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Wick VI – Scottish Flag, Week 3: 30 January

Sunday was a beautiful day, cold and crisp and clear, so I went for a walk up the river. There was a hazy sun reflecting on the water, high tide flooding the marshes which were crammed with wildfowl lazily sleeping off their Sunday dinners.

I’d stopped about half a mile up the path to take some pictures when a man came by walking his dog. “If you want some really good photos,” he said, with what seemed to me a rather questionable enthusiasm, “there’s a wounded deer further on. You can’t miss it! Great photo op!”

Well, I resumed my walk and soon encountered a couple with a pushchair. The man was carrying the deer in his arms: it was about the size and weight of a rolled-up duvet cast in lead, and when he was a few feet away he stopped and laid it down carefully in the grass, then stood panting to recover his breath. The woman was on her phone, trying to reach some organisation which might help. The deer had an open wound just behind the shoulder, wide and deep enough that you could see some of the internal workings, but clean and not bleeding.

The man explained that they’d found the deer—they run wild in the fields nearby—being worried by the other man’s dog, which wouldn’t leave it alone. It was well enough to stand, and was obviously eating all right, but was exhausted after fending off the dog. I looked at it: the poor thing sat there apparently quite unconcerned, until you noticed the quivering skin, the rapid breathing. The man said they hadn’t been able to leave it at the mercy of every loose dog that passed; they’d phoned a vet, but he’d declined to help on the grounds that they never bandage a wild animal.

Wick Riverside

The woman was now close enough for me to hear her conversation. “Yes,” she was saying. “On the north bank of the river, near the viewing platform. You know, there’s a couple of trees and—what? Riverside it’s called. By the river. Sorry? Oh, Wick.” There was a pause, then she said acidly, “Caithness. What? Yes, John O’Groats—near there.” She put her phone away and shook her head. “It was a central number. Someone in Glasgow.”

The man’s evident fatigue and the presence of the pushchair exerted considerable moral pressure, so I offered to help carry the wounded deer back to town. But the man would have none of it: “It’s minging,” he said—and indeed, I could smell the wild animal reek from several feet away. “You don’t need that all over you,” the woman agreed, gesturing ruefully at her stained jeans. “We were going to Tesco’s,” she sighed. “Not smelling like this we’re not!” She hefted the deer gently up in her arms and off they went.

This is a story without a punchline—I don’t know what happened afterwards. But I like to think that even now it’s lying in bed in deer hospital, flicking through the channels on the tv remote, and arguing with the nurses over the dinner menu (“What do you mean, roast beef or chicken? I’m a bleedin’ herbivore, me”). The wound on its back looked nasty but not serious; I’m choosing to believe this is a story with a happy ending—as opposed to the alternative… (Veal cutlet, anyone?)

Boats in the Marina, with added spray

Gansey Technical Notes:

Flag pattern, 10 stitches wide by 9 rows high

I’m signed off work, and Margaret is still away—which I guess explains the rather startling progress.

The design is taken from Rae Compton and Henrietta Munro’s book on Caithness ganseys, They Lived By The Sea, and it’s one of the more common patterns in Wick Museum’s Johnston Collection photographs too. Rae Compton calls it “the Scottish Flag Pattern, sometimes known as the kilt pleat pattern”. In her examples each repeat is 7 stitches wide and 6 rows tall (the equivalent of 1 inch wide using 3mm needles).

First question: how big should I make my pattern repeats—how many should I have? I zoomed in on one of the examples in the Johnston photographs and counted 18 repeats across the yoke. That seemed like a good proportion to aim for here.

I’d already worked out that my yoke would have approximately 180 stitches, so if I wanted to have 18 repeats in my gansey the maths was relatively simple, even for me: each yoke is therefore 18 x 10 = 180; i.e., 18 panels of 10 stitches each, plus an extra 2 stitches for the fake seams, and another stitch each side of the yoke to serve as pick-up stitches for the armholes. All in all it’s 366 stitches in the round.

You can see at once why it’s known as a pleated pattern: it knits up full of texture. I feel that really complex patterns get lost in the dark hue of navy yarn, but it comes into its own for this sort of simple pattern that relies on light and shade and repetition to make its effect. And this is just the sort of simple pattern I love, though I may have to iron it to keep it flat.

Rae (I feel we know each other well enough to be on first name terms by now, don’t you?) describes this as a “perfect starter pattern”, and I know what she means. It’s simple to plan out and simple to knit—and so long as you don’t lose concentration (*cough*) or lose count (who me?) you can’t go wrong. It’s also one of those patterns which is as easy to knit on the reverse side as the front.

10 comments to Wick VI – Scottish Flag, Week 3: 30 January

  • Lois

    I can only hope, like you, that the story had a happy ending. I hate to see an animal suffer.

    It reminded me of the time that I was frantically trying to find a vet on a weekend. The nearest one that answered the phone was 150 miles away and across the border in the USA. That was obviously out of the question..

    In the meantime, I had two black Great Danes with so many porcupine quills in their heads, that the heads appeared white. None in their eyes, thank heavens! But the female had tried to grab the porky and her entire mouth and throat were full of quills.

    With nowhere to turn for help, we got as many as we could out of the male, so he could at least drink. And the poor female stood there while my husband pulled quills out of her mouth from between the teeth, out of her tongue and throat for hours, until they were both too exhausted to stand.

    A friend was able to get them into her vet the next morning, after a 75 mile drive with the dogs. I told the vet right up front that I had no money at the moment. He looked at the dogs and said “we’ll talk about that later.” And rushed them both into surgery.

    The male wasn’t too bad, we had managed to get the worst out of him. But the female spent the entire day on the operating table, while the vet carefully removed hundreds of quills and broken off bits from her entire head. I acted as assistant.

    And the end of the story? After an exhausting day for all if us, and the patients on the road to recovery, the vet charged a nominal fee and said “pay me when you can.” And we were complete strangers to him!

    That vet deserves a place in heaven and we have been his customers ever since.

  • Gordon

    Hello Lois, that’s a wonderful story. I read a piece in the paper about how, in these worrying times, we should take comfort where we can find it and especially in acts of kindness, and that certainly fits the bill. (Though I can sympathise with the local vet’s point of view too.)

    The man who was carrying the deer said that he hoped it would be saved rather than destroyed, but then rather spoiled the effect by saying that he’d killed “loads of deer” himself, and it was really just a question of how it was done. (I pointed out that I was a vegetarian, so not really the ideal confidant for tales of deer extermination!) But it was just a flesh wound really, not a broken leg or anything like that—so hopefully it’s doing fine.

    I read somewhere that CS Lewis teased JRR Tolkien about the latter’s softheartedness to animals, when in The Lord of The Rings he couldn’t even bear the thought of Bill the pony coming to a bad end, so he had him improbably find his way alone from the badlands of Moria back home. But I’m with Tolkien on this one!

  • Jane

    I have a vet of the same ilk, a rare and beautiful thing. The number of wild animals quietly treated over the years at no charge and with great success is humbling. It is the small kind things that matter so much because from these better, greater things happen. And on we go! Do hope the deer was all right.

    What beautiful work, such a good pattern for this colour. It suits the yarn texture too. Really super. Take care!

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, yes, if we as a society cared more about vets and doctors and teachers (and archivists) and less about making money, the world would be a happier place—well, for everyone except businessmen, probably!

      I’ve come to realise that I just like navy blue as a colour, though part of me has an unrealistic idea of knitting a gansey in every Frangipani colour before I quit… (This would be easier if they didn’t keep inventing new ones!)

  • Felicity

    Thank you for beautiful knitting and encouraging my faith, despite recent horror, in the kindness of humans.

    • Gordon

      Hello Felicity, and thank you. Philip Larkin once wrote, “What will survive of us is love”, but in my own case I suspect the answer will be about 50 ganseys! (Ganseys—longer lasting than love…?)

      Speaking of Larkin, here are some of his most beautiful lines:

      Next morning I got up and it did not.
      The first day after a death, the new absence
      Is always the same; we should be careful

      Of each other, we should be kind
      While there is still time.

  • Lois

    I remember that when I was a wee tad, that flag pattern was used to knit pleated skirts for little girls. Many many moons ago!

    • Gordon

      Hi Lois, well, you must bear in mind that I went to an old-fashioned English boy’s grammar school—so our skirts didn’t have pleats in them!

  • Judit M./Finland

    Gordon, I read somewhere that ganseys are still in use in the Scottish Army . Is this true? And if it were the case , what may be the pattern ?

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