In winter, there’s a natural tendency to ‘coorie in’, to nestle around the stove and huddle together against the darkness and raging storms outside. But long experience has taught islanders that you need fight off and illuminate the darkness, to get out and about, socialise and affirm both community and the light that’s on its way. Eventually, it will be spring.
There are risks to both these activities: those who rarely move from the hearthside (or the centrally-heated tellyside, more often these days) can find themselves afflicted with cabin fever. Fjøgstad feerie: Grumpiness, irritability and a tendency to shout (and sometimes throw things) at the flat screen TV. Especially during X Factor, Strictly and, in my case, any appearance of Jools Holland. Family flyting can become ferocious, too much gets drunk, eaten or smoked. And I’m not talking about leaving your reestit mutton too long above the Rayburn.
But Shetland’s vibrant social life – be it Up Helly A’s and the necessary preparations for them, dances, weddings, balls, parties or the recent eruption of birthday bus and hennie night culture – comes with complications. Again, the alcohol thing. We all drink too much at this time of year, mostly without long-lasting ill effects or fisticuffs. But when folk ‘fall by’ or fall out, when it’s ambulances at midnight or broken Bacardi Breezer bottles at dawn, things can get very messy.
Celebrations, in other words, can get out of hand.
That’s why, when I say I want this magazine to celebrate life in Shetland, I do not mean that it will all be nostalgia and sunsets. Though there will be both. The past is crucial to understanding the present and the future. I love Douglas Sinclair’s delving into the past in pictures and words. I’m fascinated by Shetland’s hugely important role in two world wars and in naval activity worldwide. And this is a beautiful place where beautiful things happen, and beautiful things are made. We need to celebrate all of these.
The ultimate celebration for me is a wedding. As long, I’d like to add quickly, and for the benefit of my various offspring, as I’m not paying for it. Matrimonials are a time for rejoicing in the past and looking to the future; for meeting old friends and making new ones; for drinking and eating too much, for putting the world to rights, arguing and occasionally fighting, hopefully in a good-natured kind of way. Although I always remember the story about a wedding in the area of Inverness known as The Ferry, where various uncles of the bride became involved in a difference of opinion with uncles of the groom. First the police were called, then the ambulances, and finally (after an incident with a fire alarm) the fire brigade. Someone who was there told me afterwards, with some delight: “All three emergency services! Now that’s what I call a wedding!”
What you tend not to get at weddings is toxic, anonymous muttering. Sure, long-held grievances can erupt, people can have their say. But you know that bit in the ceremony about objections and speaking now or forever holding your peace (at least until the reception)? It’s about priorities. It’s saying, we’re here because we love these people and we want them to be happy. Because we recognise the good in them. Let’s celebrate.
So let’s celebrate Shetland. Let’s not ignore our differences, be they between country and town, councillor and constituent, executive and employee, windfarm supporter and opponent. But we’re all in Shetland because we want to be, because we love this place and this community, or at least we like it more than any of the alternatives. And as Christmas – or Yule if you prefer – looms, let’s be proud of Shetland’s history, it’s present, and its future.
Because, despite what may seem like doom and gloom being bandied about by the council- necessarily so; there are budgets to meet and southern governments and their agencies to appease – Shetland does have a future. Unlike many other parts of the UK, it has a present, too. It has industry, it has a thriving culture, it has a wonderful environment, with or without windylights. And – here’s an unpalatable truth – even if the proposed council cuts bite deeper than we dare imagine, this will still be a better place to live than anywhere else in Scotland. It will look after its elderly and its young better. It will be better equipped, more comfortable. A great place to be. If, that is, you don’t try and imagine it’s something different to what it is: an island community, roughly halfway between Scotland and Scandinavia. We’re not in Kansas. We’re not even in Caithness. Or Orkney.
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This special ready-for-Christmas edition of Shetland Life contains nearly all of your favourites, I hope, and some new, albeit weel-kent, regular contributors. These include Rosa Steppanova, who writes this month about Christmas cards, but from January will provide us once more with her legendary and brilliant insights into gardening in the isles. Clive Munro has been music mentor to generations of Shetland folk through his sadly missed record shop. Now he’ll be sharing his personal take on music and more in these pages. Motoring will feature each month, along with a new cartoon starring Sigurd the Tentative – Bohemian viking, and tales from Canada’s far north. Wir Shop starts in Hillswick, naturally, but will give retail outlets throughout the isles a chance to tell their stories in the future. Dave Donaldson’s picture essay on postboxes is a brilliant reminder to get those cards off early.
We have new photo-quizzes, the much-loved crossword is now in the hands of Shetland ForWirds and means business, and there are some intriguing, exclusive stories this time around: Christmas is approached from several angles. The council convener’s argument for more Shetland autonomy as part of any independent Scotland is fascinating and timely, and Jonathan Magnus Ledgard’s life as a specialist reporter on Jihadist terror movements gives more than pause for thought. As for Alistair Buchan’s breakfasting advice, well…
Check out my editor’s notebook at shetlandlife.blogspot.com. We’re on Facebook and Twitter too.
In the future, I’m hoping for more about boats, the sea and shipping, more from the schools, and more from you. I’d like to know what you think of the magazine, and what’s being said in it. I’d like to start a letters page from next month, so please, email or write, for publication, with your real name and your real address. Remember that this is a monthly that people tend to keep, reread and send all over the world. It’s a platform for considered thought, argument, memories.
And celebration. Happy Christmas, or maybe… Yule guid an Yule gaer, be wi wis aa year.