Mackenzie of Stromness: A Hard Man


Extracts from the diary of  Wallie Stott

November 1832

Day after day we stuck. Plenty to do but keeping warm was the most important thing. Not that there was any warm to keep. We were always cold.  ” Stop yir moanin ” growled Mackenzie, the man from Stromness.  But it was true. We stomped around the deck to stop our feet from freezing, with hands hugged tight under our armpits to keep the circulation going, looking across a sea of ice all round that in the absence of sun looked dull and off-white like the bed sheets in the Stradavanger bunkhouse where we’d stayed  for long enough, waiting till the ship was ready for us.

April 1833

Day after day. Ice everywhere. Breathing in air that the moment you took it in hurt you,  searing your lungs, breathing out little steamy clouds that were instantly sucked into nothingness  by the  cold.  “Weel dinnae listen, ” Mackenzie said when we complained that his coughing was keeping us awake.

July 1833

Day after day.

The last of the dogs has  gone but thanks to the Almighty’s benevolence, Mackenzie came back to the ship hauling  a ringed seal behind him. ” Yir average polar bear kin scoff a hunner puns o seal fat at ae sittin, ”  he informed us.  His seal kept us going all  month.

January 1835

When we got back to Stromness they put me and the other four into Mrs. Humphrey’s house.  “Noo dinnae gang an dee afore A dae, ” Mackenzie whispered to us  though it was hard to make out what he was saying and just saying it brought on another of his coughing fits

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