Between Weathers – Travels in 21st Century Shetland Ron McMillan Sandstone Press, £11.99
RON McMillan has the experienced traveller’s eye for detail and a mellifluous writing style that make reading his book an ideal occupation for a wet Sunday afternoon.
However, the trouble with travellers is that they tend to see things through rose-tinted spectacles – and he forgets that Shetland is a marginal community at the edge of Scotland and the UK with questions about its future very much at the forefront of people’s minds. There is very little here about oil or fish or the council, without which very few people would be able to live in Shetland at all.
What he does get right – and it is always good to hear an outsider’s take – is a measure of the diverse range of characters, local and incomer, who make the isles what they are. In fact, along with some fine description (“As we nose through the Sound, the sun breaks cover over the shallow hills of Bressay, eclipses the blue pre-dawn light, paints Lerwick with a cost post-sunrise glow that is entirely at odds with the temperature, and casts a cartoon-like Hrossey shadow that reaches out for the shoreline of a capital as prettified as a 19th century watercolour.”) and a little light history, Between Weathers is essentially a series of character sketches.
As readers of The Shetland Times will be familiar with most of these characters, there seems little point in relaying the fine detail. Those who want to know more should read the book.
There are also some amusing anecdotes, often told by the author against himself. Breaking the back window of his host’s car on a windy day in Fair Isle was clearly mortifying for him – yet it was taken good naturedly.
It is gratifying that Mr McMillan felt himself very welcome here. His book will most likely meet with the same response, even if it does lack what for this reader at any rate would have been a bit more insight.
Two irritating features in this book: Whalsay is spelled Whalsey in the contents and Walsay in the the headers for the chapter about it and Fethaland. And who talks about Foula Island? Just Foula, please.