South Mainland Notebook

Observatory appeal

“We raised the £4 million required for the new building in just a year, which was phenomenal given the financial state of the world,” says Hollie Shaw, the administrator of Fair Isle Lodge and Bird Observatory.

“It opens on 1st May, and we are now taking bookings. The official opening ceremony will be in June. We thought it was a good idea to have it when we were up and running.”

The outside of the building is now complete, and work on the inside has nearly finished. The observatory needs to raise another £45,000 for furniture and for two electricity generators, though they hope in the future to use only renewable energy.

“We saved everything salvageable from the old building. We didn’t just throw things away willy-nilly,” says Hollie. “It’s amazing, though, how much you need when you are starting from scratch.”

The requirements include beds, tables and chests of drawers for the bedrooms, seating for the lounge, and large tables for the dining-room, where the visitors eat together.

“We aren’t planning on anything fancy. Many of our guests are bird watchers and walkers, not the kind of people who want everything ultra-modern,” says Hollie. “But it is really important that it is practical and can survive the weather.”

Hollie’s excitement about the new observatory is palpable, and she is particularly enthusiastic about the Interpretative Room, which will be available to all visitors to Fair Isle, not just those staying at the observatory.

As well as providing information about the island’s natural history and environment, it will also have displays on its social history. Several times a week there will be talks and slide shows.

Other facilities in the new observatory include a bar, an extensive natural history library, email and internet access, a bird-ringing demonstration room and a laundry. There is also a disabled access bedroom.

Fair Isle has long been recognised as an outstanding site for birdwatching, and it remains the best place in Britain to catch sight of the pechora pipit, the lanceolated warbler, pallas’s grasshopper warbler and the yellow-breasted bunting. During the breeding season it is a superb spot to watch guillemots and razorbills, as well as the ever-popular puffins.

As a self-sustaining charity, the observatory is reliant on the revenue generated by visitors, and it is eager to welcome all who wish to come, from Shetland and beyond. “We look forward to seeing everybody,” says Hollie.

If you would like to book to stay at the observatory, or to donate to their appeal you can contact Hollie on (01595) 760258. Everyone who makes a donation will have their name entered into a book of donors, which will be in the new library. The names of those who give £250 or more will be on public display in the observatory.

Senior citizens’ lunch club

The WRVS senior citizens’ lunch club at Cunningsburgh Hall will take place on Tuesday from 12.30pm to 2.30pm.

Volunteers Lorna Gilbertson and Alma Stove work with Elizabeth Manson, who does the cooking, to provide a two-course meal, followed by a cup of tea and homebakes, which are served just before folk go home.

“I heard that the WRVS was looking for volunteers, and I thought that my mum would go along to the lunch club if I did,” says Alma. “Cooking for one isn’t much fun, and it gives her company. Entertainments are also provided, such as slide shows, music and talks.

“The three of us in the kitchen all muck in. It’s just like making a meal at home but a lot bigger. Those who attend really appreciate it. They are a lively bunch and it keeps them cheery.”

Elizabeth agrees that folk really enjoy themselves. “I do traditional food, such as lasagne, stews, fish and chips and roasts,” she says. “Anything that is sweet is very popular too,” she adds, citing as a particular favourite something she describes as “a caramel coconut thing”.

Elizabeth also says that it makes a difference for people who live on their own to be able to sit down and eat with others. “That’s what it’s about,” she adds.

The WRVS Cunningsburgh Hall lunch club meets on the second Tuesday of every month, and new members are always welcome. For further details and to arrange transport call Indiya Bradley on (01595) 743915.

Talks for rurals

Boddam SWRI can look forward to an interesting evening on Monday when Toab resident Catherine Jacobson will be giving a talk on crafts.

As a young girl Catherine was taught to knit by her mother who, like many folk at the time, didn’t work to a pattern but instinctively knew how many stitches were needed for the size of garment she was making. “People knitted a lot back then,” says Catherine, “and everybody had their own style. It was almost like their handwriting.”

Catherine also learnt embroidery at school, and she particularly enjoys doing cross-stitch. “I like using the fabric as a graph, and making up patterns that will fit into a certain parameter,” she says. She is fond of crotchet too, and makes doilys and rugs.

On Tuesday Sandwick SWRI will hear a talk by Alyson Keillor on restorative justice, a scheme which confronts offenders with their victims, with a view to healing both sides.

Boddam SWRI’s meeting takes place at 7.30pm at Dunrossness Hall. You do not need to be a member to attend, but should you decide you wish to join afterwards they would be only too delighted to welcome you. For further information phone Mina Flaws on (01950) 460786.

The Sandwick SWRI meeting takes place at 7.30pm in the meeting room of Sandwick Parish Church. All are welcome. For further details call Cynthia Jamieson on (01950) 431367.

Jazz at Bigton

Jazz fans can look forward to a great time at Bigton Hall tomorrow when the Alyn Cosker Quartet will be performing, along with local band Norman and the Folding Deckchairs and special guests.

Alyn, who started playing the drums at the age of 13, is a drummer with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. As well as jazz he loves many musical genres including rock and folk, and he did a BA in applied music at the University of Strathclyde.

He has worked with many famous artistes and has toured in Europe and America. He has also recorded internationally. Last year saw the launch of his first solo album, which he wrote, arranged and produced.

Tickets for the event cost £10 or £8 for concessions, and are available from the Isleburgh Community Centre (01595) 745555. It starts at 7.30pm and there will be a bar.

Grand night out

Despite the snow many folk enjoyed a splendid meal at Cunningsburgh Hall on Saturday, followed by marvellous music from The Brothers Zamiskovci.

The organisers should indeed by proud of having put on such a successful event in difficult circumstances.

Thanks from Sandwick

At Christmas the ASN department of Sandwick School made and sold gift tags, to raise funds for the Crohn’s in Childhood Research Association and for the ASN department.

The tags were made from old Christmas cards and sold in the local shops, Hayfield House, and at the school itself. A total of £170 was raised, and the tags sold out well before Christmas.

The school would like to thank the shops for being so willing to take the tags, and everybody who bought them.

Sold out

Tickets for all four venues taking part in the South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ in March have now sold out.

Hope for Haiti

“We have to do something, and we need to do it soon,” Dunrossness Baptist Church minister Ian Thomson told his congregation on the Sunday after the Haiti earthquake. “Come and see me if you have any ideas.”

Before he left the church that evening, one of the music group had suggested a gospel concert; someone else suggested a silent auction of donated items, another offered to pay for a large advert in The Shetland Times that Friday.

“We have to have tea and homebakes afterwards,” one of the ladies insisted, and the whole effort began to snowball, under the strap-line Hope for Haiti, for the Saturday evening just six days later.

The money donated is going to Haiti through Tear Fund, an interdenominational Christian-run relief fund which the Church already supports, and which has people on the ground in Haiti.

An astonishing £4,637 was raised (counting gift aid that Tear Fund will be able to reclaim). Included in this amount is a generous donation of £500 from the Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Lerwick. One of their office-bearers was present at the fund-raiser, and when he heard that Dunrossness Baptist Church was releasing £500 from its own funds for Haiti, he asked his own leadership team if they would match that.

“Even before we knew of that donation,” Ian said, “there were audible gasps on the evening when the total was announced. These survivors have nothing. We just had to do something!”

Dunrossness Baptist Church would like to extend a big thank-you to everyone who attended the concert, and to all who contributed so generously to the appeal.

Stories at Old Scatness

“This is a peat fire, but I throw twigs on it because the crackling sound they make adds to the atmosphere,” said storyteller Davy Cooper at Old Scatness last week, when the site was open to coincide with Lerwick Up-Helly-A’.

We were sitting in a reconstructed wheelhouse, and although it was chilly outside, its smoky interior was warm. It was easy to imagine gathering there to listen to yarns all those centuries ago when the place was inhabited.

“What else would there have been to do?” Davy said. “Some folk would have done a bit of handiwork, but there would always have been one of them telling stories.”

Davy himself is a mine of information on the tales of the past. He knows the sagas well, and has gathered stories over the years from many people.

“In Shetland folk still pass stories down to their children and grandchildren. And they do it unselfconsciously.

“There is an active storytelling scene in Scotland, but a lot of it is done by people with an acting background, which means it is performed and theatrical. Here it is conversational, and often involves real people, which makes it more credible.”

As an example he cited the tale of Flokki, the explorer who is said to have given Iceland its name. Flokki, the story goes, took three young ravens from Shetland and released each in turn when out at sea. The first two turned south, in the direction they had come from, but the third flew north, and by following it Flokki came to the coast of Iceland.

“In Scandinavia they find that explanation totally believable. They have a strong faith in their oral tradition. Other tales are a mixture of what might be true, what is not true, and what folk would like to be true. A good storyteller never tells the same tale twice. Each telling is tailored to the audience. You have an outline, but it’s not a feat of memory.”

Davy tells stories to adults and children alike, and says that the bairns love his storytelling workshops.

“I start by asking them to tell me a story, and they always say they don’t know any. So I ask them to tell me the story of Cinderella, and when they have I say ‘Well you know at least one, don’t you?’ “There are versions of Cinderella everywhere. In the traditional Shetland version she is helped by a magic ewe. I think the fact that you get the same stories in a vast variety of places is to do with the sea. When folk travelled they took their tales with them, and brought back others.

“The best way to get somebody to tell you one of their tales is to tell them one of yours.”

Cathy Feeny


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