GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1968)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1968, signed with his initials only.


11 January 1968, p. 3. The gloom of early January; envy of “Shetland’s Up-Helly-Aa revels on the last Tuesday of the month.” ¶ 18 January 1968, p. 4. The recurrent claim that “Robert Burns was really an Orkneyman.” ¶ 25 January 1968, p. 4. Rising rents in council houses.

1 February 1968, p. 4. Local attitudes toward Scottish nationalism. ¶ 15 February 1968, p. 4. “The loss of three fine Hull trawlers within a short period has caused great talk at the Pier Head. . . .” ¶ 29 February 1968, p. 4. “The change to British Standard Time the other week-end was not something that moved the Pier Head members to enthusiasm.”

7 March 1968, p. 3. Praised for the Orkney Drama Festival. ¶ 14 March 1968, p. 4. Changes in historic place-names. ¶ 28 March 1968, p. 4. “This week the Pier Head chronicler has no idea what the Pier Head is saying, because he is two hundred miles away in the South [i.e. in Edinburgh].”

11 April 1968, p. 4. Inflation and rising bus fares in Edinburgh. ¶ 25 April 1968, p. 4. The invasion of city culture.

2 May 1968, p. 4. Optimists and pessimists at the Pier Head. ¶ 9 May 1968, p. 4. “There is no immigrants’ problem in Orkney, at least not yet. . . .” ¶ 16 May 1968, p. 4. Pulling down Gray’s Buildings in Dundas Street; “we spoke too soon the other week about the early summer, at the Pier Head.”

20 June 1968, p. 4. “. . . the finishing touches are being put to the new houses at the old Distillery site. The scheme will be known as Mayburn Court. . . .” ¶ 27 June 1968, p. 4. The loss of old traditions (such as the Johnsmas Fires) and stories.

4 July 1968, p. 2. Singing has returned to bars. ¶ 11 July 1968, p. 4. Recent losses by the Stromness football club. ¶ 18 July 1968, p. 4. Shopping Week.

1 August 1968, p. 4. Afternoon cruises across Scapa Flow. ¶ 8 August 1968, p. 4. Memories of sunshine in earlier summers. ¶ 15 August 1968, p. 6. The Dounby Show. ¶ 22 August 1968, p. 4. The football pools. ¶ 29 August 1968, p. 4. Recalling the Stromness Market between the wars.

12 September 1968, p. 4. Orkney’s traditional connections with Norway. ¶ 19 September 1968, p. 4. “It is pleasant . . . to see that at the new Mayburn scheme the courtyard is being laid with the old flagstones – a bit of old Stromness mingling with the new.” ¶ 26 September 1968, p. 4. This summer’s visitors have been pleased with the Orkney weather.

17 October 1968, p. 4. “. . . there has been quite a revolution in the Pier Head’s diet in the past decade or two.” ¶ 24 October 1968, p. 4. Jumble sales. ¶ 31 October 1968, p. 4. Halloween.

7 November 1968, p. 4. “Winter came with a rush in the middle of last week and scoured the Pier head bare as a bone.” ¶ 14 November 1968, p. 4. The reassuring comings and goings of the St. Ola ferry. ¶ 21 November 1968, p. 4. The disappearance of the old small shops in Stromness. ¶ 28 November 1968, p. 7. Complaints about the new Budget, which seems to be aimed mainly at smokers and drinkers.

5 December 1968, p. 4. British Standard Time is ruining the rhythm of Orcadians’ days and nights. “The more the Pier Head people think about it, the more they are convinced that in Westminster they legislate primarily for people in the south-east of England, where most of the industry is nowadays.” ¶ 12 December 1968, p. 4. The traditional rivalry between the North End and South End of Stromness. ¶ 19 December 1968, p. 4. The approach of Christmas. ¶ 26 December 1968, p. 4. More preparations for Christmas.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1976)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1976 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Under Brinkie’s Brae (1979), cited here as UBB.


5 February 1976, p. 4. The tradition of the ba’ in Kirkwall. Repr. UBB 9. ¶ 12 February 1976, p. 4. “It seems that the most famous of Orkney foods is clapshot.” Repr. UBB 9–10. ¶ 19 February 1976, p. 4. Description of a trip on the ferry across the Pentland Firth. Repr. UBB 10–11. ¶ 26 February 1976, p. 4. Taking the train from Edinburgh to Thurso. Repr. UBB 11–12.

4 March 1976, p. 4. His visit to Edinburgh. Repr. UBB 12. ¶ 11 March 1976, p. 6. “I must have said somewhere before that two of the highlights of each day are when the postman delivers the mail, around about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.” Repr. UBB 12–13. ¶ 18 March 1976, p. 4. “The poet who seems to me to be closest in spirit to Van Gogh is Gerard Manley Hopkins.” Repr. UBB 13–14. ¶ 25 March 1976, p. 4. “All month, with short interludes of peace, Orkney has been scourged by this south-east gale.” Repr. UBB 14–15.

1 April 1976, p. 4. Loss of the old vocabulary for pre-decimalized coins. Repr. UBB 15–16. ¶ 8 April 1976, p. 4. A visit to a Perthshire village evokes some thoughts about yew trees. Repr. UBB 16. ¶ 15 April 1976, p. 4. It’s now possible to watch three television channels. “It’s perhaps best not to ask if we might not have a penalty to pay for all the luxury, in terms of weakened speech and colder social relations.” Repr. UBB 16–17. ¶ 22 April 1976, p. 4. Ball-point pens are essential but unreliable. Repr. UBB 17–18. ¶ 29 April 1976, p. 4. A visit to the local public library, which is suffering from the consequences of austerity. Repr. UBB 18.

6 May 1976, p. 4. A couch in need of repairs. Repr. UBB 20. ¶ 13 May 1976, p. 4. The pleasures of the bench in Mayburn Court: “It has been a beautiful week, altogether.” Repr. UBB 20–21. ¶ 20 May 1976, p. 4. A hypothetical account of Stromness grown into a major seaport. Repr. UBB 21–22. ¶ 27 May 1976, p. 4. “There was a lot of football on the TV last week.” Repr. UBB 22.

3 June 1976, p. 6. An excursion with friends to Marwick Bay and Birsay on a beautiful day. Repr. UBB 22–23. ¶ 10 June 1976, p. 4. An afternoon on the bench near Stromness Museum, with an account of the people he spoke to there. Repr. UBB 24. ¶ 17 June 1976, p. 4. His brief visits to England (by crossing the bridge at Berwick) and Ireland. ¶ 24 June 1976, p. 4. Midsummer past and present in Orkney. Repr. UBB 24–25.

1 July 1976, p. 4. School holidays when he was a boy. Repr. UBB 26. ¶ 8 July 1976, p. 4. Hot weather and midges. Repr. UBB 26–27. ¶ 15 July 1976, p. 4. Visiting Rackwick. Repr. UBB 28. ¶ 22 July 1976, p. 6. Walking around Rackwick with a small boy. Repr. UBB 28–29. ¶ 29 July 1976, p. 4. The intense sounds of scraping the railings on Mayburn Court. Repr. UBB 29–30.

5 August 1976, p. 4. Various kinds of tourists in Stromness. Repr. UBB 30. ¶ 12 August 1976, p. 6. A Caithness friend has given him a large salmon. Repr. UBB 31. ¶ 19 August 1976, p. 4. A visit to St. Peter’s Church on South Ronaldsay, once presided over by the eccentric Rev. John Gerard. Repr. UBB 31–32.

2 September 1976, p. 4. “It has been a beautiful summer in the islands”; tents and caravans just south of Stromness. Repr. UBB 32–33. ¶ 9 September 1976, p. 4. The Muirs and other friends at Newbattle Abbey College. Repr. UBB 34. ¶ 16 September 1976, p. 4. He is again using his record player, which had been gathering dust for two years. Repr. UBB 34–35. ¶ 23 September 1976, p. 4. “. . . why, I wonder, do the fishermen of the north have an aversion to mackerel as an item of diet?” Repr. UBB 35–36. ¶ 30 September 1976, p. 4. The Scotsman has been sending him review copies of books of verse. Repr. UBB 36.

7 October 1976, p. 4. City dwellers are now coming back to Orkney. Repr. UBB 36–37. ¶ 14 October 1976, p. 4. We don’t respond appropriately to good news. Repr. UBB 37–38. ¶ 21 October 1976, p. 4. The futility of reading the Sunday newspapers. Repr. UBB 39. ¶ 28 October 1976, p. 4. A car breakdown in Sutherland on his way to Edinburgh. Repr. UBB 39–40.

4 November 1976, p. 4. Visiting exhibitions in Edinburgh. Repr. UBB 41. ¶ 11 November 1976, p. 4. The journey home. Repr. UBB 41–42. ¶ 18 November 1976, p. 4. His failure to climb Brinkie’s Brae in 1976 and his uneasiness about the Black Craig. Repr. UBB 42–43. ¶ 25 November 1976, p. 4. His apparently dead wristwatch has come back to life. Repr. UBB 43.

2 December 1976, p. 4. Driving around the island on a bleak winter day with a friend from Northumberland. Repr. UBB 45. ¶ 9 December 1976, p. 6. Writing is merely a trade that brings in income. Repr. UBB 45–46. ¶ 16 December 1976, p. 6. The arrival of snow in Stromness. Repr. UBB 46–47. ¶ 23 December 1976, p. 4. Christmas in the 1920s. Repr. UBB 47–48. ¶ 30 December 1976, p. 4. A look back at 1976, when he began to write poetry again. Repr. UBB 48.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1986)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1986 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.


2 January 1986, p. 3. A television program about a traveling puppeteer evokes memories of “the Punch and Judy shows which regularly visited Orkney more than half a century ago.” ¶ 9 January 1986, p. 4. Suggested place names for Stromness. ¶ 16 January 1986, p. 4. Winter visitors to Orkney. Repr. RD 139–40. ¶ 23 January 1986, p. 4. Burns probably had no ancestors in Orkney. ¶ 30 January 1986, p. 4. Snow now and as remembered from childhood. Repr. RD 140–41.

6 February 1986, p. 4. The pleasures of writing about the weather in his weekly column. ¶ 13 February 1986, p. 4. “That otherwise delightful cat Gypsy, who has been staying with me for a week, has been driving me crazy with demands for food.” Repr. RD 141–42. ¶ 20 February 1986, p. 4. Defrosting his refrigerator. ¶ 27 February 1986, p. 4. “How lovely, after the storms and darkness, to be able to walk on a fine winter afternoon round Ness and back along the road that bisects the golf course.”

6 March 1986, p. 4. The recent temporary loss of electricity in Orkney. ¶ 13 March 1986, p. 4. The history of tea-drinking in Orkney. ¶ 20 March 1986, p. 6. The spring equinox, which was once associated with house-cleaning. ¶ 27 March 1986, p. 4. Watching a television program by Jonathan Miller about the origins of the universe.

3 April 1986, p. 6. “It was General Winter, they say, that defeated Napoleon in 1812”; winter’s assaults on Orkney. ¶ 10 April 1986, p. 4. Connecting the Orkney myth of the Stoor-worm with modern nuclear dangers. Repr. RD 143. ¶ 17 April 1986, p. 4. A medieval Highland poem about St. Magnus. ¶ 24 April 1986, p. 6. Daffodils and snowflakes.

1 May 1986, p. 6. How the first of May was celebrated on Orkney in earlier centuries. ¶ 8 May 1986, p. 6. Remembering the old Orkney story of an infant rescued by his mother from an eagle. Repr. RD 143–44. ¶ 15 May 1986, p. 4. Our abuse of nature; dangerous nuclear plants. Repr. RD 144–45. ¶ 22 May 1986, p. 4. About Edwin Muir, who wandered endlessly but “all through his life he kept his Orkney accent.”

5 June 1986, p. 4. The dramatic changes of May. Repr. RD 145–46. ¶ 12 June 1986, p. 6. Watching World Cup football on television. Repr. RD 146–47. ¶ 19 June 1986, p. 6. A television program about Stonehenge leads to some reflections on Skara Brae. ¶ 26 June 1986, p. 6. Reading in bed.

3 July 1986, p. 6. The pleasures of Johnsmas Day; the St. Magnus Festival. Repr. RD 147–48. ¶ 10 July 1986, p. 4. Bird-watching. ¶ 17 July 1986, p. 6. Fickle summer weather. ¶ 24 July 1986, p. 4. The “end of a week-long holiday in Rackwick, Hoy.” Repr. RD 148. ¶ 31 July 1986, p. 6. Memories of an earlier visit to Rackwick. Repr. RD 149.

7 August 1986, p. 6. A day of enforced idleness when he accidentally locks himself out of his home. ¶ 14 August 1986, p. 6. His friend Brian Murray has cleared out a patch of weeds near Mayburn Court. Repr. RD 149–50. ¶ 21 August 1986, p. 4. A rainy day at the Dounby Show. ¶ 28 August 1986, p. 4. A drive toward Yesnaby with his friend Michael Krauskopf. Repr. RD 150–51.

4 September 1986, p. 6. Memories of the beginning of the war in 1939. ¶ 11 September 1986, p. 4. Short story about Sweyn Asleifson, the Viking on the island of Gairsay. Repr. RD 151–52. ¶ 18 September 1986, p. 4. Remembering what it was like to go back to school at the age of twelve. Repr. RD 152–53. ¶ 25 September 1986, p. 4. The variety of weather in Orkney.

2 October 1986, p. 6. A visit from Gypsy the cat; the problems of feeding her. ¶ 9 October 1986, p. 4. The loss of older place-names on Orkney. Repr. RD 153. ¶ 16 October 1986, p. 4. “On the very verge of being an old-age pensioner, I took shelter from a driving smirr of rain on Monday forenoon in the Eventide Club at the Pier-head.” Repr. RD 154. ¶ 23 October 1986, p. 6. Apples and nuts at Hallowe’en during his childhood. ¶ 30 October 1986, p. 4. Making soup; the first signs of winter.

6 November 1986, p. 4. A fierce thunderstorm; writing letters. ¶ 13 November 1986, p. 6. Flying south. Repr. RD 154–55. ¶ 20 November 1986, p. 6. Revisiting Edinburgh. Repr. RD 155–56. ¶ 27 November 1986, p. 6. “I sometimes wonder, what did they drink in Orkney for breakfast before tea came from China, two centuries ago and more?”

4 December 1986, p. 6. Early preparations for Christmas at school and home in earlier generations. ¶ 11 December 1986, p. 6. A fierce storm. ¶ 18 December 1986, p. 6. A story about the revival of Hogmanay during the Cromwellian period. Repr. RD 156. ¶ 25 December 1986, p. 4. Christmas as it was celebrated in the past.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1987)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1987 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.


1 January 1987, p. 3. Memories of the Stromness men stashing away whiskey before the town went dry. Repr. RD 157. ¶ 8 January 1987, p. 4. Various thoughts on Hogmanay, including Peter Maxwell Davies’ knighthood, the piles of Christmas cards, and an idea for a poem. ¶ 15 January 1987, p. 4. “To the children of Stromness the first snow ushered in a week or so of pure enchantment.” Repr. RD 157–58. ¶ 22 January 1987, p. 4. What various poets have said about winter. Repr. RD 158–59. ¶ 29 January 1987, p. 4. The arrival of Captain John Gow in Orkney in 1726.

5 February 1987, p. 4. ¶ The recent visit of Gypsy the black cat. ¶ 12 February 1987, p. 4. Has recently bought a copy of “the new Oxford Complete Shakespeare.” ¶ 19 February 1987, p. 4. “The lighting of the fire in the hearth can be a very chancy thing.” Repr. RD 159. ¶ 26 February 1987, p. 4. Description of a friend’s spring walk in New Zealand. “Here, in Orkney, the latest snow is slowly shrinking from the gardens.” Repr. RD 159–60.

5 March 1987, p. 4. A tribute to his friend Bob Johnston, who often read proofs at the Orkney Herald with GMB. ¶ Repr. RD 160–61. ¶ 12 March 1987, p. 4. Stromness’s deep connections with the sea; imagines it as a ruin in the 23rd century. Repr. RD 161–62. ¶ 19 March 1987, p. 4. Reflections prompted by two half-pounds of butter. ¶ 26 March 1987, p. 6. The history of Stromness’s water supply. Repr. RD 162.

2 April 1987, p. 4. “The flood of books rises and rises, in this house.” ¶ 9 April 1987, p. 5. Nine students from St. Andrews University visit him. Repr. RD 163. ¶ 16 April 1987, p. 4. A more favorable view of Earl Hakon, who was responsible for the death of St. Magnus. ¶ 23 April 1987, p. 4. Various essential repairs in his home at Mayburn Court. Repr. RD 163–64. ¶ 30 April 1987, p. 4. Memories of using the public library when he was a child.

7 May 1987, p. 4. Memories of studying for exams at the University of Edinburgh. Repr. RD 164–65. ¶ 14 May 1987, p. 6. Memories of Edwin Muir on what would have been his 100th birthday. Repr. RD 165–66. ¶ 21 May 1987, p. 6. Writing to a friend who is spending a year in New Zealand. ¶ 28 May 1987, p. 6. The death of his toaster. Repr. RD 166.

4 June 1987, p. 6. The closing of the old Stromness Academy building. Repr. RD 166–67. ¶ 11 June 1987, p. 6. A visit (his first) to Wyre. Repr. RD 167–68. ¶ 18 June 1987, p. 6. A visit to the Abbey of Pluscarden, “in the middle of Macbeth country.” Repr. RD 168–69. ¶ 25 June 1987, p. 4. Recollections of General Elections during his childhood.

2 July 1987, p. 6. Local stories about the trows of Brodgar; their connection with Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle. Repr. RD 169. ¶ 9 July 1987, p. 6. Showing a Swedish couple around Stromness and vicinity. ¶ 16 July 1987, p. 6. Getting ready for a week at Rackwick. ¶ 23 July 1987, p. 6. Climbing up to Bunertoon, Peter Maxwell Davies’ home on Hoy. Repr. RD 169–70. ¶ 30 July 1987, p. 4. Returning home to a pile of mail: one of his correspondents is Gypsy the cat.

6 August 1987, p. 6. Memories of picnics on the West Shore of Orkney. ¶ 13 August 1987, p. 6. Suffering from a cold in the summer. ¶ 20 August 1987, p. 6. Recollections of being the Stromness Correspondent for the Orkney Herald. Repr. RD 170–71. ¶ 27 August 1987, p. 4. Convalescing in Kirbister. Repr. RD 171–72.

3 September 1987, p. 4. Finally getting rid of an old radio, an electric fire, and a washing machine. Repr. RD 172–73. ¶ 10 September 1987, p. 6. Remembering 1 September 1939: the start of the war and the first day of Lammas Market. ¶ 17 September 1987, p. 4. The beginning of autumn when he was a child. ¶ 24 September 1987, p. 4. The burden of letter-writing.

1 October 1987, p. 6. The autumn equinox; a visit to Yesnaby. ¶ 8 October 1987, p. 4. Recollections of the old North Church (“the Free Kirk,” now the Academy Hall) in Stromness and Peter Esson. Repr. RD 173. ¶ 15 October 1987, p. 4. Watching a television program about the Franklin polar expedition and John Rae. Repr. RD 173–74. ¶ 22 October 1987, p. 4. An afternoon at the home of Bessie Grieve. ¶ 29 October 1987, p. 4. “If the foul weather lasts longer than a week, I have heard strong men wishing that there was a fleet of powerful tugs to drag the [Orkney] islands south and leave them anchored somewhere in the vicinity of Jamaica or Dominica.”

5 November 1987, p. 4. ¶ Watching the crisis in the stock market: “the fishermen and farmers and working people I knew in my youth lived according to other sounder values.” ¶ 12 November 1987, p. 4. Being defeated by modern technology, especially his digital watch, which he has to adjust twice a year for Summer Time. ¶ 19 November 1987, p. 4. Reflections on the modern use of wind power. Repr. RD 174–75. ¶ 26 November 1987, p. 6. Recalling the postal strike of 1971, when he traveled to Edinburgh for a poetry competition won by Liz Lochhead.

3 December 1987, p. 4. “How lovely, after a hard time at the writing-desk – hard but enjoyable – to light the fire in mid-afternoon, and listen to some well-loved music.” ¶ 10 December 1987, p. 6. He’s been told he needs cataract surgery. Repr. RD 175–76. ¶ 17 December 1987, p. 6. General reflections on life in Stromness and elsewhere. ¶ 24 December 1987, p. 4. “We geriatrics can only faintly recapture the marvellous magic of an Orkney Christmas in the 1920s.” Repr. RD 176. ¶ 31 December 1987, p. 4. Weather and disasters during 1987.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1990)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1990 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.

4 January 1990, p. 10. A recital of the chief events in his life during the past year. Repr. RD 228–29. ¶ 11 January 1990, p. 11. Has again begun eating porridge – the breakfast of his childhood. Repr. RD 229–30. ¶ 18 January 1990, p. 11. The recent storm that passed through. ¶ 25 January 1990, p. 11. Reflections on the meaning of Burns to the people of Scotland. Repr. RD 230–31.

1 February 1990, p. 11. The traditional rivalry between Kirkwall and Stromness. Repr. RD 231–32. ¶ 8 February 1990, p. 11. “Extraordinary, how the price of paper has soared this past decade.” ¶ 15 February 1990, p. 13. Reflections on the history of Iceland; has now returned to writing a story, abandoned many years ago, of an Orkney boy in Iceland. ¶ 22 February 1990, p. 13. Recent winter weather; Gypsy the cat.

1 March 1990, p. 13. The history of tea-drinking in Orkney. Repr. RD 232–33. ¶ 8 March 1990, p. 11. The Rev. William Clouston, parish minister of Stromness and Sandwick two centuries ago. Repr. RD 233–34. ¶ 15 March 1990, p. 13. Recent visitors, Hugo Brunner and John Murray. ¶ 22 March 1990, p. 15. Early signs of spring. ¶ 29 March 1990, p. 13. Reflections on the exploration of Iceland, Greenland, and North America by the Norsemen.

5 April 1990, p. 11. The pleasures of a coal fire. ¶ 12 April 1990, p. 13. Women in the Orkneyinga Saga. Repr. RD 235. ¶ 19 April 1990, p. 11. Pace eggs at Easter. ¶ 26 April 1990, p. 17. Visiting friends in Aberdeen for Easter, followed by a return to the hospital.

3 May 1990, p. 15. Memories of World War Two. Repr. RD 235–36. ¶ 24 May 1990, p. 13. Edwin Muir’s birthday; GMB tries to imagine a day in Muir’s childhood. Repr. RD 236–37. ¶ 31 May 1990, p. 19. His life in the hospital; the pleasures of May. Repr. RD 237–38.

7 June 1990, p. 13. Reflections on spring in Foresterhill hospital; rides in the countryside. ¶ 14 June 1990, p. 15. The Sunday School picnics of his childhood. Repr. RD 238–39. ¶ 21 June 1990, p. 13. Summer tourists in Stromness past and present. ¶ 28 June 1990, p. 13. Summer holidays when he was a child.

5 July 1990, p. 12. The poetry recitals at this year’s St. Magnus Festival. Repr. RD 239–40. ¶ 12 July 1990, p. 15. Stromness beer-drinking in the past. Repr. RD 240–41. ¶ 19 July 1990, p. 14. Yearning for sunshine. ¶ 26 July 1990, p. 14. Memories of the “golden weather” of the summer of 1947.

2 August 1990, p. 11. Putting greens in Stromness past and present. Repr. RD 241–42. ¶ 9 August 1990, p. 14. Changes in the size and appearance of the new coins. ¶ 16 August 1990, p. 14. Orkney’s good but admittedly imperfect weather. ¶ 23 August 1990, p. 14. The redecoration of his bedroom at Mayburn Court. ¶ 30 August 1990, p. 12. The problem of the numerous manuscripts and other papers that accumulate in his home. Repr. RD 242–43.

6 September 1990, p. 12. Poets mentioned in the Orkeyinga Saga. Repr. RD 243–44. ¶ 13 September 1990, p. 12. Memories of the Stromness Lammas Fair. ¶ 20 September 1990, p. 12. History of some Orkney place names. ¶ 27 September 1990, p. 12. “That was some storm yesterday (Wednesday, September 19).”

4 October 1990, p. 12. Postage stamps now and in the past. ¶ 11 October 1990, p. 11. The autumns of his childhood. Repr. RD 244–45. ¶ 18 October 1990, p. 10. Gypsy the cat; the publication of GMB’s Letters to Gypsy. ¶ 25 October 1990, p. 12. Celebration of his birthday; thunderstorms.

1 November 1990, p. 12. Starting the fire in the morning. ¶ 8 November 1990, p. 12. Some memorable personalities who once lived in Stromness. Repr. RD 246–47. ¶ 15 November 1990, p. 12. Tales of the Black Craig. Repr. RD 247–48. ¶ 22 November 1990, p. 14. Watching Sir Geoffrey Howe’s resignation speech on television. ¶ 29 November 1990, p. 14. On the writing of his novel Vinland. Repr. RD 248–49.

6 December 1990, p. 14. Defrosting the fridge. ¶ 13 December 1990, p. 12. Popular brands of cigarettes during his youth. ¶ 20 December 1990, p. 8. The winter solstice and the return of the light. Repr. RD 249–50.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1994)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1994 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s First Wash of Spring (2006), cited here as FWS, and one was reprinted in Northern Lights (1999), cited here as NL.


6 January 1994, p. 8. What he reads during the Christmas season. ¶ 13 January 1994, p. 12. Tribute to R. T. Johnson, former contributor to the Orkney Herald. Repr. FWS 129–30. ¶ 20 January 1994, p. 12. His introduction to the poetry of Burns in school. ¶ 27 January 1994, p. 12. The sheer size of The Times, contrasted with the shrunken dailies of the war years. Repr. FWS 130–31.

3 February 1994, p. 12. Reflections about Burns on a stormy night. Repr. FWS 131–32. ¶ 10 February 1994, p. 12. His favorite cat Gypsy. Repr. FWS 133–34. ¶ 17 February 1994, p. 14. His memories of the Great Depression in the 1930s.

3 March 1994, p. 14. Listening to the news on the radio and television reminds him that all communities – including Orkney – pass through historic cycles of violence. Repr. FWS 134–35. ¶ 10 March 1994, p. 14. Memories of taking the Higher Leaving Certificate exam at Stromness Academy. Repr. FWS 135–37. ¶ 17 March 1994, p. 14. Story about a couple in Stromness before the advent of the telephone. Repr. FWS 137–38. ¶ 24 March 1994, p. 14. Visiting a friend in Outertown. Repr. FWS 139–40. ¶ 31 March 1994, p. 14. Remembering the air raid on Orkney in March 1940. Repr. NL 22–23.

7 April 1994, p. 14. Boundary disputes among young boys and nations. ¶ 14 April 1994, p. 12. His recent severe cold. ¶ 21 April 1994, p. 12. The public benches near his home on Mayburn Court; the arrival of daffodils. Repr. FWS 140–41. ¶ 28 April 1994, p. 12. The old Temperance Hall in Stromness. Repr. FWS 142–43.

5 May 1994, p. 14. Letter-writing. Repr. FWS 143–44. ¶ 12 May 1994, p. 14. Mr. Bews, an early temperance poet in Stromness; the history of the local temperance movement. Repr. FWS 144–45. ¶ 19 May 1994, p. 14. Short story about the first houses built in Stromness. Repr. FWS 146–47. ¶ 26 May 1994, p. 14. Winston, a cat who visits Mayburn Court occasionally. Repr. FWS 147–48.

2 June 1994, p. 18. History of the evolution of recorded music. Repr. FWS 148–50. ¶ 9 June 1994, p. 14. “Every day in the week, when we were young, had its own particular flavour, sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant, sometimes neither here nor there.” Repr. FWS 150–51. ¶ 16 June 1994, p. 14. The pleasures of eating porridge. ¶ 23 June 1994, p. 14. Day-by-day description of his week. Repr. FWS 151–53. ¶ 30 June 1994, p. 14. What he did on the summer solstice. Repr. FWS 153–54.

7 July 1994, p. 14. Johnsmas; recent visitors. Repr. FWS 154–56. ¶ 14 July 1994, p. 10. The first Shopping Week in Stromness in 1949. ¶ 21 July 1994, p. 10. Revisiting 80 Victoria Street, Stromness, where he spent his earliest years. Repr. FWS 156–57. ¶ 28 July 1994, p. 12. Women have had to endure the World Cup on television. Repr. FWS 157–58.

4 August 1994, p. 14. Traditional weather knowledge among the old. ¶ 11 August 1994, p. 10. A review of the summer, including Shopping Week. Repr. FWS 158–60. ¶ 18 August 1994, p. 10. The curse of midges in August. Repr. FWS 160–61. ¶ 25 August 1994, p. 14. Remembering the beginning of school in the 1930s.

1 September 1994, p. 14. His memories of the May Burn, the stream near his home. Repr. FWS 161–62. ¶ 8 September 1994, p. 16. The pleasures of Thursday in Stromness, which is early closing day. ¶ 15 September 1994, p. 14. Short story about Sweyn Asleifson, an Orkney Viking. Repr. FWS 162–64. ¶ 22 September 1994, p. 16. A fictionalized account of the first meeting (1780) in Stromness of William Bligh and George Stuart (both later associated with the Bounty). ¶ 29 September 1994, p. 10. Memories of paraffin lamps. Repr. FWS 164–65.

6 October 1994, p. 12. Alexander Graham, an eighteenth-century Stromness merchant who successfully resisted the demand for fees from Kirkwall. Repr. FWS 165–67. ¶ 13 October 1994, p. 12. His dread of interviewers and cameras. Repr. FWS 167–68. ¶ 20 October 1994, p. 12. “The secret weather knowledge of the old folk.” Repr. FWS 168–70. ¶ 27 October 1994, p. 14. “The sorrows and joys of lighting the fire!” Repr. FWS 170–71.

3 November 1994, p. 14. His memories of studying Latin in school. Repr. FWS 171–73. ¶ 10 November 1994, p. 16. All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Repr. FWS 173–74. ¶ 17 November 1994, p. 14.  The history of chickens on Orkney. Repr. FWS 175–76. ¶ 24 November 1994, p. 14. His uneasy relationship with telephones.

1 December 1994, p. 14. Writing Christmas cards. ¶ 8 December 1994, p. 14. An imaginary tale of how St. Andrew might have come to Scotland. Repr. FWS 176–78. ¶ 15 December 1994, p. 18. He thought he had the flu – but it was a false alarm. Repr. FWS 178–79. ¶ 22 December 1994, p. 14. The best literary works to read at Christmas. ¶ 29 December 1994, p. 10. Legends and traditions associated with the winter solstice. Repr. FWS 179–81.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1993)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1993 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s First Wash of Spring (2006), cited here as FWS, and one reappeared in Northern Lights (1999), cited as NL.


7 January 1993, p. 6. Disappointment on re-reading Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral; praise for Larkin’s poems but lack of enthusiasm for his published letters. Repr. FWS 68–69. ¶ 14 January 1993, p. 10. The pleasures of winter; the grim possibilities of global warming. ¶ 21 January 1993, p. 12. Short story about the fiddler of Fara. Repr. FWS 71–73. ¶ 28 January 1993, p. 12. The discomforts of “the winter bug.” Repr. FWS 73–74.

4 February 1993, p. 12. Watching the inauguration of President Clinton on television; thoughts about earlier American presidents (with praise for Franklin Roosevelt). Repr. FWS 74–75. ¶ 11 February 1993, p. 12. Short story: “Five thousand years ago, there were three young Sandwick men who thought they might as well go for a drink to Skara Brae.” Repr. FWS 76–77. ¶ 18 February 1993, p. 12. “I’ve always thought it strange that all the seven days of the week seem to have each a special flavour.” ¶ 25 February 1993, p. 12. Michael Jackson on television; popular music of the 1930s. Repr. FWS 77–79.

4 March 1993, p. 12. Memories of “the original [St.] Ola that plied the Pentland Firth between 1890 and 1950.” Repr. FWS 79–80. ¶ 11 March 1993, p. 12. Traditional definitions of winter; what March meant to him during his schooldays. ¶ 18 March 1993, p. 14. “I’m trying to remember how we fared in the days before electricity, pre-1947.” Repr. FWS 80–81. ¶ 25 March 1993, p. 12. Memories of struggling to school in the morning. Repr. FWS 81–83.

1 April 1993, p. 14. His winter reading includes Eliot’s Middlemarch and Dickens’s Bleak House. Repr. FWS 83–84. ¶ 15 April 1993, p. 12. Childhood memories of collecting pace-eggs at Easter. ¶ 8 April 1993, p. 14. A stormy March. Repr. FWS 84–85. ¶ 22 April 1993, p. 12. Reflections on the story of St. Magnus’s martyrdom. ¶ 29 April 1993, p. 14. At last some sunshine “after the bleakest April I can remember.” Repr. FWS 85–86.

6 May 1993, p. 12. Popular cures for aches and pains in the past. Repr. FWS 87–88. ¶ 13 May 1993, p. 14. Short story about an imaginary king of Orkney, Mansie IV. Repr. FWS 88–89. ¶ 20 May 1993, p. 14. “There seems to be some barrier between Sir Walter Scott and myself; for I never got any pleasure at all out of his novels.” Scott’s comments on Orkney. ¶ 27 May 1993, p. 14. The sudden arrival of spring. Repr. FWS 89–91.

3 June 1993, p. 14. Beautiful but neglected plants. Repr. FWS 91–92. ¶ 10 June 1993, p. 14. Husky Saunders, one of “a few half-Orcadian half-Canadian Indian boys in Stromness towards the end of the last century.” Repr. FWS 92–93. ¶ 17 June 1993, p. 12. “Going through that ever-delightful book: Stromness – Late 19th Century Photographs, published in 1972 by Stromness Museum,” he speculates about the identity of the boy in the sailor suit who appears in many of the pictures. Repr. FWS 94–95. ¶ 24 June 1993, p. 12. Reading Jane Smiley’s novel The Greenlanders; reflections on the dwindling population of Greenland. Repr. FWS 95–95.

1 July 1993, p. 14. How he spent the day of the summer solstice. Repr. FWS 96–97. ¶ 8 July 1993, p. 12. “Two days from now, the school will break up for summer. This time of year was for us, 60 years ago, a magical time.” ¶ 15 July 1993, p. 14. Reflections on the return of the whaling ships described in “Sir Walter Scott’s journal of his trip round the northern and western isles in 1814.” Repr. FWS 98–99; NL 14–15. ¶ 22 July 1993, p. 12. Recent heavy rain. Repr. FWS 99–100. ¶ 29 July 1993, p. 12. His two old chairs have been donated “for the big Shopping Week fire at the Braes.” Repr. FWS 100–01.

5 August 1993, p. 14. Reflections on some of his distant relatives. “I do regret the laziness of my youth that kept me from learning Gaelic and Norse. I wander about in a no man’s land between two cultures.” Repr. FWS 101–03. ¶ 12 August 1993, p. 14. Affectionate memories of the Tender Tables, a favorite swimming place for Stromness children. Repr. FWS 103–04. ¶ 19 August 1993, p. 14. Dounby Shows past and present. Repr. FWS 104–05. ¶ 26 August 1993, p. 12. Memories of moving into Mayburn Court nearly a quarter of a century ago. Repr. FWS 106–07.

2 September 1993, p. 12. Remembering the Lammas school holiday when he was a boy. ¶ 9 September 1993, p. 12. Stromness postmen of the past (including his father). Repr. FWS 107–08. ¶ 16 September 1993, p. 14. Reading poetry at Stromness Academy when he was a schoolboy. Repr. FWS 108–10. ¶ 23 September 1993, p. 12. “Early autumn and the falling leaves is the time to be mindful of age. . . .” Repr. FWS 110–11. ¶ 30 September 1993, p. 12. The history of tea and memories of tea-drinking during his childhood. Repr. FWS 111–12.

7 October 1993, p. 14. Childhood games and amusements. Repr. FWS 112–13. ¶ 14 October 1993, p. 12. Discussion of a book on Cowdenbeath Football Club by the Rev. Ronald Ferguson. Repr. FWS 114–15. ¶ 21 October 1993, p. 12. Remembering Stromness football in the 1930s. Repr. FWS 115–17. ¶ 28 October 1993, p. 12. Despite his various illnesses, including tuberculosis, he has reached the age of 72. Repr. FWS 117–18.

4 November 1993, p. 14. Memories associated with Clouston’s Pier, Stromness. Repr. FWS 118–19. ¶ 11 November 1993, p. 12. Prints a piece he has written for a charitable cause, “A Poem for the Restoration of the Organ in St Mary Magdalene Church, Keyworth, Nottingham.” Repr. FWS 120–21. ¶ 18 November 1993, p. 14. A visit to the graves in the kirkyard at Warbeth. Repr. FWS 121–22. ¶ 25 November 1993, p. 14. Memories of the old men of Stromness gathering on benches at the Pier Head – what came to be called “the Pier Head Parliament.” Repr. FWS 122–23.

2 December 1993, p. 14. What local people ate before the war. Repr. FWS 123–25. ¶ 9 December 1993, p. 14. Endless changes in the Stromness weather. Repr. FWS 125–26. ¶ 16 December 1993, p. 14. Christmas cards. ¶ 23 December 1993, p. 12. Short story about a lonely old man and a small boy. Repr. FWS 126–27. ¶ 30 December 1993, p. 8. Short story: an old man has unexpected visitors on Hogmanay. Repr. FWS 127–29.