We should have known. It is one of life’s truisms that Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ always gets a fine day of weather while Nesting & Girlsta Up-Helly-A’, following on 10 days later, can be guaranteed to endure extreme conditions of one sort or another.
For the festival to fall on Friday 13th February meant that its fate was well and truly sealed. True to form, after a fine day that permitted the Jarl’s Squad to complete its programme of visiting, it began to snow heavily just before 6pm. The police were turning back buses trying to leave Lerwick and vehicles were getting stuck on the Vassa Brae, one Land Rover ending up in the stank.
Up-Helly-A’ had to be cancelled and was re-arranged for a month later. Although this meant it fell on Friday 13th March the weather could not have been better on this occasion – and the spectacular procession and burning took place in ideal conditions. Perhaps there’s a message there for the future …
This year’s Guizer Jarl was Dave Phillips of South Nesting who represented Olaf Tryggveson. Olaf must be Dave’s alter ego since he works for the coastguard in Lerwick and Olaf spent his time raiding the coast of Britain over a number of years.
Dave began his reign as jarl late in the evening of Thursday 5th February when last year’s jarl, Peter Anderson of North Nesting, handed over the ceremonial tankard. The tankard was not empty, of course, and all those present enthusiastically toasted the beginning of Dave’s year.
The Jarl’s Squad gear was perhaps a welcome departure from some of the more garish colour schemes seen these days. Their kirtles were beaver-coloured (which provided the bill-writers and cartoonist with welcome material about introducing beavers to Britain), their boots were of artificial brown bear fur, the wrist-bands were of brown leather and the simple helmets were covered in brown leather and had a chain-mail neck-guard of brass, iron and aluminium links.
The reindeer skins were skilfully moulded over the shoulders and fixed with two pewter wolf-head brooches. The squad wore large-ringed breast-plates, carried axes with a double-headed brass head and had shields with a Celtic design. The jarl’s helmet sported a corbie’s wings. The two princesses wore tiaras with a gold-plated Celtic design.
To get the desired effect and colour of the leather-work, the Jarl’s Squad had hand-dyed the leather with a vegetable dye, and tooled grooves for contrast. The overall effect was very pleasing to the eye, complete with a full-bearded Olaf Tryggveson looking the part.
The blue and white galley was just beautiful. The galley builders (Willie Simpson and Tommy Leask, Robert and Scott Sandison, with Tommy’s peerie boy, Bobby, as apprentice) excelled themselves this year. Her lines were precise and the difficult sculpturing of the foam head and tail was perfect. Even the wooden cleats holding down the mast rigging had been fashioned and smoothed as if the galley was being entered into the boat show.
Sadly, at around 8pm on Friday all of this skilled workmanship counted for little as she was devoured by flames. The air was so still that night that the head and tail of the galley stood for what seemed like ages before eventually crumbling into the fire.
After the procession and burning, the squads drifted off to one of the two halls open for the night, swapping over after midnight. Leeshinat kept the South Nesting Public Hall on its toes, with the help of 10 imaginative squads, as did Alan Nicolson’s Dance Band at the North Nesting Public Hall.
Both North and South Nesting Halls have long had a reputation of providing excellent fare for guizers and the public and they certainly maintained those standards with fine food imaginatively presented. Both halls were bedecked with large blow-ups of Laurence Pearson’s excellent cartoon which provided a fitting theme and backdrop to the occasion. A good time was had by all.
As there will be no guizers’ dance this year (because of the postponement), the hop in the North Nesting Public Hall on Saturday provided the curtain-call for the event, with Country Rok (including Brian Nicholson in particularly virtuoso mood) giving it large.
Next year Girlsta will provide the jarl for the festival and we hope that the quiet and clement weather enjoyed (eventually) by Olaf Tryggveson, his squad, and the other guizers this year might visit us again then …
This year’s squads (with the total number of guizers in brackets) were: Jarl’s Squad (28); The Other MCA (9); Singing in the Rain (9); Dave’s Jiggers (11); Ivan Vision (12); Out-foxed Again (9); Disco Divers (11); Tak-a-wak-up-da-cat (12); Nestin National (12); and Save da day Dave (12).
A committee spokesman expressed gratitude to the galley-builders, torch-makers, the police, the coastguard, the doormen, kitchen staff and barmen at the halls, and everyone else who put in so much hard work to make the event a success.