Feeling welcome

As I come to the end of my time on Hoy and the last few blogs of this chapter, I want to spend a little more time talking about the community that have made me so welcome over the past five weeks.

Thinking of one occasion in particular also links in with where we left off last time…considering the impact of an increase in technology on the island.

One of my first evening engagements in my new home took me to the community hall on a windy Thursday. Advised that the choir met there once a week and were always keen for newcomers, I pulled up in the drive, singing voice rusty but ready.

I’d been told by many of the islanders that should I want to be out every evening, I could be. I’d not fully believed this at the time, however having spent three very busy and raucous years in a town of three streets as a student, I was prepared to be open-minded.

On entering the hall, I was greeted by several familiar faces who were keen to seat me with an enthusiasm that I feared didn’t quite match my ability. Recounting my experience of being head chorister at the heady age of ten seemed to go down well… and before I knew it I was ensconced on the front row in prime Soprano position. There’d been a shortage of that particular part I’d been told and I would provide an excellent addition to the team. Feeling glad and rather important I then watched slightly bashful as several more sopranos turned up and were directed to the second row as there were now too many. My feelings of importance, as a result, died a little…

As things got going, I found myself faced with not a choirmaster or mistress in person but the wonderful Lawrence coming in live over Skype all the way from Hull. I had been forewarned about the slightly unusual set up and had been intrigued to see how such a thing could work; a ‘Skype choir’ was certainly something I’d never encountered before. His story was a familiar one; he’d come to the island and loved the place and people. Keen to help out and with a passion for music he had taken on the choir and thus devoted two hours a week to the digital gathering as well as trips in person to the island whenever he could. I have to say, much to my disbelief, it worked really well. Aside from the occasional ‘buffer’, which as an aside can be quite hilarious mid choral piece, the session really flowed and it very much felt as ‘though he was there with us.

Just as I’d seen with healthcare on the island, the experience again struck me as an example of the community adapting to the limitations of their environment through the use of technology. Within such a small population, there would obviously be gaps in abilities and roles and yet with enough interest and enthusiasm they were finding a way around it.

This enthusiasm continued into the break as everyone brought out a bottle to enjoy. Saddened that I hadn’t brought anything, I was immediately offered several glasses of wine. Sticking to one, afraid too much might hinder my reaching a top ‘E’, I embarked on conversation with my kind drink sponsor about community events and we began to touch on some of the more negative aspects of technology. As people joined our discussion, feelings were voiced of concern that events were becoming less popular and that they relied on the ‘same people’ to attend each time. As I’d heard in a few interviews, people commented that community activities were not nearly as big as they once had been and that getting people, especially of a younger generation, to come along was a struggle. On asking why people thought this was, the most common response was ‘ because of TV and the internet’. Why come out on a dark night to the film club when one has Sky movies at home? Having observed already how dark and wet the nights could be, I could almost sympathise with this thought, yet I was struck by how, in this community, that kind of decision could potentially have a real impact, opposed to London where a missed attendance would rarely affect the success of an event.

Hoy has moved from a population of 40,000 people during the last war to just over 400. Acting as a naval base it provided employment as well as a vibrant and active social life; the island housed no less than three cinemas, one being the largest in Europe at the time. Those who have lived here during and since those days have undoubtedly felt the changes and amongst many there is a sense that island life is declining. Today, employment on the island is limited and as a consequence attracting and keeping young families in the community is a challenge. If this is indeed coupled with a change in attitude; more interest in staying at home than joining in, the island’s future may be uncertain.

Yet, for the moment, there are people trying to keep things going and they’re doing a pretty good job. You can indeed be out every night in Hoy, I was and whilst I’d say it didn’t quite match St. Andrews for raucousness, I was certainly kept entertained.

During my time on the island, I learnt to crochet at the craft club (believe me, the teaching required a LOT of patience), sang in the Skype choir, reeled with the Hoy dancers, experienced the fantastic Himmerland, a Danish folk band, at the theatre and joined the Haey Hope club on numerous occasions for their Friday lunch club.

I’ll leave you, ‘though, with one of my favourite memories; a coffee morning put on entirely in my honour. I only hope my stories made up for my dislike of coffee and tea…

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