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Wick (Donald Murray): Week 14 – 24 June

St John’s Pool is a miniature marvel, a private nature reserve in the semi-remote north of Caithness. It’s basically a partially-flooded field next to the similarly-named but somewhat wetter St John’s Loch, and is apparently home to over 200 species of birds.

You drive up the single-track road a ways, occasionally plunging into hedgerows to dodge the huge camper vans wobbling towards you from the opposite direction (vehicles which sit on the narrow Caithness roads, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine). The reserve is screened by a high wire fence, the sort that leads you to hope dinosaurs are secretly being cloned on the other side. As you approach the hide from the path you’re aware of the screeching of many birds, but it’s not until you enter the hide, a long wood cabin, take a seat and look out through the windows, that you appreciate the scale of it all.

Sandwich Tern colony, with loch in the distance

Just a few feet from you is a riot of birds taking off, alighting, preening, swimming, nesting, squabbling, strolling, bathing, sunbathing, flying, fishing, eating, mating, fighting and generally kicking up a row (not unlike a typical Saturday night in Wick, in fact). Somehow it all cancels out, and the overall effect is remarkably soothing, almost hypnotic. I sat and stared in a general sort of way—ornithology isn’t my strong suit, being able to distinguish a crow from a swan but not much in between—while Margaret took photographs; after ten minutes I looked at my watch to find that half an hour had passed while my mind had been otherwise engaged. (There was another couple in the hide when we went in, and I’m proud to say that we all coped with the potential awkwardness of meeting total strangers in a confined space in a very British way: we each just pretended the other couple wasn’t there.)

Two gulls and an Arctic tern perch on a hide

In gansey news: progress. The front and back are finished, the shoulders joined and the collar completed. I’m now embarked on the sleeves, and expect to finish them in about a month. The original photograph, by the way, shows that the shoulders were joined with the seam facing inwards; not outwards, as I have done. I must admit, I’m not really a fan of the “seam down” look; though “seam up” always reminds me of a plastic moulded figurine that hasn’t been sanded smooth yet.

Ackergill Tower from Reiss Beach

Oh, and I think I’ve finally figured out where my life went wrong. In short, I feel like a character from a PG Wodehouse novel transplanted into one by Thomas Hardy—a sort of Bertie Wooster of the D’Urbevilles or Psmith The Obscure. Or suppose Dostoevsky had written Eggs, Beans and Crime and Punishment, or The Brothers Fink-Nottle. (Not to mention Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Blandings Castle.) Though I don’t suppose it matters—so long as it’s got a happy ending. (What? Oh…)

8 comments to Wick (Donald Murray): Week 14 – 24 June

  • Dave

    But Gordon – you haven’t told us where it all went wrong – or is this just a cliff hanger for the next installment – was it the butler ?

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, it first when wrong at my birth, when the midwife held me up, slapped my back and said, “It’s an archivist!”

  • Ellie

    I so much enjoy your writing and generally just lurk without comment, but your Wodehouse in a Hardy is too hilarious to let go unremarked. Thank you so much!

  • meg macleod

    if you have to lose anything in this world let it not be your wonderful sense of humour.I can always rely on getting a smile from your posts….and of course i enjoy looking at your beautiful knitting!

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg and thank you. My personal motto has always been, “life is too important to be taken seriously” – as true today as when it was written…

  • =Tamar

    I wonder whether the seam-down method makes an irritatingly rough shoulder.

    Just remember that you are Jeeves in disguise. When the time comes, you will remove the false moustache and Solve It All with the clues worked into your knitting.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, seam down doesn’t look like it ought to be comfortable, and I’m too much of a wuss to ever risk finding out!

      Alas, I’m not Jeeves – he’s always pulling the strings. I’m more of a Lord Emsworth: vague, infuriating but essentially amiable and constantly shirking my responsibilities…

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