Times Past

25 Years Ago

The National Union of Seamen attempted to make Shetland an “apartheid-free zone” this week and plans to extend the embargo on South African goods to offshore rigs and platforms. But the action was criticised as “self-centred” and “putting the cart before the horse” by P&O Scottish director Mr Eric Turner.

Mr Harry Bygate of the NUS said in Aberdeen that he had been “pleasantly surprised” by the unanimous reponse of NUS members on the St Clair, St Magnus, Rof Beaver and St Ola to the union’s call for a ban on South African goods being shipped to Orkney and Shetland.

He said members would ask to inspect trucks and containers being loaded at Aberdeen and, if they refuse, they would either prevent the cargoes being loaded or stop ships from sailing.

His members had “various ways” of finding out what was in trucks and containers bound for Shetland but Mr Turner said that even P&O Ferries often did not know the exact details of individual consignments.

“I don’t understand the motivation behind this,” he said. “No-one ever suggests banning vodka and caviare.”

P&O Ferries, he declared, would be taking no part in this “self-centred” action. “If the NUS is talking about moral principles,” he concluded, “then our moral principle is to keep British seamen in employment.”

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Shetland stays at the top of the national league for the Children in Need Appeal – and how! In a marathon nine-hour broadcast which lasted until after three o’clock last Saturday morning, Radio Shetland raised £45,000 and the final total could well top £50,000.

50 Years Ago

Shetland is not to have a sea school, but a special junior secondary course in agriculture is to be introduced at Sandwick.

These were two important decisions made by the Education Committee’s study group recently, and the report has been accepted by the Committee.

At the study group’s meeting the director of education intimated that he had written to the principal of Leith Nautical College, as instructed, to ask whether the college expected to continue to be able to enrol all students who wished to take courses during the approaching period of “the bulge”.

The principal had confirmed that there was no suggestion of imposing a quota system and that all who applied would be admitted, provided they reached the approved medical standard and were recommended by the authority for admission. He felt that all Shetland boys would be accommodated as the majority of Shetland boys wished to do the cadet course or the deck boy course, whereas the majority of applications were for the catering course.

There might be a little delay in admitting boys to the course of their choice, and in this case preference would be given to the oldest, since boys had to complete the course before the age of 17 and a half.

The working party noted this seemed to render the provision of a sea school in Lerwick unnecessary.

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TV reception in Shetland has been virtually nil in recent weeks, according to enthusiastic and/or wealthy folk who already have sets. That is a pity, because there was an excellent local feature on recently – Chris Mylne’s splendid little documentary on life in Foula.

Mr Mylne only took up photography when he went as teacher/missionary to the island, and those lucky people who saw his colour slides a few years ago will remember what a splendid job he made of those. A memorable shot showed a kitten vainly attempting to make friends with an owl!

100 Years Ago

A Motor Bicycle in Ultima Thule – Under the above title Mr G. A. Mackay contributes the following article to the “C.T.C. Gazette”:– It may not be generally known that there is still one corner of these islands where the horn of the motor cyclist is rarely heard, where the motor cyclist is himself a person of distinction and his machine a miracle, where the sportive dog ties himself into knots, and the equally sportive horse wants to dance on his head when one approaches purring and stealthily.

It is a very ancient land wherein these anachronisms exist. Long ago, when Scotland and England were unknown, there was a great island, probably a continent, in these northern seas. Its mountain peaks rivalled the Alps, and its rivers poured down the rich sands that now constitute the rich loam of European plains. That this continent sank down into the sea until only the tops of the highest hills were visible, the salt water filled the upland valleys, and plains that had erstwhile been under the sea emerged and became England and Ireland, and perhaps many other countries. Something like this was the genesis of Shetland. It is the skeleton nucleus of a buried land, a dumb fragment of the past that we shall never know very much about, however cunningly we shall try.

But, to be practical and modern, the mainland of Shetland is a big island, some seventy miles long by thirty broad; and it contains about 200 miles of fair and essentially sporting roads. There are no speed limits or police traps in Shetland, because such things are quite unnecessary. The man who tried Tourist Trophy tricks in Shetland might find himself aeroplaning into the sea, where engine and self would be most effectively water cooled, or he might charge a remarkably strong five-barred gate drawn right across the road to prevent sheep from invading a neighbour’s grazing. But in Shetland time is no object to anybody, and probably in a couple of days the most restive motorist would have assimilated the peaceful spirit of the land.

For many years I have visited Shetland for its trout fishing. In August and September monstrous sea trout are to be had in some of the voes. I had often taken with me a push bicycle, but only this year did I risk a motor cycle. As a matter of fact, I was afraid to take my earlier motor cycles; they were all big heavy brutes, and hard to start. Now, as I have said, Shetland contains many gates placed athwart the road. In one journey of seventeen miles there were six such gates. One must dismount, open the gate, and shut it behind him. Sometimes this means that one must start again in the middle of a hill, and with a heavy machine that is a most painful process. It was only after I obtained a little “Douglas” twin that I began to see possibilities for the motor cycle in Ultima Thule. The “Douglas” has power enough for any hill, and it goes off with the merest touch on the pedal. Moreover, one can handle it almost as easily as if it were a pedal cycle; he can brake it even on a precipice, and can twist it round hair-pin corners with the greatest ease in the world. I surmised that the “Douglas” was the key to motor cycling in Shetland, and my surmise was right.


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