Monday, January 31, 2005


I have to admit to loving American Chopper. And it was my 13-year-old son James who forced me to watch the series in the first place. We also bonded over Long Way Round (that's the one where Ewen McGregor and his pal Charley Boorman go round the world on a pair of free BMW R1150Gs bikes (free! And the two of them as rich as Croesus!). Well sort of almost round the world, and with a film crew, doctor and presumably a vast amount of agentorial concern.
While I'm on the subject, Ewen and Charley were apparently inspired (as so many of us were) by Ted Simon's wonderful book Jupiter's Travels, about his epic trans-global bike trip. Ted pops up in Long Way Round for about 45 seconds, in Kazakhstan, for no apparent reason, looking embarrassed and unhappy, and I'm desperate to know the real story behind that fleeting appearance. What happened? Did they fly him out there? Was he meant to accompany the pair? Was there some kind of falling out? Not that anyone's going to tell me.
Anyway, back to American Chopper, where ridiculous motorcycles become even more ridiculous. It's the use of the word 'sick' as an adulatory adjective that gets me every time. Things aren't cool, or really cool, in the crazy world of Orange County Cycles. They're sick, or truly sick.
Meanwhile I have been truly, sickly sick in the pre-Chopper sense for the past six days, with flu. nasty, nasty stuff, only alleviated by the delights of watching DVDs in bed on my laptop: Celebrity (Kenneth Branagh as Woody Allen, Charlize Theron looking amazing, Judy Davis epicly funny; generally excellent) Shadows and Fog (Woody doing Fritz Lang; runs out of steam) and the truly wonderful Norwegian film Elling, a sort of Dumb and Dumber with real pathos and sensitivity. I'm being a tad crass, perhaps. But as I think Dumb and Dumber is the second best film of all time, that is high, if crass praise indeed.
Whisky, rum, garlic, co-codamol, red wine, curry, vitamin pills - nothing cured me but bed rest and time. The word is this: flu-jab (which would be two words, were it not for that hyphen). Get one. It's sick. Really sick.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Sniff and the tears...

...which was, unbelievably, the name of a semi-successful pop group. I'm sniffing, coughing and weeping with the tears of a flu-ridden invalid, and yet it's on with the show today at two. No weakness must be shown.
Anyway, here's another Nippy Sweetie from the current Shetland Times. It was partly provoked by comments passed at the press conference before Up Helly Aa. The thuggish xenophobia which lurks beneath the surface of "Europe's greatest fire festival" reared its all-too-ugly head. "No soothmoothers" indeed! What with the "no women" rule that already stands, it's no wonder that militant anti-Up Helly Aa forces are beginning to muster. Watch, if you will, this space.

The Nippy Sweetie

Alcohol, my alcohol, how I love you! What a wondrous boon to humanity you are! What benefits you have brought to us, what insights, what boosts to the spirit of common decency! How could I possibly live without you, oh great companion of my rosy hours, inspirer of higher thought, douser of evil mental inflammations!
I must control myself. But I get enthusiastic about alcohol’s amazing, nay magical powers. Take intelligence. Alcohol increases it, makes people brighter, more capable of deep thought, and heavens, a great deal more articulate. How else do you explain the tremendous advances in human knowledge that have emerged from repositories of intellectual attainment like Captain Flint’s and the Thule? The deep meditations on the workings of soul politics and salsa sauce: none could possibly occur without the application of libations. We drink, therefore we think. What bliss. And even better, memory is increased by alcohol too, so we remember every tiny nuance of the argument, every jot and tittle of brain cell activity, in the bright dawn of the next day.
Because that’s another thing about drink: It actually makes you feel better in the mornings, the more you’ve consumed the previous night. Try it and you will experience a blissful clarity when you awake, joyous with expectation of what the new day can bring. Also, it provides mental and physical energy, sustaining you through even the most testing tasks. Wondrous!
Even better, alcohol increases physical and mental co-ordination, enabling the regular user to operate complex machinery in imaginative and expressive ways, and to achieve new levels in roadcraft, in car, truck or lorry. More and more aeroplane pilots too testify to the fantastic increase in their aviation skills after partaking of a Carlsberg Special or three. And for that, many of us who remain mere passengers, can be eternally grateful.
Whisky or beer, vodka or rum, what a difference they make to all personal relationships, bringing peace where violence once reigned, love instead of indifference, sensitivity rather than the boorish bullying of the typically sober. How many marriages have been saved by drink? Too many to count. After all, sex is vastly improved by alcohol, both in the expectation and the performance.
Children relish the behaviour of inebriated parents. The caring skills of mother and father are multiplied by the excessive use of Aftershock and alcopop, and how satisfying it is to see young children learning at their parents’ knees how to consume ethanol cocktails in an excessive and liberating manner! And of course, drinking makes you wealthy, too. Sometimes overnight.
Those of us who live in the Zetlandic Archipelago must also take great comfort in the way that the availability of industrial drink has benefited that fine Lerwick festival of Up Helly A’, bringing new levels of responsible social behaviour, concern for the image of the isles, literacy and a truly heartening negation of past xenophobic tendencies. How much more the historical Vikings might have achieved had they possessed the appetite for strong spirits and the extraordinary physical condition and glittering criminal record of this year’s Jarl Squad! But alas, history cannot be rewritten. Other than by the Up Helly A’ committee, obviously, which is the law.
Alas, many of the journalists and broadcasters brought to the isles this week by our fine tourism officers at vast expense were sorrowful excuses for that once fine breed of men and women. They did not drink, or did so minimally, and were thus left befuddled and bewildered by the high flown eloquence and brilliant strategies of the Up Helly A’ denizens. Despite the honour of being dubbed ‘soothmoothers’ and banned from the burning site by men – real men, men of such titanic standing, journalists are unfit to even lick their ritually unwiped arses, though indeed some tried – the sober hacks were pathetically upset. They moaned, they writhed, they threatened to withdraw funding and even invoke the race relations act. Fools! Do they not recognise the level of alcohol-enhanced brilliance they are dealing with? Get thee hence, southern hacks and hackettes, consumers of mineral water and cappuccino! Do not darken our isles again, and take your tourist moolah with you! We do not need such mediocre money while we have the prospect of an invisible distillery, and such a profitable aquaculture sector!
Meanwhile, to the bar, my friends, and let us become better people the only way we know how: by getting absolutely pished, falling over and being sick. It is a calling; it is a religious, a humanist, a consciousness-raising experience. It is what we live for. Oh alcohol, how much we owe you. How can we ever repay you for what you’ve done?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The dogs on mainstreet howl...

...'cause they understand...

Well, back to Starbucks, doin' that wi-fi thing, and this could become addictive. Anyway, it's undoubtedly boring to have me going on about the joys of sitting here with a tall Americano, so to speak, so here's the new Nippy Sweetie, pre-publication, for those who don't get the glorious and wonderful Shetland Times...


MONGRELS of the world, there is hope! No longer need you feel diminished and downtrodden because of your mixed parentage. From now on, you can stare so-called pedigree pooches right in the snout with pride, knowing that you are their equal not only in style, character and courage, but in breeding.
Unless, of course, you are some sort of Dachshund – Basset Hound cross, in which case staring a Doberman, German Shepherd or, God love us, a St Bernard in the snout is likely to present certain difficulties. Still, knowing that you have some sort of official status should take the sting out of such encounters.
It’s all thanks to a lovely man called Duncan Gillespie, one of the great Scottish journalists, former editor of the Scottish Farmer, winemaker, author and much more. He has taken pity on canines without family trees stretching back into the mists of history, and come up with a way of providing mongrels -or at least, Scottish-born ones - with a sense of true identity. As, well, Haggishounds. Caledonian Haggishounds.
Log onto the website and all will become clear. The deal is you (probably best coming from the owner rather than the dug itself) register your 57-variety pet online, pay a modest sum, and by return of post receive a proud certificate stating that Towser (or Petra, Kylie, Killer or Demon Dog) is no longer a wandering, rootless soul in dogworld, but a pedigree Haggishound, with all the consequent rights and privileges.
Now, my life was littered with mongrel dogs, until the arrival of Quoyle the Labrador, as good-natured a pedigree mutt as you could hope for. Unfortunately, despite his breeding, he is the worst gun dog in the world, yelping for home with his tail between his legs whenever a shotgun goes off. Before him, way back in the mists of boyhood, there was Brownie the, ah, mixture and her psychotic son Dougal, even more of a mixture. Guinness, rescued from the Glasgow Cat and Dog Home, was an idiotic combination of rat and collie, while Kojak the sort-of Staffordshire Bull Terrier went, predictably, bald.
As well as Quoyle, poor long suffering Quoyle, there are the St Bernards, Thick and Thicker. They are undoubtedly pedigree things, with certificates of thickness to prove it. The bairns love them, and I can just about put up with the constant dribble. They are quite preposterously stupid, though. Like frisky cows. Only don’t try to milk them.
We have our garden gated, cattle-gridded (mainly to stop wandering sheep destroying expensive plants, and the consequent, embarrassing insurance claims against their owners) and fenced, and for the most part, the two St Bernards can be contained, even at their friskiest. A frisky St Bernard is a sight to behold. They are the size of small Shetland ponies, but they can jump, rear and turn on a sixpence should they feel like it. And they can move very quickly indeed. Should one hit you, and normally its intentions are nothing but warmly idiotic, you may, like me, break several ribs. So you don’t want them to get out if tourists are about. Apart from anything else, there is the risk of drowning some hapless German in dogspit. And that’s not good.
People walking their (inevitably much smaller) dogs in the immediate vicinity of the garden can be shocked to find two very large, bouncy animals approaching at thunderous speed, intent on heavy duty licking. But this happens only rarely, and one recent incident, much apologised for, was a result of the gate being left open and the amazing capacity of Thick and Thicker to get over the cattle grid, friendly and joyful cuddling in mind. Somebody complained to the police. Imagine what they said: “Officer: I wish to register a complaint. I have been slavered on by giant, strangely tactile beasts who came upon me out of the whirling occult Hillswick darkness! The Hound of the Baskervilles was the merest miniature poodle compared to this menacing miasma of canine malevolence! Officer, I love all animals in the world, but not these two hateful creatures of the swirling pit! I hate these big bastards with their floppy jowls, their bloodshot eyes, their terrifyingly wet, warm, strangely tactile tongues! Officer, please help me! Please send an armed response unit, cordon off Northmavine lest they escape your long (and strangely tactile) arms. Let the net of justice tangle their hideous feet in its righteous mesh!”
OK, I’m just having a laugh. The truth is, Myself, I don’t even love these dogs. But I’ll stick up for them in the face of unjust accusations. Thick and Thicker live here too. They have rights. They have the right to be thick. And to dribble, and gambol in a large and energetic way. I will say, that Thick and especially Thicker have certain events etched on their memories, and one incident when they were mere puppies, which saw them hammered with handy rocks by someone disguised, presumably for an Up Helly A’ squad, as the pre-revolutionary Russian monk Rasputin, has never been forgotten. An angry St Bernard is an interesting sight, especially approaching at an average 30 mph. And they are apparently descended from Hannibal’s war-mastiffs.
Notices are obviously required. I’m not sure what to put on them, though: BEWARE CANTERING WAR MASTIFFS is one possibility. So is DRIBBLE ALERT. VERY LARGE FRISKY MUTTS sounds quite good. Or maybe just NO HAGGISHOUNDS. Though that seems terribly discriminatory.
*** *** ***

Anyway, can I also point you in the direction of the various events being organised this weekend to raise cash for the victims of the tragic Indian Ocean tidal wave? There’s a disco in Mossbank on Friday, and I’m involved in the First Great Northern Desert Island Disco at the Pierhead Bar in Voe tomorrow night. Come and have a bop (or a progressive rock nod, or a soul shimmy, or a line-dance) to the sounds provided by Joe “Crimson King” Rocks, Jim “Groovin’ Quinn”, Brian and Lynne “Nashville” Nicholson, as well as Tom “Mr Pitiful” Morton. And that’s ‘Pitiful’ as in the Otis Redding song. In case you were wondering. Minimum contribution of a fiver, starts 8.30pm Saturday.


Tuesday, January 18, 2005

wifi success

And lo, I am in a Starbucks on Union Street, Aberdeen, and forsooth, am wirelessly connected. Thanks to t-mobile and LAN 802.11b. I feel (all caffeined up via a mocha and a capuccino) as if I'm in an episode of Friends.
I have my horn-rim specs on and am contemplating going to see Team America World Police. On the other hand, there's always Pizza Express. If you think, holy moly, Tom's giving it country bumpkin comes to town, you're durn tootin'. I am gloriously blinded by these here city lights. OK, it's only Aberdeen, but still.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Darkness, my old friend

I don't know why it shoud be so bad this year, but the Shetland winter darkness is really hurting. I think it was two days ago it just didn't get light. Dawn didn't break - it sort of bent slightly into view. The rest of the "day" was a kind of sullen twilight, and with the truly awful weather we've been having - gales, sleet and rain for three weeks - the result is debilitating.
I have one of those special "daylight" desk lamps which is supposed to alleviate Seasonal Affective Disorder and and turn you into a cheery, lightsome loon. I switch it on, I switch it off. Goodness knows what I'd feel like without it.
But the truth is, you don't feel like moving. The rumour is that on certain more remote Shetland islands, people hibernate. Truly. Because I work from the Barn of Bannocks, and we have the dogs, I at least have to stretch my legs occasionally, and when I can, I take the bikes out for a bit of a spin (pedal, not motor). It gets you down, though. You turn more and more to chocolate (caramel shortcake seems to be my own personal crack cocaine) or to be more precise, sugar. And of course, there's alcohol. Always good for clearing ice off a windscreen.
For the first time in my life, I'm looking forward to the Up Helly Aa season - the fire festivals that mark "the lightening of the year". It'll be good to see a few vikings putting galleys to the torch. And then the lengthening of the days...

Monday, January 03, 2005

Teetotal new year?

...and a very good 2005 to you. I don't know what to say about the tsunami and its after-effects. Give money. Wonder about the weird political responses in the UK. Pray and grieve and keep on going.
It's 3rd January, and yesterday was the last of our seasonal bashes. A great time has been had, I think, and last night the Italian tomato and beef stew, Moroccan beef thingy and traditional new year steak pie went down a treat. So, alas, despite promises to the contrary, did the Champagne (sparkling Australian Chardonnay, actually) Montepulciano, non-sparkling Chardonnay, Lakka (Finnish liqueur, made from berries, very sweet) Highland Park and Guinness.
This is the time of year for resolutions, and I am always tempted towards teetotalism around about 3rd January, when liver and brain throb with over-indulgence. I think that would be a cop-out, though. A kind of denial of pleasure, of life, to an extent. But what I think is worth resolving is this: to deny the worth of drunkenness. To affirm clever, healthy drinking. And I think that's a topic I'm going to pursue.
Back on air tomorrow, live, at 2.00 pm. Speak to you then.