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Wick (John Macleod), Week 8: 14 January

The far north of Scotland is being battered by deep depressions just now. (I mean this in a meteorological sense rather than a spiritual one, of course; since the doctors put me on antidepressant medication I rather feel, to quote The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, that anything I still cannot deal with is therefore my own problem.) But then that’s the price you pay for living here: as the old joke about the BBC weather report goes, “Severe gales are forecast, so viewers in England and Wales are warned to stay indoors and avoid travel; and for viewers in Scotland, you’ll need your coat…”

Top wind speed in Wick last week was 74 mph, which really isn’t a lot of fun. Caravans were blown across the main north-south route through the Highlands, bridges were closed and a convenience store had its roof torn off. The wind blew straight down from the north and in Thurso it lifted the sand up off the beech and on through the town, creating an eerie drifting-fog effect, as though a stray group of Nazis had foolishly decided to open the Ark of the Covenant on Thurso esplanade for a lark.

Confused Daffodils

On the plus side, I’m about two-thirds of the way up the front of John Macleod’s gansey, and have set up base camp preparatory to making the final assault next week. I’m deliberately knitting more slowly with this pattern: it’s easy to make mistakes when I’m tired, and every other row I stop and count the number of stitches in the centre panel to make sure I’ve done all the yarn overs in the right places and still have the correct number of stitches.

Sunset on the riverbank

And shall I tell you something rather impressive? This is actually being knit with two separate dye lots of Frangipani sea spray yarn (two 500g cones). I knew it was a risk, because you can end up with visible lines where the colours don’t-quite-match; but as I had the two cones to hand, and was knitting the pattern as an example, I thought I’d take the chance. But here’s the thing: I can’t see the join, even in our currently elusive daylight. Sometimes fortune favours the casually reckless; and all credit to Frangipani for the consistency of their dyes.

St Fergus’ from the riverside path

As I write this the wind is getting up again, a mere 50 mph this time. So I’m going to finish with four lines by Li Po, the great Chinese poet and drinker. (It’s strange to think Li was writing tranquil poems like this while across the globe the Vikings were just starting to think it might be fun to bring down western civilisation.) In this extract he has come down from Zhongnan mountain; it’s dark and he’s stopped by the farmhouse of a friend for a drink:

We sang to the tune of the wind in the pines;
And we finished our songs as the stars went down,
When I being drunk and my friend more than happy,
Between us we forgot the world.

4 comments to Wick (John Macleod), Week 8: 14 January

  • Melissa Simpson

    There is a poem by Chang Hsien named The Startled Plums Fall Down

    The clouds are soft, the willow delicate…her hair is freshly dressed, she places the flute upon her lips, and as the sunset fades and dusk settles, she plays beneath the pale moon.

    A freshly-opened cherry bud…her lips upon the flute. She leans in the corner of the balcony: The night is chill, her silken robes are thin, her fingers cold…but music floats through frosty woods and startled plums fall pattering down.

  • Jane

    What lovely poetry, it is true, we knitters are a blessed band of folk!!

    And what a wonderful gansey, such beautiful work. You know, I keep thinking there is the making of a book in there for you Gordon.

    I was told just a few years ago by the lady in the local wool shop that if you use different dye lots in a piece and the numbers are not too far apart, it will all work out. I think it still says a lot for the yarn producers’ skills!

  • =Tamar

    Careful work makes a beautiful gansey.
    Is the riverside path one of the old straight tracks? It does seem to aim directly at St Fergus’s.

  • twinsetellen

    The poem Melissa cites is lovely, but I confess to having hopes of re-enacting the Li Po verse at a knitting retreat this weekend in northern Minnesota, USA. We don’t expect the gale force winds of Wick, though the temperatures will be in the teens and twenties below 0C. Either one makes for good knitting weather.

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