Regular contributor Richard Clubley has now completed his move to Orkney - find out all about his first impressions...
“Do you want today’s paper or yesterday’s?” enquired the girl behind the counter at the newsagent, “because if it’s today’s you’re after you’ll have to come back tomorrow.”
Island life is different, I already knew that, but this was just one, small, further example of it. I left the shop chuckling, and pleased at the thought that neither I nor the paper seller really minded the slight inconvenience.
I had wanted the paper so I could read about everything that happened in the world on the day I moved to live in Orkney, it was Thursday 17th August 2017. No matter, tomorrow will be fine I thought.
Our house in Orphir will soon be ready and meanwhile I’m staying in a rented flat just outside Kirkwall. There are lovely views over Scapa Beach and just five minutes to the supermarket.
The second most commonly asked question of me is “What on Earth is behind your fascination with islands?” (The first being “What is your favourite island? Impossible. There are so many, they’re all different, each with its own character and charms. What I will say is that Orkney has just about everything one could wish for in an archipelago).
Neither question is easy. I grew up by the sea in East Yorkshire and believe the sea to be in my blood – it was certainly in my bed on the stormiest nights, when spray sometimes drifted in through the open window, or bubbled up under the sash. When the tide was far out we were fascinated and excited, as children, by Stoney Island which appeared briefly. We could walk to it and search for crabs. The WWII Bull Fort, defending the Humber estuary, was a foreboding presence – gloomy, rusting, forbidden but promising adventure if ever we could have landed.
However, I think my analyst, if I had one, would say it was the swimming baths at North Bay, Scarborough that actually burned islands into my psyche one evening in 1959. The pool had islands, you see, and I determined to land on one. I couldn’t swim but my rubber ring floated me there and then I dare not slip back into the deep water when it came time to leave. The lifeguard had to be called and I was carried ashore (the water only came up to his waist). Luckily, I haven’t needed a lifeguard since that day but, 80 Scottish islands later, the determination to land and the frisson of crossing water has never left me.
Our new house is looking lovely. Bob Budge has done a brilliant job and I should like to record my thanks to him and all his men. He has planned ahead at every stage. Stuff needing to come from south often has to be ordered weeks in advance so the project isn’t held up. They called it ‘The Critical Path’ when I visited the site of the new hospital a few weeks ago. “We’ve got the doors and windows home just now” Bob would say, or “The bathroom suite is home.” As I write this the painters are finishing off inside, a few copper pipes need things sticking on the end and Boogie has to sweep up. Grass is sprouting in the garden and I hope the buttercups, clover and orchids have survived the excavations and will return in due course. I am reliably informed that, in the case of the buttercups at least, I need have no worries.
I registered to vote in Scotland today. I have my Orkney library card and application for islander travel discounts. I have tickets for the lifeboat dinner dance, a phone number beginning 01856, a KW post code, neighbours, big skies and sea all around. Bob has even agreed to install a wood-burning stove in the lounge. “You can have one if you like,” he said, “but the insulation in that hoose is so good you’ll have to sit in your underpants after you light it.”
I think the attraction of a wood-burner is to satisfy the deep-rooted, Neolithic bit of my sub-conscious that wants to look at a living flame. I want to provide for us by hunter-gathering wood and berries, and storing both against the long winter nights. I’ve ordered a shed. When Dog and I walked on Scapa Beach this morning, we found a nice fence post washed up. When dry it will begin my log pile.
I called in to see Mark Rendall at Rendall Furnishings in the town. “The beds and carpets you ordered are all home just now. We’re ready to fit them when the painters finish,” he said. I’m home too, more at home than any time since those days on Stoney Island.
Richard contributes regularly to Scottish Islands Explorer magazine and his first book: 'Scotland’s Islands – A Special Kind of Freedom' was published in 2014. His new book 'Orkney – A Special Place' is available from all the usual outlets now.