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Week 24: 29 December – 4 January

w08week24dT H White, who wrote the classic reinterpretation of the Arthurian legend as a means of exploring man’s inhumanity to man in the light of the twentieth century’s terrible wars, The Once and Future King (on which the musical Camelot was based; and the first part of the book, The Sword in the Stone, was made into a Disney cartoon), also wrote a fascinating little book called The Goshawk. In it, he describes how he once laboriously tried to tame a goshawk using only the information contained in antiquated manuals on falconry – unaware that the world had moved on, and that there were easier and better ways of doing it now.

w08week24bI have a sneaking affection for the book, and for White’s approach, for part of me suspects he would have carried on regardless, even if someone had told him he didn’t have to do it that way. It was his choice, after all, and sometimes our choices are as revealing about us as anything we do.

So, in my own case, I’ve noticed a tendency to find a way that works for me, after which I’m not really interested in improving my technique – this is the case with computers, for example – once I find the keyboard shortcuts or commands that let me do what I want, there’s no point telling me a simpler way, or a better way: I don’t aspire to use a computer elegantly, or even efficiently.

w08week24cWhich brings us (finally, I hear you cry!) to knitting. I’ve been toying with the idea of turning this blog into a rather more detailed “how to” guide for the next gansey, which I’m going to start in the next few days, with more in the way of detail and illustration so you can see exactly how I go about it. The problem is, as faithful readers will have gathered by now, I tend to knit the way T H White trained goshawks, so it may have limited value to the modern world… Ah well. I was thinking of doing a simple pattern anyway, as a change of pace, so we’ll see.

w08week24aMeanwhile, the completed gansey has had its day in the washing machine and is now, thanks to Margaret and her Amazing Plastic-y Board Things, securely pinned out to dry. As I wasn’t sure what my stitch gauge would be after the cataract operations (which was one reason for knitting this gansey) we decided to block it to what seemed a natural size, not too taut, and by a happy coincidence it ended up the same size as my favourite roomy pullover (48 inches round the chest, so with 432 stitches it gives me a gauge of exactly 9 stitches to the inch for a pullover with cables). So now I have to decide what to do with it: keep it (the weather’s been cold enough recently), or give it away to a deserving cause.

Now I’m off to find a book on falconry…

Happy New Year!

3 comments to Week 24: 29 December – 4 January

  • Suzanne Muir

    I loved The Once and Future King, and was lucky enough to have it as assigned study material for English literature. Don’t think it was for ‘O’ levels, but possibly the year before. Thanks for mentioning the Goshawk, I shall have to track down a copy.

    As for the matter of using antiquated text as an operations manual: we still regularly refer to ‘A Way to Get Wealth’ (printed in 1603) when we have questions about animal husbandry or brewing. Even when the information is of little use in the modern context and the vocabulary somewhat obscure at times, the text makes for priceless reading. We pretty much followed its advice in the matter of raising hogs, and have never tasted better bacon or chops.

    I am sure that you will have useful and interesting information to impart on the gansey construction process and will look forward to the instalments.

  • Suzanne Muir

    Somehow, I neglected to mention that the gansey is quite magnificent! It is wonderful that your various misgivings regarding dyelots and gauge have been unfounded. It is a beautiful gansey.

  • Hi Suzanne,

    The only problem I have with The Once and Future King is the way the tone steadily darkens through the series, until by the time of the fragmentary Book of Merlyn it is so achingly sad, as a broken and defeated elderly Arthur is taken out of the world and lectured on the essential evil of human nature by Merlyn and all the other animals, that I don’t think I could bear to read it again.

    It’s interesting that Tom Shippey in his books on Tolkien suggests that fantasy is probably the defining genre of 20th century English literature; that the horrors of 2 world wars affected writers so profoundly that the only way they could come to terms with it was through exploring absolute evil in fantasy terms; and he cites TH White as one example alongside Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (he fought on the Somme), William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (served on a destroyer), and George Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (Spanish Civil War).

    Anyway, as an archivist, I’m all in favour of historical texts being relevant to us today – somewhere I’ve got a copy of a 17th century tract on the evils of smoking…

    Thanks for the kind words – rather to my surprise the gansey came out almost perfectly. I wore it to work today (-6.5 degrees outside and about the same inside!) and even the sleeves were the right length, which is something of a first for me. I’ve got a few days to enjoy it before I embark on the next one.