Here’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.
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?)
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.
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.