Flashes of memory – and the latest from Orkney

Binscarth Woods, Orkney (image: Graham Brown)
Binscarth Woods, Orkney (image: Graham Brown)

Back in August 2012 I wrote a blog about memories, called “Sorry, I seem to have forgotten”, and I would like to return to the subject with some more recollections.

I wrote about how memories can, sometimes, be just a snippet – it is as if we have a few seconds of film, sometimes grainy, sometimes vivid, with everything before and after missing.

So I remember as a small child going to the Huntingdon Agricultural Show and one of the entertainments in the main ring was Red Indians (as we in England described Native Americans then) riding around on horses. One of them caught me with water from a water pistol. I think the event was quite scary for a small child – I was standing by the ring and men on horses were really big – which is why the flash of that moment has stuck in my mind. Incidentally, today such an event would not be held because the Red Indians must surely have been British folk masquerading – and wearing coloured make-up.

I also remember each summer staying with my grandparents for a holiday and how grandad would go out with a bucket and a spade, after the Co-operative milk float had gone by, to collect the horse droppings for his garden. Yes, I am that old, the Co-op milk float was pulled by a horse in Peterborough in those days.

And when I was a little older, I think, I remember my uncle on one of his visits home from South Africa, arguing with my father in a good-natured way about road directions as we drove through rural England, Northamptonshire or Leicestershire perhaps. It resulted in us going through a village we could have avoided and my father saying to my uncle: “Well, that was a piece of England you would have missed if we hadn’t done that.” The rest of that day is lost to my memory.

Just this morning, No Particular Place To Go by Chuck Berry popped up on Caroline Flashback – an excellent new service from Radio Caroline – and it took me back to the mid-Seventies when I started driving. I remember driving my father’s new Ford Cortina Ghia over what was then the only bridge in Peterborough across the River Nene as that song came on the radio. It’s as clear as yesterday, the song started just as we turned the corner onto the bridge. However, unlike the song, I was driving with my parents and not a glamorous young woman. By the way, a Ford Cortina Ghia was quite the car to own in those days.

But the memory also plays tricks. I am reading a book called Speed Six by Bruce Carter – bought second-hand because I loved it as a youngster. Set in the Fifties, it tells the story of three romantics who take a 25-year-old Bentley back to Le Mans to enter the 24-hour race.

One of the things I remembered about the book was how, at the beginning, a bread delivery van races away from traffic lights and it turns out to be driven by some sort of mechanical genius. Except, when I came to read Speed Six, that section wasn’t there. Further research reveals this passage is in another of Bruce Carter’s books, Four Wheel Drift, which I must also have read as a child. Since then my memory conflated the two books.

Well, what memories have we been making in Orkney in the merry month of May? First, may I say, the weather has been windier, cooler and wetter than it should have been which has slowed down our gardening – and presented real problems for the farmers.

Our new flower order (image: Graham Brown)
Our new flower border (image: Graham Brown)

But we have created a new flower border in front of our house with reclaimed stone. I was even able to follow in my grandad’s footsteps and collect droppings for the border after some horses walked down the track past our house.

We planted ten alder trees between our house and next-door, then had to put tree guards on to keep the rabbits from eating them, then had to add extra stakes in very rocky soil to try to keep the guards upright in the unseasonable winds.

We’ve also had fun with our bird-feeders. We stopped using expensive metal ones because the gulls would steal them. But the plastic ones were chewed through, in a systematic way, as if someone had clipped pieces out with strong scissors. Opinion varies as to whether it was the gulls, or one of our neighbourhood rats, or both. We have, however, seen the rat easily scale the narrow metal pole from which the bird-feeders hang. So now we only put out small amounts of food at a time, and the feeders are firmly tied in place.

We had a lovely early morning walk, six o’clock start – on a beautiful day, for once – in Binscarth Woods as part of Orkney Nature Festival, listening both to birdsong and to the expert explanations of Professor Peter Slater. As it said in the festival programme: “Professor Slater, former Professor of Natural History at St Andrews and current President of the Orkney Field Club, quite literally wrote the book on bird song!”

Orkney Folk Festival, from left: Kathie Touin, Frank Keenan, Hilary Allen, compere David Delday & Steve Miller (image: Graham Brown)
Orkney Folk Festival, from left: Kathie Touin, Frank Keenan, Hilary Allen, compere David Delday & Steve Miller (image: Graham Brown)

Orkney is famous for its festivals and so we go from nature to folk – Kathie Touin (my wife, if you are new to my blog) played at Orkney Folk Festival in Frank Keenan’s band at the Deerness, East Mainland, concert. Kathie was playing keyboards and singing harmonies. Frank plays guitar and sings his self-penned songs, also in the band were Hilary Allen on percussion and Steve Miller on clarinet and whistle. It was the first appearance for that particular line-up and they made an excellent showcase for Frank’s thoughtful songs.

Speaking of thoughtful songs, well, perhaps not, Kathie and I watched the Eurovision Song Contest – always an enjoyable, silly and camp evening. I thought the UK entry, by Electro Velvet, deserved to do better, they certainly gave a good performance. We have friends who are promising a Eurovision party next year so I might have to dress up myself.

We used the name Electo Velvet for our team at the Quoyloo village quiz evening in the Old School and were rather more successful – we won. There were six of us and I cannot take much credit though from somewhere at the back of my mind I came up with three important answers: lollipop, Adolf Hitler and attempted assassination of Queen Victoria. I’ll leave you to imagine what the questions might have been.

Of course, the biggest news on our island this month has been our Orkney & Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, former Scottish Secretary in the Coalition Government. He was re-elected as an MP at the General Election on 7 May with a vastly reduced majority, only for his part in leaking a document damaging to Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Scottish National Party to be made public, leading to calls for him to stand down or to face a by-election.

It would take another blog to go into the details of this, and the various arguments for and against, and I am not going to do so here. Suffice to say, it has been the topic of much conversation and sometimes heated debate, and will be for some time yet.

Bee-eater in Quoyloo, Orkney (fuzzy image by Graham Brown)
Bee-eater in Quoyloo, Orkney (fuzzy image: Graham Brown)

Finally, just yesterday afternoon, we were driving along the track back to our house when Kathie spotted a bee-eater sitting on the fence. What an amazingly coloured, beautiful bird. They are only very occasionally seen in Orkney when they overshoot on their migration, so we were very lucky. We watched the bee-eater for a few minutes, before it flew off into the distance. And, that, metaphorically, is what I am going to do now.

Graham Brown

To find out more

My previous memories blog – https://grahambrownorkney.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/sorry-i-seem-to-have-forgotten/

Radio Caroline, recommended listening – http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/

Orkney Nature Festival – http://orkneynaturefestival.org/

Orkney Folk Festival – http://www.orkneyfolkfestival.com/

Wikipedia on the European bee-eater – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_bee-eater

Published by Graham Brown

I am Graham Brown, author of this blog, an Englishman living in Orkney since St Magnus Day 2010. I’m married to musician, singer and songwriter Kathie Touin. I am a member of Harray & Sandwick Community Council and a Manager (committee member) of Quoyloo Old School (community centre). I volunteer with the RSPB. I was on the committee which restored Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial and created the HMS Hampshire wall. I belong to the Radio Caroline Support Group, Orkney Field Club and Orkney Heritage Society. I spent nearly 24 years at the BBC in London. Remember: One planet, don’t trash it.

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