Sunday, December 26, 2004

The art of digestive walking

A mere sprinkling of snow, despite what the forecasters said: and so it was that Magnus and I decided to preface Christmas lunch with a bit of stern striding into the magically clear hillbog of Shetland.
This, in my case, after a mere five hours sleep, thanks to Santa-impersonation and Susan being called out at 6.30 am. But still, the lethargy and inner aches fell away as we scrambled over fences and burns to the amazing line of watermills above Burnside, and thence to the imposing height of the old stone circle and rocky outcrop high above our croft at Gateside.
The idea had been to take good old labrador Quopyle out for a lengthy walk, but it was only when Mag and I reached the summit that we realised we had left Quoyle behind in the borrowed Peugeot 406 estate (the Citroen C2 GT being hospitalised with a stone-trashed radiator).
A quick tumble down to rescue the indignant dug (who was compensated, with Thick and Stupid the St Bernards, with a decent walk later: worry not) and then home in time for the best Christmas lunch ever - organic Lunna turkey, Bressay sprouts, some slow-simmered (14 hours) beef from mysterious and local sources and our own lamb, roasted with smoked garlic. Not that we ate it all, you understand. Selection was the thing.
Some Champagne - a present from the TMS production team- , a smattering of superb Chilean Cab Sauv/Syrah, and then a Highland Park while watching en famille, a DVD of Alexander MqacKendrick's wondrous The Maggie - the best Scottish film ever made. The aforementioned multi-dog walk, and asleep for two hours before waking up for some music, snacks and my first encounter with Jon Ronson's sublimely funny The Men Who Stare At Goats.
It's now Boxing day, my digestion seems remarkably healthy, considering yesterday's gut-abuse, and the outdoors calls. It's clear, luminous, and snowless. So far.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas eve, babe

I’m in the Barn of Bannocks, and it’s a dirty old Tuesday night, almost midway through this pre-Christmas week. It’s 8.9 degrees Celsius in here, which is well below legal limits for a working environment. Still, back in the manse they’re furiously preparing for tomorrow’s distaff staff Christmas lunch, not to mention wrapping presents for the Day of Days on Saturday.
And I love Christmas. I have loved it with a passion ever since I was old enough to leave a glass of ginger wine (nothing alcoholic in our house) and a mince pie out for Santa, plus of course a carrot for Rudolph. I can still recall the hot, electrical smell of Lewis’s toy department in the week before Christmas, part of an annual shopping pilgrimage around Glasgow that fuelled the excitement up to fever pitch; the smell of new-cut Christmas tree, and the eternal parental battle with malfunctioning lights. Lights which seem, through the mists of nostalgia, to have been so much bigger and more interesting than the ones you get now, all fibre optics and irritating tunes
Putting the list of presents up the chimney; queuing in a frenzy of excitement to see Santa in either Lewis’s or Wylie Lochhead’s - an experience which I don’t remember ever confusing with the idea that Santa was really, well, real. It was like theatre, great theatre, or perhaps a splendid pantomime:
I certainly, as my wife claims to have done, never thought that Santa was God, or vice versa. Admittedly, this was drummed into me by my Brethren upbringing, which was, contrary to many bitter bits of reminiscence, almost all good, apart from actually having to sit through gospel services and morning meetings. Santa was Santa, a mysterious force for eating mince pies and drinking ginger wine, and delivering presents in the mysterious darkness of sleep prior to Christmas morning. Santa was a performance. Santa was home. Santa was, in the end of the day, mum and dad.
You can see the Santa/God differentiation problem: both, after all, have beards, are male and elderly. Or were when I was growing up. But leaving the historical St Nicholas out of the equation for the moment, the Santa I knew and loved was almost entirely pagan, a provider of material things, of toys, books, annuals, sweeties and later, the essentials of life such as bikes and record players. Though by then, the phrase “see what Santa brings you” had become a mere sop to my younger sisters and the notion of parental providence.
Speaking of paganism, I write on the shortest day of the year, in the howling, rainy darkness. The barn roof has just sprung a leak. A small one, admittedly, but worrying. Tomorrow I’ll have to climb up and check for lost slates. It’s the equinox, a day when the year turns, when some of Shetland and Orkney’s ancient burial sites spring to a weird kind of life, if the sunset is visible, fading away along the sites of precisely-aligned entrances, arches and standing stones.
I heard someone on the radio today saying that Christmas was nothing but the pagan festival of birth/death/light/dark moved to accommodate Christ. And I like the idea of Santa as a kind of big, bearded, pagan provider of light and laughter. But as I sit in this barn, built on the site of an ancient monastic chapel, itself probably erected on an even older, pre-Christian site of worship, I’m thinking of the other stories I grew up with.
I’m thinking of an unmarried mother giving birth in a cattle shed. Not a converted, heated barn like this one, but a dirty old byre, thick with animal smells and sounds. I’m thinking not of the big, primeval notions of light and dark, of cosmic fear and bad weather, winter and spring, but of the utter defencelessness of a child, hunted down by an evil tribal leader, born illegitimate of a refugee mother. Without a place to rest his head.
Maybe it is all the same thing. The light coming into the world, the child in the manger being a symbol of the coming spring, his inevitable death the autumnal ending of things, followed by rebirth. If that suits you, then fine. But it’s the humanity of Christmas that haunts me. The idea of big beardy God, creator of heaven and earth, bloody and squirming in a manger. The millions of similar, desperate births that will occur across the world this Christmas.
Just for a minute or two, anyway. Then Santa takes over, the wine flows, and we rest secure amid the roast tatties and joyous, pagan consumption: all’s well with the world. Except somewhere, there’s a baby crying. There always was. There always will be.

(reprinted courtesy of the Shetland Times. Check out

Friday, December 17, 2004


So, this is my last day in Aberdeen, indeed on the British mainland, before Christmas. Tonight I get the NorthLink ferry back to Shetland, the Citroen Berlingo so overloaded with stuff from Ikea, Asda, Sainsbury's and a dozen other shops it's a miracle the wheels are still clearing the chassis.
It's been a long week away...Clydebank, Glasgow, Helensburgh and Aberdeen, and a peculiar experience with the service flat I normally rent when in Castle Greyskull...I'm fairly certain the gas boiler was faulty. Despite sobriety in the extreme, I was waking up horribly groggy, with thumping headaches that continued all day. Ended up sleeping with the windows open. In the depths of an Aberdonian winter.
Amazing deals on drink; worryingly good: In Asda last night (or should I say Walmart? Should I even be shopping at Walmart?) you could get two cases of beer (24 bottles of Miller, Becks, Stella etc) for £20. That's soft drink prices. Dangerous.
Anyway, the forecast for yesterday was horrendous, and then the weather turned out fairly OK. Tonight is looking lovely, but I am packing loads of Phenergan, the ultimate anti-seasickness pill. We shall see.
Oh, and thanks to all the folk who have logged on here via the bbc site It's great to know you're listening all over the world.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Broughty Ferry

Phew! Just back from a night out in Dundee, Newport-on-Tay and Broughty Ferry, which taxed my liver to the utmost.
It was work, honest. I'm not at liberty to explain what at the moment, but it's a mega-exciting project which was signed, sealed and is yet to be delivered.
Anyway, I'd never been in Broughty Ferry before, Dundee's salubrious firth-side suburb. It's a splendid place, full of great pubs (the Fisherman's and the Ship were our howffs of choice) and one of the best Indian restaurants I've encountered in 30 years of Scottish curry-quaffing. Bombay Joe's, if you're in the vicinity.
I like Dundee. That waterfront is phenomenal, and the bridges (crossing from Fife To Dundee this morning was extravagantly enjoyable, hangover notwithstanding). Good restaurants, great pubs, nice folk, cheaper than average housing. Captain Scott's boat, too. I will return. Or should that be 'shall'?
Meanwhile, to the talkface! One Alka Seltzer XS, six vitamin yeast tablets, a fried egg roll, a bacon roll, loads of tea, a bowl of soup, a steak pie. I feel...all right, as Steve Earle would say...

Monday, November 15, 2004


So, for the moment, the feeling is that the sound quality provided by ISDN wasn't quite up to the Beeb's standards, and therefore broadcasting from the Barn of Bannocks is currently in abeyance.
We shall see if a few tweaks can't sort things out. It was rather unfortunate that the webcam system I'd gone to so much trouble to set up turned out have a similar (one character away) address as a live sex site, but hey, these things happen. Might have been better if I hadn't inadvertently forwarded said address to various BBC executives too...
Anyway, at least I have speedy internet access at the Barn, though not so speedy as the much-vaunted, much-promised, and much-missed broadband...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Barn of Bannocks broadcasting

Well, here I sit at last in the Barn of Bannocks, connected up to the wonderweb through BT Business Highway (no broadband in the remote fastness of Northmavine, Shetland) at a glorious 128 thingies.
The excellent Scott, with help from Duncan, has converted the barn into a relatively comfortable retreat from the madness of daily life; or if you will, a shed. Ah, the concept of the Human Shed - mostly male, it should be said! A place to go and be alone with...books, records, loud stereo systems, recording equipment, bicycles and, on Thursday, all being well, broadcasting.
Yep, the daily Tom Morton Show (, 14.00 hrs, GMT, weekdays) will be beamed, or rather, wired, from the Barn of Bannocks for two days, at least until we see if the technology works or something breaks down. The AEQ codec box is installed and has been tested. The venerable AKG microphone has been wiped of spittle and hoovered for curry residue.
All this speaking down the phone lines (hey, there's a novel concept) in quality is currently impossible with packet-switched broadband (which I can't get hereabouts anyway), though I understand experiments are afoot to see if it can be made to work. My biggest problem is with visuals. Using the old BBC music lines from Lerwick, I can both broadcast and set up a Netmeeting connection via the BBC's intranet. Not possible from a remote location, and so at the moment, I'm trying out, with a webcam-to-the world in not very good quality. We shall see. or rather, we might not...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Aberdeen boardwalk...

...or to be precise, wide and long seaside pavement of asphalt and cement. Which could soon disappear, so they're saying (see ) thanks to global warming and big huge waves.
This, I hereby aver, would be a great pity. Though I have been gently rapped over the knuckles for saying on-air today that Aberdeen's was "the only city beach in Scotland", I still think that the glorious Aberdeen beachfront puts everything else in the suburban shade. I mean, Portobello is at Portobello; Cramond is at Cramond, Broughty Ferry is at...well, Broughty Ferry. Aberdeen beach is right there, over the links and at...Aberdeen. The harbour area is right next to it.
And in no other Scottish city can you perambulate, skateboard, rollerblade or cycle for miles along the cementway, asphaltwalk or whatever you care to call it, with waves on one side and the city skyline on the other. Not to mention the availability of great greasy spoon food and a year-round, Coney-Island style fairground.
The less said about the hideous cinema development the better. It's an absolute disgrace that this was ever permitted, and on publicly-owned linksland too.
Anyway, the beach could disappear if they don't get their groines sorted out. Which sounds nasty, and probably is.

Friday, October 29, 2004

Baked tattie

Tatties and Point for lunch, a massive chili-cheese-baked potato (healthy) followed by a Twix (unhealthy) and a Diet Coke (neutral). I now feel strangely bloated, like John Hurt in Alien, just at the point when his character was thinking: some Milk of Magnesia should sort this out...
There was a time here in Shetland when the prime winter sources of vitamin C were kale and tattie skins. Frankly, I can live without kale, a vegetable suitable only for sheep. But tatties are a whole other matter.
Are you a waxy or a floury person? For me it's got to be floury all the way, except when it comes to chips. Chips demand a waxy tattie. However, the good old Maris Piper offers a reasonable compromise, being suitable for chipping, boiling, baking and mashing. Raw like an apple is an option even pigs won't entertain. Or at least, Derek The Randy Boar (now living on that most isolated of isles, Foula) demanded that his tatties be cooked before he would deign to partake.
Dirty weather, still, low cloud and haar. On the bus today which means there's time for my ritual Friday pint at the Marlex prior to heading homewards. Note to self: must remember to have a pee before getting on the bus this time...

Monday, October 25, 2004

Big bad wind

"Hear it howlin' around my kitchen door..."
...or in this case, the door of the BBC studios in Lerwick. A really nasty day, thick with grey soupy rain, all of which is moving fast, if somewhat lumpily. Winter is here.
Still, the weekend was autumnally beautiful, as can happen in Shetland. Saturday, James and me were to be found toiling, velocipedally, up the Eshaness road in the early evening, James (13) taking tremendous pleasure in the fact that I was in the bottom of 27 gears and he was still on the big chainring and finding it all very easy indeed. Top of the hill, as ever, the Eshaness peninsula opened up, along with a salmon-pink, forgot-my-camera-again sunset. The freewheel home into the gathering dusk was magical.
Sunday saw me walking the ageing but still willing Quoyle (black labrador) onto the Ness of Hillswick, in bright, still but cold conditions. The ground is already soaking wet, which doesn't bode well for the winter. And it's set to get wetter.
Bad news today about the "paper plane", the Highland Airways Cessna which delieverd the daily papers. It crashed over the weekend on the way back from Stornoway, killing the pilot, Tim, who was a regular on the Shetland run, and sadly, both about to leave for a new job and to get married. Have a look at
I was on the same aircraft just a fortnight ago, though not with Tim flying, and had a delightful trip from Shetland to Inverness. Curiously, I always feel less vulnerable on small aeroplanes than I do on larger ones.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Bad day at the Temple of Mutton

I have a friend who works in a hotel, and his job involves being nice to people, polite, offering good service, even when he doesn't remotely feel like it.
The weird thing about what I do - broadcasting, or to be precise, talking between records - is that most of the time, when I feel like (as Michael Stipe once said) Dog, by the time 2.00 pm comes along, some mystical process turns me into a reasonably articulate member of the broadcasting (not necessarily human) race. And for two hours, I become the relatively entertaining figure I am, in real life, not.
Today started off brilliantly. I found some documents I'd been looking for all week. Good news arrived regarding work and play. Cars started, bicycles were ridden. There was good news about Black Gold Tide, the new book with Tom Kidd(first edition almost sold out - go to for more). I had some great soup for lunch. But as soon as I opened my mouth at the start of the TM Show I knew it was going to be a real struggle. Something wasn't working right.
How bad or acceptable it was you can judge (for a limited period) by going to and having a listen. Words came out garbled; stupid and marginally insulting things were said. I wandered, I woffled and stammered and stopped. It was just really, really hard.
Why? Years ago, I occasionally (early morning show) broadcast with ferocious hangovers or somewhat sozzled. These days, the TM Show goes out sober. There was nothing about the music or the "furniture" today which was wrong. It was just me. End of the week blues, some sort of inner exhaustion? Who knows?
In the end, it's like relationships with friends. You hope you aren't judged on one anomolous performance, conversation or encounter. It's a continuing thing, and you put the bad stuff aside and keep going.
Afterwards, as I was getting the bus home, I headed for the Marlex and had a pint of Belhaven. Perspective gradually returned. On the bus there were two girls from my son's year at school, dressed in pyjamas and apparently handcuffed together. I have no idea why.
Maybe I was hallucinating.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Think you're tough, eh?

I've downloaded various training plans for marathons, half-marathons, 10-Ks and the like, and the first week is always a doddle. Or it reads that way, until someone as sedentary as myself starts trying to jog for 15 minutes.
Good grief. I've spent most of life trying to avoid pain, and suddenly, here I am deliberately inflicting it on myself. I wasn't prepared for the fear, though. When I was a youngster, being forced to run, jump, climb ropes and generally exhaust myself at the behest of Marr College gym teachers Bryan Gilbert and 'Papa' Keir Hardie ( grandson or great grandson, I believe, but posh) there was always the sense of physical invulnerability. Now, jogging along the Ness of Hillswick, every step (even cushioned by peat and grass) bone-jarring and heart-palpitating, there is the worry that proof of coronary heart disease might come slamming in at any moment.
At my considerable age (48), it's possible that even grass-damped running could damage my joints. So cycling may be the least impactful (is there such a word?) option. and besides, I love cycling. I love bicycles. They are, as Joe Breeze, American bike guru says, possibly the most beautiful and elegant result of human ingenuity.
Meanwhile, as hurricane force winds gather around Shetland, and I huddle away pretending to exercise on my turbo-trainer, I think of this lot
... and shiver in admiration.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

St Bernard's Infirmary

The news that the alpine monks of the St Bernard's Pass are selling off their biggest, furriest, most slobbery assets has largely passed Lulu and Lucy, our two St Bernard sisters (not nuns, dogs) by. They remain more concerned with eating (almost anything, though Lucy for some reasons detests eggs) barking at anyone who looks vaguely threatening to them, the house or the family (straggly beards, dodgy hats and glasses usually suffice to inflame canine rage) and sleeping.
Indeed, Lulu and Lucy sleep more than any dog I have ever come across. You can just about persuade Lucy to go out for a morning constitutional, but Lulu has to be dragged off the sofa and then hauled out of the door on her back before she groggily shakes herself more or less awake.
Of course, once they are sentient and active, they can be a bit of a handful. Apparently the St Bernard's genes go back to Hannibal's fighting mastiffs, and when they get frisky, it's best to stay well clear. Not that they will do you any intentional harm. It's just that having 14-odd stones of fast-moving dog cannon into you can be somewhat discombobulating. And break bones.
The monks are flogging off, it seems, 18 fully-grown St Bernards and 16 pups, on condition they have them returned every summer so tourists can pat, coo and give money. The legendary ability of the St Bernard to find travellers lost under snow has been superseded by helicopters, complex electronic equipment and "smaller, more mobile dogs" like labradors and Alsatians.
Hmm...nothing sniffs out out humans like a St B. Our two, as pups, excavated centuries-old human bones from the back garden, much to the discomfort of the lawn. And their well-attested habit of cuddling (there's no other word for it) avalanche victims to warm them up is hardly what you expect from a German Shepherd.
Still, we won't be taking on any of the Swiss refugees, I'm afraid. Because, lovely though Lulu and Lucy are, they are providing as much cuddling, sniffing and slobbering as the Morton family can handle. Or the lawn. And we won't go into their other bodily functions...

Friday, October 15, 2004

Thinking about drinking

There’s some trouble I’ve been having
I can’t spell Bunnahabbhain
And I keep saying GlenmorANGIE, which is wrong.
It’s GlenMORangie I know
But my brain is running slow
I’ve been thinking about drinking far too long.

I’ve drunk Talisker in New Orleans
And Jack Daniels in Skye
I’ve mixed my Glenfiddich with Irn Bru
I’ve had pakora sauce with Jura
And Coke with my Laphroaig
American Cream Soda with Tamdhu.

It’s time to pour a glass or two
And let the liquid say what’s true
I’ve been thinking about drinking far too long

I met a man in Florida
Who swore me to secrecy
And gave me what he said was pure moonshine
It gave me double vision
Which was just as well for me
Three other folk who drank it all went blind.


I’ve used Macallan in a motorbike
To make the engine run
And I’ve cauterised a cut with
I’ve used Scapa as an aftershave
Cleaned windows with Famous Grouse
And stripped off ancient varnish with some Powers


Copyright Tom Morton 2004. All rights reserved. From the song cycle Spirit of Misadventure

Thursday, October 14, 2004


It's been a gloriously velocipedal week, all spokes and derailleurs...The poor old Edinburgh Courier nine-speed has been lying, burst of back tyre, for almost six weeks, chained and so undesirable that alone out of the four bikes regularly left in its repository, it has remained unstolen.
I spent Sunday afternoon oiling, repairing, messing with inner tubes and generally fettling (including the repair of a bicycle pump) and then set off for the Aberdeen beach, which has been a destination every day so far this week. Somehow, just getting on the bike and pedalling makes me feel good...maybe it's a return to childhood, I don't know.
I've just finished re-reading Matt Seaton's wonderfully poignant book about cycling and the Big Nasties of life, The Escape Artist. Along with Tom Davies' criminally underrated Merlin the Magician and the Pacific Coast Highway, it continues to motivate and the diamond-framed bike a passport not just to physical fitness, but spiritual and philosophical insight, or even peace? Doesn't seem like it when some idiot taxi driver has just pulled out in front of you, but you learn, you keep learning. And my aluminium-framed, beautifully simple, rear-derailleur-only bike is, not to be too mawkish, a teacher: it instructs and reminds on the need for simple, human-centred, elegant design; to keep your equipment well-maintained; the need for physical and mental alertness; the inherent wrongness of our obsession with the internal combustion engine...and much else.
Last night, the smirry rain and cloud cleared around 5.30 pm, and as giant rollers came thundering in, a few brave surfers were caught in the twilit sunset down at the beach. I had a burger at the Inversnecky Cafe, then cycled up to Vue to see Collateral, a further instalment of Michael Mann's continuing love affair with the psychogeography of LA. Can you cycle in LA? Is it legal? As hilly as Aberdeen.
It's not as cold, anyway. But I can see the Beach Boulevard/ Venice Beach comparisons. Sort of.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Presbyterian kisses

Songwriting has taken a bit of a back seat lately...but things are changing...

Presbyterian kisses

Mary had a ten grand Cartier watch
She kept it under her bed
It was a present from her late ex husband
Before he was dead
Ronnie was somewhat greasy
But he met a dreadful fate
Burned to death in a chip-pan fire
Which seemed appropriate

Mary Mary I can offer you only this
Presbyterian kisses

She used to smoke Marlboro Lights
Flicked the ash off with a snap
She said I know these things’ll kill me
But I don’t care about that.
She liked Seven Up and sulphate
The sound of taxis in the rain
Her favourite kind of holiday
Was having sex on aeroplanes


Now that we are married all is well
For now that I have rescued her from hell
She fills me with the greatest exultation
She shares it with the congregation

She likes Carlsberg Special
And cask strength whisky, neat
She wears Manolo Blahnik shoes
Upon her lovely feet
I took her to the church one day
So we could kneel and pray
She pleasured me upon a pew
I found I quite liked it that way

Presbyterian kisses
Presbyterian bliss...

Copyright Tom Morton, 2004.