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Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 8 – 16 September

And so I’m back in Caithness (Margaret following in a day or so), swapping sunshine and temperatures in the low 20ºs for downpours, gusts of 50 mph and roughly 12ºc. It’s good to be back. We’ve been taking the rest cure with my brother at the ancestral mansion, sadly ancestral no more in the absence now of both my mother and father. Strange the way bricks and mortar resonate with the absences of loved ones, the way a concert hall resounds to a great symphony in the seconds between the performance ending and the applause beginning. I love the house very deeply; but I loved it more for being theirs.

The view from the upstairs window…

The house is in the country and backs onto the Grand Union Canal. It used to be a pub. It’s four storeys high, three from the road but go round the back and the way slopes down to another floor: boatmen would tie up their narrowboats at the back garden and go inside for a drink. (The original bar is still there; lean against it, your back to the great inglenook fireplace, and history is right there nudging your elbow.) What a place to grow up in. I spent most of the last couple of weeks sitting at an upstairs window, knitting, thinking and watching the ducks, and the boats chugging past. A canal holiday is said to be one of the most relaxing things you can do; but take it from me, watching other people have one is even more so.

St Mary’s, Badby

As expected, I have finished the Thurso gansey, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It will have to wait till we get ourselves sorted before it’s properly washed and blocked, but it almost fits “as is”, and will hopefully become my new everyday gansey. (Given the weather I found awaiting me, this can’t happen too soon.) I’ve already started my next project, another very old favourite, but I’ll say more about that next week.

And if a canalside holiday is relaxing and revitalising to the soul, the 1,200-mile journey there and back down the M6 motorway is anything but. Dante originally had Charnock Richard services as one of his circles of hell, in between (appropriately) violence and fraud; after stopping there DH Lawrence described it as “utter hopeless ugliness for a long and gruesome mile” (the toilets alone he said were “like black manna from the skies of doom”). It’s said that the average person spends roughly a third of their life asleep, the equivalent of 25 years: trust me, this feels like time well spent compared with time on the M6, and shorter, though there were times I came perilously close to combining the two.

Pitlochry (not to be confused with the M6)

I’m going to leave you with one of my own poems, written a couple of years back when I was experimenting with the style and spirit of zen poetry, trying to say a lot with very little. It was about going back to what I still think of as home:

House where I grew up,
How low the ceilings!
With every step
Dust rises.

6 comments to Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 8 – 16 September

  • Judit M/Finland

    Hello Gordon,
    Congratulations to this very fine garment. And the poem shows very well that less is more ! Much more .

  • Lynne Brock

    What a nice time spent at the old home, but must have been nostalgic, too. It’s such an idyllic scene, will the home remain in your family or will it have to be sold? Looks like a wonderful place to retire some day.
    My cousin from Elton, Cambs is visiting the Propagansey show in Fylingthorpe on Wednesday and I see that you’ve loaned ganseys for the show. I told her to be sure to search them out. Congratulations on your newest – how many navy ganseys does that make for you?

    • Gordon

      Hello Lynne, it’s too early to say what will happen with the house. We’ll all let things settle down before coming to any decisions. It is an amazing place. Part of me is appalled at the thought that it might no longer be part of my life.

      I’ve given most of the ganseys I’ve knitted away, and I have 8 or so (including the two I loaned to the Propagansey exhibition last week) set aside to go to the local museum, as donations so they can mount displays about the fishing with semi-authentic ganseys! I only have 5 ganseys for myself, of which this makes three. (My plan is to knit several more of my favourite patterns over the next year or so, partly to squirrel away for the future like a squirrel does with nuts, and partly to use up my (rather excessive) stash…

  • =Tamar

    A truly handsome gansey.
    1,200 miles, yikes! I drove about that far once to visit my brother in Kansas, but it was a long time ago, and I flew back.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, and thank you! 600 miles there, a 12-hour drive (usually broken over 2 days), and the same to come back. Who knew Scotland was so big? On the BBC weather maps distorted by the curvature of the earth(!) it always looks so manageable…

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