Shetland Life: Editorial

Of fat burners and roundabout deniers

 Cars. I can’t resist them. Well, to be specific, old cars. There’s just something about the risk, the hope, the belief that this one will be the bargain it appears on Shetlink, eBay or in The Shetland Times classifieds. And then the first thing you have to do, inevitably, is replace the tyres or exhaust or clutch. Or engine. or, for that matter, entire car.

I fully intended, this month, to return to Shetland from a wee jaunt south with a Mercedes W123 diesel, converted to run on waste vegetable oil. Yes, I would have become one of those mysterious figures you see hanging around the back of chip shops with a bucket and a sieve (oh yes, they’re already active in the isles, the FBs (Fat Burners, and I’m sure Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs know who they are!). I returned Mercless. I will say only that all the Mercedes I have owned have been, in one way or another, catastrophes. And that, in the end,  all the memories of Stuttgart failure returned to stop me making that final, fateful winning eBay bid. Also, I had a return rail ticket (being over 55, you can get a Premier 55 Club first class return, Aberdeen-Glasgow, for £26) and couldn’t resist the lure of free coffee and shortbread.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. There may already be too much about cars in Shetland Life as it is, but in the context of internal combustionism, of being a petrolhead with diesel/chip fat leanings, or vice versa, I wanted to say that our driving leaves a lot to be desired. I have to travel to Lerwick nearly every weekday from Hillswick. If  I can share the trip with my wife, I will, and if there’s time to get the bus, I’ll do that. But sometimes the car is my only option, and that exposes me to all the hazards of Shetland driving. Most of them can be coped with  – the pickups thrashed at speeds they weren’t meant to be driven at, or with trailers snaking along behind them at 75mph; the blindingly overlit lorries (what is it with this cult of neon and LEDs in cabs? Is it even legal?) also driven far too fast; the elderly and infirm on their wavering way to the shop; the works vans hammered to within an inch of their top speed along the Lang Kames; the brutal abuse of single track roads (again, pickup and Land Rover drivers mainly to blame, expecting oncoming traffic to move ditchwards to let them through). But more dangerous and difficult to deal with than anything has to be the drunks.

Morning after or the night during you’ll find them, concentrating hard, veering either jerkily away from oncoming traffic or towards it. At night, the slamming-on of brakes and indiscriminate use of high-beam headlights  is a giveaway. On the Friday before Christmas, I followed first one and then another up the main A970, desperate to overtake and remove myself from their vicinity, but unable to predict when a gap would open and if they would swerve into my path in panic. Did I take their numbers and phone the cops? No, to my shame I did not. I was too relieved to escape these licensed killers intact. Next time, though.

In addition to the drunks, there are the RDs – Roundabout Deniers. The biggest roundabout in Shetland, the one at Tesco, brooks no argument – you cannot drive across it. The so-called mini-roundabouts, however, are treated by some as speedbumps. And then there’s the whole business of signalling, and giving way.

Here’s a thing. At Gremista, if you’re approaching from town and heading up the main road to Heaven and Hillswick, you should be signalling right as you approach the roundabout. I have to admit I didn’t know this until informed by my 17 year old daughter that it was an automatic failure in the driving test if you don’t. It may look straight on, but it isn’t. And you signal left AT the exit before the one you’re actually taking, not BEFORE. Oh, and don’t forget, at roundabouts, mini or not, you give way to the right. That’s not just traffic actually ON the roundabout to your right, but traffic WAITING to get onto the roundabout, on your right. If in doubt, give way. It’s better than having to deal with your insurance company.

Meanwhile, I’m still wondering about a chip-fat fuelled vehicle. Or perhaps I’ll just go and have a fish supper instead, and dream about the Mercedes that might have been…salt and vinegar?


Tom Morton


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