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Doesn't time fly?

Join author Richard Clubley for his latest thoughts on life in Orkney.

We’ve lived in Orkney two years now, and doesn’t time fly?

Bob Budge built our house for us and handed over the keys on 1st September 2017. Bob was lovely and built us a solid house. We asked for a wood burner in the lounge but although he tried to talk us out of it we insisted. ‘The house is so well insulated you won’t need it,’ he said, ‘you’ll have to sit in your underpants.’

Bob was right, of course, as he had been about every other aspect of the job. The contract we had with Bob was based on a word and a hand shake – it proved to be all that was needed. Bob passed away, aged just 61, in July this year but I will always remember the privilege of doing business with him. On a fortnight’s holiday one does not get to know people enough to miss them when they’re gone.

We had some concern, before we arrived, there may not be enough to fill our days. Both officially retired there was some risk we would find a holiday idyll not, actually, a good place to live. When the visitors leave in the autumn, the beaches are windswept and not everywhere is open, would it be so appealing? ‘Your problem will be fitting it all in.’ said almost everyone, and so it proved. After a few months Bev worried she had taken on too much.

Autumn walks on Dingieshowe beach, Orkney


I had met Julia in her Stromness waterfront Bistro when I’d been in for morning coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and just about any other excuse during the months of writing my Orkney book a couple of years before and so as we stepped off the ferry, suitcases in hand, to begin our new life, it was natural to head in for refreshment. An hour later Bev had made her first commitment – she was to be a waitress three days a week for Julia. By the end of her first shift her feet ached, her head was spinning and muscles she’d forgotten she had were screaming for her to stop – but still the toilets were to be cleaned, and the floor. Two years later Bev is still there, now the old head who guides the youngsters. Pacing has been learned, and the names of locals as well as their regular drinks.

Bev had played the violin in an earlier life, thirty five years earlier in fact, and soon discovered the instrument (called a fiddle in Orkney) made a very nice sound in the hands of Jenny Wrigley and others we heard at The Reel. Her very kind husband bought her a student instrument and she commenced weekly lessons with Erica Shearer at Jenny’s school. Gradually a sound appeared, then a note, then several notes in a row (in the right order and with fewer slips) eventually a tune. We had some friends fae sooth visiting and he nudged and nudged one night until Bev did what she had been itching to do for weeks – she sat at the back of The Strathspey and Reel Society practice and took up her bow. Many of the tunes were too fast but she thrilled at the ones she could do. The routine on Thursdays is that every player is given a tune choice so Bev goes prepared for when the leader says ‘At the back?’ He knows her name now but she still sits, and is referred to as ‘At the back’. There has been a concert appearance too, and Fiddlers’ Rally.

The Reel in the centre of Kirkwall


Fiddle practice alternates with running (5k – sometimes longer) and the endorphins released by both are a great boon when gales threaten the shed, planes carrying visitors are delayed or we run out of milk and it’s seven miles to the shop.

We had been to Nine Lessons and Carols at Durham Cathedral a few years earlier and Bev enjoyed singing with the congregation. ‘There’s a thing called The Winter Choir at the cathedral’, she said, ‘anyone can join and they start rehearsing next week for a concert at Christmas.’ We hadn’t hung all our curtains by this point, nor emptied the boxes, nor erected the shed but off she went to join and came home a soprano. Who knew? St Magnus Festival Choir followed in the spring, led by Paul Rendall, whom we had met when he came to fit our carpet (Orkney society is like that).

St Magnus Cathedral at Christmas


Bev is involved with the Orkney College Management Council now so has regained a bit of that professional life she missed since our move. In what little time is left she helps at the Clan charity shop, takes bookings for the community hall and changes the beds at our B&B.

It was me that campaigned for the move and Bev gave up an awful lot to come with me. I think she has found a good, new life. She certainly sleeps well.

Next month: What keeps me busy in Orkney.


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.

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