South Mainland Notebook

Rural memories

In a change to the planned schedule, Boddam SWRI will be having a members’ night on Monday, and the theme they have chosen is Memory of a Grandparent. Young children love to hear tales about when their grandparents were young, and older folk traditionally have more time to talk to the bairns. Given the range of ages represented, and the fact that quite a few of the current members originally came from outwith Shetland, this is a subject that is guaranteed to result in some fascinating and varied stories, and even the possibility of gaining a direct insight into the century before last. There has been a change to one of the competitions too. Now people who wish to enter both should bring a handmade pin cushion as well as the already planned four girdle beremeal bannocks.

The meeting will take place at 7.30pm at Dunrossness Hall. You do not need to be a member of the SWRI to attend, but should you decide you wish to join afterwards they would be only too delighted to welcome you. They are pleased to announce that three new members joined in October. For further information phone Mina Flaws on (01950) 460786.

Shopping in Sandwick

Get a jump on Christmas at Carnegie Hall Sandwick on Tuesday, where from 6.30-9.30pm there will be a Shopping Night in aid of the Sandwick under-5s. Toys, knitwear, Fairtrade items, bric-a-brac, homebakes and more will be on offer, along with teas and fancies.

Bookstart Rhymetime

It is a poignant fact that despite the immense diversity of the vast human family there is no culture on earth that does not have lullabies. Evidence shows that they are very old as well; one of the earliest recorded dates from Roman times. Records of nursery rhymes also go back, and can be found in English from the late Middle Ages onwards, but both of these genres originated in the oral tradition, so it is more than likely that they existed long before they were ever written down. And given that language pre-dates writing by at least tens of thousands of years, we can posit that lullabies might even have been among human beings’ earliest utterances. There is a theory of the origin of language which suggests that it evolved out of song, and that our first steps towards modern speech consisted of musical sounds designed to express emotions such as love.

Learning to speak was not just the biggest advance our species ever made, it is also one of the cleverest and most complex things that any individual will ever do. And in similar fashion to the way that different cultures have an instinct for combining various foodstuffs in a manner that will be most nourishing to the body, the ubiquitous exposure of babes from birth onwards to music and rhyme prepares them for the next great step into literacy.

Research shows that bairns who have grown up with nursery rhymes frequently find the process of learning to read easier, and that they have increased spatial reasoning skills as well, ultimately leading to greater achievements in the sciences. There are various explanations for this. Listening to rhymes aids peerie folk to distinguish sounds, and later letters. Word patterns that have been heard are recognised when a child encounters them written down, and rhyme helps to make them memorable. Verse aimed at children often has accompanying gestures, and this can help to connect actions with words.

The Shetland Rhymetime sessions, which are part of Scottish Book Trust’s Bookstart programme, combine rhyme, singing and play, and also introduce the bairns to books. They are open to children from birth to age four, and among their aims is to instill a love of literature from an early age. This is greatly helped by the parental involvement in the sessions. If their mothers and fathers are seen to enjoy and value language, children are much more likely to do so as well, and thereby go on to fulfil their full learning potential.

Rhymetimes are also social events, and offer an opportunity for bairns and adults to get together with their contemporaries which is much appreciated by all those who attend. “Bookstart is enjoyable for my daughter,” says one parent. “As she is my only child, she gets to meet other children.” “A grand place for mums,dads, babies and toddlers to socialise,” says another.

The next South Mainland Bookstart Rhymetime session is at Dunrossness Primary School on Thursday at 10am. The sessions are free and last 30-45 minutes. For further information call Marghie West on (01950) 431454 or email her at

Bonfire nights

Weather permitting, Ness Boating Club will be lighting up the sky tomorrow. Their very popular bonfire night kicks off with fireworks at 7.30pm, followed by the lighting of a huge bonfire. The event is free thanks to a grant from Dunrossness Community Council. Barbecue food will be on sale to keep out the cold and the bar will be open.

On Thursday Gulberwick is holding its Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night celebrations. Light up is at 6pm, and children aged 10 years and over should muster at 5.45pm for torches from Mark Manson’s house. If you are able to donate wood or fireworks contact Mark on (01595) 696573. Please note that the location of the bonfire has changed: it will now be below Lower Hillside junction, and not on the beach as originally planned.

Bowling club competition

Ness Bowling Club is hosting its 11th annual Shetland-wide carpet bowls competition at Ness Boating Club on Sunday. Around 15 teams from all over the isles will battle it out to see if anyone can take the trophy from the current holders, Whalsay. Play begins at 2.30pm and there is a break for tea and a raffle at around 5pm, by which time only four teams will remain in the contest: the three outright winners from the early heats and the highest scoring losers. The semi-finals and final are followed by the presentation of a trophy to the winning team, and each member also receives a small individual trophy.

“Last year the person who accepted the trophy for Whalsay was so thrilled he wouldn’t let go of it until he arrived home,” says organiser George Henderson. “The event has a splendid atmosphere, and very many of the competitors have been coming every year since it started. This is one of the few occasions when all the clubs get to meet up. All the teams bring spectators along, and anybody else who would like to is welcome to come and watch. There are bar refreshments available throughout the day. We finish around 8pm if possible, so that people don’t have to catch late ferries.”

Evening Vision meeting

In a variation from the usual day and time, Shetland South Vision’s meeting on the environment will take place on Wednesday evening from 7-9pm at Quarff Hall. Given recent concerns about the effect that the increasing population of South Mainland is going to have on the ability of some already-stretched local service providers to meet the area’s future needs, this is a subject on which many will have opinions. All are invited along to make their feelings known.

Hallowe’en celebrations

The custom of playing games and wearing disguises at this time of year goes back way before the Christian celebrations of All Saints and All Souls. Samhain, the Celtic New Year, fell on the day we now call Hallowe’en, and was considered to be a time when malevolent spirits and lost souls were abroad – a period of mischief and magic.

This included divination, and it is believed that the bairns’ game of ducking for apples was originally a way of finding out if you would marry in the coming year: the first to take a bite out of an apple would be the first to be wed. During the night hours, which were seen as belonging to neither the dying year nor the new one, normal rules broke down and chaos reigned. Tricks were played by folk dressed as the evil fairies who themselves were flying hither and yon, trying to lure human beings into their supernatural realm, which they would then be powerless to escape. Sometimes the tricksters carried lanterns carved out of neeps to scare away these unwelcome otherworldly visitors, as they went from house to house requesting treats.

In keeping with such ancient traditions, which also served to banish winter gloom, this weekend sees three South Mainland Hallowe’en events. Bigton’s annual Hallowe’en party, which takes place in Bigton Hall from 6.30-8.30pm this evening, is a community event designed to bring all ages together for lots of family fun. Adults as well as bairns put on fancy dress. Some come as the nasty, scary characters associated with the season, but others disguise themselves as anything they please. Games include ducking for apples, musical statues, and last year the peerie participants were invited to dig around for sweeties in a pile of very sticky, coloured spaghetti. There are prizes for the best carved lanterns, so folk should bring along their ghastly, grinning neepies or pumpkins. Tea is served and everybody is asked to contribute homebakes. The event costs £1 each for adults and 50p for children.

Ducking for apples will also figure in the frolics at Cunningsburgh Hall tomorrow evening, where the hall committee’s Halloween Party starts at 7.30pm. The event is for all ages, from toddlers up, and promises to be very noisy, with much running around, music and disco dancing. There will be crisps, sweeties and a raffle, and prizes will be awarded for the best fancy dress costumes and the best lanterns. Judging takes place at 8pm, and in the past vast imagination and weeks of effort have gone into creating a wild variety of costumes, from skeletons and witches to the attire of the three ladies in pink who advertise a certain car insurance company. Entry is £2 per person and free for under-5s.

For pre-school bairns and Primary 1 to 3 there’s a Hallowe’en Party at Gulberwick Hall as well tomorrow from 3-5pm, including games and light refreshments. Wear fancy dress and bring your carved neepie or pumpkin for the lantern competition. There is no charge but donations will be gratefully received.

Up-Helly-A’ meeting

The organisers of next year’s South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ are holding a mass meeting and annual general meeting at Sandwick Social Club on Sunday at 8pm. All squads should send a representative.

Fish and fun at Cunningsburgh

It takes more than a howling gale to keep South Mainland folk away from a good meal. Over 100 people turned out for the Seafood Feast, organised by Aiths Voe Pier Trust in association with Aiths Voe Marina, which took place at Cunningsburgh Hall on Saturday. They were amply rewarded by a sumptuous spread laid on by Alex Dodge, Charlie Simpson and their helpers.

The starters included both a Norwegian and a Mediterranean fish soup. Scallops, stuffed mussels, a fish pie and fried fish were among the main courses, which also featured a traditional Shetland staap, made with boiled cod and cod livers. As is the case with many old regional recipes, staap was created to make use of the cheaper parts of the fish, such as the cheeks, after the rest had been sold. Not that you would have guessed it: many commented on its delicious, intense flavour. Delicious too were the puddings, which involved an agonising choice between dense, fudgy chocolate cheesecake, lemon cheesecake and trifle.

The meal was followed by a greatly deserved vote of thanks to the chefs, followed by some jokes. One of these involved an amorous couple, Cunningsburgh Hall and an electric fence – readers can fill in the rest of the details for themselves. Fishing trophies were then awarded and there was loud applause, with a very special hand going to Alan Halcrow, who received the Skipper of the Year prize. The evening concluded with dancing.

Cathy Feeny


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