After our interview, with the wind blowing the wrong way for otter sightings, Brydon takes us up to look at the birds at Saxa Vord, in Unst’s wild north. We drive along a dirt track, high on the headland on the other side of the voe (or bay) from Muckle Flugga, the evocative lighthouse on a little stack that’s Britain’s most northerly point. Above us is the white dome of the Saxa Vord radar system, which has recently begun to operate again, worryingly, in response to global events.
Right here, though, the only meaningful analogues to Trump or Putin are the great skuas, or bonxies in local dialect, which are the biggest, most aggressive birds in this bleakly beautiful place. The bonxies are wont to swoop fiercely towards people who come close to their nests, including David Attenborough, who was once attacked on a walk up the Hermaness headland towards Muckle Flugga. We watch the bonxies for a good half an hour, urging these chunky, posturing birds to spread their wings. Brydon, after thousands of such trips, seems as transfixed as we are.
Back at the house, though, Vaila is keen to point out that their life is about more than just nature. She talks about the kids’ schoolweek, which includes badminton, swimming and cello lessons, as well as the after-school youth club. She talks up the sports centre, where she works, which — like many such places in tiny Shetland communities — was funded to a high level by oil money grants. She also praises the quality of education at the Baltasound Junior High School, though wishes that more young families could come so that the school could justify another teacher.
“It’s a great way of life,” she says. “It’s clean, it’s friendly, it’s happy, there’s this real sense of community. Everyone looks out for each other, and it’s really safe. It’s a positive place to be, and we’re proud to call it home.” With that, she has to go to barbell class, leaving the kids to play in the garden around the old family house. As we leave, we see Brydon head back towards the living room, itching to be reunited with his binoculars.
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