Patron Saint of Electricians

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No one of my generation can walk round the glorious port of Gdansk without thinking of Lech Walesa. The heroic, moustached electrician and activist was the darling of the British media in the eighties. We rooted for him, and for the wider Solidarity movement.

Walesa was that rare thing, a true socialist, demanding the return of workers’ rights from the bloated communist elite, and lighting the spark that eventually resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the dockyard cranes he spoke, incomprehensible and urgent in the Baltic sunlight, demanding justice. An inspirational Pole.

Behind the docks is the magesterial new Museum of World War Two, and to view it is a harrowing experience, like visiting a concentration camp. I spent four hours there, and was reduced to tears. The Polish perspective on WW2 is vital. For Poland was destroyed twice: once by the bastard Nazis, and then again by the rapists of the Red Army. Being a refugee, a migrant, a traveller and survivor by necessity, is at the core of the Polish experience.

The Gdansk old town was completely obliterated. So the medieval crane and bright gables of today’s dock front – indeed all the central streets and buildings – are modern replicas, rebuilt to the original specifications. St Mary’s church, the largest brick built cathedral on earth, was pieced together again brick by brick; such is the devotion of the Gdansk faithful. Every European should see this magnificent town now.

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But the realities of Lech Walesa’s later political career are more difficult to chart. Some allege that he colluded with the Communist secret service. The older Walesa has proved to be small c conservative in the nasty way, and seems pretty narrowly nationalistic in his outlook. Other aspects of Poland emerge. Gay visitors, a guide book points out, should remember they are not in Soho any more. And the backward Right are on the march in Poland’s city squares, perverters of their own history. It seems to me that the Poles – of all people – should know exactly what it means to be persecuted, to be refugees.

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Poor Peedie Gaelic

Poor peedie Gaelic.

Peedie tottie grottie buckie.

Atlantic o pressure bearan doon on thee.

Hoo kin thoo stand it, peedie thing?

Thoo’re only peedie.

 

Poor peedie Gaelic.

Empty shell cast up on a skerry.

Ootcast on the maritime periphery.

Peedie breist wae livan, roseate hue.

But when I turn thee ower I see

A peedie skull grinnan back at me.

 

Still, thoo are blessed compared wae me:

Thur’s Alba on the BBC,

A Language Act fur aal tae see,

And thoo’re distinct.

But haters willna let iss be,

Till wu’r extinct.

IMG_0225Listen to Poor Peedie Gaelic, read by the poet on Soundcloud:

New Lambs, Owld Stone

 

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Picture: Anja Hall

Sorry, but the picture o the lambs is cheust clickbait. This post is aboot sometheen else. It’s aboot pittan up a new lambeen shed. Read on, though! Pittan up a new shed is a big event.

Ally arrived shortly eftir Christmas wae his Japanese digger tae dig oot the found. He worked long oors, and soon struck rock; the kind o stuff we caal ‘blue whin’, tae be precise. Haird as diamond. Whit ancient sediment wis he brakkan up? Whittiver it wis, stoor stood oot o it when Ally pit the brakkar on it. That slowed us doon a bit. We enjoyed Ally’s company when he wis here. But when he wis feeneeshed, we didna miss the noise o the brakkar gaan aal weekend long. D D. Ddd ddd ddd ddd ddd ddd ddd ddd ddd ddd ddd. Ddd ddd. D d. d.

Eftir the hole wis dug, Bruce and Scott arrived tae assemble the kit. It gaed up in no time. These boys work haird, teu. And in any weather. Drivan rain, howlan wind, freezan cowld. Nane o it bothered them much – they cheust worked and worked and worked. And the shed wis up – a bonny new structure gleaman in the April sunshine. They got the concrete floor poored in the nick o time.

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So. Tak the sheep in, and stert lamban. The usual, cutesy ‘Lambing Diary’ stuff sterts tae happen. Multiple births. Easy lambeens. Bad lambeens. Up aal night. Unsuccessful adoptions. Successful adoptions. Orf. Snatchan some sleep through the day when ye can. Calorific breakfasts, and litres o cappuccino. Faalan asleep on a weet bale in the new shed at 4.45 am. Steam in the haet o the piggy bulbs. Milk. Mithers. Atrocious waather. Joni Mitchell on the radio. Boiler suits laggered in … best no tae say. Red Throated Divers caalan ootside. Peedie lambs gaan Meeeh! Meeeh! Meeeh! till yur cheust aboot demented wae it.

Soon, the new shed, that began as an empty hole in the grunnd, is fill o life.

I step ootsite the shed door wan morneen at aboot 6.00. The sun is shinan eftir a few days o April shooers. The rain haes washed the gutter fae the thoosand fragments o blue whin that lie aal roond the site. In the corner o me eye, I see the fossilised underjaw o a peedie fish – no unlike a troot fae the Harray Loch. If thur’s new life in the new shed, then thur’s the remains o some o the owldest life on Earth rooed up ootside. Fossil fish fae the sediment o Devonian Loch Orcadie, when Orkney wis in the southern hemisphere.

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Island driving etiquette

Learning tae drive on an island is easier than learning tae drive in a city. No roondaboots. No traffic lights. No dual carriageway. Ye might hiv tae watch oot for ducks crossing. Or owld fermers oot for a slow drive, lukkan at the kye. But there’s no doot, it’s easier tae learn tae drive on an island.

Ye come tae understand that ye’ll probably recognise just aboot everybody ye meet on the road. When ye’re gettan lessons, ye mak a peedie, surreptitious glance at the driver o every vehicle ye pass (hoping your driving instructor doesna notice). When you pass your test, you are free tae gie them aal a freendly wave when ye meet; it’s fun when ye see yer pals.

Folk hiv got their own, idiosyncratic waves that they use when drivan. Wan freend acknowledges ye wae an almost imperceptible lift o the finger. Anither flaps his airm up so high he hits the roof o the ker.

So it saddens me that there’s a lot o folk livan here noo who hiv no idea aboot island road etiquette whitsoever.

An owld freend o mine, who is in his 80s, wis accosted in November by a fast driver who nearly ran intae him in a 30 MPH zone. The driver pulled in ahead o him, and accused me freend o pullan oot in front o him. When me freend pointed oot that is wis a 30 zone, the ither driver became aggressive. Anither freend haed the misfortune tae go off the road on the ice in December, ending up in a field. A passing driver stopped, not tae ask if he wis OK, but tae shout ‘idiot’ at him. Giving a teenager a lesson in Kirkwall last week, I couldna believe it when a ker behint impatiently peeped the horn at her.

Whit folk like these fail tae appreciate is that this island only has a limited number of folk, and a limited number o roads. Ye’ll go roond and roond, and meet the sam folk ower and ower again. It’s worth mindan on that the sam applies tae island life in general. That’s why we tend tae be polite folk, who avoid confrontation if we can help it. 21st century road-rage doesna work in wae island living.

Norroena

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Hugh Marwick’s The Orkney Norn (1929) is the dictionary of the Norse language of Orkney. It records words of the land and words of the sea, weather words and the names of creatures and places – words like gems glittering in the last lingering light of the Viking Age.

Hundreds of the words have become obsolete, left behind as ways of living and ways of making a living have changed forever. There are also, here and there on every other page, sporadic words that have survived – against all odds – into the digital age.

So we preserve the contemptuous bruck – trash, garbage, rubbish. We maintain freck for bairns and pets. Orcadian dogs still weesk at the door for in, and when wind and tide contend at a ness there’s a lively chabble.

These words are part of the modern Norn/Scots/English mashup that is today’s Orkney language. But for how long will we keep them, in the face of online standardisation?

Mibby for twathree generations yet – for a hunder or so unbound copies of Marwick’s magisterial work have been discovered during a clear oot o the former store of Leonard’s bookshop in Kirkwall.

Now bound, and with miraculously preserved original 1928 dust jackets, these remarkable time capsules are available for sale. The new/old book is a magnificent object in itself; an antiquarian curiosity packed full of the rich and beautiful mystery of the Orkney Norn.

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(The newly-bound edition of The Orkney Norn is available from The Herald Printshop, Kirkwall, priced £55)