Monday, 31 May 2010

Wardrobe Woe

In these days of bargain filled clothes stores where you can pick up three t-shirts for under £5 or a pair of shoes for not much more, most people have an awful lot of clothes. Thanks to the handy invention of child labour, women up and down the country can wail "I have nothing to wear" in front of increasingly bulging wardrobes.

Pictured below is Minna Reid of Rousay's clothing card which ran out on the 31st of May 1942.

On the reverse of the card, there is a list of the number of tokens needed for each item of clothing. When this rationing was sneakily introduced (the original clothing rations were initially labelled 'margarine' to prevent shops being inundated) in 1941, the amount of coupons per adult, per year was 66. This meant that over the course of an entire year, a woman could buy only one coat, one dress, one blouse, one jumper, one skirt, pajamas, one pair of shoes, a scarf, a pair of gloves and but two pairs of pants.

The different colours of tickets were, again, to stop people exchanging all their tokens at once. You could not use a colour until it had been announced by the government.


In 1942, the annual allowance of coupons was cut to 48 so it's not unreasonable to assume that most people spent their war years either knickerless or constantly rinsing out their drawers.

Reference: D1/979/1

Saturday, 29 May 2010

76 Years of Air-mail

76 years ago today was the inauguration of the air mail service to Orkney. On the 29th of May 1934, an opening ceremony was held at Wideford airport to celebrate the first postal flight from Inverness. The plane left Inverness at 10.15am and arrived in Kirkwall at 11.35am.

The police were obviously expecting a lot of people to turn up as we have an enormous poster in the archive warning about parking vehicles in the wrong place and not crowding the exits.

These flights and later, the internet have made Orkney seem a lot less isolated than it was but I have still yet to see a Saturday supplement in the shops before 2.00pm...

Friday, 28 May 2010

A Letter From Canada

A common question from our overseas family history researchers is 'why did my ancestors leave Orkney?' The question is answered in part by this letter written in 1863 by William Cromarty, inhabitant of Langly, British Columbia, Canada to his brother in Stromness, Magnus Cromarty.

At first reading, one's initial reaction is, why did William stay in Canada, as he seems to be having such a terrible time.

The letter begins with William telling his brother that two of his children, girls aged 12 and 16, have died. It seems that the girls went swimming  and came back complaining of 'Bely acke' which soon developed into 'Desentry or Bludy Flux.' The oldest girl died after one month's sickness and 12 days later, the younger sister died of 'crupe in the throat' after infecting her mother.

This tragedy is further compounded by somebody breaking into the house whilst William's wife and daughters are sick and stealing seven sovereigns from his chest. William admits that he may have blamed his extremely ill and bed-ridden wife for letting this happen and she has 'got offended' and 'went away in a funk' over four months ago.

'Surely that is it', you think, but no; there is more. William's children are in charge of feeding his cattle but the winter has been so cold that the water troughs froze over. The children 'neglected to Bracke the ice' and 14 of William's cows died.

He goes on to complain about how very expensive provisions are and says that his 16 year old daughter is his company now but, as there are few women in Langly, she will soon be snapped up as a wife.

The amazing thing is that William does not seem at all sorry for himself and indeed confesses himself to be 'surprised' that Magnus is to afraid to come to Canada. he tells his brother about his two claims of land; one is under his name, the other is being kept aside for his son.

'I have got plenty to eat and drink and I am always in my owen bed at night and can save a little tou', he says. It seems that owning your own land and lying down under a roof that belonged to you was worth a great deal to men like William who would undoubtedly have rented a tiny piece in Orkney along with the vast majority of the population.

Life was tough in Canada, but it was tough in Orkney too. The hardiness that living in an Orcadian climate brought is the reason that so many Orcadians were engaged to work in Canada by the Hudson bay Company. See? Everyone who lives here is hard as nails! Grrrrrrrrrrrr! We'll cut ya!

(We won't at all, we'll probably shower you with tea and scones and say 'fine' a lot.)

Reference D1/27/1

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Orkney Folk Festival 2010


Today is the first day of Orkney's annual folk festival which showcases acts from down the road as well as across the sea. See here for all the acts who have been booked to appear. As you will see, the vast majority of events are sold out, but there are sometimes returned tickets at the door and the pubs of Stromness are sure to be filled with fiddles and accordions all week.

There is an archive connection to the festival in the form of the Song Shop Trio who you may remember performing on Radio Orkney during the Library and Archive Discovery Week. Sarah Jane of the trio is an archive employee and has been involved in the hugely successful Big Orkney Song project. This project is an attempt to collect, perform and make known the folk songs of Orkney. For some time now, a group of dedicated volunteers have been regularly visiting the archive in search of folk songs amongst the old newspapers, reel to reels and other documents.

We have also put together a small collection of material from the archive to celebrate, not only the folk festival, but the St Magnus festival which takes place later on in the Summer. Documents include original folk music collected by our very own photographic technician, photographs of various musical events, sheet music, programmes, bell music from the St Magnus Cathedral and a manuscript book of religious music that dates from around 1790.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Your mother doesn't work here!

One of our duties here in the archive is the booking and setting up of the meeting rooms which are situated on the first floor. Various organisations book the rooms and, first thing in the morning, we set out the tables and chairs and put out a laptop and projector if they are required. And that's it.

Some users, however, (and they are in the minority) are under the illusion that we are also able to abandon the searchroom to tidy up the chaotic messes that are sometimes left. Piles of filthy crockery tower in the kitchen, strawberry heads have been strewn across the carpet with gay abandon and every surface is dusted with a fine layer of crumbs. Sticky stains abound and crumbled papers lie abandoned by their owners. It  looks as though these staid meetings have in actual fact been brilliant parties with people rolling around in biscuits and linking their arms to drink from each others' glasses of juice.

We love that people are having a fab time in our MacGillivray room, we really do. We just don't want to clean up after it. In order to put this point across, our colleague has made a lovely poster to put in the room:

Very polite, I'm sure you'll agree. We had to dissuade her from putting up her first draft:

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Cruising in Orkney


When hearing the words 'cruise liner' most people picture the Caribbean, shuffle board, or cocktails with little umbrellas in them. Perhaps they then muse upon Poirot investigating a murder on the Nile or poor, frozen  Leo desperately scrabbling at the edge of the floating door hogged by greedy old Kate Winslet.


You may be surprised then to learn that little old Orkney is expecting SEVENTY THREE cruise liners this Summer with a record FOUR vessels all stopping in Kirkwall on August the 18th!

A timetable of these visits is published each year in the Orcadian and a copy is kept by the till of most shops and public buildings in the town.
We do not put on anything special for cruise visitors in the archive but it helps to be poised for the days when there are more tourists than regular inhabitants on the streets. We like to have maps handy for giving directions and  lists of eateries memorised in order of distance from archive, price and quality of cake.

We are often visited by voyagers who have family connections to Orkney and are wishing to explore this link. As delighted as we are to help, let one point be made; while it is incredibly flattering that some optimistic visitors think us capable of compiling a family tree in just 5 minutes, without any supporting dates or documentation, sadly our skills do not extend that far. Any genealogical visitors may get on a bit better with a birth date or two and perhaps at least an hour to spare.

Damn you, BBC's 'Who Do You Think You Are?' and damn you again! 

Monday, 24 May 2010

New exhibition imminent...



One of the forthcoming exhibits.

Program for 1939 production of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, reference D1/726.

The Thrift Corner

George Osbourne is announcing his spending cuts LIVE, right now. Apparently, schools, higher education and adult learning are all to be protected and yet £670 million is being removed from the education budget. I wonder what this means for public libraries and archives?

Any money saving suggestions are very welcome. Off the top of our heads, we're thinking about switching off all the lights and handing out head lamps to visitors as they arrive. Alternatively, the electricity could be run off a couple of exercise bikes in the foyer, thus combining local authority gym and library/archive  in one cost effective movement.

Our heating can be off now that summer is blooming, but perhaps we could have a stock of stylish library ponchos to pass around during winter time? They could be knitted from the spun dust and hair that collects in the library vacuum cleaners. Waste not, want not!

The biggest lay out each year is probably staff wages but these will surely decrease if we all move into the library and therefore no longer have rent or mortgages to pay. We would be like a big, poor, smelly family (only one shower between 30). We'd say goodnight like the Waltons and comfort eat like the Simpsons.

And I suppose we could switch to value brand biscuits in the staff room, but let's not get ahead of ourselves...

Friday, 21 May 2010

Stop Press


Finally, a Katie Melua  we can get on board with. Courtesy of today's BBC website. Keep that hard-hittin' news coming.


If, like Katie, you too enjoy a digestive, then hurry to the foyer of the library and enjoy one with a free cuppa.

Flybe to the moon...

Today is the anniversary of both Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earharts' solo flights across the atlantic. He was the first man to fly non-stop across the ocean in 1927 and she was the first woman in 1932.

Orkney has quite a fascinating flying history. It was here in 1917 that the landing of a plane on the deck of a moving ship was first achieved.

This may not sound that important until you think about how planes had previously been transported on and off of ships. Seaplanes were hoisted in and out of the water, planes that had taken off from ships could not return and had to find somewhere to land and some planes just ended up plopping into the sea and being towed back.

In August 1917, Squadron Commander Ernest Dunning landed on the deck of HMS Furious.

The plane basically hovered over the ship and a waiting crowd  pulled it down onto the deck. Clumsy, yet effective. Unfortunately, Dunning was drowned during further trials five days later, but his efforts changed sea warfare forever.

Another interesting Orkney flying  fact is that the flight between Papa Westray and Westray is the World's Shortest Scheduled Flight. It usually takes between two and three minutes but has been known to take only 58 seconds!

A lot of the northern isles teachers take small planes like this from  mainland Orkney out to their schools several mornings a week. There is space for about 6 people and the atmosphere is lovely. Sadly, there is no drinks and snacks cart. A video of the previous night's episode of 'New Tricks' was being offered 'round the Stronsay plane the last time I went, however.

What a lovely routine that must be. What could be better, an early morning flight, with a view of beautiful Orkney as you and your work chums sing "It's all right, it's okay, doesn't really matter if you're old and grey..." ?

I would insist on this Waterman Warble on the Friday afternoons however:
(The pilot could be Dennis Waterman and we could all harmonise in the back!)



Information taken from Howard Hazell's Orcadian book of the 20th Century.

Photograph of Dunning landing taken from our Photographic archive.

Photograph of islands plane taken from wikipedia.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Archive Idol

It gets much busier in the archives during the summer months. Family History Research draws visitors from all over the globe, cruise liners stop off for a day and the St Magnus Festival always boosts the population for a couple of weeks.

To deal with this surge in customers, we have been allowed a summer assistant this year. Interviews are taking place and we wait with baited breath to meet our new archive buddy.

Our bosses are very good to us and we were therefore consulted on the qualities we thought to be useful in an archive assistant. As regular readers will know, baking is high on the agenda here, so all candidates shall take part in a ready steady cook style bake-off in the kitchen. We shall provide them with some basic ingredients and they shall have one hour to whip up some archive-themed culinary delights to be sampled and marked on taste, originality and historical relevance by a panel of staff.

The hopeful interviewees shall then move on to the MacGillivray room where they will be put into pairs and forced to entertain us by singing a selection of our favourite duets. If they can't hold the long note in No More Tears (Enough is enough) or re-enact the Especially For You run, catch and spin move, then they're out.

Some simple, timed archival tasks shall then follow such as loading a microfilm with one hand tied behind their back, carrying three full archive boxes the length of one corridor and shooting unruly teens in the ankle with a staple-gun. Stuff like that.

We are toying with the thought of then opening up the decision to you dear readers, a la X Factor. Three hopeful mugshots shall be posted on the blog and then you decide.

Copyright, On Being Blameless Protectors Of...

One of the most stressful and boring parts of working in a library or archive is explaining and upholding copyright. There are certain rules that we are expected to adhere to but, when we do so, we are made to feel like jobsworth nerds.

Readers can copy 5% of a published work, (or a chapter, whichever is bigger) and prospective house builders are only allowed an A4 section from maps which are less than 50 years old.

The majority of our wonderful customers are very understanding and lovely about it all, but some take it to heart in a most alarming manner.When we calmly and patiently explain these rules, some customers snort with derision, grunt mutinously, or gaze down at the map in their hands in a highly tragic manner and wait for us to change our minds. It makes us feel awful, like we are tattle tailing swots at school or puppy murdering sadists.

These copyright protesters seem to think that we are so personally attached to copyright restrictions that they can wound us with threats of information-related skullduggery. One customer said "I'm going to buy a tiny little hand-sized scanner and scan all the books that I want and you'll never even know!" Another said, "I'm going to come back when you're not working and then get more copies. Of the same map!" I wonder what craziness they'll get up to next. Eat their pudding before their dinner maybe? Sleep at the wrong end of the bed?

We don't make the rules, or cry if they're broken,  it's just our job to try and work with them.

We have had a department meeting about this and have decided that the next customer who tries to make us feel emotionally compromised for trying to uphold perfectly reasonable restrictions on copying the artistic works of other people, shall be shut up in one of the metal map cabinets for the rest of the day with nothing but a copy of our tediously complex copyright flowchart to while away the time.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Searchers

The Archive department have been running around in a faff all morning because we are confused by our own cataloguing system.

All of our deposits and collections are numbered in a set, very logical fashion. First of all, a collection gets a number. For example, the 97th collection that is a deposit or gift is called D97. Each box within that collection then gets it's own number; so the 19th box in collection D97 would be D97/19.

This sequential numbering follows right the way through folders, to individual envelopes within that folder, to pieces of paper within said envelopes. So when I want to look at a Guardian article called 'The Deadly Call of The Sea' which was sent to Margaret Tait when she was writing Blue Black Permanent, I am given the number D97/19/15/7/16. Therefore, I know that the article is the 16th piece of paper in the 7th envelope in the 15th folder in the 19th box of the Margaret Tait collection, which is deposit collection number 97.

It is a very logical system and is never deviated from. So why did we spend an hour this morning running around like headless chickens whilst bemused customers waited patiently for their requested archives?

We 'lost' three things this morning. One has never been given a number, one was given a number which was not entered into the database and one deposit had been catalogued,numbered and placed on the correct shelf but a certain person, who most definitely was not me, couldn't see it for looking. So basically, the system is perfect, yet we are simpletons.

Don't let this post stop you from handing stuff in though, this morning was a rare aberration, we always find things eventually and it's probably quite entertaining to watch us all running about looking for stuff. Click below and imagine us scurrying from room to room, looking in cupboards, boxes and shelf units with puzzled expressions on our faces.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Battle Without Honour or Humanity

Okay, our twitter page, lovingly wrought by Stewart, has over 500 followers now. We made an agreement some time ago that we would force the twitter followers to battle the blog followers at Maeshowe on midsummer's eve. Hope that's okay.

The library lot shall wear spectacles and cardigans and shall be armed with hard backed Mills & Boons and specially customised 'loser' stamps to mark their kills. Archive blog followers, you may be few and some of you will have to fly hundreds of miles to join us, but there is a lot of smelly, dusty, old stuff that we can brandish and  loads of scary moths and caterpillars too, so don't worry, there is hope. I thought that you could wear archivists' gloves and 2B pencils tucked behind your ears.

We can probably rope in some volunteers if things get really desperate but all library and archive staff shall be watching from recliners on top of Maeshowe whilst barking strategies through a loud hailer.

The victors shall take home the weird smelly plant which keeps on growing even though we stopped watering it at Christmas. If you think about it, one plant between 12 is better than one shared between 500.

According to a newspaper article I found in the Ernest Walker Marwick collection, we may have company as, up until WW2, black magic rituals took place at the Stones of Stenness


"About 60 people were there" an RAF officer told the Empire News. " all their faces were hooded and wearing blankets. They held candles and incense was burning and it was so packed that some of them couldn't get in. One man with an Orkney accent read the Black mass. And they all chanted, and I swear I can't remember it happening, but certainly there was this brand mark on my leg - a burn- but not painful at all."

Hmmmm, they don't sound like they'll be much of a laugh but we'll see. Book your flights/trains/ferries now!

Information taken from reference: D31/47/3/29

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Archive That Can Season Your Food


There was a lot of talk about rock salt this winter, how much there was and why it wasn't on our roads during the heavy snows.

Some grumpy googling unearthed some fascinating articles on the use of salt mines as archives. See this video on the bbc website. 

Apparently salt mines make the perfect storage space for documents as there is low humidity, no water and no UV lights. The excavations leave giant roads for access and storage and strong pillars of ice maintain the stability of the underground 'building.' Amazing...

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Stinkbombs In The Library!


About half an hour ago, a sulphurous whiff reached our delicate nostrils. At first we assumed that one of our colleagues or customers had eaten a few too many egg sandwiches, but it has become apparent that stink bombs have been activated on the stairs, children's area and both ends of the top floor!

Staff members are currently patrolling the building armed with air freshener, so the situation is under control. We are sprinkling the ground with sweets and football stickers, making a trail to a big box propped up on a stick, to catch the offenders.

We shall then punish them in kind by locking them in with the smelly moths collection in the BioDiversity store.

Well Done Gary!


Our Library and Archive Manager, Gary, travelled to Wales yesterday to the CILIP Cymru Conference for libraries, archive and museums. His mission was to explain how brilliant Orkney Library and Archive are. The theme for this year's conference was Hard Times and the focus was on the survival of these extremely important institutions in these financially delicate times.

Gary talked about our strong relationships with groups such as the Orkney Family History Society and the Talking Newspaper. He showed photos of our wonderful volunteers who work in both the library and archive departments. There were also examples of  our website, the blog and Stewart's hilarious tweets (which were mentioned on Simon Mayo's drive time show!)

Through the magic of twitter, we were able to follow the talk in real time. " In hard times, lead by example!", Gary called, " be creative - innovate - but be prepared for things not going as successfully as you'd like!" It was at this point that Gary fell to his knees, his arms raised to the heavens. His assistants hurried over with his cloak and began to lead him off the stage. He was almost at the wings when he flung it off, ran back to the apron of the stage and grabbed the microphone again "Our users are our allies, our users are our allies!!!" he shouted.

The audience went wild as he gave the librarian's salute ( make an L with your right hand and hold it against your forehead.) and blew kisses to the crowd. He then led everyone in a rousing rendition of  James Brown's  'I Feel Good  - I Got You' (So good, so good, 'cos I got books...)   and everyone got hyperglycemic on Orkney fudge.

I'm sure that Gary will be thrilled to learn that we were staring at a twitter page when we were supposed to be doing work. His presentation was very well received and his breakdancing encore has already become the stuff of legend.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Well Done Patsy

Not only has our bookstart co-ordinator celebrated her birthday recently, she also provided the staff room with some truly excellent home bakes this morning. They had a milk and white chocolate swirly pattern on the top, a chocolatey, biscuity base and whole maltesers throughout. Everyone was ridiculously delighted with them and we all pretended to make conversation whilst trying to work out whether or not it was bad form to have two helpings. She baked cookies too but they haven't been opened yet, so a report on those will follow at a later date.

Bookstart is an initiative which aims to provide access and suitable reading materials to pre-school children and foster a life-long love of reading. Bookstart Rhyme Times are held twice monthly in the MacGillivray room on the first floor of the library. There is a monthly session for babies and another for toddlers. Click here for dates and times.

Master and Servant

Today in 1799, John Bain was indentured as an apprentice to surgeon Alexander Manson in Thurso. An indenture was an agreement between servant and master, with the servant agreeing to work only for their master for a fixed time (in this case four and a half years) and the master promising to 'teach and instruct.' John also had to promise that he would not play cards or dice or indulge in such activities as may interfere with his work.

This type of clause seems to have been common. In 1768, 16 year old Thomas Balfour had to promise his mentor, Aberdonian George Skene, to avoid 'carding, nightwalking and all scandalous and debauched company.' If he did not abide by this rule, then he had to pay Dr Skene £20, which in today's money would be around about £1, 273,80.

Printing apprentices with William Peace & son had to sign a contract which specified a 'cheerful' demeanour and demanded an extra day's work for each day's absence without a surgeon's certificate. I was disturbed to read that a printer's apprenticeship was 7 years long compared to the surgeon's 4 and a half years. Should it take longer to be trusted with a tray of type than the task of cutting up a human body?

This 7 year apprenticeship for printing continued until well into the twentieth century. Indeed, we had to sign our lives away in blood when joining the archive. We had to promise on pain of death to always wear white gloves when handling documents which pre-date 1800 and if our bosses see us in a pub, then we have to give them our entire collection of Five Star Memorabilia before being forced to drink the meths that we keep to clean the sticker gunge off off the tables while they stand over us shouting "Like a drink do you? Well drink this!" It's all there in black and white and is pretty standard as archives contract go.

Indentures references D1/313/4, D1/471 and D2/33/9

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Fame At Last 2

If you have ever read this blog and thought to yourself  "I'm enjoying this, but I feel I would enjoy it more if it were being read out by a left-leaning Swanley-born comedian on a BBC program. It would just flow better.",  then you are in luck. Simply click here: Ideal Scenario to hear the Kirkwall episode of Radio 4's Mark Steel's In Town.

If you listen carefully, then you will hear an excerpt of this post from this very blog being read out to a local audience. More was read out on the night itself, but our amazing comedic zingers caused at least three members of the audience to laugh themselves hernias and one poor woman slipped into a comedy coma. To make up for this, the next three posts will probably not be very amusing at all. With great power comes great responsibility.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

In The Papers This Week

People reading this week's Orcadian in 1926 would have seen this article about the end of the General Strike :

Readers in 1932 would have had the opportunity to snip out this 2cm square pattern and make a nice pair of pants, presumably for a mouse:

1947 saw this heartbreaking advert for Andrew's Liver Salts where the terribly polite product tries in vain to catch a woman's attention:



In 1970, a woman fell in love with a ladle and no one thought it was weird:



Two headlines from a May 1985 edition of the Orcadian:


The woman with the 'worst car in Orkney' was driving around in a Fiat that had no tread on the incredibly loose rear wheels, both indicators broken, faulty headlights, faulty brake lights, a broken registration plate, non-functioning window washers, a hand-brake which would not come on, and a leaky petrol tank. The silencer and exhaust pipes were both broken and held on by wire, the fuel pipe was tied on by string and the mileometer had not worked for the last four months. Her road tax had also run out. The paper said that her car was also  'tatty'.



In May 1997, Magnus Magnusson hosted the last ever edition of Mastermind from St Magnus Cathedral. It was the end of an era. Until it came back in 2003.


Another big story in May 1947 was the destruction by fire of the Albert Kinema. This cinema was subsequently rebuilt on Junction Road as the Phoenix, having risen anew from the ashes. The Phoenix Cinema can now be found at the Pickaquoy Centre which, on the 30th of April, was the venue for Mark Steel's In Town.

This Radio 4 series is written and presented by author and comedian Mark Steel and the premise is a tailor made stand-up performance about a particular British town. This second series has seen visits to Dartford, Wilmslow, Dumfries, Penzance, Gateshead and Kirkwall.

Orkney Library helped out with research for the programme and bits of the Orkney Archive Blog were read out on the night! We do not know if  any Library and Archive mentions have made the edit but it was a great show, entirely about Kirkwall's past and present and shall be broadcast at 6.30pm tonight on Radio 4.

Monday, 10 May 2010

I Just Won't Have It!

The switchover from analogue to digital television takes place on Wednesday 12th of May. To celebrate the momentous day, let's look back at Orkney's first experiences of television and the varied reactions that it elicited.


Orkney was relatively late to get television, with the first pictures being transmitted in October 1955 when the new transmitter at Meldrum, Aberdeenshire was opened. It was not actually intended that these transmissions should reach Orkney but a few adventurous Orcadians bought television sets anyway and tried them out with varying success.



In December 1959, the Netherbutton transmitter station opened in Holm and Orkney were officially television-watchers. An Orkney Herald article from February 1959 pointed out that this service was being heavily subsidised as it was costing 6 times the amount of Licence Revenue collected in Orkney to provide it.





(above) Televisions being unloaded for sale in Orkney


Orcadians were, for the most part, delighted with this new entertainment with one farmer quoted in The Orkney Herald as saying " They wireless... I niver liked jist the voice only... Bit this! You hiv the folk there on the screen an' you can see every blooman thing they deu." The farmer then tells a charming tale about how, before television, the cold nights used to keep visitors away and his wife used to end up talking so much he was forced to feign slumber "tae get some peace."

He then goes on to deny that it stops you from working and that he and his wife have brought pails and a grinding stone into the living room so that they can prepare food for the hens and calves and wash eggs whilst watching the box. "They hiv a kind of geudly bit on some nights, bit wae milk the kye while hid's on, so that wae don't miss the Toppers."


To translate for non-Orcadians: "I say old chaps, they have a terribly religious program on some evenings, but we milk the cows while that's on, so that we don't miss the Toppers."




These Television Toppers, a dance troupe, enraged a local Orkney business man who, when asked his opinion of television, said "I just won't have it!... It is for the most part 14 to 17 inches... of flickering imbecility. The world crammed into a chocolate box."


"To watch it makes me feel cramped. The announcer, confined to his desk, trying to see how many words he can say without looking at his paper fills me with frustration.. So with the actors in the plays... like tadpoles in the jam jar... So, too, with the Toppers, kicking up little four inch legs to show their pants." The rest of the article descends into even more ranting punctuated with lots of capitalised words like SENSE! UNFUNNINESS! OLD, OLD,OLD!



Above, you can see members of staff from the Orkney Library and Archive taking part in the 'Helping Hands' pledge, wherein we promised to help any old people we knew to ready their televisions for the digital switchover.

The sad truth, is that if you asked most of the people in this picture for such advice, it would probably just end with the two of us standing beside your telly and looking confused. We really had no business taking such a pledge, but we wanted to put our hands in the paint. Sorry Grans, better get out the knitting.

Information taken from issues of the Orkney Herald and Howard Hazell's Orcadian Book of the 20th Century.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Reasons Orkney is Amazing #192,000,001

It is hard typing whilst drunk, especially without eyes, and bits of chocolate and sprinkles keep getting on the keys, but onwards and upwards and on with the show....




This photo shows some roadworks at the junction between Broad Street and Castle Street in Kirkwall (where the Clydesdale bank is) which uncovered an ancient doorway.

We have no idea what was done about this discovery, nor when it occurred, only that it was at a time when it was fashionable to walk around wearing nothing but an elasticated waist anorak and unflattering calf length boots.

Photo reference: 930: L2432/1

A Book Full of Recipes For People You Hate.

Pictured above is 'Academic Appetisers', a Kirkwall Grammar School publication which was presumably part of some fund-raising in 1975. Within, various Kirkwall teachers provide recipes ranging from basic Christmas cake and stuffed peppers to Cold Chicken Curry which calls for both peach jam and mayonnaise. Mmm, that classic combination.

Winner of the of Most Disturbing Recipe Award is the 'Savoury Supper Dish', which involves layers of corned beef or tinned salmon, tomatoes, canned spaghetti hoops and onion in a dish, white sauce over the lot, baked in a medium oven for half an hour.

We can only hope that this teacher was just writing down random ingredients for a hilarious laugh.

There is also a recipe for salad cream, a vile substance which should be made illegal. Why would you want to make it? It dries clear....

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The Archive Time-Machine

Let us pretend that it is 1997 again, when the Iraq war had not happened, Tony still had all his hair and Labour politicians were all boogying about to D:REAM like Dads at a wedding. Down South, the papers were all full of the big Labour victory, but the Orcadian front page was all Jim Wallace's as he had been elected for the fourth time running.
Look how happy these counting people are!

It had been hoped that the constituency count would be a little faster in 1997 but foggy weather meant that the ballot boxes from the outer Shetland isles could not be collected by helicopter and had to arrive by boat instead. Eventually the Shetland boxes arrived in Kirkwall with Shetland councillor Jan Riise. When asked how his journey had been Mr Riise answered "so so."



The Iceland ash cloud caused a bit of concern this year and apparently "a really fast boat" is standing by to bring the northern votes this year.


Cheers! Let's rejoice! Friends is still on telly and Neighbours isn't rubbish yet!
The Orkney Library and Archive are of course completely objective and apolitical. We are the David Dimbleby of the North. We shall be equally overjoyed whatever happens tomorrow morning. If Gordon wins, we'll open some bubbly, if it's Nick, then we shall dip our faces in melted chocolate and then proceed to do the same to a bowl of hundreds and thousands. If David moves into number 10 then we shall run screaming through the centre of Kirkwall, clawing our eyes out in a frenzy of unalloyed joy. We shall miss our eyes.
All photos: Orkney Photographic
Information taken from The Orcadian dated 8th May 1997



Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Not Sure If You're Registered For Tommorrow?


The Orkney Library and Archive had an amazing May Day holiday thanks for asking. Our mums made us a pack lunch and we sat at the back of a bus singing 'You cannae push your granny off a bus..' and 'Stop the bus I need a wee wee...drink of tea.'


We went 'round all the tourist sites and then headed back to Kirkwall for our session at Jungle World. Who do you think we met there? Only Craig David!


'Craig!' we cried, 'what are you doing here?'


'It's my birthday Hot Stuff, I love the ball pit!'


'Ah, but do you prefer it to laser quest?'




'Shall you be voting tomorrow Craig?'


'I thought the election was in 7 days.'


No silly, it's tomorrow.'


I can't remember if I've registered to vote, can you fill me in on how I can find out that information?'


'Just check the electoral register, dummy, it's at the archives desk on the first floor.'


'Thanks.'

Sunday, 2 May 2010

We Are Closed

We are closed tommorrow for the May Day holiday. The Orkney Library and Archive have planned a group outing to Jungle World in the Pickaquoy centre. See you in the ball pit!

Saturday, 1 May 2010

May Day


I hope you all remembered to wash your faces in May Day dew this morning, as that is a tradition that is known in Orkney and all over Scotland and one that apparently boosts your looks. None of the staff here bothered because we're all ridiculously good-looking anyway but we saw fit to remind the rest of you.


I hope also that all you single ladies out there remember to set out your fresh buckets of urine, ready to receive a peat from the May Day fire, which you will then fish out in the morning and split open to reveal the colour of your future lover's hair. People actually did this.


May Day, or Beltane is the sun God festival and a celebration of the end of winter and the beginnings of peat cutting and crop planting. 'Bel' or 'Bael' is the old name for the sun god and 'tain' means fire.

May Day was thought to be an indicator of how the crops would fare:


If the wind is in the Sooth


Thir'll be braed for every mooth;


If the wind is in the Aest


There'll be dule for man an' baest;


Sud the wind blas fae the West


The muckle shaeves are ill tae fest;


If the wind comes fae the Nort


Aa' the rigs are tight and short.




It was thought that building great big fires would warm the earth and attract the attention of Bal who would then bless the earth with sun. Up until quite recently, Shetlanders and Orcadians would not cut a single peat until 12th May which was when Beltane was originally celebrated. When the fires were lit, people sensibly leapt through and over the flames.


The image above shows the relationship between Maeshowe, The Ring of Brodgar and The Stones of Stenness. The various alignments between these monuments seemed to tally with the sun festivals; the solstices, the equinoxes, Hallowmas and Beltane.


Most festivals require a feast, or special meal of some kind and there is indeed a Beltane bannock. This bannock was often spread with a mixture of egg, milk and oatmeal which, quite frankly, sounds repulsive.


As regular readers will already know, Orkney Library and Archive fear fire above all other things and we are greatly offended by untasty food. We shall, therefore, be celebrating this ancient festival by eating a twix beside a radiator whilst taking great care not to get crumbs on the documents.


Information taken from:




D31/BBC/7 - Ernest Walker Marwick's Island Calendar


D32/3/22&23 - Magnus Spence notebooks.


The Silver Bough Volumes 1 & 2 by F. Marian McNeill

Illustration taken from County Folklore Volume III, Orkney and Shetland Islands by G. F. Black