Nelson’s Column

It’s the school summer holidays and for my wife, son and dog that means heading sooth for our thrice a year “check up” with the family and friends. (The cat stays with neighbours.)  After we first arrived in Shetland it was just the two of us would travel south from Sumburgh leaving the dog with friends. Now with the boy, the dog and another one on the way (baby that is, not dog) our brood gets bigger and bigger and that means more elaborate travel plans.

With our respective parents living on either side of the great collective urban conurbation of Glasgow and a multitude of friends in between a series of site specific suitcases are packed with duplicate necessities to avoid having to reload the entire car as we visit back and forth. Great itineraries to minimise pregnant driving are devised and drawn up following intense time and motion studies maximising our time as we wind our way around the squiggly fjord-loch laden landscape of Scotland’s west coast.

And so we set out from our remote island home with a car packed up like the Beverly Hillbillies, with pots and pans hanging off the side. Our son is strapped into a baby seat surrounded by soft luggage items, the safest baby in the world wedged in as he is by sleeping bags and puffy hill-walking jackets. Because, of course, this being a Scottish summer we must pack our big coats as well as our bikinis. Any time I have had friends visiting from abroad I advise them to always carry an umbrella and sunglasses, because you never know.

We slot ourselves onto the NorthLink to immediately perform the most heartbreaking and guilt-inducing of actions – putting our dog in the ferry kennels. We force our own dog to sit in a dark cage next to roaring engines for 13 hrs only to be stuck back into the car and driven through Aberdeen until we find the nearest bit of spare ground so she can make a little vacation of her own.

It is while this is going on we realise that once again we have forgotten to leave space in the bulging car for the stuff we are bringing back. Being on holiday we are likely to make the odd indulgent purchase of any of the very many items unavailable to us in Shetland. The obligatory trip to Ikea will fill more than a few boot inches and a sweep around one of the cheaper supermarkets is always advised. But as well as all that it is worth us remembering that our parents only see their grandson two or three times a year, so the sheer volume and cumbersome nature of the plethora of presents they gift him could fill one of Ian Reid’s articulated lorries. Imagine what it’ll be like when his sibling arrives this December.

So the question that haunts me comes to mind once again – to roof box, or not to roof box. I have never liked those things. I really can’t put my finger on why. I have never had a traumatic experience with a roof box. I’m not allergic to them.  My mother wasn’t romanced and dropped by a roof box salesman leaving a stigma about them on my psyche. I have no idea what my problem is. I think I may have an irrational idea of them as a status symbol of the apparently together, financially stable, smug, perfect, but secretly cracked middle class family.

“Look, everyone, we have a roof box. Right there on top of our car for all to see. That means we have money to buy stuff. Good stuff. Good stuff we need to carry around with us to enhance our already beautiful lives. Stuff that needs protecting in this, our big, sturdy roof box. Nobody will ever know the secrets, lies and dysfunction that underlines our mess of obligations and resentment. ”

It is as if I want say to the world, “See, we’re happy. We don’t need a roof box. We are happy to just stuff our stuff in the boot with the dog or strap an old suitcase full of our bits n bobs to a couple of bars on the roof, ‘cos, hey man, we’re totally cool about things. Roof box? No thanks!”

But it looks like I am running out of options. They are:

  1. Stop going south: Well, even though my son is himself a Shetlander, his people are Soothmoothers and it’s important he knows his family, so that’s off the table.
  2. Don’t bring anything: If we could live like European royals, not carrying cash and just getting everything we needed everywhere we went that would be great, but alas, no.
  3. Buy a roof box.

Ah, well. On to Shetlink classifieds it is.

Sandy Nelson


Get Latest News in Your Inbox

Join the The Shetland Times mailing list to get one daily email update at midday on what's happening in Shetland.