George Brown (1921-96) is a Scottish writer who celebrated Orkneyan life and its ancient rhythms in verse, short stories, and novels.
Brown was the son of a Gaelic-speaking Highlander and an Orkney postman. He studied at Newbattle Abbey College, near Edinburgh, where Orkney poet Edwin Muir encouraged him to develop his craft. Muir published Brown's first collection of poetry, “The Storm”, in 1954. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, Brown returned to Stromness, his beloved fishing village in the Orkney Islands. From that vantage point he captured the struggles and simple pleasure of island life and its mythic origins. His collections of poetry include “Loaves and Fishes” (1959) and “The Year of the Whale” (1965). His well-regarded short stories are collected in such volumes as “A Calendar of Love” (1967) and “A Time to Keep” (1969). His novels include “Magnus” (1973), “Time in a Red Coat” (1984), and “Beside the Ocean of Time” (1994); the last-mentioned was short-listed for the Booker Prize. He also collaborated with the composer Peter Maxwell Davies on a number of musical works. “For the Islands I Sing” (1997), his autobiography, was published posthumously, as was the short-story collection “The Island of the Women and Other Stories” (1998).
I must tell you about this strange thing that has happened here.
Do you remember Hundland who used to come and help in the Hall garden sometimes in summer? He is a small man with a brown silky beard and blue eyes. He is a good worker, and quiet in his speech. One thing about him, when James or I speak to him, he will not remove his hat, or say "sir" and "ma'am".
Hundland works a croft on the far side of the island. He is married and has several children.
Three days ago, Tuesday, Hundland had a boy with him, aged nine or ten, when I saw him working in the tulip-beds. This child was wandering slowly here and there about the garden. I could see his lips moving. He nodded from time to time. His hands made slow shapes. He was a very small boy indeed, and not very pretty, with light sand-coloured hair. My first impression was: he is a bit simple in the head.
I opened the window. I called, "Good morning, Hundland!" The man merely turned his face and nodded. The child fled as if he had been shot, behind the sycamore tree.
"What child is that?" I asked.
Hundland replied, still bent over the blossoms, "He's Tom. He's our youngest boy. The wife's not well today. I thought I would take him off her hands. He's more trouble, in a way, than all the others."
"Tom," I called, "come from behind the tree. I have an orange and a piece of chocolate for you."
There was no answer. There was a white five-pointed star stuck to the hither side of the trunk, Tom's hand.
"He won't come out!" said Hundland. "He's the strangest boy I ever saw. He wouldn't show himself if you were to offer him a piece of gold. I don't know what's to become of the creature when he's grown. He's frightened of boats. He's frightened of horses. He wants to know all about them, all the same. He's frightened of any stranger that comes about. That won't do in a crofter-fisherman. He might grow out of it. He'll have to."
"Surely he ought to be at school," I said.
"He's frightened of the teacher, too, and the big boys; they won't leave him alone. He's as ignorant as the scarecrow when it comes to letters and figures. He's upset this morning, because his mother's in bed. The only time he's happy is when he's by himself. He contents himself with the daft games he makes up ..."
These were the words of my radical gardener to me, the most he's ever spoken. (But never a touch to the cap.)
It was a most beautiful morning, Alicia, all blue and gold and green. I decided not to waste the day (James has been all week in Edinburgh on business). I took my book and parasol and cushion and walked along to the beach, which was quite empty, as the fishermen had taken advantage of the weather to set their creels here and there under the cliffs on the west side.
I sat down on a rock and opened my book of Shenstone's poems. Everything was quite beautiful and tranquil. Nature smiled. It was so peaceful I could hear the horse in the field above champing and moving through the grass. I could sense, almost, the earth's juices flowing.
(How is it words in a book are never so beautiful and interesting outside, in the sun? Of course they are, they must be; but books seem made for opening beside a fire indoors, with the yellow waverings of candle-light on the white pages. My friend, I would rather than any book that you had been there to share that beautiful day with me! There is a selfishness in solitary enjoyment.)
It seemed, however, that I was not destined to be solitary for too long. I heard the faintest rhythmic displacement of dry sand-grains. Who could it be, the despoiler of my solitude? I raised the rim of my summer hat, and looked.
It was a small boy, anonymous against the blue and silver glitterings of ocean.
His mouth, between the sea and the fields, was ringing like a little bell.
Dear Alicia, the boy spoke as if the shells and stones and water were living things, and could understand what he was saying. It was the strangest experience: I hidden in my rock cranny, this boy (whoever he was) wandering here and there about the shore, chanting.
I listened, half-amused and half-wonderstruck. Shenstone lay spreadeagled at my feet, the pages slowly curling in the sun.
Should I declare myself? It seemed a shame to break the natural flow of the boy's phantasy. This most strange monologue went on and on. On an impulse, I plucked a pencil from my bag and wrote, as best I could, on the blank pages of Shenstone's Works, the words of my shore wanderer. It seemed a shame that only the empty unremembering empyrean should be given such a unique recital.
I cannot convey how fresh and exquisite the words were in that setting. My pencil stumbled on and on, and slowly blunted.
Naturally, I missed much. The boy wandered here and there. Often I could only hear — as it were — an indistinct music. And, then, pencil on paper is tardy, and his words, however indistinct, came with the freshness and urgency of a spring.
Such as I gathered, I send you to marvel at. If they appear in broken lines, my excuse is that they seemed like a scattering of primitive unpolished stones.
Here I go.
I'm writing things in the sand.
I'm writing letters
To a bird and a shell.
I should be writing
On a slate in the school.
The sea will cure her.
I'll take sea
Up to the house in this shell.
"Drink this, Mother."
I don't think he'll ever die, the Laird
The lady, she's kind,
She's beautiful and she's sweet
So she'll die.
A pity that, a great pity
For old Mr. Sweyn!
Every day I'll go.
I'll read the books, hard.
I'll go to Edinburgh, the college there.
I'll be a doctor. I will.
I'll say to her in the bed,
"Get well. I'm here. Take this medicine."
I can do anything with you I like,
I've drawn a cottage.
There are people living in it.
They're all singing.
Look at their round mouths.
There's a mother
At a table, with pots and plates.
Are you listening, shell?
Are all whispers and whispers.
Listen. Tell me
Where the hidden treasure is, the box
Full of silver coins.
My father will be able to pay his rent.
I am Mr. Sweyn.
I live up at the Hall. I do.
How do you know I amn't Mr. Sweyn?
I am Mr. Sweyn the Laird.
"Miss Ingsetter, you are sacked from the school."
Then I say,
"Mrs. Hundland is to stop coughing,
I have a room for her
High up, where blue air comes in."
Hears, only a shell and a gull.
They are arguing.
The gull says, "Her face is burning. Then it is grey.
She is very sick."
The shell sings, "The mother,
She is never going to die."
Once she was sick before.
Then she got up.
She lit the fire, she polished all our boots.
I'm tired. I'm in trouble. I'm bad. I'm idle.
Shell and gull,
I should be taking the sweat from my mother's face.
There was silence at last, but for the first ebb noises and the cries of a rock-questing gull. It I had gotten cold in my rock cranny.
The boy had wandered away.
My hand was numb with writing (as best I could) all those "native woodnotes wild".
I looked out. The sands were flushed with the last of the sun.
The boy was a trembling dot against the far reaches of the shore.
I knew — if I had not known already — that it was Tom Hundland.
I had am impulse to cry after him to come back — I would do what I could for his mother and his family.
He heard me. It must have been a thin echo, my cry, at that distance, in the first shadows. He went like a bird up the nearest shore path to the road above.
My hand, dear Alicia, was numb with writing, and with the first chill of evening; and with something more, beyond, the plight of that cottage with the skull on the window-sill.
IDEAS AND QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER DISCUSSION
1. Who tells the story? In what form is it written? What does the author gain by choosing this type of narrator and this form?
2. What event does Mrs. Laird want to share with “dear Alicia” and why?
3. When and where did this event take place? Is the setting established only in the exposition or does it accompany the main event of the story? State the function of the setting. How effective is the writer’s introduction of the surroundings? Find supporting evidence in the text of the story.
4. Introduce the characters: Tom, Hundland, the Laird's wife (age, appearance, social status, manners, occupation, interests, etc). What do Tom and the lady have in common? Comment on the method(s) of character creation and the means of indirect characterization G. Brown employed to make the character-images vivid, convincing and true-to-life. Describe the impression they produce on each other and on the reader.
5. What do you think of the boy's song? Is it a perfect proof of the lady’s first impression about the boy (“he is a bit simple in the head”)? Which part of the story – the boy's song or the woman's letter – is more powerful, in your view? Why? Do the readers learn more about Tom from the words of his father and Mrs. Laird or from his song? What enigmas of his soul does Tom’s song reveal?
6. What plot structure does the story have? Comment on its components. What is the culmination of the story? What form does the ending of the story take? Does the closing part of the story impress you?
7. Identify the conflicts the plot of the story is based on. What is the central conflict, in your opinion?
8. What literary representational forms does G. Brown resort to?
9. Have a careful look at the language that the writer uses. In the section before the boy's song, can you detect a point after which the woman's style becomes more poetic, more figurative and ornate?
10. Explain the meaning of the following phrases from the story:
- a white five-pointed star;
- I heard the faintest rhythmic displacement of dry sand grains;
- Who could it be the despoiler of my solitude?
- I hidden in my rock cranny;
- Shenstone lay spreadeagled at my feet;
- shore wanderer;
- empty unremembering empyrean;
- pencil on paper is tardy;
- cries of a rock-questing gull;
- The sands were flushed with the last of the sun.
11. How different is the language Tom uses to sing his song from the lady’s language? Give examples from the text.
12. What is implied in the title of the story? To what extent does it contribute to the message? What message did the writer manage to convey to you through his story?
13. Some themes are juxtaposed in the story: leisure and toil, wealth and poverty, sickness and health, intellect and nature, insanity and genius. Which couple do you consider to be the most important? Why? How are they revealed in the story?
14. Spot the cases of tone-shifts in the story. Why do they occur?
What is the author’s attitude to the subject-matter?
What is the general mood (the atmosphere) of the story? How is it created? What does it make you feel?
Objectives: to present the vocabulary of natural disasters; to develop learners' reading skills through the methods of interactive reading; to revise some grammatical terms; practise speaking about natural disasters.
I. Main part
Key words Disasters
• Avalanche — a large amount of snow, rocks or soil that falls down a mountain
• Cyclone — a violent tropical wind that moves in circles round a calm area
• Drought — a long period of dry weather so that there isn't enough water
• Earthquake — a sudden, violent shaking of the earth's surface
• Flood — a great overflow of water onto a place that is usually dry
• Hurricane — a storm with a very strong and fast wind
• Landslide — a sudden large fall of rocks or soil down a hillside
• Volcanic eruption — the situation when steam or lava escapes from a volcano
• Windstorm — a very violent wind
1. Read the text using the following interactive reading strategy: put some marks on the margins:
information you know;
information that contradicts your ideas;
information you are interested in.
2. While reading the texts the students use the following interactive reading strategies: