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Wick VI – Scottish Flag, Week 5: 13 February

First of all, the good news: I’ve finished the Scottish Flag gansey, darned in the ends and it’s now been washed and is pinned out on the blocking boards to dry. I’ve never knit a gansey in so short a time—I started it on 13 January and finished it yesterday, 12 February; all in all, less than a month.

Dunes at Dunnet

Secondly, the not so good: the reason I’ve been able to knit it so quickly is, of course, because I’m still signed off work. In fact, I’ve now been diagnosed as suffering from a form of depression. This was news to me: but I’ve had to learn that depression comes in many guises and can sneak up on you over a long period of time, dragging you down incrementally. (There’s a theory that if you place a frog in a pan of cold water and heat it up gradually, the frog will never actually realise it’s being boiled to death until too late; this is apparently a myth, but I think it’s a good analogy.)

Signs of Spring

I’m told I should make a full recovery, and to aid that process I’ve just started a course of antidepressants to return my serotonin levels to normal. (Touching wood, I’ve so far avoided the worst of the side effects such as blurred vision and nausea; though I do wake up each morning with a mouth that feels, and tastes, like a week-old cat litter tray, and I’m as tired as if I’ve been shot with an elephant tranquilliser.) But as far as I’m concerned, an illness is an illness—mental or physical—and to quote another doctor, if I’d broken my leg would I feel any differently about it? (And if so, why?)

Sleeve detail

Well. Returning to happier matters, namely ganseys, it was good to see them getting some publicity on the BBC’s Countryfile programme yesterday, even if it was only for a superficial 5 minutes, as John Craven visited Margaret Taylor, gansey knitter of Filey. For UK viewers the programme’s available on iPlayer, and the gansey feature comes right at the end.

Finally, I’ve been speculating on the Scottish Flag pattern of my latest gansey. In a certain light it reminds me of a skyscraper of glass office windows catching the sun; at other times the inside of an egg carton. My favourite idea is that you could also use it as a chess board, so that at quiet times in the fishing the skipper might say, “Fancy a game, Jim? All right, Gordon, lie down on the deck and we’ll get the pieces out…”

29 comments to Wick VI – Scottish Flag, Week 5: 13 February

  • Nicki

    Beautiful work, Gordo, as always. And congratulations on getting a bit on Countryfile. I’m glad you’re being recognized for your work as a gansey keepr-of-the-flame. I’m sorry you’re still unwell, but I hope the new meds will put you back into fighting form soon.

    I’m still stewing in my juices here, reading faithfully every week for the last six or so years and yet I’ve nary a stitch cast on for my gansey. That you finish one in a month is mind-blowing to me; you are always an inspiration.

  • Nicki

    Ack! Don’t know where the ‘n’ on your name went. I swear it was there before I hit send.


    • Gordon

      Hi Nicki, and thank you. I should just clarify, I’m not in the Countryfile programme, only Margaret Taylor.

      This is of course a good thing. TV and I do not go well. I remember one time I was in charge of project at the National Library of Wales. The BBC came to do a feature on it. I stood and, possessed by the spirit as I sometimes am, gave a quite splendid piece to camera about the aims and aspirations of the project. At the end a couple of people even applauded. Then the director said, Brilliant; but someone was moving behind you in shot—can you just do that again, please? And of course I couldn’t. I’d no recollection of what I’d just said and stammered out a few lame, halting phrases until the director put me out of my misery! In the end they used someone else.

      This is why I tend to avoid putting myself forward for TV nowadays. It’s not that I’m shy—it’s just that TV and I don’t get along…

  • Nigel Southworth

    I really like that pattern. So simple and yet so effective.

    • Gordon

      Hi Nigel, it’s great, isn’t it? Simple blocks of pattern, just knit and purl stitches, and yet it’s almost hypnotically pleasing!

  • Lois

    I think that must be one for the record books to finish a gansey that fast. And it really is a stunner!

    I’m housebound at the moment, we are in the middle of a nor’easter (a hurricane strength northeast wind with heavy snow, in other words, a blizzard) Can’t see across the road, the way the snow is swirling around. Just hoping the electricity doesn’t go out.

    And not even a gansey on the needles! So I dug out a project that I started 3 years ago with some hand dyed yarn, and it might even get finished this time.

    • Gordon

      Hello Lois, it’s a record that’s unlikely to be beaten anytime soon by me, I can tell you…

      Best of luck with your blizzard—always more fun to see on TV than to actually experience. And good luck with your resurrected knitting; and look on the bright side, you’d need a heck of a lot of snow to outlast a gansey!

  • Annie

    Congratulations are in order here, Gordon. One for that really interesting and lovely Gansey and its pattern, and two, for the depression diagnosis that you can share with so many and can even make you feel that you are finally normal.

    • Gordon

      Thank you, Annie. There are limits to what I can say abut my condition, but I wanted to be as upfront as I can. I recognise that what I have is an illness, and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed about saying so—especially given the stigma that still tends to be associated with mental illness. I didn’t want people to think I was shying away from it for that reason.

      Two quotes, which kind of sum up how I feel about it all. One from one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, Tryin’ to get to Heaven: I’m going down the river / Down to New Orleans / They tell me everything is gonna be all right / But I don’t know what “all right” even means.”

      The other is from the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, after encountering the Infinite Improbability Drive: “We have normality, I repeat we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem…

  • Jane

    Many congrats Gordon, this is a stunning piece. For me it has a structural quality, a bit like lots of little peaks for the eye to travel over, rather calming. Please bear with me on this thought!

    Sorry to hear you are still signed off. I totally agree, these things creep up, and one must deal with them.
    However, it is an ill wind, etc, and a month for a gansey is remarkably good going. Is there another one waiting in the wings?

    I do have a small problem, a while ago I lost Gladys, the book you know, the one with the Aran gansey cardie pattern, lost in the many towering piles of books at the side of the bed. I have lain with a torch, I have crawled under in the dust, but all to no avail. I am afraid major demolition is inevitable…. Take care now!

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, yes, it’s a very soothing sort of pattern, isn’t it? I think the regularity relaxes the mind, a sort of gansey mandala.

      Yes, I have a queue of projects and the next one is already on the needles! But at this rate I should clear my backlog sometime in the middle of next year, if I’m lucky.

      As forGladys, I hope you find her, You can also get her on Amazon kindle now too, though one or two of the photos haven’t translated well, and I have that on my iPad as a backup, always to hand!

  • Lois

    Oh desr! We will have to send out a search party for Gladys.

    A few years ago, my husband, for some reason, got tired of moving the books and yarn off his side of the bed. So he converted the top floor of the carriage house into a studio for me. Now that might be rather drastic as a solution, but it’s food for thought …….

    Actually, the books and yarn didn’t snore or thrash around ……….

  • =Tamar

    One month, wow! Back in my college years I made an Aran knit in a month, but only once. Now I’m lucky to finish a hat.
    The Scottish Flag pattern looks as though it were able to flap. That’s quite the trompe l’oeil effect.
    Best of luck with the new meds. I hear that sometimes it takes a while to get the right combination, so do report faithfully to the doctor.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, it’s day 4 of the meds and so far my only side effects are tiredness, especially first thing in the morning, and a dry mouth. If this is as bad as it gets, then I’ll count myself very ducky, as i don’t usually take to pills well. But I also know they don’t start to show any effects till 4-6 weeks, so it’s just a question of hanging in there till then.

      As for the gansey looking able to flap, I did look at it pinned out yesterday and think it looked like a gansey which had been made for Batman…

  • Jane Dale

    Gordon your latest Gansey is gorgeous – no alliteration intended 🙂 I am amazed how many shade effects are achieved with a single navy wool and the ratio of pattern and plain knitting is very pleasing.
    This time last year I had started to knit a Gansey for my husbands birthday in April and while I failed to make the deadline by a couple of weeks he has been wearing it a lot this winter. Well January must be my ‘cast on a Gansey month’ because this year I am knitting an Eriskay one for myself. I chose some undyed Gansey wool from the Cornish Gansey Co, and there are significantly fewer stitches required.
    I hope you will soon be feeling better.

    • Gordon

      Hello Jane, and thank you. Sometimes simplest really is best. Rae Compton describes this as an ideal starter pattern, and I’d agree—it’s easy to knit, and yet it’s as traditional as they come and looks very professional.

      Best of luck with your Eriskay project! Quite the opposite end of the gansey spectrum to this one.

  • Sharon in Surrey

    Add me to the list of Impressed readers. I agree with everything they ALL said. A very nifty pattern indeed!! Are you sitting under a Sun Lamp?? I’ve heard it helps your brain make serotonin. Get well soonest. That depression thing can give you all sorts of really weird symptoms & side effects.

    • Gordon

      Thank you Sharon. Today the sun is shining brightly, and we’re going off to explore the great outdoors—seeing as the sun is the original and best sun lamp around!

  • Jane

    Apparently certain foods are rich in serotonin, eggs, cheese, pineapple, nuts, I am sure you know all this. Eat plenty Gordon and take great care of yourself.

    • Gordon

      Hi Jane, yes, I’ve looked into this, but I’ve got to watch out as apparently one of the side effects of the meds is feeling hungry, so people can put on 3 lb. a week if they’re not careful. (Does chocolate cake produce serotonin? And if not, why not, dammit?!)

  • Gordon

    Hello everyone, just a note to say thank you for all the very kind messages of support I’ve received, both in comments BTL, and as emails offline. It means a great deal to me and I very much appreciate it. Thank you.


  • Helen Edwards

    Hi Gordon

    Very sorry to hear of your depression, but at least it puts a name to how you have been feeling. Did your doctor mention the ‘E’ word amongst his cures and coping strategies? Exercise (not jogging or the gym!)can be extremely helpful. Walking in a measured stride a defined 20-30 minute circuit at least once a day helps the head and the heart – something to do with that striding I think. Dosage: take one walk straight after breakfast (gets you up and out of the house) and another straight after lunch when the sun is higher (sorry, I know its is Scotland!) and maybe a bit of Vit D. Pretend you are walking the dog, or borrow one so you don’t look silly with an empty lead.

    Don’t let it beat you!

    Best wishes


    • Gordon

      Hello Helen, and how nice to hear from you again! And thanks for your advice.

      Yes, it’s great to know what the problem is, and also to get a good idea as to how it’s come about. When I first became ill, I was a bit overwhelmed with lot son things going on, and I had no idea which of them was at the heart of it, or all of them. But thanks to a great occupational health doctor, and a counsellor, I’ve been able to unravel the knot and distinguish cause from effect.

      I try to take at least one walk a day, though given the weather recently (50-mph winds and pouring rain) there have, I must admit, been days when I contented myself with looking out the window! (And what is this “sun” of which you speak?) And knitting has helped me enormously. Having something creative to focus on while listening to music, or an audiobook, has given each day a focus instead of just sitting at home brooding.

      Anyway, I think I’m on the way back now. And, as the man once said, Excelsior!

      Hope all is well with you,

  • Ruby

    I echo all the the comments above about the superb Gansey! I’m starting to plan one for me and I think this pattern is exquisite. Thank you for posting and sharing. Also, I too hope you’re soon feeling better.

    • Gordon

      Hi Ruby and thank you. It’s such an easy pattern to knit (I mean, it’s very easy to keep track of), yet it knits up so well, it’s definitely a win-win!

  • Dee

    Dear Gordon,

    I was delighted to find your blog again after losing all my favourite bookmarks to computer problems.

    I am going to do something rather uncomfortable, and give unsolicited advice. I know, generally not an advisable course of action. But if it could help, and possibly save you feeling unwell without having the full picture of what was going on, it will be well worth it. Based on my own experience, and a quick review of posts, which seems as though trouble may have started with an infection, helped along by stress, with fatigue as a huge factor (drained batteries is a marvelous way of expressing it) – I would highly recommend having thorough checks done on your thyroid and adrenal glands, just to be sure they haven’t been contributing to your medical issues. A full thyroid panel, including antibodies is vital for proper diagnosis, but sometimes it takes a lot of doing to get a doctor to run them. The autoimmune form of hypothyroidism is commonly triggered by infection or life stresses (or both together), and adrenal dysregulation generally goes hand in hand with it. The resulting fatigue and everything that goes along with that is very commonly diagnosed as depression, without the thyroid and adrenal issues being found. Or the other symptoms being addressed.

    I hope you are feeling much better very soon, whatever the cause or causes may be!

    • Gordon

      Hello Dee,

      First of all, thank you for taking the time to post such an informative response. After sessions with an occupational health doctor and a counsellor, I am pretty clear that my illness has been brought on over time due to a particular situation at work. It’s been diagnosed as an anxiety depression, and it seems that some of my colds and coughs may result from a lowered immune system due to stress.

      Anyway, the good news is that everyone has been very kind, the medication seems to be helping, and I’m very much looking forward to returning to work as soon as the doctor gives me the OK, in a few weeks’ time hopefully.

      Kind regards and thanks again,

  • Dee

    Hi Gordon,

    I was really prompted to say something by your comment that you were surprised to be diagnosed with depression. It’s common for people with thyroid disease to get that diagnosis, when they don’t feel as if they are depressed. I suspected thyroid problems for many years without a diagnosis, partly because the autoimmune form can cause both “high” and “low” symptoms, and most doctors are only looking for very prominent signs of one or the other. And going untreated probably contributed to my developing other autoimmune conditions. Wanting to help others so they don’t have to go through that usually gets me to speak up.

    Anyway, stress can create all sorts of havoc, never mind the thyroid. I hope you’ve found the right medication and treatments for you and are back to feeling your old self soon.


    • Gordon

      Hi again Dee, and thanks again. It was definitely something I was going to raise with the doctor when I saw her next; though I suspect they will be reluctant to move beyond the obvious psychological issues, which, to be fair, do seem pretty open-and-shut in my case. I’m glad you raised it, and I do have friends who’ve had thyroid troubles I was going to mention it to as well.

      I’m glad to say I do seem to be on the road to recovery, so fingers crossed!

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