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Whitby (Mrs Laidler Revisited): Week 4 – 21 October

Last Friday it rained; and when I say it rained, I mean it rained. The heavens opened as if the clouds were vast, black rubber sheets filled with millions of gallons of water and, as if on a signal, God had simply let go one end and the whole lot just spilled out. It felt like He’d got bored the last time he tried this, having to wait 40 days and 40 nights to obliterate the unrighteous, and decided this time to get it over in a morning. Returning to work after lunch, sitting in my car listening to the raindrops drumming on the roof, watching an inland lake spread where the car park used to be, and aware that I had an uncomfortable five hundred yard dash to reach the safety of the front door, I felt a bit like Frodo on the foothills of a watery Mount Doom, the hardest part of my quest still before me.

Well, like Frodo, I hobbitted-up, and went for it; and got duly soaked. Sock-squelchingly soaked, my every step thereafter making a weech-weech noise as water seeped up out of my shoes. I spent the afternoon enveloped in a miasma of musty steam as my clothes slowly dried; and the sensation of donning my flat cap at the end of the day to discover it was still sopping wet, but now also very cold, like being clutched in the amorous embrace of a desperately lonely octopus, still haunts my dreams, usually around four o’clock in the morning.

Bass Rock from North Berwick

Two days on, the rains have abated and the land has absorbed the surplus water like a sponge. At least when we leave the EU and can no longer twin with exotic foreign towns, Caithness can always twin with somewhere closer to home: such as the Grimpen Mire.

Berwick Law

In gansey news I haven’t quite finished the front, but I’ve divided for the shaped neckline, and have finished the first shoulder. I’m not sorry about this, as this at least gives me a chance to share how I go about it. So, with my normal row gauge I tend to start the neckline on the front with about 24 rows still to go. I adopt quite a severe rate of decrease, which I find works well, of one stitch every second row. So at this rate, 24 rows equals 12 decreases. Now, there are 187 stitches across the front of this gansey (same as the back, of course). When I divided the back for the shoulders, this gave me 62 stitches for each shoulder and 63 for the neck. To end up with the right number of stitches on each shoulder I have to take 12 stitches each from the centre neck needle and add them to the shoulder needles: this gives me a division of 74 – 39 – 74 stitches. (By decreasing every other row for 24 rows I end up with 62 stitches for each shoulder.) There’s a few more stitches to pick up around the neck afterwards by shaping the collar like this, and I know it’s not traditional, but it’s worth it for me i.e., it makes for a nicely rounded shape that doesn’t squeeze my Adam’s apple.

Circus Lane, Edinburgh

Finally this week, Elton John has an autobiography out. I doubt I’ll ever read it, though there’s a brilliant review in the Guardian which makes it sound awfully tempting. I came to love his songs in the seventies, when he was just a singer-songwriter (before he became “Elton John”), and indeed the first single I ever bought as an adult—assuming Puff the Magic Dragon doesn’t count—was Someone Saved My Life Tonight. (In retrospect, a song about a failed suicide attempt may have some significance for my biographers.) Anyway, that review made me laugh out loud, not least for this anecdote from the book, which is just the perfect Yoko Ono story. Elton once asked Yoko what happened to a herd of cattle she and John Lennon had bought: “Yoko shrugged and said, ‘Oh, I got rid of them. All that mooing.'”

8 comments to Whitby (Mrs Laidler Revisited): Week 4 – 21 October

  • Felicity

    So then the shoulder fronts are wider than the shoulder backs? Or longer, depending upon the chosen architectural concept.
    I hope you do not now have a chill from all that soaking and marinating in damp clothes, Gordon.
    Thank you for this blog.
    Felicity in California

    • Gordon

      Hi Felicity, I knew I’d get into trouble with this!

      The shoulder fronts start off wider than their equivalent backs, but as you knit the last 24 rows (ie, before you start the shoulder straps) you decrease every other row – so that by the time you reach the straps they have the same number.

      It’s easier to do than to explain (I’m in danger of confusing myself at this point!). The idea is to get a nicely inclined curve around the indented neck.

  • =Tamar

    Gansey variant necklines are present in some of the old photographs. Yours sounds about right to me.

    I wonder exactly what happened to that herd of cattle. “Got rid of” sounds so callous. Were they “ordinary” cows, or a heritage breed? Milk cows or meat cows? Sold to a farmer, or sold for meat? I wonder what John thought of her behavior. Whose name were they in? Did she do it behind his back? They had plenty of money; why didn’t she just move into an apartment elsewhere?
    I never liked her…

    • Lois

      What a shame, I hope they found far more caring owners. I always thought of the mooing as a soothing sound, a bovine “all is right” statement.

  • Felicity

    Dear Gordon,
    Oh me of little faith! Of course they start out with more stitches than the back, that’s how the curve is created.
    As for cattle, I rather like their mooing. But I suspect the Dakota in NYC would not put up with a whole herd of them even for John.

  • June Jones

    Dear Gordon

    Thank you for your Gansey updates every week, and your stories are regular source of pleasure for me. In return can I recommend not reading Elton John’s biography ‘Me’ but listening to it. You can do it for free! It is on iPlayer in 14 minute chunks. It may well appeal to your delightfully dark sense of humour.

  • Gordon

    Hi guys,

    A little known early version of “Imagine” by John Lennon opens: “Imagine there’s no heifers/ And no friesians too/ I’d have no cream for my porridge/ ‘Cos there’d be no cows left to moo…”

    Shame he changed it, really.

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