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Whitby (Mrs Laidler Revisited): Week 7 – 11 November

Now that summer is past and autumn is passing, Caithness, like Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, has fallen not into the melting, but rather into the freezing mood. It has been bitterly cold, temperatures 0º-5ºc, and while other parts of the kingdom have been horribly submerged in rain, Caithness has been afflicted with showers of sleet and hail, the sort of Biblical plagues that Egypt might have had if it was on the same latitude as Vladivostok. One feels that locusts and boils can’t be far away. (The plague of darkness lasting three days we’ve already got, only ours lasts six months). The east wind is raw and unforgiving, and you can’t pass a tree without hearing a rook cough pathetically before expiring of cold; collected each morning by the street sweepers, along with all the other fallen leaves.

Rainbow near Noss Head, from Reiss

What with us being in this mini-Ice Age, the hills of Caithness that ring the far horizon are already capped with snow. This always puts me in mind of the traditional folk song, The Weaver and the Factory Maid: “O pleasant thoughts come to my mind/ As I turn down the sheets so fine/ And I see her two breasts standing so/ Like two white hills all covered with snow.” Looking across at the jagged crests and peaks of distant Morven and Scaraben, I can’t help suspecting that the weaver is in for something of a shock come his wedding night. (The moral in the story being, of course, never put your trust in folk songs; or so at least my old friends Black Jack Davey and Long Lankin always tell me…)

Sunset by the river

One advantage to knitting a gansey, especially when you’ve reached the sleeves, is that you have in effect a blanket to insulate you as you knit, thus staving off hypothermia for a few more hours. The first sleeve is finished, and we’re onto the second: just another couple of weeks to go. One curiosity is that this particular batch of Frangipani yarn is knitting up thicker than usual, which means that I’m getting fewer rows per inch than I usually expect (10 instead of the usual 11). Whatever the reason, and it could be me, I’m glad I’d decided to aim for a narrower cuff this time; since (with the chunkier gauge) it has luckily ended up roughly the same width as usual.

Finally this week, one advantage of the cold weather is that we had a beautiful starry, starry night for the Wick fireworks display and funfair, which always happen the Saturday after Bonfire Night and, perhaps incongruously, before Remembrance Sunday. I’m always struck on these occasions by how loud the big fireworks are when you see them live, how you feel as though you’ve been punched lightly in the chest when one goes off. And I remember that there were 653 cannon on the field at Gettysburg; that 1.5 million artillery shells were fired in the run-up to the Battle of the Somme; that 900 British guns at El Alamein fired up to 600 rounds each in the initial bombardment; and I feel incredibly lucky to be alive today, watching a firework exploding harmlessly in the air in a shower of bright sparks, simply for my entertainment.

Lest we forget.

1 comment to Whitby (Mrs Laidler Revisited): Week 7 – 11 November

  • Melissa Simpson

    In Flanders Fields
    By John McCrae

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
        That mark our place; and in the sky
        The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
        Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
            In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
        The torch; be yours to hold it high.
        If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
            In Flanders fields.

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