I’ve been signed off work these last few days with a chest infection and stress, which is probably mostly down to overwork. I was aware I’d been running on empty for some time—the cold that refused to die was a bit of a clue—though I’d hoped to make it through to Christmas. But then I suddenly reached a point when my body more or less shut me down, and that was that.
Apart from the infection, which sometimes feels like a fat and lazy cat is lying on my chest, the other symptoms are not dissimilar to what I’ve read about shellshock, if I can be forgiven so extreme a comparison; and given they used to use shellac to make the wax seal resin of very old documents I’ve coined a new word for stress experienced by archivists: shellac shock.
It’s not a very nice feeling, to be honest. But after a week’s resting up I feel much better, to the extent that I’m no longer going through three or four handkerchiefs a day. I’m well enough to potter about the house, although climbing the stairs currently requires a team of sherpas, some huskies and a plentiful supply of oxygen.
In keeping with my biography in What Archivist Monthly (“his hobbies include ganseys, creative writing and brooding”), I’ve been doing a lot of knitting—and I mean a lot. To be honest, there’s not a lot else I can do right now: I can’t concentrate for long on reading or writing; and besides, the therapeutic benefits of knitting are well known (and, I can now testify, accurate).
So, here we are, well into the pattern and embarked on the underarm gussets. The usual way with yoked ganseys is to start the yoke pattern about the same time as you start increasing for the gussets. But interestingly a number of the old photos of Caithness fishermen in the Johnston Collection show the pattern starting several inches below the gussets, like this one does.
It’s not always easy to tell, mind you—partly because of the resolution of the pictures, and partly because a number appear to have very long ribbed welts which are folded up, reaching almost to the armpits (I’m guessing this was done to provide greater insulation?). Anyway, you can see the original photo of Donald Murray in his gansey here. And, although it’s not possible to replicate it exactly (different yarn, needles and gauge), here is Margaret’s recreation of this distinctive Wick pattern.
Finally this week, some sage advice I’ve been following from Merlyn the magician, in TH White’s wonderful The Sword in the Stone. The young boy nicknamed the Wart is unhappy on a dreary wet day and goes to see Merlyn, who he finds knitting himself a night-cap for the winter:
“Oh Merlyn,” exclaimed the Wart, “please give me something to do, because I feel so miserable. Nobody wants me for anything today, and I just don’t know how to be sensible. It rains so.”
To which Merlyn replies sagely: “You should learn to knit.”