As another year and another decade begin, Marsali Taylor offers Shetlanders a hypothetical New Year fairy, and asks what their special wishes might be.
This article began with thinking about money; more specifically, bankers’ bonuses, the credit crunch, global meltdown, all that. You can’t turn on the radio without being reminded of it all. Folk seemed obsessed just now.
Of course it’s important to have money – not having enough can make you miserable. But, conversely, does more than enough really make you happier? All the people who do the lottery week after week must think so. I began wondering what I’d do with even a small fraction of Fred Goodwin’s pension, and after I’d mentally bought a new mainsail and replaced our old windows with double-glazed ones, I was stuck. Money wouldn’t help at all with my current worry list: my Mum’s health, my pony’s laminitis and getting the rowing boat out of the water before she sank on her moorings.
I tried taking that idea further. If I had a personal New Year fairy, with a bonny sparkly wand, all ready to give me three wishes, what would I ask for? After world peace and an end to hunger (one could well create the other) I listed getting the book I’m writing on women’s suffrage finished, getting one of my detective stories published, and seeing my grandchildren more often. Publication can’t be bought, though, only hard work will let me see the end of Mrs Pankhurst and co, and not all the RBS bonuses put together would move London closer to Aith.
It is, of course, possible that I’m not quite in tune with modern thinking. I decided to try a dozen other people to see if it’s true of them, too, that what they really, really want can’t be bought. I got a variety of interesting ideas, and only one or two of them could be achieved with money.
John Haswell, drama development officer for Shetland Arts, for example, could use up a sizeable chunk of a banker’s bonus. “How I would love to believe in that fairy godmother. Should she make a surprise appearance it would be absolutely splendiferous if she (I assume it’s a she rather than a panto dame) could create a fully equipped/staffed/resourced children’s/young people’s arts centre (at absolutely no cost to the public purse), where young people could watch theatre, perform and be involved in all aspects in a venue that welcomes and supports them and in which they have a vested interest.”
I would certainly hope that space will be found in Mareel for some of that wish. And speaking of Mareel, Kathy Hubbard, who’s the Shetland Arts Officer in charge of the project, wished for “Mareel to be finished so that I can be a volunteer cinema usherette and see as many films as I want in comfort, and talk about them afterwards in the café bar with all the other film addicts I know.”
John’s second wish was a bit harder to achieve. “On a wider scale, perhaps in these economically tightened times she could alter the mindset of those who believe that money should be spent on trident missiles (and other tools of the four horsemen) instead of things that enrich and celebrate life.”
A number of other people’s wishes were political. Our MSP Tavish Scott wished that “Gordon Brown ends the uncertainty and calls a UK General Election quickly.”
Councillor Jonathan Wills asked for “A single federated state of Palestine/Israel under UN control to ensure equality for all races and religions.” His second “world” wish was for “All banks to be taken under state control.” We’re rapidly getting to that one . . .
Mark Smith of Shetland Archives also wished that politics would take a turn for the better. “Political news has been unremittingly bad over the last year and it will only get worse if a Tory government is elected. I can’t conceive how people think this will be an improvement but, such is the state of the Labour party, it’s easy to see how Cameron and his home county chums will get in. It would be a welcome thing to detect some kind of committed ideology and vision behind the bluster that politicians (local and national) feed to the public.”
Alistair Carmichael, our MP, thought of an end to hunger, war and climate change, but added, “I am sure that I must be pretty low down the fairy’s list, and the important, clever people further up it would have sorted all these things first.” Instead, he wished “that government would stop trying to make the one size that will fit all and recognise that there are some parts of the country that it just will not fit! Failing that, they might do something – anything – to help tackle the high cost of petrol and diesel in the isles.”
Doug Forrest, ex-headteacher of Happyhansel School, and now, among other jobs, a lifeguard at the Westside leisure centre, kept it local: “Well, I have thought about this for a few minutes (I guess if one were confronted by that mythical fairy one would have to respond instantly). My first wish would be, given that even the most powerful fairy magic couldn’t bring about world peace, would it be too much to ask for an outbreak of lasting peace in the council chambers? (Well, for the duration of 2010 at least.)”
The Reverend Tom Macintyre, Church of Scotland minister on the Westside, was thinking of the council too. “A Shetland Islands Council that is able to shake itself out of wasting valuable resources and of indecision to bring about a just, inclusive and safe community in these islands.”
So was Jonathan Wills, boatman, environmentalist, writer and councillor for Lerwick South: “For Shetland: a competently-led council living within our means.”
We really shouldn’t need a fairy godmother for that one: over to you, councillors. Or maybe it’s up to us as well, to complain loudly to all of them that we, their electorate, have had enough.
Several people I spoke to were also concerned about the windfarm. Mark Smith said, “My earnest hope for Shetland in this next year is that the Viking Energy windfarm proposal disappears forever. This development, if it is allowed to go ahead, will be an appalling desecration of a strange and beautiful landscape which has evolved over centuries. The whole scheme is deeply dubious and risky and one wonders how it has got so far when the rhetoric of the pro-windfarm coterie is so obviously flawed.”
Blair Bruce, his colleague in the archives, hoped “that the dilemma of the windmill project is resolved in such a way that the awful polarity is overcome. So that we maintain our wild landscape, i.e. without roads across Shetland’s wilderness. After all, the brochs, built in remote parts of Shetland, have not left a network of roads; surely we can be as minimalist in the 21st century?”
Doug Forrest said, simply, “My second wish would be for an end to the wind farm debate in Shetland. It is proving very divisive. Given that wind farms do not provide a long term sustainable source of energy and have to be backed by conventional means it is time to look to waves and tides to do the job instead.”
The latest news suggests that one is about to come true, with the possibility of sea-snakes down Shetland’s west coast. Maybe an alternative can be found to turbines, after all, especially if we can get Jonathan’s second Shetland wish: “A cable to the mainland so we can develop our wind, wave and tidal power.”
Linsey Nisbet, deputy headteacher at Yell Junior High School, would need a sizeable lottery win for her first request. “I would wish for a bridge to Yell, with no toll charges!” Please, no, not the Bressay Bridge saga again!
Linsey’s other wishes were for the people around her. “I would also wish for some means of ensuring that young people in this country no longer needed to resort to drugs and violence in order to make their mark on the world. My third wish would be that my three bairns all achieve health, happiness and the ability to achieve their goals. Can I have a teensy weensy fourth wish? A cure for MS would be fantastic.”
Others were thinking of their children too. Tavish Scott’s second wish was that “my son passes all his Higher exams in May.” Tom Macintyre wished for “the safe delivery of our first grandchild in January.”
Lyn Boxall, headteacher at Whiteness School, wished for “my children to be happy.”
Does Alistair Carmichael have teenagers I wonder? His second wish sounded familiar. “My wish for home would be that I should be more patient with my children and less grumpy. Failing that, they might meet me half way and just pick up some of their clothes off the bedroom floor, put off some of the lights when they leave a room and sometimes close the front door – even if it is only when there is an actual snow blizzard outside.”
Blair Bruce was also thinking of family and friends. He wanted “to see more of my family and friends, of whom some appear to be, in some way or other, on the move away from Shetland, and the UK. I wish that there was an easier and greener way to get in and out of Shetland (without the abdomen-twirling experience).”
Robert Wishart, director of the Shetland Times Ltd, wished “that we could treat people with the respect we show our pets and not torment the terminally ill and dying in the cause of the supposed sanctity of human life; that my grandchildren – that all children – grow up to always question what their ‘betters’ tell them.”
His other wish was in a darker mood. “Given the time of year and our drunken celebration of the alleged birth of Jesus I wish that humans would accept that the perceived ‘need’ for religion merely reflects our evolutionary history and does not prove the existence of God.”
In contrast, Tom Macintyre’s first wish was for “Greater understanding and tolerance among the churches and faiths in Shetland to contribute to the greater good and spiritual wellbeing of Shetland.”
Tourist guide and writer Babette Eikelmann half agreed with that: “That all religious extremism in the world would stop – this goes for the ‘bible belt’ in the USA as well as the Middle East situation. In fact, let’s get rid of all religions and stick with just being nice to each other.”
Babette and Kathy Hubbard both included the animal world in their good wishes. Babette’s first wish was that “we humans treat all animals with the respect and kindness they deserve. No dog, cat or other pet should be abused or abandoned and then end up in an animal home. And I wish that everybody who is seriously thinking about having a pet would rescue a deserving creature from those homes, rather than adding to the misery created by irresponsible breeders.”
Kathy asked for “my own donkey sanctuary.” How would donkeys like the Shetland climate?
Jonathan’s last two wishes (yes, that does make six) were for “Restoring our direct air service to London.” and “Tax breaks for organic farmers.” A good few of us might echo Lyn’s third wish: “To have known at 24 what I know now.”
Babette Eikelmann shared one of my wishes: “A publisher or agent for my book, to give what I love (writing) a new meaning.”
Another one we’d all agree with came from Alistair Carmichael. “The one thing that would make improve my life enormously would be if businesses and government departments would start to employ people again who would answer the phone, listen to you and answer your question or else put you on to someone else who can. I do not need computer generated voices to tell me that my call is important when it is obviously not so important that someone is going to pick the phone and answer it.”
Maybe, too, if they started employing people again, unemployment figures would go down – just a thought.
Then there were the light-hearted wishes. Sorry, Lyn, but there might be a queue for George Clooney; and I’m not sure how powerful a fairy godmother would have to be to fulfil Tavish’s third wish: “That Liverpool win something this year.”
We’d all share Doug Forrest’s third wish “for another lovely summer,” and I think a lot of gardeners would sympathise with John: “On a more selfish note – perhaps she could leave me a magic wand that, when waved in the summer, would automatically cause the grass to be cut, weeds to uproot themselves and vegetables to look just like those in gardening magazines.” Kathy’s second wish was similar: “For my house to be cleaned magically, twice a week for a year.”
I’m sure music lovers all over Shetland would join Gordon Thomson, lead singer with Da Bonxies, and a teacher and community councillor in Unst, with his wishes: 20 Years of Da Bonxies 2010 album (the drawback: “All our stuff is cover versions so we would probably be sued”). Gordon also wished for a live Status Quo gig in Unst, and for Status Quo to remain in Unst. Fans on the mainland might not be too pleased, though.
Blair Bruce’s “work wish” was “that all people’s carefully kept papers come to life, enlighten and light up the Shetland archives.” That one’s over to us too; when you’re next clearing out the loft, please give the old papers to the museum.
Mark’s last wish is a challenge to Shetland writers: “I would love to see somebody write a great Shetland novel. Orkney has produced many writers who have written works of national importance, but Shetland writers haven’t yet hit those heights. I don’t know why this is but I wonder if it’s something to do with a slightly more insular cultural attitude in our archipelago. Making a virtue of parochialism is a dead end and I think we could reach out a little more sometimes.”
And my own personal wish list? Well, I’m doing what I can for world peace: buying Fairtrade, signing petitions and writing letters, and making my own little corner as peaceful as possible. Thanks to Blair, Mark, Robert and many others, the first draft of my suffrage book is nearly finished. My pony’s feet are getting better, thanks to the vet and modern medication. Oh, yes, and a fellow mariner helped get the rowing boat out of the water, unsunk, and she’s now drying out in the marina shed.
Maybe we don’t need a magic wand for the little things; just each other.