The background of the ship’s 89 strong crew is a slice of early 20th Century society in Britain. The men were from varied cultural backgrounds. There is currently no memorial to them, and many of their relatives never found out what happened. Since writing about the subject for The Orkney News, Fiona Grahame has been contacted by some family members, and has been uncovering their often remarkable stories.
A documentary about this tragedy, to focus on the lives of the individual crewmen, is currently in pre-production by The Orkney News team. We are seeking financial backing to take this project forward – if you are in a position to help with this, please get in touch via the contact form on this site or https://theorkneynews.scot.
When Arnold Schwarzenegger became Governer of California in 2003, he was criticised for claiming to care about the environment whilst driving around in a Hummer (of which he owned six). This incrediblymasculine status symbol gets around 10 miles to the gallon, and is the exact opposite of what anyone that actually cares about the environment should be driving.
In 2019, in Orkney, it seems that everyone now drives the equivalent of a Hummvee: 4×4 SUVs and pickup trucks such as the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mitsubishi Lwhatever, etc., are everywhere. These vehicles are so obnoxiously huge, they stuggle to stay on one side of the road. They are also an environmental disaster.
As engine technology has supposedly become more fuel efficient (notwithstanding vehicle manufacturers cooking the figures and illegally colluding to retard development of emissions reduction technology), the public has responded by buying larger, heavier, less efficient vehicles.
The above cartoon was drawn to accompany an article written by Fiona Grahame of The Orkney News foriScot magazine, which states that Orkney has far more cars per head than the Scottish average:
At the last count Orkney had 753 cars per 1,000 people compared to 385 in Edinburgh and a Scottish average of 533. It is not that Orcadians are richer or lazier than the folks of Edinburgh , in fact Orkney has a low wage economy but to get to work you most likely will need your own transport.
The unfortunate necessity of private vehicular transport does not justify the choice to drive the most environmentally destructive vehicle that money can buy.
There is also a chicken-and egg problem in that few people in Orkney can rely on public transport because public transport in Orkney is totally inadequate, but the reason it is so inadequate (and expensive) is in part because almost everyone chooses to drive everywhere!
The benefits of cycling to an individual’s health, the environment, and consequential knock-on financial benefits to the public purse (e.g. the NHS), are enormous. So enormous that Professor John Parkin of Bristol University, author of “Designing for Cycle Traffic“, stated in an interview with Carlton Reid on the Spokesman podcast that he thinks government officials often simply don’t believe the figures!
Thanks to the volume of vehicular traffic and the aggressive, dangerous, and inconsiderate behaviour of people behind the wheel, cycling on the roads of Orkney, like most places, is a scary, life-threatening, experience.
Campaigning for women to have the right to vote took place from the latter half of the 19th Century up to the start of the First World War. Orcadian suffragists were part of that activism.
Researched and scripted by Fiona Grahame, the hand-painted animation by Martin Laird is stylised to make some reference to the world of 20th century art. The artist Stanley Cursiter was associated with the Orcadian Woman’s Suffrage Society, having designed its banner and married Phyllis Hourston, one of its members. The design of characters and locations was derived from period photos.
The narration by Orcadian Kim Foden is upbeat and enthusiastic. The original score by James Watson sets the perfect tempo for the flow of the animation.
Thank you to the staff at the Phoenix Cinema at the Pickaquoy Centre, who made it possible for A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm to premiere on the big screen in Kirkwall. It was shown alongside a week of films celebrating women in cinema, to coincide with International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2019.
Photographs of Hoy taken in March 2019, on a bicycle trip to Rackwick. Although the weather was mild for the time of year, there were heavy and unpredictable downpours, and it was very windy on the clifftops at Rora Head and the Old Man of Hoy.
A Gude Cause Maks A Strong Erm, the animated story of the Orcadian Woman’s Suffrage Society as told by The Orkney News, will be shown before these selected films. It premieres alongside Can You Ever Forgive Me, which stars Melissa McCarthy and Richard E Grant, and was directed by Marielle Heller.
Thank you to the staff at the Pickaquoy Centre who have made it possible to see the animation on the big screen. Thanks also to the Scottish Government Centenary Fund, without whom this project would not have happened.
The quote, “What you don’t have, you don’t miss,” comes from an interview with Edwin Harrold’s former neighbour Ruby Spence, as outlined here.
Edwin Harrold was by all accounts quite a character. He lived a simple life at Bankburn Cottage off Bigswell Road, Stenness, in the West Mainland of Orkney. There he re-routed the Russadale Burn to power a small hydro-electric system to cover his modest electrical needs.
The area around Edwin’s house was landscaped to create a small woodland escape of a kind which is uncommon in Orkney. Visitors were welcome, and the magical-sounding Happy Valley no doubt left a lasting impression on many a young Orcadian.
Happy Valley is now maintained by the Friends of Happy Valley, a charitable organisation.
For more on Edwin Harrold’s life and work, read this months iScot magazine.
The Vore Tullye, or Spring Struggle, is a mythical battle between two primal nature deities described in the folklore of the Northern Isles of Scotland. It takes place every year, in March.
The Sea Mither is a benevolent spirit who calms the wind, stills the seas, and brings forth an abundance of fish. In Shetland, the Mither o’ the Sea was once invoked by fisherman for protection against the Devil (Marwick, 2000, p.19). She is depicted here as a small sea anemone-like humanoid with a serene, calming influence.
Teran is the Sea Mither’s opposite number: the raging embodiment of Winter. Teran is actually a male spirit, but the physical appearance of these beings has apparently not been handed down in folklore.
Teran is a huge sea monster with the cold, dead eyes of a shark, grasping tentacles, and barnacle-encrusted flippers with which to thrash the water and create stormy seas. It has a vicious, leech-like round orifice which is used both to eat, and excrete.
Following the Vore Tullye, Teran is overcome by the Sea Mither, bound, and confined to the bottom of the sea. The occasional unseasonal storm indicates the thrashing of the monster as it tries to escape.
Later in the year comes the Gore Vellye, or Autumn Tumult, when Teran breaks free once more and begins a new reign of terror (Towrie, 2018). The tyrant of Winter wreaks havoc through storms, gales, and dangerous high seas. The days grow short. People become depressed.
The cycle continues.
Marwick, E., 2000. The Folklore of Orkney and Shetland. Edinburgh: Birlann Limited.
This cartoon first appeared in the January 2018 edition of iScot magazine. It accompanies an article by Fiona Grahame of The Orkney News called “Owre the ferry tae the islands.” The subject of the article is the provision of lifeline ferry services in the Northern Isles, which has become a major issue at every election.
Ferry services are unceasingly used by the Lib-Dems as a stick with which to beat the SNP government. The term RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) is practically a catchphrase for them at this point. It has appeared regularly in letters and political columns in the local press, and in mountains of election material pushed through letter-boxes.
In fact, provision of an affordable ferry service with fares in line with the rest of Scotland is not something that is easily delivered. The Liberal Democrats themselves bear some responsibility for this – something they would no doubt rather people forget.
In 2005, Lib-Dem MSP for Shetland, Tavish Scott, was transport minister in the Labour/Lib-Dem coalition government which awarded the contract to Northlink to build new boats. Due to this PFI-style contract, the resulting ferries will end up costing the public £200 million – twice what they are worth. It seems the Royal Bank of Scotland gets to pocket the difference. To cap it off, the ferries are also inefficient and expensive to run.
According to the late Danus Skene, SNP candidate for Orkney & Shetland, a passenger travelling from Aberdeen to Lerwick is effectively subsidised by £300 – far more than the Western Isles. In addition, RET cannot be applied across the board to every ferry route in the Northern Isles. Some fares would go down, but others would go up.
This is still a live and somewhat controversial issue, but in October 2017 Humza Yousaf, Scottish Government minister for Transport and the Islands, announced that a fall in fares is coming in 2018.