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Week X+3

Being a man of my word, at least when it suits me (or when I can actually deliver on my promises), I am delighted to say that I’ve finished the front and joined the shoulders, as forecast last week. It was touch and go, actually, as I got rather sidetracked, but more on that later.

Back in the day, I used to get to the shoulder straps and then split the front in three sections – left shoulder, neck and right shoulder; I would then work back and forth on straight needles to complete one front shoulder strap, then do the same to complete the other front shoulder strap (leaving the first shoulder strap on its needle) and only then would join each one with its counterpart on the back.

These days I’ve modified my technique, so that I join each shoulder as soon as each front strap is completed. Let me explain. I divide the front in three as before, and I work back and forth (as before) to complete one shoulder strap; but now I join it to its counterpart on the back straight away, casting off in the usual way. Then I go back and complete the other shoulder strap and join it to the back counterpart and cast off.

It’s a subtle distinction, but it means I’m not trying to knit the second shoulder strap while the first one is left hanging on its needle (and given that back and forth knitting means you’re constantly turning the gansey face up and face down, and with the back dangling loose, the overall effect is like trying to tango with a corpse). It also means you easily can cast off with the yarn you’ve been knitting the shoulder strap with. Anyway, just the collar and the sleeves to go now.

As I said above, I’ve been sidetracked this week. An old chum reminded me that some time back I promised to let him see some short stories I’d written (hi Jan!). I dug out the stories and sent them off to him, but read a couple first, for the fun of it. Rather to my surprise, I found they weren’t as bad as I remembered. Some of them were almost acceptable. And that sent me back to one of the novels I wrote a few years ago. It was a deliberate attempt to write the sort of story I’d have loved when I was younger and still had hair, a Christmas fantasy story which I recall describing as a cross between Alan Garner, Stephen King and Ted Hughes, a story with wolves and snow, magic and legends, battles and monsters – but set in the present day, not a faux-medieval Tolkienesque Middle-earth.

Maddeningly, it’s not (quite) good and it’s not (quite) awful. If it was great I could rest easily; if it was dreadful I could just throw it away and we would Never Speak Of It Again, like Aunt Mildred’s elopement with the second under-gardener. So I’ve started going through it, editing it, stripping away the useless verbiage and pruning ruthlessly (as I had to while we were between under-gardeners). The draft stood at 135,000 words: I’ve resolved to get it down to perhaps 75,000. (They say you have to “kill your darlings”, i.e., get rid of any fancy writing that gets in the way of the plot; if you open your windows and listen carefully, you’ll hear my darlings’ death cries cries fading on the wind…)

Finally, if you bake bread, the books recommend that you develop a “signature bread”, one that you bake most of the time, and which you know intimately and can guarantee will work. This is mine, a basic French white bread which I make into batard loaves and mini baguettes (baguettettes? baguettinis?). It’s very easy to make and results in a moist, sticky dough, which, if handled carefully, will produce a very light, open crumb and and some big, airy pockets (the cavernous hole in the picture is a good example). Cooled, but still warm from the oven, this bread is even better than chocolate. (That’s right. You heard me.)

10 comments to Week X+3

  • Suzanne

    I’m beginning to be grateful that I live on the other side of the world. If I lived closer, I should be popping ’round frequently to partake of these marvellous loaves, and would likely be begging you to bake extra loaves just for me and, if you were kind enough to do so, I would grow immensely fat. At least that is what happened when I lived in Switzerland and had access to wonderful bread at all hours of the day. I have been known to devour 8 buttered slices of warm-from-the-oven French bread at one sitting. It is doubtful that age and reason would modify that behaviour. Handsome gansey, lovely loaves and a good story in the works. It was a good week.

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    I’m beginning to think I’ve finally found my vocation as a baker! (I could try couriering some to you by overnight delivery, but it may not be an economically viable model…) Warm bread fresh from the oven is the best – one of the mini-baguettes is my usual ration, and baguettes were made to be ripped apart in chunks and devoured instantly. I’m told that bread itself is not fattening, it’s the butter and spreads that go on top that add the calories – and I’m lucky in that I love the taste of fresh bread so much I don’t put anything on it. So it’s just flour, water, salt and yeast, accompanied by the faint ghostly echoes of imaginary strawberry jam, cheese and pickle, and lashings of hot butter…

    Now I’ve dribbled on the keyboard. Look what you made me do.


  • Leigh

    1. The gansey, of course is beautiful. I kinda get what you said about attaching one shoulder strap at a time (Okay, I cant get the stupid tango-with-a corpse thingy out of my mind now! LOL!). I cant wait to start mine.

    2. Bread: I have one question: “DO YOU SHIP,…LIKE RIGHT NOW!?”

    3. I love the Urban fantasy genre. Okay, so I am a bit on the weird side, but some of my favorite authors are Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Ilona Andrews, Laurel K. Hamilton (pre-Obsidian Butterfly), etc. Would love to read you book.

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh,

    If I can find a business model that lets me mail order bread, you’ll be first on my list, I promise. (The Poilane bakery in Paris is so famous – apparently – that they mail their bread all over the world. Steven Spielberg and Robert de Niro get it sent to them – it’s a sourdough, so keeps fresh for several days. $48 a loaf. So there’s a precedent!)

    Unless I lose faith in what I’ve written, always a possibility, I hope to post the novel on the website before Christmas. Watch this space!

    Best wishes

  • =Tamar

    With experience you can do these things. I’ve made so
    few sweaters that I’d be afraid the second shoulder
    would somehow make the first one not fit. It looks
    good, not randomly messy at all.
    Fresh bread, yum.
    Waiting for the Christmas book already!

  • Gordon

    Good afternoon Tamar,

    Sometimes I look at stuff I’ve written and it seems almost good – at other times I can’t believe how bad it is. But there’s always something wonderful about being the only person in the history of the universe (as far as you know) to have had those ideas and used just those words to describe them. Anyway, unless I lose confidence again you’ll have a chance to judge for yourself in a few weeks!

    Usually when I’m knitting a gansey I can suppress my nagging desire to write fiction – wonder why that is?


  • Nigel

    You appear to have a lot of female fans!

  • Gordon

    Hi Nigel,

    Well, I like to think of them as critical friends… Probably just reflects the ratio of female to male knitters, rather than my inherent charisma, though!

    But here’s a question – given that so many women bake, why are just about all the books on baking bread written by men? Why are most professional bakers male? As PG Wodehouse would say, when we know the answer to that we’ll know a lot more than we do now…

    All the best,

  • =Tamar

    Hi, Gordon, and Nigel.

    I think bread-baking was a business long before most other businesses. In the middle ages, many houses were more or less wattle-and-daub huts. Grinding flour and building and operating an oven was so inefficient for a single family that supporting a miller and a baker was cost-effective for a village. You could let the experts do it faster and easier and get on with the more complicated food. Guilds being what they were, bread baking came to be seen as a male job, at least as long as there was something expert about it. Today, it’s even more expensive to set up in business and there aren’t a lot of openings (and not much pay) for a baker’s assistant. Bakerina wrote about that on her blog a while ago.

  • Gordon

    Hi Tamar,

    That’s a good point, and I’m sure you’re right. It’s interesting that in the books that describe the author visiting small artisan bakeries in France, Italy and Germany all the bakers and their apprentices are male. Though some of the best bread blogs around at the moment are written by women – such as the Wild Yeast blog, which is intimidatingly knowledgeable!

    I like the idea that even today in some small bakeries in Europe you can take your own dough down to be fired in their ovens.

    Best wishes