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Surprise! – 10 April

Bu160331-1 Surprise! (At this point you must imagine party horns blowing raucously while streamers and confetti pour down from the ceiling like origami volcanic ash.) For here it is, my stealth gansey, which has been flying under the radar for the last six months, now finally revealed to an unsuspecting world.

Bu160331-2I started it last October when we went to America on holiday. You see, it was a promise to a very dear friend, but I also wanted it to be a surprise—and it’s rather hard to surprise someone when everything you do is posted in weekly bulletins on the world wide web. The only solution was to knit it alongside the Buckie gansey, fitting in an extra couple of rows each night after my normal stint, and not tell anybody.

Bu160411-1I’ve done so much knitting this year my fingers have developed horny plates, so that on my last trip to the doctor he expressed concern that I was mutating into some kind of reptile, a sort of human/horny toad hybrid. (That, of course, and my habit of catching flies in the surgery with my tongue, which I see now was a mistake.)

Bu160411-2It’s another Filey pattern, worn by a lifeboat man and charted in Rae Compton’s book on pages 64-66. It’s one of my favourites and consists of two kinds of diamonds alternating with moss stitch panels. There are no cables. It’s knitted in Frangipani denim yarn, a bright spring colour which brings out the pattern nicely.

Judit of course has got here before me: you can see her take on the pattern in a fetching shade of pink here, modelled nicely by a lady and a languidly boneless cat.

Meanwhile the weather was so ghastly this weekend we hardly stepped outdoors, though we did pop briefly up to John O’Groats on Sunday. The wind was strong enough to strip paint, churning the ocean into angry foam. Couples would sit in the car park watching the rain pour down their windows, then make a sudden dash for the famous signpost with the same sort of desperation you see in suicide pacts, take a selfie and run back to shelter, screaming. A seagull drifted past me backwards at one point, and our eyes met—it had an almost embarrassed air and gave a sort of helpless shrug, trying to look nonchalant as it vanished in the direction of Orkney.


John o’Groats

Bu160404-1I wonder, by the bye, what the Orcadians do with all the seagulls we send them? If we tied messages to their legs in this wind it’d be quicker than email—the legs of the seagulls, I mean of course, not the people of Orkney.

Finally, I handed the Buckie gansey over to George and, mirabile dictu, it fits. In return I got a rather nice bottle of single malt whisky and, do you know, I rather think I got the better of the bargain…

21 comments to Surprise! – 10 April

  • Judit Mäkinen

    Hello Gordon ,
    Congratulations to the SG = Secret Gansey ! I love the color and it fits very well.
    This was one of the patterns I loved more and more during the months of knitting. Many thanks for showing the picture of it .
    My last pullover went to my brother, I send you the photo via e-mail.
    Take care, your fingers need some rest.
    Best regards !

    • Gordon

      Hello Judit, and thank you for the picture of your brother looking splendid in his new pullover. I’ll feature it next week.

      It was very satisfying to see two ganseys growing under the needles but I don’t think I’ll do it again—it was fine in the body which was plain, but when I got to the yoke and was having to juggle two patterns it was more than my weak and flabby brain could cope with, at times!

  • What a wonderful surprise! I love the color. I want to make mine in a med charcoal. I have decided that so far but I need to keep it light enuf to easily see the stitches. Im so proud of you and I love your posts. Im so geographically illerate that I still don’t know what country your from. BUT I love the jargon and you two do seem to get around! Happy Spring…

    • Gordon

      What ho, it’s Scotland, the bit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain thats its on top of England like a pistachio ice cream on a cone, with Caithness the chocolate flake sticking of the very top. Next time you’re in Iceland, take a hot air balloon due south and you’ll fly straight over us.

      There’s no question, the lighter the yarn the clearer the pattern stands out—I like everything up to navy, but I must admit sometimes you have to stand facing a low winter sun for anyone to make out the pattern!

  • Jane Dale

    Am seriously impressed with your knitting two ganseys at the same time – they both look very well on their new owners.
    Have just cast off the shoulders on my hubby’s birthday/retirement Gansey and have resigned myself to the fact that it won’t be finished in time. Two sleeves and a neckband in two weeks is a bit optimistic especially as we will be distracted by a week in the Scottish Highlands. Am packing plenty of waterproofs!!!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, I do have an image in my mind of an orangutang knitting one gansey by hand, and another using his or her feet! But alas I’m not so adroit so I had to alternate the two.

      I normally allow about 6 weeks for the sleeves, give or take, so I’d relax and pace yourself. (the race, as they say, is not to the swift.) What part of the Highlands? It’s about 10ºC cooler in Scotland than south England just now, so lots of warm clothing is recommended – and, if the wind drops, midge repellant!

      • Jane Dale

        Ha loving the orangutan image – that might be the answer to knitting two sleeves at once!
        We are staying at Banavie near Fort William next week where I believe we will have access to mountains, beaches, lochs and locks (Neptunes Staircase) and the odd pub or two (for Philips’ benefit) but we haven’t been to Scotland before so I don’t really know what I’m talking about!
        Back to Ganseys, I think the method of construction is perfect for having the recipient try it on as you knit – unless of course it’s a surprise- I would have made the armholes much too tight otherwise!

  • Lynne

    Well done Gordon! and what lucky recipients, but I’m sure they already know that! They both look smashing in their new ganseys.

    • Gordon

      Thanks, Lynne – it’s very gratifying – once I get over the initial terror that I’ve got the size wrong! (Do you know, I’ve been knitting gansey for about 30 years now at a rate of 2-3 a year and I realised i only have about 4 of my own? All the rest were given away. Time for charity to begin at home, I think!)

      • Lynne

        Actually, I thought Buckie was yours all along, especially when you took the sleeve pattern full length – but George fills it out well and proudly.

        • Gordon

          Hi Lynne, now it’s finished I wish it were mine! But I think it looks better on George, the pattern needs a man with hair…

  • Samantha White

    That is one very beautiful Gansey! Well done for keeping it secret!

    • Gordon

      Hello Samantha, and thank you! the colour makes it, for me, and the pattern is one of those perfect combinations made from nothing more complicated than knit and purl stitches, the knitting equivalent of binary code, with just two stitches I can unravel the mysteries of the universe—and stay warm at the same time!

  • Dave

    A thing of beauty is…

    (the gansey and your friend of course).

    I’m not sure about hot air balooning from Iceland or Caithness – if the seagulls are headed in the wrong direction, you might be eating penguin ’til spring.

    Nice work Gordon.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, all I know about penguins comes from the animated Madagascar movies, so I presume the cunning little devils would be able to improvise some sort of home-made escape plan, thus ensuring their lives were saved. Do hot air balloons suffer from birdstrike? Or would the seagulls simply bounce off, like an airborne bouncy castle?

  • Lois

    Well, you sneaky devil, you! And here I was, thinking all this time that poor Gordon was so bogged down with colds etc, that it was taking a toll on his knitting.

    And the lucky recipients look very fine indeed. Greater love hath no one than a friend who would knit them a gansey.

    • Gordon

      Hello Lois, yes, I was knitting with one hand tied behind my back, as it were. Sorry! But then, I always liked the personalised number plate “1DVS BSTD”… Next time my rate of progress slows down, though, don’t assume I’m doing this again—I might have acquired a life instead! (I’ve always wanted one…)

  • =Tamar

    Wow. Both of them are gorgeous! It’s getting sort of warmish here. It’s the time of year that my weird house is colder inside than outdoors, so I’m still using heat while using A/C in the car. If the front yard were smaller I might invent a heat pump to connect the house to the car, but such is not to be.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, it’s 6-9 degrees here but feels colder in the sharp east wind. It’s cold! My summer clothes remain resolutely unpacked and tourists sit in their cars in the car park under leaden skies sullenly eating chips with the windows closed, while evil seagulls perch on the bonnet and try to hypnotise them into tossing out the leftovers.

  • Jane

    Wonderful work, Gordon, two lovely ganseys. You must be very pleased, totally gratifying! Take care of the old fingers and wrists now!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, I read once that every creature has roughly the same number of heartbeats and that determines their lifespan—so an elephant and a gerbil relatively life the same number of heartbeats, it’s just the elephant’s heart beats at a slower rate over more years than the gerbil’s.
      By this analogy I am a gerbil of the gansey world, getting through more ganseys and faster than most people, in the full expectation that in a few years my fingers will be crippled and seized with arthritis, rheumatism, or just broken by some loan shark impatient to get his money back.
      As the Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu said, speaking of ganseys, “the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long”. That’s me—up like a rocket, down like the stick…

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