Island jobs - Richard Clubley

Read the latest from author and new Orkney resident Richard Clubley as he explores all aspects of island life.

You may have seen Sarah Moore on the telly recently, Sarah came to Orkney, from Edinburgh, in search of a new life. She rented a small house in North Ronaldsay where she lives with her cat – Tiny. Sarah’s first job was as a home carer, to which she added: airport fire fighter / baggage handler, clerk to the community council, postie, shepherd and lighthouse guide. Sarah has applied to be a dock worker.

People traditionally need several jobs on small islands, there often not being sufficient in one to fill a wage packet. Sarah delights in her jobs, where simply changing from one uniform to another keeps her on the go. North Ronaldsay (population around 50) needs people like Sarah to breathe new life. Together the islanders are working to provide new houses, create new jobs and attract new people. Since the TV programme: The Island That Saved My Life, there have been 18 expressions of interest in moving to North Ronaldsay – some from much needed young families who would support the school.

The view across North Ronaldsay to the island's lighthouse
The view across North Ronaldsay to the island's lighthouse

Bev and I are retired but we did not come to Orkney for a quiet life – especially not one of us. In August 2017 we arrived in Stromness and Bev said “Pull over and wait while I go into Julia’s Cafe.” We already knew Julia from many hours sitting over her most excellent coffee and scones on earlier visits and holidays. Bev was duly appointed a waitress and started, three days a week, the following Monday.

Julia’s has been a fabulous opportunity for Bev to keep busy, get to know the locals and greet the visitors. “Your usual flat white is it Magnus?” and “The Post Office is just along the street in Argo’s Bakery”. “Skara Brae is about a fifteen minute drive” and, “Don’t worry about us, there’s lots to do in the winter” She also volunteers in the Orphir Village Community Cafe every now and then, where Eleanor teaches us dialect such as: “Noo, come through by, oot o’ the coorse shooers and rattle that doon yer thrapple.” Whilst we can’t speak in dialect, our ears are more tuned in. We know the correct response to “Whit like the day?”

Looking over Orphir village, where Richard lives
Looking over Orphir village, where Richard lives

Bev secured another part-time post, as advocate for Orkney’s children and young people. It takes a few hours on each of two or three days so, added to the waitressing, it keeps her quite busy – but not busy enough. There are also fiddle lessons, fiddle practice, running, community committee work, a charity shop and changing the sheets in our B&B. She also sings in the choir.

My excuse is that I’m nine years older than Bev. I say: “We’ll see how you fare when you get to my age” Even so I do the B&B breakfasts and ironing, walk the dog, write about Scottish islands and speak on cruise ships – about Scottish islands. I’m doing the Scottish Tourist Association Green Badge course at the college – hoping to be a qualified tour guide by this time next year. I’ve bought a peedie boat too. The main selection criterion for any activity is that we enjoy it.

Things have got easier too. For a start the long wait for dustbins is over.

“You can’t have dustbins until your council tax is fixed” the man at the council had said.

“Is there any possibility of us not having to pay council tax?”

“None whatsoever.”

“So we will definitely get dustbins then?”


“So can we have them now?”

“No, sorry.”

The shed panels lying in a heap on the drive, the dining room full of lawnmowers and walking Dog in the dark are worries that seem small now. The shed is up, the lawnmower is in it and I have a high-vis jacket. As the winter approaches we are prepared. Things have started to come round again so we know what to do – or, at least, what not to do. This time I’ll hold my glasses on in the gales.

Autumn and winter can bring wild weather, but beautiful light and scenery too
Autumn and winter can bring wild weather, but beautiful light and scenery too

Bev is getting to know the other sopranos at choir. The bed and breakfast has gone quiet since August, we’re having a rest, but we’ve learned not to worry about make-up stains, they are, in fact, removable. The blackout blinds are in place for when the early light returns next spring.

They say most ferry loupers survive their first winter – they expect it, look forward to it even, but the second winter finishes them. The novelty has worn off and the realisation dawns, even if the day doesn’t, that it’s always going to be this dark in December. There will be fewer ferries and the Birsay Tea Room has limited opening.

We will not leave. We love Orkney, it is our home now and, besides, in winter you get a free hour of parking in the town, and Bev has found Elizabeth – a brilliant hairdresser.

You can follow Sarah’s progress in North Ronaldsay on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and via her blog.

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. Newsletter

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