I grew up in the wilds of Orkney, on the north-western tip of the mainland where the Vikings first pulled their boats ashore. Beside farms called Langskail, Vinbreck and Grindally and between the hills of Storafjold and Belyafjold. Among fields known as Rouansmouch, Swartland and Yarsdeels o` Grew and where the wind skoldered and hushled.
Although I was vaguely aware of Orkney’s Norse heritage, I knew next to nothing about Norway or the Norwegian language when I set off as an exchange student to spend a year at Voss Folk High School. This was before the dawn of the Internet Age when accessing information actually required effort, and it didn’t even cross my mind to visit the library and borrow a travel guide.
So I set off, armed only with my father’s assurance that ‘smörgåsbord’ was a Norwegian word that would stand me in good stead, and my grandfather’s driving sunglasses. He had kindly let me borrow them for a year to prevent me from being blinded on the slopes as I set about becoming an accomplished skier. As it turned out, snow blindness was the least of my worries, I spent more time on my back looking at the sky than at the snow.
Anyway, after a wonderful year of not mastering skiing and learning a modicum of Norwegian, I returned home to Orkney. One day, shortly after, I was in the kitchen when my father was about to start his ablutions as he called them, though they generally involved a very cursory wipe with a face cloth. However, there was a basin of vegetable peelings in the sink, so he called out ‘Go and teum that oot lass’. Tømme ut!
Learning Norwegian had given me a window into my own dialect and the words the Norsemen had brought with them more than 1,000 years ago. I just wish I’d discovered the joy of skiing too.
JENNY MOAR, 26.06.17