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Wick V – Donald Murray 3: 11 December

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.”

11 comments to Wick V – Donald Murray 3: 11 December

  • Jane

    Well, I was somewhat worried by your cold, very sorry to hear it has rested on the chest. It sounds like you are doing all the right things, but the dark and the cold do not help either. I can only think to recommend rest and a nutricious diet, so easy to say!

    Meanwhile, what totally wonderful work. It is just glorious, and I do hope it is yours. Did the creators of the Johnston Collection realise what an outstanding piece of heritage they were making! Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane,

      You can really see the influence of the Hebridean ganseys in these marvellous Wick ones, can’t you? I still feel they’re the missing link between the rich Hebrides patterns and the rather more staid “Scottish Fleet” patterns – no doubt the result of all the Islanders coming to Wick for the fishing each year.

      As for me, I’m resting up and have decided to see if I can bore my troubles away by doing as little as possible over the next few weeks…

  • =Tamar

    “Cat on the chest” feeling… I don’t want to be alarmist, but that sort of thing worries me. (I am not a doctor, I just read a lot and listen to people talk about their health.) Fluid in the lungs can be the result of an infection, but it can also be the result of a slightly weakened heart. Have you had a recent check-up for that sort of thing? I ask because the aunt of a friend was having difficulty and it turned out that the cause in her case is a weak heart, but the symptom was fluid in the lungs, masquerading as pneumonia. Draining the fluid helped a lot more than medications.
    Hoping it’s just a cold…

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, and thank you for your concern. I’m pleased to report that the doctor gave me a good stethoscoping today while I did my deep breathing exercises, and said it all sounded clear—so fingers crossed I’m on the mend as far as that goes. The stress is another matter but I’m signed off work again now to give me the chance to rest up. Hopefully a week or two relaxing and listening to England lose at cricket in India will see me right. And, it’s a win-win—I get healthy and get another gansey out of it! Cheers, Gordon

  • Lois

    I like your attitude, Gordon. But please take care. I had symptoms like yours and the result was that I was down with pneumonia the entire summer. Of course, I did finish the gansey, but I can think of better ways to do it.
    Perhaps a crackling fireplace and a hot rum toddy?

    • Gordon

      Hello Lois, and thank you. The doctor tells me the chest is pretty clear now, so I think I’m out of the woods there. The stress is another matter, and that’s going to take longer to deal with. Basically if this was 100 years ago and I was a lieutenant just back from the trenches they’d say my nerves were shot, and that’s as good a way of putting it as any.

      But not to worry—I’ve got my emergency supplies of Old Pulteney single malt whisky and a plentiful supply of tablet to see me through the festive season!

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Lovely gansey!!! I really like the variety of patterns you select. My old dad used to claim that a good steam or sauna, goose-grease rub down & a hot toddy would cure anything!! And mom sprinkled garlic powder on everything we ate, so I can’t remember us ever being sick when I was a kid.

    • Gordon

      Hi Sharon, not only that but you wouldn’t get attacked by vampires either! On the other hand, if you got muddled and applied the goose grease and then had the sauna, you’d end up like a roast potato…

      The hot toddy at least seem safe—I’ll start with that!

  • Jane Callaghan

    Hi Gordon, I’ve been through a lot of stress (teaching!) and anxiety (built-in disorder) and found one very simple and amazingly comfortable physical way of relaxing. This is I think particularly useful if you knit, because unless you have some fierce Highland knitting style of sitting bolt upright, you tend to hunch forward and lift your shoulders, thus causing tension in the upper body and compressing the chest. But if you have a big blow-up exercise ball, you can lie backwards over it, and just gently let your head and arms drop downwards. Your shoulders sweetly open up and so does your chest. This is very comforting. It’s even better if you let the air in the ball warm in front of the fire. Perhaps this is coals to Newcastle, but a swift and contented recovery to you!

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, that sounds interesting, thank you. After reading your comment I tried to see what posture i adopt when I knit, and it’s a kind of backwards slouch: with my feet on a footstool and a soft and yielding cushion behind me I tend to angle backwards rather than forwards, like an astronaut preparing for lift-off.

      Your way certainly sounds relaxing though—i think some experimentation is required! Thanks again.

  • Jane Callaghan

    Brilliant! Your backwards slouch is much more comfortable than my forwards hunch. Thank you

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