GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1969)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1969, signed with his initials only.


16 January 1969, p. 3. “They speak sometimes about colour television at the Pier Head, and they wonder if it will come to Orkney in their time.” ¶ 23 January 1969, p. 4. “Robbie Burns’ Day on Saturday . . . is one date in the calendar that the Pier Head never forgets.” ¶ 30 January 1969, p. 4. “Solemnly at the Pier Head they debate the pros and cons of one-way traffic in Stromness.”

6 February 1969, p. 3. “Snow has a queer effect on the Pier Head folk.” ¶ 13 February 1969, p. 3. A “magnificent blizzard” – followed by complaints from “the Pier Head folk.” ¶ 20 February 1969, p. 4. Daydreams about summer holidays. ¶ 27 February 1969, p. 2. “So we are, in all likelihood, to have a new Warehouse Pier in Stromness. The Pier Head folk are quietly pleased about that.”

6 March 1969, p. 4. The pleasures of the Eventide club room “on a cold wet winter afternoon.” ¶ 13 March 1969, p. 4. “A variety of topics at the Pier Head last week,” including a final blizzard of the winter. ¶ 20 March 1969, p. 4. “Sometimes, especially in such terrible weather as last week, they speak at the Pier Head about summer and the tourists, to keep their hearts up.” ¶ 27 March 1969, p. 4. The good and bad of television.

3 April 1969, p. 4. “The West Shore is still, at week-ends, the favourite walking-place for Stromnessians.” ¶ 10 April 1969, p. 4. Affectionate memories of the Stromness cinema. ¶ 17 April 1969, p. 4. The Stromness Museum. ¶ 24 April 1969, p. 4. A visit to Edinburgh, where he encounters many Orkney students.

1 May 1969, p. 4. Beards have returned in the Edinburgh taverns. ¶ 8 May 1969, p. 4. Thoughts of spring in Edinburgh and Orkney. ¶ 22 May 1969, p. 2. “. . . women have been known to join in a discussion [at the Pier Head], but in the end they are gently frozen out, as they inhibit complete freedom of expression – the whole spectrum of the language cannot be used.” ¶ 29 May 1969, p. 4. Alexander Graham’s fountain at the Pier Head.

5 June 1969, p. 4. Watching “Tomorrow’s World,” a television program about the technological marvels of the future. ¶ 12 June 1969, p. 4. “The gaming machines have come to Orkney, all except Stromness.” ¶ 19 June 1969, p. 4. “They sat all last week bewildered with heat at the Pier Head.” ¶ 26 June 1969, p. 4. “The imminent death of the half-penny is causing some concern at the Pier Head.”

3 July 1969, p. 4. The old women who were the first doctors of Stromness. ¶ 10 July 1969, p. 3. “It seems like only yesterday since the first Shopping Week was opened, on a fine Monday morning in July 1949, by Provost G. S. Robertson at the Pier Head.” ¶ 17 July 1969, p. 4. A quiet Sunday morning. ¶ 24 July 1969, p. 4. An afternoon squall and an amazing cloud.

7 August 1969, p. 4. “Was there ever such a Shopping Week as the one just past?” ¶ 14 August 1969, p. 4. The Dounby Show. ¶ 21 August 1969, p. 4. Walking to Warbeth. ¶ 28 August 1969, p. 4. Many children now actually enjoy school.

4 September 1969, p. 4. Many of the Pier Head regulars are at home watching television. ¶ 11 September 1969, p. 4. Various minor religious groups in Stromness. ¶ 18 September 1969, p. 4. “Probably the greatest single event in Stromness this year is the Swimming Pool.”

2 October 1979, p. 4. “After being in the doldrums for years, the Pier Head is glad to note a great resurgence of interest in football, on the part of young folk.” ¶ 9 October 1974, p. 4. The pleasures of making beer at home. ¶ 16 October 1969, p. 4. “A great silence has descended on the town: the hush before winter.” ¶ 23 October 1969, p. 4. “Naturally the Pier Head was delighted with the Highlands and Islands Development Board decision to keep Stromness as the Orkney terminal of the Pentland Firth ferry.” ¶ 30 October 1969, p. 7. “In that longish spell of mild weather through October – ‘the peedie summer’ – creation turned back a little from the cold of winter.”

20 November 1969, p. 4. “Last week in the Youth Centre the Heritage Society gave a show of local slides, with commentaries by Ernest W. Marwick, E. Balfour and Ian MacInnes. It was intended to show the precious things – nature, streets, houses – that history has bequeathed to us, and that are perhaps in danger of being sacrificed to notions of progress and planning.” ¶ 27 November 1969, p. 4. “With St Andrew’s Day looming up . . . the Scottish Nationalists at the Pier Head are working up a fine head of steam.”

4 December 1969, p. 4. “Twopence on a pint of beer – that was the shock news that hit the Pier Head last week-end.” ¶ 11 December 1969, p. 4. “. . . it is very important . . . that that there should be a central pool, such as the Heritage Society or the Museum, for gathering and preserving these [old] photographs.” ¶ 18 December 1969, p. 4. “They are standing at the Pier Head these nights . . . dyed with multicoloured lights. It is of course the Christmas tree in the Town House garden and the festive web strung athwart the Fountain, that is scattering such richness.” ¶ 25 December 1969, p. 4. Christmas, which was once seen primarily as an English festival, is now vigorously celebrated in Orkney.

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1965)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1965, signed with his initials only.


21 January 1965, p. 4. “The Pier head gets very concerned sometimes about rising prices and inflation.” ¶ 28 January 1965, p. 4. “. . . Burns has a numerous following in Stromness.”

4 February 1965, p. 4. The death of Winston Churchill. ¶ 11 February 1965, p. 4. “They speak forever about the weather at the Pier Head; it ranks high in the conversation charts above politics and local genealogies.” ¶ 18 February 1965, p. 4. “The pipe smokers at the Pier Head (and no doubt they are in the majority) preened and perked up one day last week, and looked pityingly at their cigarette-smoking brethren. For they had just heard on their radios, or read in the papers, that the government had banned the TV advertising of cigarettes.” ¶ 25 February 1965, p. 4. “Wednesday is the busy day at the Pier Head, and if you want to hear a good debate that is the day you should take your seat.”

4 March 1965, p. 4. “Two or three afternoons towards the end of February the Pier Head observed the first ‘spoot ebbs’ for a long time, when very low tides uncovered the sandy bottom between Ness and the Outer Holm.” ¶ 11 March 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head, when the historical mood is on it, sometimes wonders about Alexander Graham. They can hardly avoid thinking about him sometimes, for Graham’s memorial, the Fountain, has bee right there in front of their eyes since 1901.” ¶ 18 March 1965, p. 4. “One noticeable change at the Pier Head over the years is that the old Kirkwall–Stromness rivalry is dying out.” ¶ 25 March 1965, p. 4. “Is there a thinning of the ranks at the Pier Head? Many a morning one would swear there is.”

1 April 1965, p. 4. Stanley Cursiter once suggested that “the present Warehouse Buildings – built in the early 19th century for a rice store” – should be made into a new town hall. ¶ 8 April 1965, p. 4. “Often the Pier Head, in reminiscent mood, speaks of the great number of peedie shops that there used to be in Stromness, usually kept by old wives with shawls.” ¶ 15 April 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head is a bit disillusioned with factories and talk of factories. . . . What does rouse their enthusiasm at the mere mention of it is the great herring fishing days in town at the turn of the century. . . .” ¶ 22 April 1965, p. 4. What title the locals would like to assume if they were made a lord. ¶ 29 April 1965, p. 4. “The news that ITV (Grampian) is shortly to be available to Orkney viewers got a mixed reception at the Pier Head the other day.”

6 May 1965, p. 4. “. . . the other day splendour came to the Pier Head, when Alexander Graham’s fountain got its annual coat of paint.” ¶ 13 May 1965, p. 4. The strong sense of connection between Stromness and the sea. ¶ 20 May 1965, p. 4. Changes along the West Shore. ¶ 27 May 1965, p. 4. Memories of “the years when Stromness Athletic dominated Orkney football, and were top of the league years after year.”

3 June 1965, p. 4. The arrival of tourists. ¶ 10 June 1965, p. 4. Plans for summer holidays. ¶ 17 June 1965, p. 4. “A favourite occupation at the Pier Head, now that summer is here, is to watch the ‘St Ola’ discharging her passengers and cars.” ¶ 24 June 1965, p. 4. The South End of Stromness was once the center of many activities, and it is now again showing signs of life.

1 July 1965, p. 4. The trows once associated with midsummer. ¶ 8 July 1965, p. 4. Gloomy talk about the weather and Shopping Week. ¶ 15 July 1966, p. 4. Tales about gold near the Black Craig. ¶ 29 July 1965, p. 4. Why the name of Shopping Week should be changed.

12 August 1965, p. 7. Population decline in Orkney. ¶ 26 August 1965, p. 4. The end of summer brings back recollections of school in earlier years.

2 September 1965, p. 2. The reopening of the local cinema; memories of films during the war. ¶ 9 September 1965, p. 4. Lammas Market Day during pre-war days. ¶ 16 September 1965, p. 4. Playing the football pools. ¶ 23 September 1965, p. 4. “Three or four times a year Stromness is invaded by small fleets of Norwegian fishing boats, and our cousins from over the North Sea step ashore to see what our town can offer them.” ¶ 30 September 1965, p. 2. “The reporter of the debates at the Pier Head regrets that he has been unable to attend recently, as he is on holiday in the south.”

7 October 1965, p. 4. A series of photograph albums, created by George Ellison, at the Stromness Museum. ¶ 14 October 1974, p. 4. “Winter has come to the Pier Head.” ¶ 21 October 1965, p. 4. “Most members of the Pier Head watched with great interest on T.V. one night last week the Magnus Magnusson programme on the Faroe Islands.” ¶ 28 October 1965, p. 4. “. . . the Pier Head is alive to the natural charm of their town, and they would not like to see it destroyed by the forces of progress.”

4 November 1965, p. 4. Preparations for Guy Fawkes Day. ¶ 11 November 1965, p. 4. The gradual appearance of women on the pier head benches. ¶ 18 November 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head is certain that the day is coming, and that not far distant, when there will have to be some kind of one-way traffic system in Stromness.” ¶ 25 November 1965, p. 4. Christmas was once a less important festival.

2 December 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head was delighted to read the other day of the success of the Stromness Academy magazine ‘Stromnessian,’ runner-up among 150 magazines from Scottish schools.” ¶ 9 December 1965, p. 4. “Never, never in all their long and checquered lives, does the Pier Head remember a winter so ferocious in its beginning as the present one.” ¶ 16 December 1965, p. 4. “The Pier Head was thrilled the other week to learn that Miss World 1965 was born in Stromness, at 5 Alfred Terrace, the home of one of the best-known Pier Head members, Arthur (‘Attie’) Campbell.” ¶ 23 December 1965, p. 4. The Yule Log competition on the streets of Stromness. ¶ 30 December 1965, p. Remembering the big events of the past year.

GMB and Gunnie Moberg — Orkney: Pictures and Poems (1996)

51Z9X8KKY0L._SX377_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgGMB and Gunnie Moberg. Orkney: Pictures and Poems. Grantown-on-Spey: Colin Baxter Photography, 1996.

48 poems by GMB illustrating photographs by Gunnie Moberg.

“IN MEMORY | OF | GEORGE MACKAY BROWN | you have inspired | and touched us all | Thank you. | ST. MAGNUS DAY 1996.”

Dedicated to Fay.

Contents: Introductory poem (beginning “The eye of the camera seeks patterns . . .”) — One — Churchill Barriers — Martello Tower — Rusk Holm — Sheep Shelter — The Old Lighthouse, North Ronaldsay — North Ronaldsay Sheep — Knap of Howar: Papay — Cubbie Roo’s Castle, Wyre — Horse Mill — Dwarfie Stane — Maeshowe — Eynhallow: The Monastery — Magnus Kirk, Egilsay — Saint Tredwell, Papay — Skara Brae — Two — Swans in Stenness — Flowers on Ice — Pebbles in Ice — Swans — Storm in Hoy Sound: Kirkyard — Hoy Sound: the Warbeth Shore — Thistles — Bluebells at Woodwick — Marigolds — Swimmers — Selkie — Eider Duck — Shags: Mother and Chick — Two Cows — Conversation of Cows — Stooks: The Corn Battle — Holm of Aikerness: Seaweed Gatherer — Waterfront, Hamnavoe — Hoy Cliffs — Tide — Flotta Flare — “New Fires, Old Fires . . .” — Hoy Sound: Storm — Swans at Brodgar — Three — Blockship (Parliament of Scarfies) — Fishing Boats — Fishermen — Hamnavoe — A Hamnavoe Close — Italian Chapel — Rain — The Horses.

Reviews: Lesley Duncan, “Enfolded by the Ocean,” Glasgow Herald, 15 June 1996. — Archie Bevan, Orcadian, 20 June 1996, p. 15. — Christopher Andreae, Christian Science Monitor, 8 July 1996, p. 16.

Copy: Orkney Library [Room 800 Y/BRO].

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1970)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1970, signed with his initials only.


1 January 1970, p. 3. “As the last few days of the Sixties dwindle and flicker at the Pier Head, they remember some of the things that happened during the year.” ¶ 8 January 1970, p. 3. What Stromness was like in the 1770s and 1870s; information about Robert Leighton, author of Pilots of Pomona. ¶ 15 January 1970, p. 3. Puzzling local street names. ¶ 22 January 1970, p. 4. “This is the Burns season, and at the Pier Head they honour the bard as sincerely as anywhere.” ¶ 29 January 1970, p. 5. Eyesores in Stromness that could be repaired or removed.

5 February 1970, p. 4. “Washing day in the old times – not so long ago either – was a large-scale operation, especially if there were more than four or five in the family.” ¶ 12 February 1970, p. 4. “”The Pier Head waits, with some apprehension, for the introduction of decimal currency a year from now.” ¶ 19 February 1970, p. 4. Recalling the wartime aerodrome near Stromness. ¶ 26 February 1970, p. 4. “The big snow came with a wild white flurry one Friday morning, and continued most of the afternoon.”

5 March 1970, p. 4. A visit to the Eventide Club. ¶ 12 March 1970, p. 4. “Congratulations to the Stromness W.R.I. on winning the Orkney Drama Festival again”; suggestions for an open-air drama in Stromness. ¶ 19 March 1970, p. 4. “Have they gone forever, the old shops of Stromness, where you could drop in for a talk at any hour of the day, and be sure of a good story before you left?” ¶ 26 March 1970, p. 4. The tradition of collecting pace eggs the Saturday before Easter.

2 April 1970, p. 4. “Nowadays, whetted no doubt by the activities of the Heritage Society, there is a great interest in old photographs both of the places and people that were once a part of our story.” ¶ 9 April 1970, p. 4. Signs of spring. ¶ 16 April 1970, p. 4. “Would it not be a good idea to start thinking now about the future of the Warehouse Building?” ¶ 23 April 1970, p. 4. Local feats of walking, past and present. ¶ 30 April 1970, p. 3. We are all hypocrites.

7 May 1970, p. 4. Spring-cleaning is no longer the “important and desperate ritual” that it once was. ¶ 14 May 1970, p. 4. “Whether they put fluoride in the water or not does not concern the Pier Head people very much.” ¶ 21 May 1970, p. 4. a visit to Edinburgh. ¶ 28 May 1970, p. 4. Signs of opulence in the shops of Edinburgh.

4 June 1970, p. 4. The pleasures of crossing the Pentland Firth. ¶ 11 June 1970, p. 3. The June holiday in Stromness. ¶ 18 June 1970, p. 4. Memories of earlier General Election Days. ¶ 25 June 1970, p. 4. The attempt to revive the tradition of a Johnsmas Eve fire on a hill on Hoy.

2 July 1970, p. 4. The flood of summer visitors.


[In the 3 December 1970 issue of the Orcadian (p. 4), a letter from G. Woodward complained, “We very much miss the one-time feature ‘What they are saying down at the Pierhead.'” The editor responded, “The writer of the Pierhead Gossip is ‘recharging his batteries’ and intends to return to the fold sometime.” In fact, GMB never resumed the “What the Pier Head Is Saying” column, but in February 1971 he launched his “Letter from Hamnavoe,” which seems to have been intended for a somewhat broader audience.]