar out of his bully…

  • =Tamar

    Oh gosh do I wish there were a Gladys Thompson archive, and a Mary Thomas archive. There are so many unanswered questions.

    • Gordon

      Well, speaking as an archivist, the world definitely needs more archives! It would be nice if a university, say, could become properly interested. (Maybe I should approach the University of the Highlands and Islands and see if i could wangle the post of “gansey-knitter in residence” for a PhD course in Gansey Semiotics…)

  • Lisa Mitchell

    “I just won a first prize ribbon at the local Craft Fair for a gansey scarf,” she said bragging just a little… Maybe I should try gansey long johns next…? 😉

    • Gordon

      Hi Lisa, congratulations! Never mind bragging a little, I think that deserves bragging rather a lot. And of course from there to gansey lingerie is but a step—albeit a slightly uncomfortable, scratchy step…

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