GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1964)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1964, signed with his initials only.


19 November 1964, p. 4. “The Pier Head, of course, had its own Budget debate after it was all over.” ¶ 26 November 1964, p. 4. New Year was once “the great winter festival,” but now Christmas, increasingly commercialized, is the dominant holiday.

3 December 1964, p. 4. “It is a long time since the debates at the Pier Head were chronicled (owing to the fact that the chronicler was unavoidably absent from the Pier Head) and in the interim several familiar Pier Head characters are no longer with us.” ¶ 10 December 1964, p. 4. “Sometimes the Pier Head discusses T.V. and the current programmes. As usual, marked likes and dislikes emerge.” ¶ 17 December 1964, p. 4. Disputing the claim that “Stromness is getting wickeder and wickeder.” ¶ 24 December 1964, p. 4. “The Pier Head notes with approval the resurgence of an old Orkney custom which seemed to be in danger of dying out – the making of home-brewed ale.” ¶ 31 December 1964, p. 2. A review of the past year. “A quiet year it was. Happy is the town that has no history.”

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1967)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1967, signed with his initials only.

5 January 1967, p. 3. The television documentary about Scapa Flow. ¶ 12 January 1967, p. 3. Changing New Year customs. ¶ 19 January 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head approves of Robbie Burns. They feel he is one of themselves.” ¶ 26 January 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head was shaken one day last week when they got to know that Jo Grimond had resigned as leader of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons.”

2 February 1967, p. 4. The rainiest January in memory. ¶ 9 February 1967, p. 4. “Stromness is one hundred and fifty years old as a burgh this year.” ¶ 16 February 1967, p. 4. The local fascination with Kosygin. ¶ 23 February 1967, p. 4. The Pier Head is enthusiastic about the “Big Freeze” of wages and prices.

2 March 1967, p. 4. “As the members of the Pier Head get older, they become more and more amazed at the goings-on of young folk. . . .” ¶ 16 March 1967, p. 4. “This is a time of year dreaded by the Pier Head members, because of the spring cleaning.” ¶ 23 March 1967, p. 4. Persons to whom Stromness ought to give the Freedom of the Burgh on its “one hundred and fiftieth anniversary as a burgh.” ¶ 30 March 1967, p. 4. The westerly gales of the past winter.

6 April 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head members have been having nightmares for a week and more about huge tankers half-a-mile long going ashore on the Brough of Birsay or the Pentland Skerries or the Mull Head and saturating Orkney with oil.” ¶ 13 April 1967, p. 4. The town is full of visitors from Kirkwall because of a holiday there. ¶ 20 April 1967, p. 4. “All smiles at the Pier Head last week, as spring came at last after the wettest, stormiest winter in living memory.” ¶ 27 April 1967, p. 4. Extreme wealth and poverty in Edinburgh (where GMB is visiting).

4 May 1967, p. 4. Watching the Students’ Charities Day procession along Princes Street in Edinburgh. ¶ 11 May 1967, p. 4. Traveling on the St. Ola ferry across the Pentland Firth. ¶ 18 May 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head members are beginning to turn their attention to the 150th anniversary of our burgh, which is to be celebrated early next month.” ¶ 25 May 1967, p. 4. Comments on Stromness, a booklet by J. A. Troup and F. Eunson.

1 June 1967, p. 4. Thoughts about “the most famous football match of 1967, Celtic’s 2-1 victory over Inter-Milan in Lisbon. . . . The Pier Head members, usually (as far as nationality goes) in a kind of no-man’s-land between Scandinavia and Scotland, definitely decided they were Scotsmen. . . .” ¶ 15 June 1967, p. 4. The pleasures of the most recent Stromness monthly holiday. ¶ 22 June 1967, p. 4. “Houses falling, houses rising. Slowly and imperceptibly the appearance of the town changes.” (One of his examples is the group of new council houses on the site of the old distillery, where he was later to live.) ¶ 29 June 1967, p. 4. The new benches at the Pier Head.

6 July 1967, p. 4. “Now is the time of summer visitors to Stromness. There is more activity than usual round the Pier Head this year. . . .” ¶ 13 July 1967, p. 4. “Stromness is full of Edinburgh folk just now (it being the trades holiday) and for the next fortnight beginning on Monday the accents of Clydeside will be heard on our streets.” ¶ 20 July 1967, p. 4. “Cars sometimes get on the nerves of the Pier Head – even worse than transistors. Every year cars and vehicles of all kinds get denser in Stromness.” ¶ 27 July 1967, p. 4. Pondering the possibility of a home-brew drinking contest during Shopping Week.

3 August 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head is amazed at the number of gulls this year. Where have they all come from so suddenly?” ¶ 10 August 1967, p. 4. The Dounby Show causes some reflections on modern holidays. ¶ 24 August 1967, p. 4. The BBC weather forecasters gave misleading advice about the day of the Dounby Show. ¶ 31 August 1967, p. 4. The disintegration of the British Empire and its implications for the future of Orkney.

7 September 1967, p. 4. Memories of the old Stromness Lammas Market Day. ¶ 14 September 1967, p. 4. “The Pier Head members were delighted one day last week when they heard that Stromness Academy had won the premier place in Scotland with its magazine, ‘The Stromnessian.'” ¶ 21 September 1967, p. 4. The regulars at the Pier Head don’t stray very far for their holidays.

5 October 1967, p. 4. With the approach of winter, the Pier Head group is inclined to stay home – usually watching television. ¶ 12 October 1974, p. 4. Pensions are going up soon, but that extra money will disappear with the arrival of higher prices. ¶ 19 October 1967, p. 4. The centenary of the Stromness lifeboat.

23 November 1967, p. 4. Talk about devaluation of the pound. ¶ 30 November 1967, p. 4. What Christmas was like in earlier years.

7 December 1967, p. 4. Changes in the Stromness skyline, especially the new flats going up at the site of the old distillery. ¶ 14 December 1967, p. 4. “On these days, with snow swirling out of the norther, those at the Pier Head wish they were bears who could sleep in a cave all winter.” ¶ 21 December 1967, p. 4. How we observe the winter solstice – and how it was understood in earlier centuries.

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1961)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1961 and were signed with his initials only.

9 November 1961, p. 4. “The Pier Head – that second chamber of the town, which stands in relation to the Town Council roughly as The House of Lords stands to the Commons – is puzzled by certain innovations which have crept into the Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes ritual of recent years.” ¶ 16 November 1961, p. 4. What would happen if the inhabitants of Tristan da Cunha (a volcanic island in the south Atlantic) were to resettle in Stromness? ¶ 23 November 1961, p. 4. “The Pier Head is astonished by the undoubted fact that the Christmas season is beginning earlier with every year that passes.” ¶ 30 November 1961, p. 4. Bingo is a new version of the old game of Housie.

7 December 1961, p. 4. Two regulars at the Pier Head: George S. Robertson and James Harvey. ¶ 21 December 1961, p. 4. A discussion of “vanished Christmas customs, particularly the Yule Log.” ¶ 28 December 1961, p. 2. Hogmanay and New Year customs.

GMB — Letter from Hamnavoe (1974)

The following “Letter from Hamnavoe” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1974 and were signed with initials only (except for 30 May 1974, which was unsigned). Most were reprinted in GMB’s Letters from Hamnavoe (1979), cited here as LH.


10 January 1974, p. 3. New Year in Stromness when he was a child. ¶ 17 January 1974, p. 4. Reflections on a Daniell print of the Bishop’s Palace, Kirkwall. Repr. LH 97–99. ¶ 24 January 1974, p. 4. Burns never mentioned Orkney in his writings, but there are allusions to it in various other literary texts through the centuries. Repr. LH 99. ¶ 31 January 1974, p. 4. The history of the name of the St. Ola ferry.

14 February 1974, p. 4. Local political talk; a high tide. ¶ 21 February 1974, p. 4. Approves the decision to close down television (“old one-eye”) at 10:30 p.m.; the death of the poet Douglas Young. Repr. LH 100. ¶ 28 February 1974, p. 4. Memories of past election days in Stromness. Repr. LH 100–01.

7 March 1974, p. 4. Tribute to the career of Eric Linklater on his 75th birthday. Repr. LH 101. ¶ 14 March 1974, p. 4. The end of the miners’ strike leads to some thoughts about the history of mining in Stromness. Repr. LH 102. ¶ 21 March 1974, p. 4. “Today is the vernal equinox, one of the four magical times of the year. In the everlasting struggle between light and darkness both forces are locked together and motionless, on this day. From now on the darkness begins to give way.” Repr. LH 102–03. ¶ 28 March 1974, p. 4. Fine weather and the sighting of swans near Stromness. Repr. LH 104.

4 April 1974, p. 4. Even 300 years ago Orcadians were notorious for heavy drinking, but they are rarely interested in betting. Repr. LH 104–05. ¶ 11 April 1974, p. 4. He imagines what would happen if Shetland were to declare its independence. ¶ 18 April 1974, p. 4. The egg symbolism of Easter. Repr. LH 105–06. ¶ 25 April 1974, p. 4. The problem of getting rid of old books; the story of how Peter Maxwell Davies gave a copy of the Orkneying Saga to Jorge Luis Borges. Repr. LH 106.

2 May 1974, p. 4. Conversations at the Pier Head. ¶ 9 May 1974, p. 4. Short story about an old woman and her granddaughter on a May morning. ¶ 16 May 1974, p. 4. Memories of going to the cinema in Stromness when he was young. Repr. LH 106–07. ¶ 23 May 1974, p. 4. Review of G. S. Robertson, A History of the Stromness Golf Courses. Repr. LH 107–08. ¶ 30 May 1974, p. 4. Unsigned. In 1842 “there were over 40 places in Stromness where drink could be bought. But most of these premises would not have been ‘pubs’ as we understand them. They would have been ‘ale houses’, where you drank the ale that was brewed on the premises.” Repr. LH 108.

6 June 1974, p. 4. The death of James MacTaggart; recalls the time when MacTaggart filmed a television drama based on three stories by GMB, the first of which was set in Rackwick. Repr. LH 110. ¶ 13 June 1974, p. 4. Gloomy thoughts about Dounreay, the nuclear reactor visible across the Pentland Firth. Repr. LH 111. ¶ 20 June 1974, p. 4. The pleasures of riding in a friend’s car around the island. ¶ 27 June 1974, p. 4. Imaginary letter written 150 years ago about the Orkney hilltop bonfires on midsummer’s eve (Johnsmas). Repr. LH 111–12.

4 July 1974, p. 4. Visiting an exhibition at the Stromness Museum. ¶ 11 July 1974, p. 4. Reflections prompted by John Firth’s Reminiscences of an Orkney Parish (reissued by the Stromness Museum). Repr. LH 112–13. ¶ 18 July 1974, p. 4. An account of the life of Phin, who was (mistakenly) thought to be the founder of Finstown. Repr. LH 114. ¶ 25 July 1974, p. 4. Story about a Stromness man who retreats to another island in order to escape the crowds of Shopping Week.

1 August 1974, p. 4. A day on a boat with friends in Burra Sound. Repr. LH 114–15. ¶ 8 August 1974, p. 4. A visit to the Dounby Show (of farm animals). Repr. LH 115–16. ¶ 15 August 1974, p. 3. The problems of reading the Sunday newspapers. ¶ 22 August 1974, p. 4. Praise for the week-long Orkney Orchestral Summer School in Stromness. Repr. LH 116–17. ¶ 29 August 1974, p. 4. Summer visitors in Stromness.

5 September 1974, p. 4. The pleasures of looking at an old map he has just bought, “A Map of Orkney Shire, drawn from the best Authorities by T. Kitchin.” Repr. LH 117. ¶ 12 September 1974, p. 4. Unsightly military relics throughout Orkney. ¶ 19 September 1974, p. 4. An imaginary account of a school day forty years ago. Repr. LH 117–20. ¶ 26 September 1974, p. 4. The autumnal equinox. “If only we could read the great stone book of Brodgar! It was undoubtedly erected with some reference to, and reverence for, the waxing and waning of the fruitful year.” Repr. LH 119–20.

3 October 1974, p. 6. “Another election! – the second within a year – what a bore!” ¶ 10 October 1974, p. 4. “They were discussing the election at the Pier Head . . . one afternoon recently.” ¶ 17 October 1974, p. 4. Listening to a radio program about plants and farming. ¶ 24 October 1974, p. 4. The death of John Shearer, former Director of Education and once a science master at Stromness Academy. Repr. LH 120–21. ¶ 31 October 1974, p. 4. Listening to awful news on radio and television; reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

7 November 1974, p. 4. The telephone box in front of the Stromness Museum. Repr. LH 121–22. ¶ 14 November 1974, p. 4. His cooking and eating habits. Repr. LH 122–23. ¶ 21 November 1974, p. 4. A new St. Ola ferry has arrived. Repr. LH 123–24. ¶ 28 November 1974, p. 6. Possible origins of the name of the hill behind Stromness, Brinkie’s Brae. Repr. LH 124–25.

5 December 1974, p. 4. Fictional narrative about an Orkney boy’s misunderstanding of the Ice Age. Repr. LH 126. ¶ 12 December 1974, p. 6. Electrical problems in his kitchen; the acquisitiveness of modern society. ¶ 19 December 1974, p. 4. How a boy named Josie might have experienced Christmas at the beginning of the twentieth century. ¶ 26 December 1974, p. 3. Memories of the past year.

What the Pier Head Is Saying (1956)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown, all unsigned, were published in the Orkney Herald during 1956.


3 January 1956, p. 3. “The Pier Head is too wise and too long in the tooth to make foolish New Year resolutions. But here are a few of the fervent hopes which they entertain for 1966. . . .” ¶ 10 January 1956, p. 3. Uneasiness about the centralization of island life in Kirkwall. ¶ 17 January 1956, p. 3. The closing of St. Peter’s Church in Stromness. ¶ 24 January 1956, p. 3. The bad weather has kept most of them at home. ¶ 31 January 1956, p. 3. “The perils and graces and grandeurs of snow gave the Pier Head plenty to talk about last week.”

7 February 1956, p. 3. The desirability of creating the Boys’ Hostel in Stromness rather than Kirkwall. ¶ 14 February 1956, p. 3. The war over whether the streets of Stromness should be paved with concrete or flagstones. ¶ 21 February 1956, p. 3. Disapproval of the Drama Festival. ¶ 28 February 1956, p. 3. Walter Scott’s visit to Bessie Millie.

6 March 1956, p. 3. The decision to withdraw ferry service from the South Isles. ¶ 13 March 1956, p. 3. “‘Who is this Shakespeare?’ wonders the Pier Head, having seen for days past every shop window cluttered up with bills advertising the forthcoming Perth Rep. performance of ‘Othello’ at the Town Hall.” ¶ 20 March 1956, p. 3. The removal of the “red-painted weighing machine” at the Pier Head. ¶ 27 March 1956, p. 3. Names of vanished pubs in Stromness.

3 April 1956, p. 3. “. . . now the Pier Head, after a long, barren winter, is looking forward to a feast of debate and argument, lasting all summer long.” ¶ 10 April 1956, p. 3. The continuing problem of housing shortages in Stromness. ¶ 17 April 1956, p. 3. “. . . Stromness – and of course all other small burghs in Scotland – should be divided into wards, each returning a member [of Parliament].”

1 May 1956, p. 3. The arrival of spring.

10 July 1956, p. 3. Shopping Week. ¶ 17 July 1956, p. 3. “This week, of course, the Pier Head is not saying a great deal” (because of Shopping Week). ¶ 31 July 1956, p. 4. “One thing the Pier Head is rather proud of this year, and that is the return to form of our local sportsmen and sportswomen after a good few years.”

7 August 1956, p. 3. “Much, think some folk at the Pier Head, could be done to make the town brighter and more colourful, in a physical sense.” ¶ 14 August 1956, p. 9. The slogan “Tell Scotland.” ¶ 21 August 1956, p. 3. Local jealousy because the Queen Mother recently opened a playing field near Kirkwall. ¶ 28 August 1956, p. 3. A stranger appears at the Pier Head and makes insulting remarks about Orkney.

4 September 1956, p. 3. Stromness Market Day. ¶ 11 September 1956, p. 3. The history of the name Stromness. ¶ 18 September 1956, p. 3. Hostility toward the new subsidized housing in town. ¶ 25 September 1956, p. 3. Talk of creating a new statute of Alexander Graham.

 

 

Island Diary (1954)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1954. (From 1948 onward, most of 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.


“New Year’s Day.” 12 January 1954, p. 4. Because he’s in the hospital, he hasn’t suffered the usual after-effects of Hogmanay; watching the Ba’ in Kirkwall. ¶ “The Ballad of Andr­­ew Ross – Second Version.” 19 January 1954, p. 4. Another version of a nineteenth-century ballad that interested his readers. ¶ “The Star o’ Rabbie Burns.” 26 January 1954, p. 4. An assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Burns as a poet.­

“Look Out, It’s Coming.” 2 February 1954, p. 4. Is uneasy about the possible arrival of television on Orkney; recollections of his earlier encounters with television in Dalkeith and Edinburgh.­­ ¶ “At the Bull Show.” 9 February 1954, p. 4. Going to the Bull Sale at Kirkwall Auction Mart for the first time in his life; the depopulation of Rackwick; the hundredth anniversary of the Orcadian; the “old weather witch” who mistakenly prophesied a hurricane in January. ¶ “Taken to Task.” 16 February 1954, p. 6. Responding to a letter from a reader, he surveys other great Scottish writers besides Burns and defends his praise of the Orkneyinga Saga. ¶ “The Cruel Sea.” 23 February 1954, p. 4. “That story, in the national press last week, of the fishing boat skipper who drew up in his nets a drowned body, and ordered it to be given back to the sea, roused a great deal of interest in Orkney.”

“The Long Night.” 2 March 1954, p. 4. “I heard a good story the other day, said to be true, which could perhaps be worked up into an effective one-act comedy”; the county ploughing match; “a spin in the car round Scorriedale and Houton”; the Drama Festival in Stromness. ¶ “Lure of the Map.” 9 March 1954, p. 6. The old place names of Orkney; dramatic local weather. ¶ “Inquest on a Radio­­ Programme.” 23 March 1954, p. 6. “I should like, in the next few weeks, to discuss some of the programmes we hear regularly on the Scottish Home Service”; review of a program about an Orkney family in the eighteenth century; watching films at the hospital; Herman Wouk’s The Cain Mutiny. ¶ “Take Your Choice.” 30 March 1954, p. 6. “The news that there is to be a large atomic pile (or whatever is the right name) in Caithness has roused various reactions in Orkney”; declining Presbyterian church membership in Orkney (mainly thanks to John Knox); the radio program Just as You Please.

“The Night of the Falling Bombs.” 6 April 1954, p. 4. Remembering the first bombing raid on Orkney during World War Two; review of Judgment Day, a radio play by Elmer Rice. ¶ “Earl Haakon’s Testament.” 20 April 1954, p. 4. “This week ‘Islandman’ imagines Earl Haakon, in the last year of his rule in Orkney, telling the story of Magnus’s death, from his own point of view.” Reply by “Reader” and response by GMB, 27 April, p. 4. ¶ “On Reading the Great McGonagall.” 27 April 1954, p. 4. The poet William McGonagall of Dundee.

“Island Politicians.” 4 May 1954, p. 4. Various Shetland politicians, including John W. Eunson; rooks in Kirkwall (which he has observed from the hospital windows); peat smoke on Orkney. ¶ “The Second Miscellany.” 11 May 1954, p. 4. Review of the second volume of the Orkney Miscellany, consisting of “seven papers read before the Orkney Record and Antiquarian Society last winter.” ¶ “Peerie Sea: Princess or Trull.” 25 May 1954, p. 6. The debates about Kirkwall’s Peerie Sea; new houses in Kirkwall; the most recent issue of the New Shetlander.

“A New Scottish Magazine.” 1 June 1954, p. 6. Review of the first issue of the Saltire Review; a friendly letter from a woman in London, but “some week soon, for your entertainment, I must print here some of the savage bitter letters I get from readers”; playing the game of Monopoly in the hospital. ¶ “The Great Song Famine.” 8 June 1954, p. 6. “I wish someone with ability would try to compose one or two decent Orkney songs, for those we possess are dreadful beyond belief”; an encounter with Andrew Manson, who had a phenomenal memory; Orkney poetry. ¶ “Thou Shalt Not Read!” 15 June 1954, p. 6. The banning of books by public libraries; wonders whether his own book, The Storm, mostly “a collection of innocuous little poems,” published yesterday, might be publicly attacked; a booklet recounting the history of King Street Church, Kirkwall; Orkney books at a recent Kirkwall auction. ¶ “A Visit to the Cathedral.” 22 June 1954, p. 6. An afternoon at St. Magnus Cathedral with Ernest Marwick. Repr. NL 108–10. ¶ “A Day in Rendall.” 29 June 1954, p. 6. A bus trip to visit friends in Rendall. Repr. NL 111–13.

“June Days.” 6 July 1954, p. 6. Bad weather and a recital of terrible events associated with June in Orkney. ¶ “The Jew and the Spaniard.” 20 July 1954, p. 4. Two surprising past members of the King Street Church; an American visitor named George Brown; extract from his diary about the solar eclipse. ¶ “Shopping Week Overture.” 27 July 1954, p. 4. Description of the beginning of Shopping Week in Stromness.

“Black Pat’s Palace.” 3 August 1954, p. 4. The ruins of Earl Patrick Stewart’s palace in Kirkwall. ¶ “The Stenness Witches.” 24 August 1954, p. 4. Modern witches allegedly in Stenness; visit of a spiritualist medium; Orkney tombstones; has been made an honorary member of the Doglovers Club’ Hugh MacDiarmid’s lapses as a poet; the Stromness Regatta; the Multiple Sclerosis Society. ¶ “Three Ambitions.” 31 August 1954, p. 4. Paradox, a book of poems by Jean Macdonald Watt; the abundance of painters in Orkney; the need for lyrics to accompany some old Orkney music; changing golf fashions; recent stormy weather; three ambitions (including a visit to Rackwick) for the summer not yet realized.

“An Afternoon in Stromness Museum.” 7 September 1954, p. 4. A history of the Museum and a description of its current displays. ¶ “An Orkney Convict Poet.” 14 September 1954, p. 4. The story of J. T. Wilson-Bonchord and his Poems Composed in Prison. ¶ “Evening at the Black Craig.” 21 September 1954, p. 4. A walk up the Black Craig, near Outertown, on a Sunday evening; Ferguson’s Scottish Proverbs by David Ferguson (1641); a dying rabbit near his home.­ ¶ “The Great Orkney Judas.” 28 September 1954, p. 5. The story of the mutiny led by John Gow.

“John Rae and the Franklin Expedition.” 5 October 1954, p. 5. The arctic adventures of John Rae. ¶ “A Defence against the Cold.” 12 October 1954, p. 5. Despite the early arrival of winter weather, he finds pleasure in reading older books about Orkney. ¶ “Kirkwall’s Black Sabbath.” 19 October 1954, p. 5. The Rev. Charles Webster’s denunciation of sabbath-breaking in 1888. ¶ “The End of Gow.” 26 October 1954, p. 4. John Gow’s trial and execution in London.

“Edwin Muir’s ‘Autobiography’.” 2 November 1954, p. 4. A long, laudatory review. ¶ “A Forgotten Masterpiece.” 9 November 1954, p. 4. James Wallace’s Description of Orkney (1693). ¶ “Portrait of Geremy.” 16 November 1954, p. 5. Gerald G. A. Meyer, the editor of the Orcadian. ¶ “Sir Walter Scott in Orkney.” 23 November 1954, p. 4. Scott’s unhappy visit to Orkney in 1814; his The Pirate (1822), which grew out of that visit, is a terrible novel. ¶ “Gow on the High Sea.” 30 November 1954, p. 4. “So many readers have asked for another article on Gow, that ‘Islandman’ has written a few more. . . .”

“The Other Kingdom.” 7 December 1954, p. 4. How he was introduced to poetry as a child.­­ ¶ “The Gale Warning.” 14 December 1954, p. 4. Taking a walk on a stormy day; the fortieth issue of the New Shetlander; Melville’s Moby Dick. ¶ “A Large Christmas Card.” 21 December 1954, p. 4. The difficulty of writing another Christmas column; seasonal greetings to several of his friends. ¶ “The End of a Sinister Year.” 28 December 1954, p. 5. The worst weather in living memory; Orkney’s shrinking population is connected with the sickness of modern life.

“Under Brinkie’s Brae” (1983)

The following “Under Brinkie’s Brae” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1983 and were signed with initials only. Most were reprinted in GMB’s Rockpools and Daffodils (1992), cited here as RD.


6 January 1983, p. 3. “What should we wish for most, in a new year?” Repr. RD 83–84. ¶ 13 January 1983, p. 4. The experience of writing an article about Stromness. ¶ 20 January 1983, p. 4. “January . . . is probably the most ferocious month of the year, a growling polar bear”; recollections of a distant summer day. Repr. RD 84. ¶ 27 January 1983, p. 4. Breakfast television; breakfast and going to school a half century ago. Repr. RD 85.

3 February 1983, p. 4. Why he didn’t go out to see The Spy in Black at the Academy Hall. ¶ 10 February 1983, p. 4. Staying at home on a stormy winter afternoon. ¶ 17 February 1983, p. 4. “A strangely-patterned winter, this, for weather.” Repr. RD 85–86. ¶ 24 February 1983, p. 4. Some thoughts on flowers – about which he claims he knows nothing.

3 March 1983, p. 4. What he does on Thursdays: writing letters and his “Under Brinkie’s Brae” column. ¶ 10 March 1983, p. 4. The seasons don’t really correspond with arbitrary dates on the calendar. ¶ 17 March 1983, p. 4. Grumbling; “gratitude is not in fashion these days.” Repr. RD 86–87. ¶ 24 March 1983, p. 6. He acquired his first refrigerator two years ago, but now it is no longer functioning. ¶ 31 March 1983, p. 4. A cold, stormy spring; thoughts about the death of St. Magnus.

14 April 1983, p. 4. Some eminent ministers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Orkney, including Rev. William Clouston and Rev. James Wallace. Repr. RD 87–88. ¶ 21 April 1983, p. 4. Celebrated American writers whose ancestors came from Orkney, including Robert Frost, Robert Lowell, and Washington Irving. ¶ 28 April 1983, p. 6. “I get ever more enjoyment out of occasional perusings of Gregor Lamb’s ‘Orkney Surnames.’”

5 May 1983, p. 4. Claims made on television and in magazines that certain foods are bad for you. Repr. RD 88. ¶ 12 May 1983, p. 4. “. . . recently, it seems for the first time, I’ve become conscious of the stink and the blue-gray fumes that motor cars give off.” ¶ 19 May 1983, p. 4. Watching football on television. Repr. RD 89. ¶ 26 May 1983, p. 6. Remembering how exciting local political campaigns once were.

2 June 1983, p. 6. What it was like a century ago when whales were spotted near Stromness. Repr. RD 89–90. ¶ 9 June 1983, p. 6. A fictional account of how peat fires were discovered in prehistoric times. Repr. RD 90–91. ¶ 16 June 1983, p. 4. A dead gull. Repr. RD 91–92. ¶ 23 June 1983, p. 6. The unpredictability of Orkney weather. ¶ 30 June 1983, p. 4. The occasional loss of a column in the clutter of his house.

7 July 1983, p. 4. A persistent fog. ¶ 14 July 1983, p. 4. A description of how Gypsy the cat arrived at Mayburn Court. ¶ 21 July 1983, p. 4. “A lovely late afternoon in July, at the Birsay shore”; speculations about a dead gull. Repr. RD 92–93. ¶ 28 July 1983, p. 6. Putting out the trash on Monday morning. Repr. RD 93.

4 August 1983, p. 4. “Will they write this summer down as one of the best on record?” ¶ 18 August 1983, p. 4. Watching a performance at the Arts Theatre in Kirkwall by a group of singers and dancers from the Philippines. Repr. RD 93–94. ¶ 25 August 1983, p. 6. A drive to Merkister and Warbeth beach.

1 September 1983, p. 4. Taking the ferry to Hoy. ¶ 8 September 1983, p. 4. J. J. Furer, a visitor from Switzerland, who worries about the death of languages. ¶ 15 September 1983, p. 4. Visits from Michael Krauskopf, a lecturer in German at St. Andrews University. ¶ 22 September 1983, p. 4. A strange coincidence: he and a friend have just read the same short story by Robert Louis Stevenson. Repr. RD 94–95. ¶ 29 September 1983, p. 4. Braal, in Strathy, where his mother came from. Repr. RD 95–96.

6 October 1983, p. 4. A performance by Paul Greenwood and Claire Neilson at the Pier Arts Centre, followed by their visit to Rackwick. ¶ 13 October 1983, p. 4. Comments on a memoir of Kirsty Watt, “a fisher-lass from the village of Broadsea near Fraserburgh.” Repr. RD 96–97. ¶ 20 October 1983, p. 4. The major literary prizes are meaningless. Repr. RD 97. ¶ 27 October 1983, p. 4. Changes in eating and sleeping habits.

3 November 1983, p. 4. Changeable weather does not really constitute “an awful day.” ¶ 10 November 1983, p. 4. A visit from Gypsy the cat. Repr. RD 98. ¶ 17 November 1983, p. 4. Memories of the daily newspapers of the past. Repr. RD 98–99. ¶ 24 November 1983, p. 4. The legend that Annie Caird, thought to be an Orkney witch, caused the tidal wave of 1755. Repr. RD 99–100.

1 December 1983, p. 4. Reading a book about the Crusades. Repr. RD 100–01. ¶ 8 December 1983, p. 4. Various activities before Christmas. Repr. RD 101–02. ¶ 15 December 1983, p. 4. The problems of writing a short story. Repr. RD 102. ¶ 22 December 1983, p. 4. Sending out Christmas cards. Repr. RD 102–03.