Letters: Doon Memory Lane

Dear Orkney News,

I happened to be in Stromness yesterday. Friend  Jeanne had enthused about the  ‘Doon Memory Lane’ exhibition which is being held in the old Commercial Hotel, so I thought I’d have a look.  It’s not just got interesting things, it’s got lovely things, and lovely, interesting things.

I started at the top, and worked down.  Dear me, you know you’re getting old when museum exhibitions feature things you used to have!  Top floor – the child’s school desk and chair – we had those desks, even through to Secondary school. A sign says “Remember when they taught sewing in school?”  I do, and I didn’t know that they had stopped doing so. Maybe that explains why I find very good items in charity shops, with just a few stitches needed to make them good as new.

Then, Cindy, Paul and Patch dolls. Who remembers those? and who had them?  The poor-mans Barbie. I had them, and made little clothes for them.

And so it goes on, wending my way down through the building – different rooms, different memories. The ‘1970’s dresses’ – Laura Ashley – still looking good – I’d still wear some of them!  If they’d still fit – which I doubt.

And it’s not just personal memories, for me. This exhibition holds so many memories of local folk – weddings – stories associated with weddings. The woman’s wedding dress, with a note which tells of how her sister married two weeks later. The Victorian wedding dress, black, because her father had died recently and she was stilll in mourning.  She was keen to get wed though, as, her mother said, if she didn’t marry the lad, she’d marry him herself!

So many stories. If they’re not busy, talk with the ladies on the desk and they can tell you more of the tales associated with the exhibits.  I feel a bit wrong calling them ‘exhibits’, as they are such personal things, full of memories. The folk who loaned these for the exhibition, must have had a fine time, getting them out of their boxes and cupboards, remembering, telling the tales.

It’s not just about this  exhibition being part of  the Per Mare celebrations, it’s very much about the folk of Stromness and Orkney, their past lives, through from Victorian times, to nearly today.  The ways that things used to be done – a wedding dress was altered a bit, made less fancy, and then would ‘do for best’. Today’s throw-away society could learn a few lessons from this exhibition.

One last thing – as I climbed up the first flight of stairs, I stopped on the landing, and looked out the window.  There’s a stream out there, which has been channeled into a stone…channel.  Of course, when a town expands and more building is needed, there are streams, sometimes even rivers, in the way. Some are left, flowing though the town, some have to be buried under the streets and buildings, and some are led off into channels where they won’t interfere with the life of the town. This, presumably, is one such stream. I had no idea of it’s existence, and this, to me, is another part of this exhibition – another little bit of Stromness history and, fittingly, connected with water.

I’d never been into the Commercial Hotel, I wouldn’t  have had the chance to see this cheerful little stream, and this exhibition gave me that chance. If you walk up the right-hand side of the building, you can see, and hear it, through a gate there.

I nearly forgot – there are few humorous touches – the section labelled ‘Men Only’ – hmmmm  If you recognize that – well – shame on you! And ‘Fur Coats and Knickers’ – the saying is ‘Fur coat, no knickers’.  Remember that?

It’s an exhibition full of interest. If you go along, give yourself plenty of time, or, go back again, as I intend to.

It’s open 10.30 am to 4.30 pm – Monday to Saturday, until July 31st.

Yours, Bernie Bell, Orkney

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