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Wick Fergus Ferguson Revisited: Week 6 – 28 March

According to the Anglo-Saxons, March comes in “adorned with rime, passing through middle-earth with hail-showers”—rime here meaning frosty, not that everyone went around reciting poetry for thirty-one days. They also called it hlyd-monath or hraed-monath, stormy month or rugged month, which seems about right. Not this week just past, though: it’s been lovely, (mostly) blue skies (when it’s not been cloudy) with warm, gentle breezes (except when blown in off the freezing cold ocean). It actually feels like spring, which just goes to show that God likes a joke as well as the rest of us, given the forecast for this coming week is adorned with rime, passing through middle-earth with sleet- and snow-showers.

Creels & lighthouse

One of my favourite Old English terms is bóc-cræftig, “book-crafty”, or learned. They didn’t have a word for archivist, though, or archive, which doubtless explains why they were conquered so easily by the Normans in 1066. Interestingly, they had to borrow their word for history, stær, from Latin and it meant, not historical events as such, but the telling of those events, the story. (Other than history, stær could also refer to both a starling and a stare; possibly the cause of much confusion if a taxidermist ever gave you a “hard stær“.)

Cuff detail

The Old English for yarn was, of course, gearn (pronounced the same way). But the Anglo-Saxons didn’t have ganseys, nor did the Vikings, which may be why dragon-head motifs feature so seldom in the old photographs. I’ve finished the first sleeve of my own gansey, including the cuff, which is another Wick stunner. It uses 4-stitch cables cabled every fourth row, alternating with plain stitches bordered by purl stitches; and while it may not be as ornate as the lace cuffs in the Wick trees-and-diamonds pattern, or as functional as standard knit 2/ purl 2 ribbing, it still draws the cuffs in to the wrist every bit as successfully. It’s a very elegant solution which also crops up in other Wick photographs.


April was known as Ēaster-mōnath for obvious reasons, but only presumably because the Anglo-Saxons didn’t have a word for wheelie bin. It makes you wonder what Beowulf did with his grass clippings, and how often Hearot District Council came round and emptied the bins (“Hey, there’s an arm in here!” “Oh yes, sorry, that’s Grendel’s mother; we got into a bit of a barney last night.” “Look, mate, don’t you read the leaflets? Organic waste goes in the brown bin”). Hana Videen, in her fascinating book on Old English The Wordhord, points out that not only was there a word for weather—weder—which has come down to us more or less unchanged, but also for “un-weather”—un-weder; something which, after a decade of living in the far north of Scotland, I’d very much like to try one day…

4 comments to Wick Fergus Ferguson Revisited: Week 6 – 28 March

  • sharon g pottinger

    ‘un-weder’ corresponds well conceptually if not linguistically with the Caithness phrase for a good day as a ‘day between weathers’ Love that cuff btw

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, and a very merry un-weather to you! I imagine if weather and un-weather come into contact, a bit like matter and antimatter, that’s how thunderstorms are created?

  • =Tamar

    So un-weder means the calm between storms? (That led me to look up Unferth and I gather it means court fool.)

    The cuff is handsome, but I find the curliness distracting. The gansey as a whole is beautiful.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, Unferth appears in Beowulf, where he starts out enviously trying to put the hero down, but ends up acknowledging Beowulf’s prowess after he kills Grendel, and the two are somewhat reconciled. He’s described as a ‘thyle’, but no one seems to know exactly what it means – something like a poet, sage, orator, jester, ‘keeper of the lore’, you name it.

      The cuffs haven’t been blocked yet. They’ll probably always have a slightly crinkled edge, but hopefully get more straightened out!

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