April 2010 Newsletter
Here is our newsletter from April 2010. We hope you find it of interest. If you're considering a move to Shetland, please don't hesitate to contact us for more advice using either the contact details at the end of this newsletter or via the contact page on the website. To receive our monthly newsletters by email, please sign-up using the form in the left column.
As we’ve previously reported, there is increasing interest in making films and television series in Shetland. Now, plans for one of these projects have taken a step forward with approval of a grant for the development of a screenplay. B4 Films Ltd have been awarded £23,669 by Shetland Islands Council towards the cost of preparing ‘Between Weathers’, which it’s hoped will be set on the island of Fetlar. A lighthearted comedy, it’s expected to be very much in the style of ‘Local Hero’ (1983), the film directed by Bill Forsyth that portrayed the reaction of a small Scottish village to the blandishments of big business.
The plot for the film was created by author Ron MacMillan, whose non-fiction Shetland travelogue, ‘Between Weathers: Travels in 21st century Shetland’ was published in 2008. The next stage of the project involves pitches to actors, financiers and distributors at the Cannes Film Festival in mid-May, but Jim Brown, B4’s Creative Director, says that he has already had strong interest. There are unconfirmed rumours that a very well-known Hollywood male lead may be involved. Meanwhile, the people of Fetlar – an island that has suffered depopulation – are hopeful that the project will provide a very welcome boost for the local economy.
The Commonwealth Games, to be held in Delhi in mid-October, will feature three dancers from Shetland. They’ll be among hundreds from Scotland who, on Thursday 14 October 2010, will perform in the Games’ closing ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The Glasgow organisers, who are funding the visit, say that the event will ‘mark the start of an amazing journey for athletes, citizens and communities towards what will be the biggest sporting event that Scotland has hosted’.
The performance will involve a mass choreographed dance routine, intended to convey the spirit of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games to an international audience. Potential participants – who will need to be very fit – must commit to spending several days at rehearsals in Glasgow as well as travelling to India. Neil Watt, of Shetland Islands Council, urged interested local people to put themselves forward for what he described as ‘the chance of a lifetime’.
A collie that couldn’t settle into domestic routine has a brighter future after a hard winter on the hills near Lerwick, Shetland’s capital. Tess was trained as a sheepdog but, according to her owner, never quite got to grips with that role. She became a family pet, but escaped from her new home towards the end of 2009. Although there were frequent sightings, she eluded the team of dog wardens who tried to recapture her. It seems that she was living on rabbits and food left out by concerned local people; she also managed to steal a chicken from one house. Eventually, after four months in the wild in the coldest Shetland winter since 1978, she was lured into a special, baited cage. A check-up by a vet followed and, physically, Tess seems little the worse for her ordeal. However, it will take some time for her to feel confident with humans and other dogs, so she has been flown to the Border Collie Rescue Society’s centre at Richmond in North Yorkshire, where she’s said to be settling in well and getting on with one of their very experienced volunteers. When she’s ready, Tess will be found a new, permanent home.
A Glasgow-based band with two Shetlanders among its three members has just won the Scotcampus ‘Be our band’ competition. The Red Show consists of Gareth Goodlad (guitar and vocals), Chris Cope (bass) – both from the islands – and Mike Jackson (drums). They say the project arose from ‘the ashes of a pop-punk band and a metal group’ and their style has elements of rock, punk and blues. They’ve been playing regularly to enthusiastic audiences, mainly in Glasgow and Edinburgh. There’s more about the band on their MySpace page, where you can also listen to some of their music and watch their video.
Da Gadderie, the art gallery in the Shetland Museum and Archives, is hosting an exhibition with a surreal twist. ‘Warm Leveret’, by Edward Summerton, illustrates Summerton’s fascination with the representation of nature and natural history. Inspired by book illustrations, museum dioramas and field recordings, he explores the environment using paintings, books, prints, photographs, sound works, objects and collaborations.
His representation of nature challenges pre-conceptions and seeks to make viewers see familiar images in new and unexpected ways. At first glance, the paintings invite the viewer to enjoy a skillfully rendered image drawn from the natural world, but a closer engagement brings out disconcerting elements of surprise and, occasionally, horror.
Currently a lecturer and researcher for the School of Fine Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College, University of Dundee, Edward Summerton has taught some of Shetland’s talented contemporary artists. He has exhibited internationally in both solo and group exhibitions and recently collaborated with the artist Graham Fagen on the limited edition publication, ‘Diary of an Egg Collector’, which will be available through Da Gadderie.
John Hunter, Shetland Museum and Archives exhibitions officer, said: “One of the interesting aspects of painting is that the laws of nature can be suspended. Visual illusions and juxtapositions can be created on canvas that cannot exist anywhere else. In Eddie’s case he takes advantage of this to portray very personal visions. His skill as a painter lures the viewer into a world of magical realism where things are often not as they should be. He interprets and manipulates natural history imagery to give the work a new life. The results are disconcerting and unsettling, sometimes humorous and often attention-grabbing. His work draws inspiration from contemporary culture such as music and film as well as mythology and nature. There’s something of the wildlife illustrator meets William Burroughs, about this exhibition.” Warm Leveret will be in Da Gadderie until 26th April.
Shetland’s dialect is one of the many distinctive features of island life. It has elements of lowland Scots, English and Norn, the form of Old Norse that was spoken in Shetland, Orkney and Caithness. Many words are very close to those used in Faroe and Iceland, where Old Norse forms the basis of modern Icelandic and Faroese. The Oystercatcher, for example, is a Tjaldur in Faroese and a Shetlander will very readily understand which bird his Faroese friend is talking about, because in Shetland it’s a Shalder.
The Norn language began to fade from daily use from the late 15th century. Shetland was pledged to Scotland in 1469, as part of the wedding dowry of Princess Margaret of Denmark when she married James III, king of Scotland. From then on, Scots law, education, commerce and language gradually became dominant. By the mid-19th century, few Norn speakers were left, although many words continued in use. During the 20th century, as older Shetlanders testify, the use of dialect was actively discouraged in schools.
Today, though, it’s undergoing something of a renaissance. Although some speakers have a more extensive vocabulary than others, most people in Shetland weave some Shetland words into their speech and it doesn’t take long for new residents to begin using terms like ‘peerie’ (small). The recovery of the dialect moved up a gear in 1979, when the late John J Graham, a former Head Teacher at the Anderson High School in Lerwick, published a Shetland dictionary. Since then, there has been a noticeable growth of dialect prose and poetry. Many plays have been written and BBC Radio Shetland has also played a part in keeping the dialect alive.
A dialect society, Shetland ForWirds, was formed in 2004 and they have since been occupied in preserving the Shetland dialect and promoting its use among everyone in Shetland. They’ve now launched an impressive website www.shetlanddialect.org.uk, which provides an introduction to the dialect and offers many examples of its use, including many sound clips. There’s also an online version of John Graham’s Shetland Dictionary. Shetland ForWirds convener Laureen Johnson sees the website as an important development for the group. “We are very much lookin forward ta makkin best use o da site, an we really hoop fok will enjoy usin it.”
If you’d like to dive straight in, here is a page on which you can play a recording of the late Laurence Graham (brother of John Graham) reading Robert Alan Jamieson’s poem, Frisk Waatir Troot.
The Shetland Textile Working Museum, which is operated by the Shetland Guild of Spinners, Knitters, Weavers and Dyers, is to take up temporary residence in one of Lerwick’s many historic buildings, the Böd of Gremista. The Museum has been without a home since 2006, when its lease expired at the Weisdale Mill, a building mainly used as an art gallery. Undaunted, the Guild has remained active and has been pursuing the provision of a long term home to display important collections, house a growing reference library and undertake their many other activities. The islands’ largest heritage organisation, the Shetland Amenity Trust, is working with the Guild to create a home within a currently-derelict listed building at Voe House, Walls.
The 18th century fishing böd, close to the shore at Gremista, was the birthplace of Arthur Anderson, the Shetland philanthropist who co-founded the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, better known today as P&O. His story is told in the building through re-creations of a kitchen and a bedroom, furnished with artefacts from Anderson’s time. A custodian is on hand to make sure that visitors get the best out of their tour.
From the beginning of May, the textile museum will occupy the remainder of the building. The textile museum hosts a themed exhibition each year and this year’s traces changes in fashion. Displays include knitted Shetland textiles from the 19th century to the present day, with new pieces specially commissioned. Entry to the Böd of Gremista and Shetland Textile Working Museum is free of charge, with donations welcome.
Archaeologists and historians have long speculated about a Roman presence in Shetland. As the account by Tacitus makes clear, Roman vessels circumnavigated the British Isles, certainly as far north as the Orcades (Orkney). He wrote that Thule (the old name for Shetland) was seen. Now, with the discovery of a Roman amphitheatre in the valley of Weisdale, there can be no doubt that the Romans were well established in Shetland. Experts say that the structure, hidden until now by an ancient landslide, would readily have accommodated 2,000 people and must have been built following the northern campaign of Lucius Septimius Severus, who is known to have made peace with the Picts in 210 AD. As our photograph shows, the setting is dramatic. There were a number of such amphitheatres in Britain, the largest being at Chester, and they were used for public meetings and various entertainments, invariably involving gladiators and animals. Historians wonder if those who fought Viking invaders may not have been Picts but descendants of Roman legionaries.
There’s been great relief that the finds from the site, which date to AD 208 ± 25 years, will remain in Shetland. As well as several centurions’ helmets, there was a toga which, local knitters have been thrilled to discover, had a Fair Isle patterned yoke. It was perfectly preserved in a nearby peat bank. Also unearthed were three unusually small chariots. However, archaeologists have launched a £50,000 research project to help them solve the mystery of a collection of amphorae found in one room. Some of these appear to have contained anchovies in olive oil. Others are filled with what seems to have been tomato paste; and there are 427 strange, fossilised discs, about ten inches in diameter and half an inch thick.
Meanwhile, local arts organisations are planning to use the amphitheatre as a venue for drama and music; pencilled in for 1 April 2011 is an ambitious production of Verdi’s Nabucco by the Forvik Operatic Society. Remarkably, they’ve managed to secure the services of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Claudio Abbado. It will clearly be a very special evening.
This week sees a repeat showing of the outstanding BBC2 series, Simon King’s Shetland Diaries. Episode 1 was shown last night (Wednesday 31 March) in England and Northern Ireland. Episode 2 can be seen in England tonight (Thursday) at 7pm and in Northern Ireland tomorrow (Friday 2 April) at 7pm. Episode 3 will be shown in England at 7pm on Friday 2 April and in Northern Ireland at 4.25pm on Sunday 4 April. The programmes will also be available everywhere on the BBC i-player.
At Shetland.org, we keep discovering online articles, blogs and broadcasts about the islands. This one, by Barnaby Mercer, is one of the more extensive blogs we’ve seen, extolling the scenery, the walking, the wildlife, the crafts, the culture, the music and the history of the islands, with some illustrations.
Meanwhile, John Creedon, from the Irish holiday programme No Frontiers, has been on a visit to Shetland. His feature, which includes an otter-spotting trip among other highlights, is only available on the RTÉ player until 4 April. However, a description of the programme is also available here.
The extraordinary sight – and sound – of tiny Storm Petrels, which breed in the Iron Age broch on the uninhabited island of Mousa, impressed National Public Radio reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro. His evocative report can be heard by clicking on the ‘listen to the story’ link here.
Finally, this blog explains that a Shetland Red-necked Phalarope has beaten – by an astonishing four years – the previous, Icelandic, record for the species. These tiny birds, which migrate huge distances each Spring and Autumn, breed on Fetlar.
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Shetland Islands Council, Solarhus, North Ness, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0LZ, UNITED KINGDOM