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Vicar of Morwenstow 5: 16 November


The Front

Once more I seem to be participating in a cosmic game of whack-a-mole with fate, fate being the one holding the rubber mallet. For yet again I’m heavy with a cold, and the world feels remote and far away. (Of course, I live in Wick, so the world really is far away, but you know what I mean.) I’ve developed an irritating cough which makes me sound like a Klingon complaining about a parking ticket, and my sneezes resemble the birth of the universe, a parallel universe in which mucus replaces carbon as the basis for life.

As a result, I’ve been reclining and gansifying like nobody’s business, and have finished the back and back shoulder straps. (I followed the traditional rule of thumb by dividing the body into approximate thirds: so as it’s 186 stitches wide, I have 63 stitches for each shoulder and 60 for the central neck portion.)


The Back

You can see the full effect of the pattern now, a purple chequerboard. (If I ever win the lottery I shall bury the gold in a field somewhere and knit another gansey like this with the location woven into the pattern.) To bring the armhole up to the full eight inches I added an extra three purl rows at the top, to mirror the ones at the start of the yoke; these are always nifty ways to make the pattern fit.

In other news, I heard a remarkable story this week from one of the small fishing villages down the coast from us, about a man who was drowned. It’s a sad story, so I won’t mention names or go into detail; and besides, it’s really the sequel that caught my interest.


The Pattern

Well, so the man went into the water and was drowned, and his body wasn’t found after the usual searches. So the local fishermen took a rowing boat, and got a live cockerel and placed it in a wooden cage, and then they rowed up and down the harbour with the cockerel in the bows. The belief was that if the cock crowed, that was where the man’s body lay.

Back and forth they went, but it never made a sound, except once when it made gave a sort of croak. They found the man’s cap, but the body was never discovered.

Isn’t that amazing? Like something out of Thomas Hardy, and yet it dates from the 1930s. The newspaper account said that this practice was common in Scandinavia, but this was the first time it had been tried in the north Highlands. (As I’ve said before, the past really is another country; and it’s name is Caithness.)


Waves at John o’Groats Harbour

Another time I’ll tell the story of the Caithness witches who changed into cats to persecute a local blacksmith—perhaps next Halloween. (Though you’d think it would work better the other way round, wouldn’t you?)

Outside the skies are grey, rain is lashing the windows, the wind is buffeting the house and it’s a full week since we saw the sun—and there’s still a month to the winter solstice. Ah, well. As the soldiers used to say in the First World War: shouldn’t have joined if you can’t take a joke…

14 comments to Vicar of Morwenstow 5: 16 November

  • =Tamar

    I can see that it’s coming along nicely. But do take care of yourself, you shouldn’t keep catching cold. Extra vitamin C etc. Maybe you should wear two ganseys at once?

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I quite agree I shouldn’t keep catching cold, but I can’t seem to get my immune system to agree! I’m so pumped up with vitamins the local vampires come round not so much for blood but just to up their dietary supplements…

  • Lisa Mitchell

    I’ve got a pattern for a gansey scarf – that might help keep throat warm under the two ganseys… Jumper looks a treat.

    • Gordon

      Hello Lisa, in fact i’ve recently discovered aviator scarves and shemagh scarves worn under the gansey like the old silk “ponjees”, so depending on which evening you catch me I either look like a Baron von Richthofen who’s let himself go, or else Lawrence of Arabia after a heavy night on the town with the lads (or more likely their camels!).

  • Marilyn

    I’m sorry you’re feeling poorly, I would want you to have more fun than the whole whack-a-mole, rubber mallet scenario.
    *whiskey, honey, hot water, repeat from asterisk. You might not feel better, but after a while, you wouldn’t care.
    Take care, wear as many ganseys as you have to, I’ll look forward to reports of your improvement.

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn, yes, I must admit the novelty has worn off rather by now, and phlegm, which once seemed to offer so many possibilities, is now becoming tiresome. I feel like I’m being assailed by a horde of invisible Lilliputians, all hammering and chiselling away at any parts they can reach, and one day I shall topple like an ancient, ravaged oak so that I can quietly decay from the horizontal plane.

      On the other hand, I get to wallow in self-pity, so it’s not all bad!

  • Jane

    So sorry to hear about the cold, it does sound nasty. I would imagine you meet a lot of people being an archivist, so your exposure to whatever cold and cough is doing the rounds is fairly comprehensive!
    Five a day could be the way to go, or even more, it’s about variety, not amount! Most days I manage five, often I manage seven or eight. It does help. You probably do it already.

    The gansey is lovely. Beautiful stitch definition and lustre. The South is bathed in sunshine today, a very welcome change after a week of cloud and beating rain. The garden is very soggy, nasty memories of last winter have resurfaced and the wellies have sprung a leak! Stay warm and dry, hot water bottles!

  • =Tamar

    Gosh, whatJane said triggered a thought. Do you catch cold right after going back to the archives? Do you wear a dust-mask while working on those musty old documents? If not, maybe you should. Some germs last a very long time!

  • Sharon

    I love the color of your Gansey but not as fond of the pattern – have to see it on to really tell I guess. About that cold/cough. Ginger,honey,lemon – brew as a tea. The lemon cuts the phlegm, the honey soothes the throat & the ginger warms your innerds. And I like the whiskey remedy for the cough – alcohol really does suppress the cough. Get well soonest. I look forward to your craft & your witty comments here on the west coast of Canada.

  • Jane

    The current cold is a nasty with The Cough at the end. It can be heard everywhere down here in the South of England, my brother, my elder daughter and the son-in-law have all had it. It is a real good travelling cold so you are not alone Gordon, and they suffered too!

    Whiskey, lemon and ginger are all good, my feelings are that they should all be in our winter diets all of the time in small amounts if we enjoy them. Honey I take every day, a small spoonful at breakfast time just as it is. My honey is as local as I can find, the jar of the moment is from the vets, he has his hives a mile away on the Hiltingbury Road. The same road apparently on which King William Rufus’ body travelled after his unfortunate accident in the New Forest a thousand years ago. Remember not only do worse things happen at sea, but it was nasty at the Rufus Stone! Take care.

  • Gordon

    Hello all, and thanks for the good wishes & suggestions. We get an average of 4-5 customers a day over the year, of whom 1-2 will be from away (other parts of the UK or abroad), so I am exposed to a lot of foreign germs! (I’m a bit like an Aztec in the service industry having to serve wave after wave of conquistadors without even a counter between us!) But I’m sure this is a big part of my problem—if there’s a bug going round, sooner or later it’s going to come to Caithness Archives to do its family history…

    As for 5 a day, there’s that old joke about Scotland that chips count as one, ketchup two, vinegar three, and you’re almost there!

    I’ll take note of William Rufus’s fate, and have resolved not to stand in front of any of my colleagues when out hunting, especially if they’re carrying a loaded crossbow.

    And hello Sharon, great to hear from you. I agree this isn’t a conventional gansey pattern, but I really like these simple geometric patterns. I find them very soothing somehow, the gansey knitting equivalent of stroking a cat. (Time for some more medication…)


  • Patrick


    Sorry about the bad spell, mate. I agree with the above suggestions: I myself drink a cup of hot water with lemon or honey just about every day. And whiskey is a good plan no matter what the ailment is!

    I have yet to visit the yarn shop I mentioned (and so have yet to get started knitting). The shop is in South Buffalo, which as you might have heard about is currently one giant igloo with no entrance, and will soon be one giant sunken ship once the snow melts.

    So I have a question: could you explain the fold (?) going across the front yolk in the picture? I simply cannot make tangible what is going on. Other than that, I think it looks lovely.


    • Gordon

      Hi Patrick,

      Yes, we saw the pictures of Buffalo over here, they’re talking about 5 feet of snow in 24 hours.I think that counts as real weather! You have our sympathy.

      If I’m looking at the right picture, the top one, what Margaret’s done is lie the gansey down flat with the completed back pattern-side down to the floor. So you’re looking at the back from the inside. I’ve just started to knit the front and as I knit it’s curling over on itself, like a breaking purple wave (this can happen when you knit a jumper without cables or very intricate patterns, which act like the struts on a tent, holding it up; this is going to be a baggy, saggy sort of gansey!).

      I realise I may only have added to any existing confusion. It should all become clearer in the next week or two when I finish the front and it’s joined at the shoulders.

      I’ve been avoiding whisky this week, because, much as I enjoy it, it can on occasion give me hangovers compared to which migraines and colds preferable. I have however been consuming lots of honey. And chocolate. (Chocolate’s good for colds, right?)

      Stay warm, mon ami!

  • Patrick

    Aha! I see it now. Thanks for the very helpful explanation. Now I can sit back and enjoy the weekly progress.

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