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Scottish Fleet/Yorkshire, Week 1: 18 February

It’s a strange thing, giving a talk: you sweat for hours getting it just so, tweaking the script and adding a slide here, removing another there, playing around with the structure; and then when you stand up in front of the audience, you ignore everything you were going to say and instead just make it up as you go along. Such, at least, is often the case with me.

Of course, it only works if I’ve done the preparation beforehand and actually know my subject. Ask me to hold forth for half an hour on the battle of Waterloo or the inner workings of a gas-cooled nuclear reactor and before long the hall would be empty and the organiser would be leaving me alone in a room with a bottle of whisky and a loaded revolver, together with a hint that the caretaker will be along shortly to lock up. But when it works—when the spirit moves you, the words come and you seem to soar on a rising thermal of goodwill—then it’s a joy. 

Some off-the-cuff remarks…

I duly gave my talk on ganseys at Wick Museum last week. Most importantly, the audience seemed to enjoy it. Mind you, it helps immeasurably having the Johnston Collection of photographs of Victorian fishermen as your subject; and besides, the finest ganseys in the collection simply speak for themselves. And, for the second time since I moved to Caithness, I had one of these conversations: a lady came up to me, holding a copy of Rae Compton and Henrietta Munro’s booklet on Caithness ganseys, They Lived By The Sea. She showed me the picture of Donald Angus and his pattern and said he was her grandfather; and that her grandmother had knitted the same pattern for her as a little girl. It’s a timely reminder, when we look at these photographs, that it’s not just a record of ganseys and patterns but a catalogue of people’s lives; and that in recreating the patterns, we are honouring the knitters who made it all possible, so many of whose names are sadly lost to us.

Full House – Standing Room Only

Well, it’s time to unmask my batteries and reveal a new gansey. Of course I haven’t knit all this in a week: I started it back in December, over Christmas, and have been knitting it on and off ever since, as a sort of light relief from the intricacies of John Macleod’s gansey. It’s another of my favourite patterns, elements of which are recorded in Scottish Fleet and Yorkshire (it’s a variant of the celebrated Matt Cammish pattern). It’s another gansey in chunky Wendy yarn, Atlantic Blue. I’ll say more about it next week.

Tree Full o’ Birds

In parish news, Judit has sent through some more pictures, this time of a very natty green gansey based on John Northcott’s pattern from Cornwall, for her grandson. This is one of the family of patterns like Vicar of Morwenstow, The Lizard, or the Shackleton ganseys, which rely on basic geometry for effect, and what a striking effect it is. Congratulations once again to Judit. (Hmm. Maybe I should dedicate my retirement to devising a system that organises ganseys, not by place but by grouping together similar patterns? Then again, maybe not.)

Finally, thanks to Margaret for getting some excellent pictures at the talk. I don’t really like having my picture taken: I’ve discovered that photos taken of me when I’m, as it were, smiling, capture a wild, deranged grimace that makes me look like a praying mantis who’s just about to devour its mate, or else like a praying mantis who’s just had a pint of ice cream dumped down his trousers; either way it’s not a good look. In Margaret’s picture of me above I don’t manifest as a homicidal mantodea, and for that I am forever in her debt…

11 comments to Scottish Fleet/Yorkshire, Week 1: 18 February

  • Dee

    Hurrah, glad the talk went so well! Your museum venue looks rather intriguing. And it’s so lovely to find the connections between people and the knitting.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dee, yes it’s a cracking space for a talk. There are two kinds of museums, I find: one sparse and elegant, the other a riotous jumble of amazing stuff. Both have their places, but it seems entirely appropriate that Wick’s is the latter.

      • Dee

        The riotous jumble is really my favorite. I tend to feel a closer connection to the objects and stories being told by them, and not so far removed from the people who used them, than I do in the other sort.

  • Dave

    Well it’s good to see and hear that the talk went well. I suspect that you are being a little disingenuous and could talk on both gas cooled reactors and (for sure) the role of huzars in the demise of M. Bonaparte and still find a route in to mention a gansey or two along the way. Anyway, well done and keep up the knitting.

  • =Tamar

    It’s so much fun when it all works well. I see you did wear a gansey to the talk.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, yes when it works (ie, when they laugh at your jokes and dont sit in disapproving silence broken only by an occasional cough) it’s a beautiful thing. And yes, I turned up beganseyed- well, it would’ve been rude not to!

  • Lois

    Evidently the audience enjoyed the talk as much as you did. And I spotted a gansey in the crowd, so you were talking to a very knowledgeable group. Glad it went so well.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, very few people fell asleep, which is all I ask of an audience these days. And yes, it was a very knowledgeable audience so I had to have my wits about me afterwards too!

  • Jane

    It sounds like the talk all went extremely well, how could it not! And how wonderful to share in living history and to keep it going.

    Super New gansey, superb work.

    • Gordon

      Thanks, Jane, yes, it’s a good feeling to think you’re just a link in a chain stretching back into the past, and on into the future. And the gansey will in a few weeks find a permanent home in the museum, where it can be found, along with the photo that inspired it, for many years to come!

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