Watching Scotland disintegrate in the 1978 world cup in front of a colour TV, he wondered: ‘Is there something strange and perverse in the Scottish character that allows the brimming cup to fall and shatter on a stone?’ He became a fan of the snooker, and marvelled at how a new pair of glasses had transformed watching the sport: ‘Figures shimmering with vitality, with intent vibrant faces, were striking balls of amazing solidity and vivid colours’. He also grew to like the daily quiz show Countdown: ‘Letters is my trade, and so I ought to be good at the word-making, but my mind goes numb and after a few seconds I give up … strangely enough, I can do the numbers better.’
He never missed the science programmes on BBC2. After one Horizon programme, Hello, Universe!, broadcast in March 1981, he wrote this:
‘An astonishing thing transpired. Even supposing our message got through to a very distant planet, its journey there would take 40,000 years. The planet’s reply would take a further 40,000 years. At the end of that time we of 1981 would long have been kirkyard dust, and the earth itself perhaps a cinder … Sitting lonely, late at night, in a council house in Orkney – as one shuts off the TV and, beyond the window, the innumerable star-systems wheel – one realises that one is not lonely at all. However isolated, in a croft above the seashore or on a hillside, we are involved with homo sapiens, we live on a teeming ant-hill of a planet, between skulls and seeds.’
Brown’s newspaper column had such a distinctive voice – a mixture of lyricism, naivety, misanthropy and good-heartedness – that when I finally reached the end of them (the last appeared just a few weeks before his death in April 1996) it felt like saying goodbye to a friend.