Thursday, November 26, 2015

The West of Scotland Way

Spread the butter to the edge of the toast
That’s the way I like it most
Let it soak right in
Then lots of butter again
It makes my heart sing
It’s a West of Scotland thing

The bread? White, sliced, either plain or pan
That’s the only kind I can stand
Never wholemeal or brown
I can’t keep those down
You have to obey
What your West of Scotland body says

A grey meat pie, I always fancy that
Hot, with a crust so you can drink the fat
Chips should be soft, not hard
And always cooked in lard
That brings the sweetest joy
To every West of Scotland girl and boy

Irn Bru for breakfast, full sugar of course
And a Greggs jam doughnut, I could eat a horse
And maybe I did
That time in Madrid
It was hard to prove
Those weren’t West of Scotland hooves

And when I went to Venice
I almost died
Till I taught them that pizza
Had to be deep fried
Like Mario’s in Dumfries
Using West of Scotland grease

Benson and Hedges, tear the filters off
I need something to deal with my cough
Maybe some tonic wine
That works every time
You can keep your Beaujolais
I drink the West of Scotland way

I never walk if I can get the bus
I’m never ill, I never make a fuss
I’ve lived a good long time
I’m nearly 49
I’ve had a few good days

That’s the West of Scotland way.

BEATCROFTING, Tom's limited edition book of verse and daft prose (not incuding the above!) is available from The Beatcroft Shop.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Latest Radio Vera Ireland Beatcroft Social on Mixcloud, the playlist on Spotify and The Beatcroft Shop

Back in the Greater Zetlandics after our trip sooth which took in Aberdeen, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London for Doc Suzy's elevation to Fellowship of the Royal College of General Practitioners (she joins such luminaries as Jamie Oliver). We missed the worst of the weather on the ferry crossings, but, as ever, thanks to Phenergan and a glass of wine, unconsciousness was our friend anyway...

Here's last Saturday's Beatcroft Social, as broadcast on Radio Vera Ireland and repeated Wednesday night at 10.00pm. Brand new one this weekend. The Spotify playlist can be accessed here.

Oh, and by the way, the wall panel/collage used to illustrated the show is spoken for but one or two others are available to buy at The Beatcroft Shop here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cheers, Abigail. Storm surfing in the Shetland Isles


Well, it's still pretty breezy, but the Rayburn is on, I have a decent single malt within grasp, and some sturdy hurricane soup bubbling nicely. Steak pie and the last of the garden tatties, possibly a wee glass of Claret later. There is, after all, no more Scottish drink (discuss).

Flights have been getting in, the boat is probably going to sail north later, bringing with it the desperately needed supplies of sun dried tomatoes and organic orange-oil flavoured chocolate. I have cleared the dogshit from the doctor's hoose garden, and it's warm there too. So Dr Luke and his family should be OK when(if) they arrive tomorrow.

I think I will close this blog entry here. Abigail was over-hyped and fed into a media too keen to exaggerate scary natural phenomena its practitioners don't really care to understand. I'm growing increasingly fed up with the poor grasp of simple things like geography, spelling and wind speed possessed by my former journalistic colleagues in print and broadcasting.

Anyway, have a good night. And cheers.


Here's the Shetland Times story as of a wee while ago: Power cuts overnight, mostly caused by lightning. Gusts up to 68 mph on Unst (kinda average day, then!) First flight just landed (from Aberdeen) at Sumburgh. Bet that was fun. All Scatsta flights cancelled, limited service on internal ferries

Much more entertaining is this, from the entirely serious Da Bonxie...
Meanwhile, Dr Luke and family are heading for Aberdeen and the boat should be in Shetland sometime tomorrow afternoon. I've just been up to the house they're coming to, and the central heating is working! Thanks Ross. This is the view from the lounge window.

Now, excuse me, I'm off to kill some mice. Or rather, one mouse. Ever seen the movie Mouse Hunt? It's happening right now, in Hillswick.

From the NorthLink website. Check in as normal at Aberdeen. They'll sail 'at earliest opportunity'.
M.V Hrossey
  • M.V Hrossey arrived in Aberdeen at 02:40 and is scheduled to depart at 19:00 sailing for Lerwick.
  • Due to on going weather conditions the departure time will now be delayed with the intention to sail at the earliest opportunity that sea conditions allow.
  • ETA in Lerwick will be Saturday afternoon.
  • Exact time will depend on departure from Aberdeen.
  • Passenger and Car Check-in opens at 17:00.
  • Final Passenger and Car Check-in is 18:30.
  • Car drivers are recommened to check-in at least 1 hour prior to departure.
  • All passengers are reminded to bring their booking reference with them for check-in.
  • For further information please call 0845 6000 449.


Bluemull Sound ferry (Unst-Yell) now running 'normally'.

Friday 13 November 8.55am. Hillswick, Shetland
West Ayre this morning from a safe distance

Not as bad as anticipated, by any means, but still pretty hairy outside, particularly on the west coast. Both the Yell and Unst ferries are off, No planes have arrived in this morning, and there's water slopping over our armouring into the garden as the tide is very high. If the wind veers round (which it will at some point) in combination with a high tide, we could be in for flying beach stone/flooding action. Trevor's latest says this:
13/11/15, 08:30 is 5.9C (-3.7), rain today 0.14in, pressure 29.56in (Rising), wind W 23.5mph.
High tide at the garden wall
But Met Office forecast has gusts up 67 and steady winds of around 37. Add 10 to both of those figures for exposed lumps of the Zetlandics. All Shetland schools are closed, but the Hillswick surgery is open...Took the dog out for a dauner, though, pretty uncomfortable but the West Ayre is spectacular (sorry about the picture, doesn't capture it). That's an iPhone from the surgery garden.

NorthLink says the Hrossey got in to Aberdeen at 2.30am but tonight's sailing 'could be delayed', with an announcement later this morning.

Heating problems at the house Dr Luke and family will be staying in, so the Emergency Plumber Act is being invoked. At least the power is still on. For the moment...

22.00, Thursday . I'm going to venture out briefly with the dogs and then head to bed with a copy of Alan Furst's Midnight in Europe (comfort reading). Oddly, having told Susan that strong winds rarely cancelled flights, I notice that the Orkney-Shetland plane is coming up as 'diverted to Inverness due to strong winds' which may have been more in Orkney than Shetland, as the last Flybe/Loganairs from Edinburgh and Aberdeen got in. 

12/11/15, 22:00 is 9.2C (1.5), rain today 0.19in, pressure 29.50in (Falling quickly), wind SSW 20.2mph.

Wind gusting a good bit higher than that outside, but actually, it's not too bad at the moment by Shetland standards. Though I am glad I'm not on the Hrossey heading sooth! Night night...

18.04 Hillswick. Susan safely home. Wind now getting up. I have a bottle of Duvel, the thinking man's Superlager. NorthLink tweeting 'disruption' tomorrow. What, on Friday 13th? 

@NLFerries: **Advance warning of disruptions** Fri 13th Nov 2015 - Northbound Hrossey sched dep AB-LE 1900. Due to forecast may be rescheduled later dep

Meanwhile, the glass is, as they say, falling...
Shetland Weather 12/11/15, 18:00 is 8.9C (0.2), rain today 0.13in, pressure 29.72in (Falling very rapidly), wind 23.3mph.

...and earlier today, here's the very definition of No Fun: The Hrossey off Sumburgh, heading south into the gathering lumpiness...

15.45, Sumburgh
SIBC Radio news saw Ian scathingly pointing out that Abigail for Shetland will be no more than a gale...storm? What storm? We'll see. The council have closed all schools, colleges and daycentres for tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'm at the airport and Susan's flight looks like being on time...just had Dexter out for a run at West Voe beach. Breezy but perfectly pleasant.

11.20 am, Hillswick

Hearing that the Friday boat north may go after all (this via Susan from random Shetlanders met at Union Square in Aberdeen, which is really a kind of Zetlandic shopping embassy). Meanwhile...

Shetland Weather 12/11/15, 11:00 is 7.3C (4.5), rain today 0.13in, pressure 30.03in (Rising), wind 3.7mph. #Weather #Shetland via @tpw63

9.35am, Thursday, Hillswick

Shetland weather (thanks to @tpw63 - follow him on Twitter)

Shetland Weather 12/11/15, 09:00 is 6.6C (3.1), rain today 0.13in, pressure 29.99in (Rising quickly), wind 5.4mph.

The Met Office is predicting a steady rise in wind speeds from about 15.00, with gusts of  around 60mph by 21.00, all day tomorrow and Saturday morning.

NorthLink confirm that tonight's northbound Shetland ferry will leave Aberdeen at 15.00 and ONLY go as far as Orkney. It won't go on to Lerwick and will return to Aberdeen on Friday.

No decision regarding Friday's northbound sailing but I've been told it's unlikely, which means Saturday is probably going to be the first boat north.

Susan is in Aberdeen now, having travelled down overnight on Tuesday for a one-day course. She has to be back by Friday and was booked on tonight's boat. I've cancelled her booking and she's on the 15.00 flight to Sumburgh, which means she'll leave the car in Aberdeen at my daughter's flat, and we'll pick it up next week, when we're both supposed to be south. Hoping for the best from hassle-hit Flybe, and will be watching the Sumburgh arrivals page... 

Meanwhile, our newlong-term locum doctor and his (very young) family were due to travel north on Friday's boat. Just had a call from him in the deep south of England, as they head off on their journey to Aberdeen. Have advised them to re-book for Saturday. They've got relatives in the Lake District they can stay with tonight and tomorrow.

So, the immediate questions here are: will Flybe manage to get Susan home today? What needs secured outside? Where's the safest place to put the cars? What would P&O have done? (Answer, almost certainly attempted to keep to schedule and hammered through unless sheltering in Scapa Flow became a necessity. But those old Baltic ferries were built for this kind of thing, unlike the flat bottomed miniature cruise ships we have now).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Remembering. How the sea brought Petty Officer Lown to Hillswick

“To the world, he was just one. To me, he was all the world.”

I managed a walk this afternoon, in the brief glimmer before sunset that's my favourite time of the day in a Shetland November. I drove a mile or so from our house up towards the peninsula of Eshaness and parked on the abandoned piece of single track tarmac near the spectacular Heads of Grocken, an often ignored but spectacular piece of cliff scenery. To the west, the islands of Papa Stour and Foula. The Edge of the World, Ultima Thule. 

There are no sheep at this time of year and Dexter can run off the lead in pursuit of a million strange aromas. And the cliffs are fenced, so  he can't pursue seagulls in defiance of gravity.

There's a cairn from which the whole of Eshaness and Hillswick tumbles away around you, and in the pulsating, constantly changing light, the shift between blue sky, dirty storm clouds and vast white cumulus, I could see our house. The tiny, vulnerable splinter of land Hillswick sits on, waiting for the climate to change even more, the seas to rise and the Ness to become an island. Again. What will happen, then, to the bodies in that sandy, seagirt cemetery of ours, steeped as it is in legend, superstition and tragedy? The last 'witch' burned in Scotland died after being accused of seeing 'trowies' (fairy folk) dancing there.

So I was thinking about the sea, the storm we'd just had, and the one coming tomorrow (boats cancelled, travel arrangements in tatters). And I remembered. Remembered the date. 

What follows is a piece I wrote initially for Shetland Life Magazine, but which was edited and published this month in Scottish Memories. 

November is the month of remembrance. Remembering the dead of not just two world wars, but the wars that have taken place since. The ones still going on. Those who left to serve and fight, but never returned. Shetland, where I live, became a garrison in both world wars and, at the crossroads of the North Atlantic and the North Sea, a place familiar with the terrible cost of war.  There were 78 recorded air crashes on or around Shetland in World War Two, many involving multiple fatalities.
And there were those given up by the sea. It’s something rarely mentioned or discussed, and awful to contemplate - the many, many bodies washed ashore throughout Scotland in the course of world War One and World War Two. But a cursory look at  headstones in coastal cemeteries throughout the country  reveal the appalling numbers. 

There are other signs of death and destruction still visible. On remote Shetland hilltops lie the remains of some of those 78 crashes. You can see the solidified remnants of heavy bunker oil from long-lost convoys ingrained in outcrops of rock, and until quite recently a bale of raw latex, cargo from a sunken cargo ship, was used to hold down hauled-up boats below our old house at Heylor.
But the gravestones all tell stories. Notably the one (pictured) in the Hillswick graveyard at West Ayre - site of an ancient kirk, with nearby monastic settlements and signs of a broch. A place which has always been special, probably always holy, for as long as humans have been here. And past which I walk my dog every night.

The story of Petty Officer NE Lown  centres on HMS Bullen, a Captain class Frigate built in the USA as part of the lend-lease scheme which saw a great deal of military matériel being provided for the use of British Forces in the Second World War. She was system built as a submarine hunter, welded together like the notorious Liberty Ships, and her crew, probably including PO Lown, travelled to New York aboard the Queen Mary to bring her back across the Atlantic. They had some adventures in the USA, some of which you can hear about in the voice of one of the crew members, Rating John Albert Hodge interviewed here for the Imperial War Museum’s archives.

HMS Bullen - named for one Nelson’s commanders at the Battle of Trafalgar - joined the 19th Escort Group based at Belfast, and on 6 December 1944 she was off Cape Wrath, protecting a convoy which came under U-Boat attack. But the submarine hunter became the hunted. A torpedo from  U-775, commanded by Oberleutnant Erich Taschenmacher, hit her amidships, an explosion occurred on the starboard side, just behind the funnel. The aft engine room and boiler room probably flooded immediately. The ship quickly broke in two, the forepart turning on its beam ends and the aft-section floating vertically. Within an hour and six minutes, both parts of the ship had sunk. Ninety-seven men were rescued, many in a poor state from cold, injury or from inhaling oil. Seventy-two died. U-775’s part in the war was limited. She sank only the Bullen and one merchant ship. She was at sea for just 86 days.

Erich Taschenmacher survived the war, surrendering U-775, which was sunk by the Royal Navy along with dozens of other empty U-boats. U-775 was used for target practice.
And Petty Officer Lown’s body was taken by the sea, moved by the strange shifts of currents, eddies and tides, until it ended up in St Magnus Bay, to be buried in  the company of Northmavine’s dead, other lost seamen, soldiers and civilians. In the strange hush of our round graveyard with its careful wall. But where the waves from the West Ayre can still be heard, and the beam of the Eshaness lighthouse sweeps over each night.

The heartbreaking family inscription, easily missed at the bottom of the stone, perhaps expresses the real cost of war, the true and eternal story of loss. And sums up why it is important that we remember, not just on 11 November, but always, the price that was paid by so many.
“To the world, he was just one. To me he was all the world. Always loved,deeply missed.”

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Saturday 31 October - Tom Morton's Beatcroft Social on Radio Vera Ireland

Here's the show as broadcast on on Saturday 31 October - can you spot the single, hidden reference to Halloween? And the single, not-so-hidden editing mistake?

 Requests for the next show by Wednesday please to . And remember you can only buy the Beatcrofting hoodies, T-shirts and bags for another 10 days or so. Click here to order!