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Wick (Donald Murray): Week 16 – 8 July

It’s officially summer: schools across the Highlands have broken up for the holidays, and suddenly the town is full of children doing what children do best, viz., hanging about on street corners looking vaguely menacing, as though they’d managed to catch the first three seasons of the Sopranos before their parents added a parental lock to the satellite box. It’s not been a great summer so far, to be frank. Last week it was 11-12ºC, the rain lashed in by 30mph winds, and you could see the tourists staring grimly through the water-streaked windows of their camper vans at a saturated, grey, lifeless world, as though realising that, after visiting Caithness, death was no longer something to be feared.

And yet, and yet. Every now and then the sun remembers what it’s for, and hastily stubs out its cigarette and puts down its cinnamon latte and actually shines through rare breaks in the clouds. And it’s rather wonderful, like Dorothy waking up in Oz—suddenly the world is transformed, full of colour and life and sound. From about 3.00am the handful of birds who haven’t woken up to find themselves in Denmark start singing their little hearts out—presumably seeking new mates, their old ones having drowned last week—in what is arguably the world’s most annoying dawn chorus. The fields are full of lambs, squelching excitedly through the boggy ground while their mothers, heavy with unshorn fleeces and existential dread, sink slowly into the mud with a general air of pained resignation.

North Baths in the Rain

Meanwhile, we continue to knit. The first sleeve of the Wick gansey is finished: note the cuff, a fancy little number involving cables. Several of the ganseys in the Johnston Collection of old photographs feature variants of this, a very fetching pattern. (It wouldn’t work for my preferred style of knitting long cuffs you can double back and adjust to suit; but it does look very neat as part of a “Sunday best” gansey like this.) I’m on the second sleeve now, and the end is in sight.

Frog Orchid, Dunnet Coronation Meadow

In parish news, Judit has sent me pictures of her latest gansey, which you can see on her (crowded) gallery page. I was struck by the picture of the whole gansey, and thought it wouldn’t be out of place as an illustration from Gladys Thompson’s book, as an example of a classic vintage gansey. It’s another very effective combination of patterns, and many congratulations once again to Judit.

Finally this week, we’ve been watching Brian Cox’s jaw-dropping new series on the solar system and the planets, which I’d urge you to catch if you can. In which spirit, here are two of my favourite quotes on the general wonderfulness of our existence. The first is by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, who like Professor Cox does an outstanding job explaining science to archivists like me: “Physicists are made of atoms. A physicist is an attempt by an atom to understand itself”. Isn’t that great? The other is by Brian Swimme: “Four and a half billion years ago, the Earth was a flaming molten ball of rock, and now it can sing opera”. Also great! Although … replace the words “sing opera” with “knit ganseys”, Brian, and I think you may be onto something…

13 comments to Wick (Donald Murray): Week 16 – 8 July

  • Lynne Brock

    Oh, my heart – the CUFFS! and just when I’d thought you’d shown us everything!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lynne, they’re pretty flash, aren’t they? The only downside is that by the time I get to the cuff I feel like I’m almost home… so to suddenly have to start counting rows for the cables comes as something of a shock!

  • Lois

    I have to disagree with you. The most annoying dawn chorus is the neighbour across the road who has 4 roosters, who all start crowing in various shrill tones about 4 am. Opera, it is not!

    I am a non-violent person and an animal lover, but the thoughts of a stick of dynamite have crossed my mind at times.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, I think there’s not much to choose between your roosters and our seagulls – neither what you want to hear at that time in the morning.

      In these situations I always follow the sound advice from Aliens: “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure…”

  • Dave

    You’re not selling the place Gordon – I begin to understand the origins of Gansey knitting in Caithness.

    • Gordon

      You know Dave, I could never understand why I lost that job with the Caithness Tourist Board…

      Though today has been stunningly beautiful, no clouds, light breeze, 15-16c, brilliant sunshine and blue skies arching overhead like a window into God’s garden of Eden…

  • =Tamar

    15C? brr. It did get down toward 25 to 30C here, but only late at night, after a half-day-long thunderstorm. I was even able to turn off the a/c last night.

    The end of that sleeve looks to have been simply bound off. No doubt the slightly frilly effect will go away once it’s blocked, but I rather like it.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I guess the casting off looks a little odd because it’s not in a standard knit 2/ purl 2 pattern. But I agree; I rather like it!

      The whole point of living in the far north if Scotland for me is that temperatures of 25-30c should only be things I read about!

  • Bridget

    I’ll admit it straight off. The cuff was the first thing I noticed. My mind is already racing.
    SOUND machine people! Sound machine. No caws, no cock-a-doodle-doos!

  • Judit M./Finland

    Hello Gordon,
    Many thanks for adding my last gansey to my crowded gallery. It is a present to my son who still has my first garment knitted for him in 1985. And that is still in use.
    Happy knitting !

    • Gordon

      Hello Judit, two ganseys in 35 years? You’re spoiling the lad! Well done though on obviously getting it right first time.

  • Love this site! So glad I found it.

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