South Mainland Notebook

Bookstart Rhymetime

All parents and carers with babies and toddlers are welcome to go along to the free Bookstart Rhymetime session at Dunrossness Primary School on Thursday.

The session starts at 10am and lasts for approximately half an hour. It combines an introduction to books with rhymes, singing and play. Juice and biscuits are available for the children at the end.

For further information contact Emma Graydon on (01595) 745440.

Guides and Brownies go on air

The 1st Sandwick Brownies and Guides recently celebrated World Thinking Day by taking part in Thinking Day on the Air. This is when Girl Guides from all over the world speak to each other via amateur radio.

As this is their centenary year a special sign – GG100 SBG – was set up for the Sandwick group.

The Brownies had already been involved in lots of activities for their communications badge, and Thinking Day on the Air was able to form part of these. They learned the phonetic alphabet, so they could spell out their names on the radio, and each Brownie prepared a brief message about herself to share over the airwaves.

The youngsters managed to exchange messages with stations throughout Scotland and England, and they were also able to hear Girl Guiding stations in places such as Canada, though it proved difficult to make contact with them.

Everybody who took part had a great time, and some radio operators even suggested that the girls should take up amateur radio as a hobby, due to their clear speaking voices.

There is enthusiasm about the idea of holding this type of event again. It gave the girls a real sense of achievement as well as developing important social skills.

You just get on with it!

“You just get on with it!” That was the attitude South Mainland folk took to the recent snowy conditions. Especially those dealing with livestock or working the land.

“I reckon Shetlands are the hardiest of ponies,” said Lorna Burgess of Robin’s Brae Stud. “They are quite good at fending for themselves, but nothing can during that sort of weather so you’ve got to look after them.”

Helen Thomson, who also keeps Shetland ponies, agreed.

“As long as you feed them and they have shelter they are okay,” she said. “Wind and rain are actually worse for them than snow. When the sun shines they will even lie down on it.

“They have a very heavy coat, consisting of three layers. The outer one is made up of long hairs, and you can see how slowly the snow melts off it. There can’t be a lot of moisture getting to their skin.”

Both Lorna and Helen have had to work hard to meet the demands of a particularly severe winter.

“It’s unusual for the snow to last for that length of time,” said Lorna. “It makes life awkward for the human beings. In a way it is more difficult than it was in the past when folk just walked everywhere.”

“I remember the winter of 1947,” said Helen. “Back then the snow lay for six weeks. I reckon this was the longest spell we have had snow lying since then.”

Providing hay to see animals through bad weather can prove expensive.

“I estimate I was spending £10 per week per pony on feed,” said Helen. “As a rule I would be spending nearly half that at this time of year. The supply of hay got to be a problem too, with sellers struggling to meet the demand.”

For Helen, though, water was an even bigger challenge than food.

“The ponies drank more because of the dry feed,” she said. “My mares drank up to four gallons a day. Since I have 10 of them that meant transporting 40 gallons of water every day. But you’ve got to do it, there’s no choice.”

Mark Mainland of Brake Farm in Quendale was similarly philosophical about the demands the weather made.

“We did extra feeding for the animals,” he said, “but we’d put aside extra silage in case we might need it.

“We had days when we weren’t able to get the neeps out of the ground because of the frost, but we could still cut the cabbages. It was cold work and I am quite happy to see the back of the snow, but it wasn’t too bad.”

What was bad, however, was the effect the vast numbers of hungry greylag geese had on Mark’s crop of neeps.

Ironically, according to Mark, it is actually the recent mild winters that have been causing the birds to arrive in flocks of up to 2,000, and to stay here to breed.

“They used to leave, but now they just keep coming,” he said. “And when they are hungry they go to where the food is. They ate every neep in my two-acre field.

“Still,” he added, “you have to accept it. That sort of thing is part of farming life. You just get on with it!”

Committed staff kept airport running

“It’s down to the efforts of my staff and of the airline,” says Sumburgh Airport manager Nigel Flaws, who is clearly proud of the way in which all those who work at the airport responded to the demands of the snowy conditions.

“When there was a snow warning folk came in early,” Nigel says. “And they also finished late. They rose to the challenge”

Getting the runway useable after a snowfall is a major task, involving a plough and a brush blower which, Nigel says “eats the snow and spits it out”.

Particularly difficult are days when it doesn’t snow a lot, but does so persistently on and off. Then the runway’s surface needs constant attention. The severity of the task of keeping the runway clear also depends on how much snow comes down, and whether or not it freezes onto the ground.

The aircraft need to be de-iced too, by spraying them with hot liquid with de-icing properties. This takes about 30 minutes per plane.

Although there were some delays, the sterling efforts of the airport staff meant that there were remarkably few cancellations.

“People appreciate that you can’t beat nature,” says Nigel. “The passengers were aware of what the workers were up against, and they remained understanding.”

Children take responsibility for planet

Dunrossness Primary School has just received its International School Award, at foundation level, from the British Council.

“It’s very exciting and links in with all our Eco-School, Global Citizenship and Fairtrade work, as well as lots of other curriculum studies,” says teacher Gina Scanlan.

“At present our primary sevens are setting up a Fairtrade group, as part of the Eco-Schools’ sustainability unit. Hilde Bardell came in and spoke to them, and brought with her the Fairtrade goods we had ordered.

“We are looking at costings and profit and will be running our first ever Fairtrade tuck shop. We will also have a Fairtrade stall at our next parents’ evening, and the primary sevens have sent letters home to families, encouraging them to swap a product they normally purchase for an equivalent Fairtrade one.

“All the children involved are really enthusiastic and have been extremely interested to learn what Fairtrade is. Next term they will do an assembly telling the rest of the school everything they have found out about it.”

James Mackenzie of the Amenity Trust also visited the school last week, and helped the Eco Committee to finalise its plans for planting a wild area in the grounds. Work on that is due to start this month.

In another measure to preserve the planet, the school has recently bought four energy monitors, which they will be lending out to families so that they can check how much energy they are using in their homes.

“We hope this will encourage a wider understanding of our Eco-Schools’ energy saving message,” says Gina.

Tonight’s the night

After months of planning, South Mainland’s first Up-Helly-A’ is due to take place tonight.

“All the squad are looking forward to a great occasion,” says Guizer Jarl David Smith. “Lots of hard work has gone into the event, and now the musicians are tuned up and ready to rock. Check out our programme for details of the itinerary for the day.

“I hope everyone has a safe and happy time, and wish to express my thanks to all who have helped in any way to enable the South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ to happen. Now let’s have some fun!”

New club for bairns

Levenwick folk have responded well to the idea of a Saturday morning club for bairns in Levenwick Hall. The first session takes place on March 20th from 10.30-11.30am. Families are planning to bring their children along and other people have offered to help out.

“Anybody who is interested is welcome to attend,” says organiser Elizabeth Mitchell. “We’ll have coffee and work out how we are going to proceed, while the little ones run around and play together.”

Books celebration

What a delightful time I had last week, when I was invited to take part in a readathon, as part of the World Book Day celebrations at Cunningsburgh School, and to judge their book covers competition.

There was a fine turn out, and grown-ups and bairns alike enjoyed browsing the tables of books and looking at the displays, which included a selection of translations of familiar works, such as the Harry Potter novels. Head teacher Jane Husbands told me that the pupils have been very interested to study foreign scripts and to see how they differ from our own.

The book I chose to read was Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter, and I was impressed by the attentiveness with which the children listened, and how intelligently they commented on the action.

Judging the best book covers was a very difficult task indeed, as they were all excellent, and showed a large amount of artistic skill and imagination. The ones I chose in the end were those I considered outstanding, and just the sort of thing to make me want to pick up a book and read it.

There was a best costume competition too, judged by councillor Rick Nickerson, and a large amount of thought and effort had gone into these as well. Mr Nickerson also called out the winning numbers in the raffle, which featured books, wine and chocolates among the prizes.

Tea, coffee and fruit juices were served, as well as delicious homebakes.

“We were really pleased that the event was so well supported and such a success,” said Mrs Husbands. “The Cunningsburgh School pupils were very proud of their contribution to raising money to help other children through the readathon.”

The money raised by the readathon will go to the Roald Dahl Foundation and CLIC Sargent, the children’s cancer charity. Money raised from donations and the raffle will go to the school fund.

Many thanks to the school for asking me along to the event, and to Laura Brannan for the delightful letter she sent me afterwards. Yes, I would like to come again next year please!

Cathy Feeny


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