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Wick 14: 17 – 23 March

WK140323a There are many things that have brought joy to my life—well, not that many, in fact if you take away chocolate-related stuff the list becomes vanishingly small—but one of them is the annual Bookseller/Diagram prize for the oddest book title.

This year’s prize was won by “How To Poo On A Date” (though personally I would have voted for “The Origin of Feces”, but that’s just me). One of the runners-up was a book called “Working Class Cats”.

WK140323bThe prize was started back in 1978, inspired by “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice”. I first became aware of it in 1995 when it was won by “How To Reuse Old Graves”—if I remember rightly, one of the runners-up that year was “The Baby Jesus Touch and Feel Book”—and I knew I had found my spiritual home.

Of course, some of the titles are deliberately wacky because the books are meant to be humorous or parodies. I don’t really think these should be eligible (we’re talking “Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality” or “Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way”, winners in 1986 and 2010 respectively).

No, for maximum impact I think the title should be utterly straight. “Versailles: the View From Sweden” (1988) definitely counts, as does “How To Avoid Large Ships” (1992), and “American Bottom Archaeology” (1993).

0318aBut my absolute favourites? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories” (2003)—and “Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop” (2012). After which, like Hamlet, the rest really should be silence, I feel.

I am a paltry few inches of plain knitting and a cuff away from finishing the Wick gansey I started in November. I’m decreasing at a rate of 2 stitches every 6 rows, but even so the sleeves are a trifle baggy. (Hmm, I seem to have a knit a gansey for the “bingo wings” generation…)


Orkney and Stroma from near John o’Groats

Speaking of ganseys, Margaret has come across an interesting painting in Orkney museum, “Rest After Toil”, painted in 1885 and showing a weary paterfamilias in his Orkney croft, wearing what appears to be a greenish gansey. Viewing it online you get a suggestion of a pattern, but nothing definite. (If I had a time machine I’d be tempted to go back in time and give the lazy painter a clip round the ear.)

So there we are. March so far has come in like a lion, and looks like it’s going out like a lion that’s been eating plenty of gazelles and working out down the gym. The spring equinox has officially sprung, so yesterday we had sunshine, snow, sleet, hail and rain, then more sun, all accompanied by a generous dose of wind.

Still, if it’s too wild to stray outside, you can always relax with a good book—such as “Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes”. Or if that doesn’t appeal, there’s always the timeless classic, “Bombproof Your Horse”…

14 comments to Wick 14: 17 – 23 March

  • Marilyn

    Hello Gordon, Happy Spring! I can feel spring in my internal restlessness, startitis, I believe it’s called in the knitting world.
    Annemor Sundbo, a Norwegian knitter and author, has a book called Knitting in Art. The not-lazy painters she’s found have left a clear enough record that reproduction garments can be made. I think it’s cool.
    Your book titles are hilarious, I can see how they would appeal to your sense of humour, (which apparently I share).
    P.S. to Margaret, lovely photos!

    • Gordon

      Hi Marilyn,

      April is the cruellest month, breeding carries out of the dead knitting needles… Of course, as I finish one project and think of another, in my end is my beginning too.

      The only knitwear painting I can think of is the one with the Prince of Wales from the 1920s, where he’s looking fey and a bit like Buster Keaton and holding a cute wee dog. No wonder Hitler wasn’t afraid of us!

  • Laura

    Good afternoon from sunny Florida! I’ve just ordered Dutch Traditional Ganseys from Amazon UK. The book, as well as a couple of cones of Frangipani yarn will be waiting for me when I arrive back in England in 8 weeks. A new book/gansey pattern to begin and 18 days with my family in the Spring…much to look forward to!

    The painting REST AFTER TOIL is lovely. Totally agree with your sentiments re: the painter. Wouldn’t it have been great to reproduce the gansey? Alas….

    those posts coming. I do so enjoy reading them.

    • Gordon

      Hi Laura,

      The Dutch gansey book is a delight. The one thing that really stood out for me is, there aren’t any gussets – all the sleeves are just straight onto the body. Mind you, they sometimes got to have pom-poms on their ganseys, so it’s swings and roundabouts, really…

  • Suzanne Muir

    Errr….I think those last two titles may in fact be instructional, not necessarily humourous. Bombproofing forms the backbone of what little training we give our cutting horses before they are sent off to school. As a result, visitors to the property often find their vehicle surrounded by curious equines, who refuse to yield to traffic (I was here first. Who are you, anyway? Do you have the password?) Loud noises. Sudden movement. Rustling in the bushes. Barking packs of dogs. Heavy equipment. None of these things impress them much. Last weekend, we discovered that there was one potential threat that we had omitted from their conditioning: the miniature dog. ‘Scooter’, a quarterhorse gelding not yet two years old, was taken along to the Saturday cutting competition. He is already completely at ease with riding in a trailer, and crowds of people and horses; so was quite content to spend the day tied to the trailer, drinking in all the activity. Then, along came a lady with a froufrou pocket pup on a leash. As far as the colt was concerned, it was a large rat, headed straight for him, and he was tied, with no means of escape. He tensed up, and his eyes went wide, but stood firm until the ‘threat’ had passed.

    Hyperbolic crochet and, by extension, hyperbolic tatting, have been experimented with quite a bit in recent years.

    So, I am now wondering if I need to look into goblinproofing my chicken coop….

    The gansey is looking fabulous!

    • Gordon

      Hi suzanne,

      Don’t spoil the illusion! In my mind’s eye I see a horse totally encased in kevlar armour while a variety of explosive devices are let off nearby—if a bit of horse goes flying past your window, time for a rethink.

      There was an interesting documentary on fossils on BBC4 last night, in which prehistoric horses the size of small dogs featured – much shorter necks, and more toes than just a hoof, but otherwise basically horsey. It’d be fun to expose a modern horse to one of its ancestors in a Jurassic Park sort of way.

      Very interesting explanation, thank you. I know police horses have to undergo extensive training along the lines you describe, so that when they’re doing crowd control they don’t panic and try to recreate the battle of Agincourt in Hyde Park!

  • Karen

    There’s a bit of a pattern at the top of the sleeve, but not much else visible. But his stockings can never have fitted snugly. So maybe the housewife or granny was into production knitting rather than something lovingly handcrafted. TBH if it was a working sweater why (apart from preventing boredom) would you do much patterning. The costume of the chap coming in looks very similar – was this lazy artist or true to life?

  • =Tamar

    True to life, I believe. The ganseys are sensibly tucked in at the waist and fit snugly, as is reported. The relative lack of pattern meant they could be made quickly and worked in dim light by touch. I think I see some rectangles going across the chest, but they don’t curve like the body so that is probably an artifact of the computer screen or of the canvas. The greenish color is interesting.

    The stockings are heavy seaboot stockings worn over trousers since at least the Renaissance; there’s an in-period report (by a servant, sent to the Spanish king) of a Spanish prince at sea who got cold enough to wear “the heavy stockings like the sailors wear” over his finery to keep warm.

    • Gordon

      Hello Karen and Tamar,

      Of course the painter wasn’t cataloguing jumpers so it’s hard to say exactly, but I think you’re right. A working gansey would have been plain anyway, and looking through the photos of Wick fishermen I’d say over 80% of them are plain, or very simply patterned. It’s a great picture, isn’t it? I feel weary just looking at the slumped shoulders of the father.

      As for the stockings, I’ve been wearing thermal socks this last winter over regular socks and I can definitely see the point. Mind you, having experienced the winds of the Moray and Pentland Firths these lats two years, I’d want more than a gansey to shield me from the elements if I was out a-fishing, I can tell you!

  • Nigel

    I have also knitted baggy arms Gordon. I might get away with it. I can’t bear to rip them out and start over.

    • Gordon

      Hi Nigel, I’m hoping that the washing and blocking stage will help de-baggify the sleeves a bit. And if you look at the pictures, not all ganseys were figure-hugging, which is a relief for those of us with midriffs that are starting to resemble a spilled blancmange…

  • Nigel

    Too true 🙂
    Anyway, I am pretty happy with my first attempt although it’s still not quite finished; it has been good fun.

  • Jane

    Lovely gansey, I like the detailing on the shoulder very much,and the finish is in sight! Still giggling over the book titles, wonderful.
    Is it possible to see a hint of a cable on the fisherman’s sleeve perhaps running collar to cuff with banding at the top of the sleeve and on the chest? It is all quite dark and fuzzy on my computer! Also could there be another sock under the boot sock, there is a piece of rib behind his toes and the toe is a contrasting white. It would make sense. Fascinating picture!
    Please tell Margaret her photos are super.

  • =Tamar

    Looking at the painting again, I am puzzled by the textured diamond shape just in front of the grandfather’s right armpit. It’s in the wrong place to be either a gusset or the shape of a shirt pocket underneath; could it be a clumsy patch? there’s another odd lumpy bit on the upper left sleeve, not quite the same place.

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