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Wick (Donald Murray): Week 13 – 17 June

It’s the summer solstice this week, and the longest day. Not that we’d know it if we didn’t have a calendar: the days are mostly grey and damp and cold, and we have the lights and central heating on by 8.00pm. And now there comes the gentle incline down to winter again; I ask you, does this seem fair?

The solstice tends to attract druids the way strawberry jam attracts bees, though any religion that expects you to be up for four in the morning is asking for a Reformation in my opinion. The word “druid” is thought to mean something along the lines of “knowledge of the oak”—the Welsh for oak is derw—and this seems all very satisfactorily mysterious and pagan, until you actually stop and think about it for a minute. Luckily there’s a medieval manuscript in the National Library of Wales that sheds light on this:

Villager: Excuse me, Barry?
Druid (whetting his knife and drinking a mistletoe latte): Yes, Trevor, can I help you?
Villager: Well, it’s about all this “knowledge of the oak” business.
Druid: Yes?
Villager: Well, what knowledge would that be, exactly?
Druid: You are referring to the tree of the genus Quercus in the beech family, I take it?
Villager: That’s the one. I mean, there’s the oak, it grows. It doesn’t seem to need a user manual, know what I mean?
Druid: Well, they have spirally arranged leaves, some with lobate margins. A single tree will produce both male and female flowers.
Villager; I say, keep it clean. But, ah, it’s not exactly arcane knowledge, is it, if you catch my drift?

A bird in the bush

Druid: Er—OK, well, did you know the acorns contain tannic acid?
Villager: Good point, good point. It’s just that I don’t quite see where you go from knowing all that, to telling us what to do and conducting human sacrifices every solstice.
Druid (laying aside his whetstone): Ah, I was hoping you’d ask that. Care for a magic bean?
Villager (suspiciously): What flavour?

In gansey news I’ve almost completed the front of the Wick pattern. Although it looks quite complex, there’s enough repetition to make it a relatively easy knit (though I doubt I shall ever come to love the horseshoe cables). I’ve developed a system where I make a screenshot of the chart, copy it to my iPad as an image, and read it line by line; keeping track of rows by a simple five-barred-gate notation in a notebook. If I’m lucky I hope to get the shoulders joined and the collar done this week, and then we enter the endgame of the sleeves.

A deer in the bush

And the word “solstice”, of course, derives from the Latin for sun (sol) and stand still (sisto). There’s a great poem by Philip “Chuckles” Larkin, called Tops. Ostensibly it’s a superb depiction of the lifecycle of a spinning top; but it has many applications, to life, the universe and everything. For once I choose a less personal meaning: I always think of it at the summer solstice, it applies so perfectly to the spinning earth and the shortness of “summer’s lease”:

—And what most appals
Is that tiny first shiver,
That stumble, whereby
We know beyond doubt
They have almost run out
And are starting to die.

So, um, yes – ah, happy solstice everybody!

12 comments to Wick (Donald Murray): Week 13 – 17 June

  • =Tamar

    Could one use the making of a gansey as a metaphor of the seasons? The steady if somewhat dull beginning as winter, the riotous activity of the yoke for the two halves of summer, then the linking of the shoulders with perhaps the collar as the equinox, then the progress down the sleeves from complexity to simplicity again. Maybe not.

    This has been a cool spring here as well, comparatively at least. I have not yet had to use the A/C (though at times it’s been a close thing) and the blankets are still handy for the late night chill. I still expect heat in the next two months.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, well, I think of ganseys as seasons projects, as each takes about three months to knit, give or take. So I tend to choose my patterns (and yarn colours) to suit the mood and the ambient light.

      Come to think of it, all my ganseys should probably be grey!

  • Lois

    It’s been a very damp and chilly spring here too. Up until a week ago, we had to put a bit of heat on in the morning to take the chill out of the house.

    But within the last week, somebody turned the sun on. Perhaps the prayers to the weather gods finally penetrated through the fog? And now there is a riot of apple blossoms and lilacs in every direction with butterflies dancing on the blooms.

    And I have blossomed forth into Fair Isle, rather than gansey, just for a change of seasons.

    Happy solstice everyone!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, it sounds like summer has finally arrived – I hope it lingers long for you.

      You can tell it’s summer here, underneath, because when the clouds part it’s glorious; but it doesn’t last, sadly. As the German writer WG Sebald – someone who could give Larkin a run for his money in the rib-tickling stakes – once described a landscape: “In the white winter everything is dead, during the green winter everything is dying…”

      It’s always good weather to wear Fair Isle!

  • Dave

    Well, you will go living in the northern wastes. Love the seagulls btw – I assume that was the actual colour on the day.

    I was reading the other day that the welsh word for druid is derwydd – so close to the word for oak – makes you wonder. But then I was looking up welsh mythology on Wikipedia – What could go wrong ? Every now and then I see vans on the motorway sign written “Derwydd Plant” – always makes me chuckle.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, yes, Wick really is grey: thanks to Brexit you have to get a special license for colour nowadays, and ours had expired.
      Have you read Alan Garner’s creepy young adult classic The Owl Service? A brilliant reimagining of the Welsh myth of Blodeuwyth, very intense…

  • Jane Callaghan

    I treated my husband to a read-out-loud ‘from a knitting blog’ and gave him the druid dialogue. He was trying to look bored but when we got to the magic bean he choked with chuckles. One up, Mr Reid.

  • Eve

    Hi Gordon. We’ve made it as far north as Loch Ness this summer and are loving some long evening and unfeasibly early sunrises from our perch high above the water, shame about the wet days inbetween! But I have bought two colour dishcloths to knit so I’m not too bothered if the view distracts me. Dear husband also liked the Druid but it’s not convinced him that a day trip to Wick is possible! We may make it as far as Dunrobin. Strangely managed trip to Kishorn, Skye and Applecross to visit scenes of his rig engineering youth thou! Bit fed up with the 500 RVs and motorbikes, it’s even put himself off bringing his bike up here so I suppose it’s one less! All downhill till Christmas!

    • Gordon

      Hello Eve, the weather in Wick has decided to move with the times and accept it’s summer (at last). It’s about 75 minutes’ further from Dunrobin to Wick so who knows? Maybe you’ll make it up here another time. It really is a lovely drive. But I suspect the next few months are going to be choked with tourists! Best wishes, Gordon

  • Karen

    If you fancy a different way of keeping count than 5-barred gates, may I suggest the old haematologist method which produces crossed squares? 1 to 4 are dots at each corner of the square (1 is top left corner, 2 top right, and so on), 5 to 8 are the sides of the square (5 is top, 6 is right, etc), 9 is diagonal top left to bottom right and 10 is diagonal top right to bottom left. Very quick to draw (which was an advantage in counting blood cells in the field of vision) and compact.

    • Gordon

      Hi Karen, that’s interesting, and no, i hadn’t come across that method before. I might give it a go next time (though my counts are usually 7-barred gates as I usually cable every seventh row, or in this case, a 4-barred gate as the horseshoe cables are every 4th row).

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