South Mainland Notebook

Sandwick family off on big adventure

Midnight on New Year’s Eve is a special time wherever you are celebrating it, but one South Mainland family has chosen to see 2010 in from a truly spectacular location.

“We will be flying to Hong Kong, on the first leg of our journey to South Vietnam,” said Sandwick resident Jane Matthews. “At 12 o’clock we should be right over the North Pole.”

Jane and her partner Juan Brown and their four-year-old daughter Martha will spend several days in Hong Kong, staying with a friend of Jane’s who has a house by the beach. This isn’t Jane’s first trip to Hong Kong, as she visited the city 10 years ago, but it will be new to Juan.

“Living in Shetland and working for Scottish Natural Heritage, Juan will be interested to encounter another archipelago,” said Jane. “He wants to get into the surrounding areas and the outlying islands, rather than just sticking to the city centre. As a keen birder, he will definitely be on the lookout for unfamiliar and rare species.”

Jane herself is keen to visit the spectacular giant Buddha on Lantau Island, and to see the view of Hong Kong from The Peak mountain. She will also be interested to find out how the city has changed in the decade since she was last there.

“What is at the top of your itinerary depends very much on which member of the family you are, though,” she said. “For Martha the priority is a day at Disneyland.”

On one thing, however, all three are agreed: high tea at the Peninsula Hotel is an absolute must. “It will remind us of the Shetland Sunday teas,” said Jane.

From Hong Kong the family will fly to Ho Chi Minh City, the former Saigon. “We chose South Vietnam for a variety of reasons,” Jane explained. “We wanted to show Martha a different culture, and a friend of mine who used to live there told me that it is a very safe, child-friendly place. Juan and I are keen on trying the delicious Vietnamese food, which we believe is varied enough to have dishes in it that will appeal to Martha too. The climate of South Vietnam is always tropical, so it can be relied on to be pleasant. I would like to see the sights in the north, but at this time of year it can be cold and wet up there, and if you live in Shetland you don’t need to travel abroad to find that in the middle of winter.”

They will be not be forgetting Shetland, however. With Jane’s help Martha is going to do a blog for her classmates in Sandwick School’s nursery department, so that they can track her adventure and see what she is up to. And Jane herself, who is an arts development officer for Shetland Arts, will be keeping an eye out for artistic initiatives that she can bring home.

“I am really grateful for the time off that I have been given to undertake this journey,” Jane said, “and I hope to return with some exciting new ideas.”

Christmas celebration cancelled

“It was not an easy decision to make,” said organiser Margaret Duncan, but the South Mainland Cancer Support Group came to the conclusion that they should call off last week’s planned Christmas celebration, due to safety considerations.

“With the snow it would have been too dangerous to have it,” Mrs Duncan said. “Even when the main road is okay, the side roads can be treacherous.”

Nevertheless, all those involved were deeply disappointed. “Our annual Christmas celebration is a growing event,” Mrs Duncan explained. “It’s really taken off as a family night, with readings and music and mulled wine and shortbread. Last year it raised over £500 for the cause.”

To date the South Mainland Cancer Support Group has given out over £62,000 to Cancer Research and other cancer-related charities. It also responds to the immediate needs of cancer sufferers and their families. This blow to its annual finances is therefore something that Mrs Duncan is eager to make up.

If folk would like to help by making a donation they can send a cheque, payable to the group, to 1 Hillock, Dunrossness, or phone Mrs Duncan on (01950) 460821 after January 5th.

As for future plans, it is possible that there might be a compensatory event at some stage, and the annual Christmas celebration will take place again next year.

South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ plans

Already Gulberwick is planning its South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ celebrations on Friday March 12th when, along with Ness Boating Club, Bigton Hall and Sandwick Social Club, Gulberwick Hall will be open far into the night.

As things stand it is thought that 80-100 tickets to attend the Gulberwick Hall event will be made available in the new year. The Alan Nicolson Dance Band will provide the music, and supper will be served throughout the evening, which is expected to draw to a close at around 3am. And, of course, there will be visits from the squads.

The Guizer’s Hop will take place at Cunningsburgh Hall on the following night.

Successful end to school term

Folk who remember reading about Dunrossness Primary School’s healthy eating competition will be interested to hear that it definitely made both pupils and staff think about how many fruit and vegetables they were consuming per day.

The winning entries were drawn at a special Christmas assembly. Michaela Christie, who is in nursery, won a cookery book, and primary 3 pupil Elle Casey won a book of recipes for smoothies. Another similar competition is planned for sometime in the new year.

The term also ended with some of the bairns putting on a musical performance for the rest of the school, and there were two Christmas concerts at which the pupils performed the musicals Shine Star Shine and Silent Night. Both concerts were well attended, and the audiences were very impressed by the children’s singing, dancing and acting.

History group building

This year has ended on a high note for the Cunningsburgh History Group. After several years spent fund-raising they were delighted to accept delivery of their purpose-built Portacabin, which is now situated next to the public hall.

The new building means that the group will be able to meet more regularly and informally. It will also be used for the storage of photographs, equipment, maps and small artefacts relating to the history of the local area.

When the building opens to the public there will be opportunities for the community to use the broadband facilities for research and communication. The group are also in the process of setting up a website to which they hope folk will contribute articles.

A few months will be spent furnishing the interior of the building, then there will be a formal opening before the Hamefarin in June, when everybody will be invited to come along and see it.

New Years past

Folk who enjoyed reading about Bigton storyteller Elma Johnson’s archive of old Shetland Christmas traditions will be interested to hear how New Year was celebrated long ago. Again, I am greatly indebted to Elma for giving me so much information, and kindly allowing me to include it in this column.

After their long stint of merrymaking on Yule night, it is likely that many Shetlanders weren’t up to doing a whole lot of work on the following day. But this was just as well, because in the past it was believed that to do any ordinary work at all between Yule and New Year would result in 12 months of bad luck.

New Year’s day, however, was a time to instigate every kind of task, even if it was just at the level of a gesture. Fishermen would fish, if only for an hour, or if the weather was too bad to go out in a boat they would go to the crags. Women would knit, though it might be no more than a few stitches. A bit of weaving would be done, turf would be turned, fishing gear repaired and old clothes mended. The reason that these activities were started was in order to obey the Lord’s command that folk shouldn’t be idle, and thereby received his blessing.

Not that this meant the end of partying. The seasonal celebrations went on until January 29th when the biggest party of all was held, and people would travel long distances to attend it. Just before midnight, doors would be opened and a great commotion started in order to drive out any invisible peerie folk who might be around. As on Yule e’en, iron was put out for the same purpose – it being something trows could not abide – and the Bible was also read and quoted.

For added safety no-one went out on their own, but in couples at the very least. Bairns were carefully guarded, and wise wives protected them with rituals. Male guizers processed through the townships with lighted torches, which were burned along with other material in a huge bonfire at midnight. What with the noise and all the other precautions, by the time day dawned and the revels were ended the trows had retreated back to their homes in the hillsides. Sound familiar? Well according to Elma the end of the old New Year’s festivities were the origin of Up-Helly-A’. So perhaps all of us who have yet to spot a troll can thank customs that go way back for our good fortune.

A very happy 2010 to all my readers.

Cathy Feeny


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