Isles Views

The Birdman of Hascosay

Birdwatchers are commonplace in Shetland and indeed a slice of the local tourist industry is dependent on our plentiful wildlife.

However, in Victorian times visitors were more likely to take a shotgun to birds rather than field glasses. Egg collecting was a respectable hobby and money, albeit it small amounts, was paid for wild birds’ eggs.

In a conversion with Mike McDonnell he told me of a visitor to Shetland who did much to change attitudes to wildlife. He was Edmund Selous who spent a considerable time on the island of Hascosay in 1900 and 1902. He wrote a book in 1905 entitled A Birdwatcher in the Shetlands.

Hascosay is an uninhabited island lying off the mouth of Mid Yell voe between Yell and Fetlar. It used to be populated but the people were forced to leave by the notorious John Walker during the clearances in the 19th century.

Indeed it was Selous who coined the terms birdwatcher and bird watching and while birds were his main interest he spent a lot of time studying seals and dolphins. The book is beautifully illustrated by an artist called J Smid.

He had an older brother Fredrick who was a big game hunter and he himself hunted as well. Selous chastises and despises himself for killing wildlife and the only comfort that he can draw from that period was that he was a very poor marksman who very seldom hit anything that he was aiming at.

Andy Ross, who comes originally from Zimbabwe, tells me that Fredrick Courtney Selous is a very famous man in East Africa. He shot what is believed to be the biggest ever elephant, which is stuffed can be seen to this day. The largest safari park in Africa bears his name.

Selous was a prolific author, mainly of books about wildlife, and his biography was published in 2002, written by KEL Simmons.

In aid of SANDS

Saturday 14th November promises to be a great night in the Cullivoe Hall – a grand variety concert with a host of stars taking part.

The line-up includes The Revellers, Fulsceilidh Spelemannslag, KANSA, the Cullivoe Fiddlers, Bluemull Sound, Mairi Coutts, Hansie and Cissie.

The concert has been arranged by Adam Priest and all the proceeds will go to the charity SANDS (Stillbirth And Neonatal Deaths) in Aberdeen, which seeks to help bereaved parents to overcome the sadness and tragedy of their loss.

Craig Johnson now lives in Edinburgh but he used to live in Lerwick and has strong Yell connections. In aid of this charity he ran the Loch Ness marathon and raised a truly remarkable amount of money.

As well as the entertainment on stage there will be a session afterwards in the clubroom and supper is included in the admission charge.

Traditional Shetland songs

Two years ago Elizabeth Morewood of Mid Yell began, what for her, was a quest to preserve old Shetland songs. She had the quite justified concern that if nothing were done to save them some songs would be lost entirely.

As a singer and one who has performed in public on countless occasions at home and abroad, she already knew a large number of songs. However, for this project she imposed strict rules in regard to the songs included in the collection.

They had to be traditional in the truest sense of the word, handed down from one generation to the next and without any known composer. Elizabeth has been faithful to tradition in other ways; she resisted the temptation of having any accompaniment because she reasoned that the singers of yesteryear would have sung them this way.

She made several appeals for songs and in the end has included a total of 23 on the CD. At least one has more than one version and she has dealt effectively with that too.

Both now and in time to come Elizabeth’s work will be valued – all 23 tracks make great listening and for many most of the songs will be a new experience. The CD is presented in a larger than usual case with a booklet that gives the words of the songs.

In her sleeve notes Elizabeth is fulsome in her praise for the many folk who helped in the production, especially the recording engineer Dave Sinton who recorded the songs in his Haroldswick studio.

Arthur Spence, Angela Fraser and Sylvia Priest supply three traditional fiddle tunes. This CD will be popular and it is a most for everyone with any interest in Shetland songs.

Pink Friday

The shop, Tetley & Anderson, in Whalsay is engaged in raising money for breast cancer. The event is called Pink Friday and it is running for two Fridays. It takes the form of a table filled with home bakes and crafts for sale – customers and staff have donated them.

All the shop staff wear either a pink pinny or a pink T-shirt and all the items in the sale and in the raffle are pink. On the first of those Fridays the splendid sum of £400 was raised and Iris Anderson says that she is confident that this total will more than double because not everyone knew about the appeal.

The Pink Friday idea was started by the Scottish Federation of Meat Traders Association (SFMTA). Tetley & Anderson is a member and, a few months ago, staff were asked if the shop was willing to participate and it was they who supplied the pink work wear.

Mirrie Dancers

The project sponsored by Shetland Arts called the Mirrie Dancers has been described as a festival of light.

Ten different sites throughout Shetland have been chosen and the first two illuminations have been installed. Both, as it happens, are tin sheds.

One is the floating shed near the marina in Voe and the other is in the Setters of Haroldswick. The installation team led by Keith Morrison and Michael Stout had poor weather in Haroldswick, the wind was up to gale force and conditions were described as “wicked”.

In any project, where lights are the most important aspect, power is essential. At those sites wind generators are used and the high wind in Haroldswick ensured that power was plentiful.

The key figure in Mirrie Dancers, Roxane Permar, explained that there were many uncertainties and the balance had to be right between the power generated and the amount of power required by the lights. Different colours use different levels of power with white using the most.

Ms Permar says that this project is unique and each site is different so it is a case of learning as they go along but the illuminations should get better and better as they progress. To get in out of the wind and occasional rain in Haroldswick was a big relief and welcome was the food in the Final Checkout.

Later they had a party in the Baltasound Hall and it gave the Mirrie Dancers team the opportunity to chat with the folk who had helped in various ways including the selection of sites and making films. The folk from PURE will keep an eye on the site for the next few weeks.

Sunday swimming

Starting from Sunday, the swimming pool at the Yell Leisure Centre will be open from noon to 4pm instead of from 3pm to 7pm.

Manager David Gear says that he thinks the earlier time might prove more popular, but there is only the one way to find out. The centre will monitor usage up until Christmas and then decide whether or not to stick with the new time.

North Roe – here we come

If events go according to plan my household and I will have flit to North Roe by the time The Shetland Times is read. Ian Reid and his team are doing the removal and as well as myself and Margaret Alexa Fitzgibbon will be moving with us.

Alexa is from France and has become, over the last three years, an important member of our family. It is fortunate that she should be visiting at this time and she is helping with the flitting. She has many talents but along with our daughter, Liz, she is a dab hand at putting together flat pack furniture.

Mind you Margaret is mighty too at wielding a hammer and screwdriver and that only leaves me as a useless duffer. I will also rely on the two girls to get the computer installed, and working, in its new home.

I fully intend to continue writing Isles Views but I am very unlikely to have a column next week because of the flitting.

In writing the column I am very dependent on the folk of my catchment area feeding me news. Now that I am living away from Yell I need your help more than ever. So please keep the news coming. The new phone number is (01806) 533368.

Lawrence Tulloch


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