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on 3 February 2014
I'm English and have lived on Orkney with my (Dutch) wife for 12 years now, including Sanday (2002-3), South Ronaldsay (2003-7) and Dounby (2007-). I found this somewhat repetitive and depressing book funny in places, but disappointing on a number of levels. I borrowed it from a friend and would not have bought it.

Firstly, the way Max treats various people who helped and in many cases befriended or even loved him is simply deplorable. Treachery is never an attractive trait.

The author doesn't seem to realise that he actually had a pretty good time economically - good jobs seem to have fortuitously appeared whenever he needed them and his own business flourished. He chose to live in an isolated cottage - albeit one a short walk from a decent sized village with an hourly bus service into both towns.

There are numerous factual inaccuracies in the book. He describes Orkney farmland as "arable" (it's mostly pasture and almost all the crops here are grown for animal feed and bedding), talks about "corn" (only barley is grown here) and explains that the blockships were sunk to protect the Churchill barriers from being torpedoed (they were put in place to stop U-boats prior to the barriers, their permanent replacements, being built. The idea that a German torpedo could significantly damage one of the barriers is laughable).

More worrying are some of his descriptions of infrastructure on the islands which could potentially put people off visiting or moving here. We're told that the Kirkwall to Stromness route is served by a rickety old bus driven by the one full-time bus driver on the islands - there are many very modern buses and he certainly was not the only full-time bus driver by 2003. Were Mr. Scratchmann still living here he would find he could have the West Mainland "Octobus" pick him up from his front door. When it comes to transport difficulties, he describes the terror of crossing the barriers - his car being hit by wave thrown seaweed as it crossed. I had to commute across those barriers twice a day for three years and my car was hit by seaweed precisely once in all that time. I was prevented from getting in to work on time about once or twice a year. One of his first trips out in the post van was blocked by a 10 ft snowdrift which a JCB miraculously managed to clear in a couple of bucketloads (that must have been quite a digger!). In Eight years of commuting from the Hope and Dounby I was never stopped from getting in to work by snow and I have never seen a drift deeper than about three feet deep anywhere in Orkney.

Then we come to the paucity of fresh or interesting food in Orkney and the horror of Cummings and Spence closing down. He may have been unaware that William Shearer soon took up the slack and offers an amazing array of specialist foods in their wonderful emporium. We also have a huge, very well-stocked Tesco store that's open until midnight - unfortunately it doesn't fit Mr. Scratchmann's sole criterion for civilisation - being able to shop for CDs and at 3 am (something he could easily have done on It is implied that weather also cuts us off from fresh food for protracted periods - this simply doesn't happen. In any case, Tesco chartered a Norwegian Lockheed C-130 Hercules to fly supplies into Shetland on a rare occasion that they were cut off.

The book might have been funnier if it wasn't for the all-pervading smugness of the "university educated" Mr. Scratchmann. The numerous artistic and literary references included in his (sometimes witty) observations are doubtless intended for his fellow cognoscenti and, I suspect, give away the intended audience of this book.

That said, Mr. Scratchmann does give a bit of a flavour of island life that rings true and that alone makes me feel it deserves two stars - it's just a shame he had to stitch up so many former friends in doing so.
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on 23 July 2013
At times a vicious account of Orkney characters and at other times affectionate, this is a warts and all account of a couple of creative types moving to the Orkney Isles in search of the dream. But it is very true to life in its descriptions of the motley characters who we all recognise from any small town or village in the UK. It was extremely funny and made a change from the usual idealistic fare
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on 30 January 2014
I bought this book after seeing the cover and thought it would be very interesting. I liked the start and the first part of the stay on Orkney. It then got a bit repetitive. I did read it to the end though and I was disappointed in how it all ends.
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on 12 February 2013
I bought it on the merit that as an "incomer" to Orkney Islands, I would find many common points with the author. On the contrary, and I'm not saying that everything is so great in this "windswept Scottish island", I can't find myself disagreeing more with mr Scratchmann. He exaggerates all the wrong situations; he doesn't try to understand the completly different style of living, his use of language, images, similies etc is absolutely terrible. Sad as it is, I'm unfortunately guilty of putting the money into his pocket because of buying this book, which I sincerely regret!
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on 8 April 2014
An enjoyable read. But don't take it all as Gospel. Some strange viewpoints on life in Orkney. Don't let it put you off visiting these beautiful islands.
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on 15 July 2013
It's a shame that the author chose to recall his time on an island by making fun of the people who tried to help him and his girlfriend. It took an awful lot of hospitality and years for Scratchmann to suddenly reach this conclusion, can't have been that bad.
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on 13 January 2013
The Orkney that the author lived in for 6 or 7 years has little similarity to the Orkney that I lived in for 21 years. His account of his time there is almost totally devoid of insight into what it takes to survive in a small island with a none-too-cosy climate. He has chosen to describe the islanders in a sniggeringly cartoonish mode more suited to rhe pages of Viz: a poor recompense to people who clearly showed him kindness and hospitality.

The 1-star rating is (a) for the occasional faintly amusing episode, and (b)because there seems to be no way to give zero stars.

It is surprising that someone who claims to have grown up in Dundee and to have been to University seems never to have come across the very ordinary Scots "kye" (= "cattle") and represents it as "kai".

He grows disenchanted and thinks of moving on, to Mexico. I suspect that he would find Mexicans a lot less forgiving and peaceable than Orcadians; and that whatever his destination he would find that what he had to live with was himself.

Poison Pixie Publications says it all.
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on 14 January 2013
Most characters not believable and story-line a bit naff. Constant use of the F word totally unnecessary. Failed to encapsulate the beauty and serenity of the Orkneys and misread the people.
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on 10 May 2016
Didn't like his view of Orkney and its people, it's a wonderful island with very nice people, he didn't portray it this way, surprised he wasn't thrown off the island. The book was a bit boring and he was a right moaner, wouldn't wish to be in his company. But I read the whole book hoping for it to improve but it just got worse the more I read
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on 19 March 2015
this was a good read, a good story and easy to relate to. I really enjoyed everything about this story, the characters, the description of island living and the way everything seemed to go at it's own pace,
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