Unsubbed copy for those unable/unwilling to access the print version, which comes with pictures. Though I believe you can subscribe to a full digital edition online at
December Sunday Herald Diary 13th December
At this time of year, the Greater Zetlandics, in which I live and breathe and have my tattie soup, are darker than the heart of a senior Royal Bank of Scotland executive. There are brief blinks of -often beautiful - light. giving rise to what the locals call 'lightsomeness'. Flickers of happiness in the murk of midwinter.
But seasonal affective disorder takes its toll on many, and today I, feeling the need for some ultra violet stimulation, go looking for the SAD lamp I was sure lurked somewhere in our old house's ample innards. Aha! Here's one, I think, rummaging amid abandoned computers, some mummified sheep, whales' jawbones and piles of dead mobile phones. Sure enough, plugging in and switching on the four-tube Phillips apparatus produces a blinding purplish light that, after several minutes, seems to be improving my mood. At least, my vision is suffused with a pulsing, hazy opacity and the surrounding darkness appears to be receding. I am conscious of a strange prickly sensation on my beardless patches, however.
At this point, my wife bursts in and switches the thing off, informing me that this is NOT an SAD-alleviating lamp, but an abandoned acne-curing skin-sizzler once used by one of my departed-for-Scotland sons. I had been at risk of (1) blinding myself and (2)crispy beard syndrome. Not to mention blazing eyebrows. I stagger outside into the howling morning darkness, let the cooling hurricanes waft around my visaqe, and wait for something approximating proper vision to return. Then I check on the sea.
This is not difficult, as our house adjoins the foamy deep. In fact, sometimes, our house is actually in it. Back in the late 1970s, three feet of the North Atlantic invaded the kitchen, and while rock armouring, a sea wall and other measures have since been put in place, it always pays to check the ocean's mood before assuming that the day, and the house, will be entirely free of salt water. The kayaks are always kept accessible.
As for what global warming will do, we can only await developments. The house has been in its present position, perched on a spit of shingle between two beaches, for over 300 years; some of its timber window frames, as the double glazing man discovered, made of old ships' spars. But what's 300 years these days?
Over in Copenhagen, they're having a summit on the climate. Something Must Be Done. Its is, self-proclaimedly, 'the most important conference the world has ever held.' Park that Range Rover! Buy a bicycle. Meanwhile, all our ground floor electrical sockets are four feet off the ground, just in case the arctic ice cap melts suddenly. Better safe than unable to watch the X Factor. Or order a 'Go Mouse' online, one of the hottest Christmas presents this year, allegedly. Worldwide controversy has broken out over one that is meant to sing 'Jingle Bells' at the touch of its furry little foot, but instead appears to be proclaiming 'paedophiles! paedophiles'. It makes an appearance on BBC Radio Four. Something to do with a Chinese accent speeded up, apparently. Now the whole lot risk being dumped into the sea, there to add to the vast quantities of pollution currently strangling the prawns. I expect to see a bedraggled Go Mouse washed into our kitchen in a couple of years...
Tiger Woods' sponsorship deals are now not so much ebbing away as plunging down the Reichhenbach Falls like a misjudged Moriarty jet ski record breaking attempt. To quote the great Howard Jones: Tiger, you can look at the menu, but you don't have order the entire a la carte selection. A traffic accident has morphed into a hasty exit from his own house, pursued by Elin Nordengren Woods, a vengeful viking supermodel chucking mobile phones and whirling an iron. Add to that mounting evidence of drink, drugs plus a trashed vestibule. Then you have Jesper Pernavik suggesting, helpfully, on the Golf Channel that the aggrieved wife's choice of club was ill-advised. Something with a bit more clout might have been better. Suddenly, more and more women are coming out of the woodwork, the cocktail bars, the strip clubs and porn movie shoots to claim that they, too, have (insert golfing double entendre here) with Mr Woods. Let's just say playing away from home.
It's now very difficult to see how Tiger can ever excel at this most psychological of games again, unless he wears incredibly efficient earplugs to prevent him hearing the, ahem, pithy comments of both galleries and partners, just at the crucial moment of addressing the ball. (Hey Tiger! you and your wife going clubbing later? If you're taking the car, better use a driver, etc etc. I'm keeping it clean, obviously.)
David Letterman,whose hands are not exactly clean when it comes to dodgy
behaviour on the romantic front, broadcast a 'Top Ten Ways for Tiger to Improve His Image' list, the best of which was probably 'Release list of women he hasn’t slept with', but it was the 79-year-old Clint Eastwood who quipped, off the cuff,
'I have great respect for him as a golfer, especially now - that I realise he wasn't thinking about golf when he was out there playing.' So that's the secret! Right. I'm off to the driving range to think about sex all the time. Mind you, it's never helped in the past. Fore!
Back in the eye of the storm - Lerwick Town Hall, where all kinds of hellery was expected to break loose at the meeting of Shetland Islands Council. It's probably too complicated to explain for non-islanders, but here's the executive summary: New chief executive Dave Clark gets up the noses of various councillors. The council gets up its own nose, and various of its other orifices, in a series of bizarre decisions costing millions of pounds that leave the local populace wondering what on earth is going on. There are accusations of drinking, shouting, insults, swearing; sex rears its head, then discreetly nips out for a cigar; the police are called, the police go away, The Assistant Chief Executive is told his job has been deleted, he takes three months off work, the Audit Commission are called in, make aghast noises, go away. So does a very unhappy man from ACAS, called into mediate the unbiddable. Shetland MSP Tavish Scott and his Lib Dem colleague Alistair Carmichael wade in on the Assistant Chief Executive's behalf. Councillors proceed to get lawyered up, ready for what is hinted could be punitive claims for compensation from Mr Clark, who's fed up being badmouthed from Muckle Flugga to Fitful Head. Today, it's all meant to come to a head, with six councillors calling for the chief exec's bonce in a bucket, or his ritual dunking in the harbour until he cries for mercy.
Instead, the assistant chief executive, Willie Shannon, gets offered his job back. A new, £100,000-a-year Extra Additional Assistant Chief executive post is created to Mr Clark's specifications, no-one gets decapitated or defenestrated, and phew, it's Christmas. Ho ho ho. It'll be Up Helly Aa soon, a festival which Mr Clark apparently asked to take part in. He was quietly told that so many of the satirical skits being prepared by guizers involved him as a character it might be difficult to tell the reality from the fictional. And then someone thought, but what if we had the REAL chief executive playing himself? Like Boris Johnson in East Enders? Developments are awaited.
The fragrant Roseanna Cunningham, that groovy goddess among grumpynats, is now Minister for Crufts and Tweed, and thus finds herself in Inverness for the launch of predecessor Mike Russell's Tweedy Crufters Bill. Doubtless she will be explaining to the many tweedy (and non tweedy) crofters gathered in Dolphinsludge, Queen of the Highland Fleshpots, that all that stuff she told Gamekeeper's And Poachers Weekly about not wearing tweed was woven by the evil gorehounds of the press into something much less wearable than it actually was. Loving the Lidl look, Roseanna.
Meanwhile, Mr Russell himself, no longer Minister for Crufts, but Education And Everything Else, pops up, confusingly still representing Culture, External Affairs and The Constitution, as writer of the foreword to a truly excellent book by Professor Alastair Dawson, called So Foul and Fair a Day: A History of Scotland's Weather and Climate. A great Christmas present, this book not only spells out, entertainingly, how weather works, but traces Scotland's history in terms of the weather and how it has affected various events. From the Goniel Blast of 1794 to the legendary flying pig of Orkney (1934; it belonged to Peter Johnson of Gaitnip Farm, East Mainland, and travelled 50 yards through the air), it's a bracing but very pleasant breeze of a book. The copy I have is shockingly bound, however. Tug the pages a bit before you buy it.
Much musing about the decision by Annunziata Rees-Mogg, prospective Tory candidate for posh-shire, to change her political name to Nancy. Nancy Mogg? It sounds like a cartoon cat. The shortening or familiarising of nomenclature can be a thorny subject. My wife, Susan is called Sue by many, and always, within five minutes of meeting, by those from south of the border. She hates it. I have been Tom since I went to university, and abaonded the 'Tommy' I had been since birth (named for my grandfather. Until my own sons, the Morton male line had been George/Thomas/George/Thomas unto time immemorial).
Media lawyer and man-aboot-Glesca Austin Lafferty tells me that his name is actually shortened from Augustine. Why not go for Augie, I tell him, in that Noo Yawk style? too late, it seems, but at one point, for meeja pruposes, he was Gus. Like Tom, it's a one-syllable winner, but alas theere are loads fo Gusses and many more Toms, including, oddly, on in Australia, who's a broadcaster, journalist and author. Confusion can reign across library sheklves, and once did for me at a reading in Lossiemouth. it was at this point that I nearly changed my name to 'Thom' but realised everyone would think I had developed a lisp. Meanwhile, what I want to know is: where have all the Sengas gone?
I was very sorry to hear about the tragedy that befell German tiger-tamer Christian Walliser, who was mauled by his three Bengal tigers during a performance in Hamburg. Surely, though calling the evening The Dinner Circus was tempting fate just a tad?
In: Alistair Darling's eyebrows (still blacker than the Ace of Spades)
Out: Alistair Darling's hair (receding like the tide on a Hebridean beach)
Shake it All About: The economy. A big enough shoogle and something's bound to happen.