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Wick IV – George McKay: 3 July

4W160704-1When I was at university I studied medieval history and one of the things that caught my attention—one of the very few, as my tutors would tell you—was the random outbreak of irrational behaviour across communities, such as the famous dancing sickness. Whole villages and towns in France and Germany would suddenly, without obvious cause, start to dance, like extras in—I was going to say an Ingmar Bergman movie, but maybe Fred Astaire is nearer the mark—and the dance would last for days.

Because historians hate to leave things unexplained, the consensus in the early 1980s was that this was because they’d eaten bread contaminated by a fungus, a malady known as “ergotism”. (Of course, I knew this to be nonsense, because as a student I had first-hand knowledge of eating mouldy bread, and no one saw me or my flatmates dancing—running in an awkward crouch to the seat of ease, yes; dancing, not so much.)

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Grand Union Canal and Northants countryside

More recent theories include a sort of mass psychosis, religious mania, or even (my favourite) “shared stress”. But I gradually developed my own alternative theory, and I think it holds good: sometimes people, and societies, just go batshit crazy for no reason.

But enough about Britain’s EU referendum.

We’re back in Caithness after a restful, tranquil and delightful visit with my family in their canalside home in rural Northamptonshire. “O”, as my good friend Keats once said, “for a beaker full of the warm South”; and it really was warm. Ever since we got back we’ve been telling people tales of a land so temperate the inhabitants go around without pullovers or thermal underwear, only to be waved aside in knowing disbelief, as though we’d tried to sell them shares in a diamond mine in Radnorshire.

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Not a reflecting pool – Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal

I didn’t take the gansey with me, as it’s hard for me to keep track of a pattern and socialise at the same time (or socialise at all, to be fair). Instead I took a cone of Frangipani bottle green and started the next project, getting most of the ribbing completed. I’ll set it aside till the navy one is done.

I’ve still done a fair bit of knitting on the navy gansey since the last post, mind you, mostly because I came back from Northants rotten with cold: I’ve finished the back, joined the shoulders, knit the collar and picked up the stitches round the armhole to begin the first sleeve. You’ll observe that the collar is a traditional, non-shaped one, front and back exactly alike. (I must admit, I think ganseys do look better with this sort of neckline; and if it wasn’t for the fact that they make me feel as though I’m being throttled by a malignant boa constrictor I’d probably make more like this.)

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Fireworks in flower form

And now I feel I could do with cheering up after all the dismal news of the last few days. I’ve got some mouldy bread in the cupboard; anybody feel like a dance…?

PS – Happy 4th July to all our American readers! [There has been some talk of the referendum date, June 23rd, being Britain’s own independence day, the day we seceded from ourselves. Well; so long as there’s fireworks…] To mark the occasion I’ve put most of my novels till Friday on a free promotion on Amazon (US and UK). Hurry while stocks last…

14 comments to Wick IV – George McKay: 3 July

  • Lois

    You certainly have a way with words, Gordon. “Batshit crazy”, the perfect description!

    Love the cable pattern, in its unblocked state it reminds me of ripples along the shore.

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, I think you’re on to something there. I’ve been trying to think what it reminds me of, and the indentations left in the sand by departing waves hits the nail on the head perfectly. In fact, I’m going to have to get a plastic seagull to wear on my shoulder when I go out in it, just to complete the effect…

  • Lois

    Maybe a rubber ducky ………..?

    • Gordon

      Well, as the Captain of the Golgafrinchan B Ark in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy said, “You’re never alone with a rubber duck…”

  • =Tamar

    Don’t forget to drip some mayonnaise down below the seagull, for the authentic look.

    About the dancing mania: I recently read a book about Encephalitis Lethargica, which sometimes produces hyperactive behaviors: “always running to and fro”, “distracted rampages”, “frenzied running and leaping”, as well as the more common lethargy and convulsions. It’s Laurie Winn Carlson’s _A Fever In Salem_ (1999). It tends to occur in epidemics and is mainly mosquito-borne. It is unusual, not to say unlikely, for everyone to do the same thing; I wonder whether the medieval reports may have been conflated so that a lot of people all having similar symptoms were written up as if they were all doing the same thing at once.

    • Gordon

      Ha, more likely ketchup, to simulate the blood I’d lose as the bastard scythed me with its beak! I’ve seen seagulls in action, especially in that documentary film, Hitchcock’s The Birds…

      The most famous example of the dancing sickness was in Strasbourg in 1518, when 400 people danced for about a month, often for days without rest. (This was the medieval equivalent of binge-watching watching the entire box set of Game of Thrones in one go.) It just seems to be one of those bizarre things that come out of nowhere, inexplicably catches on for a while, is everywhere, then vanishes—like, say, prog rock, or quinoa, or Donald Trump.

      • Lynne

        Oh, Gordon – you give me HOPE – that Donald Trump will actually vanish from the November ballot!

        • Gordon

          Hi Lynne, if we all close our eyes and wish really, really hard…

          • Lois

            Eyes closed, fingers crossed ….

          • Jenny

            Gordon, Lynne, and Lois,

            I’ve had my eyes closed really, really hard since Trump won the magic number of delegates when he won the primaries in the State of Indiana.

            I’ll be wearing my red shoes and just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I will tap the heels and hope to be magically transported to the Land of Oz and be granted my wish that on the 8th of November 2016, The Donald vanishes in thin air like the Wicked Witch of the West.

  • Nancy

    Oh, Gordon, Gordon, Gordon.

    The describers of the medieval dancing behaviors were hampered fatally by being pre-R Dawson, therefore meme innocent.

    Hitchhiker’s Guide AND Moby Dick? Indeed, you are an equal opportunity reader. Delightful, too.

    My 70st Wendy Guernsey “gauge” is wearing on, thank you. The stitches&rows to width&length measurement and ratio is needed much less than simply learning to read tiny-upon-navy.

    Thank you for another delightful post!

    Nancy

    • Gordon

      Hi Nancy, well, if it’s anything like my attempts to teach Morris dancing, i can imagine a town square full of people blundering around asking, “Wait… Was it right foot first or left? Do what with the which now?”

      As for my cultural tastes, I’m a lover of Dostoevsky and Proust who enjoys the fart jokes on Family Guy, so I’m not going to take the moral high ground anytime soon! But like the famous quote from Duke Ellington about music, “There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind…” I feel that way about books: there’s only books you feel like reading right now, and book you don’t…

      Good luck with the navy! (This sounds like something from a wartime recruiting poster, in retrospect…)

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Maybe a case of ‘magic’ mushrooms in the Steak & Mushroom pies. I remember the days when mom used to send me with my little red wagon down to the back of the barn to pick a mushroom from the compost pile for dinner. One used to fill an entire cast frying pan!!! Either that or the bathtub gin was bad.

    Interesting pattern on the latest project by the way.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon,

      Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams, as the Good Book says – though obviously it helps if they’ve been eating compost mushrooms first! I tried bathtub gin once but it made the shampoo smell funny.

      I’m now thinking of christening this gansey “the wavy navy one”.

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