Blog Archive

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Floating Shops of Orkney




When choosing our goods from the supermarket shelf, how many of us reflect on how much the methods of shopping have changed during the span of one generation.  Many elderly inhabitants of the Northern Isles of Scotland can still recall when a good day's shopping depended on the weather. 
The floating shops of Orkney were a feature of island life from as early as 1897, although many smaller islands did not receive this service until 1910.  These sturdy vessels continued to brave the vagaries of the Pentland Firth until the first world war, and for a few years after 1918 the service was resumed with engine driven ships.
Robert Garden, who was born in Rayne Aberdeenshire, was to become the biggest merchant in Kirkwall at that time.  A floating market must have seemed an obvious business opportunity, when all around him, in the Shetland Islands, the North and South Islands of Orkney, and  the northern coast of Caithness, lay many potential customers.
Each floating shop had a crew of three, and each man was in charge of a department.  These men must have had a hard working five hours or so in their often hot, cramped premises.  Frequently too, there was a strong swell causing considerate discomfort to some of the women customers, who had never had the chance to develop ‘sea legs.’ 
The grocer had his domain nearest the bow.  Along the bulkheads and sides of the ship were shelves on which the groceries were displayed.  Bars of wood were nailed along the fronts to stop the goods tumbling off in heavy seas.
Midship was used for the meal and feeding stuffs.  A large weighing machine stood in the centre, and sacks of flour, oatmeal, bran and corn were built up along the sides.
At the stern, and the least busy, was the drapery.  The draper had  shoes, boots, rolls of wax cloth, oilskins, overalls and other items of clothing set out on a bench, as well as on barred shelves and hanging on lines above his head.  When a lull came, he was expected to jump on deck and deal with incoming lobsters and fish.  Because as well as selling, the merchants of the floating shops also bought the local produce of the islands.
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At the sight of the white sails approaching from Orkney, word was passed around.  The women folk gathered eggs into white enamel pails and lidded baskets.  Fishermen set about preparing what they called ‘wet fish’.  At the time of year when fish were plentiful, the excess was pickled.
When the fish were brought ashore, they were cleaned, split, boned and washed in fresh water.  After being allowed to drip dry, they were laid, layer about with salt, in a barrel.  Three days later, the fish would be afloat in a salt pickle.
When the floating shop was sighted, the fish were swished around in the brine to remove any slime, piled up, covered with canvas, and large stones placed on top to press out the water.  Then in barrows and baskets, they were taken to the shore and loaded into boats.   Boxes of lobsters were also put on board.
By the time the floating shop had reached its anchorage, the pier would be crowded with people.  Not only did the adults set aside their tools, but the children took a holiday from school.
The local boats, with their loads for sale were ready to go out to the ship.  The customers settled down to await their turn to be ferried out, three or four at a time in the ship’s own rowing boats.
These ships included Gleaner, Endeavour, Zoona, Klydon, Thankful, Aberdeen, Lizzie Bain, Star of Bethlehem, Summer Cloud and the Star of Hope.
One of the islands regularly served by these vessels was Stroma, Caithness’ only island.  The Star of Hope called once a fortnight at the north end and the Endeavour came to the south side each alternate week.
There are a few expatriates who still recall the boats and their popularity, although at that time there were four other shops on the islands.  The arrival of a floating shop is remembered as a time of great excitement, no matter what the weather, and for the children, it was an excuse to lay aside their slates and chalk.
The floating shops also brought employment to many of the womenfolk of Kirkwall.   There are few alive who remember working for Robert Garden and packing boxes for the floating shops.  They  filled huge wooden boxes  with boots, bales of men’s shirting, wool, and the half bleached  cotton ladies used for making their underwear, all for six shillings a week.
James Allan, a resident of the North End of Stroma, recalled how the draper, when there was a lull in his trade, counted the lobsters brought by the fishermen and paid out  one shilling or one and two pence each and packed them into the ship’s own boxes.  Those when full, he dumped overboard to keep the supply fresh and alive.  The fish were weighed on deck, giving about eight shillings to ten shillings per hundredweight, and then they were stacked and covered over with canvas.  The grocer  bought in the dozens of eggs at six pence per dozen and packed them between layers of straw in boxes.
I have been unable to find a report of any of the ships being lost.
Now with the depopulation of many of the smaller islands, and the advent of ferries to the places where supermarkets abound, there is no more need for the floating shops.
Robert Garden, described by The Orcadian as Orkney’s merchant Prince died in 1912.  His legacy to the county would be what became Kirkwall’s Balfour  Hospital after his widow bequeathed the money to erect in his memory, The Garden Memorial Building which opened in 1927.

Shopping methods of today.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Locket and a Five Taka Note

When Abdul Mkith left Bangladesh with nothing other than his clothes, the locket his mother placed around his neck, and a five taka note, neither he nor his family had any idea what lay in store for him.


Abdul before he was sent to then UK
In October 2012, an English teacher contacted me.  He told me he had been working with a boy who was keen to tell his tale to the world. I met with Abdul, then twenty-four and was mmediately drawn to this personable and attractive young man.   Bit by bit he told me his story and supplied me with the notes that the authorities held on him.
He left a family where he was loved and pampered and sent to an "Aunt" and "Uncle"who his family trusted to love and care for him the way they had done. The truth was different. The "Aunt" and "Uncle" effectively sold him into a life of what can only be described as a horror story.

It’s been extremely brave of this young man to revisit his past and lay it bare for the world to read. He not only wants to expose what’s going on in this country under our noses, but also warn parents from third world countries who believe they are doing the best for their children by sending them to the west.

Names of individuals have been changed, but otherwise The Locket and A Five Taka Note is his true story, as he told it to me.
Of course, never having been to Bangladesh, I needed to get a ‘feel’ for the country. Through the magic of You Tube, I visited the places Abdul spoke about, I saw the men fishing in the fields, gathering the dhal, and herding the cattle over the paddy stalks. I woke up to the beauty of a Bangladesh morning, saw the early sun shine through the palm leaves, heard the twitters of the birds, heard the call to prayer.
Abdul's true story
I watched trains laden with men and boys hanging onto the outside and riding on the roof, and I travelled through the streets of Bazar and Dhaka, and attended a Muslim wedding.
You Tube is a very handy tool.
That was the good bits.

Unfortunately other localities in Abdul’s story can only be envisaged. I have an eleven year old grandson and imaging the horror of what Abdul went through at the same age was hard, but it is important to see his life as it was through his eyes and understand his coping mechanisms.

It is not an easy read, it was not easy to write. How many other children out there are in this situation and never escape?
It is estimated that at least 129 refugee children have gone missing since the Calais Jungle has been disbanded. No one knows the real numbers. No one knows what they are enduring every day.


.The Locket and a five taka Note will be published next month both as an ebook and a paperback, and I’m sure we all wish Abdul every success in his future life

Sunday, 9 April 2017

How the The Broken Horizon came to be written

 
When Davie Reid gets a girl from another island pregnant, and brings her to his home, Chrissie is devastated. It was understood that she and Davie would be married one day, and he has already taken her innocence.
In despair, Chrissie turns to Davie’s violent brother, Jack, who has always coveted her. However, his nature does not lead to a happy marriage. (Follow the Dove)

Follow the Dove was meant to be the first in a trilogy and Isa's story, but Chrissie evolved into the stronger character and demanded a book of her own.
The Broken horizon is Chrissie's story.

After a brutal attack which leaves her concussed, Chrissie mixes poison in Jack's whisky.
Next day she only remembers snatches of what happened, but she does remember her intentions all too clearly. Jack has gone, there’s a fresh grave in the byre, she has dirt beneath her fingernails and on her boots. She has actually done it. But she must never tell a soul. Let the islanders think he has been lost at sea.

Over the years, she forms a close attachment to the young, dashing Charlie Rosie and eventually falls deeply in love with him.

Fourteen years since Jack’s disappearance, Chrissie receives a letter signed, Jack.


Read all about it in The Broken Horizon. On sale today and all this week, for 99p

Thursday, 6 April 2017

This Year's Writerly Weekend.

Another writerly weekend. This time in wonderful weather, blue skies and little wind. After an amazing meal in Café Andaluz, Glasgow, and a couple of drinks, we retired to our rooms in the Premiere Inn.
Next day was spent checking in and meeting up with friends in the Westerwood Hotel, Cumbernauld for the 48th annual conference. 
Prize winners. My trophy is invisible because it's glass!
The schedule for the whole weekend, starting with dinner on Friday night, is full. A lot of organisation and hard work by the committee of S.A.W.

I imagine that, unless someone proves me wrong, we from Caithness travel the furthest to attend this weekend of talks, competitions, workshops and socialising.
But true to form, our small writer’s circle do well.

I won the Barbara Hammond trophy for the best self-published novel with Isa's Daughter and Morag Oag won a second for her non-fiction children’s novel, Living with Sheep, and a third for her under sevens' story, Boogie the Centipede.

All in all, it was a successful and enjoyable weekend.

 
all the trophy winners

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Operation Snowdrop

'There's going to be a blizzard.' my father said, and I watched as he brought in extra drinking water and coal and a large shovel. I didn't worry over much. whatever happened my parent were there and they would keep me safe.
The following morning, I woke up to a silent darkness. The house was encased in snow. My father was already tunnelling his way to the byre to tend the animals.
He also tunnelled a path upwards, and once the blue sky could be seen, us children, decked out in wellingtons, hats coats and scarves, clambered out. only the top of the roof and the chimneys were visible.  The large drifts made excellent sledge slopes. We could tunnel in and build caves, then fall back indoors with freezing feet and fingers, desperate to warm up and get outside again. The fact that our snow caves could collapse and bury us never entered out heads. 
When we ran out of water, my father brought in tin pails full of snow and put it on the stove to melt. Several of our sheep wandered over the cliff edge and fell down, sinking in the soft snow. My father tied a rope around his middle and rescued them. Trapped in their freezing bubble, all had survived. 
Unfortunately for us children, being snowed in did not last long. I well remember the disappointment when I woke up one morning and the snow had almost disappeared. 
We perhaps fared better than many of our mainland neighbours, since those who relied on elecricity had to do without. We relied on bottle gas and solid fuel and still had warmth and light. 

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/operation-snowdrop-aka-operation-snowdrop

snow in Caithness


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Almost a disaster (Another Tale from Stroma)

It was a dark and stormy night -- yes, honestly, I just wrote that.
As you already know, I was brought up until the age of nine on Stroma, an island in the Pentland Firth. Our transport to and from the island was a yawl, not more than eighteen feet long.
My mother and I had been in Wick for the day and were homeward bound in our small but sturdy craft that had weathered many a storm.  The light was fading, but we should have made it before nightfall. Suddenly, the engine died and we were plunged into darkness. 
Now, the back-up plan for any boat in trouble, would normally be hoisting the sail. Not only would this give us wind power, but islanders, seeing a boat under sail, would be alerted that something was wrong.  Unfortunately, my father cleaned out the boat that day and the sail was back on the island in the sail-shed.
The tides in the Pentland Firth are pretty strong, and with no power we were being swept towards the notorious Boars, a place where several currents meet causing whirlpools and high lashing waves. As we were dragged nearer, we were tossed around.
Luckily my mother had bought torches that day -- a present for my cousins who lived on the island. With the light, my father struggled to get the engine going again.
I was scared, crying. They put me under a tarpaulin and the spray rattled like hail above my head as the boat bucked and rose on the waves and plunged into the troughs.
Meanwhile, my grandmother, carrying my baby sister, continued to look out the window, searching the firth for any sign of the boat. In the darkness, we were invisible, the tiny torches not able to carry enough light to send a signal.
Finally the engine spluttered to life and we fought our way from the lashing waves back to calmer waters.
I don't remember the welcome we must have got that night as relief flooded the family. But, as I had been taught, I did say my prayers and thanked God for delivering us from the jaws of the ocean.

Our boat, The Tern, in calmer waters.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

My writing journey

Mary Rosie’s War is the direct continuation of The Broken Horizon. When the story opens, Chrissie and her family have moved to the mainland to live in John O’Groats and Mary is seventeen years old. War is breaking out in Europe, and Britain is on high alert. Today I am 30,000 words into the story. I aim to do at least 1000 words daily. I do not know how the story will end. (I’m still unsure how I will begin it but watch this space for a sample coming soon.)

Outside the sun is shining, but it is deceptive. The wind is bitter. I have to steel myself to face the cold, otherwise my two dogs will not be walked, and I will not have any exercise either. I will spend my time sitting at the computer (not always writing)



 You can order any one of my books from Amazon or message me directly
 www.catherinebyrne -author.com












Extract from Mary Rosie's War.



From the distance came the deep drone of a solitary plane.
‘Doesn’t sound like one of ours,’ said Sally, pulling a moue of distaste. ‘Could that be Jerries?’
The girls looked at each other, smiles slipping, their hands clutching their cups. At dusk on 16th March an attack had been made on Scapa in Orkney by fifteen enemy bombers. Four officers had been killed, and four officers and three ratings wounded. And that event, though many miles to the north, had brought the war to their door.
‘I’m not sure…’ Rita’s voice was lost as the thunder of the plane came so near it could have been right outside. The girls rose as one and crossed to the window. ‘Bloody hell, that’s close,’ said Sally.
Suddenly the world around them seemed to erupt. Cups rattled in saucers, the building trembled.
Customers leaped to their feet and ran out of the door into High Street, desperately looking for a safe haven. A pall of black smoke rose from the direction of the harbour as another explosion rent the air  flashes of fire, smoke, thick and black belched from down river.
‘On my God,’ someone screamed. ‘They’re bombing the town.’
A woman dropped her shopping basket and ran past the girls. ‘Ma bairns,’ she screamed, ‘I left them playing…’
Everything seemed to happen at once. The clanging of the fire engine’s bell, children crying, people running around like confused ants as the managers of shops and banks with cellars, herded them into relative safety.