In Focus on Stromness – 1949, Part 1 we covered how the very first Stromness Shopping Week was viewed at the time and in particular by the Orkney Herald’s Stromness correspondent ‘Islandman’.
A TOWN OF “CHARACTERS”
Well, as for the people. They are proud of their admittedly beautiful town, they are hostile (theoretically) towards Kirkwall, they number more than one outstanding “character” among them. A typical Stromness character is Danny Watt, probably the best known man in the West Mainland today. His knowledge of people and their requirements is profound. He will often tell what you want merely by looking at you, in a most uncanny fashion. His advice is delivered with gusto and is invariably helpful. It is the opinion of Stromness that no bus could enter of leave the town unless Danny Watt were sitting on his upturned box at the corner of the Commercial Bank garden, gesticulating and waving his stick. His humour is penetrating, his black eyes flash wisdom. Old ladies love him, strangers from ‘across the duck pond’ think him a great guy. And everyone acknowledges that he is a walking encyclopaedia about the current events of the municipality.
Such is Danny Watt who is only one remarkable character out of two score…The character of human beings is, unfortunately, a fleeting thing, but the character of scenes and landscapes endures for periods that laugh at history as we know it.
In this type of character, Stromness is admittedly rich and rare, gloriously endowed by Nature. Black Craig, Warbeth, Hoy Sound, Brinkie’s Brae, the grey piers and winding closes – in all of Orkney, and far beyond, you will not find more precious gems. And Stromnessians, though the are woefully apathetic about many valuable things are very proud of the fine surroundings.
HOW THE PEOPLE LIVE
Walk through the crazy streets of the town any day and you will meet people not one of whom is poverty-stricken or abject. Rags and bare feet are conspicuously absent. Without doubt, too, the people are well-fed and of good heart. They express mildly progressive views, slightly to the right of the present Labour Government. Like all other townsfolk everywhere, they express withering scorn of their own elected Town Council. About religion and the eternal verities they are very tepid indeed.
Yet on the countenances of many Stromnessians you may observe, occasionally, a look of concern. Mutely they seem to ask of one another: Is Stromness dying? Will we be another Skerrabrae in a hundred years time? Are the progressive people of Kirkwall slowly choking us out of existence? Will nothing ever turn up to make us rich, independent, flourishing?
So Stromness might have asked in the days before Alexander Graham buckled his sword around him, so that their sons and descendants 200 years later seek to usher in a time of good fortune with seven days of carnival and bonhomie.
THIS IS THE QUESTION
Once more the bells ring out in the west. But the important thing is this – are the herring flowing back in their silent billions, to their deserted grounds? And, if they were, would the good people of the town hold their fingers to their noses, once more, in shocked horror?
ISLANDMAN, July 19th 1949, Orkney Herald.
Between 1945 and 1956 George Mackay Brown used the pen name “Islandman” for his column in The Orkney Herald.