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.]

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.

GMB — What the Pier Head Is Saying (1966)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown were published in the Orcadian during 1966, signed with his initials only.


6 January 1966, p. 4. Looking forward to the various festivities of the coming year. ¶ 13 January 1966, p. 4. “One of the perennial subjects that crop up in the Town Council is the possibility of making a shore road from the Auction Mart to the Pier.” ¶ 20 January 1966, p. 4. The Temperance Hall has been taken over by the local Sea Cadets. ¶ 27 January 1966, p. 4. Watching a television program about people in a Welsh valley celebrate Hogmanay.

3 February 1966, p. 4. Concerns about the possibility that Stromness might ban alcohol again. ¶ 10 February 1966, p. 4. “At the Pier Head they don’t place too much faith in weather forecasts. . . . The folk they are inclined to trust with regard to the weather are the fishermen.” ¶ 17 February 1966, p. 2. Local memories of snow in February. ¶ 24 February 1966, p. 4. Alterations in the public toilet at the Pier Head.

3 March 1966, p. 4. “With another General Election coming up soon, the Pier Head, generally amiable and agreeable about most things, tends to show sharp rifts and schisms as they assert their loyalty to this part or that.” ¶ 10 March 1966, p. 4. “Flu has been thinning the benches at the Pier Head recently, scything the members down indiscriminately.” ¶ 17 March 1966, p. 4. “Over the generations the St Ola [ferry] has become a symbol to Stromnessians – a symbol of continuing life and prosperity, in however muted a key.” ¶ 24 March 1966, p. 4. “Nowadays many of the Pier Head fraternity are not so regular in their appearances. They are at home, turning over the garden. . . .” ¶ 31 March 1966, p. 4. An important but dull election.

7 April 1966, p. 4. The need for “a place in Stromness” where visitors could go. ¶ 14 April 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head learned with great pleasure and interest – indeed, with some excitement – that soon a new boat-building industry may be starting at the Point of Ness.”  ¶ 21 April 1966, p. 4. The lack of candidates for the Stromness Town Council. ¶ 28 April 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head follows with patient curiosity the restoration of old houses in Stromness.”

5 May 1966, p. 4. “What the Pier Head in Stromness is saying just now is a mystery to this chronicler, who is spending a brief holiday in the south.” ¶ 12 May 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head often wonders what the future of the Alexander Graham fountain will be.” ¶ 19 May 1966, p. 2. The seamen’s strike. ¶ 26 May 1966, p. 4. “A Stromness holiday on Monday, and the Pier Head was very disgruntled, because the heavens opened and floods of rain descended.”

2 June 1966, p. 4. A new hotel in Stromness, The Braes. ¶ 9 June 1966, p. 4. “. . . the absence of summer visitors.” ¶ 23 June 1966, p. 2. “Today is midsummer eve, what the old folk called Johnsmas night, a really enchanted time of the year when all the trows and fairies and peedie folk were out in legions. . . .” ¶ 30 June 1966, p. 2. “. . . all last week, as summer deepened upon us, Stromness seemed more and more a ghost town, haunted by the tourists and holiday-makers who used to be here in years gone by.”

7 July 1966, p. 4. “The fact that sport in Stromness is at such a lamentable ebb frequently disturbs the Pier Head.” ¶ 14 July 1966, p. 4. “Next year, 1967, Stromness will be celebrating its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary as a burgh.” ¶ 21 July 1966, p. 4. The “Pier Head parliament stands dissolved” because of Shopping Week.

11 August 1966, p. 4. Summer visitors are enchanted by the sunny weather. ¶ 18 August 1966, p. 4. “Nearly all the Pier Head went off to the Dounby Show last Thursday, by bus and car.” ¶ 25 August 1966, p. 4. “What the Pier Head members dislike almost more than anything is when young teenage visitors sit down on their seats with transistors chattering and blaring away.”

1 September 1966, p. 4. “. . . the Pier Head members, in common with every other islander, were quite excited when the Old Man of Hoy was essayed and triumphantly climbed.” ¶ 8 September 1966, p. 2. “It is ten summers at least since we had so much sunshine. . . .” ¶ 15 September 1966, p. 4. “How many Scottish Nationalists are there in Orkney? . . . The Pier Head considers that there is a much stronger case for Orkney Nationalism.” ¶ 22 September 1966, p. 4. The “transformation of St Peter’s Church . . . into a Youth Club. . . . It is almost . . . as if St Magnus Cathedral was being turned into a car-park or a bingo hall.” ¶ 29 September 1966, p. 4. “Cars everywhere, and on the increase. Some days, especially Wednesday and Saturday, the Pier Head resembles Piccadilly Circus.”

6 October 1966, p. 2. The rise in the cost of living. ¶ 13 October 1966, p. 4. “There is life and bustle everywhere [in Stromness] – a feeling of hope and optimism.” ¶ 20 October 1966, p. 4. In the last generation Orkney children were taught nothing about the history of their own community. ¶ 27 October 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head heard last week with some regret and to the accompaniment of much reminiscence, that The White Horse at the North End of the town, is in process of final demolition.”

3 November 1966, p. 4. “The Pier Head notes, with some despondence, that winter is upon us.” ¶ 10 November 1966, p. 4. The Orcadian now has news rather than advertisements on the front page. ¶ 17 November 1966, p. 4. Changes in the observation of Christmas.

1 December 1966, p. 4. Memories of local shipwrecks. ¶ 8 December 1966, p. 4. Discussion of how education should be conducted in Stromness. ¶ 15 December 1966, p. 4. Gloomy talk about the weather. ¶ 22 December 1966, p. 4. The sad disappearance of traditional competitions in Stromness – The Ba’ and The Yule Log. ¶ 29 December 1966, p. 3. A retrospective view of 1966: “it has been a fairly quiet and contented year.”

Stromness News (1946)

The following “Stromness News” columns by George Mackay Brown, unsigned, were published in the Orkney Herald during 1946.


1 January 1946, p. 4. “The Yule Tree”; ecclesiastical episodes no. 60; Christmas in Stromness; praise services; Stromness District Nursing Association; the church union question. ¶ 8 January 1946, p. 4. Labour Party; L.Y.P. Dance; ecclesiastical episodes no. 61; CYFOS; Hogmanay and New Year. ¶ 15 January 1946, p. 5. New postmaster; the Poles are here; Stromness Academy goes to Garrison Theatre; temporary end of church union; removal of O.S.D.E.F.; Welcome Home basket whist; District Nursing Association; ecclesiastical episodes no. 62. ¶ 22 January 1946, p. 4. Burst water main; Orkney Drama Festival; “murderer caught” rumor; ecclesiastical episodes no. 63; Capt. Charles S. Smith has been awarded the OBE; new postmaster (G. S. Robertson). ¶ 29 January 1946, p. 4. Burns Supper; religious film; Stromness Comedy Players in Robert Burns; end of church union; milk vehicle accident; ecclesiastical episodes no. 64.

5 February 1946, p. 6. Organ solo; Candlemas; housing; bridge drive; Comedy Players and Nursing Association; Rev. D. Muir on church union; Town Council; Post Office presentations; ecclesiastical episodes, no. 65. ¶ 12 February 1946, p. 4. Stromness egg packing station; revival of “Stromness Athletic”?; housing; home from Foreign Legion (Leslie J. Smith); ecclesiastical episodes no. 66; Wizard of Oz (and the closing of the Garrison Theatre); “Sunnybrae,” a Stromness house, is sold for £1,500; Labour Party; church news. ¶ 19 February 1946, p. 6. Performance of Mains’s Wooin’; Harbour Lights smashed; religious film; W.R.I. drama success; Labour Party; ecclesiastical episodes no. 67. ¶ 26 February 1946, p. 5. Church news; Labour Party appointments; a legacy for the “deserving poor” of Stromness; religious film; weather; housing; drama; ecclesiastical episodes, no. 68; Stromness Athletic Football Club.

5 March 1946, p. 5. Church news; Stromness army cadets; ecclesiastical episodes no. 69; Labour Party whist; drama postponed; CYFOS; Hers to Hold (film). ¶ 12 March 1946, p. 6. Labour Party; bananas; the thaw; local committee of the Welcome Home Fund; ecclesiastical episodes no. 70; whist; Labour Party basket whist. ¶ 19 March 1946, p. 6. Leaving Certificate (Stromness Academy); Labour Party; housing; church news; postponed plays; Golf Club basket whisk; Stromness Welcome Home Fund; Mrs. A. Garrioch leaves Stromness; ecclesiastical episodes no. 71; football. ¶ 26 March 1946, p. 6. Housing; Coon Concert; football; ecclesiastical episodes no. 72; Festival plays; religious film service; S.C.W.S. whist drive and dance.

2 April 1946, p. 6. District Nursing Association; Welcome Home; Woman’s Guild; Sunday football; church news; March religious film; British Legion; ecclesiastical episodes no. 74; sale of library papers; Rev. J. A. MacLachlan called. (For some reason this column was reprinted on 9 April 1946, p. 4.) ¶ 16 April 1946, p. 6. Church news; S.C.W.S. whist drive; ecclesiastical episodes no. 74 [sic]. ¶ 23 April 1946, p. 4. Football; S.C.W.S concert; demobbed. ¶ 30 April 1946. Whist drive and dance; church news; housing; departure of Paddy Mee; bus services; obituary of James R. Rendall; S.C.W.S. concert.

7 May 1946, p. 4. Holiday on Thursday; District Nursing Association; Welcome Home; new “paper” time; May dew; S.C.W.S. whist drive and dance; Stromness Vikings F.C.; golf course; Labour Party. ¶ 14 May 1946, p. 6. Housing; War Cry, the Salvation Army publication; Welcome Home; Coon Concert; May holiday; Rev. J. A. MacLachlan arrives; football. ¶ 21 May 1946, p. 6. Church news; against Sunday football; Polish concert; Stromness football; end of CYFOS; Coon Concert. ¶ 28 May 1946, p. 2. Favourite canteen closes; new fish shop; golfing notes; British Legion Stromness branch) meeting.

4 June 1946, p. 4. Woman’s Guild (Victoria Street); Victory Day in Stromness; Stromness football. ¶ 11 June 1946, p. 4. June holiday; Banks-Garnick wedding; Welcome Home. ¶ 18 June 1946, p. 4. Mail delivery; Farafield Road paved; Council rents up; barometer is back; June holiday; school treat; Garrison Theatre to close; church news. ¶ 25 June 1946, p. 4. Opening of a second-hand furniture store; Leaving Certificate success; new Stromness skipper (James Sutherland); a planned trip (for up to 180 people) to Hoy; Stromness Academy students visiting St. Margaret’s Hope; Midsummer Day.

2 July 1946, p. 4. Post Office deliveries; The Stromnessian magazine. Hoy trip; school holidays; church news; passing of the Garrison Theatre. ¶ 9 July 1946, p. 5. Church news; Post Office; new novel by Francis Bamford; The Stromnessian magazine. ¶ 16 July 1946, p. 4. Polish troops leave Stromness; S.C.W.S. supper and dance; deluge of visitors; putting; the Hoy holiday trip. ¶ 23 July 1946, p. 4. Church news; gas; Zanre Cup (football); Stromness Museum; Stromness Academy’s fine success. ¶ 30 July 1946, p. 4. Local Lending Library; bus trips; visitors in Stromness; Gala Day fixed; football; George R. Dougall leaves for Glasgow.

6 August 1946, p. 4. Ness Cafe; church news; Mrs. Janset Thomson (obituary). ¶ 13 August 1946, p. 5. Kirkwall Pipe Band; town holiday; church news; the Intimate Opera Company; home from the East (Kenneth MacLeod); Castlegate Camp closes; the Golf Course. ¶ 20 August 1946, p. 4. Stromness District Nursing Association; church news; Hamilton Cup; town holiday; Labour meeting; five-a-side football; Stromness Sailing Club. ¶ 27 August 1946, p. 4. New library books; gas dearer; Stromness Foreign Legion author (Leslie J. Smith); Regatta trophies on show; the inter-county games; S.C.W.S. Gala Day.

3 September 1946, p. 7. What Sundays were like on Orkney fifty years ago. ¶ 10 September 1946, p. 7. Commentary on Frank Baker’s short story “Mr. Allenby Loses His Way,” which is set in Orkney. ¶ 17 September 1946, p. 7. The recent football match between Shetland and Orkney. ¶ 24 September 1946, p. 9. The football pools.

1 October 1946, p. 6. The recent glorious weather; Sir John Sinclair’s Statistical Account of Scotland (1898). ¶ 8 October 1946, p. 2. “Now it is mid-October, and relentless winter approaches, cold and dark, over the Northern lands.” ¶ 15 October 1946, p. 6. The medieval story of an Orkney nun and her sparrow. ¶ 22 October 1946, p. 3. The modern sounds of airplanes and radios; why Orkney and Shetland will never break away from Scotland. ¶ 29 October 1946, p. 5. The Peedie Sea in Kirkwall.

12 November 1946, p. 6. A concert at the Paterson Church in Kirkwall. ¶ 19 November 1946, p. 3. The municipal candidates’ meeting. ¶ 26 November 1946, p. 9. His hobby of collecting Orkney postcards.

3 December 1946, p. 3. Orkney under Norse rule, unlike modern times, was full of poetry. ¶ 10 December 1946, p. 9. More about the decline of poetry in Orkney through the centuries. ¶ 17 December 1946, p. 6. “Who would you say was the greatest Orcadian who ever lived?” Possible candidates: St. Magnus, Rev. John Gerard, Dr. John Rae, John Gow. ¶ 24 December 1946, p. 3. Prints an anonymous “Ballad of Andrew Ross”; reading Robert Rendall’s Country Sonnets. ¶ 31 December 1946, p. 8. A look back on the 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.

 

 

What the Pier Head Is Saying (1955)

The following “What the Pier Head Is Saying” columns by George Mackay Brown, all unsigned, were published in the Orkney Herald during 1955.


4 January 1955, p. 3. “. . . the Pier Head would definitely like to see the Ba’ revived, for the festive season is apt to be somewhat boring, some years, in Stromness.”­­ ¶ 11 January 1955, p. 3. The perils of plastic lavatory seats. ¶ 25 January 1955, p. 3. The Pier Head regulars were back again after the big snowstorm.

1 February 1955, p. 3. Outspoken opinions at the Pier Head. ¶ 8 February 1955, p. 3. The new Eventide Home in Stromness. ¶ 15 February 1955, p. 3. The Orkney Drama Festival.­­ ¶ 22 February 1955, p. 3. “The Pier Head was utterly flabbergasted in the middle of last week, when blizzard number 2 struck them in all its fury.”

8 March 1955, p. 3. “The Pier Head is interested – not to say worried – by the apparent decline of religion in Stromness.” ¶ 15 March 1955, p. 3. The Stromness Golf Course. ¶ 22 March 1955, p. 3. Winter weather. ¶ 29 March 1955, p. 3. The possibility of a General Election in April or May.

5 April 1955, p. 3. “The Pier Head is wondering every day now who will be the successor as harbour master to Mr James Harvey, who is due to retire very soon.” ¶ 12 April 1955, p. 3. The newspaper strike. ¶ 19 April 1955, p. 3. The Stromness Debating Society. ¶ 26 April 1955, p. 3. The demolition of the South Pier.

3 May 1955, p. 5. “In the course of an hour, talk at the Pier Head can range over a surprising variety of subjects.” ¶ 10 May 1955, p. 3. Rumors about the launching of a new lifeboat. ¶ 17 May 1955, p. 6. “The Pier Head was extremely angry last week whenever politics and politicians were mentioned. For it feels that Stromness is being ignored by all three parties in the present campaign.” ¶ 24 May 1955, p. 3. “It has been politics all week at the Pier Head, until those on the fringe of the fraternity are beginning to get a little sick of it.” ¶ 31 May 1955, p. 3. Jo Grimond’s victory in the election.

7 June 1955, p. 3. The controversial replacement of flagstones with concrete slabs in the streets of Stromness. ¶ 14 June 1955, p. 3. The installation of concrete paving at the Pier Head. ¶ 21 June 1955, p. 3. “The Pier Head was chagrined last Monday morning when 275 trippers came from Wick on the St Ola, to find the town as closed and shuttered as Skara Brae.” ¶ 28 June 1955, p. 3. Greeting the arrival of the St. Ola at the North Pier.­

5 July 1955, p. 3. “The Pier Head is, from time to time, concerned about the poor state of sport in Stromness, and the low ebb which it has reached of late years.” ¶ 12 July 1955, p. 3. Plans to construct seats in several outdoor locations elsewhere in Stromness – potential rivals to the Pier Head. ¶ 19 July 1955, p. 3. The Pier Head is being swamped with the Shopping Week crowds.

2 August 1955, p. 3. Praise for the Pier Head in a Shopping Week speech. ¶ 9 August 1955, p. 2. Possible union of the three kirks in Stromness. ¶ 16 August 1955, p. 2. The dedication of the new lifeboat on 25 August. ¶ 23 August 1955, p. 3. “The Pier Head spends hours debating whether this is the best summer of the century.” ¶ 30 August 1955, p. 2. Is the Stromness Lammas Market dying?

6 September 1955, p. 3. Rise in the cost of whiskey. ¶ 13 September 1955, p. 3. Fantasies about winning the football pools. ¶ 20 September 1955, p. 3. New buildings in Stromness. ¶ 27 September 1955, p. 3. Moonlit nights in the old days before electric street lights.

4 October 1955, p. 3. Visitors to the Pier Head (Rev. Tubby Clayton, Leslie Smith, Rev. Hector Ross).­ ¶ 11 October 1955, p. 3. Distrust of the various “secret” societies in town. ¶ 18 October 1955, p. 3. Guy Fawkes Day. ¶ 25 October 1955, p. 3. “What is the future of the Stromness Library?”

1 November 1955, p. 3. The implications of the Autumn Budget for the men and women of Stromness. ¶ 8 November 1955, p. 3. Arguments about whether the old houses should be preserved. ¶ 15 November 1955, p. 3. The arrival of television on Orkney.­ ¶ 22 November 1955, p. 3. The neglected Garson collection of books about Orkney in the public library. ¶ 29 November 1955, p. 3. The local British Legion Club.

6 December 1955, p. 3. The diminished group at the Pier Head, and the decline of old Christmas traditions. ¶ 13 December 1955, p. 3. Arguments about clearing snow from the streets. ¶ 20 December 1955, p. 3. The controversial decision not to build a schoolboys’ hostel in Stromness. ¶ 27 December 1955, p. 3. The two parties of the Pier Head Parliament are the Antiquarians and the Modernists.

Island Diary (1955)

The following “Island Diary” columns by George Mackay Brown, all signed “Islandman,” were published in the Orkney Herald during 1955. (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.


“Earl Patrick and the Ministers.” 4 January 1955, p. 6. Description of the execution, in 1615, of Patrick Stewart, Earl of Orkney, in 1615, and the Calvinistic clergy who made h­is last hours miserable. ¶ “A Lodging in San Francisco.” 11 January 1955, p. 5. The semi-fictionalized story of a young Orkney sailor who was shanghaied in San Francisco in the 1860s. ¶ “Snow.” 18 January 1955, p. 4. Following a heavy snowstorm, he reflects on the meaning of snow for children and older adults. ¶ “After the Blizzard.” 25 January 1955, p. 4. The hazards of walking in the snow.

“Orkney Trows in America.” 1 February 1955, p. 4. Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle is an Orkney story in an American setting; the population drift from Orkney; a conversation with Robert Rendall; wondering what the ale in the Orkneyinga Saga tasted like; the thaw after the blizzard; his distrust of Billy Graham. ¶ “Orkneymen versus Highlanders.” 8 February 1955, p. 4. The differences between Orcadians and Highlanders; England’s victory in the Fourth Test Match; misleading names of political parties; darts and “a spectacular increase in arithmetical knowledge in Orkney these last few years”; corduroy now associated with “spivs.” ¶ “Not So Healthy.” 22 February 1955, p. 5. An account of the recent drama festival. (The “Island Diary” headline was omitted from this column.)­­

“The Old Winter Weariness.” 8 March 1955, p. 5. The second great snow of the winter (which prevented the publication of his column the previous week).­ ¶ “Talking with Edwin Muir.” 15 March 1955, p. 5. Recollections of some of Muir’s literary conversations and lectures. ¶ “Three Letters on Drama.” 22 March 1955, p. 5. Replies to his comments about drama festival (see above, 22 February). ¶ “The Death of Sweyne.” 29 March 1955, p. 5. “Sweyn Asliefson [in the Orkneyinga Saga] was the great Orkney poet of the flesh and its glory”

“Read All about It.” 5 April 1955, p. 4. Because of a strike, he has been without the London daily newspapers (for which he is grateful); the political views of Jo Grimond; listening to Billy Graham on the radio; Eric Linklater; the end of March. See reply by R. Johnson, “Islandman and the Newspaper Strike,” 3 May, p. 4, and a rejoinder by GMB. ¶ “The Egilshay Crofter’s Story.” 12 April 1955, p. 4. A short story in which the martyrdom of St. Magnus is described by an ol­d crofter on Egilshay. ¶ “The Eve of the Battle.” 19 April 1955, p. 4. A speech by Jo Grimond in Stromness Town Hall; the plans of the Kirkwall and Stromness Film Societies for next winter; the Holy Shroud of Turin; James Bruce, curator of the Stromness Museum. ¶ “April at the Housing Scheme.” 26 April 1955, p. 4. An April morning near the council houses in Stromness; the story of a Stromness man who accidentally dropped a bag full of beer bottles; the political scene in Orkney.

“Waiting for the Fireworks.” 3 May 1955, p. 4. “It’s the dullest general election in Orkney for a very long time”; Brenda Clouston, a local sculptor; a proposed museum in Tankerness House; Billy Graham’s effect on Orkney folk; Robert Rendall’s latest visit to Italy. ¶ “Home Sweet Home.” 10 May 1955, p. 4. “Last Saturday afternoon I found myself alone in a house all a-gleam from the recent spring-cleaning.” ¶ “Election Notes.” 17 May 1955, p. 4. “I have never known a tamer election in Orkney.”

“The Pier Head, Stromness.” 7 June 1955, p. 4. The Pier Head is the absolute center of life in Stromness. ¶ “Tam.” 14 June 1955, p. 4. Short story. Repr. in New Shetlander, September–October 1955. ¶ “Magazines, Bere Bannocks, Dandelions.” 21 June 1955, p. 4. The latest issue of the New Shetlander; Orkney food; wild flowers. ¶ “The Mysterious Harray Loch.” 28 June 1955, p. 4. “On Thursday afternoon we went for an hour’s fishing on Harray Loch.” Repr. NL 114–16.

“The Stenness Black Mass.” 5 July 1955, p. 4. Short story about a midsummer Black Mass. ¶ “Portrait of Stromness.” 19 July 1955, p. 4. The history and character of the parish of Stromness. ¶ “Jock.” 26 July 1955, pp. 4–5. Short story.

“The Temporal Abstinence of Mr Melvin.” 2 August 1955, p. 4. Short story. ¶ “The Reds and the Blues.” 23 August 1955, p. 4. “I went to the inter-county football match with G.” ¶ “‘To the Unborn’.” 30 August 1955, p. 4. Review of David Balfour’s privately-printed collection of poems, To the Unborn.

“Dounby Market.” 6 September 1955, p. 4. A visit to the agricultural fair. ¶ “A Forgotten Tomb.” 13 September 1955, p. 4. Meditations on the tombstone of Ellen Dunne, a local girl who died at the age of 17 in the nineteenth century. Repr. NL 120–23. ¶ “‘The Seasons’: An Orkney Farmer’s Poems.” 20 September 1955, p. 4. Review of John Skea, The Seasons and Other Poems. ¶ “A Book from Toronto.” 27 September 1955, p. 4. An anonymous reader in Toronto has sent him a copy of The Collected Poems of Robert Service; Jimmy Harvey, recently retired harbor-master of Stromness; R. T. Johnson’s Orcadian Nights, a collection of stories about the imaginary Stenwick.

“Summer and Winter.” 4 October 1955, p. 4. “Winter has a thousand consolations. . . .” ¶ “A Fine Library.” 11 October 1955, p. 4. Visiting the County Library in Laing Street, Kirkwall; rabbits dying of myxomatosis; an unsatisfactory BBC program about the Orkney accent. ¶ “Street Names.” 18 October 1955, p. 4. Some unsatisfactory street names in Kirkwall and Stromness. ¶ “Old Houses.” 25 October 1955, p. 4. The best old houses should certainly be preserved; “yet . . . we cannot have a town like Kirkwall crammed with old, insanitary beautiful buildings, which serve no purpose at all.”

“The Unfolding Week.” 1 November 1955, p. 4. A day-by-day account of his week. ¶ “Debaters in Birsay.” 15 November 1955, p. 4. A debate between the Rev. Hector G. Ross and Ian MacInnes. ¶ “The Trafalgar Veterans.” 22 November 1955, p. 4. The Orkney men who fought on the Victory at Trafalgar; the historic roots of the game of draughts in Orkney; a relative of his who saw fairies. ¶ “St Andrew’s Day.” 29 November 1955, p. 4. The feast days and holidays of autumn.

“The First Week of December.” 6 December 1955, p. 4. Disappointment with the radio program Matter of Opinion; admiration for a series entitled “Some Annals of an Orkney Parish” that is now being published in the Orkney Herald; the gradual depopulation of Orkney might be solved if residents were allowed to make their own whiskey. ¶ “Another ‘Victory’ Sailor.” 13 December 1955, p. 4. William Bruce, an Orcadian who fought at Trafalgar (see 22 November above); conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses; the first signs of Christmas. ¶ “The Island Magi.” 20 December 1955, p. 4. Short story. ¶ “Prospect for 1956.” 27 December 1955, p. 4. His whimsical predictions for each month of the next year.