Thursday, September 28, 2006

A funeral and a voyage or two

Bob Holyoak's funeral in Ollaberry yesterday was incredibly moving. It's still very hard to believe that we'll no longer see him in that old blue anorak, coming round the house at tax-return-time, parked up in that wee Saxo with binoculars to his eyes, noting another bird sighting.
The old kirk at Ollaberry was more than packed, with many standing, and the burial, in the tiny adjoining kirkyard, was conducted to the sound of the sea. I won't forget Bob's younger brother Marcel saying at the service that he would remember Bob every time he heard a Robin sing, rembering that it was Bob who taught him to identify the bird from its song.
Managed to get to The Radiocroft afterwards and stumble through the show, and then a mad dash to Lerwick with Martha to catch the ferry south. Shattered, so dinner, half a pint of White Wife (couldn't finish it. I hate to say this but I've tried to like all the Valhalla beers, and none lie to my taste)then bed until the usual horrendous clanking as we dock temporarily in Kirkwall. Why are the NorthLink boats so noisy? Drift off as the boat rocks slightly through a south-westerly, and then it's up at 6.00 am as we enter Aberdeen Harbour.
Ah, Aberdeen! And the glories of Marks and Spencer: the ability to exchange items easily without having a receipt. Delighted to see that I am no longer a 38 waist, and never was a 31 inside leg (own stupid mistake). Now it's sylph-like 36/33, and long may it stay that way.
Good coffee in M&S too, and Fair Trade to boot. Whisper it though: the great coffee secret is McDonalds. Cheap and very acceptable these days. Hate to say this, but the last time I was in Aberdeen I had breakfast in McDonalds two days running. It's something about the hash browns...
Martha gets jeans, a piano book and a DVD of Howl's Moving Castle. I get a copy of John Le Carre's new book, The Mission Song, for £8.99 in hardback, which is incredibly cheap. Half price in fact. And brilliant as I am just finishing Single and Single for the third time. Comfort reading. Ye cannae whack it.
Off to Troon tonight, there to stay at my sister Shiona's flat, then it's Glasgow for the show tomorrow before, hopefully, catching the P&O Express boat to Ireland from Troon, so Martha and I can go to Sandy and Elaine's wedding on Saturday. Ah, P&O Ferries! I remember them!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back in Shetland, momentarily

Phew, that 6.30 am flight from Aberdeen is certainly not for wimps....but given the Shetland residents' Air Discount Card, it's amazingly cheap. Well, it would be if it wasn't for Gordon Brown's iniquitous tax on anyone travelling by air within Scotland: £16 for the one-way ticket, which is great; an additional £24 to Gordon.
Insane security measures (one person in three to have their shoes checked: what if a bunch of terrorists are travelling together?) meant that the flight left late, and some very discombobulated passengers had to be plucked from the shoe queue and rushed to the aeroplane.
Time to draw breath, then off on the boat on Wednesday with Martha, heading to Northern Ireland for Sandy and Elaine's wedding. It's a four-ferry trip!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bruce proving it all night (or at least for eight minutes or so)

Bruce proves he's still got the magic

Lindsay Hutton (not the world's biggest Brooooooce fan) first sent me an MP3 of this (originally recorded in 1979 by the electronic duo Suicide) being performed live, and then forwarded this (camera phone) video of the song. Amazing. It makes you realise that despite the horrid autocue folk of The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen in obsessive-compulsive mode still has the capacity to completely least on encores...I've been trying to upload the original Suicide version from YouTube, but so far without success.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Flying without shoes

Terrible news yesterday that our friend, neighbour and accountant Bob Holyoak had died suddenly. He was a crucial part of not only our lives, but of the Northmavine community, and everyone is very shocked.
Up at 5.00 am to catch the early Saab aeroplane for Aberdeen, wondering if I should cancel the planned trip to points south. It becomes increasingly hard to leave Shetland, especially as the winter darkness begins to creep in. I'll leave it up to Susan to tell me about funeral arrangements as soon as she knows and then head back early if necessary.
Not used to the security arrangements for flying. You now need to take your shoes off and put them through the security X-ray machine, which is all very well first thing in the morning when (most) people will have clean socks and feet. The last flight home from Aberdeen at night might be a different, rather more odiferous story. Unbelievably horrible clammy croissant with 'ham' and 'cheese' courtesy of Loganair, but I'd forgotten the camaraderie of the dawn flight (or flights: now three aeroplanes leave Sumburgh within a single early morning hour): You gossip with people you see at no other time, all of us half asleep.
Anyway. Safely to Aberdeen, and Comcab for once have a taxi there to meet me. How do Aberdeen taxi drivers afford these luxury Merc limos? I know they last for decades, but still. All of them seem to have sets of expensive golf clubs in the back too, and the drivers are forever heading off to Portugal for inter-taxi-firm tournaments. Small price to pay for a few gallons of vomit a month in the back seat, I say.
In Aberdeen Beebland now, the Barratt Broadcasting House, and must go in search of proper coffee. It could take a while.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A St Bernard, one day old...

Mother and eight puppies still doing well...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wir Tommy, The Man of La Mancha, whisky and Red Brian The Viking Socialist

SINGING and politics may seem natural bedfellows, from the Horst Wessel to the Red Flag, from Billy Bragg’s A New England to Andy Stewart’s well known nationalist anthem Donald, Where’s Yer Troosers. But never has the formation of a new party been so…well, perhaps tuneful is the wrong word – as that of Solidarity (West Central Scotland Sunbed Faction).
The look on Tommy Sheridan’s face as his mother Alice belted out The Impossible Dream was one of a man dealing with the onset of ferocious pain, a man battling an overwhelming sense of panic as the launch of his new political package was overwhelmed by maternal acapella. Alice’s gloriously variable Glaswegian vibrato inevitably recalled another classic Scottish rendition of the same song (which comes originally from the musical Man of La Mancha. Actually, I know a swinger’s club in Wick called La Mancha’s, but that’s another story). I mean of course the late great Alex Harvey, who invested the line ‘to love, pure and chaste from afar’ with a certain lascivious verve. He also covered that infamous political tune Tomorrow Belongs To Me, which Alice’s vocal technique would undoubtedly suit. Then again, perhaps not.
Meanwhile, far far away, on another couple of archipelagos, Tommy’s cultural wing, novelist and former teacher John Aberdein, looks like bringing Scottish Socialist Orkney under the Bronzed One’s wing. Somewhat nearer Norway, Shetland’s leftists seem less Tommyist. A letter to the local paper from Shetland’s full time archivist, the formidably acerbic historian Brian Smith, fairly smoked with apocalyptic rage at Sheridan’s treatment of his former comrades. Raiding parties of left-leaning Vikings, led by Brian the Red, could soon be making their way to Orkney ready for a bit of burning. Meanwhile, Brian is lecturing in Shetland about rough justice in medieval times, mostly hangings on handy hills. This not thought to be in any way metaphorical.
Other goings on in Orkney include the highly controversial change in shape of the Highland Park whisky bottle. I was first informed of this by my old friend and colleague Iain MacDonald, not just a kirk minister on Westray but a Labour activist and candidate for the Scottish Parliament. Once Runrig’s press and publicity officer, Ian is quite right to be distrustful of Highland Park’s new approach to glass blowing. The old one had a reassuring dumpiness which I for one felt contributed to the wholesome body of the cratur itself. You felt you were getting a handful of something substantial when you grabbed a bottle, unlike, say, that sissy triangular bottle Glenfiddich ( a girlie whisky if ever there was one) comes in. Guess it’ll have to be straight from the barrel from now on.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Only eight left...

One male puppy didn't make it, I'm afraid. Apparently 24 hours is a danger period for St B pups. Och well. Lucy has been to the vet along with all the other wee ones and everything appears fine. Can't wait to see them! I think a trip to Yell will be in the offing at the weekend.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Back on air, nine puppies delivered, and that's it for eBay...the guilt! The guilt!

Aberdeen, and onto the airwaves for the first time in four weeks. The first hour of the first programme feels a bit odd, but after that it's plain sailing, encouraged by the hundreds of emails, texts, letters and the occasional bottle of whisky welcoming me back.
Back home, Lucy has delivered nine puppies, mother and offspring all doing well in Yell (thanks to the fantastic care of Chris and Penny from Vikingstar St Bernards). Magnus is somewhere in Finland, and I have another car, whereby hangs a rather sorry tale which has chastened me severely as far as eBay is concerned.
What happened was this: In June I bought a white van from a chap in Glasgow, a Mercedes Vito. It's been handy over the summer, shipping Mag's stuff home from uni, running about the islands with dogs, lawnmowers, large quantities of stone etc. Last week I sold it (on eBay) to Kwame from Romford in Essex, and we agreed to meet in Glasgow for the handover of cash and keys. That meant I could ship Mag's belongings south for the new university term. then Kwame could drive home to Essex.
Just north of Dundee, a horrendous vibration erupted from the front wheel. RAC man Glyn managed to diagnose and repair the problem - the bolts holding in place the (new) driveshaft had worked loose. He tightened them up and we were on our way.
I had already telephoned Kwame and told him I didn't think the van would reach Essex, and he should cancel his Ryanair trip north. Too late. Kwame was in Glasgow and keen to take the van anyway.
We got there, unloaded Magnus's stuff (and Christopher's, and Stephen's and Tom's, indeed the entire student population of Shetland)and there was Kwame, with wife. I knocked £100 off the price and he, apparently happy, went on his way, despite my warnings that the driveshaft bolts could still come loose again.
Magnus's flatmates arrived, we helped carry their stuff to the (inevitably) top floor flat he's staying in, and then I headed for Queen Street for more eBay adventures. A Ford Maverick Chasseur awaited me in Brechin.
And this old, £1500 four wheel drive looked (and still looks) as if it may just be OK. I drove it to Aberdeen without incident, and it may just get us through the winter. No word from Kwame.
Until today. Still apparently happy, he was safely in Romford, but on Sunday had managed to get only as far as Abington, where the driveshaft had given up the ghost, along with the wheel bearing. He and his wife stayed the night, and somehow managed to get the Merc fixed next day. It had been, he said, very nice to meet me. Guilty? Oh yes.
Still, he did get a bargain, what with the £100 off and the fact that the van was very cheap even without that. But all of this has taught me a lesson. In the past two years I have bought and sold, ulp, 10 cars, vans and motorcycles on eBay. It has been an adventure (that winter trip from Tonbridge to Shetland in a heaterless, almost roofless Citroen 2CV) and a disaster (the Orcadian camper van that wouldn't do more than 15 mph. It has been fun (it's the ease of browsing that makes eBay irresitible) but it has been very, very expensive. And it has to stop. Right now. It's taking up too much time and costing far too much.
Because here's the horrible truth: eBay doesn't save you any money. At all. It's a drug, and you pay a premium for all that surfing'n'bidding. Kids, stop now before it's too late! or better still, don't start!