21st August 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Fishy tales and verse are a fun but serious statement

White below: poems and stories from Shetland’s fishing industry. Hansel Cooperative Press.

Although this book is full of fun, it has a serious sea background. It can be enjoyed as a truthful and hilarious statement of how things were, at the fishing and ashore. In the way that past and present cannot entirely be disentangled, it comes through with immediacy. Conditions may have changed for the better, but character, bred into today’s seamen from their forebears, is well able to meet modern problems.

White below can be read as entertainment or instruction, seamlessly fitted. The layout is well done, sections and drawings giving a leisurely feel to an interest-packed book. I’ve picked out a few “tasters”, but the whole book is well worth reading.

Charlie Simpson’s Whalsay background comes out in his two tales, “Turbot Line” and “Summer Fishing”. Whalsa Willie is there to the life, in the Simpsons’ garage, instructing them in the niceties of turbot line preparation and use, Capt Lowrie Simpson an attentive pupil as well as son Charlie. John Cumming, in “Da Saeson o Sixty Echt”, and four other tales, evokes people and incidents that were once part of Shetland sea life, and the humour that helped. Mark Ryan Smith’s story “The Fisherman” and his poems are impressive. I look forward to what he will write in the future.

Laureen Johnson’s poems, as ever, are concise and to the point. I especially like “Rhythms”, where she brings out the amazing speed of gutters and packers at their slippery work; and “Gutted”, which is neat in another way. Lise Sinclair’s poems make ideas leap into new life, homely, yet sparkling with facets unnoticed before. “Harmonium” and “Kuna” touched deep chords for me. James Sinclair’s “Saatbrack” and John Cumming’s “Lost” show tragic happenings.

Each of the contributors using his or her own phonetic dialect spelling, with apt Shetland words in their right places, makes this collection distinctive. It will do a lot for intelligent perception of our dialect’s value, with its roots in so many different languages.

The excellent foreword by John Goodlad is a review in itself. Like him, I hope these contributors will soon produce a second volume.

Stella Sutherland