Nelson’s Column

With all the talking points of contemporary Shetland life, whether it be the debates on wind farms, the blue print for education and Dave Clark, or the arrival of Tesco, Mareel and Simon King, the most significant thing to happen to Shetland since Sullom Voe was built has gone unnoticed: Sumburgh Airport now has a cappuccino machine! Yes, I know that’s a typical metrocentric incomer attitude to have but for us ex-city kids the cappuccino is our reestit mutton bannock. We can’t start the day without one. And as a frequent flyer I always felt something missing from my sitting-around-waiting-for-a-boarding-call experience.

And a good cappuccino is hard to come by. No disrespect to the staff at Sumburgh but you’ll find a cappuccino machine is a temperamental, fickle, moody thing that even a Krypton Factor finalist would take a while to learn how to control. And the recipe is often up for debate. As far as I’m concerned it’s double espresso + foamed milk + choccy topping = cappuccino. Too much steamed milk and it becomes a Latte. Blend the foamed milk and steamed milk into a silky texture and it becomes a Flat White.

Sumburgh already has everything else you need (snacks, bar, toilets, newsagent, bairns bit, News 24) so once they have mastered “The Devils Cup” it will become, for my money, the best airport in the world.

Honestly. In my travels I have been through 30 odd airports in Europe, North America and Asia. Sumburgh is the most comfortable and welcoming. In addition to the qualities listed above it is always a quick, easy check in, a simple passage on and off the plane, and the most breath taking scenery on take off and landing. I still get a thrill on every landing. Every single time I find my internal dialogue muttering, “We’re only 20 feet from landing! Why is there still water below us?” Then the runway suddenly appears like magic as if Odin’s mechanic has just slid his trolley beneath us.

Up until the Java generator arrived, the most significant thing that set Sumburgh apart from other UK airport is that no-one is trying to sell you anything. Most UK airports these days look like shopping centres with seats in the middle. In fact, the very same week that ex-first minister Jack McConnell was making his G8 summit-related speech on how Scotland’s youth were being made subject of a wasteful consumer society, Prestwick airport finished it’s refurbishment so that you HAD TO walk through duty free to get to your plane. It turns out they are all like that. Gatwick has a food court upstairs just like any generic glass roofed consumer trap. On the information screens at Nottingham East Midlands the phrase “Wait In Lounge” has been replaced by “Relax and Shop.” No pressure.

We will all remember through the noughties when pairs of salt-of-the-earth women would follow you along the concourse, bullying you with questions about your income and outgoings, persuading you that if you didn’t have a credit card you were some kind of archaic luddite without a clue about modern living. They are still there but they at least bully you into giving to charity these days.

And it’s not just the airports. Go into your bank these days and while you are boringly paying in a cheque and thinking about the rest of your day you are being interrupted by a list of personal questions leading up to selling you a mortgage or loan by an ordinary frontline worker who has been instructed by invisible management to do so. Try buying a magazine and a bottle of water at WH Smith without being told that you’ll get a giant bar of Galaxy and a bag of Haribo half price with your purchase (which would be a bargain if you actually wanted it).

Things got silly just the other day as I sat in the morning holding my cappuccino (homemade) in one hand and rocking my new born baby in his rocker with the other. I received a “courtesy call” from my bank. They weren’t selling me anything they assured me. They just wanted to make sure they had all my updated details and that they were providing me with the best service possible. On hearing of our new bundle of joy they asked if I knew about the new Scottish Governments trust fund scheme. I told them I had and was already looking into it. They then proceeded to punt various deals to me. Now, it’s not my name on the trust fund policy. It’s my son’s. The poor little guy is only nine weeks old and already someone is trying to sell him something. How sinister is that?

The only thing I want someone selling me, or my family, is a decent cup of coffee.

Sandy Nelson


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