The only proper knot I know how to tie is a reef knot, which I learnt at Girl Guides: left over right and right over left, it never fails. I learnt the bowline once in my yachting days, but forget exactly how it goes when I’m on the spot so I just use the loop and slip knot I “designed” myself for tying garden twine to stakes. Sometimes I just use the old granny knot and then several more to make sure it holds, so I was chuffed to hear a television DIYer say, “If you don’t know knots, tie lots of knots” (Dick Strawbridge on Escape to the Chateau).
My clothes line runs from a tree to the house and this terrible looking knot, or series of knots, has held it up for several years.
While tidying my book shelves during lockdown I rediscovered a book of knots I’d bought years ago but never used. I found some pieces of cord in my sewing stuff and had a go. I enjoyed the process and the results – although I’ll have to practise over and over to remember how to do them without looking at the instructions.
The book gives the history of each knot. It claims that in Neolithic times knots were used to tie a stone to a stick, build shelters and make bridges. Apparently gorillas use knots – both Granny and Reef knots have been identified in their nests. Birds have been observed using knots in their nest-making too.
If a knot becomes misshapen it is said to have “capsized”. This must originate from the association of knots with sailors who invented and named many of the knots we use. A marlinespike or marlingspike is a metal instrument with a pointed end used to separate rope strands. Here, I made the nautical connection with Captain Haddock’s ancestral home in the Tintin comics: Marlinspike Hall.
Following this lockdown past-time, I turned to sorting out my diaries and associated paraphernalia, and came across my 1966 diary. Perhaps the 15 February was when I learned to tie the Reef Knot for the first time.
This was a short-lived diary – it finishes on the next page, unsurprisingly. Parents of ten year olds: be reassured that even if your child is writing with random use of capital letters, no full stops, incomplete sentences and misspellings, they might grow up to tie knots – or even earn a degree or two and become an English teacher!