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Wick V – Donald Murray 2: 4 December

5wdm161205-1Here’s an interesting thought. Human civilisation has existed for perhaps 6,000 years. We think of this time as impossibly remote, but some people live for 100 years or more; and while modern medicine has made this more common, it’s always been the case. So, if you think of it in those terms, human civilisation is only 60 lifetimes old. Jesus was walking the earth within the lifetimes of just twenty people.

I read this idea in a book called Ultimate Questions, by my favourite philosophical writer Bryan Magee. He was using it to make the point that the human race is really just at the start of its journey in time and space. But the message I took from it, as an archivist, is how close the past actually is—the distant past not so distant after all.

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Roe deer by the river

Time, and lifetimes, have been rather in my thoughts lately. I gave a talk recently in which I mentioned that I’d been an archivist for 30 years. Afterwards a charming young lady came up to me and said, “You know, you’ve been an archivist for longer than I’ve been alive.” (I smiled obligingly to show there were no hard feelings, then snuck out during coffee and let the air out of her tires.)

Then I watched a programme on the recording of Paul Simon’s Graceland in 1986 and realised that growing old has a new terror, worse even than infirmity and hair loss: yes, I’ve now lived long enough to see my own memories repackaged into anniversary editions and turned into television retrospectives. (But looking on the bright side, wasn’t the music so much better back then?)

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Rocks near Sarclet

I’ve been laid low with a cold which has been lurking in the wings for a few weeks and has finally made its move, leaving me pretty wiped out. I have enough energy to lie flat on my back, which I vary by sitting up and knitting, but not much else at the moment; this is why the body of this gansey has grown so fast. The Wendy’s yarn is definitely more uneven than silky smooth Frangipani—lots of joins and bobbles and fluffy bits—but I am enjoying the change. At this rate I shall start the yoke pattern in the next few days, which is a bit scary.

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Path to the river

In parish news, Lois has sent me pictures of this cracking gansey using a combination of classic Flamborough patterns (and more). The yarn is a cotton and wool blend, and the colour shows up the patterns superbly; more evidence if any were needed that you don’t need 5-ply to knit a splendid gansey. Many congratulations to her!

And touching on where we started, it occurs to me that just two long human lifetimes encompass all the great advances in civilisation since the Battle of Waterloo: the industrial revolution, universal suffrage, cricket, the music of Bob Dylan, etc. Wick harbour was being built while Napoleon was still emperor; 200 years later all that remains of that way of life are ruined buildings and old photographs—and ganseys, of course. The archaeologist uncovers the past with a trowel; but every time we knit a gansey we’re doing experimental archaeology in wool. And bringing the past just that little bit closer with every stitch.

5 comments to Wick V – Donald Murray 2: 4 December

  • Lois

    We seem to be thinking along the same lines lately. Or is it just that I’m getting old? Because the music WAS better back then!

    But your musings did strike a chord. I’m only three generations away from my great-grandfather fighting at Waterloo. When one starts to think in terms of generations, rather than years, history becomes compressed into such a short span.

    Methinks I better get back to my yarn in a hurry!

    • Gordon

      Hello Lois, it’s partly my job that makes me always conscious of the past, but also living somewhere like Caithness where it feels as if every lumpy bit in a field is a 2,000 year-old broch, or the remains of a castle, and those buildings down by the harbour are abandoned crofts and curing sheds. In the built-up areas of the UK the past is concreted over to make room for houses and shopping malls—not having those things here, they lie around like rusting cars in a farmer’s yard, until time works its magic and archaeology takes over.

      Mind you, my CD collection feels like listenable archaeology these days—Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Genesis and Jethro Tull may, I fear, no longer be as cutting edge as I imagine them to be…!

  • Jane

    I often think that in almost every way it is a small world, things connect in the most unexpected and strange ways, and we should just accept that it is so and enjoy it for what it is.

    But enough of this! Lovely progress on the gansey, how gratifying! It seems to me that this yarn has a slightly “furrier” quality than the Frangipane wool, very nice. Sorry to hear about the cold, I and him outdoors have taken to vitamins this year, we live in hope, take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, I think you’re right—the Wendy’s yarn is a bit furrier than Frangipani. A little heavier, more chunky. Sometimes it feels like I’m knitting a tote bag. But I know when it’s washed and blocked it will smoothify itself and I won’t be able to tell them apart.

      My world is certainly a small one. But then I live on the edge of the known world, and the dark is rising…

  • Gordon

    This seems a good time for a great quote from Grandpa Simpson:

    I used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to me, and it’ll happen to you, too!

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