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Wick III – Fergus Ferguson: 1 May

3W160501-1 I celebrated my 56th birthday last week—though now I come to think about it, perhaps “celebrated” isn’t exactly the word. (Commiserated? Maudlined? Whining-self-pitied?) Anyway, as a treat, Margaret offered to bake me a cake of my choosing.

After detailed internet searches involving algorithms, spreadsheets and an army of trained field mice (it’s great—they work for crumbs), I finally came up with the chocolate cake of my dreams, a platonic ideal of an ur-cake, so dark and rich and moist we’ve already been approached by several Texans asking if they can sink an exploratory well. It’s dense enough to have its own event horizon, and it’s possible that we may have discovered simultaneously both dark matter and the fact that it goes nicely with chocolate frosting.

3W160501-2Even a small quantity can be lethal. We’re eating it in centimetre cubes, and even then it sort of sinks to the bottom of your stomach where it slowly expands. (In my darker moments I’ve sometimes wondered what it must feel like to have the creature from Alien gestating inside you; now I have a pretty good idea.)

Under these circumstances any kind of activity, such as standing up, is out of the question, so it’s lucky that knitting is the kind of hobby that one can do while paralysed from the stomach downwards. Reader, I have finished the back, and you can now see the pattern in all its damson glory.


Fergus Ferguson (detail)
from the Johnston Collection

Couple of things to note: first of all, as in the original, there aren’t shoulder straps as such—the pattern just goes all the way to the top of the shoulder, where front and back will be joined. This wasn’t common practice, as far as I can tell, but it’s not unknown—the photos in Gladys Thompson for the Patrington & Withernsea gansey, for example, are similar.

I’d hoped that the Johnston Collection (to which the original photo belongs) would be back online by now, but I understand that might take a while yet. And as the whole point of doing this pattern was so you could see how our re-creation matches the original, it’s a bit frustrating! Now, no one respects copyright law more than I—it’s my job, after all—but under the circumstances I hope no one will mind if we show a partial image of the original yoke here for comparison. (And as soon as the collection is back online I’ll post a link to it.)


Spring finally arrives

As I said last week, we can’t match the original exactly—the stitch and row gauge on that were far too fine—but on the whole we’re rather pleased with it.

Returning to the question of being old: for my birthday last week, not only did I get a cake, I got my biennial bowel screening test kit from NHS Scotland. Reading the instructions, I’m glad to see that it’s moving with the times. Whereas two years ago the advice was to try to catch enough matter to use as a sample as it exited the body (on a bad day not unlike grouse shooting on the Scottish moors in a blizzard); now one is advised to place a container in the bottom of the toilet bowl and aim in its general direction, like the crew of a Lancaster bomber trying to destroy a dam in the Ruhr.

As for me, I’ve decided to adopt the technique recommended by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens when faced with a similar situation: “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure…”

28 comments to Wick III – Fergus Ferguson: 1 May

  • Pat S

    The cake sounds wonderful, but darn it, it’s in cup measures and the scientist in me hates cup measures because of the gross imprecision. I once tested it, and depending on how you fill the cup you can get almost 20% variability in the weight of flour for a given volume. And how do you measure butter in cups?

    • Judit M/Finland

      Dear Pat S,
      In my country-Finland- all measures were in cups as every household had cups but not every family had scales. Baking a cake is not exactly a scientific problem , so never mind the cups :).
      And as to measure butter in a cup?- You melt the butter and measurement is no problem anymore.

  • Judit M/Finland

    Hello Gordon,
    Fantastic pattern and fantastic cake ! Happy birthday !

  • Julie

    Belated Happy Birthday, Gordon. Coincidentally, I made that cake within the last 6 weeks and my family declared, “Toss all the other recipes, Mum. This is a keeper.”

    To measure butter, I use the displacement system. In a 2-c. measuring cup put 1 c. of water. Add butter in pieces until water level reaches the 2-c. mark.

    Lovely sweater and colour! And so speedy. You will knit off the extra cake calories in no time.
    Victoria, BC, Canada

  • Lynne

    I think you’ve really done justice to that Fergus Ferguson pattern and I can sure understand why you like it so well. It’s outstanding in that rich Damsom color.
    Happy belated birthday, Gordon, I’ve been with your blog since you celebrated the dreaded half century milestone and I remember how tough that one was for you. We must celebrate every one of them, the alternative isn’t at all appealing.

    • Hello Lynne, I had my real midlife crisis at the age of 12, after which it’s all been downhill, one way and another… On the other hand, I got to see Ian Botham, England’s greatest ever cricket all-rounder, play live, as well as the great West Indian cricket team, I lived through the golden age of pop, rock, prog rock and punk and I discovered Harry Potter and Philip Pullman before they were famous, I was never drafted to fight in a war, and I lived during a golden age when Britain actually funded cultural services like archives—so on the whole I’ve been very lucky.

      Not only that but I’m old enough to remember a time before Frangipani when there weren’t 30 colours of gansey yarn to choose from! Kids nowadays, they don’t know they’re born…

  • Gordon

    Hello everyone – first thing to say is, hurrah, the Johnston Collection is back online – so now you can see Fergus Ferguson looking very dashing in his gansey, watch chain and moustaches that can put an eye out at 20 paces.

    American butter comes in sticks. One stick equals 4 ounces or 110-112 grams, depending on which website you use. After experiencing this splendid cake I am in the process of inventing a new measure which instead indicates how much each recipe hardens your arteries: this one’s a 10 on the Reid scale…

    Fergus can be found at http://www.johnstoncollection.net/show_image_adv.aspx?id=JN15813P125&mode=0&term=fergus%20ferguson&pindex=0

  • Dave

    As I understand it, single cream is not only the best of diet food but also the only known cure for bowel cancer – who knows, it might even go well with your chocolate cake. Worth a try perhaps?

    • Hi Dave, this might be where I’ve been going wrong—I rather cut out the middle man and went straight to clotted cream, deciding single cream was for the faint-hearted…

  • Jenny Victoria, BC, Canada

    Happy Birthday, Gordon. You’re quite young and thus have many more years of knitting up a gansey each month of the year.

    The displacement method of measuring is a very clever way of translating a recipe across the Atlantic. But for dry measure like flour and sugar, 1 pound of flour = 4 cups and 1 pound of sugar = 2 cups. One pound = 453.59237 grams or 454 grams if you round it up. One cup in US measure = 8 fluid ounces.

    Lovely pattern on this gansey, Gordon, especially the yoke. And am glad to back blogging after several months of being away from it.

    To Julie, thank you for your encouragement with regards to the sleeves on my gansey. I finished it last week and sent photos to Gordon yesterday. He’ll post them in next week’s blog.

    • Gordon

      Hello Jenny, good to hear from you and it’s a super sweater. I keep telling myself I’m still in the “naught but a spring chicken” category but at my last work appraisal my boss asked me if I needed a nap, and at one point got up, walked around her desk, and held a mirror to my lips to see if I was still breathing, so I may not come across that way to outsiders…

  • Jane

    Very happy birthday, Gordon. Outstanding cake and outstanding work! Nice to see Fergus Ferguson back!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, and thanks. We’ve frozen the rest of the cake to give my arteries a break! When you see the fine work in Fergus’s original gansey you just have to doff your cap in admiration. Amazing knitting!

  • Lois

    Happy belated birthday Gordon! You and I must have them around the same time, but I’ve got many more moons than you. I don’t measure age by years, I’ve earned every one of these grey hairs the hard way and proud of it! The young squirts haven’t got a clue that it’s good to reach the years of discretion. I might even make it myself someday!

    • Gordon

      Hello Lois, I’m the day after ANZAC day if that helps?

      What is this hair of which you speak? I seem to remember something like that on top of my head once, but it has fallen as the leaves of autumn…

  • Lois

    Beat you to it! I’m Anzac Day,

    • Gordon

      Ha, I was supposed to be ANZAC day, as a Kiwi my mum hoped my birthday would always fall on a holiday, but I was stubborn and held out just into the early hours of the 26th…

  • lois

    I also hold the distinction of being born on Easter. Quite a combination, huh?

    • Gordon

      Ha, at least you’re not going to be short of chocolate then! (Fond as I am of ANZAC biscuits, they’re really not the same…)

  • Lois

    Reminds me of the saying –
    Save the Earth – it’s the only planet with chocolate!

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Happy Belated Birthday Gordon. I missed all the fun last week because I was buried in last minute tax returns that my cheeky customers drop off on the last couple of days every year. This year I charged all the second offenders double!!! since they cut into my knitting time. That cake sounds wonderful but I don’t bake – grew up with a mom who made everything without measuring anything. And don’t feel too old – two weeks ago I passed 65 heading downhill . . . oh, lovely lovely gansey. I’m not sure it’s your best but it certainly is one of your best.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon and thank you. I never did a lot of baking, but my father is an outstanding cook (in all areas but especially cakes and fudge—what is it about the Scots and sugar???). So it was mostly bread for me until we moved to Wick and (a) I got a job, and (b) we bought a house with a pretty poor oven (whose big compartment door has been missing since Christmas Day, so that’s that).

      I think the simplest policy is just to charge all your customers double. As the old saying from the Religious Wars goes, Kill them all; God will know his own…

  • brenda

    Were all the ganseys back in the day short like the Ferguson one? We seem to make them longer now.

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