Thursday 15 December 2022

Bad Moon Rising

 mr verge said: Those memory ledgers tend to have haunted hinges, mr mongoose, forever springing open of their own accord.


Forgive me if I've told you this before but a couple decades back, this time of year,  I found myself at a select sherry gathering at the Courthouse in Kirkwall. It was a clear, cold, December night. Stars crackling in their reflections on the wet streets. Black tree skeletons. The ruins of the Earl's Palace stark against a city sky line utterly unlike Birmingham.

I was in a little huddle of persona hardly grata in the corner. The host tended to skip past us in pinstripes, shiny shoes and sherry bottle on his way to more significant personas. Left in our huddle, we entertained ourselves with details of matters confidential which the press would have killed for. The story they already had was sensation enough. Back in the day, before electricity, T.V. and home telephones, (but not long before) in the middle of the flat Harray/Dounby plain, a young woman lived with her mum. She entertained gentlemen callers. Her mum helped her with the ensuing births. No doctor or midwife was called to the births. The pregnancies were concealed, for shame. The babes did not survive their landings on the shores of time - strangled or drowned by their grandmother and buried under the kitchen flagstones; there they lay, unacknowledged, unnamed, unknown apart from local gossip, until the cottage was bought by improvers who remodelled the kitchen. When the flagstones came up, little baby bones were uncovered. The press were told that there were three babies under the floor. 
Utterly failing to catch the eye of the sherry-wielding host, I asked the Inspector if there was anything further on the Harray Babies. Ah, said Big Paul, leaning in confidentially, arm reposing comfortably on my shoulders, we've sent the sub soil off for analysis. 


Well, it's difficult. Baby bones are soft, the builders disturbed the site before they realised what they were looking at, it's all churned up ...


It's looking like at least five babies, possibly more......

My colleague had told me that Orkney is a thin place, where the boundaries between the worlds are not fixed, and realities bleed through. That Orkney calls certain people to live here ...

Aye, right. 

After the Christmas sherry party, I drove home across the West Mainland, crossing the Harray/Dounby plain, on a crisp, cold, clear December night, with  a yellow moon heavy and low in the sky, my car's moon shadow preceding me, absofuckinglutely terrified.

Inspector Paul Eddington of the Kirkwall force says: "We are not carrying out a murder enquiry. We are currently involved in information gathering to pull all the pieces of this puzzle together. These bones cannot be proved to have come from any particular member of a family, as they are too small and fragmented, and to suggest ownership would be insensitive."



Mike said...

Sad story about the babies. I dare say it was not an uncommon occurrence in those days when there were too many mouths to feed.

Down Here I've read stories of aboriginals killing babies by pouring sand in their mouths because the mob did not have enough food to go around. It sounds cruel, but its entirely logical if the objective is to maintain the fertile members, and hence the long term survival of he group, until a time when the land produces more food.

mrs ishmael said...

I was out to dinner with a cabaret yesterday evening, and the singer covered Bad Moon Rising -so that brought to mind that haunted night 20 years ago, driving home alone across that haunted plain, chased by long moon shadows, and the dreadful memories of the Harray Babies. Even after all that time, my dining companions still lowered their voices as they discussed the tragedy, eyes flicking around the restaurant to see if any relatives of the family, or friends of relatives, were present. You see, one baby of the unfortunate mother survived because it was a breach birth and the grandmother had to go for assistance - so the neighbour who helped knew it was a live birth - therefore the baby was allowed to live. When the whole grisly graveyard under the kitchen flagstones came to light, now a grown man, he sold his story to the media and had a TV appearance. 15 minutes of fame.
The babies weren't killed because of poverty, mr mike, unlike your aboriginals. No, this was to conceal the shame of illegitimacy. The mother was taken advantage of by local men, and the resulting pregnancies concealed. That whole isolated rural community knew about it, but everyone pretended it wasn't happening, to save face.
Concealed pregnancies and the disposal of the baby still occur. A few years back, a young woman gave birth alone, in secret, and, as soon as she could walk, took the baby into the local A&E department and left it there, deft to the protests of the nurses.