A Countrywoman’s Diary
The richness and timelessness of Skea’s prose draws the reader into the Orcadian landscape, gently lifting the veil of seeing out of habit rather than looking from their eyes.
Bessie takes the reader through the seasons with joy, with humour and with an eye that is determined in the act of seeing and feeling every moment. Small activities are often observed blankly, but Bessie opens up layers of questions and connections that leave the reader wondering how they ever thought such a thing could ever be overlooked or considered small.
Her life is rural but it is not a romantic idyll, and this makes me warm even more to her work. ‘Sheep like lice on the dingy neck, moved insect-small over their faded pasture.’ This very much reminds me of last winter, when the brief white relief of snow had gone and everything was left twice as faded as before.
Bessie records the changes to country life, from the tractors coming and the horses going it is all here, the stories of inconveniences that were gradually relieved. The past is gone, but any of the adventures are still to be had in their own way, and the land and sky still change with the same unending story of small hopes.
This morning I have stuffed a tea towel into the letterbox hole and still the wind whistles through, the draught excluder makes little difference. Wind, black ice and hail are as unwelcome as they have ever been – but I have never (so far) had to ‘empty an outdoor lavatory with a spade,’ like Bessie. The events surrounding our over-full septic tank were indignity enough.
As I hold the book again, hard-backed with a smiling Bessie on the cover, the dark printed text and the small fanciful drawings in pen and ink all transmit the wholesomeness of the experience of reading her words.
I am reluctant to return it to the library. So, I search on line and successfully secure my own copy, and now can finally hand this one back.
Orkney, November 2018
Books by Gabrielle Barnby:
The Oystercatcher Girl – a beautifully understated story of deception and forgiveness, love and redemption.
The House with the Lilac Shutters and other stories – utterly original story-making of a very high quality.