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Wick (John Macleod), Week 10: 28 January

A still from the 1930s classic, “The Maltese Gansey”…


I got into an argument the other day with someone—well, I say it was an argument, but this is Britain so we didn’t actually come to blows and I wasn’t left groping around on the floor for fragments of my teeth; but we definitely raised our eyebrows at each other in a meaningful sort of way—about the literary merits or otherwise of the Harry Potter series. My interlocutor took the position that the books were badly written and would not survive, while I respectfully disagreed.

Clouds over Dunnet Beach

Now, I’m happy to argue the toss with anyone over values; but when people say that a work of art won’t last, what they usually mean is that they can see no value in it and they hope it won’t. Anyway, predicting the tastes of the future is a mug’s game. JS Bach went out of favour for a century after his death, and performances of Mahler’s symphonies were rare as hen’s teeth for 50 years after his; now you can’t turn on the radio without hearing them. Walter Scott was the Stephen King of his day—Waverley Station in Edinburgh still remains the only railway station named after a novel—but who now reads his books?

If I’m ever tempted to get out my crystal and try my hand at a spot of ball-gazing, I remember the British music critic James William Davidson (1843-80). He famously opined that Wagner couldn’t write music; that Berlioz was a “vulgar lunatic”; and (my favourite, and one I’m saving up for a special occasion) Liszt was “talentless funghi”. And I console myself with the wise words of Jean Sibelius: no one ever put up a statue to a critic.

(Look, it’s not really this colour, OK…?)

In gansey news, I’m making good progress down the first sleeve. This sort of pattern band appears in the ganseys in several of the Johnston Collection photographs, so it seems to have been something of a Caithness feature. But for some reason I struggled with it: the endless knit two, purl one sequence stubbornly failed to lodge itself in my brain, and I found that unless I concentrated hard I naturally defaulted to a knit two, purl two rhythm, and had to keep going back, unpicking and knitting bits over. But it’s a striking effect, and no doubt I just need more practice.

Sunset at Sarclet Harbour

Finally, the poet WH Auden summed up the attitude of posterity to literary merit. Writing of the controversial French poet and dramatist Paul Claudel, in his poem In Memory of WB Yeats, Auden quipped:

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

[Apologies for the poor quality/ vivid colours of the photos this week – Margaret’s away just now, and my iPhone seems to be set on either “Humphrey Bogart” or “fluorescent blue” – normal service hopefully resumed next week…]

14 comments to Wick (John Macleod), Week 10: 28 January

  • meg macleod

    i find myself wondering ..what would you do if you did not knit?..the soothing effect of hand and mind working in harmony is really magical……..in spite of the rebellion over k2 p1
    the urge to create runs deep ….thinking that our schools are missing the point as i realise how many of the craft/art/music/ classes are being lost…..wondering when/if the tide will reverse.
    if harry potter stimulates the imagination and enthusiam for reading ..the children will no doubt move onwards to other books but only if someone points them in the right direction..i guess that there must be hundreds of children have improved their reading skills by reading harry potter….its what happens next thats important.. make a child hungry to read and you are half way to somewhere else!

    • Lois

      I quite agree. My son was read to, long before he was old enough to understand the words. And when the Harry Potter series came out, I snapped up the books for my grandsons. That created another generation of readers.

      The loss of hands-on classes in schools is creating a generation who are missing the simple pleasures of creating art, music and basic life skills. No computer is going to sew on buttons! And the educators seem to have forgotten that somebody needs to assemble buildings, run electrical wiring and plumbing, and screw in a light bulb!

  • =Tamar

    The HP books are badly written but will survive. I say this because I read the first one at least a dozen times trying to figure out what made it a grabber.
    But enough about that.
    Knit 2, purl 1 is a tricky one.
    I once invented an absolutely absurd design for ribbing and knitted it onto an absurdly intarsia-patterned cardigan; it was maddening to work and didn’t look all that good when done, but I treasure it as a triumph anyway.

    • Stephanie

      I can relate to this comment, as I recently created an absurd intarsia beanie depicting the cityscape of Florence and the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in particular. The whole time I was doing it I was thinking that I was crazy, and it is not entirely attractive (lumpy) in the end. That said, that I completed it and wove in the ends feels like a triumph!

  • Jane

    I don’t know what it is, but the Harry Potter books really grab the youngsters’ attention. And in a world where skills like reading are not easy to come by, I am grateful.

    The gansey is great. Muttering is the way to go. Faced with a difficult pattern, I mutter, a little song of instructions. So I am the gal in the corner muttering … it’s a look!

  • Melissa

    the wise words of Jean Sibelius: no one ever put up a statue to a critic.

    What a great quotation!

  • Lynne

    Good for you standing up for HP! I’m nearly 79 years old and have read the entire set three times and each time my mind continually works at imagining the scenes and magic. The books drew three of my grandchildren into reading for a past time. (And just to throw in a little bit of culture, I also listen to the music of the aforementioned artists).

  • Stephanie

    I love the first photo this week as the detail of the motifs is so easy to see. Wonderful!

    • Stephanie

      I probably shouldn’t enter into this discussion, but my thought with respect to HP has always been that there are far more interesting things to read and that children can explore those more varied offerings with encouragement. There’s something about the compulsive, devotional aspect to HP that I find somewhat disturbing (though I find myself in the minority on this one). My mom always encouraged me to read books that were often somewhat beyond my grasp (e.g., The Scarlett Pimpernel and A Tale of Two Cities, that befuddled me when I was about twelve, but they made me hungry to read and learn more and encouraged a wider grazing than was common in my peer group).

  • Lois

    A friend of mine taught adult literacy classes for years. I was astonished when I found that a couple of her students were reading Harlequin romances!

    When I mentioned this to her, she merely smiled and said, “ whatever it takes to get them started”.

  • Gordon

    Hello everyone, too many comments to reply individually, apologies—so I’ll just add that the Romans got there first. As they used to say, “De gustibus non est disputandum”, which (loosely translated) means, there’s no point in arguing over the merits of Harry Potter: you either like it or you don’t.

    Or as another wise man once said: There’s only two kinds of music—the kind you like, and the kind you don’t…

  • Dave

    Smelly buses aren’t as good as a two seater bicycle?

  • Carolyn

    Looking forward to seeing the completed gansey; it appears, like HP, destined to be a classic.

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