Sunday, November 28, 2010

75 years of the Hillswick Hall

Last night, in the depths of a blizzard which saw the band cancelling and one guest of honour being forced to send in his speech by email, Laura Manson was there to cut the Hillswick Community Hall's 75th birthday cake in front of a small, but highly select local audience.

And a great time was had by all. An even better time might have been had, perhaps, if the hall's paid-for but mysteriously unerected wind generator had been functioning. Shetland Windpower, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Still, the tireless team of cooks and waiting 'staff' provided a magnificent feed, the drink was the cheapest in the world (even cheaper for me with my secret flask of Longmorn 12) and the display of pictures from the past three-quarters of a century highly entertaining. Peter Sinclair's stint as John Nicolson was impressive. The beautiful art deco vase presented at the opening of the hall did not get broken. And I have to admit, the absence of the band meant I didn't have to dance, which was a good thing for the safety of Hillswick toes.

The extension of the hall should go ahead next year, and the windylight (sitting outside in bits) should be up and running, once the conundrum of what on earth Shetland Windpower is up to has been solved...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Discovering her inner St Bernard

It was sunny when Lulu made her decorous entrance to the back garden and decided that yes, she remembered what this white stuff was, deep down in her genetic make-up...but it's dark now (15.40) windy and freezing, as well as much more snowy. Susan didn't make it into Lerwick - she gave up in a white-out at the Ollaberry junction - and since then we've been priming the generator for the inevitable power failure, tending the two stoves that are consuming peat voraciously, and stoking ourselves with caramel KitKats and coffee.

Susan's practice night out has been cancelled, and so we're able to go to the Hillswick Hall 75th anniversary dinner dance. It's a mile along the road. I doubt the Alan Nicholson Band may struggle to get there, and attendance generally may be depleted. But still, it should be fun.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm going to be helping out Shetland Islands Council with its communications strategy...'s the official announcement:

Tom Morton to advise Council on communications

HILLSWICK-based broadcaster and journalist Tom Morton is to advise Shetland Islands Council on its communications, as part of the Council’s ongoing improvement programme.

The former Shetland Times and Scotsman reporter, who now hosts a weekday afternoon show on BBC Radio Scotland, will spend three mornings a week for the next four months providing advice, support and expertise to the council. He will continue to broadcast in the afternoons from BBC Radio Shetland’s Pitt Lane studios.

Chief Executive Alistair Buchan said this morning “I think that it was very important for the council that we got someone with media background to help our team develop our communications function and strategy. Communications in many ways goes to the heart of everything we do as a Council. So, I’m very pleased that we have someone with Tom’s experience on board and look forward to working with him in the next few months”.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be helping the council communicate more effectively,” Mr Morton said. “The SIC’s commitment to openness, transparency and accountability means that everyone in the Shetland community should feel informed and involved in what it decides, and what it does. It’s a privilege to be part of that process.”

Mr Morton began his journalistic career in specialist construction journalism in Glasgow, before moving into music reviewing, freelance writing and TV production. He first moved to Shetland in 1987 as news editor of The Shetland Times, before setting up the islands’ first independent news agency, and subsequently becoming The Scotsman’s Highlands and Islands Reporter. He won a Bank of Scotland Press Award for columns written about the wreck of the tanker Braer.

Since then his career has included two stints at BBC Radio Scotland, two more at The Shetland Times and work throughout the world on various radio and TV programmes, newspapers and magazines.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Aboard the mighty vessel Bygga

On the way back from ghostly antics at da Windhoose in Yell.

Friday, November 19, 2010

That's it for PQ until next year. Possibly

End of a long, strenuous week, then...thanks to Cherry Ghost (playing tonight with The Coral at the Academy, well worth seeing), Kassidy (excellent) Chick Young, Susan Calman, Bill Whiteford, Isabel Fraser, Edith Bowman, the technical team - Ken, Max and Julian - and production from Jenny and Sam. Also the canteen staff for lending all the cooking stuff, and actually baking the bread, which turned out well. Children in Need continues tonight on telly and radio. Buit you knew that.

Booked on the 'plane home tomorrow morning, and no plans to be south now until February. Maybe. By which time NorthLink may have got the boats working again properly.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sky over Inverness

Taken from my 4th floor room at the old Caley hotel in Inverness, looking due west. I was in Inverness to be the after dinner entertainment at the Crofters Commission Assessors Conference. Jokes about Brian Taylor, Inverness food, Fred Macaulay, seasick vikings and Bob Bird, erstwhile News of the World editor and infamous wearer of naught but underpants in the service of Murdoch. Nobody walked out until after I'd finished...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Glasgow: Walking from Queen Margaret Drive to Pacific Quay: Pictures this morning

Creamola Foam: The real thing unearthed and an imitation erupts

Creamola Foam. It's time has returned. The great lost Scottish drink, its chemical formula apparently mislaid during a slew of company takeovers, tins and cartons of the stuff appearing only rarely and fetching vast sums on eBay, seems to have invaded my life recently.

It has popped up on my radio show once or twice, but I really didn't expect to see a vintage tin (carton, really, in its latter years, as the 'tin' was made of cardboard) ever again. Let alone taste it. But the power of nostalgia is immense.  It has become an iconic Scottish retro-brand, like Mother's Pride bread and Irn Bru, to the extent that you can get T-shirts and bags bearing the logo.

Then last week, I received a package from a  Robert Kelly in Larkhall. Inside precious...a tin of Creamola Foam. The real deal, albeit the late cardboard version with the plastic top. The contents were, it must be said, a bit lumpy and brownish. But still, chemical analysis would surely be possible. I could recreate Creamola Foam for a new age! It would live again!

But. Yesterday, walking down Byres Road in Glasgow, I passed the sweetshop I Love Candy, and a blackboard outside was advertising...tubs of 'Creamola foam'. Three quid. THREE QUID? Anonymous plastic tubs, they were, marked Krakatoa Fizz. I bought a raspberry version and took it home.

"They analysed the original and it's been phenomenal" said the shop assistant. "People have been buying one and then coming back for more. They're making cocktails with it!"

As it turns out, a company in Dumbarton which specialises in vintage sweets seems to be responsible for gazumping my half-formed business idea. Originally available in Edinburgh as 'Kramola Foam' the Krakatoa version is made from sugar, tartaric acid, extract of quina, citric acid, sodium bicarbonate, stabilisers and natural colour. I missed, somehow, the Scottish Parliament motion from Rob Gibson in January that the 'new' Creamola Foam was going to bring about revolutionary change, independence and a revival of the compulsory full set of dentures for all 16-year-olds...but see this story.

I have to tell you, although it foams in exactly the same way, Krakatoa Fizz...

...tastes horrible.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

In today's Sunday Post: me on embarrassing dads

That I should live to see Lesley Riddoch writing a column for the Sunday Post...this is my contribution to today's paper, the 'In My View' section.

Sir Michael Jagger - once known as Mick, lead singer with The Rolling Stones, is an ageing, if still thin rock star, originally from the sixties, now heading for his seventies. He is uncool. Seriously, deeply uncool. An utter and complete embarrassment. And we’re not just talking about terrible solo records like She’s The Boss here. No, he has been officially nominated an embarrassing dad. In Australian parlance,  he’s a ‘daggy’ daddy. So says his 18-year old daughter Georgia May.
    Georgia’s mum is former supermodel Jerry Hall, who’s even less cool than Sir Mick, apparently, as she’s now “only interested in chicken farming.”  But it is the legendary Stones frontman’s dancing that really upsets his daughter.
“It’s pretty funny when dad gets on the dance floor” she says, “ because he has got such a, like, I don’t know how to describe his moves. But let’s just say he doesn’t go unnoticed, you know what I mean?”
    The idea of Mick Jagger on any dancefloor  being in even marginally anonymous - imagine him at the Buckie British Legion on a Saturday slosh - is ludicrous. You’d notice those hips, those lips, anywhere. But most would be thrilled at the sight of even an aged Mick strutting his stuff. Not his offspring, though.
    And there’s a tremendous relief in this, for dads everywhere. No father is ever cool to his own family. He may be valued, for his command of transportation logistics, his ready supply of £20 notes, his willingness to have his Mumford and Sons and XX albums ruthlessly appropriated.  But he cannot ever be cool. He is and always will be a social liability.
     For example, this week my 16-year-old daughter Martha was off with her friends for the musical event of the year in our remote little community: a concert by dreadlocked one-man-boy-band, consummate guitarist and Peter Gabriel soundalike Newton Faulkner. Doing the job I do, I was keen to go too. After all, we play his records regularly on the radio show and in fact, it was my professional duty to go and nod along groovily to the lad’s tunes. Wasn’t it?
    No. This would be embarrassing for Martha, who wanted to, ahem hang with her homegirls and homeboys in the ultra-fashionable surroundings of an echoing northern sports centre which smelt of liniment and sweaty trainers. I would have to steer clear of the Chinese restaurant, too, as she and her cronies would be dining there. Fair enough. Did she want a lift home? Yes please. A text would summon me.
    Everything I do seems to embarrass Martha. Everything I wear. Especially the rather nice Paul Smith denim jacket I bought from eBay.
    “You can’t go out wearing that! It’s got FADED SHOULDERS!” Fair enough. It does have a slightly...stonewashed vibe going on. “And those are PULL-UPS! You look like a really old CHAV! Why are your trainers red? Put on a pair of sensible shoes and a proper shirt.”
    Hmm. I kind of take the point about the trainers. They are red. But they’re serious running shoes, and I just wear them around the house with track suit bottoms because they’re comfy. I mean, clearly I’m not going to go running in them. That would be ridiculous. I am, these days, built for comfort, not for speed. This offends Martha. And when I try to be fashionable, I get it wrong. This offends her too.
    Poor Sir Mick has always had a slightly dodgy fashion sense. His leather jackets are too fussy, His trousers have too many buttons between them. That infamous wiggle of the hips, especially if  they aren’t his own original hips, is just a bit out of time, baby. There’s no aesthetic satisfaction there for the critical offspring.
    But every dad is uncool to his son or daughter. It’s part of the deal. And the more you attempt to show how ‘down’ you are with modern music, clothes, movies or haircuts, the dafter you look, dude. It’s the rule. As for the dancefloor: Don’t look at me. It’s all over now. Wild Horses wouldn’t drag me out there...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Drinking for Scotland - establishment drug dealers and a country's shame

I gave up drinking for 31 days, once. Made a radio programme out of it. And then I went back to my Friday night red wine, my couple of whiskies a week, my beer and skittles. Without the skittles..

The occasional binge, too, in the sense of  combining beer, wine and whisky in doses calculated to leave me slumped in an armchair, dribbling and snoring while Jools Holland once again elbows his mediocre piano into some hapless, desperate performer's arrangement. Later. And later, and later, and later...

But in Caledonian terms, my binges do disservice to the word. I am, to put it mildly, a lightweight these days when it comes to booze. I hate, always hated being drunk, and now, when I find myself in social gatherings where alcohol is being taken, I usually safeguard my exit route before even beginning to imbibe. I ensure there's a way home, or out, and when the boredom begins to seep through, when dehydration starts to sandpaper the thrapple, I make my excuses and leave. Or switch to Ribena.

I hang out with connoisseurs, sometimes. People who drink professionally, or who, to be more precise, describe whiskies for a living. Indeed, I have done this myself, though I always have to fight back the giggles, as there's something essentially ridiculous about the striving to differentiate single malts, one from Glen t'other. Yes, they are different, but in the way grades of heroin and cocaine are different. The taste is not the point of whisky. It's meant to do a job on you, enliven, inebriate, dull, destroy. Like Keith Richards' obsessive hailing of Merck pharmaceutical 'fluffy' cocaine in his recent autobiography. Push comes to sniff, dirty lumps of Bolivian or Columbian crack or factory-made Swiss snow are drugs that deliver the same message to heart, brain and body. Whisky is a delivery vehicle for alcohol.

They are, for the most part, lovely folk, the dope dealers of the whisky trade. They are more than respectable, occasionally hilarious, often charming. It's an area of Scottish life absolutely awash with money, and the marketing of  uisge beatha has always been cutting edge, from the days of Tommy Dewar onwards. Doubtless he would have been happy to be called a brand ambassador. Maybe not an evangelist.

Whisky is now so suffused with lore, mythology tall tales, anal-retentive male compulsions and downright bullshit that you'd think it was some kind of art. It's not. It's a drug, disguised for its many niche and mass markets in the form of a social badge, a collector's trophy, a mind-blowing display of wealth (silver, gold, platinum and diamonds encrusting a bottle? You got it) a signifier of coolness, of belonging.

Expertise has become the latest marketing tool. Whisky clubs and societies have sprung up worldwide, whisky festivals (I admit it. I participate. I talk phenols and oakiness, caramel and esters, washbacks and mash tuns. I judge whisky competitions, for goodness' sake) see wise heads, young and old, slurping and nodding over rarities in hotel function suites. Notes are taken, words are slurred, stairs fallen down. A great deal of fun is had. Money changes hands. Lots and lots of money. Mantras? Excess is good. Greed is good. throw the cork away. Moderation is for sissies.

Elsewhere, the same companies slosh alcopops and factory-made sweet spirits into underage bellies. industrial scale drinking is encouraged at the annual alcofest-with-music that is Pee in the Dark, or T in the Park. Scotland goes out on a Friday and gets rat-arsed, crashes cars, kills pedestrians, freezes to death in a park. Slashes, burns, abuses, fights, smashes, damages. Does the same again on Saturday. Maybe a a few Smirnoff Ices on a Sunday to ease the way back into work on a Monday. Or just miss Monday out, why not? Internationally, countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas are targeted. Drink this, it'll make you...richer, more attractive, it'll make you belong. One glass makes you bigger, one glass make you small...

Hey, let's not forget the weans. Foetal alcohol syndrome, anyone? Och, how can you have sex anyway if you aren't pished? Brain damage. Shrinkage. Fits. The meaningless rubbish that's sold only to mess you up, like Carlsberg Special, originally brewed specifically for Winston Churchill's visit to Denmark after the war, now the tipple of  choice for oblivion merchants everywhere.

Tomorrow, the Scottish Parliament will vote on party political lines and eradicate the proposed bill that would set a minimum price for alcohol in Scotland. Spurious arguments will be advanced that raising the price of a unit of rotgut cider will cause terrible damage to the economy, and won't stop folk boozing unwisely anyway. Education is all. have a wee dram. Smell the history, the geography, the culture.

I don't believe that for a moment. I am afraid that the drug dealers have once again  flexed their considerable muscle and quashed the first serious attempt to tackle the shame that is Scotland's relationship with alcohol. Gutless, ignorant, hidebound politicians have cowered before them.

So. That's that, then. Might as well go out and get pished, eh? Just remember this salient fact: Two single malts: that's enough to destroy your ability to appreciate their quality. After that, you might as well switch to Old Gumripper or Glen Haemorrhage. Slainte!

Monday, November 01, 2010

View this morning from our new barn conversion/holiday cottage, Seabarns

...once the plumbing's finally installed, and there's furniture, it'll be available to rent. And yes, there are windows onto the sea...

It's the seaward side of an 18th century steading (listed? Oh yes, he said heavily) which has one en-suite (!) bedroom, but can sleep four (there's another bathroom). See that guttering? See that CAST IRON guttering? See listed building consent? More pictures when it's finished! Soon, it is sincerely to be hoped.