South Mainland Notebook 23.10.09

A night at the races

If you are over 16 and fancy a flutter, there is an evening of video races at Gulberwick Hall tomorrow starting at 7pm, to raise money for hall funds.

A sealed DVD of horse, horse and cart, greyhound and pig races, including famous meets such as the Epsom Derby, will be opened in the hall and folk can then place their bets.

Where the track is concerned the odd bit of skulduggery is not unknown, and in the past people have sometimes recognised races and found out the name of the winner by getting the internet up on their mobiles.

Naturally the upstanding residents of Gulberwick would have no truck with such goings on, but rules are rules, and the way the betting now works is that you buy however many numbered tickets you want at £1 each. Then you find out which horse, dog or pig each ticket is for, and whether you’ve nabbed the favourite or if the odds against your runner are 100-1.

Like the lottery, the more tickets that are sold the bigger the pot, which will be split between the winners. And speaking of pots, the pig race has two special prizes: £100 and a £75 pig hamper.

The bar will be open and you can play pool and darts between the races. The organisers are hoping for a good turnout.

Seafood galore at Cunningsburgh

It started out as a simple meal of salt herring and tatties, with a Spam option for those who didn’t like herring, then 10 years or so ago it blossomed into a seafood blow-out.

Tomorrow night up to 100 people are expected at Cunningsburgh Hall for the annual Seafood Feast, organised by Aiths Voe Pier Trust in association with Aiths Voe Marina. The event includes live music and dancing, and a prize-giving for the trust’s sea angling competitions.

“The catering is a very community and family set-up,” says Alex Dodge, who has been involved in the event for many years, and is referred to as “head cook”.

Alex has a passionate commitment to serving up the very best, which she puts down to an upbringing filled with home baking for church events and other such occasions.

“I have a background of doing amateur cooking,” she says. “And I do heaps of baking for my family. I am a strong believer in growing your own and making your own. Home cooking doesn’t take long, and if you keep it simple it’s easy.”

Every year Alex, and the others involved in putting the menu together, review what went down well the previous year and what was less popular, before deciding what to cook. There are additional considerations too.

“We use as much local produce as possible,” says Alex. “Nothing is imported. And where the fish is concerned, we have to work with what is available at the time. I like to try new things, but it all depends on the weather.”

The food preparation is also emphatically local. The fish arrive whole and are filleted in Cunningsburgh. Salmon and mackerel are also smoked in the village.

The buffet consists of three courses. “We start with a choice of two soups,” says Alex. “Usually there’s our famous fish soup, which is a Bergen-style recipe with leeks, carrots and tatties. The second tends to be a shellfish one. In the past we’ve done cream of crab.”

These are followed by a hot and cold buffet, featuring salt-herring “for the die-hards”, and the ever-popular plain-fried monkfish tails, but also more adventurous dishes, such as mussels in white wine, quiches, salmon Wellington, and hot scallops.

To accompany these there are salads, including beetroot from Alex’s garden tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, and last year potato wedges made with local tatties were a big hit.

Local too are the eggs which go into what Alex refers to as “proper baked cheesecake”, which concludes the meal, or you can opt for homemade trifle. Tea and coffee are provided and there is a bar.

And just in case there is any doubt that every effort is made to ensure a perfect occasion, Alex relates how last year, when the organisers realised that 13 different species of fish were on offer, somebody dashed home for a tin of tuna to ward off bad luck. Fortunately, a recount brought the number up to 14, so there was no need for the tin to be opened.

The event starts at 7pm for 7.30pm and costs £10 for adults, £5 for children. Pay at the door.

Get-together for over 60s

If you are a senior citizen or have reduced mobility there is no need to let the winter weather starve you of company.

The WRVS’s South Mainland Club is having its fortnightly meeting at the Bruce Memorial Hall in Virkie on Tuesday from 2pm to 4pm, and all are warmly invited along to enjoy a chat and refreshments. If transport is a problem, call (01595) 743915 and they will arrange it for you.

Join the dance

Christine Manson’s involvement with the dancing sessions at Ness Boating Club originally came about because she was the one who had to be around to let everyone in.

“I’ve always enjoyed dancing,” she says. “And since I was there I thought I might as well get involved. Now I help the folk that turn up to do the dances.”

Not that she is in charge, Christine is keen to stress: “Everybody helps. Some of the members go to other dance groups as well and bring in new dances for us to learn. We like to do a variety, including a bit of old time, ceilidh and traditional.”

When asked whether everybody is capable of giving dancing a whirl, Christine’s reply is emphatic: “Anybody can learn to dance. Some can do it better than others, but everyone can do it.”

So what makes for a good dancer? “Timing, in the case of a dance such as the waltz,” says Christine, “which can be difficult. In the case of set dancing, memory of the patterns, but set dancing is easier as there’s not a lot of steps.”

Currently eight to 12 members attend regularly, and Christine would like to see some new faces. The sessions aren’t suitable for bairns but people in their teens would be especially welcome.

“We need young blood,” says Christine. “Nowadays at weddings and Up-Helly-A’ dancing is practically non-existent. It would be good if they came along and learned the basic stuff. We take all levels, and I think if they saw what we are doing they would know whether or not it suited them. We have a fine time and it’s very informal. We have a peerie dance and then halfway through we break for tea and a chat.”

The sessions take place at Ness Boating Club every Thursday from September to March from 8pm to 10pm. There is a charge of £1 which goes towards the refreshments.

Compliment has Flea reeling

As you would expect, Lerwick Old Time Dance Club tends to stick to old time dances, but a recent session was rather different.

By special dispensation Alistair Gair, who has taught dancing for over four decades and has in the past been chairman of the club, introduced a new piece of choreography. “I’ve made up other dances over the years,” he says, “and the latest challenge was a reel.”

This one lasted for nearly five minutes, during which the dancers cavorted constantly, and it featured in particular the Shetland back step. Could this have anything to do with a certain South Mainland councillor? When asked the name of his creation Mr Gair replied that it was called The Flea’s Mareel.

The announcement was met with laughter and clapping, and although the gentleman there present who received the tribute said Mr Gair was a “bad boy”, he laughed as well and was pleased to be thus immortalised.

Because it is not old time but new, Mr Gair’s latest work will only be performed again if permission is granted, but should that be the case he has pronounced himself prepared to show and teach his reel. Italy has its Tarantella, named after the tarantula spider. Could Shetland’s Flea Mareel likewise enter the repertoire?

Vision meeting raises host of issues

There was a large turnout for Saturday’s Shetland South Vision meeting on housing and planning, which one of the organisers summarised as “brilliant”.

Uppermost in folk’s minds was the shortage of accommodation and its implications. By 2025, councillor Allison Duncan pointed out, SIC wants the population of the isles to have reached 25,000. If this is to happen more housing will be needed, in order to sustain the economy and keep young people from leaving.

“That,” he said, “is our investment in the future.” Fiona Robertson of Hjaltland Housing Association talked about the measures the association is taking to try and deal with the housing shortfall. The greatest demand, she said, is for one-bedroom dwellings. Vaila Simpson of SIC’s housing service outlined how current and future housing demands are assessed, and spoke of the desirability of home designs which can be replicated, and that are able to expand when a family increases.

In spite of their ability to itemise accommodation requirements, it quickly became clear, however, that those involved with housing in a professional capacity view it, not as a single issue, but as part of a network of interconnected considerations. “Planning isn’t just about housing,” said Hannah Nelson, development plans manager for SIC. “What we want are sustainable, vibrant communities.”

Other participants in the discussion were swift to respond to this. “I’m worried we are not looking at the big picture,” says councillor Rick Nickerson. “Housing puts pressure on the infrastructure – the fire services, police, water, sewage etc. Some of these are already stretched. A collective outlook is needed on the impact of housing on the local community.”

Concerns were voiced along similar lines about the provision of schools, health care and youth clubs, the detrimental effect of constructing houses on arable land, and the impact of new buildings on the environment and tourism.

Good transport was cited as crucial if centralisation is to be avoided, and a variety of measures were suggested which might help to create happy, healthy, thriving communities. These included the increased use of new technologies such as broadband, homes that could be adapted to the needs of the elderly, and crèches that would make working life easier for families with young children.

Many of these are issues which Shetland South Vision has been raising, and reiterated appeals for partnership, working together and joined-up thinking served to underline quite what an important blueprint the project is establishing for Shetland as a whole.

Indeed, it was acknowledged that no one area of the islands, and no single part of the infrastructure or community, can afford to look at itself in a vacuum. A holistic vision is emerging from this series of quiet, calm and pleasant meetings which is very exciting and might well prove vital.

The next Shetland South Vision meeting is at Bigton Hall on Wednesday from 7pm to 9pm. The subject is agriculture.

Successful auction

If you wanted a fox mask, a cocktail service, a cat box, a telescope or a whole range of other weird and wonderful items, Cunningsburgh Hall was the place to be on Saturday, when dozens of lots went under the hammer at a fund-raising event run by the Cunningsburgh History Group.

“It was very much a success,” said Pat Christie, the group’s secretary. “Cunningsburgh has a great tradition of auction sales, and it was jolly and funny and people came from all over.”

There was a break in the middle of the proceedings for tea and home-bakes, and the last lot wasn’t knocked down until late in the evening. The event raised a total of £1,430 which will go towards the history group’s new building.

Cathy Feeny


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