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Week 10: 1 – 7 February

Many years ago, in the course of a rather undistinguished school career, I developed certain life habits that have stuck with me into adulthood. So, for instance, whenever I am ill, I heat up a tin of Heinz tomato soup for us tea – something I never partake of when I am well – because that’s what my mum used to give me as a lad when I was sick. What else? Well, I developed a healthy aversion to games masters, or indeed anyone large, fat and psychopathic who tried to persuade me to take exercise while they watched on the sidelines with a pistol (“Dance, gringo!” they used to shout, firing bullets between our skipping feet as we fled across the rugby pitch to the sound of their hysterical laughter). That’s stayed with me, unless time has distorted the memory a touch.

Where was I? Oh, yes, childhood. One of the most significant habits I developed as a child was the ability to put something off until it was needed. So on Friday night through Saturday and into Sunday I could forget the weekend’s homework and watch TV, read books, listen to music and go for walks (the child is father to the man) and plant explosive devices under the games master’s car (ditto). But, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, would come the time, late on a Sunday, when I had to dig out the textbooks and start figuring out cosines, or translate the gerund, or write an essay on the economics of the Hapsburg empire. And all light and joy was crushed from the universe, not least because even once the work was done I knew the day of reckoning was just round the corner – because, of course, I knew how far short of the mark I had fallen. Kids always know.

So why, you ask, am I sharing with you this trip down a fairly seedy memory lane? It’s because the gansey has, alas, reached the Sunday-evening-homework stage. Here I’ve been, frolicking my way up the welt and body to the gussets, finishing the central panel, heedlessly unthinking of the day when I’d have to get out the slide rule and protractors and work out what on earth to do with the yoke (I knew all that work on cosines would come in handy one day). It’s a bit like daydreaming on your daily commute, only to realise that jolt you felt just then was you driving smartly into a parked police car.

Now the gansey is laid aside, gathering dust in a corner. Moths eye it across the room with greedy eyes. But in front of me lie sheets of graph paper, a calculator, Michael Pearson’s book of patterns, a pencil and – most importantly of all – an eraser. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle where all you have is the edge pieces – the rest you have to devise, paint, cut and fit yourself. In fact, it’s rather fun, in the way that my homework never was (and how sad is that? So many wasted years). And at least these days I’m unlikely to get detention if I get it wrong.

I plan to swatch (gulp) the patterns before I deploy them, to make sure they work and I’ve got them right. I hope to show these next time.

Meanwhile, when sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard observed to Dr Who in a recent BBC production of the RSC’s Hamlet. So, not only am I departing my job, but I also have a gum infection (though not, hopefully, an abscess, as initially feared). Cue a trip to the dentist, who asked innocently, as they are probably trained to do, “Does it hurt when I do this?’ as she inserted the pointy end of a nasty looking hooked implement into the swelling, “just to see”. As I started thrashing around like a gaffed salmon it took three strong men to restrain me. “Ah. Thought so,’ she said.

And I thought games masters were bad…

11 comments to Week 10: 1 – 7 February

  • syndee

    gosh I LOVE your latest gansey, I can hardly wait for what kind of yokage. Can we have a breakdown of the ‘homework’ involved? (Just to marvel at, I’ll not understand it!)

    Mouthwash with vodka ( STOLICHNAYA ® works for me) for sore gums and just for no reason at all really.

  • Nigel

    Whisky, Scots or Irish.

  • Gordon

    Hi Syndee & Nigel,

    Well, I suppose the good thing about whisky and vodka is, even if it doesn’t cure the problem it at least numbs the pain!

    Thanks for the kind words, syndee, though of course I can’t really take credit for the patterns – I’m just playing pick’n’mix with other people’s creativity, as ever. And yes, I’ll post the workings next week so you can see what I have in mind.


  • Gavin

    That’s uncanny! I also resort to Heinz tomato soup when ill. Perhaps we share an unconscious distrust of the National Health Service. I also tend to read Victorian fiction when ill. Comfort reading I suppose (Curling up with a fat Trollope etc.)
    Sorry to hear the job didn’t work out in the longer term, Gordon. Hope you find somewhere that appreciates your talents. Onward and upward, innit.

    p.s. Your gussets are looking splendid

  • Suzanne

    “Oh, the pain…the pain!” as Dr. Smith would have moaned in ‘Lost in Space’. Thanks for the trip down memory lane to the dread of Sunday afternoon. In spite of suffering this anguish, I usually took the procrastination to the outer limit and got up at 5am on Monday to quickly cobble the homework together. FF forty some years and I can’t say that my work methods have improved much.

    Gum flare-ups do tend to come with periods of acute stress. The remedies proposed by syndee and Nigel sound appropriate.

    Enjoy the plotting and planning for the yoke. It may be due next Monday but, unlike your teachers, we will not hold you to it!

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    As Bart Simpson would say, there’s a 5 o’clock in the morning now?!

    One day I’ll share the true story of how unfair a games master could be in a 1970s English grammar school. No pistols, but I can still feel the imprint of his boot between my shoulder blades to this day…


  • Gordon

    Wotcher Gav! Great to hear from you. How are you doing? I’ll give you a ring in a weekend or so, when the swelling on my gum dies down.

    Fat Trollopes in Edinburgh are surprisingly cheap, by the way, if you know where to look, and have a Waterstones advantage card…!

    Speak to you soon,

  • =Tamar

    I suspect that tomato soup and procrastination may be required by law. Sadistic games masters, thank goodness, are not a universal experience. I see you have even done the first half of the gusset. Keep on keeping on.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    I think (or hope at least) that sadistic games masters mostly went out with the abolition of grammar schools in this country!

    The ganseys I’m using as models for this one all start the yoke after the gusset. I’m not doing that here, I’m starting halfway up, partly because I don’t think that leaves enough room for the yoke patterns – they always look to me like an old man hitching his pants up to his armpits!

  • =Tamar

    According to Treasures from a Ragpile, in Norway some of them really were hitching their pants up to their armpits. Given Norwegian weather (no, thank you), I’d want total coverage too.
    Were the ganseys you looked at made with deeper armholes than today’s styles, or just short-yoked?

  • Gordon

    Hi there,

    I think people were shorter and narrower in the old days, that’s one thing (it’s obvious to me that the ganseys I knit have more stitches in them than the ones in old photos, and that’s not just because of how fine my stitch gauge is), but yes the trad Hebridean style is for a shorter yoke. And since I prefer a yoke that does more than lift and separate, as it were, I’m altering the style marginally!