A Tribute to George Cecil Drever Muir of Tankerness, Orkney

1948-2010 RIP

To mark how he arranged our wonderful wedding on a remote island.

                                   All I had to worry about was losing weight, arranging flights up and getting the dresses for the two bridesmaids and myself. There had been a threat of a ‘blackening’ where my future sister-in-law was preparing the drunken escapade  which involves carting the bride-to-be around the small town of Kirkwall in revelry. Not my scene and I threatened back that if that plan went ahead I would cancel the whole wedding. Didn’t care; was my day.

            Cecil went into over-drive preparing his first wedding at the ripe age of 49. We were getting married on his mother’s home island of Westray, a 90 minute ferry ride from Kirkwall on mainland Orkney and 900 miles away from London. Easy eh? That meant finding accomodation on an island 6×12 miles square,  which hadn’t embraced tourism proper,  had two 2- star hotels, a couple of B&Bs, six caravans for hire,  and three shops which often ran out of milk and bread even if they were ordered in advance; two mobile phones, no internet, breath-taking scenery, violent weather and five churches for a then population of 490 folk  largely untouched by what went on outside.

                The man wanted to marry me so I let him get on with it all.  His old mother had tons of contacts and the cheek of the devil so I knew all would go well. Besides I was busy working in London. She knew the catering family on Westray, which old wives had spare rooms to put up guests,  how to get hold of the piper* and who should be  invited from the huge family tree where somewhere along the line everyone was related.

              Cecil knew how to arrange the boat to take people onto the island and then off  again around midnight while the wedding was still going on, knew how to book the Westray Band ( the best in Orkney), to provide live entertainment.  He was also arranging the honeymoon in ‘parts foreign’, probably not an easy task as a man who had never been off Orkney. There were rooms to arrange for the bridesmaids, a place for we,  the betrothed, to stay and invitations to get out in person to people on at least two islands.. Then the cars, the making and distilling of the traditional potent home- brew and then not  forgetting to see the minister and the church. I knew none of the Scottish dances but my  fiance whose arthritic legs only moved most days through the power of drugs, said he’d teach  me. He tried. Three hundred people turned up to celebrate a son of Westray marrying his London bride..

    As is tradition in Westray, the wedding was to be on a Friday evening. It was August so the days were still long and  the Parish Church wedding was planned for 6 o’clock. On that day it was too muddy to take photos of the wedding party at the ruin of North Tuan, his mother’s childhood home. The bridesmaids, my daughter and her friend, had travelled from London stopping at Youth Hostels and caravans on crofts. On the wedding day they both  decided to go barefoot in the church.  Little bit of hippiness.

             After the service Cecil and I were taken by an old classic car to the school hall where we waited and waited in a side room . My dear mother-in-law told me I looked like royalty in my white dress, bedecked with satin and broderie anglaise. I wore long white gloves and even a veil. Once the dinner tables were ready and beautiful, the Orcadian piper, a family relative in full regalia, led us in slowly.  Cecil’s best friend who was to be best man had died  suddenly a week before  so my brother took over with the speeches. The main hall  had been  decorated lovingly by the lasses of Pierowall village all ready for the dancing.

         At midnight soup and sandwiches were served to everyone in the hall so absolutely no-one went hungry.Dawn broke about 4a.m.

          Marriage done, everyone happy, slowly the ferry pulled away from Rapness Pier in Westray. Cecil and I listened as the sound of the bagpipes played on the green green shores until they sounded far far away.


* RIP funeral took place on May 20th 2011 Arne Flett Esq.

You had to be there.

Years ago, about 25, I’d thrown sunflower seeds into the garden, By the summer we had a forest of sunflowers all as high as the washing line and beyond. The garden was just thick with heads and stems. During that time the fence was down between my neighbours and myself. Imagine my surprise and delight when one afternoon as I sat by the open French windows I saw my neighbour scrunching the front of her yellow sari, carrying silver pots on a tray wending her way through the sunflower stalks towards me. Here was my dinner!

Last Saturday, stooped low down to the ground, the same Hita’s mum knocked on my front window whilst still holding her sari and a walking stick. I opened the door and she presented me with a plate of rice, vegetables and puri.  Never ending treats.

An hour later Ahmed from across the road knocked to give me a box of Ambala sweets.

Four years ago down the road from Mosside in  Westray a cow was “butched” and my neighbours brought me tripe and blood-soaked liver.  My daughter happened to pass by the local abbatoir and wretched at the hung Mallard duck and fleeced lamb. No-one quite got the “I’m a vegetarian”.

In the kerosene- soaked air in an Igbo village years and years ago the fat wife gave me a slice of her son’s wedding cake. The room was dark apart from the moon shining down into the open door. Someone else was sitting in the corner. I was on my best behaviour. I knew no other behaviour in those days. The stale cake was overrun with black ants. The old woman couldn’t see that and I could only just make out the crawlies. I ate that cake without any remark and when I’d finished I was grateful.

Music programmes on Sky

Nothin’ wrong with telly. Those that slag it off have, what, 5 channels max?

Pancakes made, leaves partially swept, laptop on lap…..

Yesterday I watched the making of “Dylanesque” by Bryan Ferry. The one thing about Bob Dylan is that he could sound out every sound of his poetical lyrics with a spear sharp unique voice.  Bryan mumbles like he’s whispering in his lover’s ear. The band behind Ferry is top class and tight. The camera work was excellent so I was watching the making of a documentary rather than a singer at work.

Sky is rollin’ ’em out…..Ray Davies, Eric Clapton,  Bryan Ferry, and many more….Sarah Vaughan,  Billie , and then some; Georgie Fame’s on Sky’s Vintage tv this week too.

Currently on Sky Arts 1 is the soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art thou?” So much of the magic is in the editing and the sound technicians’ skills. Highly recommended.


Later is “Gotterdammerung”, Wagner’s masterpiece full of acrobats and gorgeousness. Always something to look forward to.

Very excited about tomorrow on Streetlifefm community radio as Doreen Simon will be interviewed. Ordered a cd by Maxine Daniels to play on the show. See what the postperson brings today!

Off to bid ferociously on Ebay to get that 99p CD “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

In Westray, Orkney they still use “thee” and “thou” and the German (?) “du”. Love it.

Watched Channel 4’s “The Family” last night. How uplifting was that? A Nigerian family in London let the cameras in and what a warmth there is in that mentally well-ordered house where everyone knows their place amidst strewn possessions and over-crowded rooms. There’s a free showing at “Rich Mix” in Bethnal Green on Monday showing an episode of “The Family” where you get to meet the director and have a natter. You have to book. Do it by phone or pay a £1 on internet !

At Hackney Museum, there’s a free film too and you get to meet the director! Book and enjoy. Check in my events page for “Up Your Street” listings.