November 2013 Newsletter
Hi, I'm Alastair and I'd like to welcome you to the November 2013 issue of our monthly newsletter.
The evenings may have been lengthening rapidly and dawn now breaks later, but there's been lots to lighten Shetland days and nights.
As usual, music featured very heavily. There were contemporary sounds in Oxjam, a charity fundraiser that offered twelve hours of the best from Shetland's many young rock bands and singer-songwriters, spread across four venues. More than £4,000 was raised. In more traditional vein - but also taking in several venues - the annual Accordion and Fiddle Festival attracted bands and followers from well beyond Shetland, and we've just had visits from Ireland's Sharon Shannon and American and Swedish fiddlers Bruce Molsky and Ale Moller.We had jazz, too, in the shape of the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, led by virtuoso sax player Tommy Smith. No strangers to the islands, they raised the roof at Mareel with a great tribute to Duke Ellington that delighted the capacity crowd. Just about every kind of music finds a following in Shetland but, thanks to the efforts of the very active Shetland Jazz Club, the jazz audience seems to have grown very quickly over recent years. We've been privileged to hear some great musicians.
Birdwatchers have had a great month, too. Rare migrants always turn up at this time of year but the appearance of a Cape May Warbler on the island of Unst was something special, as this was only the second time that one of these little birds has been seen in Britain. It normally lives in Canada and New England and winters in the Caribbean, but this one rather overshot its target. Other visitors included an Arctic Warbler, Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Thick-billed Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Buff-bellied pipit, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler and Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll, all British rarities. There's a full list of what's been around, with many pictures, on the Nature in Shetland 'Latest Sightings' page.
As I explain in this month's newsletter, we have a lot to look forward to in the weeks ahead, too. As well as a tempting menu of films, drama, ballet and music, we have a taste of all the best from Shetland's larder in the annual food fair, which will run alongside the Christmas craft fair. The food event will feature local lamb, beef, seafood, vegetables, cheese, bread, cakes, pies and confectionery, not to mention Shetland beers.
Lastly, we send our warmest congratulations to Dr Val Turner, who has just gained a PhD from the University of Stirling for her work on Shetland's prehistoric and Viking field systems. Val moved to Shetland 28 years ago to become the islands' first archaeologist, and her enthusiasm has inspired many to take a closer interest in the exceptionally rich heritage of the islands.
If you're planning a visit, don't forget that our companion website has loads of information about how to get here, where to stay and what to see. My colleague Abby writes a monthly roundup that's packed with ideas to make the trip really special; check the November one for, among other things, some valuable tips on coming to see the magnificent fire festival, Up Helly Aa, at the end of January. Abby also writes another great newsletter about Shetland's lively creative scene.
Variorum - a colourful collection at the Bonhoga Gallery
Other exhibitions are also attracting attention and it helps that Shetland has some excellent gallery spaces within which the work of local and visiting artists can be properly shown.
Brian Henderson's collection of paintings, at Da Gadderie in Shetland Museum and Archives, has been drawing many admirers of his work. Meanwhile, twins Barbara and Wilma Cluness have a show called Variorum at the Bonhoga Gallery.
Bonhoga is an exhibition space that occupies a restored water mill in the valley of Weisdale. It's a delightful place to be, with a café in a conservatory overlooking the stream. Sightings of a heron often accompany some delicious coffee and cake.
Upstairs, in the main gallery, the Cluness sisters have created one of the most varied, eclectic and colourful exhibitions seen for many years. It features many paintings along with decorated ceramics, fabrics, lampshades and furniture. The ceramics include beautifully-painted tiles and teapots. The furniture – tables, chairs and small cabinets, as well as a sofa with a throw – is decorated with hand-painted depictions of flowers.
Project records the work of the Royal Observer Corps
Art projects and exhibitions, usually featuring the work of Shetland's many practising artists, are always popular in Shetland, and several have been on show recently.
It looks at the work of the Royal Observer Corps (ROC), effectively a detachment of the RAF which, having been briefly stood down after the Second World War, was quickly re-established when Cold War threats emerged.
Their post-war role involved keeping a watch during the period when international nuclear tension was at its greatest. Had there been a nuclear attack, the observers would have monitored radioactive fallout in their area. More than 1,500 underground bunkers were built right across the UK; four were in Shetland.
Roxanne and Susan have interviewed many of those who served in the ROC and they've gathered together a range of memorabilia. They've also covered three of the bunkers in specially-woven fabric decorated with words taken from the ROC's instruction manuals; the words are created in glow-in-the-dark material, so that they are visible at night, and the recorded voices of the ROC members are played on the site, with all the documentary material and the sound recordings available in the nearest public hall. The website offers sound recordings and photographs, too.
All in all, it's a very impressive and thought-provoking piece of work.
Latest harbour arrival raises eyebrows
Lerwick, always a busy port, has seen craft of every kind, but the latest arrival has caused some head-scratching on the pier head.
Over the decades, there has been a steady stream of ferries, fishing vessels, oil rig supply ships and cruise liners. The harbour has also welcomed scores of Tall Ships, naval craft including submarines and the occasional casualty of north Atlantic storms, such as a timber carrier with a dangerously shifted cargo.
The latest arrival is connected with a major expansion of facilities, in the form of the Laggan-Tormore gas plant, at the Sullom Voe terminal in Shetland's north mainland. Up to 1,400 personnel are to work on the project and a total of four barges, three in Lerwick and one in Scalloway, have been brought to Shetland to help accommodate them. The first three arrivals were utilitarian in appearance, but the latest to appear, the engineless (and thus well-named) Sans Vitesse – looks like an abstract zebra, or maybe a 21st century updating of the African Queen. It'll continue to catch the eye of locals – and, no doubt, bemuse visitors – for many months.
"Incredibly important" appointment will strengthen Shetland's creative sector
The appointment of a Chair in Creative Industries at the University of the Highlands and Islands" Shetland campus is expected to bring major benefits.
What are now known as creative industries have long been integral to Shetland's economy. The islands are well known for knitwear and fine lace, in particular. However, many new kinds of creative enterprise have become established over recent years and it's believed that the new professorial post will further strengthen the sector. Funding is being sought from several agencies.
Shetland Islands Council has already agreed to contribute to the cost and Alastair Cooper, who chairs its Development Committee, said:
“This is a great opportunity for us to develop our support for some of Shetland's most distinctive and unique industries. There's been an increase in recent years in the number of new companies working in areas such as textile design, photography, furniture-making, craftwork and video production, and basing such a unit here in Shetland could help create and develop such home-grown companies, as well as attract interest from farther afield. There are also the commercial and cultural benefits which would accrue from the influx of staff and new students, and the potential to build an international reputation as a creative centre.”
Dr Neil Simco, Dean of Arts, Humanities and Business at the University of the Highlands and Islands, added that the new Chair would have a particular remit for developing the economic base of the creative industries in the isles and providing advice and support for businesses and practitioners.
Councillor Drew Ratter, a member of the University of the Highlands and Islands Court, pointed out that the creative industries bring in around £2.5 billion every year to the Scottish economy. He felt that Shetland was “better fitted to supporting this Chair than, I think, anywhere else in the network. The appointment of the Chair will be an incredibly important one.”
Search launched for Commonwealth Games baton-bearers
Nominations are being sought for people who will carry the Queen's Baton when it visits Shetland on Tuesday 1 July 2014 on its way to Glasgow's Commonwealth Games
The Shetland community has been invited to put forward the names of those who've helped with sport or voluntary work, or who have championed those who have disabilities or are in some way excluded. Around 60 baton-bearers are likely to be selected in the islands.
The baton began its journey at Buckingham Palace on 9 October, then travelled via Glasgow to India, host nation of the 2010 games, after which it will tour Commonwealth countries before returning to the UK and, eventually, Glasgow. The baton contains a special message from the Queen.
Doctor Who in 3D among long list of special events at Mareel
The special 50th Anniversary episode of Doctor Who is just one of the treats in store for patrons at Mareel, Shetland's cinema and music venue.
The episode will be transmitted on BBC1 on 23 November and will be seen simultaneously at Mareel, but in 3D. The audience there will be joining others in the UK, Ireland, Germany, Russia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. In addition to Matt Smith, the one-off special, entitled The Day of the Doctor stars former Time Lord, David Tennant, Jenna Coleman, Billie Piper, and John Hurt.
However, Mareel's two cinemas will be hosting several other special screenings in addition to the regular film programme. On Sunday 17 November, as part of the celebrations to mark the centenary of Benjamin Britten's birth, Mareel will show Grimes on the Beach, an outdoor performance of the opera, Peter Grimes, that formed part of the 2013 Aldeburgh Festival.
On Sunday 1 December, cinemagoers will get the chance to see David Tennant star in the Royal Shakespeare Company's Richard II; critics described his performance as "mesmerising" and "a wondrous spectacle". Also in December, there will be two Bolshoi Ballet screenings: Le Corsaire (based on Byron's poem, The Corsair) on Sunday 8 December, and, as a perfect Christmas present, The Sleeping Beauty on 22 December.
These presentations follow successful screenings of the National Theatre's productions of The Audience (starring Helen Mirren) and Frankenstein, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.
Shetland scores highly in research into life satisfaction
Shetland residents reported high levels of life satisfaction in research recently published by the Office for National Statistics.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics underline the islands" appeal as a place to live. Shetland residents scored their islands at 8.04 on a scale that measures "life satisfaction", compared to a UK average of 7.45. The islands also did well on other criteria.
Other similar studies, such as the Bank of Scotland's series, have ranked Shetland very highly on quality of life, usually placing the islands at or near the top of the table. The factors that count in Shetland's favour usually include low unemployment, higher than average incomes, greater life expectancy, good health and very low levels of crime.
To those can be added one of the finest natural environments in Europe, a fascinating heritage, superb cultural opportunities – especially since the opening of the new arts centre, Mareel – and sports and recreational facilities that are unquestionably the envy of places with a population many times larger.
And whilst statisticians haven't found a way of measuring the friendliness of the nation's communities, the chances are that Shetland would score well on that index, too.
Jobs of the Month
There are several jobs on offer at NHS Shetland, including a posts for a Clinical Director in the Dental Service, a Director of Community Health and Social care, a Community Psychiatric Nurse, Trainee Dental Nurses and a CT Radiographer.
Posts with Shetland Islands Council include a Cooking Instructor in Yell and a Transport Assistant in Lerwick.
Blog of the Month
We return to Fair Isle for our blog this month, partly because there's some remarkable video footage of hungry orcas and canny seals and partly to congratulate Nick Riddiford, who has won an award for his work on the Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative. Well-deserved congratulations, Nick!