Sunday, 4 November 2007

On Presents Past

Apparently Cath Kidson is selling wool tam o’shanters at £25 a throw. I wish I’d saved mine from when I was a kid. I’d have made a fortune. I wonder what’s the going rate on eBay for a vintage tam? Unfortunately mine all met sticky ends.

My Caithness Granny must have spent most of the year knitting and sewing as around Christmas, a bulging parcel would arrive. Along with a blackbun, some oatcakes and sometimes a very dead black hen, (she was convinced we couldn’t get wholesome food in the wicked south) would be several individual parcels. Usually my Mum’s contained a tartan pinny, for wearing on a Sunday, instead of her week day floral overall. My Dad, a son in exile down south, had the most beautiful hand knitted stockings, complete with knitted garters.

My father always wore tweed plus fours. This caused huge embarrassment to us girls, but Caithness Granny made sure he had proper wool stockings, so he‘d look really smart. In fawn or lovat green, those stockings were the work of a superb craftswoman and looked well with his ‘tackety’ boots. It was an unusual outfit for a father to wear in Surrey, in the late fifties and swinging sixties. If we begged him not to wear them, a threat to wear his kilt was enough to bring us to heel.

I can’t remember what came for my big sisters in that parcel, but I often had a fairisle tam o’shanter and once a fancy pixie hood and mittens. Though I seldom saw her, I loved my Caithness Granny but I hated every scratchy stitch she made for me, even if her knitted presents were works of art.

A visit to see her meant huge expense, at two day train ride to Inverness, hours in a rickety red bus and a bumpy ride in the back of my Uncle’s van, before we reached her isolated house, out in the hills by the Grey Cairns of Camster. I now realise those presents were acts of love to granddaughters she seldom saw, the daughters of a son she missed so badly, but to me they were an embarrassment. No one else had to wear hats like mine and worse still, they were physical torture.

To this day I can’t bear wool anywhere near my skin, but off I’d go to school with my Granny’s headgear pulled hard down over my ears, my head itching like it was on fire. I didn’t dare scratch for fear of a,

“You’ve got nits”, taunt from my sisters.

I lost those lovely tam o’shanters. I left them on the school bus, dropped them in puddles, abandoned them to hang lonely and unloved on school pegs in draughty cloakrooms. The pixie hood was quietly hung up a tree. I wouldn’t be so thoughtless now. I think they’re rather smart and I’m quite tempted by a Cath Kidson’s snazzy little number, but the thought of what my thrifty Granny would have said keeps that £25 firmly in my purse. I’m sure she’d have approved of my thrift or may be she’d just be dismayed that I couldn’t knit one myself.

( The pictures are of my Dad as a young man wearing his plus fours and my Caithness Granny and Grandad)


Elizabethd said...

I so remember tam o shanters! I had a sort of stripy one, and like you, hated it!

Suffolkmum said...

I can't bear wool anywhere near my head either. What fantastic photos. Can't believe she sent you a dead hen!!

toady said...

I think that's what's missing these days, a touch of thrift. Off to polish my zimmer now!

Fennie said...

My great great grandfather came from Caithness. He was a Sinclair and the most handsome man in the Highlands - allegedly. But I love that part of the world - Sutherland too - wild and lonely - the changes of weather, hour by hour at times. As for wool next one's face I remember Youger Daughter when she was a babe, pulling wool bits off my jumper and holding them to her cheek.

mountainear said...

Ah, the days when you could post a hen or a rabbit with just an address label on it. My husband remembers working on the Christmas post in Manchester and having to deliver turkeys from Ireland which were stitched into linen bags. Perhaps it's as well some things have changed.

No 'tam o shanter' for me - a duck egg blue Kangol beret - followed at age 11 by an evil school hat of black velour. Losing that would have been akin to signing my own death warrant.

Loved the photos and the memories.

lampworkbeader said...

Fennie. interesting that you are a Sinclair. That's a strong name in Caithness, along with Gunn and Mackay, though the Mackays come from over the border in Sutherland. They were moved out with the clearances. I believe Sinclair came originally from St. Claire, Norman French.

Cait O'Connor said...

Interesting blog, lovely photos.

Cait O'Connor said...

Interesting blog, lovely photos.

LittleBrownDog said...

What a very well turned-out young man your father looks! Love the look of Tam o' shanters - so glad to hear they've come back.

Pondside said...

What a handsome couple...and your father - very smart in the plus fours!!
I never had a grandmother that knit, but I did have aunts that sent knitted socks (try jamming a wool-clad foot into dainty mary-janes!)and knitted sweaters. My sister and I had tartan tam o'shanters in the Nova Scotia tartan and I saved mine for Lillypad.

elizabethm said...

what fabulous photos. know just what you mean about knitted presents. my nana made me numerous very beautiful but agonisingly scratchy jumpers!

Frances said...

Hello and thanks for your comment on my remembering blog re N. Mailer.

I have not read the Tim O'Brien book that you mentioned, but definitely enjoyed his "Going After Cacciato." I still have my ancient paperback. Any time that I keep a paperback for decade should stand has high praise for that book.

Also very much enjoy reading your blogs. It was my favorite great auntie that taught me how to knit about fifty years ago.


Pipany said...

Wool hats make my head itch too! Such a shame though as the hats are gorgeous. Love the dead hen bit!!! xx

mcewen said...

Not only the wool but the little zippers in the back of the neck - eek! Thanks for the itchy trip down memory lane. I also have pictures of my Dad in similar garb.
Best wishes

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