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Whitby (Mrs Laidler Revisited): Week 5 – 28 October

The clocks went back last night. Now, I don’t mean to complain—not that I’m going to let that stop me—but summer time is like getting state administered jet lag twice a year. You’d think a lie-in would be a bonus every autumn, but in reality it wipes me out. I feel as though the goblin that lives under my bed used the extra hour to hit me repeatedly over the head with a shovel, leaving me with one of those headaches that sends a lance of pain through my temple every time my heart beats. At times like these doctors have no need to hold my wrist to take my pulse, they just sit back and count the number of times a minute I grimace.

Double exposure of a distant view of St Fergus, and the riverside path St Fergus’ from a distance

I’m no stranger to aches and pains, of course. I have a sort of sciatica that flares up every year or so; at such times my attempts to rise from a sitting posture have all the grace of a gooney bird attempting takeoff after a few too many gin and tonics. Simple daily activities become surprisingly difficult when you need one hand to hold yourself upright. About 20 years ago I attended a convention hosted by our then software supplier, quite a formal affair, like those ambassador’s ball TV adverts where butlers hand round ziggurats of cheap chocolates on silver trays. I ran into an old acquaintance there, and as I was obviously in some discomfort from my back he naturally quizzed me about it. “So, what’s the worst thing?” he asked. Just as I opened my mouth to answer, the room, which had been loud with chatter, experienced one of those weird moments when everyone falls silent at the same moment. Into that silence I cheerfully bellowed, our voices having been raised against the din, “Honestly? Wiping my arse!” Well. Imagine flights of birds scattering in alarm, monocles dropping, and shock waves like those following the destruction of the Death Star. There was no way back from that: to avoid disgrace I was offered a stark choice between a decanter of whisky and loaded revolver, or missionary work in the colonies.

A stream cuts through the sand at Reiss Beach

But enough of how I came to live in Wick. In gansey news, I am once more entering the endgame. I’ve finished the shoulders, joined them, and knit the collar (you can see the gently indented neckline, which is the delayed punchline to last week’s tortuous explanation). I’ve started the first sleeve, the pattern of which will extend for five or six flags before switching to plain knitting to the cuff. This is always the point where the hard work pays off and it starts to look like a gansey; another month should see it finished.

Reflection and raindrops at the harbour

Finally this week, a historical curiosity. I was reading a book on Winston Churchill’s visit to Washington in December 1941 to meet with President Roosevelt, and to discuss strategy in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack two weeks earlier. On Christmas Day, Roosevelt took Churchill to a Methodist church service (“I like to sing hymns with the Methodys” as he disarmingly put it). And it was there that Churchill heard the carol O Little Town of Bethlehem for the first time. Now, that carol’s been such an integral part of Christmas all my life, the thought that a British Prime Minister in 1941 had never even heard it is something of a stunner. I assumed at first that Churchill hadn’t known the tune – it was written in c.1868 in Philadelphia, but was published with a different melody in the U.K. But no, apparently it was all new to him. The waters of tradition are often shallower than we might think.

Oh, and speaking of Churchill, when asked on the visit about his attitude to religion, he rather wonderfully replied that he was “like a flying buttress: he supported the church from the outside…”

6 comments to Whitby (Mrs Laidler Revisited): Week 5 – 28 October

  • Annie

    Delighted here to see what truly looks like a gansey to me, really sorry about aches and pains, and for heaven’s sake wouldn’t you please give some warning about some of your stories, i.e. the result of the deafening silence in today’s posting – it’s hard to laugh so hard with morning coffee going up one’s nose and out n a spurt.

  • Maureentakoma

    That Church Roosevelt and Churchill worshiped in over Christmas in Washington (Foundry United Methodist) is my home church. The story adds a little something to the worship experience, especially over the holidays, and it’s always a little surprise when you realize you’re sitting in their pew–there’s a little brass plaque.

    • Gordon

      Hi Maureen, how marvellous! There’s a real connection to history there, in the persons of two very great people who, for all their many failings—like the best of us, even now—did their best to save the world from tyranny and oppression. If that’s not worth celebrating in a church, I don’t know what is.

  • =Tamar

    Clearly your missionary work has expanded to the Internet, in the Alternate Gansey Neck edition.

    I have read that if you stand, supporting yourself on a sturdy object with your hands, and then cross your ankles (both feet on the ground, knees fairly straight) and bend forward gently at the hips, it will somehow magically adjust the various muscles and bones to relieve pressure on the sciatic nerve. It may take more than once, but at least it doesn’t cost anything to try.

    There used to be a saying among fans of Science Fiction: If it’s been done twice, it’s a Tradition.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, my missionary work has backfired, I’m the one who’s been converted!

      Thanks for your chiropractic advice. I shall give it a go (I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?).Does it matter which leg you cross?

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