My Memory is Free, David Strachan, The Shetland Times, £9.99
I’M NOT surprised to learn that David Strachan’s book has been selling really well since its publication. It’s got all the right ingredients to appeal to local readers who’re interested in people and places.
Many folk will share his memories of the Shetland he recalls in his short essays, whether it’s Sound, Lerwick or oot in da country. The stories record events in David’s own life and the experiences of his family and his community. Most are from the 1950s, 60s and 70s with a skoit farther back to earlier years of the twentieth century. From stravaigin round Sound as a boy to an “almost-encounter” with one of the Kray gangsters in London’s East End, from pen-portraits of Lerwick characters like Toilter to an affectionate tribute to a pet dog, David’s writing ranges far and wide.
He writes in a clear, direct style and I wonder if his use of the fountain pen contributes to this. You need to think a bit more about what you’re going to say, and how, before committing pen to paper, as opposed to rattling off words on a keyboard.
David himself believes that a book about Shetland isn’t complete without photographs and the pictures in My Memory is Free tell a story in themselves. There’s one in particular that, to me, sums up these years of change. From David’s front gate at Baila, in a 1963 photo, we gaze out over an open vista of fields to the sea. Now, the fields are replaced by housing and the school – a view that’s being altered again with the construction of a new roundabout. We’re a long way from the brae that was so good for sledging in the winter snow.
The photos are as wide-ranging as the stories, taking us to merchant navy days in sunny climes as well as to mair hameaboot places like the Tansy Knowes and Contention Lane in Sound. One real treat is the number of group pictures included. Shop staff posing together, Up Helly A’ squads, Cubs and Scouts, motor bikers and drama groups are all there as well as snaps of individuals like Johan at the peerie chip shop at the Market Cross. The real bonus is that the photos are all named and dated.
This is a book to dip into – to read a story, to study a photo, to check your own minding of someone or something that’s included. David Strachan has given us a welcome addition to Shetland’s local history book shelves.