A place worse than Manchester

An Englishman writes a book about moving to Scotland’s Orkney Islands—and the natives are definitely not flattered

An Englishman’s memoir of six years in Scotland’s Orkney Islands has been canned by his publisher after islanders and their MP complained. Max Scratchmann, an English artist and illustrator, decided to move in 1999 from a dingy Manchester flat to what he thought would be a rural idyll. The Orkneys, an archipelago off the northern tip of Scotland, have a total population of about 20,000, scattered over 21 of the 70 islands. Instead of Eden, Scratchman writes in Chucking It All: How Downshifting To A Windswept Scottish Island Did Absolutely Nothing to Improve My Life, all he did was exchange one hell for another. He describes his time there as like “falling through a rent in the fabric of the universe and tumbling headfirst into the 1950s. We were taken aback at our first night-time encounter with Orcadians, who are rather staid and emotionally repressed by day, but veritable Jekyll and Hydes when the midnight sun sinks and rum and whisky washes away their numerous inhibitions.” His conclusion: “The two major pastimes on long winter nights are gossip and adultery.” Angry islanders, including one lady who recognized an unflattering depiction of herself, remonstrated with the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, Alistair Carmichael. He obtained a preview copy after it was featured on the island’s radio station, and successfully lobbied the London publisher Nicholas Brealey, who has cancelled the book’s publication scheduled for this month. Scratchman is nonplussed. The book, he says, was supposed to be a lighthearted warning to “smart-arsed urbanites”, tempted by the idea of escaping the rat race, who thought that starting a slower, rustic life somewhere like Provence, Umbria or the Outer Hebrides would somehow find them inner harmony. Maybe Italy, but not the Orkneys: “There are no trees, for a start.”

The Independent

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