Letter from Edinburgh 17.07.09

I’ve always got the idea of the barbecue. Flame grilled meat and poultry do taste better. The excess fat drips and burns away so there are notable health advantages … that is as long as you don’t charcoal the lot.

But it’s a hot weather pastime. As a form of cooking it’s the only one where the males feel comfortable. That is the average man – not the likes of Gordon Ramsay et al. Small side note here – I see Mr Ramsay is now advertising a well known brand of gin which presumably means that the takings at his restaurants are down as the recession bites. Other­wise why would you? But back to the barbecue.

As a way to spend some time, while claiming to be cooking, it takes a bit of beating. You can dis­cuss great matters of state – the silage crop, the siting of high schools, or the Bressay ferry now running with four men as it used to. All the while flipping over the odd burger.

Let me digress again on the subject of ferry crews. In the mid 1990s there was an enormous coun­cil battle on this one with councillors told that the ferries all had to have five men aboard. The new system would mean proper rotas and the elimination of over­time. The regime was partly driven by the need to ticket the crews.

So the fisheries college in Scal­loway benefited by having men go through their nautical paces in an academic setting so that the appro­priate piece of paper was achieved. This kept the shipping regulators happy.

The one aspect that never changed was overtime. I hear it’s now huge. As fewer men have the necessary sea time and nautical paperwork, the ferries are struggling to find suf­ficient crew. So sensibly the author­ities are seeking ways round.

At the moment that’s the excep­tion rather than the rule. But this may mean we end up with four-man, or for that matter woman, crews. So it may be back to the future on our inter-island ferry fleet. I suspect, however, we are unlikely to end up with three men talking the Leirna across Bressay Sound.

I was shown a Norwegian paper from the Måløy area in the museum the other day. It featured the two restored vessels and their crew that were in Lerwick for the Johnsmas Foy weekend and had accompanied the yachts across the North Sea from Bergen. The Måløy paper also had an article, duly translated for me, on the local ferry where a vessel about the same size as the Leirna operated with a three-man crew. It would appear that safety concerns mean this will soon change to four.

So all these important issues can be aired outside, among the smoke and flame of the barbecue. To top it all the hot work and considerable concentration means that a cool libation is occasionally needed. So I have become a barbecue fan. A cold beer, the local craic and all the time she who must be obeyed thinks I am doing something useful as it involves making the tea.

Tavish Scott MSP


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