Thursday, December 29, 2005

Just about...

....sorted out for tomorrow, and the arrival of my dad, his wife, my sister and her family, my pals Stewart and Jo. They're all on the boat tonight, so I hope they have a reasonable trip.
We've had a three-month battle to sort out Gateside, home of The Radiocroft, as suitable accommodation for my sister shiona, her husband John and their children. Today the redoubtable Duncan and partner in crime Scot provided the essential finishing touches - emergency electrical work, plumbing in washing machine, etc. It's spartan, but warm and I hope comfy. I'm just back from "blacking" the old pot belly stove, and I think it's OK.
Here at the Manse, everything is fine I think for our other guests. Susan and Martha have done a fantastic job. all that remains is for me to head for the boat tomorrow and pick everyone up. Then...let the party begin!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas eve, babe

Here we are, then.
James Bond is on the telly.
Watchnight service in the Hillswick kirk tonight.
We appear to have enough to drink and eat.
Various children are at home. The dogs are asleep downstairs.
Granny's at the care centre, but will be here tomorrow.
I think there's enough propane and heating oil.

It's been a gloriously mild Christmas Eve, like a spring day, and the Radiocroft is almost - almost - ready for habitation by my sister and her family next week.

As for cooking, this is a picture of our oven. Or rather, my hand-built peat-driven field oven, intended for all-night roasting of turkey and goose. Alas, It's turned out to be more of a fridge than an oven. A few design tweaks needed for next year. Have to trust in Calor once more.

Anyway, God bless and have a great Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fasten your seatbelts!

This is my friend Duncan's private aeroplane. It's in North Roe, Shetland.
It's a little tricky to explain why Duncan has a four-engine, 16-seat passenger aircraft sitting next to his house. To be exact, it's a French-made Potez 840, one of only three ever manufactured. And yes, he has the wings, the wheels and most of the other bits and pieces.
Until a few months ago, the Potez was at Sumburgh Airport, having been used for fire crew training since it crash-landed there in March 1981. Duncan, who has always been interested in aviation, discovered that the aeroplane was to be dismantled and scrapped, and decided it would make the perfect addition to his garden.
Much discussion over health and safety, a load of heavy lifting and other shenanigans, there is an aeroplane at the bottom of the garden. It is, shall we say, an unusual sight.
Plans for the future include obtaining engines. Working ones. No, it will never fly (the driveway isn't long enough) but the old Potez seems set to become one of the most unusual garden ornaments in Shetland. Or make that Britain.

Sunday, December 18, 2005


Here's a thing: if in Aberdeen and looking for a taxi, be careful about using Comcab (353535) if you have to be somewhere on pain of death or flight check-in.
I had a taxi booked for 8.00 am on Saturday to take me to the airport for the 9.30 flight home to Shetland. Admittedly, it was the morning after the horribly busy office-party-hell-night and it was snowing heavily, but panic set in by 8.30 am when nothing had arrived, despite three calls to Comcab control.
I get very tense in such situations, but when the taxi driver finally arrived (from Huntly) I was so relieved I gibbered with gratitude rather than rage. He explained: Desite my having booked the taxi five days previously, I hadn't really booked a taxi; I had simply booked a time slot. Comcab is just a clearing house for individual self-employed cabbies, and unless there are taxis actually out there, your having booked a time slot becomes irrelevant: There was no-one around to pick me up from the (generally very good) Patio Hotel because they'd all gone home to bed after one of the year's busiest nights.
Anyway. Got to Dyce, checked in and the flight took off about 45 minutes late, after a delay on the tarmac due to Sumburgh shutting. It was bumpy, but we made it. The drive home to Hillswick was hairy in a small sports hatchback with inordinately wide wheels. But I made it, complete with large quantities of very smelly Ian Mellis cheese.
Sunday, and I was back into Lerwick to pick up Magnus from the boat. His first trip home since leaving for uni. The snow had largely melted but in any case I had the Toyota Hilux Susan's currently using following her last accident. It's marvellous - a relief - to have everyone home.
Broons fever continues to grow on the eve of their 70th birthday...and the TV documentary on the 30th. I was asked to write a piece for the Sunday Herald on the wonders of Glebe Street, which was published today: embarrassingly inaccurate intro - I'm NOT in charge - but check it out here if you so desire.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The best Indian Restaurant in the world?

Well, it is according to one of Scotland's most experienced Curryistas, editor of a national newspaper and a man who in his youth used to import spices from the Indian subcontinent to satisfy his desire to create the perfect bhuna.
And last night, in Dundee's Perth road, I had what I can only describe as the best curry I've ever had in Scotland. And that's in 35 years of curry consumption. In Wolverhampton, back in the early 80s, I had a truly wondrous tandoori, before the clay oven had assumed ubiquity; In Durban, South Africa, I had a superb lunch in what was then generally regarded as the best Asian restaurant in Africa.
But I've never been to Goa, and there's no question that The Malabar in Dundee is heavily influenced by Goanese styles. There is, for example, large amounts of fish on the menu. And, for the first time in my experience of Indian food, offal - the chilli chicken livers were astounding, and the lamb's kidneys with aubergine completely magnificent.
If any of this is sounding familiar, then it may be time to mention two magic words - they are 'Gunga' and 'Din'. Back in the 1970s, the Gunga Din, also in Perth Road, was regarded by many as Scotland's top Asian eatery - notably by Billy Connolly. The Malabar sees the triumphant return from retirement of Jacob, legendary proprietor of the Gunga Din, a man who trained as a chef in some of London's top hotels and was on fine form last night.
There are some interesting absences at The Malabar - roti, yes, but no nan bread - and it's not the place for those craving the familiar Vindaloo-pakora sandwich. But after last night's meal I was conscious of having experienced something very rare - a truly exciting, satisfying, inspring meal. It was, I have to say, almost spiritual and certainly emotional. Though that may have had something to do with the beer consumed earlier in the Phoenix and Mennie's.
It's not plush, it's starkly lit and the tables are formica topped. But it's the best in Scotland, no question whatsoever.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Libertine will have Tea and Toast

The Libertine will have Tea and Toast

Take one whisky, it's good for the heart
Now here's a reasonable place to start:
A dead distillery in the central belt
Smooth and silky
Hardly felt

Life is lush, life is junk
I've been all at sea and I've been sunk
Lived like a libertine, lived like a monk
Can't live sober and I can't live drunk

Islay's calling me home through the storm
I'm looking for something potent and warm
Pour a Lagavulin and knock it back
Feeling like I'm having a heart attack

She put me to bed, I passed out on the floor
Turned me on my side so I wouldn't snore
Woke up dying for a cup of tea
I swear it's the only liquid for me

Life is lush, life is junk
I've been all at sea and I've been sunk
Lived like a libertine, lived like a monk
Can't live sober and I can't live drunk

Copyright Tom Morton/Zetland Phonographic Industries 2005. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

To The Radiocroft!

So, farewell to the Barn of Bannocks, which was handy for the hoose, but cold, damp ( despite desperate measures involving storage heaters and three convectors) and echoey. Having retrieved our old crofthouse from an unfortunate rental, we're in the midst of converting it into a bookshop (of which more in due course) with a couple of spare bedrooms which can be used by guests. Notably my sister and her family, who are coming for New Year and my 50th birthday (Hogmanay, if you're interested).
So now the Tom Morton Show comes live from The Radiocroft - in other words, the boxroom in the crofthouse. It's warm, cosy, sounds better than the Barn of B and has a window. All things considered, I think it's an improvement.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The breeze of bad luck: another crash

Home by the skin of my teeth, having taken a notion to take the Wednesday boat north rather than the Friday one I was booked on. And just as well, given that all NorthLink sailings between Aberdeen and Shetland were cancelled on Thursday and Friday, due to the appalling weather. I was aboard the Hrossey, along with a Volvo estate packed to the gunnels with bargain beer, biscuits, carpets, wine and paint, arriving at 7.25 on Thursday morning. And that was the last freight or passenger boat to get into Shetland until....well, I'm guessing some time on Sunday. Which means there will be damn all on the supermarket shelves. Still, we have the beer, wine and biscuits.
I was just settling into my premier-cru cabin (free chocolates, water, coffee and telly) on Wednesday night when my Voicemail went off. It was Susan, a crackly message from the roadside between Brae and Hillswick. "Now, I don't want you to panic, I'm all right, but..." Good grief.
In February, Susan was seriously injured in a head-on accident on the main road between Lerwick and Brae. The driver who hit her was killed. Susan was driving a long wheelbase Land Rover Defender which was destroyed. Every single alloy wheel was shattered and the vehicle itself bent, its front end totalled. The strength of the Defender's beam chassis probably saved Susan's life, but the primitive interior (no airbags) caused a skull fracture and numerous other lesser injuries.
I've never written about this before, incidentally, out of respect for the other driver who died, and his family. But what has just happened has made it kind of difficult to keep quiet...
Anyway, that November night, my 14-year-old son James and I happened to be driving south to catch the boat for Aberdeen. I was booked to take part in a big Tsunami appeal concert in Dundee, and James was coming along for the ride. There was a line of stationary traffic just south of Voe, clearly some kind of accident....I'll never forget walking along the road, past car after car, to see if I could help, and seeing in the twilight that huge, smashed Land Rover, twisted, bent, and step by step seeing it glint maroon...hell's teeth, that's the same colour as our Land Rover. It can't be...
But it was.
I'm not going to dwell on that night. Suffice to say that Susan has staged a remarkable recovery, returned to driving quickly and with no ill effects, insisting on a replacement car that was as substantial as the Defender, but fitted with airbags. An imbecilic or deliberately obstructive insurance company meant we didn't (still don't) have the money for anything equivalent, so I picked up an old Jeep Grand Cherokee (with typical American full-on safety equipment) from eBay. Thirsty, but comfortable, rugged and airbagged to the hilt.
And that, on Wednesday evening, was what Susan was driving when she was hit, yet again, head on, by a driver overtaking another car. Again, it was a high-speed collision. This time, thank God, no-one was seriously hurt (Susan, alone in the car, suffered whiplash and bruising). The Jeep, which had just been the subject of a loving restoration, was comprehensively smashed.
But the Grand Cherokee, despite being nine years old, is a much more modern design than the essentially 1950s Land Rover. It crumpled everywhere but the passenger compartment, all the airbags went off, and Susan was able to step out, unutterably furious at the loss of a car she had grown to love.
This was what I was not supposed to panic over.
Anyway, I'm back, she's OK - a bit shocked and sore - and this morning I went to Jim's Garage, who recovered the wreck, to look at the Jeep and retrieve some belongings. And, just as I almost cried when I saw that crushed and broken Land Rover, I felt tears prickle at my eyes when I saw the Jeep, broken open to the elements, those lovely leather seats all wet.
And I have to say, as someone who loves cars and motorbikes, who has been infatuated with the internal combustion engine since I was old enough to enunciate my first words ("T'iumph 'Enown" apparently), I am suddenly so sickened with speed, with the celebration of it. And especially with the moronic, thick-ear posturing you get on the likes of Top Gear. I am nauseated by the kind of person who jokes about Land Rovers not needing airbags - "we have other cars", is the punchline, comedy fans. I have the kids with me today in the old Volvo (no airbags) and I am driving....well, I'm driving with the implications of speed, of collision, in my head. Always.
Must stop now. There are children to collect, there is shopping to do, if I can find anything in the Co-op to buy. And I'm going to take it easy on the way home.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Apologies for the absence of new postings, and especially photographs. I have, however, been snapping furiously with my Sony Ericsson pile-of-crap cameraphone (useless, useless keyboard for anyone with normal size hands) and some of those pictures should make their way here soon.
Currently in Aberdeen, following four days in frostbitten Glasgow. Good grief, it was cold, and I was two days into staying at my hotel of choice (another of the large selection of cheap lodgings available in the Sandyford/Finnieston interface) before I realised the heater could be turned up and there were spare blankets in the cupboard.
Great area for bars, cafes and restaurants, the Argyle St/Sauchiehall St/Kelvingrove Park triangle, and there are clear signs that the whole area is on the up and up, property-wise. While the breakfast at The Sandyford Hotel (£35 a night, full Scottish) was pretty good, I liked to head for Beanscene and slurp down an expensive bagel with cream cheese, a latte and a muffin over the papers. Nearby are the proven delights of the Ben Nevis,Mother India (and the associated cafe) Fanny Trollope's bistro, Air Organic, Sisters,The Buttery (bit of a dodgy walk for some) Firebird, The Goat, Stereo, Cafe India and some other, newish places I haven't tried. One place I was absolutely determined to eat in, though was Kokuryo, Scotland's first Korean restaurant, which has received rave reviews. And so, on Saturday, that was where I found myself, eating unidentified things and realising that Korean food seems to increase its spiciness as you move through the various 'courses'.
It was tremendously good. For £12.99 you get three courses, including an unlimited buffet which in its freshness is a world away from the Chinese all-you-can-eat buffets you may be used to. The starters - including miso soup, tempura veg, sushi and barbecued king prawns - were superb, though it must be said that the Korean beer - called Ob - was pretty much modelled on American Budweiser and thus not particularly challenging.
Pudding was beautifully-modelled (carved) fresh fruit, the staff were friendly and keen to educate in the abstruse elements of Korean cookery, and all in all it was an exciting business, encountering a new cuisine.
Afterwards we walked along to King Tuts to see Kathleen Edwards and her band, who were excellent - alas, I only caught one song from the support, Joel Plaskett, but it was so good I bought his album La Di Da. King Tut's is truly a magnificent venue. And air conditioning, even on such a freezing night, proved a fantastic asset. Though some regulars bemoan the absence of the old sweaty ambience.
Last night, though, I was back in Aberdeen and to my eternal culinary shame partook of a Big Mac with large fries. My excuse? I was starving, there's a McDonalds at Asda, and....oh, never mind. I felt great for approximately ten minutes after consuming this monstrosity, then progressively bloated, sick and finally, within two hours, hungry again. I staved off the pangs by going to see, at long last, the Jim Jarmusch movie Broken Flowers ( Not as good as, say Mystery Train or Night on Earth, but like all Jarmusch films, it haunts you), then filled up on apples and a bar of Turkish Delight I found hidden in my briefcase. After which I had the most violently filmic dreams I've experienced in decades. Imagine a cross between The Matrix and Saving Private Ryan. Or on the other hand, don't.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The nine stages of the newspaper columnist's life

Stage one is INDIVIDUALISM: either as a working hack or some sort of pundit, you are identified as having something to say and the stylistic arsenal to say it well. So you get a column.

Stage two is ECCENTRICITY: Loveable, preferably, but the whiff of sulphurous, ranting rancour can have its appeal. You're special, some readers turn first to your outpourings. Alas, you're beginning to appreciate your own specialness a tad too much.

Stage three is EGOCENTRICITY: You've never been that easy a person to deal with; now you start making whimsical decisions about content, attacking sub-editors physically and in print should they mess with your deathless prose, demanding serious Adobe Photoshop work on your byline picture and crucially, more money. Amazingly, your needs are pandered to.

Stage four is UBIQUITY: The occasional request to review the papers on radio has turned into a flood. You now won't go anywhere near a radio studio without taxis being booked by the hapless researcher, and a substantial fee agreed with your recently-acquired agent. You are affectionately known to said researcher and colleagues as "a gob on a stick", a "media tart" or far worse. TV projects are discussed with dozens of independent production companies. One gets commissioned. You get your teeth fixed, go on a diet and consider using Botox and/or Regaine.

Stage five is NARCISSISM: You are supremely confident that all your readers want to know about is you and your opinions. You write about how the world impinges on you, and you rejoice in the certainty that you are not only right on every subject, but that even the smallest details of your experience are worth writing about. In fact, your eye for detail is, you feel, one of your great strengths. You bought a pencil the other day - what a wonderful sensation it was, the graphite slipping silkily over hand-made paper. You break up with your wife and abandon your children - how movingly you describe the sensation of being alone, then of pursuing and wooing a lissome 19-year old coke fiend model/singer/DJ. How beautifully you analyse your inner turmoil, confident that thousands of men will identify with you, and thousands of women want to sympathy-shag you. Only you matter. It's your duty as a columnist, your duty to your readers, to tell all. All about you. And if others suffer by their portrayal in your column - well, didn't Graham Greene say that every true writer has a chip of ice in their heart? And you are a true writer. Oh yes.

Stage six is SOLIPSISM: Really, there's not much point in writing about anyone or anything else but yourself and how you feel about yourself. That's what people are buying the newspaper for. Not that you read it, apart from your own column. Strange how those telly and radio invitations have begun drying up. You've stopped going out. Food gets delivered. The lady who does has stopped doing. The editor keeps wanting to talk to you, but you never return his calls on principle.

Stage seven is ONANISM: This is really the fulfilment of a condition which has been developing since stage three. You keep writing your column, but unknown to you, it's no longer published. You never see the paper, don't do anything but eBay on the net, don't check your bank statements. Finally, the house is repossessed, you're declared bankrupt and you end up selling the Big Issue and sleeping in a hostel.

Stage eight is REDEMPTION: you start blogging, using an internet cafe; Canongate offer you a book deal. Your memoir ("Hacked Off") is a worldwide success. George Clooney buys the film rights. You get offered a column, but you insist that blogging is the future. You move to tax-free Ireland and die of cirrhosis. To provide for your family (you've spent all your royalties on Powers and Murphys) you agree to write one last series of columns, and your terminal decline is described weekly in a column called "Liverish". It gains your highest readership yet, considering it is published only in the Caithness Courier.

Stage nine: HALLUCINATION. It was all a daydream. Too much absinthe at breakfast. There's still the SWRI reports and the fish prices to do. Fire up that Amstrad 8256, mate! Get to work!

Friday, November 04, 2005

The end of the columnist?

Journalism is like blogging, only you get paid. Though my Google Adsense feature has made me, oh, seven of your US dollars in the past three, err...months.
I used to be a journalist, and on occasion still am. I have been a regular columnist, paid (sometimes handsomely) for The Scotsman, The SundayHerald, Scotland on Sunday, the Daily and Sunday Express, South African Sunday Life, Big Issue in Scotland, Northwords Magazine, New Statesman Scotland and several more I have conveniently forgotten. And the Shetland Times.
My last vestige of weekly columnisation was dispensed with this week, following the final, somewhat abrupt demise of Nippy Sweetie in the Shetland Times, my local paper. Check out the archive here...and note - the column was not dropped, and my stopping has nothing to do with the imminent arrival of a new editor. It's more like a combination of sheer laziness and a desire to rationalise my activities. A daily radio show, two weekly national cartoon scripts, frenzied restoration of a house and family life is enough for the moment, I think.
And the blogging. Because surely the blog is the future of the column. I note that the excellent Kirk Elder is now a resident of the blogosphere. And the sackings at The Scotsman of former colleagues, among them the excellent Simon Pia (looks very like a cynical/pragmatic culling of the highest paid to me) probably indicate that the future of the "personal" or "human interest" column may be hereaboots in blogland. If only we could get some decent money for our rantings...
However, we don't have to deal with sub-editors. A good thing. Mostly. But then you end up revising and polishing, not to mention removing actionable items, day after day after day...for example, the notion that Gillian Glover was among those leaving. It seems she's not.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Recent snaps...

Variously: Dawn over Glasgow; the Assater Pillie; bizarre camping within the ruined St Ninian's Isle kirk; Stroh and Skynbow fiddles at the Violin Shop, Glasgow (we came away with a double bass and a cello); telly on the beach; the north boat, or one of them; Ullapool; sign of the Pillie-obsessed times; a tree. Posted by Picasa

...meanwhile, back in Glasgow

...I took this just after daybreak during my last visit to Glasgow, a week ago. I'd just come out of my hotel (the Devoncove - cheap, cheerful and not very clean) on Sauchiehall Street, in my favourite part of the west end - where Kelvingrove Park interfaces with Finniston, along from Mother India. The camera phone I was using (a Sony Ericsson V600i, free with my last contract) just about captures, amazingly, the shocking bluey pinkness of the dawn.
Immediately afterwards, I took my hire car back to Arnold Clark, where a man called George informed me I would be charged an extra sixty quid because one front tyre was soft. Turned out there was a nail in it. Nothing would change his mind. Insurance doesn't cover punctures, it seems. Won't be using them again. A pity, as I've been using Arnold Clark in Vinicombe Street for nigh on...well. A long time. Posted by Picasa

Walk into winter

Worst summer in 40 years, best October in 20. Or so a local fisherman told me yesterday in the newly refurbished Brae Garage, which is now a shop, off licence and general impersonation of the Tardis, complete with computerised flight deck.
Brae is the nearest sizeable village to our humble hamlet, some 10 miles away towards the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal (the biggest in Europe). And in Brae you can get petrol, LPG ( I have an old gas-fired Volvo and Susan's getting her Jeep Cherokee converted even as we speak) fresh-baked frozen French bread and the papers. Or as they say hereaboots, da peppers. In Brae you can also get a decent meal, a pint, have a swim, a sauna or go to the gym, and there's a six-year secondary school too. Not to mention a brand-new health centre the size of Wick, and a residential care centre for elderly folk, including my mother-in-law. Oil money makes Shetland the last remnant in the UK of the late lamented welfare state. And we're grateful, don't think we're not.
Anyway, glorious October is over, and while November has come in similar shining splendour, I could see a big nasty front approaching from the south east as darkness arrived this afternoon. The clocks have gone back, soon it'll be dark at 3.00pm or earlier, and it's the season of peat fires, home brew, music making and enjoying the weather that's battering the outside of the house.
Must to bed. That's a year of blogging. My 50th birthday is all too close and my knees are creaking. Must be all this typing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cars, guitars and alcohol

Last Thursday Alan MacLeod of Mooney's Wake and North star fame put on a multi-faceted event at Mooney's for John Peel Night, along with dozens of other promoters throughout the country.
I was due to spin a few discs as part of the DJ team, but at 5.30 pm Alan called to ask if there was any way I could do a 20 minute live set. As in playing the guitar and singing, something I hadn't done in Lerwick for nigh on a dozen years. Someone had dropped out and he just took me all of 15 seconds to say yes.
There was a time, of course, there was a time...when I arrived in Shetland in 1986, I was one of the few people with an acoustic guitar you could just plug in to a PA. I had fitted a Di Marzio transducer into my (much missed) Gibson J40, and with a Barcus Berry pre-amp, it sounded fantastic. Fantastically loud, anyway. I remember my first gig in the isles, a benefit for the Campaign Against Dounreay Expansion at the North Star, and people were dancing to just that single guitar.
After that came the solo album (on vinyl, of course) The Revenger's Comedy, collaborations with Brian Nicholson (including the tape release Stormbound) and our band The Zetland Beat and Rhythm Kings. We played two, three hour sets, wrote our own songs, had a great time, then stopped. I left the islands in 1990 to work for The Scotsman, and music making/performing gradually dried up, with occasional outbreak of performing, mostly thanks to indefatigable supporter and fan Rob Ellen.
Just lately, though, I've been recording some old songs and writing a few new ones too, drawing inspiration from a new guitar (by the great Jimmy Moon), my son James's developing bass-playing skills and the sense that all that effort, all that stuff, shouldn't be allowed to go to waste.
Because so much time, money and energy was spent on music: From my first guitar aged 11 (still got it: a Selmer) through all the others - Guilds, Gibsons, Martins, Fenders, Tokais, Simon and Patricks...the hundreds of songs, the demos and albums recorded, bands formed and deformed, gigs played, tours, drinks consumed, relationships formed and sundered.
And what joy in it. The notion of communicating with an audience, with other musicians, the sheer beauty of acoustic and electric guitars, the noise, the history. The hewing out of something your own, having listened to and loved so much made by other, better performers and writers.
And there we were on Thursday, after a hasty half hour of rehearsal: me, James and Chris Henderson (who happened to drop into the house). We enjoyed it, anyway. And we might do it again. In fact, we will. Because with music, you really can't help it....

Cars, Guitars and Alcohol
Copyright Tom Morton 1999

I had a dobro once, the brass was shining through
I've got a photograph here, I can prove it's true
Scrapper Blackwell played that guitar too

Where did all the money go?
Can't believe I spent it all
On cars, guitars and alcohol

I had a Jaguar, an old XJ12
It looked OK but underneath it was shot to hell
Still those leather seats had a lovely smell

Gibson, Martin, Fender and Gretsch
Turned me into a perfect wretch
I drove that car like a drunken fool
Left it at the bottom of a swimming pool

Now I don't drink any more, but I used to like a shot
A single malt or two, and then I couldn't stop
Filled myself right up to the top

Where did all the money go?
Can't believe I spent it all
On cars guitars and alcohol...

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Broken tombolo

This is the world-famous tombolo, or double-sided beach, between St Ninian's Isle and Bigton in the south mainland of Shetland.
On Sunday, for the first time in my experience, the sea had broken through the spit of sand - combination of high tide and stormy weather - though it was still possible to cross to the island, albeit with wet feet.
The long term commercial extraction of sand from the beach has, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with it... Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 26, 2005

Skip diving

Ah, the glory of Shetlandic skip-diving! Who knows what you'll find? Alas, the shelves I thought were painted wood turned out to be chipboard, but still, I found room to dump two outgrown, rusted-solid bikes, and the redundant Swedish Mulltoa electric biological composting toilet. Of which more another time.
But what was Minnie doing there? I swear I didn't set this up. There she was, pleading for rescue.
I left her there, of course. Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 19, 2005

Loch Lomond by bicycle

Arrival: A well-deserved break, having reached Loch Lomond on a Sunday jaunt from Glasgow aboard a slightly-too-small bike. This is taken from the balcony at the Loch Lomond Shores centre, which is a pretty stupid name for a naggingly disappointing development. A Jenners store on the West of Scotland? Hmm...the steamer Maid of the Loch, still not fully restored, is visible right of centre.
It took me about three hours cycling the 20-odd miles from Glasgow city centre, cycle path most (but not all) of the way. Some dodgy bits, notably Vale of Leven and Dumbarton. On the whole, though, it was a delight. More pictures of the route below... Posted by Picasa

Bowling: One of the great wellsprings of romance

Ah, wondrous Bowling. So many fantastic memories from the days when it was a shabby, rundown repository for mouldering old boats, many of them sheltering long-term residents. It's slightly, but not entirely, gentrified these days. I used to be the only person, it seemed, who came here. Now? Well, now it's packed with picnickers. Still smells funny, though.Posted by Picasa

Erskine Bridge: shadowed

Locked: Under the Erskine Bridge, on the Forth and Clyde Canal towpath. I half thought of cycling over the bridge (there is a cycle and pedestrian path) and then coming back to Glasgow via the Renfrew Ferry, but my ability to cope with heights is much diminished since I last did that run, some 21 years ago. So I went to Loch Lomond instead.Posted by Picasa

Renfrew Ferry, Whiteinch side

Whiteinch side, Renfrew Ferry, Sunday morning. I'm sipping instant coffee and eating nuts. This is the last of the many Clyde ferries that used, in the great industrial past, to shuttle workers back and forth. One of my favourite places in Greater Glasgow. If I hadn't been hungover and on a health kick, I might have left things until later and had a drink in the bars on each side of the river. As it was, I decided to kick out for Loch Lomond.
The bike's a curiosity: Dutch, it still has an Amsterdam licence on it. Don't know if that means it's nicked, but it has strange Netherlandish aspects: a back-pedalling hub brake, seven-speed hub gears (fantastic) a stand and a dynamo. Weighs a ton, but for 40 quid, who's complaining? Great Schwalbe Marathon tyres. Takes towpaths in its stride.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Louisiana 1927

Randy Newman's song Louisiana 1927 has always sent shivers up and down my spine. There's something about that opening line: What has happened down here is the wind have changed...
Apparently a direct transcript of something said by one of the survivors of the great 1927 Mississippi flood - reckoned as "the greatest natural disaster in the history of the USA". Until now.
The 1927 flood did not bring the same level of catastrophe as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but the parallels are very interesting. Refugee camps, mainly black. A lack of investment in flood prevention. There are the stories of governmental ineptitude and alleged corruption. And racism: It is possible to trace the development of the New Deal, the desertion by blacks of the Republican Party, the rise of Huey 'Kingfisher Long and the downfall of a president to the 1927 flood.
All of this has remained little discussed in the media thus far, though there are signs that things are changing. This book is now in the American best seller charts, and Greg Palast has a powerful and brief summary of the potential effects on the Democrats. Although Todd Leopold of CNN has written movingly of the song and his own background. From the personal to the political, though: remember, history always repeats, as Steve Turner wrote. Has to. No-one listens. Get Newman's album Good Old Boys, by the way. It's a masterpiece.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Violent Storm Force 11?

Shipping forecast said "Violent Storm Force 11" for today, Monday at 10.00 am, and this is what that looks like. Not hugely impressive, visually, but it's a funny direction for us - south westerly and I'm not convinced it really is that strong a wind. Mind you, I didn't really want to get out of the car, because there are various objects flying through the air - cows, sheep, small buildings etc. So far no power or phone cuts, so the show goes on from the Barn of Bannocks. If the roof remains intact. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Belladrum - Tartan Heart Festival

Roll on next year! I mean, what other festival has EVER featured live kipper-smoking (there it is, in front of the 'Scott's Fresh Fish' van)? It was wet, but it wouldn't have been Scotland if it was dry, would it? Thanks a million to Joe Gibbs for allowing his lovely estate to be trampled and churned.
The pictures show, variously, Margaret Bennett and the lime tree planted in memory of her late son Martyn; Ricky Ross and Davie Scott on Saturday afternoon in the worst of the rain; Larry Love of the Alabama 3 in full flight; kipper smoking; Cosy Camping amid the mud; looking down on the main stage; extracting the 'honey wagon' from the mud' Emiliana Torrini on Friday; Larry Love and Mr James Morton of Hillswick.Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A cleared croft

Sannions is one of two crofts north of Boatsgeo, Heylor, Shetland, cleared in the 19th century. The other is called Sumra, and both roofless houses were evidently carefully and strongly built.
I walked out from the road end on Saturday morning, the first time I'd ever been there. And it's amazing. Further north on what I suppose is the Tingon peninsula, there is the landmark headland called The Faither, large lochs, and I already know the volcanic outcrops and huge waterfalls. But the two crofts are incredibly atmospheric. You stand inside the walls, the wind dies away, and you can imagine everything that happened there in the past.
Below Sannions is a small beach, obviously used as a landing and reached by a precipitous path down the geo. On Sunday I was at a party with some local folk who knew the crofts well, and one man whose great grandfather used to dry fish on the same beach, every day during the season of 'Da Haaf' - the great herring fishery, conducted in open boats far out to sea. The crofts were cleared, apparently, after two Shetlanders came back from a profitable gold mining expedition and bought up the land. The Sannions and Sumra families loaded everything they owned - animals, furniture, goods and chattels, even the newly-cut corn, and sailed up Ronas Voe, landing at the head.
I had to leave, alas, before exploring Sumra, but I'll be back. It's one of the strangest, most melancholy, yet seductive areas I've ever been in Shetland.Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 25, 2005

Scenes from the West Highland Way

We set off from Milngavie in brutally hot conditions, and soon found it was necessary to soak ourselves in sunblock, anti-midge Skin So Soft (works, by annoying the midges, not killing them) and anything capable of destroying clegs, ticks and other beasties the tourist brochures never mention.
First two days ( Milngavie to Drymen, Drymen to Rowardennan) were really hard going - 16 miles a pop, feet not ready, blisters agogo - and the less remote first sections are a bit tedious. Loch Lomond on a hot Sunday between Balmaha and Rowardennan was a nightmare of jetskis (ban them all) messy barbecues and huge piles of litter. Rowardennan on was a delight, but that path up the eastern side of Loch Lomond is a struggle. And the Inversnaid Hotel is a disgrace - it should have a big sign saying WALKERS BARELY TOLERATED. Idiots. They must be losing a fortune through stupidity and arrogance. Whaur's yer Manley Hopkins noo?
Beinglass Farm comes highly recommended - great wee bar. Crianlarich next day wasn't really far enough - we were fitter and faster and ready for more. But great to see the trains! Over to Bridge of Orchy past Tyndrum was a delight - fast, hot, glorious mountain scenery, and the old military road provoking us to marching songs. Pity about the tick bites - would I get Lyme Disease? Great food at Bridge of Orchy - good hotel, posh but welcoming. Then the magical trek through Rannoch Moor to Glencoe. Fantastic. I love the Kingshouse Hotel, though you couldn't describe it as anything but, well, rough and ready. It's for climbers, basically. Four tea bags per pot! Those deer were photographed from the window at 10.30 pm. There was venison on the menu...Bambiburgers. Then the Devil's Staircase out of Glencoe and a short bash into Kinlochleven, before the wonderful Larigmhor to Fort William. I ate like a horse and lost half a stone. Also, cider now works for me, which it never did before. James was a star. Nasty infection from the tick bites, but no Lyme Disease. But be warned. Don't wear shorts...

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Well, one final post before heading off on holiday. I'm walking the West Highland Way from the 9th of July, with son J, and doubtless there will be adventures and pictures once that's over. It's been a tiring and in many ways very difficult and demanding past six months, and I'm looking forward to the break. Especially as, mysteriously and excitingly, I've fallen in love all over again with Scotland's landscape, and I can't wait to get in amongst the mountains. Anyway, this is Shetland, and one of the strangest parts of the North Mainland. There is a ridge on the road to North Roe, just at Lochend, called the Beorgs of Skelberry, and when you climb it, and dip down into the valley beyond (where the Collafirth Burn offers several very deep and interesting swimming holes) you face this glaciated boulder field (maybe that's the wrong term). Anyway, it is, in certain lights, one of the spookiest places on earth. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005

Tom's Tour II: West Highlands and higher still...

...and on the way home. Possibly the best sea trip north ever on Sunday (last night). This is the 'simmer dim', about 10.45 pm, with the Hjaltland approaching Kirkwall. It all ended badly this morning, when merely brushing the brakelever of the Harley against a brand new Honda Pan European ripped the mirror and indicator off the glistening plastic projectile. I apologised and departed. Posted by Hello

Pink castle - Raven's Craig above Achmore Posted by Hello

Now that's what I call an imaginatively-named bar... Posted by Hello

Ullapool, the Stornoway Ferry and, Posted by Hello

How gorgeous can Scotland be? This is Calgary Beach on Mull. Posted by Hello

Mull Roofing techniques Posted by Hello

Tom's Tour II...after a brutal run from Aberdeen via the horrendous Lecht, sunshine in Ardnamurchan. Waiting for the Lochaline ferry to Fishnish in Mull Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Harleys in the Highlands...the dampness factor

Tom's Tour II is half way through as I write - I'm in Inverness and my leather breeks have not yet quite dried out after yesterday's horrendous trip from Fort William.
Tobermory was lovely, and the run over from Aberdeen fine once I got past Grantown on Spey. The Lecht was atrocious, but grimly spectacular. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of the most gorgeous places on earth, and staying in Banavie on Monday night meant a phenomenal view of Ben Nevis and Aonach Mor.
The Harley has run well so far - everyone who knows bikes tends to look askance at the idea of touring on a Sportster, but I rather like it. I like its squat smallness too. And despite tbeing he smallest Harley lump, that 883 with Screaming Eagles Stage II mods) really pokes out the torque when push comes to overtaking shove.
People have been turning up to the various rendezvous locations - sorry to everyone who came to Tobermory, only to find that I'd had to make a breakneck dash to the Craignure Ferry and a working studio in Oban. yesterday at Ardgour, featuring the on-air wedding of Mary anne Kennedy and Nick Turner, was extraordinary.
Pictures, and a chance to relive those nuptials, are all obtainable here .

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Chronicles of Seagirt - parts one and two

This is the new, somewhat whimsical I admit, column I'm writing for The Shetland Times . Possibly of interest only to those connected to The Old Rock.


Part the First: The sinking of the Lachrymose.

THE pirates slew everyone on board, and stole every stitch of our cargo. The northern European undergarment trade was not what it once had been.
I always knew our involvement in a business as fickle and demanding as the illegal export of smalls to Faroe would come to no good. The demand in that strange, puffin-munching, whale-masticating land for knickers with central appurtenances missing, or indeed the rarest of the rare, extra-large Y-Fronts in the Buchanan tartan, has, as you doubtless know, forced many hitherto god-fearing seamen into danger and deceit.
Long had we of the good ship Lachrymose traded up and down the coast of Caledonia in such everyday, innocent items as sheep brains and cow spinal cords, much used by the Caledonian National Herbal Health Service in treating such common local diseases as Rampant Lung Fluke and Black Ear Canal Sputum Surge. But alas, our captain, a man whose only weakness involved a combination of the highly dangerous Jaggy’s Cream Ultraviolence Liqueur and – when he could find, them, which fortunately was not often – camels, was tempted by the promise of cash and an infinite supply of dromedaries.
The Faroese had developed what can only be called a mass addiction to what most would call strange items of underclothing, and in the far north of Caledonia, ruthless men and women were prepared to go to any lengths to meet their needs. Following the Salmond Plaid Act and the Lower Nakedness statute, Caledonia had placed strict importation and manufacturing controls on all forms of underwear, so Caledons in Caithland and Sutherness would bring shipments of (mainly Latvian) knickers in at tiny ports throughout those counties. They were, if you will, snapped up, for the illegal wearing of cladding or support beneath the kilt, albeit flouting the law, had become popular following the much publicised incident involving The Lord High Salmond and a Jack Russell Terrier. Then came the discovery that Faroe, where the advent of an extreme Buddhist Presbyterian Naturist government, the popularity of sparrow beak stew and the legalisation of Lysergic Acid had brought strange tastes to the fore among the populace, offered a more specialised market. That was simply too much of a temptation for some. And we became, at length victims.
Because where there is a demand which some meet illegally, others, more desperate and depraved, will capitalise on that illegality. So we smugglers smuggled, and the pirates pirated. The money, and the camels, made it worth risk, at least in our captain’s eyes. And yes, I know that dromedaries and camels are different, but our poor Captain had become somewhat undiscerning by this time. It was really a question of humps.
And so it was that, on the 15th of May, we were attacked by pirates, almost certainly the most feared variety, the vicious HellyVikings from that near-legendary island, Seagirt. I knew little then about that dark, shadowy place. Now, friends, I know too much. But even in my state of youthful ignorance, I was aware that a small community of what at first had been enthusiastic historical re-enactors, had become one of the most feared bands of bloodthirsty cutthroats in the North Atlantic and North Sea. With the possible exception, obviously, of the now almost forgotten Zetlandic Picto-Masons, all obliterated in that terrible explosion at the Ronas Voe nuclear repository.
Ronas Voe and Picto-Masons, though, were nothing to me as I clung to a half-deflated lifefraft and watched the HellyVikings, clearly in the grip of dreadful potato hallucinations and turnip bloodlust, steer their fearsome war galley the Goodladian back and forth, looking for survivors to slaughter, cook and eat. The Hellyvikings’ propensity for human flesh, cooked in the giant microwave oven on the Goodladian’s deck, stems from their worship of the sheep, or Woolygod, and consequent refusal to eat any other form of meat save that of the human creatures they call “mutton eaters”. It is why they are sometimes known by the insulting term “vegetarian cannibals”, often shortened to “veggieballs”. For strange religious reasons, their human meals must be pulled from the water before consumption. A process with religious roots I believe is called the Marinade.
The Lachrymose was an old-fashioned hydrogen-powered vessel, no match for the Goodladian’s fusion engine. We hove to, and the crew stood helplessly by as a boarding party, armed with the latest GLOCK electric pistols, forced us to help them unload the bales of underwear. Our hold was soon empty. They were for the most part very ugly, the Hellyvikings, dressed in carbon fibre helmets fitted, chillingly, with what I recognised from old films as Mickey Mouse ears. The blue boiler suits struck terror into the heart.
Finally, they repaired to their own ship, leaving us on the Lachrymose, and stood off about 50 metreyards. Their laser cannon ripped great holes in our hull, and it was only a matter of time before our gas tanks exploded. Along with most of the crew, I jumped into the sea, leaving the captain, bottle of Ultraviolence in his hand, shouting imprecations at the Hellyvikings and clutching a stuffed miniature camel he called Theodora. The explosion which tore the Lachrymose apart sent burning shards of aluminium showering down on we swimmers, killing several and wounding more. By a miracle, I escaped injury.
The process of The Marinade began But I escaped consumption by the drooling Hellyvikings. I imagine they hauled from the water their fill of my shipmates, and perhaps a sacrificial feast had already been scheduled on Seagirt and time was of the essence. For whatever reason, I was left to drift in the wallowing waves, and ponder my poor and unhappy life.
That did not take long. I was 21, a graduate in sociology, anthropology and aggressive rock music studies from the University of Thurso, and had signed up with the Lachrymose out of boredom. Also a desire to escape responsibility for the three children fathered with various female lecturers. My debts. And the bounty placed on my head by Vladimir “Nutter” Mowatt, one of Caithness’s new breed of hybrid Russian drug dealers. The advent of the highly addictive, genetically modified Creamola Foam, known by cognoscenti simply as Foam, had left many lives blighted, including my own.
My name is Ernest Golightly. Call me Clint.

Part the second: landfall

I do not know how long I drifted among the oily detritus left by the Lachrymose’s sinking, the corpses disdained by the Hellyvikings as unsuitable for culinary purposes, the occasional empty bottle of Rape and Pillage Dark Rum.
My life was saved, undoubtedly, by one of my late captain’s inflatable camels, of which he had a collection, mostly kept for special occasions such as Christmas, Salmond Day, The Festival of Ewings or Blair Pelting. I gripped this brightly coloured rubber beast like a drowning man. Which, in point of fact, I was.
During summer, night does not fall in these northern climes. A silvery evening greyness, the Glummer Dumb as I have learned to call it, is all that marks the evening from the day. I was cold, but I thanked my ancestors’ frenzied burning of fossil fuels that the sea temperature had risen to levels safe for continued exposure. The submergence of great chunks of coastal Caledonia had been, I admitted, unfortunate.
At length, the guttural mooing and neighing of mutant seal-ponies, the result of some forgotten experiment in genetic modification aimed at supplying marine meat to the Dutch, indicated that land was near. I could only hope that the Giant Cod-Orca, predator of the strange seal-pony, was not an early visitor to these waters. In the main, come summer the Cod-Orca schools moved towards easier pickings among the humans to be found bathing for their health in the spa waters from the old Hunterston F nuclear station. How laughable it seems now that irradiated water was once thought harmful! Now its healing properties have become an obsession among the poor humans vulnerable to ultraviolet light. Epidermal damage from the ozone layer’s depletion reached epidemic proportions, of course, before Avon-BMW developed their gene therapy Skin-So-Soft bio-germ molecular alteration lotion. It saved the lives of millions who could afford it, but for those who couldn’t, the attractions of heated, gamma-heavy water from the likes of Hunterston F often outweighed the dangers from Cod-Orcas, the vicious St Bernardino turtles, and the infamous mutated elephant otters, which can snap a man in half and then suck his innards out with their hairy trunks.
I tried to put thoughts of such horrid creatures from my mind, as my feet touched the rocky seabed. I was too weak to stand, and let the tide carry me in towards what I could see was a harsh, rocky coastline. And it was then the first laser blast grenade plopped into the water next to me.
Even in my state of advanced exhaustion, fear lanced through me, I had seen the effect of laser grenades before. One had ripped apart a Thurso butchers during the Great Anarcho-Vegan Terror. Little was left but some sizzling veal steaks and a couple of mutton chops, well done.
But nothing happened. And I heard a weary voice from the shoreline:
“Damn. I knew that thing was no good. Never buy council surplus equipment.”
Then rough hands were lifting me form the water, dragging me across the jagged rocks with scant regard for either my dignity or bodily wellbeing. I knew immediately that I had fallen among what could only be an offshoot of a tribe I knew and feared all too well: the Whelkish.
The Whelkish came into being during the early noughtes, as mainly young people from what was then the United Kingdom’s towns and cities left home and job, often influenced by an erstwhile politician turned DJ, monk and lifestyle guru, the man known as Fr.Young MC Bressay, and previously as leader of the Caledonian Libtories, Lord Tavish of Scott.
Fr Bressay renounced politics after a religious experience and a brutal attack by a particularly fearful wing of the dreaded Hellyvikings (he narrowly escaped Marinading and ritual consumption by claiming he had recently eaten asparagus). He spread the word throughout Caledonia that wearing hair in dreadlocks, like him, and living on a diet of shellfish and peat-water, like him, would lead to a state of constant nirvana. He disappeared in mysterious circumstances during a pilgrimage, it is said, to the Ross Shire wilderness, there to worship at the Great Whisky Chapel of Castle Kennedy.
At any rate, the roaming bands of poverty-stricken shellfish eaters became known as the Whelkish, from a slang term for the Common Winkle, for which they combed shorelines. At length, following the discovery that certain winkle extracts could cure male pattern baldness, some Whelkish bands became wealthy, and established colonies sprang up throughout the Caledonian territories. They became notorious for guarding their whelk beds fiercely, and dealing summarily with those suspected of whelk or winkle piracy.
All these thoughts raced through my mind as I was dragged across the rocks towards the glinting lights of what looked very like an ancient Airstream caravan, its aluminium body shining in the grey twilight of the Glummer Dumb.
I was thrown roughly down on the grass beside the caravan’s entrance, and an low-laser torch was shone in my face. A voice said:
“Whelk pirates face instant pulping as lobster-gator bait, stranger. Convince me you should be allowed to live.”
I thought hard. But nothing came immediately to mind.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Eshaness and da Grind o' da Navir

To Eshaness this morning, which was NOT as stormy as this winter picture indicates. Still, one of the great European cliff walks, right along to the legendary Grind o'da Navir, a kind of Giant's Causeway ripped and crushed by wave action. Fascinating website about Eshaness, waves and indeed the Grind itself, here. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Here we go...

So, here we go again...unions decide BBC's "offer" ain't good enough, and are demanding more talks. Doubtless there will be more semantic wrangling over the difference between "negotiation" and "consultation". Meanwhile, Jeremy Clarkson has (and I never thought I'd say this) some pertinent and very funny points to make.

Monday, May 30, 2005


It's bizarre, but in the nature of blogging, to move from the macro to the micro, the painful implications of strike action and inaction to, well (sorry, I can't resist this) chickens coming home to roost. Only our nameless hen wasn't roosting, she was brooding over a clutch of eggs. Alas, they began hatching yesterday in the midst of foul, nasty, windy and cold weather, and most of the morning was spent in attempted resuscitation, having hauled hen, remaining eggs and swooning chicks into the kitchen.
Next, I was informed by assembled family that the most suitable place for three chicks (we lost one) and hen to recuperate was in my office, studio, Barn of Bannocks, call it what you will. Which is why today's TM Show will doubtless resonate the sound of, ahem, chirping and cheeping. But not, of course, any kind of chirpy cheep-cheep. Or, in the case of my wife's new car, a rather chirpy but very cheap Jeep. Of which more another time. Posted by Hello

Friday, May 27, 2005

Off for the moment...

Thank strike next week while the unions consider what to do next. Check out for all the details.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


NOTE: this personal posting is copyright Tom Morton, 2005. All rights reserved. No quoting or reproduction without express permission of the author.

The Aberdeen Journals strike of 1989-90 was a nasty, brutal, long dispute, and the results were all bad: diminished, compromised newspapers; bitter divisions between re-employed strikers and those who had worked throughout the dispute; a devastating effect, financially and morally, on the National Union of Journalists, and, following the final "settlement", anger from NUJ freelances at the attitude of the NUJ leadership towards them.
The Journals dispute, along of course with Wapping, put the final nail in the coffin of closed-shop union working in Scottish journalism. It caused upheaval among families as journalists were sacked, couldn't sustain a living freelancing, suffered health problems, moved home. No-one who experienced it would want to put themselves through anything similar again. And people tend to forget that originally, it was about money.
The current BBC industrial action bears few comparisons. Attitudes on both sides of the picket lines on Monday seemed generally good-tempered. Those who chose to work did so with heavy hearts. And it's not about cash. Though of course, everything is about money in the end.
I did my usual two hour show on Monday, and I certainly felt bad at seeing friends and colleagues out on strike. But I am no longer a member of the NUJ, and completely disagree that taking BBC Radio Scotland off the air is by any stretch of the imagination going to "save our BBC" as the placards had it. It can cause nothing but damage to listeners' and viewers' confidence in the station, at a time when it faces more, and increasing, competition than ever before. Severing the relationship between broadcaster and listener, even briefly, can cause permanent damage. And the BBC's creaky infrastructure needs rebuilding, no question.
The thought of next week's 48-hour action fills me with foreboding. No-one, from either side, has pressurised me or even contacted me on the subject. Perhaps music presenters (Moyles, Whiley, Wogan, Bruce, Wogan and Walker all broadcast) are seen as in some way beyond the political pale. Who knows?
I do know this. As a freelance contractor, I have absolutely no job security at the BBC. That's fair enough, I'm not looking for sympathy. I get well paid. It's my bed, I made it and I'll lie in it. if and when the time comes to leave, I hope I'll walk away with some dignity.
But having worked freelance for years, I know that things out in the cold, unforgiving reaches of independent broadcasting make even the proposed, lean'n'mean BBC look like a fat, warm and cuddly teddy bear. And I'm afraid that's the real media world out there, with its buy-out, short-term contracts, its cheapo indie productions where health and safety audits are a laughable luxury, its desperate teenage hacks on starvation wages.
Trying to stop the BBC heading down that road is highly laudable, but taking strike action to do it is simply not going to work. It's like striking against the weather. The problem with the Aberdeen Journals dispute was the political context it happened in: everything was changing; that kind of union action was never going to be allowed to succeed. The technological context of the current action at the BBC means it cannot succeed either.
But scars just as permanent could be left. I sincerely hope not.

Personal posting, copyright Tom Morton 2005. All rights reserved. No quoting or reproduction without express permission of the author.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The legendary Unst bus shelter

Unst is the most northerly island in Shetland, and indeed Britain. Two ferry rides away from Mainland, on which we live and breathe and have our being. Just north of Baltasound, the biggest township, you will find this fully-furnished bus shelter, maintained by local lad Bobby Macaulay, who has his own website at
I was in Unst to make a BBC Radio Four programme about energy (there is a fantastic project underway there to extract hydrogen from water using wind energy) and enjoyed myself, as usual. It's a fascinating and beautiful island. Check out for more details. Posted by Hello

Monday, May 09, 2005

Cold spring harbour

The weather has turned really nasty all of a sudden, and for the past four days we’ve had hail, snow and all kinds of meteorological mayhem.
This has wreaked havoc on the lambing, which happens later in Shetland than anywhere else in the UK. Baby sheep have been dying all over the place this weekend, and there’s little anyone can do. Native Shetland sheep – officially a rare breed everywhere else but here – are hardy beasts, capable of surviving entire winters with little or no shelter. But new born lambs are obviously very vulnerable.
I think it was sixteen years ago, we were living in Cromarty on the Black Isle, and came back to Shetland for the month of May. It was almost insanely hot, day after day, week after week. Sunstroke became endemic. The islands ran short of sunscreen. It was bliss.
And now, here we are, shivering with the central heating turned up full. Apparently it’s global warming to blame. Of course! I should've known...

Sunday, April 24, 2005

How to make an anchor: it's been an amazing weekend in the People's Republic of Hillswick: My neighbour, blacksmith Bruce Wilcock, has masterminded the hand-forging of a full-size naval anchor, using Victorian technology. The local Amenity Trust paid for three top Yorkshire blacksmiths to come to Shetland, and with Bruce and a local Shetland smith, it took just three days to make the anchor from odd pieces of scrap and salvaged iron. A DVD of the entire project will be available in due course, but this is the completed anchor, with the guys whose muscle power made it. Welding takes on a whole different perspective when it's done by several men wielding hammers on white-hot metal. Pictured: (l to r) Michael, Mark, Bruce, Ian, David. Posted by Hello

Friday, April 22, 2005

Mountains in Shetland...and politics for pets

This is the current Nippy Sweetie, for some reason(!) unavailable on the Shetland Times website...

I know the Labour candidate likes dogs, because he was in our house the other day, and gave Quoyle the (now rather stinky) black Labrador a cuddle. And the cat. I did not allow him to cuddle me.
The Great Beasts of Hillswick are absent at the moment, one of them to breed more and greater beasts, the other in training not to nuzzle shamanistic beaters of bongo drums. Otherwise it would have been useful to see how Richard Meade reacted to St Bernards in full slobbering mode.
I would assume that pet-cuddling is part of the training process candidates of all parties go through, even the Revolutionary Trotskyist Scottish Socialist Not Tommy, No Sunbed, Mostly Teachers Faction. For some reason I think of these revolutionaries as throwing manly embraces of brotherhood around the necks of Lulu, the soon-to-return, (slightly) stupider St B, and stoically bearing the great globules of spittle as Leon himself would, like they were ice axes. Melted ones.
Is there a Tory? One must assume there is one, somewhere, but presumably both he and the UKIP fellow will want to see the Labradors sent back to Labrador and the St Bs forcibly repatriated to Switzerland, despite the fact that they were of course born in this country. Partly because of the compulsory tweeds, I can’t see these right wingers coping with the drool terribly well in a political clinch, though the UKIP chap’s name suggests a familiarity with such situations. Officer Dribble, indeed!
Nats and Nugents I have noticed, doing their thing, but nowhere near canines. I have of late, after rather too much strenuous exposure to giant breeds, taken a shine to Scotties, and even the shamefully tamed and gentrified Shetland sheepdogs, but lapdogs in the end of the day tend to poo or pee in the most inappropriate places. Like laps.
That leaves Alastair, of course, of the Carmichael Party. And he could be forgiven a self-satisfied smile, because he has this election more than sewn up for the Carmichaels. The fact that he is allegedly a Charlie-Libocrat is of no importance or interest to anyone, really. He is such a good guy, with his heart in so many right places, it feels like a personal insult to even think of voting against him. And it is absolutely certain that he, for one, will not send the St Bs back to dodge avalanches, or Labradors to fetch fishing floats from the icy Canadian ocean.
*** *** ***
Having returned, restored and refreshed (once the food poisoning wore off) from the Lake District, I have become obsessed with mountains. Or, seeing as we’re in Shetland, hills. Well, to be strictly accurate, little lumps in the local landscape.
These sceptr’d isles are not known for their soaring heights, except when it comes to cliffs, but it strikes me that our peerie hills are, in some cases, rather good ones, and that they should be celebrated. Also, they should be climbed, and the fact that (a) none of them are very high, and (b) many can be accessed from roads or tracks which go a fair way up them, makes them appealing to the kind of hillwalker whose knees are beginning to squeak alarmingly unless WD40 is inhaled in massive quantities. People like myself, in other words.
Now, elsewhere in the UK hills are classified according to their height. In Scotland alone there are Munros, Munro Tops, Murdos, Murdo Tops, Corbetts, Donalds, Donald Tops and Grahams. Munros, top out at more than 3000 feet, Corbetts at 2000 ( I think) though there are complex calculations involving peaks on the same ridge.
It struck me (in a quiet moment) that it might be fun to evolve a system of peak-classification for Shetland, and to that purpose I have been poring over maps. As I prefer feet and inches to metres and whatever else goes with them, I favour the Ordnance Survey Popular Edition One-Inch maps of 1928 and 1948, and I would point out that this is a work in progress, so please – your suggestions, corrections, insults and metaphorical slaps about the chops.
First, the height. I think 800 feet has to be the cut-off. Anything smaller is just too, well, low, though I am aware that this leaves both Yell and Bressay absent from what I am provisionally calling the list of Peerie Muckles. Though as you will see, I am also fiddling it a bit. And I’m inclined to include a couple of coastal cliffs, just because they are so extremely….high.
I think we could have a bit of fun this summer with charity climbs of all 15 Peerie Muckles, record attempts on completing the lot in 24 hours, encouraging tourists to become “Peerie Muckle Completists” or even instituting an annual Peerie Muckle Race, involving boats, bicycles and possibly helicopters. Here we go. Grid references available on request:

THE PEERIE MUCKLES (a provisional list)

Mainland: Fitful Head (928 feet); Ward of Scousburgh (863 feet); Royl Field (also on some maps just as Bonxa Hill) (960 ); Muskna Field (858); Sandness Hill (817); Scalla Field (921); Gruti Field (841) Bratta Field (834); Hill of Dale (797 – I know, I know. But it’s only a yard in old money) Weisdale Hill (no height on my maps, but over the 800 foot contours). Then the biggies, all in one massif: Ronas Hill (1475) Mid Field (1273) and Roga Field (1201).

The isles: Shetland’s second highest peak is on Foula, where the Sneug soars to 1373 feet. But having made the trip, it has to be worth peering over the Kame, at 1220, it being the highest sheer sea cliff in Britain. And finally, there’s Saxa Vord in Unst at a surprising 934 feet.

I’m tempted to throw in the Ward of Otterswick in Yell (672) and the Ward of Bressay (743) as Mini-Muckles. But 15 Peeries seems a like a good figure to me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The glory that is Center Parcs...or at least, the food.
We went to the Lake District for our (late) Easter holidays, and I rediscovered the wonders of Keswick and Derwentwater (every childhood Easter holiday, I was taken there). We stayed at the Oasis Center Parcs complex near Penrith, which is, on the whole, excellent in a bourgeois Butlins sort of way. Lots of really well supervised activities, nice swimming complex, fine accommodation. But oh dear, the restaurants! Awful. The most expensive "Indian" restaurant in the world. And, for your delectation and delight, 16 ounces of horribly fatty burger, enjoyed, admittedly, by my 17-year-old son.
My big, biggest, most debilitating problem was food poisoning, incurred at a Penrith spa hotel just before going to CP. It lasted the entire week, and when I attempted to eat approximately half the quantity of burger my son had, the result was my first bout of vomiting in five years. Lovely. Posted by Hello