Sunday, December 31, 2006

Old year, new year, storm on the way...

Old year: I'm 51 today. These are the rotten beams from our recently re-roofed steading. the man from Historic Scotland, alas, found some adze (axe) marks on them, and began muttering about replacing the brand-new ones with some of the old ones. What to do? Hmmm...let's have a wee think...

Old year: Burning the rotten beams before the man from Hysterical Scotland comes back. Well, all right, we saved one or two of the most-hatcheted. Didn't want to mention the fact that the internal framing of some of the house is (still) made from old sailing ship spars.

New year: stormy weather on the way. Though that, it must be said, was this morning when I was out for a walk, and everything's gone suspiciously calm. Either we're about to get hammered or the big winds have headed sooth to disrupt the city centre celebrations.
At any rate, folks, here comes 2007. See you there. Have fun. Oh, and by the way, we did save the best of the adze-marked beams. We're parcelling them up and getting ready to post them to Edinburgh.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Some good things this year

....might include...

Hallo Saferide - Introducing Hallo Saferide (album) AND Would you Let Me Play This Record Ten Times a Day? (EP)
The Feeling - I Love it when you Call (single)
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America AND Almost Killed Me (albums)
Josh Ritter - Girl in the War (single)
Neil Young and Crazy Horse - Live at the Fillmore 1973 (album)
Joe West - Trotsky's Blues (track)
Finniston - strict dancing (EP)
James Yorkston - Year of the Leopard
Acoustic Ladyland - Skinny Grin AND Last Chance Disco (albums)
Miles Davis - Bitch's Brew (album)
Bob Dylan - Modern Times (album)
Sufjan Stevens - Christmas Songs (album)
Brian Houston - Sugar Queen(album)
Duke Special - Songs from the Deep Forest (album)
Regina Spektor - Fidelity (single)
Various - Oh No! It's Christmas (Razzia Records compilation)
Kimberley Rew - entire back catalogue (!)
Kathryn Williams - Old Low Light (album)

A big year for comfort (re) reading...old favourites and new include...

James Hall - Hard Aground and others
Joseph Campbell - Myths To Live By
John Buchan - The 39 steps and Greenmantle
Ted Simon - Jupiter's Travels
Neil Stephenson - The Baroque Trilogy
Michel Houllebecq - Atomised
John Le Carre - The Mission Song
Neil Gaiman - American Gods and Stardust
Tim Pat Coogan - The Troubles

Movies and DVDs....well, Casino Royale of
Kieslowski's 'Colours' trilogy
Infernal Affairs Trilogy (phenomenal...better than The Godfather)
Hogfather on telly
Northern Exposure on DVD (at last)
Inside Man (Jodie Foster!)
Taxi 3 (French version)
Rushmore and Wes Anderson generally (catching up)

and there was more...

- Orbit touring bike
- Cycling from Hillswick to Campbelltown for CATS
- CATS generally - raising a million quid in less than a year for Shetland's CAT scanner is superb.
- Touring with James and making the (well received) CD A Complete and Utter History of Rock'n'Roll
- Belfast
- Sandy and Elaine's wedding
- Ping Pong Banana show gig at the Halt
- Shetland Folk Festival
- Martha winning the Young Traditional Fiddler of the Year (under 13) competition in Lerwick. AND getting into the National Children's Orchestra
- Magnus taking me to the Wee curry Shop
- James at the National Children's Orchestra concert
- Shetland
- Glasgow
- Lamaq guitar
- Moon guitar
- Macbook

and loads of other stuff...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Nigella (and that's Lucy the St Bernard, not Nigella. She's watching Quoyle the labrador have his annual dip) loomed large over our Christmas foodstuffing. Several recipes were downloaded and printed out, and there were parsnips, there was goosefat (frozen since last year's goose, in fact) and other such delights (including pomegranate cous-cous).
Bed, eventually, after the hilarious crashing noises involved in trying to put together a full drumkit in Martha's specially-cleared bedroom while she pretended to be asleep. Susan handled the rest of the Santactivity, which I thought was only fair. As I write, on Boxing Night, Martha has progressed further in drumming technique than I have in 40 years of hanging around with percussionistas, lugging their drums up dale and down hill and soundchecking their tom-toms and snares while they avail themselves of backstage hospitality. Boom-chicka-boom-boom-chicka, and if you will, boom.
Amazingly, everything worked - James's computer, Magnus's iPod, Martha's drumkit. Susan and I were delighted with our various presents (By a sheer fluke, I got Susan a restored treadle-driven Singer sewing machine complete with every single 80-year old extra, up to and including an instruction manual). The food was great. The afternoon was a riot of music-making, thanks to the arrival of Hazel, her mum Winnie, her aunt Lilian and Hazel's Uncle Dwight, from Burma via Manchester. Dwight turned out to be not just a doctor and an inveterate collector of guitars, but a master of the piano, the mandolin and guitar. So some post-prandial rockin' and rollin' ensued.
After that, it was time to slump before a recording of The Hogfather Part One, the stunning film version of Terry Pratchett's book. We've just watched Part Two, and frankly I think it's the best new-for-Christmas show I've seen in decades. It was truly magical. No excuse, apart from general coma, for watching the Vicar of Dibley. It was pants. Shame on you, BBC. And let's not even mention the disgraceful Jam and Jerusalem Christmas 'Special'. Rushmore popped up on Five, completing my Wes Anderson experience - it was awesome - never seen it before. And great to hear a real Scots accent in a Hollywood film, courtesy of Stephen McCole. Who would believe he was Moose Heidegger in Band of Brothers?
Anyway, managed to go groggily for a walk today. Loads of seals popping their heads out of the water at The West Ayre. The weather is peculiarly mild. In fact, it would be mild for June.I fear a foul February!
To the cold turkey! Oh, and that creepy large yellow monster on the beach is, believe it or not, hundreds of fathoms of rope, probably dumped deliberately from a fishing boat.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve, babe

...and the preparations are just about done. Susan's away to visit her mother in the care centre. Tragically, Audrey's just not fit to come home for Christmas dinner this year, and it's the end of an era.
Scott was just here with a card and tremendous news from the Sullom Voe oil terminal, just down the road - a massive renovation and reconstruction programme starting in the summer, and another 20 years of operation. It means that there will be a great deal of secure employment in this part of Shetland for the foreseeable future. And I'm not going to get into the ethical and environmental issues inherent in having Europe's biggest oil terminal on the doorstep. Hey, it's Christmas! And with the sea just 20 feet from our front door (one foot above sea level) we're at the cutting edge of global warming in the Neck of the Bog. We can always move upstairs.
To the Radiocroft under cover of twilight to pick up Martha's drumkit and a large-print Bible so I can read one of the lessons at tonight's Watchnight service in the kirk...that will be weird. I haven't read the Bible in public since my days as a practising rock'n'roll evangelist. As for the large print...can't be arsed with wearing glasses. Vanity, saith the preacher, all is vanity.
And so things wind down towards tomorrow's splurge of giving, receiving, eating and drinking. We're going out to a neighbour's hoose for some pre-kirk canapes, then, after midnight, with the bairns in bed, Santa will arrive. The youngest child in this house is a cynical 12, but still there will be mince pies and whisky laid out for Saint Nick, and a carrot for Rudolph. By tomorrow morning, all that will be left is half a carrot, marked with clear signs of reindeer-gnawing.
May you and yours have a happy time. Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Last day at work before slumping into the Christmas Call that work?

Well, I call it work.
Home, cook the tea, try to make Garageband work on the Mac. Very nearly succeed. Resolve to try again. Have glass of wine and resolve not to.
Interesting observation from Gerry, one of Susan's oldest friends. Why do people fae sooth, like us, come to live in Shetland? Because, he says, they see it as a blank canvas where they can come and repaint the picture of their ife. Or, a clean sheet of paper where they can rewrite their story.
It is, he says, a strange and magical place, and there's no doubt that's true. I came here, undoubtedly, to reinvent myself. Or find myself. Actually, I came here to default on a a mortgage on a flat in Summerston, which then mysteriously sold, I sometimes think to an anonymous friend...oh, and to escape the violent threatenings of various aggrieved Glaswegians. And, reinvent myself. And because Foula lamb is the best food I have ever tasted.
Sadly, or perhaps more or less happily, the reinvention failed. No matter where you go, no matter how glorious the Lang Ayre or Tingon or Muckle Roe, how splendid the music or the home brew, it's still you. Or for that matter, me. And now I'm here, I feel myself settling, not in or down. Just settling, like a sinking building, or a grounded ship. Who would seriously want to be anywhere else?
Happy Christmas shopping!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Exciting times on the Bookcroft front. After closing Britain's Most Northerly Second-hand Bookshop in September, following a reasonably successful summer season, I moved The Radiocroft broadcasting operation into one of the main bookshop areas. Now people have been asking when the shop is opening again, and COPE, a local social enterprise company has asked me if The Bookcroft could deal with the used books donated to the COPE scrapstore.
This looks like being a continuing relationship, with benefits both financial and logistical for both COPE and the Bookcroft. Watch this space!
Only problem is handling the inevitable Reader's Digest condensed books that are donated to charity shops and scrapstores by the tonne. Why did they ever exist?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Home for Christmas and the St Bernards steal the sofa

Nine o'clock on Saturday morning, and I'm Glasgow's Trongate, waiting for Drum Central to open. Thus began a hell-for-leather day of shopping, visiting, eating and attempting to pack an ever-increasing amount of stuff into a Renault Kangoo van. All of this culminated at IKEA with a gut-wrenching moment when Magnus and I thought the red sofa (plucked from the Bargain Corner) was not going to fit.
But it did, and so we now have a couch once again in the kitchen. The St Bernards lost no time in taking possession of it. Ah well.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Party like it's....err...1999, when we were all seven years younger...

Phew! Safely in Glasgow, after last night's BBC Music Department (Popular Rock And Accordion Dept, Aberdeen HQ)party at Bistro Verde on the Green, one of my favourite Castle Greyskull eateries.
Truly fantastic food, though the chilli prawns almost blew the top of my head off. Alas, I had to behave in a fairly abstemious manner, as I was facing an early morning drive to The Dear (Mostly just expensive these days) Green Place in the van I've hired to transport some goods on Santa's behalf. Notably a drumkit.
Still I did allow myself one vodka shot to finish the night off in Siberia, one of Belmont Street's trendier howffs. People did look askance at my Primark suit, but hey, an Armani hoodie's pretty much like a North Eastern Farmers one, except more prone to staining when showered with sheep excrement. As seems to happen quite a lot in Belmont Street.
Phoning today to check how it all ended up, I discovered that the promised VIP access to something called Club Tropicana failed to materialise, as it was, well, shut. Still, the Youngsters of the music team were out partying until 5.00am, which you wouldn't have thought was even possible in Greyskull. Possibly they were in the Independent State of Torry. Where anything's possible. Or even probable.
I'm in the rapidly decaying BBC HQ at Queen Margaret Drive, where tonight the very last BBC Christmas party will take place before the move to Pacific Quay. I have fairly lurid memories of the old Film Unit parties back in the day, and wish to leave them intact, so will not be attending. I will however, be heading for The Halt Bar in Woodlands Road, there to rawk'n'roooaall with the excellent Ping Pong Banana Show, who are a band, in case you were wondering.
Tomorrow, some serious, high octane shopping, a visit to Ayr to see my dad, then on Sunday it's load up the surfboard and various accoutrements of student son Magnus, and head for the boat. The spectre of IKEA is also looming. Oh dear...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

We're all going to drown! But never mind, have a listen to Acoustic Ladyland's new CD and all will be well...

...Good grief, that was a bad one. Twelve hours of violent pitching, rolling, slamming, crunching and clanging on the way from Lerwick to Aberdeen aboard the good ship Hjaltland. It could have been a lot worse, and frankly, I expected it to be, what with all the warnings about taking care when moving about, switching off car alarms, the likelihood of 'discomfort' and the captain announcing that he didn't expect as to arrive in Aberdeen before '10 or 11'.
But the wind came around and moderated (which didn't affect the turbulent state of the sea) and we were in Castle Greyskull by 7.00 am. I slept (courtesy of the trusty Phenergan) from 7.00 pm until 9.00pm, when the movement of the ship woke me up. Then from midnight until 6.00 am.
So I'm not feeling too bad. Especially since a glorious scrambled egg breakfast at the Baker's Pantry, plus Fair Trade coffee at M&S. Where I intended to buy a pair of trousers, seeing as Primark is now beyond the pale due to paying its factory workers only 5p an hour or somesuch. However, all the M&S trousers looked as if they'd been deigned to accomoodate colostomy bags, and at Primark you can buy an entire washable suit (fits perfectly) for £, err...
Anyway, the trip was made (only just) bearable by the eye-wateringly pungent sounds of Acoustic Ladyland, second only to The Hold Steady in my musical discoveries of the year. Skinny Grin is an apocalypse of an album: Swaggering, brutal urban English jazz as filtered through Hendrix and Chas'n'Dave, and a tremendous antidote to all that singer-songwritery whining I normally listen to (and love).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Severe Gale Nine (at times)

Not a good forecast for tonight's sailing to Aberdeen. Force seven, eight and occasionally nine, eight metre seas...and there's no chickening out. I am Seasick Santa, ready to head south on a mission to IKEA, Drum Central, Sainsbury's and to extract son Magnus from his student enclave, Yule celebrations for the purpose of.
To which end, I've just hired a Renault Kangoo van. I would have taken the horrid Maverick south, but a combination of the EvilBay seller not sending the DVLA his bit of the registration document, and my losing the wee green piece, has left it off-road and untaxed. Huh.
The week promises to be hectic: Sunday Herald Diary to write, Music Dept (Aberdeen HQ) Christmas party on Thursday, Ping Pong Banana Show (it's a band) gig on Friday, various family visitations, IKEA, that drumkit, shopping and more shopping, then boat back on Sunday. Phew! Oh, and a few radio shows.

Monday, December 11, 2006

No such thing as bad weather...

"No such thing as bad weather," goes the Russian proverb (well, according to Mike Skinner it does)"only bad clothes." I beg to differ. There are no clothes extant capable of making bearable some of the climactic conditions pertaining to Shetland over the past weeks. As I write it is 12.40 pm, and 40 minutes ago, it was dark. It's now a murky sort of daylight, but not pleasant.
And wet. Wetter than wet. So soggy is it that there are fears (see above photo)that the Ness of Hillswick, including our house, could end up being cut off from the rest of the People's Republic of Northmavine. On one side of the road is the sea. On the other is a salt marsh/dainage bog, connected to the sea by a large pipe that runs underneath the road. As you can see, the water is overwhelming the salt marsh AND the pipe. Given that the road (and for that matter, the bit our house is built on) is reclaimed land, you can understand our concerns. Global warming? Sea level rise? Welcome to the cutting edge, mate!
Still and all, a few minutes later, you get scenes like the one in the other picture, and life in the Zetlandic Archipelago seems not just bearable, but beautiful. Thanks to Gore-Tex. Though it should be said that I have recently acquired a Swedish military parka which has the best hood of any garment I have ever worn. It's warm too, but it's for dry snow, really, not rain. However, its day will come. Possibly tomorrow...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Not banking on it

I've been with the Bank of Scotland (Shetland outpost) ever since moving to the Neck of the Bog (for the first time - in 1987) and the Byres Road branch (Glasgow) of the Royal Bank bounced a cheque I'd made payable to a Lerwick clothes shop.
In a small community like this, bounced cheques are embarrassing, and as it had happened simply because of bad communication, I decided to move all my monetary assets, or debts, rather, to the Lerwick bank my wife used.
All went well, really, for years. I went through all of the Bank of Scotland's technological advances with it, including HOBS (the Home and Office Banking System - hard to believe, but in the era of the Amstrad PCW8256 you needed to buy a separate miniature computer terminal just to do your banking remotely). We obtained mortgages and insurance from the Bank. Good relations were established and maintained with the Lerwick branch. And even nationally, I was asked to address a major Edinburgh Bank of Scotland Christmas dinner. Just before the Halifax merger.
Since then, the bank has slid inexorably towards what seems like a centralised, callous disregard for personal customers. You can no longer communicate directly with the branch (unless you have secret mobile numbers for the very nice people who still work there). Payments on Switch have been turned down for no good reason (once leaving me stranded in Kilmarnock; say no more); cash can go astray, pay-ins take far too long to clear, and still the charges for cheques and withdrawals are applied, brutally.
Yesterday, having lost my chequebook, I tried to have the remaining cheques stopped, find out whether anyone had been using it without my permission, and get an account balance. I was treated with what appeared to be aggrieved unhelpfulness, despite having access to a 'Private Banking' personal contact called Morag, who was not around, alas. So I ended up talking to an electronic answering system and then a series of women in what sounded like Morningside. 'You could be anyone' said one. "I can't give you any information'.
Gone are the days of phoning the branch and saying 'it's Tom, can you tell me how little I have in my account, please?' Now, I'm seriously investigating switching at least my current account to somebody who at least pretends to value the individual customer. If only it wasn't such a hassle...and if only the folk at the Lerwick branch, when we meet face to face, weren't so nice...

Morag has just been on the phone, very apologetic. I now have even more contact numbers. It remains to be seen whether or not tins of Quality Street will arrive at Christmas, though...

Saturday, December 02, 2006


All kinds of problems loading pictures to this blog, so the best thing to do is click on the TITLE of this post, and you will be taken to my FLICKR page of Belfast pictures.

I'm back in Scotland (at the Speedbird Inn, Aberdeen Airport, which not only has free wifi but HDTV flatscreen tellies!)and I have to say that the trip to Belfast was a great experience...
First, I'd thoroughly recommend the City Sightseeing open-top bus tours. It's a tenner for an hour and quarter, but you can hop on and off as and when you wish, and this is like no other tour on earth. First, the guide on our bus was funnier than 90 per cent of all known standup comedians; secondly, it's a no-pussyfooting, political, sociological and historical voyage, taking in the poverty, the idiocy and the sheer strangeness of the Shankhill and the Falls, as well as the amazing transformation currently taking place in Belfast's fortunes.
This is a boom city, going crazy on construction and renovation, and, to be blunt, money and drink. It's like VE night every night. I thought I was used to hard public drinking (Shetland and Glasgow) but this is on a completely different scale. And I'm not just talking stag and hen parties (that's a market just beginning to take off, thanks to the 400-plus bars). It's a local phenomenon.
Having said that, Belfast is one of the friendliest cities on earth, the people are generally fantastic, and culturally, there's an enormous amount happening, as illustrated by the superb performances of Brian Houston and Duke Special on my show. The media, though, from newspapers to what I saw of local TV, appears to be in a timewarp, straining unsuccessfully to keep up with the speed of cultural, social, economic and political change. Though as you watch the posturing of the hidebound, tribal parties who will, I suppose 'power share' eventually at Stormont, you wonder what's keeping them in place. Traditional politicians seem to be regarded with increasing contempt and there's a sense that they may become irrelevant. Or maybe that's a hope.
the city is amazingly small. I had no idea the Falls and the Shankhill are barely a block apart. The way they mirror each other almost exactly, in terms of murals, memorials, insignia and flags, is weirdly Disneyesque. Who does those murals?
Those are some initial impressions. Maybe I'll come up with some more intelligent thoughts in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, do check out my Flickr pictures...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Fruit scones sitting on counters covered in attractive glass domes are seldom fresh...

Well, the ones at The Lemon Tree (not the arts centre and venue, the cafe at Aberdeen station) certainly aren't. And I had a most peculiar bacon baguette, which I swear shrank by at least 25 per cent during its sojourn in some form of microwave oven. Still, they do reasonable coffee, which is the only reason I did not breakfast at my beloved Baker's Pantry, in the bus station. The coffee there is the kind that gives dishwater a bad name.
To the Fast-ticket (or is it Fasticket? It certainly shouldn't be) machine to collect my, well, you'll never guess, tickets. This machine always strikes terror into me, for some reason. I hate being beholden to a dumb metal box with the seconds ticking until departure. Still, It spewed out the requisite briefs, along, thank goodness, with a seat reservation. And so to Glasgow.
I eavesdropped for some time on a fascinating conversation between a man and a woman sitting across the passageway. It concerned the difference between systematic and practical theology, how to teach ethics to doctors and much else. What distressed me was that all these interesting subjects seemed, in this number crunching age, to come down to the study of statistics. Presumably theologians can now calculate the number of the beast to five decimal places...
Come Montrose, the train filled up and it was time to hide from conversations rather than try to listen in. So I immersed myself in the rather good new album by JJ Cale and Eric Clapton, thanks to the iPod and my new headphones, which, gadget fans, are Sony MDR-V500 pro closed-back items. They shut you off from your surroundings very nicely indeed, but alas, provide that occupational hazard for BBC types, headphone hair. I feel a number two crop coming on...
In Queen Margaret Drive now for the show, then a flight to Belfast tonight, storms permitting. Hope to post some pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Starbucks crashing down around my ears...

...and quite literally. The Starbucks in Aberdeen's Bon Accord Centre is looking a bit down-at-heel these days, but one surely doesn't expect large, aluminium-framed pictures to come thundering down on top of one's cranberry-and-orange muffin?
It crossed my mind that I could have staged something spectacular - bruising, stained trousers, ruined jumper, blood in the latte - and sued. But this is Scotland, and when it happened, with an enormous crash, not only did I nonchalantly place the picture on the floor and carry on as if nothing had happened, not a single person in the cafe appeared to have noticed anything happening at all.
Another place that seems to be heading rapidly downhill is the Aberdeen City Centre Travelodge. Had to change rooms due to an horrific smell in the first one I was offered. The second one looks like a shipping container, only less aesthetically pleasing. Not that I've spent much time inside shipping containers, but put it this way: my current hotel room makes me nostalgic for the Fiat camper van I used to inhabit during The Inverness Years. Though at least I didn't wake up this morning with my cheek frozen to the wall.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bumpy ride to Aberdeen....and what's your German name?

Phew, had trouble keeping the coffee in the cup on the flight from Sumburgh...then you get to Aberdeen and they make you walk approximately 12 miles from the aeroplane to the baggage carousel...
Meanwhile, what's your German name? I'm Holger Leonhard...
Your German Name is:

Holger Leonhard

Monday, November 27, 2006

Not so secret view

More geocaching, this time to try and find a cache near Weisdale called 'Shetland Overview' James was exceedingly ill-equipped in his uber-trendy Converse All-Stars, but fortunately it was an easy trudge to the site. This is the view, one of Shetland's finest. On the way we released a sheep that had become stuck in a fence (no Billy Connolly jokes, please) and had been there for at least a day, as it had dug a muddy pit trying to get out. At first its back legs seemed paralysed, but it recovered quickly and scampered away.
Second last trip away before Christmas, I hope, begins tomorrow. Two nights in Aberdeen before heading for Glasgow and a flight to Belfast for a special TM show as part of BBC Radio Scotland's Ulster Week. Or BBC Radio Ulster's Scotland Week, depending on how you look at it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

...and another thing

I was appalled by the way Jools Holland was given/provided himself with two spots to shamelessly plug his own new CD on 'Later' the other night. How much power does this man wield? Apparently sufficient to ride roughshod over every BBC producer's guideline I know of.
Allegedly, bands appearing on the show have begun insisting, contractually, that Jools does NOT accompany them on his barroom piano. Which seems to have led to the compulsory, compensatory appearance of the Holland Big Band and sycophantic guests at every conceivable commercial opportunity.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Two questions

Is Jennifer Saunders' Jam and Jerusalem the worst, least funny, most obnoxiously, preeningly self-satisfied TV 'comedy' in the history of broadcasting?

What on earth is the appeal of Russell Brand? Brain dead zombie goth versions of Frankie Howerd we can surely live without.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Too old to jump and a double rainbow

Poor old Quoyle. He was once the ultimate levitating black labrador. He would jump over anything, and now, even a low fence like this defeats him.
Another fine day, though, with a spectacular double rainbow over Ronas Voe. Alas, my camera was not equipped with a lens capable of communicating its sheer size. Itwas, take my word for it, your absolutely classic, complete, semi-circular rain...bow. And at the end of it? An old Ford Maverick, the world's worst handling car.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Let's geocache!

A glorious day, so it was off to the Hillswick Ness for a wee (and very soggy underfoot) wander, made specific and a bit high-tech by heading for Another Fine Ness, the geocache I maintain there.
So what's geocaching? Well, it's a kind of slow-paced, techno-orienteering-cum-treasure hunt. Makes walking a bit more interesting for the easily bored. And bearable for computer geek weans. Little boxes full of...stuff, really, bits and pieces you can exchange, take or leave, plus a logbook and pencil, are hidden in various places - and that means everywhere. It's a worldwide thing. The latitude and longitude, as worked out by a portable GPS satellite navigator, are posted on the Geocaching website. Then it's over to the finder. If you're in the vicinity, you enter said latitude and longitude into your GPS, and, guided by a swinging arrow thingy on the GPS screen, set off to find it. Looking about you, in the case of Another Fine Ness, at the stunning scenery. That's the view from the Hillswick Ness geocache, by the way. Those peculiar rocks are The Drongs.

All of this is completely free, once you've paid for the GPS. The one I have (off EvilBay)is a very basic Magellan Sportrak, which cost £25. You can get colour ones with downloadable maps, whereabouts of pubs, brothels, record shops etc, but they're very dear.
What can I tell you? It's walking for gadget freaks.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Puppy video!

...Still one or two for sale if anyone's really keen to have their life taken over by a gigantic slobbering Swiss dog that moults copiously every time the central heating comes on.
Go HERE for moving pictures!

Heartbreak Fridge!

So, to recap...och, no I can't be bothered. The whole gory story can be found on the Samsung and Comet Remote Service blog.
Anyway, they came for our old, broken , 16-month-old fridge today, complete with brand spanking new replacement (all it took was a bit of highly specific blogging and a couple of registered letters. After the dozens of failed phone calls, that is). Hooray! EXCEPT (and I can hardly bear to type this) it's BROKEN. Or, it got broken during installation. Well, to be precise, the water feed pipe sheared off. Meaning that while it works as a fridge and a freezer, you can't get water (chilled) or ice (even more chilled).
Non-essential stuff, I hear you murmuring. Yes, and at least it keeps food fresh. It's supposed to be an upgraded model, actually, but that seems to mean only that it's the Tony and Carmela Soprano MIRRORED/FROSTED version. Hmm...Anyway, we've found someone locally who can fix fridges, and so I'm calling a halt to all this remote negotiation with Samsung. Possibly.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shetland knitwear - is it a dying craft?

I have a bit of a thing about traditional Shetland knitwear, particularly the old-fashioned Fair Isle patterns. I have to restrict my visits to Jamieson's emporium in Lerwick, otherwise I would end up becoming a gansie addict, overwhelmed by that glorious smell of lanolin you get from native Shetland wool.
But hand-knitting (with needles) is a dying art. It is incredibly time-consuming, highly skilled and poorly rewarded. Its more modern offshoot, hand-frame (hand-operated machine) knitting is nothing like as common as it once was. But still, I was shocked by the few representatives of Shetland knitting (hand or machine) at the Christmas Craft Fair in Lerwick yesterday.
This was partly selfish, as I was keen for Susan to buy me a slip-over Fair Isle for Christmas (found one, actually, in a lovely shade of blue). But also, I truly believe Shetland knitting (particularly the unique, lovely and rare handknits)is one of the community's greatest cultural and artistic assets. Shetland jumpers were worn on the first successful Everest climb. They have traversed the world on board a million ships, become a generic name for a type of pullover. And that really infuriates me, seeing fake Fair Isle or clothing labelled 'Shetland' for sale in chain stores or catalogues, manufactured in the Far East in factories.
Two years ago, I set up a small operation, getting scarves and hats hand-knitted. Shetland Combat Sea and Mountain Knitwear ('Naturally Northern') was born. The idea was to pay knitters a proper fee for the hours spent on each item, and sell them as exclusive, hand-made, geographically specific items.
I sold two hats. They were lovely, warm, and expensive. There was, or didn't appear to bem, any market for them.
And now knitters are outnumbered by photographers by more than two to one at the Christmas Craft Fair.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

These proper pictures just in from Mr Cunningham

My old pal Stewart Cunningham (Safari won't let me add links to Blogger Beta, he's at was present during the three hour Forsyth/Morton Children in Need extravaganza, and you can find more of his snaps (soon) at the BBC Tom Morton Show page (try the link over to the right). Time for the much-promised diet to kick in. Hell's teeth, I look like a blimp. That's the chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, by the way, and in the top picture, you can see three of the Hazy Janes, Andrew, Alice and Matthew. The latter two are offspring of The Great Michael Marra, though they don't like you mentioning it.
Back home, a dreich, slushy (heading for snowy) Sunday. But we have telly, thanks to a brand spanking new satellite dish, the other having blown away. Still got the decaying Samsung fridge, though, which hasn't been exchanged as promised. Looks like some ass may need kicked there. I mean, that cheese I bought from Ian Mellis in Aberdeen will start to stink the entire house out. Vacherel, yum!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Children in Need, Spitfires, and trying to get served in Glasgow restaurants, oh, and Bond, James Bond...

Back in Aberdeen, momentarily, having thrashed the wee Citroen up the road from Glasgow this morning. Yesterday was Children in Need, and that meant that Janice Forsyth and I co-hosted a three-hour special programme in the afternoon, featuring a veritable cornucopia of live guests. We had The Hazy Janes, Colin Macintyre (formerly the Mull Historical Society) Janey Godley, Gerard Kelly and the cast of Aladdin (King's Theatre)Lang Lang (Chinese pianist) and a truly bizarre double act between counter tenor William Purefoy and hip-hop team The Fountainbridge Collective. It all went well, I think, and we auctioned a lime-green leotard, as worn by Borat, for £150. As you do.
Three days in Glasgow meant some interesting food. The Mussel Inn was fantastic on Wednesday Night, Fratelli Sarti was good but, as I fear is usual, excruciatingly slow on Thursday, and that old standby Pizza Express was excellent but, yes, painfully slow (in parts) last night. I hate it when you have waiting staff who behave as if they're in a gang and trade private jokes with each other while appearing to zone out the customers. Very unusual for Pizza Express, too (this was the Queen Street branch)as the staff are usually hot for tips and extremely nice. Sorry about that 50p, folks, but well, the bill took ages...
I stayed in the Thistle Hotel in Cambridge Street which I thought was very good indeed. Nice rooms (irons!) swimming pool, very efficient and pleasant staff and one of the best breakfasts in Glasgow (hot croissants, good coffee). A lot of the waiting staff seemed to be eastern European and they were highly efficient, very friendly and, dare I say it, remarkably good looking. Good, free, car parking too, which is rare in a city centre hotel. Recommended.
Oh, and the Spitfire is the one at the newly-refurbished Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, one of my major haunts as a student. I think there's a lot of utter nonsense been perpetrated in the work that's been done, and an incredible amount of money wasted on uber-trendy, pseudo-interactive bollocks. The shop is a joke, apart from anything else. It's impossible to find old favourites EXCEPT for Christ of St John of the Cross, which appears to be back where it was thirty years ago, shining like some weird beacon at the end of a gallery corridor. Generally, though, this is a shameful shambles. Apart from the Spitfire.I love Spitfires.
Managed to get tickets for the new Bond movie, which succeeds, despite Daniel Craig's protuberant lugs. He's like Plug from the Bash Street Kids. With a waxed chest and weeks on a Bullworker.And doesn't Eva Green look like a young Charlotte Rampling? There's too much poker, which I don't understand, but it has a visceral power none of the Bond movies have had since Dr No. The torture scene, though, is surely a bit much for a 12-certificate movie? Very, very long, but on the whole, good.
To the boat, again. Oh dear.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Annika, Hello Saferide, Bobby Bluebell and a great big huge lump of red sandstone

Great time last night at the Hello Saferide gig - The Hold, in the basement of the Admiral Bar in Waterloo Street, Glasgow, is a great wee venue. Civilised. Which at my age is important. Though whether or not it was civilised to drink so much Knob Creek whisky is quite another matter. Splendid seafood meal previously at the Mussel Inn, too. Great Muscadet!
Annika Norlin and her six-piece band were magnificent. Maia Hirasawa was one of the support acts (guess what? Swedish too!) as well as being (sorry, can't help but say this) the Agnetha to Annika's Anna-Frid in the Hello Saferide live manifestation. And Maia was breathtakingly good in a completely solo performance, dressed like some kind of prim Scando-pop schoolteacher.
The Norlin songs - twisted, witty, bittersweet pop classics - work brilliantly live, especially given Annika's quite unexpected facial mugging and actor-ish timing. There's something very knowing about the whole thing in an early Blondie sort of way. I loved it in a way I haven't enjoyed live pop for years.
Took me back decades, in fact. But not as bizarrely as walking in to see support act The Poems (Glaswegian, not Swedish). Was there a Bobby Bluebell revival occurring? That look - the black polo neck, the glasses - could it really be back? Did it ever go away? Closer inspection revealed that this timewarped apparition was in fact the man himself, my old acquaintance Robert Hodgens, apparently unchanged in 20 years. After his set, we nattered away like it was 1986, shouting in each other's lugs in that time-honoured rock-club-deaf-as-a-post manner. 'You look just the same' said Robert. 'Aye, sure' I replied. Unwilling to say that he truly did look just like he did back in the days of, well Young At Heart...the Poems were very good, by the way. See that rock star lifestyle? Must be good for you. Or maybe it's the golf...
(Just done a bit of checking, and it seems Poems lead singer Kerry is the wee sister of Karine Polwart.)
Great too to see Grangemouth Guru of All Things Rocktastic, Lindsay Hutton, just as enthusiastic as I am about Hello Saferide, if not more so. We nod our grey heads sagely and predict great things: folks, make it happen for Annika!
Oh, and that lump of red sandstone? I'm in Beanscene, staring out at the Kelvingrove art gallery. To which I'm awa' the noo.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My dark secret....and a very brief encounter

A combination of rough seas (until we were past Orkney) and two wailing children in an adjacent cabin (ah, I remember those days) kept me awake for chunks of last night. Also the occasional twinge of fear, which I don't normally feel aboard the Zetland ferries. That terrible incident in the Pentland Firth over the weekend, with two tanker crewmen killed by a a huge wave, has given all of us who use ships pause for thought.
Anyway. Safely into Aberdeen and on the road by 7.00 am. Breakfastless, but here's the dark secret coming...there's this McDonalds just north of Dundee...
I know, I know. And this from a man who has just decided he will never buy a Young's fish product again, unless they abandon this crazy notion of shipping Scottish prawns to Thailand for de-shelling, then sending them back to Scotland so we can eat them.
The thing is, McDonalds coffee is now as good as Starbucks, and a lot cheaper. Call it 'ghetto coffee' if you must (which being interpreted is, non-posy, non-frothy coffee at cut-rate prices)but I really like it. And then there's The Big Breakfast. Cheap, cheerful, wholesome (sort of; well, 'We Only Use Free Range Eggs' it says on the, uh, polystyrene box. and did I say cheap? Plus you can get Tropicana orange juice. Or bagels with cream cheese. Hey, supersize me! Oh, the guilt!
Traffic begins to swamp me at Dundee, and then outside Perth, the mobile goes. Into a lay-by to discover Susan (wife) wondering if we can meet up. We reckon there's time for a coffee before she has to get her flight and I have to get to Queen Margaret Drive for broadcasting purposes.
But there isn't. The traffic in Rutherglen moves incrementally (All pelican crossings on Rutherglen High Street seem to be permanently in use, and unfairly, not by pelicans)and by the time I find the right house in Burnside, we are both running late. So we catch up as Susan (years of short-cut doctor-type driving experience) directs me across the south side of Glasgow to the west end. When she's not shouting at me to slow down, that is. I drop her at a taxi rank and she's off back to Shetland. I park, unload the bike, and pretend to be environmentally friendly as I whirr into the BBC bike park. when deep in my heart I know that a few scant minutes ago, I harboured dark, anti-pedestrian thoughts.
Tonight, much familial activity involving literate Swedish popster and HUGE TMS favourite, Annika Norlin. See you at the Admiral Bar, pop pickers! Be there or be cuboid (but not cubist).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the high seas again (and I do mean high)

One of those full-on days when there's barely time to draw breath, let alone repair to Blogger. However, I am now breathing and repairing.
I should say, by the way, to anyone disappointed with the lack of video and audio hereabouts of late, that I stupidly allowed myself to be huckled into using Beta Blogger, which is incompatible with Hipcast (formerly Audioblogger)as well as being clumsy, erratic and non-intuitive. Yeah, but it's free, someone might say. To which I reply: owned by Google, who take advertising revenues off this very blog and much else. And can I go back to 'old' Blogger? Nope. I've been looking at switching this blog elsewhere, but as i said at the start, I'm kinda busy.
Shetland is not at its most appealling. The never-ending storms are like having a nagging illness. Calm days are like reprieves. You wake up, groggily realising you CAN go outside, you CAN cycle without being blown halfway to Norway. This is not just a Soothmoother syndrome. Everyone's affected (well, unless you live in Lerwick, which is pretty much like living in any Scottish small town).
Transport off the isles becomes a nightmare. Tonight I have to get the boat south (with car and attached bicycle)for a four day sojourn in Glasgow (Children in Need on Friday, Hello Saferide at the Admiral Bar tomorrow night). Unexpectedly, Susan has a funeral she must go to, in Glasgow. But for work reasons, she's flying down today, coming back tomorrow. We won't meet. And that's a cool £350 return, by the way.
All of this is complicated by the need to arrange child-and-dog care, the fact that the satellite dish man comes tomorrow, the imminent arrival of an exchange fridge freezer and the necessity of unplumbing the old one (that means doors off, screwdrivers, much swearing), sorting out crofting land sale problems, buying food for the next three days, packing and...did I mention that I have a radio show to do?
Gotta go. Oh, and the forecast for tonight is terrible. Again. Though looking out of the iwndow, it does seem a bit calmer...
My final community council meeting last night. There's no doubt, I've been a terrible community councillor, missing far too many meetings and cracking too many jokes. Another attempt at being responsible and mature fails...

Monday, November 13, 2006

Forfar bridie versus Cornish Pastie

This burning issue of meat-stuffed pastry will be discussed, probably to destruction, on today's Tom Morton Show, provoked by the battle between Devon and Cornwall over the origin of Devonian, sorry Cornish pasties.
Both pasties and bridies were invented, it seems, so that workers (farm labourers and tin miners)could have handy, portable foodstuffs they could eat with dirty hands, In both cases, the crimped crust was thrown away uneaten, used simply as a handle. But what's the connection with Johnny Depp? Aha!
Well, it's the movie Finding Neverland, in which Depp starred as Peter Pan author JM Barrie. It seems JM Barrie was responsible for a brief national and international cult of the bridie, due to his book Sentimental Tommy (!) in which it is fulsomely praised.
Just think: If things had gone slightly differently, we might not have Ginsters pasties as the personification of garage food, but Barrie's Bridies. In fact, it may not be too late...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Puppy at 10 weeks - resistable, just...

Penny, from the Vikingstar St Bernard kennel in Yell, arrived today with several of Lucy's pups, fresh from the vet, where they had all been microchipped. Sort of like what happened to Jason Bourne in The Bourne Identity, only without the Swiss bank account.
Here's Martha with Bubbles. No, we're not keeping one. How many times do I have to say so?
If, on the other hand, you are interested in a St Bernard (for life, remember, and they grow to the size of a small horse) there are a couple still available...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mad dash home

The run-up to Christmas is set to be hectic, with trips to Glasgow next week, then Belfast and at least one more to Aberdeen before the festivities. Yesterday, with the boat booked for the 14 hour (via Orkney on a Thursday)voyage home, I cracked at the prospect of yet another 'severe force nine' gale, and switched at the last minute to the plane. You can do this because NorthLink Ferries let you cancel right up to sailing time, and give full refunds too.
It was financially viable because of the ADC (Air Discount Scheme) dreamt up by our (currently, and yet again, beleaguered by the media) MSP Tavish Scott. Whose current attempted beard is a result of looming Up Helly Aa cavorting, I fear. This (the ADC, not the beard or Up Helly Aa) provides Scottish island residents with reduced fares depending on the largesse of the airlines involved, and how busy the flights are. So last night I was able to get on the (peak demand) 18.30 flight home for £100 one way. A lot considering the cost of a Greasyjet return to Palma from Glasgow, admittedly, but almost the same as a premium cabin one-way tumble-dry-fast-spin jaunt on the ferry. You can sometimes get the redeye from Aberdeen to Shetland for £20.
A smooth, pleasant flight, but infuriatingly, the bus that's supposed to meet the plane and take you from the airport to Lerwick had left literally minutes before anyone could get their luggage from the carousel. This happens all the time and is an unforgivable piece of nonsense. Fortunately our pal Veronica was at Sumburgh to pick up her daughter and ran me to Lerwick where the Maverick was sitting at the docks, caked in salt from seaspray. The Maverick's a car, not a horse.
As it turns out, the storm didn't hit until this morning, and the boat trip was probably pretty smooth. Still, I'm here, Phenergan-free and relatively awake.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Doing that 'Third Place' wi-fi thing...

Hats off to Beans coffee house in Union Street, aberdeen, where you get FREE wi-fi access, instead of having to pay an arm and a leg as in Starbucks! So I'm enjoying my latte and here's a wee photie of one of my favourite Aberdeen streets, Albert Terrace, on a fine autumn night....

The Leaf Blowers of Aberdeen Attack Innocent Pedestrians!

Only now, a good 48 hours after arriving in Castle Greyskull off the Hrossey (Northlink ferry from Lerwick) am I in a fit state to blog. I knew the voyage south would be a stormy one, but nothing prepares you for a Severe Gale Nine hammering in a flat-bottomed boat. Stuff (smoothie cartons, milk, water, a half-eaten muffin)flew about the cabin, and only lying prone for the entire trip, drugged to the gills with Phenergan, saved me from the kind of nausea which, at the time, seems worse than death. As I often say, on the 'plane you think you're going to die; on the boat you wish you were dead.
Mix Phenergan with booze and you can write off half the subsequent week. Even mixed with Innocent smoothies and Flora cholestorol-lowering milk, Monday passed in an ugly chemical haze. And that includes a stumble through the show. I felt like Keith Richards after falling out of his tree. I went back to the hotel with a 12-inch chicken terriyaki Subway and was sound asleep by 6.00pm. That was me until 8.00 next morning.
Tuesday, I was bit more sentient, though attacked by a man with a Stihl petrol-driven leaf-blower who seemed determined to blow all the fallen leaves off the pavement and into the path of motorcycles, cyclists and others who can suffer fatalities from slipping and sliding on them. Oh, and into my face. What a pointless item a motorised leaf-blower is. If you have to shift leaves, surely a rake and a brush would do fine? Far less environmentally damaging, too. Apparently the fans of leaf blowers can shatter into thousands of bits of shrapnel, which are sometimes propelled at a million mph out of the nozzle. I could have been killed.
But I wasn't. And survived a busy and bouncy wee show to go out for dinner with my boss and fellow blogger Jeff Zycinski. Musa, scene of the great Tom Morton 2/Joe West gig (and a return visit due next year)was fantastic. I loved the deconstructed venison shepherd's pie. Talking to Jeff has revitalised my commitment to this blog, by the way, and I'm determined to update it daily from now on. Or at least more frequently. To the blogface!

Monday, October 30, 2006

More storms

Battening down the hatches once again for a gale 9, storm 10 northerly overnight, thanking the good Lord I'm not on the boat out of Aberdeen, which even as I type is smashing headlong into it. Susan's heading south tomorrow night, full of trepidation, but the forecast is for easing winds down to six or seven. Couple of Phenergan and she should be fine.
TV's off, which means that my jury-rigged repair is not up to the conditions. So after this it's off to evilBay to find a new dish
The last overnight storm, of course, claimed the Anstruther fishing boat Meridian, and her crew. The boat was on pipeline patrol duty in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. This meant she was contractually unable to run for harbour, as any vessel of her size would normally have done had she been fishing. She was just a wee wooden thing, though perhaps I've had my perspective affected by the massive supertrawlers common in Shetland, like the Altaire.
In the early days of North Sea oil, all kinds of fishing boats were pressed into service as 'stand-by vessels'. I thought that, since Piper Alpha, there had been restrictions brought in on the kind of vessels that could be used, at least in the UK sector. I always thought the regulations in the Norwegian fields were even stricter.
Another thing: while I have tremendous sympathy for the families of the lost seamen, and can understand their need for 'closure', I am very unsure about these demands to find and raise lost fishing boats, and bury any casualties on land. Is it just the availability of technology to do so that has brought these deep-seated needs into the open, or has there been a sea-change in the traditional stoicism of fishing communities?

Friday, October 27, 2006

Aftermath of the big storm

Thursday was wild. Storm force 10, gusting higher, and from an unusual direction, north east...during the day the sea was all spume, no waves...blown flat. It's a long time since I've seen waterfalls blown backwards, or waves breaking over the Mavis Grind.
The power failed two minutes after the programme finished, and was off for four hours...came back on, then off again for a couple of hours. Candles, generator (10 years old, still going strong though the carb's leaking petrol; thank you Mr Honda).
Next day, this morning, was calm and beautiful.Time to inspect the damage - a ripped'n'torn polytunnel and the satellite dish mounting (very rusty) snapped. Running repairs and ready for more wind (though not so bad) tonight. The hatches are being battened down. It's the equinoctials.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Please buy this hotel and give Northmavine a bar!

Although to be honest I'm not sure if it's even for sale. I've posted about the increasingly derelict, empty for two years, St Magnus Bay Hotel, which is in our township, before. It's historically important, wooden, beautiful, listed, and was shipped to Shetland on a barge after being dismantled in Glasgow, where it was the Norwegian display at the Great International Exhibition of 1901.
It's (apparently) owned by a south company called Canterbury Travel, who so far to have shown no interest in selling it to various interested parties, preferring instead to allow it to decay. There is now no bar in Northmavine, except for those in the public halls. When I first moved here there were three - The Crofter's Arms in Ollaberry, the Booth in Hillswick, and the Hotel.
Local development company Initiative at the Edge is pursuing the option of community ownership, but that seems a veryu long way off. Meanwhile, vandals and trespassers are being seen inside the hotel more and more often. Somebody save it! Think of the grants!
By the way, it's not in as good nick as this (mobile phone) picture makes it appear...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The dogs on main street moult...and cry 'take me to Cicely Alaska!'

That has to be one of Springsteen's more ridiculous lines...'the dogs on Main Street howl, 'cause they understand...' But then so much of what I once loved and was thrilled by in early-to-mid-period Bruce now seems like the most cringe-inducing, breast-beating romantic posturing.
And yet he remains capable of astonishing feats...notably the Suicide cover you should be able to find somewhere downstream in this blog. Tunnel of Love is the masterpiece, I think, and it couldn't have existed without the histrionics of Thunder Road etc...
Anyway, I didn't set out to dwell on things Bruceian, but to say this: I have vacuumed the kitchen four times today. Lulu is moulting, and hair is blowing like tumbleweed through the house. A large chunk of the family is due home tomorrow off the boat, and that means an early rise tomorrow to try and clear out some more extraneous dog pelt.
Might be a rough night on the boat, coming north into the teeth of a north-easterly equinoctial. Terrible weather in Shetland this last 48 hours, with mayhem at Sumburgh due to fog, flights galore cancelled. It'll be good to have the house occupied by other than me and the dogs, though I've been wallowing this past week in the third series of Northern Exposure, now out on DVD (though with really crap music instead of the original, exemplary soundtrack). Easy to see the line of inheritance from NE to The Sopranos, whose creator, David Chase, was series producer on NE, though for some reason uncredited. And he seems to diss the series at every opportunity. Maybe that Esalen Institute/dream/flashback/Freud stuff the two series have in common is wee bit too much for him to admit.
An old friend once described Northern Exposure as 'that happy programme', and it's true there is no tragedy in it. Some of it is tremendously moving, though (series three Yule show, for example. I just need to hear the theme music to feel a warm glow.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Radiocroft in all its autumnal glory

...though in fact, over the summer this was both The Radiocroft, home of BBC Radio Scotland's Tom Morton Show (2-4 pm weekdays, Zetland Time) and The Bookcroft, officially the UK's most northerly second hand bookshop. The Bookcroft is now closed for the winter, and slowly but surely The Radiocroft is equipment is arriving all the time. Why, just the other day I installed a spring-loaded Anglepoise microphone stand...
Anyway, using the gloriously outmoded (in every respect but live remote radio broadcasting) ISDN digital phone system, also known as BT Business Highway, a lovely old AKG D202 microphone (good enough for the House of Commons, mate)an ex-Grampian TV Musicam codec (don't ask; it's a couple of black boxes), an uninterruptible power supply off eBay, loads of dodgy wiring and a tiny Alesis mixer (plus a whole heap of record decks, CD players and other stuff off eBay), this is where the world's most geographically remote national and international daily radio show comes from.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The roof, the whole roof and nothing but the roof...

'Let them have builders' is allegedly an ancient Chinese curse, but for us, having brothers Donald and Tom completely re-roof the L-shaped (and B-listed) steading in the grounds of the manse has been a pleasure and a privilege.
They came from Cromarty in the Black Isle, and in five straight weeks they removed all the slates from the two barns, demolished one entire roof which turned out to be beyond salvage, cut to size and rebuilt the rotten roof from scratch, including erecting new beams and sarking. All this for several thousands of pounds less than the cheapest quote we could get from any Shetland firm. And that includes flights, new slates, accommodation and providing them with a car (not a very good car, it must be admitted).
During their stay, Tom and Donald were adopted by our labrador Quoyle, who accompanied them all day, in the hope of lunchtime treats. Here they are on the second last day, finishing off the tiny sheep shed (which we didn't expect to get done at all).
'We were lucky with the weather' said Donald. 'And if we hadn;t worked until 7 every night, we wouldn;t have made it.' But they did, and we're grateful. The plan is to convert one barn into a broadcast studio, office and recording space, and the other into self-catering accommodation. Watch this space!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Motorcycle Rain... the name of an old We Free Kings song, and it seems appropriate that, after publicly declaring my motorbikin' career over, it should be gloweringly, viciously, Shetlandicly soaking the day I pick up a 1980 BMW R80/7, 26 years old and only 28,500 miles on the clock.
However, Shetland weather being what it is, by the time I headed home from Lerwick at 4.00pm, it was bright and sunny, if very blustery. Conditions perfect for a very heavy, unfaired bike with a low centre of gravity. Solid as an old rock, it was. Needs a bit of cosmetic tlc, and I nearly ripped one of the panniers off putting it in the barn, but on the whole, I'm pleased. Susan isn't, though...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Adventures at the Bog Museum

Alas, the Bog Museum in Coalisland was shut when Martha and I passed through on the way to Sandy and Elaine's wedding. We did have a coffee in one of the local cafes, and checked out some of the, ahem, somewhat interesting murals before heading to Stewartstown and a truly lovely service.

The wedding was a delight from beginning to end, and included possibly the best reception meal I have ever eaten. Everyone we met was absolutely lovely. I did, unfortunately, bring the very worst digital camera in the history of photography, and managed to take some awful pictures, which I won't embarrass myself by displaying here. There are one or two good ones on the phone, but as Susan has lost the instructions and the USB cable, I can't work out how to get them onto the computer...
Memo to self: Learn how to do a Strip the Willow properly so as to avoid future embarrassment.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A funeral and a voyage or two

Bob Holyoak's funeral in Ollaberry yesterday was incredibly moving. It's still very hard to believe that we'll no longer see him in that old blue anorak, coming round the house at tax-return-time, parked up in that wee Saxo with binoculars to his eyes, noting another bird sighting.
The old kirk at Ollaberry was more than packed, with many standing, and the burial, in the tiny adjoining kirkyard, was conducted to the sound of the sea. I won't forget Bob's younger brother Marcel saying at the service that he would remember Bob every time he heard a Robin sing, rembering that it was Bob who taught him to identify the bird from its song.
Managed to get to The Radiocroft afterwards and stumble through the show, and then a mad dash to Lerwick with Martha to catch the ferry south. Shattered, so dinner, half a pint of White Wife (couldn't finish it. I hate to say this but I've tried to like all the Valhalla beers, and none lie to my taste)then bed until the usual horrendous clanking as we dock temporarily in Kirkwall. Why are the NorthLink boats so noisy? Drift off as the boat rocks slightly through a south-westerly, and then it's up at 6.00 am as we enter Aberdeen Harbour.
Ah, Aberdeen! And the glories of Marks and Spencer: the ability to exchange items easily without having a receipt. Delighted to see that I am no longer a 38 waist, and never was a 31 inside leg (own stupid mistake). Now it's sylph-like 36/33, and long may it stay that way.
Good coffee in M&S too, and Fair Trade to boot. Whisper it though: the great coffee secret is McDonalds. Cheap and very acceptable these days. Hate to say this, but the last time I was in Aberdeen I had breakfast in McDonalds two days running. It's something about the hash browns...
Martha gets jeans, a piano book and a DVD of Howl's Moving Castle. I get a copy of John Le Carre's new book, The Mission Song, for £8.99 in hardback, which is incredibly cheap. Half price in fact. And brilliant as I am just finishing Single and Single for the third time. Comfort reading. Ye cannae whack it.
Off to Troon tonight, there to stay at my sister Shiona's flat, then it's Glasgow for the show tomorrow before, hopefully, catching the P&O Express boat to Ireland from Troon, so Martha and I can go to Sandy and Elaine's wedding on Saturday. Ah, P&O Ferries! I remember them!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back in Shetland, momentarily

Phew, that 6.30 am flight from Aberdeen is certainly not for wimps....but given the Shetland residents' Air Discount Card, it's amazingly cheap. Well, it would be if it wasn't for Gordon Brown's iniquitous tax on anyone travelling by air within Scotland: £16 for the one-way ticket, which is great; an additional £24 to Gordon.
Insane security measures (one person in three to have their shoes checked: what if a bunch of terrorists are travelling together?) meant that the flight left late, and some very discombobulated passengers had to be plucked from the shoe queue and rushed to the aeroplane.
Time to draw breath, then off on the boat on Wednesday with Martha, heading to Northern Ireland for Sandy and Elaine's wedding. It's a four-ferry trip!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bruce proving it all night (or at least for eight minutes or so)

Bruce proves he's still got the magic

Lindsay Hutton (not the world's biggest Brooooooce fan) first sent me an MP3 of this (originally recorded in 1979 by the electronic duo Suicide) being performed live, and then forwarded this (camera phone) video of the song. Amazing. It makes you realise that despite the horrid autocue folk of The Seeger Sessions, Springsteen in obsessive-compulsive mode still has the capacity to completely least on encores...I've been trying to upload the original Suicide version from YouTube, but so far without success.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Flying without shoes

Terrible news yesterday that our friend, neighbour and accountant Bob Holyoak had died suddenly. He was a crucial part of not only our lives, but of the Northmavine community, and everyone is very shocked.
Up at 5.00 am to catch the early Saab aeroplane for Aberdeen, wondering if I should cancel the planned trip to points south. It becomes increasingly hard to leave Shetland, especially as the winter darkness begins to creep in. I'll leave it up to Susan to tell me about funeral arrangements as soon as she knows and then head back early if necessary.
Not used to the security arrangements for flying. You now need to take your shoes off and put them through the security X-ray machine, which is all very well first thing in the morning when (most) people will have clean socks and feet. The last flight home from Aberdeen at night might be a different, rather more odiferous story. Unbelievably horrible clammy croissant with 'ham' and 'cheese' courtesy of Loganair, but I'd forgotten the camaraderie of the dawn flight (or flights: now three aeroplanes leave Sumburgh within a single early morning hour): You gossip with people you see at no other time, all of us half asleep.
Anyway. Safely to Aberdeen, and Comcab for once have a taxi there to meet me. How do Aberdeen taxi drivers afford these luxury Merc limos? I know they last for decades, but still. All of them seem to have sets of expensive golf clubs in the back too, and the drivers are forever heading off to Portugal for inter-taxi-firm tournaments. Small price to pay for a few gallons of vomit a month in the back seat, I say.
In Aberdeen Beebland now, the Barratt Broadcasting House, and must go in search of proper coffee. It could take a while.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A St Bernard, one day old...

Mother and eight puppies still doing well...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wir Tommy, The Man of La Mancha, whisky and Red Brian The Viking Socialist

SINGING and politics may seem natural bedfellows, from the Horst Wessel to the Red Flag, from Billy Bragg’s A New England to Andy Stewart’s well known nationalist anthem Donald, Where’s Yer Troosers. But never has the formation of a new party been so…well, perhaps tuneful is the wrong word – as that of Solidarity (West Central Scotland Sunbed Faction).
The look on Tommy Sheridan’s face as his mother Alice belted out The Impossible Dream was one of a man dealing with the onset of ferocious pain, a man battling an overwhelming sense of panic as the launch of his new political package was overwhelmed by maternal acapella. Alice’s gloriously variable Glaswegian vibrato inevitably recalled another classic Scottish rendition of the same song (which comes originally from the musical Man of La Mancha. Actually, I know a swinger’s club in Wick called La Mancha’s, but that’s another story). I mean of course the late great Alex Harvey, who invested the line ‘to love, pure and chaste from afar’ with a certain lascivious verve. He also covered that infamous political tune Tomorrow Belongs To Me, which Alice’s vocal technique would undoubtedly suit. Then again, perhaps not.
Meanwhile, far far away, on another couple of archipelagos, Tommy’s cultural wing, novelist and former teacher John Aberdein, looks like bringing Scottish Socialist Orkney under the Bronzed One’s wing. Somewhat nearer Norway, Shetland’s leftists seem less Tommyist. A letter to the local paper from Shetland’s full time archivist, the formidably acerbic historian Brian Smith, fairly smoked with apocalyptic rage at Sheridan’s treatment of his former comrades. Raiding parties of left-leaning Vikings, led by Brian the Red, could soon be making their way to Orkney ready for a bit of burning. Meanwhile, Brian is lecturing in Shetland about rough justice in medieval times, mostly hangings on handy hills. This not thought to be in any way metaphorical.
Other goings on in Orkney include the highly controversial change in shape of the Highland Park whisky bottle. I was first informed of this by my old friend and colleague Iain MacDonald, not just a kirk minister on Westray but a Labour activist and candidate for the Scottish Parliament. Once Runrig’s press and publicity officer, Ian is quite right to be distrustful of Highland Park’s new approach to glass blowing. The old one had a reassuring dumpiness which I for one felt contributed to the wholesome body of the cratur itself. You felt you were getting a handful of something substantial when you grabbed a bottle, unlike, say, that sissy triangular bottle Glenfiddich ( a girlie whisky if ever there was one) comes in. Guess it’ll have to be straight from the barrel from now on.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Only eight left...

One male puppy didn't make it, I'm afraid. Apparently 24 hours is a danger period for St B pups. Och well. Lucy has been to the vet along with all the other wee ones and everything appears fine. Can't wait to see them! I think a trip to Yell will be in the offing at the weekend.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Back on air, nine puppies delivered, and that's it for eBay...the guilt! The guilt!

Aberdeen, and onto the airwaves for the first time in four weeks. The first hour of the first programme feels a bit odd, but after that it's plain sailing, encouraged by the hundreds of emails, texts, letters and the occasional bottle of whisky welcoming me back.
Back home, Lucy has delivered nine puppies, mother and offspring all doing well in Yell (thanks to the fantastic care of Chris and Penny from Vikingstar St Bernards). Magnus is somewhere in Finland, and I have another car, whereby hangs a rather sorry tale which has chastened me severely as far as eBay is concerned.
What happened was this: In June I bought a white van from a chap in Glasgow, a Mercedes Vito. It's been handy over the summer, shipping Mag's stuff home from uni, running about the islands with dogs, lawnmowers, large quantities of stone etc. Last week I sold it (on eBay) to Kwame from Romford in Essex, and we agreed to meet in Glasgow for the handover of cash and keys. That meant I could ship Mag's belongings south for the new university term. then Kwame could drive home to Essex.
Just north of Dundee, a horrendous vibration erupted from the front wheel. RAC man Glyn managed to diagnose and repair the problem - the bolts holding in place the (new) driveshaft had worked loose. He tightened them up and we were on our way.
I had already telephoned Kwame and told him I didn't think the van would reach Essex, and he should cancel his Ryanair trip north. Too late. Kwame was in Glasgow and keen to take the van anyway.
We got there, unloaded Magnus's stuff (and Christopher's, and Stephen's and Tom's, indeed the entire student population of Shetland)and there was Kwame, with wife. I knocked £100 off the price and he, apparently happy, went on his way, despite my warnings that the driveshaft bolts could still come loose again.
Magnus's flatmates arrived, we helped carry their stuff to the (inevitably) top floor flat he's staying in, and then I headed for Queen Street for more eBay adventures. A Ford Maverick Chasseur awaited me in Brechin.
And this old, £1500 four wheel drive looked (and still looks) as if it may just be OK. I drove it to Aberdeen without incident, and it may just get us through the winter. No word from Kwame.
Until today. Still apparently happy, he was safely in Romford, but on Sunday had managed to get only as far as Abington, where the driveshaft had given up the ghost, along with the wheel bearing. He and his wife stayed the night, and somehow managed to get the Merc fixed next day. It had been, he said, very nice to meet me. Guilty? Oh yes.
Still, he did get a bargain, what with the £100 off and the fact that the van was very cheap even without that. But all of this has taught me a lesson. In the past two years I have bought and sold, ulp, 10 cars, vans and motorcycles on eBay. It has been an adventure (that winter trip from Tonbridge to Shetland in a heaterless, almost roofless Citroen 2CV) and a disaster (the Orcadian camper van that wouldn't do more than 15 mph. It has been fun (it's the ease of browsing that makes eBay irresitible) but it has been very, very expensive. And it has to stop. Right now. It's taking up too much time and costing far too much.
Because here's the horrible truth: eBay doesn't save you any money. At all. It's a drug, and you pay a premium for all that surfing'n'bidding. Kids, stop now before it's too late! or better still, don't start!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

St Bernards, bonxies and the best beach in Britain...

Lucy is heavily pregnant and is off to the island of Yell tonight, there to be delivered, we hope, of her (seven and counting) puppies. Doesn't she look happy? Meanwhile, I took advantage of what was probably the last fine day of the summer to do a walk I've been promising myself for nigh on 20 years - the hike out over the arctic tundra of Ronas Hill - Shetland's highest point - to what some say is Britain's finest beach, The Lang Ayre.
Over 1 km long, it's only accessible via a steep gully at Kettligill Head (easier getting back up than down)and it took me two and a half hours to walk there from the car park at the old NATO station on Collafirth Hill. An hour there (probably could have spent longer) and two hours back. If you're thinking of going, it's worth taking a tent and camping, as you can walk on next day to Uyea Isle, another of Shetland's great geological wonders. There's a good track from Uyea to North Roe, and from there you can phone somebody in tears and plead for a lift back to points south. Or hitch.
Shetland's many advantages over the West Highlands include fewer people, no clegs, insignificant midges (though they've been bad this past week) and no snakes. We do, though, have those marauding pirates of the sky known as bonxies, or great skuas, and I was attacked by one particular pair on the way back. Believe me, this was shot using a 28mm lens, and it was A LOT closer and closing at speed on my head.

Birdman supreme Martin Heubeck told me that they very rarely hit you, and then only by accident, but bonxie attack (all you hear is the swoosh of their wings) can be terrifying if you're not used to it. A few years ago an elderly tourist was found dead of a heart attack in the middle of a bonxie colony. Very Hitchcockian.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Big Bannocks, Kirnathons and Grands Sprix!

I wouldn't know where to begin in describing Da Big Bannock. Suffice to say that the biggest bannock (cheese, this year) in the world is cooked. Teams compete to make butter (Da Kirnathon). There is a stunt 'iron horse' display (an iron horse, tiller or cultivator is a motorised plough) and of course the Merry Tiller Grand Sprix.
The Big Bannock is a...sort of festival/outpouring of madness/spree organised by a group of Northmavine chaps each summer in North Roe, about 12 miles from our house. There is a DVD release (this year, hilariously, it's Croft My Ride). There is a theme - this year, Knights of the Round Table - music (Vatersay Boys) and a colossal amount of drink. It's all in aid of charity. You really had to be there. If you ever saw the Father Ted episode involving the Craggy Island Gala Day, well, it's much more extreme than that. Theme song this year was a take on Okie From Muskogee ('I'm Proud Tae Be A Magnie Frae Northmavine') which featured the immortal line: 'We don't burn our galley in a playpark', which only those who know about Up Helly Aa and the inferior Lerwick version (in Northmavine, the viking galley is burnt at sea) will truly appreciate.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back home, and...shouldn't we be gigging tonight?

Well, no, actually. Glasgow ABC2 was the last of the tour (pictures by the excellent Stewart Cunningham), and now it's back to mowing the grass and cooking the tea (bolognese). But it's impossible to leave the guitars alone, and also impossible to avoid searching eBay frenziedly for that brilliant wee valve pre-amp Gypsy Dave Smith was using, not to mention that Marshall acoustic amp...oh and possibly an Aria F-50E to go with it. Well, it's cheaper than a motorbike. And safer.
Only having had three days at home in the past month, it's odd that I feel completely settled back in Shetland after, well, 14 hours. Keeping the Bookcroft shut until Saturday, I think, and no broadcasting so I can gad about the islands to my heart's content. Cycling and playing the guitar, though not at the same time.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Off again - rock'n'roll mobile blogging

Heading off on the boat tonight (Wednesday) for nearly three weeks on the road playing and James (The Tom Morton Two. Blogging will be conducted via the Moblog site - pictures and text daily, I hope, at or HERE. I won't be on the radio for four weeks...but stay tuned! for details of gigs go to my myspace page - or HERE. I will be turning up to play at Kirkcaldy, Forres, Ullapool, Inverness, Aberdeen, Invershin, Belladrum Festival, Glasgow, Leicester, Nottingham, London, Devon, Liverpool.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Home again...briefly!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Home again...briefly...before heading off with Joe West on the Meeting of Minds Tour...

...and the Big Bike ride is OVER. Pictures of the entire extravanganza are at or by clicking here

Many, many thanks to all those who gave money and are giving money via the CATS website (link at the side). It was interesting that Arran, Carradale and Campbeltown saw the biggest number of people handing me notes and change - fantastic generosity. And great coverage of the ride and CATS in the national press (especially the Sunday Post and Daily Record) and several local newspapers (special thanks to David from the Arran Banner for his enthusiasm. I've decided I want to live on Arran).

Thanks to Jenny and Ken, my BBC colleagues, and to Dave D for repairing my chain!

If you're interested, the bike I used was a 2004 model (new old stock) Orbit Ventura. The frame is Reynolds 520c Chromoloy, fantastically supple and forgiving. Brooks B17 leather saddle (15 years old) is the only way to travel.
Tyres were a bad mistake: Schwalbe Marathon Slicks are NOT up to even mildly rough stuff, despite having 'kevlar belts'. Plagued by a punctures in the back tyre following my spill on the Forth and Clyde towpath...turned out to be a tiny hole in the tyre casing that was pinching the tube. I'd use Slime tyre inserts and Slime-filled tubes if I was doing it again. And despite loving that Orbit frame, I'd probably go for a 26-inch wheel expedition bike like the Thorn Nomad. It has the Rohloff 14-speed hub gear, which I'd also want to use. My Shimano Deore Derailleurs were a menace, impossible to keep adjusted, and the maladjusted chain eventually snapping (possibly aided by the presence of a removable link, which is just stupid). I'd also get proper panniers, like Ortliebs. The cheap Countryman front panniers (off eBay) were awkward and disintegrated, though the cheap Raleigh rear panniers were surprisingly impressive. I would use SPDs, I think. But maybe not. They really help climbing but are useless for getting off and pushing! Axiom bar bag was fantastic, as was Altura Nevis jacket. Lycra is, I'm afraid, a necessity, though Endura baggy over shorts disguise the look. Vaseline and Sudocream saved my bacon.
Oh, and don't be tempted by a trailer. I watched a poor chap with a top of the range Santa Cruz mountain bike, towing a Yak Bob, having the invisible trailer crushed by a car boarding the Lochranza ferry. Trailers and recumbents are invisible to drivers because no-one expects thenm to be there.

Other lessons? You can do things at 50 that surprise you. Climbing hills on a bike may be painful, but it doesn't kill you. Physically, I'm not as decayed as I thought. next year...Aberdeen to Shetland via Inverness, and Orkney? Or Land's End to John o'Groats? Can't decide...

posted by Notions | 2:34 AM

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

here we go...


But for the moment...I'm verbose and nervous!

Last night I did the first leg of the trip, home (Hillswick) to Lerwick, 35 miles, for which I allowed four hours. I surprised myself by doing it in three. There were moments of thrilling speed (the Lang Kames, the bleak stretch of moorland in the middle of the Shetland Mainland, saw me averaging 19 mph)as well as the grinding uphill horrors of the Clavie (one mile from my front door) and the last horrible hill up from the golf course just outside Lerwick.
Tonight, having packed my panniers, the only nagging pain from that first big ride is in my knees, which are 50 years old and protesting. Tomorrow, I'll drive into Lerwick, do the show from there, then get the boat south. On Thursday morning, all being well, I'll cycle to Stoneheaven leave the bike there, and catch a train back to aberdeen for the show. Then I'm getting a lift back to Stonehaven, and I cycle to Montrose. Overnight in Montrose and then...onwards to Campbeltown.

Remember this is all in aid of CATS (not cats). And you can contribute HERE.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A very wee bike ride in advance of the big huge one...

Well, the ride begins officially next Wednesday, the 19th, and tonight I managed 12 miles in calm conditions round the Ronas Voe/Gluss Water circuit. I've abandoned the toeclips and returned to clipless SPD pedals, and what a difference. How I ever thought I could manage without them I don't know.
The biggest worry is the weather, and that will only be a major issue in Shetland, where a headwind on Wednesday morning would be a disaster. I have to cover 36 miles into Lerwick and then do a radio show before catching the ferry south, and so far 12 miles is the most I've cycled. I am nervous about this first leg of the journey, and so at the moment I'm planning to take the van into Lerwick on Monday, leave it there and catch the bus home, then cycle into Lerwick either on Tuesday morning, if the weather's good, or Tuesday night. Then I could drive the van home with the bike, and drive into Lerwick on Wednesday. Or just wait until Wednesday. That way I get the chance of three possible weather windows.
One way or another, it's on. The hardest bits are the first, err... four days - Hillswick to Lerwick (36 miles) Aberdeen to Montrose (anything between 40 and 55 miles depending on the route), Montrose to Strathmiglo (60-odd) and a whopping 70 to Glasgow, though that's a Saturday and I've got the whole day and evening if necessary. Whose idea was this anyway?