My colleague said to me, in a worried, but not very; way, "I think I've got a moose in my kitchen."
"Good god", I exclaimed, "How the hell did that happen?"
"No need for that sort of language", he mildly remonstrated, "It's not attractive in a girl".
Ignoring the misogyny, but dialling down the language, I asked, "how do you think it got in?"
"The house is sealed up pretty tight, but we do leave the back door open for the dog to get in and out."
"And what makes you suspect...."
"I found droppings in the corner".
"Fucking Aunt Nora", I exclaimed, forgetting about it not being attractive in a girl, "Well, where did it come from?", thinking zoo, travelling circus, private menagerie, maybe even a moose farm - well I'd heard that there was a buffalo farm ....
"Probably in frae the fields. Or maybe up from the shore. There's a lot round about here, but I'd hae thought the dog would a kept they mice ootta the hoose."
That's the sound of a penny dropping. The same colleague later remarked on my moose-broon hair. I don't think it was a compliment.
I suspect the reason Orcadian, and, indeed, Scoattisch people are unable to pronounce the "ou" sound in the way that English and American folk do is their lively apprehension of the works of the Devil. To say mouse, or house, in the way that they chaps off the BBC (or me) do, is to open the mouth vertically. Quite wide. You can say moose or hoose by hardly opening up at all - a slim little letterbox to let the word slide out without any of that flagrant, titillatory, open mouthed business, just inviting the Devil to insert his inflamed, scaly, engorged member.
That's probably alright for lady demons, but not for good, solid Presbyterian Orcadians.
When I was first working in Orkney, I used to think that every accent I heard that wasn't English must be Orcadian. I came across a lot of chaps whom I assumed to be pished, bladdered, or had taken a fill, but it turned out they were Glaswegian - which of course doesn't preclude them from being lit up like Saturday night - but sober Weegies also sound drunk as skunks - it's just one a they accents.
For those of you interested in local accents, diversity studies and cultural norms, here's a nice example by a local lad, Craig Rendall. All the pubs he mentions exist, down by the harbour, Eday is an island in the Orkney archipelago and the Coonty show is notorious for its level of inebriates.
It was the Ba' today. Usually played on Christmas Day, but not this year, because Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, and the Sabbath is respected round here, but probably not by they thugs that play the Ba'. They just don't look like church-going boys.
I've told you about the Ba' before.
It is a mediaeval game of street football, in which two teams of men attempt to get the ba' into the opposing team's goal - The Doonies' goal is the sea, normally within the Basin of the Harbour, but so long as it is immersed in the salt water of Kirkwall Bay, the Ba has gone doon. The Uppies must get it to the gable end of a house on Mackinson's corner opposite the Catholic Church, which was the site of the old town gates. It had its origins in the Orkneyinga Saga - in which a severed head is thrown to the crowd. It is a male only, intensely Orcadian, activity. Two Women's Ba' games were played, in 1945 and in 1946, but it never caught on due to a general public dislike for female participation in a very physical and public spectacle, it not being "lady-like". The Boys' Ba' is played in the morning, with boys between the ages of 5 and 15 participating. They fight so dirty that this year, members of the Ba' Committee visited the schools before the Christmas holiday to explain that although there are no rules, when the scrum collapses, those on their feet should refrain from kicking, stamping and walking on the fallen, and let the paramedics through. The Men's Ba' is thrown up from the Merket Cross, outside St Magnus Cathedral, as the cathedral bell strikes 13:00 into the waiting scrum of up to 350 men. Once thrown up, the Ba' disappears into the scrum and much surging play occurs while the two sides weigh each other up and determine who has the weight on their side. The Ishmaeling was once dragged off to see the Christmas Ba by her boyfriend. Her abiding impression was of a lot of men rubbing themselves against each other. The winner of the Ba' is not the person who gets the Ba' to the goal. As the winner has to host the Ba' party, the winner must be someone who owns a big garage - as you wouldn't like to let that lot into your house, stinking and sweating as they are, and occasionally dripping from a harbour immersion. So should your side win, the one to whom the Ba' is awarded is generally determined before the game commences.
mr ishmael, being opposed to ball games on principle, never attended, and the Ba' has not been held since December 2019, because of Covid. My friend was outraged that I had never seen the Ba'. But it's cultural, she exclaimed. Well, that's a whole new definition of cultural, but, once the hail, rain, sleet and gales temporarily abated, Harris and I took a stroll down into the town to have a look at the Men's Ba'. They were jammed tight at the Tourist Centre. I heard them from streets away. As I approached, the smell of sweat and testosterone was palpable. Over the heads of the crowd, I could see arms waving. There were young men swarming over the roofs of adjacent buildings, to drop down into the pack.
For sporty-minded Ishmaelians, here's the Orcadian summary of the Boy's Ba':
Doonie Callum Leslie has won the first ba’ of the season. A quick and exciting game saw the ba’ move quickly with several breaks. Played on a bitterly cold morning with occasional hail showers the pack stayed on Broadstreet for the first ten minutes, neither side able to get an upper-hand. Then a break saw the ba’ taken down St. Magnus Lane before the pack reassembled opposite the library. Then it moved to the top of West Tankerness Lane. A powerful run saw Doonie Owen Spence break out, run up Tankerness Lane, down Broad Street and Albert Street as far as the Brig. By the time most of the crowd had caught up the ba’ was in the water. A short debate saw several names mentioned, with Callum Leslie emerging with the ba’.
The Men's Ba was also won by the Doonies, after about five hours' play. If you would like to see the exciting final moments of pack, crowd, ba' and harbour, check out The Orcadian's Facebook page.