Saturday, April 23, 2011

Glasgow from a distance.

It's the end of a frenetic week back in Shetland, one full of council and broadcasting business, great weather,a flurry of filming with Jolene and Rich's Precious Productions for BBC Online, preparation of holiday cottages for the season and the climbing, in torrid conditions, of a very small hill.

And of course, after a fortnight in Glasgow, thoughts turn to the weans and grandweans on the mainland or in Northern Ireland. Only Martha at home these days, for another year or so. And then...

Leaving aside the food poisoning (fish pie, chicken salad or Eggs Benedict?) and ripping the back/bottom off the Subaru (potholes and gatepost) we had a splendid time in the Dear Green Place. Lots of friends and family, movies, great coffee,music and the sense of urban connectedness you get from working in Europe's most advanced digital broadcasting  centre at Pacific Quay, and hurtling there on a groovy folding bike.

Now we're back on The Rock, missing everyone, working hard, driving and bussing everywhere, soothing the troubled psychology of Lulu the St Bernard, and connected, plugged into the very different network of Shetlandic life.

Looking at Glasgow from our northern outpost, we can take a deep breath and wonder: what would it be like to live in...oh, the west end, Kinning Park, Tradeston, the south side, the east end...why is there no north side in Glasgow? Creating villages of likemindedness again, slipping into the teeming mass where there's both anonymity and familiarity, where finding the stuff, the talent, the people you need is easy, instant. Because people and abilities gather in cities, coelesce, hit the market, buy, sell, live...

A million people in Greater Glasgow. 23,000 in Shetland, a place and a population it's easy to idealise. There are huge disadvantages to living here. The cost of travel, food, fuel and indeed, everything but housing, which is rapidly catching up with the mainland. Being apart from the extended family.

But there are many good things. Shetland's economy is still relatively buoyant. There are jobs, massive industrial projects like the gas plants at the Sullom Voe oil terminal and the impending wind and tidal energy developments. If you love the landscape and the wildness of the weather, there's only the religion-afflicted Western Isles to compare.

And as we gaze at Glasgow this weekend, the absence of a religious culture in Shetland (there are churches, tolerated as ritual providers for deaths, marriages, births and the lke) seems an enormous blessing. There will be Shetland folk at the Old Firm match. I have no idea if they're travelling down in a shared bus, as has happened in the past. Sectarianism here is looked upon as baffling idiocy, occasionally flaring as it does in bars, courtesy of incoming casual workers. Amazingly, people support Rangers or Celtic because they' teams.

Glasgow on Easter Sunday. It'd be good to drink some West beer out at Glasgow Green, go to the Barras, listen to some jazz. But do I really want the walk back into town amid whatever the Buckfastian outcome of the match is? Someone's being sending 'viable' nail bombs to Neil Lennon and other Celtic supporters. Easter, eh? Undoubtedly, tomorrow, there will be blood.

So I worry about the kids, mine and other people's. I wonder about the separation of state schools on sectarian grounds. I look at the people who have literally fled west central Scotland for Shetland, come here to escape the brutal divisiveness of  cartoon religiosity, found a rough and ready sanctuary.

Like them, on the whole, I'm happy to be here. And for the moment, I can afford to visit Glasgow relatively often. Choosing the dates carefully.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Birth of the mediacrofter, death of the hack

Yesterday, before salmonella laid me low, I had a meeting about a planned media training programme for councillors and council officials back in Shetland.

It went well. The people involved, three of them, have a company which specialises in this sort of thing, and has done effective work for all kinds of major league corporate clients. This doesn't take up all of their time. They have other irons in various fires.

All three were vastly experienced, high-flying journalists. None of them make any money from journalism as such any more. And neither do I.

Instead, it became apparent, we're all mediacrofters. True, I was the only officially registered crofter there, with a smallholding in Shetland on which sheep cavort and subsidies were once claimed. But the essence of crofting as a rural lifestyle has always been multitasking – you can only survive by adaptability, by doing a bit of fishing, growing some veg, keeping some sheep, maybe delivering letters, repairing walls, selling paintings, philosophising or bartending. Self reliance, if not self sufficiency. Because you depend on the community too.

Journalism, certainly freelance journalism, is dead in the water, other than for a privileged few who must all be gazing into a very uncertain future. I am a light entertainer, trading on a life-long passion for music and trivia and a church upbringing that forced me to perform from the age of seven. I do a bit of freelance PR, write online for free. We have a holiday cottage we rent out. I sell second hand books, speculate in bad motorcycles. No pension, no fallback, no contracts. The three men I met with yesterday do PR, training, consultancy work, design, copywriting, wedding photography, videos, online telly, clever little projects to sell words and pictures. And tellingly, they collaborate to survive and thrive. With each other, with small, imaginative companies.

But, and this was telling, they said it was the established media organisations that deny the new digital realities, who refuse collaboration and instead cut payments and staff to the bone. Who see what individuals like them do as threatening.

And yes, we swopped war stories. Terrible, scary, hilarious moments back in the day. The Braer, Lockerbie, BCCI. Big stories. Huge hotel bills. Unlimited expense accounts. Taxis from Glasgow to Braemar and back. Privately chartered aeroplanes, for heaven's sake (and that was me, for The Scotsman).

But that was the past. Now, we're about surviving. Now, we live by our wits. Now, we're crofting.