A remarkable book by a natural storyteller

Aald Papa, I’m Dine, George P S Peterson. Shetland Times, £19.50.

Where to begin? This is a remarkable book, an anthology really for the young and old and a mixture of fact and fiction.

Here are actual detailed accounts of life in Papa Stour in the 1930s-1950s and takes reflecting a vivid imagination, all rooted in some aspect of island life.

Some of the book is written in English, but most of it is in Shetland dialect and George captures the Wastside turn of phrase so well.

There is prose and poetry and the book is liberally illustrated by the author’s own line drawings and paintings.

Several of the pieces have been published before but this book brings together a whole range of work written over many years.

The book is a testament to George’s love of the island in which he spent his formative years, in what was obviously a close-knit community. Having to leave Papa Stour for university and national service only served to polarise his deep feelings as expressed in his poem My Island Home, By an Emigrant:

Der some at wid rin doon da place whar dey wir wint ta bide,
An some it never mentions hit, fir hit’s beneath their pride.
But nane sall ever say at I sood speak o de wi shame –
I’ll allus come amind o dee, my ain dear island hame!

A very detailed map of Papa is in the front of the book and this helps to pinpoint all the different places mentioned in the stories.

In the preface George acknow­ledges the help and encouragement of his family – his wife and four bairns. George has a natural talent for telling stories and I think this skill would have been honed as he regaled his youngsters with bedtime stories. Three such stories, Da Horn o Papa Noaries, Da Shelkie at Didna Forget and Ten Peerie Dunter Deuks could stand alone as wonderful books for bairns.

We get introduced to some of the Papa folk George knew and loved in a chapter dedicated to “folk’s yarns”, and not surprisingly many of these anecdotes involve the sea and fishing. It also reminds us what dire straits islanders could be in during a continual spell of stormy weather, neither getting to sea to fish nor across the sound for supplies.

Somehow George’s stories bring dignity and meaning to the daily toil of working the land and ploughing the deep, underlying it all a quiet faith in God.

In the poetry section it was good to re-read Da Stirleen – one of his best – and Da Post Boat tells of snail mail with a difference when tribute is paid to the mail carriers who crossed from Sandness in an open boat, in all weathers.

The most surprising section of the book is where George launches into detective mode in Saint Magnus Isle. Murder most foul was committed in the isle in the year 1113 and is solved by none other than the man who was later sanctified, Jarl of Orkney and Shetland Magnus Erlendson. This digression was spellbinding! Being a fan of the Cadfael mysteries I hope George will pursue this line of writing.

The Papa Stour Sword Dance is featured of course, and there are a few fiddle tunes.

In Memories from my Diary, George shares some significant dates between 1946-56 and these include intricate line drawings he made in the margins of his diary, works of art!

Humour is never far away in this book, though some takes bring tears as well as smiles.

His warmth of character, his affinity with the natural world and love of birds and animals shines through.

In order to have this review ready I had to race through the book, now I can’t wait to slowly read it through again and savour each word at my leisure!

Alma Duncan


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