GMB — Foresterhill (1992)

GMB. Foresterhill. Schondorf am Ammersee: Babel, 1992.

Introductory note: “In the spring and early summer of 1990 I was a patient at Foresterhill, the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. To pass the time, I worked on a sequence of poems, imagining a medieval monastic beginning for Foresterhill. ¶ I was trying to express some gratitude, too, to the surgeons, doctors, and nursing staff. ¶ I finished the draft of the sequence at Balfour Hospital in Orkney, before coming home. | George Mackay Brown | 11 February 1991”

Contents: Cutting down Trees — Pirates — Architect — Wreck — Lowlanders — Healer — Fee — Pilgrim — Castellan — Lux perpetua — Beeman — A Scroll — Homily — Water Casks — A New Ward — Cattle Thieves — Comings and Goings — Returns.

Colophon: “Written May–June 1990 | First published 1992 | by BABEL, Gartenstraße 29, Postfach 31, | 8913 Schondorf am Ammersee, Germany, | in an edition of 300 copies, | of which 50 are numbered and signed by the author.”

Review: Ron Butlin, Scotsman Weekend, 27 February 1993.

Copies: British Library [General Reference Collection YA.1995.b.10973] — Orkney Library & Archive [Orkney reserve 800 Y/BRO] (two copies).

GMB — Letter from Hamnavoe (1972)

The following “Letter from Hamnavoe” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1972 and were signed with initials only (except for the column of 11 May 1972, which was unsigned). Most were reprinted in GMB’s Letters from Hamnavoe (1979), cited here as LH.


6 January 1972, p. 3. “January is a month when . . .” [a long list]. Repr. LH 31–32. ¶ 13 January 1972, p. 3. What Sunday was like during his childhood. ¶ 20 January 1972, p. 4. “Next week Orkney will once more be celebrating Robbie Burns.” Repr. LH 32–33. ¶ 27 January 1972, p. 4. The spread of flu in Orkney – but it turns out that his own illness was only “a bit of a cold.” Repr. LH 33.

3 February 1972, p. 4. The mixing of races and nationalities in Orkney’s history. ¶ 10 February 1972, p. 4. The traditional rivalry between boys of the South End and the North End of Stromness. “Nowadays that old rivalry seems to have completely withered away among the young – and whether that is a good or a bad thing I would not care to say.” Repr. LH 35. ¶ 17 February 1972, p. 3. “The Scots above all love to wear masks before the world”; the former cathedral on the Brough of Birsay.

2 March 1972, p. 4. He visits Perth to watch a rehearsal of his play A Spell for Green Corn. Repr. LH 36-39. ¶ 9 March 1972, p. 4. A stroll about Perth, and a performance of J. M. Barrie’s The Admirable Crichton. Repr. LH 36–37. ¶ 16 March 1972, p. 4. “One Saturday morning I took a bus to the royal burgh of Falkland in the interior of Fife, to visit my friends Kulgin Duval and Colin Hamilton.” Then he rides with them to their new home on Loch Tummel in the heart of the Highlands. Repr. LH 37–38. ¶ 23 March 1972, p. 3. Growing pollution in Orkney: “We must have faith that somewhere, deep down at the very roots and sources of life, there is an endless upsurge of health and renewal.” Repr. LH 38–40.

6 April 1972, p. 3. “After the dance of the bulldozers, Gray’s Pier is no more. When I got back from Perth at the end of March, there was a tall wooden stockade along the seaward side of the street, and a padlocked gate.” Memories of the people who once lived in the vicinity. Repr. LH 40. ¶ 13 April 1972, p. 4. “We had better relish the flavour of every day we live from now on, because very soon the life of the place is going to be radically altered. Oil is going to change everything. . . . But there is more than oil in Orkney; somebody has discovered traces of uranium at Yesnaby.” Repr. LH 41. ¶ 20 April 1972, p. 3. ¶ 27 April 1972, p. 4. An account of John Louttit, Kirk Officer of the Secession Church in Stromness during the early nineteenth century, who was removed from office for butchering whales on the sabbath. Repr. LH 41–42.

4 May 1972, p. 3. Admiring daffodils alongside the road on the bus journey from Stromness to Kirkwall. Repr. LH 42–43. ¶ 11 May 1972, p. 3. Unsigned. The pleasures of listening to his transistor radio. ¶ 18 May 1972, p. 4. Advice to tourists on the best things to see in Stromness. Repr. LH 43–44. ¶ 25 May 1972, p. 3. “I have a rent book that goes back to 1934.”

1 June 1972, p. 4. A visit to Edinburgh for “a literary gathering, a cocktail party for my new book Greenvoe”; but there is a delay in returning to Orkney, and he finds himself staying briefly with friends in Aberdeen. Repr. LH 45. ¶ 8 June 1972, p. 3. “‘The Orkney Croft’ is the title of this summer’s exhibition in Stromness Museum. . . . It is a memorable exhibition, one of the best that the Museum has put on (and that’s saying something). I have been to see it twice and I hope to go back a few times yet before September.” Repr. LH 45–46. ¶ 15 June 1972, p. 3. Heavy automobile traffic in Stromness. ¶ 22 June 1972, p. 3. “Here we are, near midsummer, and how pleasant it would be, among all these dull days, to have a splash or two of sunshine. The weather has been meagre with his gold as a miser this year.” Repr. LH 46–47.

6 July 1972, p. 3. “Our ignorant great-grandfathers had a relationship with the sun that was intense and meaningful. Midsummer for them was a mysterious time. . . . Nowadays we just get tanned, and drink iced lager, and have a little holiday.” Repr. LH 47. ¶ 13 July 1972, p. 9. “Stromness is being pleasantly invaded by troops of young folk.” Account of an evening spent with Jeremy Rundall, a journalist from London. Repr. LH 47–48. ¶ 20 July 1972, p. 4. Affectionate memories of an Orkney childhood – rather different from the experiences of the young today. Repr. LH 48–49. ¶ 27 July 1972, p. 4. “It’s such a gay, giddy, coloured wheel, Shopping Week [in Stromness], that when it’s all over . . . it’s difficult to separate the various incidents.” Repr. LH 49–50.

3 August 1972, p. 4. “Nobody seems to know anything nowadays about The Book of Black Arts: though in my young days all the old men could tell the story in different versions.” Repr. LH 50. ¶ 10 August 1972, p. 3. ¶ 17 August 1972, p. 4. A day of heavy rain at the annual Dounby cattle show. Repr. LH 50–51. ¶ 24 August 1972, p. 4. A visit to Rackwick. “The old magic of Rackwick is stronger than all its threnodies and desolations.” Repr. LH 51–53. ¶ 31 August 1972, p. 4. A day at the Lammas Fair in Kirkwall: “I never saw such a crowd in Kirkwall as last Wednesday afternoon.” Repr. LH 53–54.

7 September 1972, p. 4. Watching the Olympics on television. ¶ 14 September 1972, p. 3. A depressing town holiday; heavy traffic in Stromness. ¶ 21 September 1972, p. 4. For the past fortnight he has been exploring the roads of Orkney: Mainland, Burray, South Ronaldsay. Repr. LH 54. ¶ 28 September 1972, p. 4. The problems and pleasures of letter-writing. Repr. LH 54–55.

5 October 1972, p. 4. Affectionate memories of various pens he has used during his lifetime. Repr. LH 55–56. ¶ 12 October 1972, p. 4. The arrival of postcodes in Orkney. ¶ 19 October 1972, p. 4. Reflections on various Poets Laureate, including the only two who are known to have visited Orkney (Betjeman and Tennyson). Repr. LH 56–57. ¶ 26 October 1972, p. 4. “The Stromness Library has never been in better shape, or so well stocked, as it is today.” Repr. LH 57.

2 November 1972, p. 4. A parable about what we have lost in the modern world. Repr. LH 58. ¶ 9 November 1972, p. 4. Reflections on the observance, past and present, of Guy Fawkes Day in Stromness. Repr. LH 58–59. ¶ 16 November 1972, p. 4. A young American visitor is disillusioned to discover that GMB does not live in a croft and has modern conveniences (including a radio and an electric fire) in his modern council house. Repr. LH 59–61. ¶ 23 November 1972, p. 4. His morning routine. Repr. LH 61–62. ¶ 30 November 1972, p. 4. (Unsigned.) Description of a typical week at home. Repr. LH 62–63.

7 December 1972, p. 4. Memories of Christmas during childhood. “December for a child is a marvellous magical month. He exists then and then only among the stars and the storms and the snow, without hindsight or foresight.” Repr. LH 63. ¶ 14 December 1972, p. 4. Stromness sweetie shops that he frequented as a child. Repr. LH 64. ¶ 21 December 1972, p. 3. Various incarnations of the St. Ola ferry since the nineteenth century; suggests that the next one be renamed St. Olaf, of which St. Ola is merely a corruption. Repr. LH 64–65. ¶ 28 December 1972, p. 4. “Every year, once it’s gone, has its own flavour. 1972 leaves a pleasant taste in the mind, all things considered.”

Island Diary (1949)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1949. (From 1948 onward, the “Island Diary” columns had subheads, which I have here recorded at the start of each entry.) A few of them were reprinted posthumously in GMB’s Northern Lights (1999), cited here as NL.


“Wishes for 1949.” 4 January 1949, p. 4. Wealth to the farmers; Orkney music; scrolls and canvases; sportsmanship before victory; the Orkney patriots; peace in our time. ¶ “The Five Greatest Orkneymen.” 11 January 1949, p. 5. St. Magnus, Earl Rognvald, Sweyn Asliefson, the Rev. John Gerard, Eric Linklater. ¶ “Sketch of an Abandoned Novel.” 25 January 1949, p. 8. The novel was to be about St. Magnus; he has now lost part of the manuscript.

“If Winter Comes.” 1 February 1949, p. 5. The pleasures of staying at home on a day of ferocious weather. ¶ “Summertime: A Prophecy in Prose.” 8 February 1949, p. 5. His plans for a summer on Orkney. ¶ “Ever Seen the Peedie Folks?” 15 February 1949, p. 8. “The fact is, I have never myself seen a fairy, a mermaid, a trow, or a selkie-man. But I no more question the existence of the North Pole, the Great Wall of China, or even the paper on which I’m writing this.” ¶ “Four Basic Orkney Books.” 22 February 1949, p. 5. The Orkneyinga Saga; The Orkney Book; Robert Rendall’s Country Sonnets; Eric Linklater’s Sealskin Trousers.

“The Delights of Being Abused.” 1 March 1949, p. 5. The angry letters he has received about his Orkney Herald writings. ¶ “Springtime Melancholy.” 8 March 1949, p. 4. Springtime is not always a happy season. ¶ “I Wish I Could Meet Them.” 15 March 1949, p. 4. Overheard conversations on the bus; film stars and others (including T. S. Eliot) he would like to meet. ¶ “Inverurie Journey.” 22 March 1949, p. 4. A trip by plane to Aberdeen and then by bus to Inverurie for a Drama Festival. ¶ “Saturday Night Visions.” 29 March 1949, p. 5. How he would spend the money if he won the football pools.

“Yesnaby in Spring.” 5 April 1949, p. 4. A motorbike ride to Yesnaby. Repr. NL 81–81. ¶ “Crossing the Pentland.” 12 April 1949, p. 4. A ferry journey on the St. Ola. Repr. NL 84–86. ¶ “Meditation on a Murder.” 19 April 1949, p. 4. The life and martyrdom of St. Magnus. ¶ “A Yokel Goes down the Line.” 26 April 1949, p. 4. His earliest experiences in riding a train last year.

“On the Edge of a Nightmare.” 3 May 1949, p. 4. An unpleasant train journey to Stirling. ¶ “Orcadians in Stirling.” 10 May 1949, p. 4. He had never been so far south before. ¶ “Sunday Afternoon in Glasgow.” 17 May 1949, p. 4. “There were tempting places close at hand, of which the chief were Scotland’s leading cities – Edinburgh and Glasgow. I had never set foot in either. . . . We prepared to go to Glasgow.” ¶ “Homeward Bound.” 24 May 1949, p. 4. By train to Thurso and then a bus to Scrabster, followed by a stormy crossing of the Pentland Firth on the St. Ola ferry. ¶ “Homage to the Tobacco Fiend.” 31 May 1949, p. 8. Reflections on his earlier smoking habits.

“The Happy Days of Spring-Time.” 7 June 1949, p. 4. Atrocious spring weather. ¶ “June Magic.” 14 June 1949, p. 4. How Johnsmas was celebrated on Orkney sixty years ago. ¶ “Interview with the Last Fairy in Orkney.” 21 June 1949, p. 4. Trows will return sometime in the future “when men have learned humility and returned to Nature as the source of all being.” ¶ “Letter to a City Dweller.” 28 June 1949, p. 4. Orkney’s odd, unpredictable weather during June.

“In Search of a Green Valley.” 5 July 1949, p. 4. A visit “to one particular and precious place – Rackwick.” Repr. NL 87–89. ¶ “The Hoy Minister’s Nightmare.” 12 July 1949, p. 4. A “true story” about the Rev. Gavin Hamilton, minister of Hoy, in 1815, who has a supernatural dream. ¶ “Focus on Stromness.” 19 July 1949, p. 6. The history and people of Stromness. ¶ “John Malcolm in Technicolour.” 26 July 1949, p. 4. He imagines a film treatment of the life of John Malcolm.

“Favourite Things.” 2 August 1949, p. 4. “I have just finished making a list of the things in every department of life which appeal to me most. . . . I now propose to inflict on my faithful readers the result.” ¶ “Adventure in Ideas.” 9 August 1949, p. 4. The history of his changing religious attitudes. ¶ “The Road back to Eden.” 23 August 1949, p. 4. Edwin Muir and the problem of evil. ¶ “All on a Summer Day.” 30 August 1949, p. 4. “A few impressions of this summer in Orkney, culled from a period of weeks, and written mostly in dejection.”

“More Summer Snap-shots.” 6 September 1949, p. 4. “One day of pouring rain we went in the bus to Kirkwall. On such a day, there is nothing quite so miserable as the Orkney landscape.” ¶ “Story of a Victory.” 13 September 1949, p. 5. A visit to Caithness to watch Orkney victorious in a football match. ¶ “The Rousay Girl in Heather Bleather.” 20 September 1949, p. 4. “This week I am utterly squeezed dry of inspiration. . . . So the best I can do is to tell a story.” ¶ “Prosperity – Enemy or Friend?” 27 September 1949, p. 7. Our growing financial success may “sap the character of its strength.” (See letter to the editor signed Farmer, 11 October 1949, p. 5.)

“Autumn Comes to Orkney.” 4 October 1949, p. 6. “Our veins flooding with light and warmth, we turn away from the indifferent, giddy-minded summer to great his darker, more mature brother.” ¶ “A Plea for Inter-county Drama.” 11 October 1949, p. 4. Orkney and Shetland should reconnect culturally. ¶ “The Joys of Being Poor.” 18 October 1949, p. 4. “Not to have very much money is one of life’s greatest blessings.” ¶ “What – No Plays?” 25 October 1949, p. 4. “I have been challenged about a remark I made in this column a fortnight ago, to the effect that Orkney is teeming with plots for good plays. . . .”

“Red Letter Days.” 8 November 1949, p. 4. Some of the most significant days of his life. ¶ “An Orkneyman’s ‘Ego’.” 15 November 1949, p. 4. A record of his days the past week as he prepares to face cold, dark winter. ¶ “Illusion and Truth.” 29 November 1949, p. 4. Contemporary painters, writers, and playwrights mistakenly embrace verisimilitude.

“The Mozart from Eynhallow.” 6 December 1949, p. 4. A short story. ¶ “On Celebrating Christmas.” 20 December 1949, p. 4. Traditional patterns of observing Christmas. ¶ “A Columnist’s Year.” 27 December 1949, p. 4. A summary of his activities during 1949.

Mansie

Mansie

During 1953 GMB contributed a series of comic short stories to the Orkney Herald about a local Stromness figure named Mansie. The pieces are all signed “Islandman,” the pseudonym he also used for the “Island Diary” columns.

“Mansie Watches Football.” 19 May 1953, p. 4. “Who, and what, is Mansie? Mansie is no-one in particular, or anything you care to call him. Maybe he is the typical Orkneyman, or maybe he is just a peg to hang a few episodes on.” ¶ “Mansie Looks into History.” 26 May 1953, p. 4. He ponders why the numbering of the names of monarchs is different in Scotland and the UK.

“Mansie Goes Exploring.” 2 June 1953, p. p. He travels to Scrabster and Thurso for the first time. ¶ “Mansie and a Modern Marvel.” 9 June 1953, p. 2. He is introduced to an electric razor, which he soon rejects. ¶ “Mansie at the Council Meeting.” 16 June 1953, p. 9. He thinks about becoming active in local politics. ¶ “Mansie’s Midsummer.” 23 June 1953, p. 3. A long walk with friends in the country, with recollections of folk traditions connected with Johnsmas Eve. ¶ “Mansie Plays Golf.” 30 June 1953, p. 4. “Golf has given Mansie a trim waist once more, a fifteen inch collar, and sprightly step, and a tendency to tell whopping lies.”

7 July 1953. [I have not been able to see this issue, because it is missing in the British Library microfilm.] ¶ “Mansie Runs in the Night.” 14 July 1953, p. 7. His rendezvous with Mary Ann ends badly. ¶ “Mansie, Worker of the World.” 21 July 1953, p. 7. “Mansie is the local scavenger. Some snobbish people may think it isn’t much of a job, but Mansie doesn’t mind. In fact, he’s rather proud of it. . . .” ¶ “Mansie and the Last Trump.” 28 July 1953, p. 7. His Uncle Tom is convinced that the world is about to come to an end.

“Mansie in Auld Reekie.” 4 August 1953, p. 4. He visits Edinburgh with his cousin Habakkuk. ¶ “Mansie Dramatist.” 11 August 1953, p. 7. “Mansie has written a play, entitled ‘Death Comes to Skara Brae.’ It is short enough to be reproduced in full.” ¶ “Mansie at the Boxing Booth.” 18 August 1953, p. 10. His hostility toward Willie Halcrow comes to the surface during Lammas Market.
“Mansie Flirts with the Muse.” 1 September 1953, p. 7. He discovers poetry. ¶ “Mansie at the Cuithes.” 8 September 1953, p. 2. He and Habakkuk go fishing for cuithes. ¶ “Mansie at the Shrine of Bacchus.” 15 September 1953, p. 4. Mansie gets drunk.¶ “Mansie Takes Wing.” 22 September 1953, p. 2. He flies to Aberdeen to see his uncle. ¶ “Mansie in the Granite City.” 29 September 1953, p. 4. He tours Aberdeen.

“The End of Mansie.” 6 October 1953, p. 8. He decides to move to New Zealand. “Next week I hope to resume ‘Island Diary.'”

Island Diary (1948)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1948. (On 21 September 1948 the column was entitled “Island Orkney” because he was planning a trip to Aberdeen; and beginning this year the “Island Diary” columns often had subheads, which I have here recorded at the start of the entry.) GMB did not reprint any of them in a later book.


“Impressions of Hogmanay.” 13 January 1948, p. 2. ¶ 20 January 1948, p. 2. A consideration of Orkney’s “supreme beauty spot”: he awards the prize to Stromness.

“Have You Ever Seen a Fairy?” 3 February 1948, p. 7. Things he has not yet done in Orkney. ¶ “Music Hath Charms.” 10 February 1948, p. 3. “On three different evenings this winter it was a great pleasure to sit back and listen to the singers and musicians sent to Orkney by the Arts Council of Great Britain.” ¶ “Stanley Cursiter on Peploe.” 17 February 1948, p. 5. Review of Cursiter’s Peploe. ¶ “Drama at Midnight.” 24 February 1948, p. 3. The annual Drama Festival.

“In Praise of Yesnaby.” 2 March 1948, p. 8. The beauty of Yesnaby despite recent changes. ¶ “Orkney Professor in Red Czechoslovakia.” 9 March 1948, p. 5. Edwin Muir. ¶ “The Lawless Orkneymen of Old.” 16 March 1948, p. 6. “To put it tersely, our ancestors connived at lawlessness, though they did not necessarily practice it on a large scale.” ¶ “The Cruel Hungry Foam.” 23 March 1948, p. 8. Drownings at sea.

“The ‘Tee’ Names of Orkney. ” 6 April 1948, p. 8. Strange weather; significance of nicknames of Orkney islands and parishes. Reply by E.S.O., 13 April, p. 2. ¶ “Conversation in a Bus.” 13 April 1948, p. 5. A conversation on a bus to Kirkwall in the spring of 1945. ¶ “The ‘New Look’ Comes to Orkney.” 20 April 1948, p. 7. Changing fashions in clothing. ¶ “The Devil Comes to Orkney.” 27 April 1948, p. 8. Popular local beliefs about the Devil.

“Hangman’s Holiday.” 4 May 1948, p. 3. Famous hangings in British history. Reply by “Bwana Mafuta,” 18 May 1948, p. 2. ¶ “One Day in Spring.” 18 May 1948, p. 3. “To-day is the first time I have been able to compose my Diary out-of-doors this year.” ¶ “Is There Gold in Orkney?” 25 May 1948, p. 3. An old prospector once thought he had discovered gold a few miles north of Stromness.

“What’s in a Name?” 1 June 1948, p. 5. “In the choosing of names nowadays, it is the custom to consult the Film Stars’ Annual; just as our grandparents consulted the Old Testament.” ¶ “Confessions of a Poor Orkney Hack.” 15 June 1948, p. 5. Imaginary headlines (such as “Norway Claims Orkney and Shetland!”). ¶ “The Flight of the Eagle.” 22 June 1948, p. 5. A glimpse of the hangman’s ladder in St. Magnus Cathedral; a visitor who is trying to spot an eagle; an eagle story from Hoy. ¶ “Midsummer Madness.” 29 June 1948, p. 3. Experiencing midsummer in Stromness.

“A Day in Vanity Fair.” 13 July 1948, p. 7. “This current Orkney Enterprise Exhibition is in many ways a return to the old-fashioned Lammas Fairs, which were once held in Orkney.” ¶ “At the Exhibition.” 20 July 1948, p. 3. Orkney’s cultural wealth as shown at the Orkney Enterprise Exhibition. ¶ “Desert Island Discs.” 27 July 1948, p. 4. Books and music he would take to a place of banishment.

“Painting at Brodgar.” 3 August 1948, p. 5. Accompanying George Scott while he paints at Brodgar. ¶ “Through the Land of Giant Despair.” 24 August 1948, p. 5. A bus tour of Skara Brae, Birsay, and Lamb Holm.

“On Writing a Guide Book.” 7 September 1948, p. 5. His problems in writing a book about Orkney. ¶ “Summer Days.” 14 September 1948, p. 3. Memories of August days in Stromness and Hoy. ¶ “Leaving Orkney.” 21 September 1948, p. 3. Plans to visit Aberdeen – his first trip to mainland Scotland in twenty years. ¶ “Silver Wings.” 28 September 1948, p. 5. Flying to Aberdeen.

“An Innocent Abroad.” 5 October 1948, p. 5. His first impressions of Aberdeen. ¶ “I Discover Trees and a River.” 12 October 1948, p. 5. Exploration of Culta and the countryside near Aberdeen. ¶ “Aberdeen Snap-shots.” 19 October 1948, p. 5. The sights of central Aberdeen. ¶ “Farewell to the Granite City.” 26 October 1948, p. 5. The end of his three-week holiday in Aberdeen.

“History of a Column.” 2 November 1948, p. 4. The origins of his column, which began three years ago. ¶ “Are You a True Orcadian?” 9 November 1948, p. 5. A list of ten questions every Orcadian should be able to answer. ¶ “Story of a Thousand Devils.” 16 November 1948, p. 5. Local religious fanaticism in the past. ¶ “Having the ’Flu.” 30 November 1948, p. 7. “The influenza overtook me, at one fell swoop, five days ago.”

“The Land of Heart’s Desire.” 7 December 1948, p. 5. Reading Twenty Years A-Growing by Maurice O’Sullivan in bed while recovering from the flu. ¶ “The Lure of the Silver Screen.” 14 December 1948, p. 5. The history of film-going on Orkney. ¶ “Yuletide Ghosts.” 21 December 1948, p. 5. Legends about the trows at Christmas. ¶ “The Arches of a Year.” 28 December 1948, p. 5. A review of 1948.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1988)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1988 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.


7 January 1988, p. 4. “So many letters to write before the end of the year!” ¶ 14 January 1988, p. 4. “One of the delights of winter is soup. . . .” Repr. RD 177. ¶ 21 January 1988, p. 4. A pleasant musical visit from two students at St. Andrews University. ¶ 28 January 1988, p. 4. Burns’s birthday is only one of several winter festivals in Scotland.

4 February 1988, p. 4. On being taken by ambulance and airplane to the hospital in Aberdeen. ¶ 11 February 1988, p. 4. Life in the Aberdeen hospital; his new Walkman cassette player and radio. ¶ 18 February 1988, p. 10. Riding in the countryside near Aberdeen. ¶ 25 February 1988, p. 10. “. . . I think of it [February] was a shy young month, poor it may be and in rags, but carrying first snowdrops and crocuses in her cold hands.” Repr. RD 177–78.

3 March 1988, p. 12. Spring-cleaning in his childhood home. Repr. RD 178–79. ¶ 10 March 1988, p. 10. Visiting Kirkwall during a blizzard. ¶ 17 March 1988, p. 12. “Kind friends gave me, a year or two ago, a present of a Seiko digital watch. So there it is, bound on my wrist, chaining me to Time.” ¶ 24 March 1988, p. 10. What the days of the week were like a half century ago in Stromness. ¶ 31 March 1988, p. 10. “The equinoctial blues.” Repr. RD 179.

7 April 1988, p. 12. British Summer Time is unnatural. Repr. RD 180. ¶ 14 April 1988, p. 10. A disappointing film version of Forster’s A Passage to India. Repr. RD 180–81. ¶ 21 April 1988, p. 12. “Suddenly the daffodils are everywhere, the indomitable ones, the flowers spun from light.” Repr. RD 181–82. ¶ 28 April 1988, p. 12. “I got my second pair of glasses the other afternoon, brought back from Kirkwall by a friend.” Repr. RD 182–83.

5 May 1988, p. 10. He imagines the first morning of May a hundred years ago. Repr. RD 183–84. ¶ 12 May 1988, p. 10. Trying to write a poem about Brodgar; feeding a stray cat. Repr. RD 184–85. ¶ 19 May 1988, p. 12. The churches of Orkney. Repr. RD 184. ¶ 26 May 1988, p. 10. Nostalgic memories of gramophones through the decades.

2 June 1988, p. 10. The struggles of writing. ¶ 9 June 1988, p. 12. A holiday in Shetland (part 1). Repr. RD 185–86. ¶ 16 June 1988, p. 12. A holiday in Shetland (part 2). Repr. RD 186–87. ¶ 23 June 1988, p. 10. A holiday in Shetland (part 3). Repr. RD 187–88. ¶ 30 June 1988, p. 10. A holiday in Shetland (part 4). Repr. RD 188–89.

7 July 1988, p. 14. A holiday in Shetland (part 5). Repr. RD 189–90. ¶ 14 July 1988, p. 10. The struggle between fog and sun on a summer day. ¶ 21 July 1988, p. 12. The arrival of a television film crew at Rackwick. ¶ 28 July 1988, p. 10. Remembering the first Stromness Shopping week in 1949.

4 August 1988, p. 10. A visit to the Highland Park Distillery. Repr. RD 190–91. ¶ 18 August 1988, p. 10. Reading an unfamiliar Icelandic saga, Gisli’s Saga. Repr. RD 191–92. ¶ 25 August 1988, p. 5. “There might have been fifty tourists each summer in Stromness when I was young, before the war, in the early ’30s.” Repr. RD 192–93.

1 September 1988, p. 11. Discussion of Stewart Scobie’s poem The Ballad of Isabel Gunn. Repr. RD 193–94. ¶ 8 September 1988, p. 4. The arrival of autumn; memories of the beginning of World War Two, forty-nine years ago. ¶ 15 September 1988, p. 13. How he met the poet Elizabeth Lochhead in the early 1970s. Repr. RD 194–95. ¶ 22 September 1988, p. 11. His broken sleep. ¶ 29 September 1988, p. 11. The autumn equinox and baffling weather patterns.

6 October 1988, p. 11. Writing letters and searching for books in his chaotic home. Repr. RD 195–96. ¶ 13 October 1988, p. 11. The howling wind above Brinkie’s Brae; an imagined encounter with Bessie Millie. ¶ 20 October 1988, p. 13. The fascination of the stars. ¶ 27 October 1988, p. 13. The arrival of his friend Brian Murray from Ayrshire; GMB’s birthday.

10 November 1988, p. 11. ¶ Repaving the main street in Stromness. Repr. RD 196–97. ¶ 17 November 1988, p. 13. The changing meaning of “Liberal” in politics; the 70th anniversary of the World War One armistice. ¶ 24 November 1988, p. 13. He is fond of cats but not dogs. Repr. RD 197–98.

1 December 1988, p. 13. He devotes Thursdays to letter-writing. ¶ 8 December 1988, p. 13. Dieting fads. ¶ 15 December 1988, p. 13. Family trees. ¶ 22 December 1988, p. 13. Famous literary descriptions of Christmas. Repr. RD 198–99. ¶ 29 December 1988, p. 9. “Seeing that it’s midwinter, it might be fun for once to have a game before the year’s end – imagining every month to be a stage in Orkney’s history (especially Stromness).” Repr. RD 199–200.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1989)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1991 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.


5 January 1989, p. 7. Recollections of 1988, especially his visit to Shetland. ¶ 12 January 1989, p. 9. The recent mild winters prompt some thoughts about the greenhouse effect. Repr. RD 200–01. ¶ 19 January 1989, p. 11. Fictional description of John Gow’s visit to Stromness in January 1726. Repr. RD 201–02. ¶ 26 January 1989, p. 13. “The more you think about Robert Burns, now that his season is here once again, the more astonishing he becomes.”

2 February 1989, p. 11. Superstitions and proverbs of his childhood. Repr. RD 202–03. ¶ 9 February 1989, p. 11. The South End of Stromness was once a much busier place. Repr. RD 203–04. ¶ 16 February 1989, p. 11. Former superstitions associated with Candlemas. Repr. RD 204–05. ¶ 23 February 1989, p. 11. A February storm.

2 March 1989, p. 13. Description of the process of writing, which is mostly hard work rather than inspiration. Repr. RD 205–07. ¶ 9 March 1989, p. 15. “A company of us drove last Sunday afternoon to view a house in Birsay that our Edinburgh friend Sigrid has recently bought.” Repr. RD 206–07. ¶ 16 March 1989, p. 15. The history of his adolescent smoking. Repr. RD 207–08. ¶ 23 March 1989, p. 13. “I remember, from my years in Edinburgh, what a happy time it was, coming home [for Easter] after a winter of study and cold winds.” ¶ 30 March 1989, p. 15. Reflections on the spring equinox.

6 April 1989, p. 13. An account (partly fictional) of William Bligh’s visit to Stromness in 1780. Repr. RD 208–10. ¶ 13 April 1989, p. 15. The books he read when he was a student at Stromness Academy in the 1930s. Repr. RD 210–11. ¶ 27 April 1989, p. 17. Walking around in Stromness on a springlike day. ¶ 4 May 1989, p. 13. Snow during the last week of April. ¶ 11 May 1989, p. 13. Short story based on the experiences of Bessie Millie. Repr. RD 211–12. ¶ 18 May 1989, p. 13. His insomnia. ¶ 25 May 1989, p. 13. A visit from Gypsy the cat.

1 June 1989, p. 13. He is in Edinburgh, preparing for his first visit to England (except for a quick walk across the border at Berwick many years ago). ¶ 8 June 1989, p. 15. The golden summers of his youth. Repr. RD 212–13. ¶ 15 June 1989, p. 15. His impressions of London and Oxford. ¶ 22 June 1989, p. 21. Seeing a Hopkins exhibition in the Bodleian Library and attending a Requiem Mass in honor of Hopkins at St. Aloysius, Oxford. Repr. RD 21314. ¶ 29 June 1989, p. 15. An account of his return to Scotland from London by train.

6 July 1989, p. 13. A film team from BBC Glasgow interviews him. ¶ 13 July 1989, p. 12. Disagreement with John B. Broom about the interpretation of a passage in the book of Ecclesiastes. Repr. RD 214–15. ¶ 20 July 1989, p. 13. Praise of Orkney tatties (potatoes). Repr. RD 215–16. ¶ 27 July 1989, p. 13. Memories of the first Shopping Week in 1949. Repr. RD 216–17.

3 August 1989, p. 13. Reflections on the history of the May Burn. Repr. RD 218. 10 August 1989, p. 11. Fictional version of how the Dounby Show was established. Repr. RD 219–20. 17 August 1989, p. 17. A typical day in the hospital. ¶ 24 August 1989, p. 13. A visit to Dunotten Castle. ¶ 31 August 1989, p. 13. Lammas Market in Stromness when he was a child. Repr. RD 220–21.

14 September 1989, p. 13. Praise for the poetry of Robert Rendall. Repr. RD 221–22. ¶ 21 September 1989, p. 13. Description of a typical day in the hospital, where he has been for five and a half weeks; now “it’s time to go north again.” ¶ 28 September 1989, p. 13. The pleasures found in fierce storms during the autumn and winter.

5 October 1989, p. 15. Re-reading Hardy. ¶ 12 October 1989, p. 13. Reflections on haikus – and how Norse poetry is equally distant from us. Repr. RD 222–23. ¶ 19 October 1989, p. 11. Memories of Guy Fawkes Day during his childhood. Repr. RD 223–24. ¶ 26 October 1989, p. 13. Making soup.

2 November 1989, p. 13. Books he has taken with him to the Aberdeen hospital. ¶ 9 November 1989, p. 15. All Saints’ Day. Repr. RD 224–25. ¶ 16 November 1989, p. 15. “Smoking was, in the 1930s and 1940s, an important part of life.” ¶ 23 November 1989, p. 13. The arrival of winter; anxiety about the threat of rats in his home. Repr. RD 225–26. ¶ 30 November 1989, p. 13. A Sunday afternoon drive around Orkney.

7 December 1989, p. 15. The problems of sending out Christmas cards. ¶ 14 December 1989, p. 13. Reflections on the importance and significance of the telephone. Repr. RD 226–27. ¶ 21 December 1989, p. 13. What the preparations for Christmas were like in the 1920s. Repr. RD 227–28.