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Wick V – Donald Murray 7: 9 January

So there we are: 6 January is past, the Feast of Epiphany and Twelfth Night, and all the decorations and tinsel are packed away; Christmas is officially over, departing like a  travelling funfair, and we’re left to wonder if that packet of magic beans was really worth blowing the kids’ college fund on after all.

Rainbow at Dunnet Beach

Epiphany is also the day that traditionally marks the visit of the three wise men to the nativity of the baby Jesus. The wise men were Zoroastrian magi, which is of course where we get our word magicians from. Their names, if I remember correctly, were Caspar, Melchior and the Great Zucchini, and they brought gifts of gold, frankincense and a selection of comedy noses and some pigeons tucked up their sleeves.

Joking aside, I always feel there’s a genuine poignancy in the story of the visit of the magi: for the Zoroastrian religion was one of many that got swept aside by the new faith of Christianity. So the story of the nativity not only represents the manifestation of divinity in the affairs of men: but it also shows the old order giving way to the new. These wise men would be among the last of their kind.

Walking the dog

Also coming to an end is the current gansey: I have finished the first sleeve and am almost halfway down the second. With a fair wind I should finish it this week, then will just have need another week or two to darn in all the loose ends (serves me right for using 100g balls). You’ll have to wait a bit to see it blocked, I’m afraid: Margaret’s going to be away for a couple of weeks.

The ghost of ganseys present…

Meanwhile, and bear with me here, I wonder if you’ve ever bought any wool that was possessed? It seems to have happened to me. I was cheerfully working my way through one of the balls of yarn on its holder the other day when I happened to turn round and saw a face leering back at me. It gave me quite a shock, I can tell you.

Well, few things are more disconcerting than being sneered at by your yarn. It was rather hard to concentrate: I kept wondering if I was going to be visited by three ghosts and told to mend my ways. But I kept working away, invoking the protection of St Blaise, the patron saint of wool combers, and with every length of yarn I drew from the ball the more worried the face became; until it finally dissolved into a shapeless tangle and the spirit was released with a low despairing moan, probably to haunt some polyester sweaters in Marks and Spencer.


Anyway, in commemoration of Epiphany I leave you with the traditional carol as I learned it as a schoolboy in Northampton in the 1970s (in fact there were other versions: this is one of those best suited to mixed company):

We three kings of orient are,

One in a taxi, one in a car,

One on a scooter blowing his hooter,

Smoking a fat cigar…

10 comments to Wick V – Donald Murray 7: 9 January

  • Dav x

    Gordon, as well as imparting useful and interesting information, you always make me laugh out loud. That’s something which I deeply treasure in a friend.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dav, I have a couple of mottos I;ve adopted down the years, and one of them is, Life is too important to be taken seriously! Best wishes, G

  • Jane

    Well, I personally would not beat myself up too much about tension and size because this gansey is just wonderful. How about an over gansey. And in my book, yarn always did have a life of its own! It looks like nice yarn though, definitely worth another go.

    Meanwhile, in our house, Christmas is here to stay, for a while at least. The cats have grown fond of hiding at the bottom of the tree, artificial, and there were tacit objections when our kid went to take it down. Spike lay down under it and wouldn’t move. He now has the tree and the flashing lights! Take care.

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, I don’t have to worry about beating myself up these days because ever since I took out that wee loan with Lucky Davey “The Enforcer” MacBride I find there are two large chaps called Crusher and Corkscrew McTavish who are always willing to do that for me.

      I really like the yarn, despite everything. It knits up thicker and a little rougher than Frangipani, and while I still think Frangipani are the BMW or Audi of the gansey yarn world, there’s still a place for a rugged old Land Rover, or Cromwell tank. I like the variety it offers. I don’t think it will really be too wide, or not very—but it is too long! I’ll see how it looks once it’s blocked. I may have created the first gansey onesie…

      Dogs have owners, cats have staff—sad but true!

  • =Tamar

    There are still Zoroastrians. I’ve met one.

    Mmmm, a gansey onesie. Cosy warm arms for reading in bed.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, yes, Zoroastrianism has indeed survived to the present day, and has definitely had an impact on Iran and India. And one of the other major reasons for its decline was falling under those parts of the world ruled by Islam. But I’m interested in the presence of the magi at the nativity, and of course the texts were written by members of the faith that won!

  • Lois

    Well, I’ve encountered a few skeins of yarn that I’m sure were possessed by an evil spirit, when I tried to wind them into balls.

    I always get teased about that, because we have a tradition about winding in our family. Our yarn gets wound on a north-south axis, instead of around and round in a circular shape. This gives a football shape ball (American football, that is).

    But there’s a reason behind it, we don’t do it just to get strange looks from other knitters.

    In ye good old days (which is hardly the right description, unless you happened to be wealthy) most farm knitting was done in the evenings after supper and chores were done. Probably in the kitchen where it was warmer, and with only a candle or lamp for light. So If the yarn ball dropped on the floor, it could be quite a chase to find it in the shadows. Our yarn, not being round, would not roll very far. So there is method in our madness.

    Now we aren’t short of light, but it’s just a bow to past generations. Perhaps the origin of the name “oddballs”?

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, that’s interesting. I’ve read accounts of women knitting ganseys in near-darkness and wondered how on earth they managed it, especially with navy yarn—let alone trying to find a stray ball in the dark!

      Mind you, I just assumed that the people of different hemispheres wound the yarn in opposite directions, like water draining down a sink. Or was it to do with the effect of the moon on the tides?

  • Bridget

    Hello Gordon and all,
    I would SO love to see how the football is wound!
    This is in regard to winding yarn (balls).
    My husband insists on helping me wind balls from skeins. His usual motion is to turn the handle clockwise. I’ve found that when I am knitting in the round, the yarn tends to wind up upon itself. It has taken me years to figure this out, but now that hubby is winding counter-clockwise, I pretty much get a straight length of yarn.
    Thus, I get to sneer at the yarn, vs the other way around!

  • Lois

    I generally hand wind, unless its one of those skeins with a gazillion yards. And its easier than chasing my husband down.

    A football starts with a small round ball, as a base. Then, instead of winding and turning the ball in different directions to keep it round, you turn the ball on its axis, like the Earth, as you go, wrapping from south pole to north pole.

    When the ends get so pointy that the yarn slips off (like sliding down a hill) turn the ball horizontal. Continue winding around the centre of the ball only, from left to right, then from right to left, forming an X around the middle of the ball. When the middle of the ball gets fat enough, turn it back on point again and continue wrapping north and south as before.

    Cleasr as mud, huh.

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