Friday 30 April 2010

I Like the Snickers Ones

Last night the Orkney Library and Archive was the venue for the Election Hustings which were hosted by Radio Orkney.

The event was due to take place in the MacGillivray room on the first floor, but our lift broke and seemed as though it was not going to be ready in time.

This would not do, as it meant that the first floor was inaccessible to any one who had difficulty negotiating stairs. So, it was decided to hold the hustings in the foyer and close the library early. This meant we had to move 60 chairs to the ground floor using just the tiny book lifts and our brute, peasant strength.

BUT THEN THE LIFT GOT FIXED. But by then it was too late to move the location so we had to move all the chairs anyway! And then move them back upstairs again first thing this morning! (I say we, I moved about 6...)

The event seemed to be a great success though which people enjoyed and Radio Orkney gave us sweets, so all is well.

Thursday 29 April 2010

Early Closure

This evening, Radio Orkney will be hosting the Election Hustings in the foyer of the library. This event was due to take place in the MacGillivray Room on the first floor, but our lift is out of order.

Due to this unforseen change of circumstance, the library will be closing early today at 5.00pm. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.

Burny burny burny...

We like to keep things topical for you and so quite often use our good friend Wikipedia to see if there are any interesting Birthdays, Festivals or events that we can celebrate on the days that we post.

At approximately 2.55pm yesterday, if the wind was blowing in the right direction and your windows were open, you may have heard a high pitched screech coming from the general direction of Junction Road.

Today, in 1986, a fire broke out in Los Angeles Library and they lost 20% of their stock. That is 400,000 books! To put this into perspective, Orkney Library has about 80,000 items, the photographic archive holds about 60,000 original photographs and the archives hold about 30,000 documents. The thought of an entire Orkney Library and Archive's worth of material, doubled, going up in flames was too much to bear and the final two hours of the day were spent stroking books and whispering consolingly to glass negatives and maps.

Archivists spend an awful lot of time thinking about worst case scenarios simply because of the priceless nature of most deposits. Part of our Assistant Archivist's job is to maintain an up-to-date 'Disaster Plan' which details our course of action should there, shudder, be a fire, flood or infestation of some kind.

Bearing in mind the possibility that we may have to save an archive from fire, water or vermin, we spend any downtime holding our breath in buckets of water, thrusting our hands into flames and thinking up cutting insults to shout at beasties. You're welcome Orkney.

Disclaimer: After posting this yesterday afternoon, I was accosted by members of staff from both Library and Archive and told that I had gotten the estimates of our stock levels wrong. They were totally hassling me! They were all up in my grill!

Apparently the Library holds nearer 145,000 items, but this includes Stromness and the Mobile Libraries. I suppose it is possible for a fire to consume Kirkwall library, spread across the West Mainland, gobbling up Mobile 1 as it goes, ravaging the whole of Stromness' main street on it's way to set the Stromness library ablaze, before leaping across the water and catching Mobile 2 on Hoy. Not

I took my number of archives from those catalogued on the database, but we do have entire room full of uncatalogued items which I forgot about. What-ever.

Wednesday 28 April 2010

So long, farewell

Verily did we weep, dear readers as yesterday we were forced to remove our Discovery Week Archive World Traill exhibitions from the walls of the Searchroom. Our displays are like our children. So much time is spent researching, collating, photocopying, sticking, snipping, gluing and arranging, it is hard not to grow attached to their dear presence.

As each piece was packed away in it's little acid free box or archival plastic poly pocket, we reminisced and softly laughed as we bid them adieu once more.

Three months is the maximum time that we like to have archival documents out of the carefully controlled atmospheres of the strongrooms and we have plans for a new exhibition. We have big machines on the sides of the strongroom walls which control the temperature and humidity of the room. These settings vary from room to room (there are four stores) with the photographs, for example, needing less humidity in the air than our paper documents.

I am not going to lie, this plays havoc with our hair and complexions. We are thinking of insisting on a wage enhancement to spend on conditioner and moisturiser. The plants need watered every day too, or their soil turns to dust. Seriously, my hairdresser is appalled...

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Stop Shopping, Your Christmas/Birthday/Anniversary Gift is Here.

Do you like Orkney?

Do you like informative articles about old stuff?

Do you like things that rhyme with 'kernel'?

Do you like things that cost £15?

Well then you'll LOVE the New Orkney Antiquarian Journal, available from the Orkney Heritage Society Website and from our humble archives.

Whilst purchasing said journal, you may also be tempted by back copies of said publication at £12 each, Orkney Library bags at £2 each and notebooks made out of scrap paper at 30 pence each.

If we like the look of you, (or if you can do a somersault) you may even receive a free Orkney Library and Archive pen.

Monday 26 April 2010

A Riddle and Biscuits (but not riddled biscuits... ew)

2 things for your perusal this gloomy Monday morning.

#1: A letter which mentions biscuits.

#2: a man on a pig.

Biscuit letter reference D2/9/15 (Miscellaneous Manson family correspondence and vouchers mainly relating to William Manson, wright, Kirkwall and his business and his son Captain William Manson's business and activities in Jamaica and Georgia.)
Man on pig reference D8/E/27 [G3] (Map of Sebay, Tankerness Dundas Estate. William Aberdeen c. 1769.)

Friday 23 April 2010

Avatar Schmavatar

Even if you are the sort of person who only likes to sit alone in their room, looking at one Magic Eye book after another, Orkney Archive will still have something to entice you.

The image above shows a card designed for use in a stereoscope.

The children's toy Viewmaster was a modern version of this.

The two pictures are ever so slightly different, with the left picture showing more landscape to the left and vice-versa. When viewed through a stereoscope, our eyes are tricked into believing that this card is one three dimensional image.

We have a set of Orcadian scenes printed in this way that are very delicate, each wrapped in a piece of archival tissue paper.

"Well thanks a lot!" you cry "but I don't have a stereoscope and I really really like looking at cool 3D images, you're just teasing us!"

Don't worry, faithful readers. Merely print out the image and look at it cross-eyed. You can do this whilst looking at it on the computer screen if you're lazy but it is probably really bad for your eyes.

If you are in a room with other people, don't worry about looking stupid; we've been doing it all morning and we looked awesome.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Driving in Orkney

This accident in Firth involved two cars and a motorcycle. None of the eight passengers were in the least bit hurt.

It seems amazing that road crashes could still occur when hardly anybody owned a vehicle and the roads were so much clearer than today.

Orkney roads are still pretty good. There are no motorways, traffic lights or big roundabouts to negotiate and the speed limit is only 60mph.

You may think,then, that this would be a pretty easy place to pass your driving test. Well then you would be stupid, ugly and wrong. Not that any member of staff attempted to do so recently, because if they did then they would have definitely passed. And they definitely would NOT have stalled four times during their bay parking exercise. Definitely not...

Wednesday 21 April 2010

As The Bash Street Kids Would Say... 'Groo!'

By the way, this is the Hamnavoe on a routine crossing of the Pentland Firth. Imagine what it's going to be like on the open sea...

Lord of The Flies - Orkney Style

Today Orcadians awoke to the news that their passenger ferry, the Hamnavoe, had been commandeered as part of a rescue mission to Norway.

This might be okay if the other service, connecting Aberdeen and Lerwick, had not decided to miss out the Orkney stop! And the planes are not going properly yet! Thank goodness for the Pentalina....but it will be packed!

It's hard not to feel a little panicky and stranded. Who knows, by the end of the day there could be looting and pillaging in the streets of Kirkwall! Orkney will have split into two tribes and we'll all forget how to use cutlery and start wearing face paint and necklaces made out of each others' teeth!!!!!!!!!!!
Okay, maybe not.

In order to put things into a little perspective, I have looked out an Edinburgh Advertiser from 1769. It contains an article about a party of sailors who were trapped on a small uninhabited island, just West of Orkney, when they disembarked and a storm blew their ship back out to sea 'where they continued feven days without fire or lodging, or any fubfistence except fcurvy grafs, fea weed, and brackifh water.'

Eventually, nine of them set out for Stromness on the one small boat they had left to raise the alarm. A sloop was dispatched to rescue the remaining sailors but kept being beaten back by wind and wave. At the time of publication, their fate was unknown.

So things could be worse.
Archive refrerence: D1/660/18 [H1]

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Yeah, cheese!

Fans of Orkney Cheese, rejoice! There is now a project on its history and manufacture which you can read whilst munching on a wedge of said tasty product. (Other cheeses are also available.)

Today, a glittering awards ceremony took place at Kirkwall Grammar School to celebrate the best of this year's Fereday Prize Projects. There were cakes and there were certificates. The archives were represented by the same member of staff who had served as a judge and she wept quietly in a sequined gown as youngsters received their prizes of book tokens. Her late and drunken return in a taxi, tiara askew, will not go unpunished.

There was some controversy as one of the winners attempted to use their time on the stage to protest against the new traffic slowing measures in the Quoybanks area, ("Speed bumps are for Chumps!") but they were quickly clubbed over the head and wrestled off stage in a sack.

Lisa Alexander of Stromness Academy was the overall winner with her project on Orkney cheese.

The Stromness runners up are: Robert Mathershaw, who wrote about the Commercial Hotel and Gareth Johnston, whose project was called Wartime Scapa Flow.

The top three from KGS were: Evie Peace's A History of Orkney Cinema (a personal favourite), Joanne Pirie's An Orkney Wedding Past and Present and Hamish Auskerry's A Crash on Auskerry.

We should be getting copies of all the projects in soon.

Monday 19 April 2010

Do the art, man

Today is the 23rd anniversary of the first appearance of The Simpsons on the Tracey Ullman Show.

To celebrate, we are posting cartoons drawn by Stromness artist, former art teacher and head of Stromness Academy, Ian MacInnes.

Saturday 17 April 2010

The Nominations are in...

We have had this year's influx of Fereday projects and, as ever, they are impressive. I have already used one to help answer a customer query and I expect to dig out that particular project many more times as it contains a lot of original information that came from field-research and interviewing and not just book-learnin'.

I will keep quiet about the subjects for now, as the winners are yet to be announced. I can reveal, however, that the winner shall not be a person who photocopied one of last year's winning projects and just stuck their own name on the cover. Neither will it be someone whose mum or dad did all the research in the archive. We are, of course, dealing with completely hypothetical situations here.

The archives always know children, the archives always know...

Friday 16 April 2010

St Magnus Day

Today is also St Magnus day and we can see the two Orkney Flags flying from the Town Hall and the Bishop's Palace.

Margaret Tait was born on Armistice Day and died on St Magnus Day 1999.

George Mackay Brown died on the 13th of April 1996, but his funeral was held in St Magnus Cathedral, on St Magnus Day, 14 years ago. St Magnus was one of the great inspirations to George Mackay Brown's writing and he saw the Earl's execution on Egilsay as one of the most important episodes in Orkney's rich history.

Margaret Tait - 1918-1999

11 years ago today, Margaret Tait passed away at the age of 80. She left behind one feature film, several shorts films, short stories and three collections of poetry.

We are currently cataloguing her archive of papers, photographs, scripts and correspondence.

It is only in that last few years that Margaret Tait has been properly celebrated.

In 2004, LUX arts agency published a Margaret Tait reader names 'Subjects and Sequence', the name of one of Tait's poetry collections and a DVD of selected films from 1952-1976 followed in 2005.

The author Ali Smith is a fan of her work and included some of her poems in 'The Reader', an anthology of personal favourites published in 2006. Last year , to mark the 10th anniversary of her death, the Tate Modern screened a selection of her films and Ali Smith read some of her poems.

The rainbow is still a miracle

Even when we know what it's made of,

Or think we do.

Whether we really know, as perhaps we do,

Or just think we do,

As is very likely,

It's still magic.

It's just there.

Water particles, refracted light, curvature of space,

might all be a part of it

But it's still what it is.

It is still there.

It is irrefutably a miracle.

Extract from 'Cave Drawing of the Waters of the Earth and Sea', taken from the collection 'Origins and Elements' by Margaret Tait.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Happy Birthday Get Dusty!

This blog is one year old. Yes, the online archive only goes back to September, but posts were being prepared from April 15th onwards. (Let us just gloss over the fact that we did not understand how date posting worked when we began. Can you back date posts? Anyway....)

We will probably have an online birthday too on the 3rd of September like those kids who get half birthdays as well as proper birthdays (what's THAT about?). So there will be another opportunity to shower us with gifts. This would do nicely.

We thought about closing for the day and having a paintball tournament in the searchroom to celebrate and then remembered that this is an archive full of priceless documents and reconsidered. So how to celebrate?

To celebrate in a relevant fashion, here is another ridiculous 1940s ad for cold remedies which actually has a guy smoking, and the one above, which could not be used today simply because it it so completely repulsive. Both are taken from a 1943 Orcadian.

I asked my colleague to think of 'something cool' to put up for the blog birthday and was shown the awesome Kirkwall Charter which is pictured at the top of the page. It is kept in a special box and just look at the amazing seal on it! It dates from the 15th of May 1661 and it is a Charter of Confirmation by King Charles II in favour of the Burgh of Kirkwall.

We told three of our favourite celebrities, Stevie Wonder, Girl in a Striped Top and Terry Wogan that it was our blogging birthday and they very kindly travelled back in time and put together this little video for us. Guys, you shouldn't have!
Charter reference: K1/16/2

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Letters, lovely letters...

One of the most delightful parts of this job is making connections with people all over the world. We communicate with people in Canada, The U.S. and Australia frequently and it is always a thrill to know that your words are being read (or heard) thousands of miles away, across an ocean and on another continent.

I particularly like when people write a little note about where they are from with a pen, on paper or card. (Emails are great, but nothing beats a proper letter.) We did an enquiry for a gentleman in Prague a couple of years ago who sent us beautiful postcards of the view from his window and always ended with a weather update. He was interested in island postmarks and stamps and his letters always wore gorgeous examples of them.

We have been sent bookmarks of landscapes from Australia, exquisite written enquiries from County Durham and today we received this lovely card from Japan.

George Mackay Brown is very popular in Japan and his work is gradually being translated into Japanese. The translator was in touch when working on his poetry collection 'Following A Lark' and writes in the card that they are 'as happy as a lark!' to have finished. We also received word that the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Japan at the moment. Lovely.

Monday 12 April 2010


We hold vast quantities of Church records here in the archives with something for every Parish. Some parishes have several books and others only one or two.

The minute books are the best. They are basically a diary of what was going on day to day in the Church and the community.

What would you guess is the most frequent word that is mentioned in these books? Pews perhaps? Hymn? Charity? Lord?

No. It's fornication.

The church elders took their position as the moral guides of their flock very seriously indeed and if there was even a hint of impropriety amongst the Parish folk, then the fornicators would be marched down to the church to explain themselves, apologize and be chastised in front of the whole congregation for several Sundays in a row. They even had a special stool, like a modern 'naughty chair' for them to sit on and sometimes, there was even an unbecoming sack for them to wear whilst they did so.

This blog is pure, so we shall not regale you with some of the more lurid tales that have caused many a reader to gasp in delicate horror. We did, however, chortle heartily at the chastisement of Isabella Smith of Stromness.

Isabella was basically a meddlesome gossip who was getting on the nerves of all her neighbours and causing trouble amongst the parishioners.

The Stromness church minutes for the 2nd of May 1815 (pictured above) detail her crimes:

She 'had a too common practise of not adhering to the truth in conversing with individuals, telling to one, one thing, and to another, another.' ...'She had a practise of disagreeing with her neighbours.'... 'That she acted as a busybody going from house to house, sowing the seeds of dissension amongst her neighbours.' ...'It would be a tedious labour to have written a full detail of all the circumstances connected to these references (complaints.)'

These notes are followed by a list of Isabella's (ridiculous and seemingly pointless) lies and the final accusation that she had called one Ephy Smith 'a strumpet'. Isabella denied this last, saying that it was only 'in her mind to call her a strumpet.'

The clerk again calls these complaints tedious and finishes his entry saying that the moaning session had had to stop as it had gotten too late to carry on.

Isabella does sound like a nightmare, but to be fair to her, the next week Ephy Smith and her boyfriend were hauled before the session as they had been caught fornicating, again, after having previously been suspended from the congregation for the same crime. So she did have point there.

Photo reference : L/37651
Church Record reference: OCR/FC/30/1

Saturday 10 April 2010

What can I say pets? I just love me fudge...

Never mind who she may or may not be dating or what she's wearing on her ring finger; we at the Orkney Archive bring you the amazing evidence that Cheryl Cole has travelled back in time to Prince Charles' 1970s visit to Orkney's Robertson's Fudge Factory.

Rumours that there is to be a Dr Who episode based on this incredible event were unconfirmed at time of publication. Let's make it happen people!

Friday 9 April 2010

Wild, WILD, go wild in the county!

The death of Malcolm McLaren came as a surprise last night and we thought that we would try to look for evidence of his influence on pop culture in Orkney.

Not one photograph could be found of an Orcadian punk, however, nor evidence of the Sex Pistol's album causing any ripples of alarm.

The 1977 Orcadian was searched in vain for letters from staid citizens, anxious for the moral well-being of the islands' youth. Still nothing.

You just have to read between the lines though. Look at these two Sheriff Court reports from the Orcadian dated 1st December 1977, a mere 5 weeks after the album's release. Not only was a boy caught DRINKING BEER whilst STANDING BESIDE SOME GIRLS, but some 16 year old girls had a bit of an argument in the Cosmo toilets which ended with someone BEING PUSHED and HAIR BEING PULLED. Despicable behaviour that could not even have been imagined before Johnny Rotten sang his nasty anarchic lyrics.

. I particularly like the fact that he 'just found the
beers in a bin'. That's a touch of class right there.

We have also included a photograph of the cream of Orkney's youth at this pivotal time; the Editorial Team for the Kirkwall Grammar School Magazine The Kirkwallian for that year.

Who knows what dark, depraved thoughts are flitting behind those young and seemingly innocent eyes?

Never Mind the Sex Pistols, let us end this post with a video from Bow Wow Wow, who were ace...

Thursday 8 April 2010

My Tea and Bun Hell

The keyword 'election' retrieves 147 records in our database. Posters, special editions of newspapers, manifestos and leaflets have all been carefully saved for posterity.

Orkney has, for the last 60 years, been a Liberal, later Liberal-Democrat seat. This began with the very popular Jo Grimond's 33 years as MP for Orkney and Shetland and continued with 18 years from Jim Wallace and the current MP for the Isles, Alastair Carmichael.

There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the political process nowadays with many people unattracted by any of the three major parties. That is why Orkney Library and Archive plan to start their own amazing political party.

Our aims are simple: to promote interest in local culture and history and encourage the collection and preservation of 'old tat'. We further hope to raise the profile of the pleasures of a simple book. Our slogan will be something like 'Stop doing that crack and heroin, read a book instead.' I cannot believe that no-one has thought of this already.

We are a modern institution and realise the importance of capturing the media attention. Our candidate has already lined up an interview with the Orcadian wherein they plan to talk candidly about that time they got a stapler stuck under their fingernail when removing it from a deposit and 'My tea and bun hell'. A few teary pictures should move even the most stone-hearted of voters.

Getting the candidate's other half to mince about town in an M&S dress whilst distributing home-made snacks may be harder to achieve but should ultimately be worth it.

Our campaign song will probably be 'No Stoppin' Us' by Ollie and Jerry, which is also the theme tune to Breakin' (Electric Boogaloo), surely the greatest film that has ever been made about Breakdancing.

The first campaign meeting shall take place next week. Come down and bust some moves with us and eat some radical home-bakes. You can also bring the £1,500 you owe us for the last three posts. You thieves.

If you need to check if you are registered to vote, then the Archive hold a copy of the electoral register which you are welcome to consult.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Ging gang goolie goolie goolie goolie goolie goolie goolie woggle

Uniforms, rituals, nonsense words sung in the round, initiation ceremonies, tasks, woggles, toggles, pixies, kelpies, vows and bobble hats. Is this post about a terrifying new cult hoping to entice Orcadians? No, it's about an old one, Girl Guiding, which is celebrating an 100 years history in the UK.

Surely there are many women who wonder how on earth they would have coped with life without their lessons in semaphore, flower pressing and knot recognition. Camping certainly taught many valuable life-lessons such as balancing all your possessions on top of two logs in a tent, saturating all meals with heart-healthy lard and sticking chocolate digestives together using only melted marshmallows.

Orkney Museum is marking this anniversary with an exhibition running from the 3rd until the 24th of April.

Girl Guides gathering sphagnum moss in Orkney, 1917. Sphagnum moss, or bog moss, is famed for its ability to evenly absorb enormous amounts of moisture. Consequently, it was in great demand during the First World War for use as dressings for wounds. (Ewwwwwwww)

This Holm Brownie troup appear to have made some useful shell-encrusted wells.

A Kirkwall troup of Brownies and Guides photographed by Tom Kent in 1922.
Nice hats, ladies.

A grooovy American Girl Guide catalogue from the seventies which looks like an ace 1970s album cover but contains the travesties of fashion that are pictured below.

Photos from the Orkney Photographic Archive.

Catalogue of polyester woe from the D95 collection (uncatalogued.)

Saturday 3 April 2010

Sock it to me

Apologies for the lack of posts recently. Holidays were taken and acres of computer files were lost leaving all non-holidaying staff members weeping over their keyboards.

Today, as I am sure everyone is aware, is Holy Saturday which is the end of Lent. Here at the archive we gave up rusks, velour, vacuuming and Daniel O'Donnell concerts which was difficult, yet rewarding.

We seem to have no Easter themed photographs in the archives nor much information on traditions. I have found some recollections of Shetland traditions which include calling Easter Pazeday, collecting eggs in a sock and them eating them all, boiled, for Easter breakfast.

In the same book is a description of Old Wedding Customs. Apparently, the bride did not used to throw a bouquet over her shoulder but instead, made her bridesmaid strip off her smelly old stocking which she then hurled over her shoulder at the waiting (and presumably cringing) crowd. It is perhaps this particular part of the ceremony that these two gloomy bridesmaids contemplate.

Fans of horrifically designed and ill-conceived book covers may want to check our twitter page.
It is hard to believe that anyone ever thought this to be a good idea.