All posts by Jacqui Clark

An Excuse to be Nosey

I’ve recently discovered the joy which developed quickly into sheer panic at living without any internet connection.

Having become a grown up and bought a house all the arrangements were made with a supplier of phones and broadband. Everything got plugged in (correctly for once) and everything was fine.

Until there was nothing.

No social media. No reading the local news online. No watching silly videos. No looking up the pictures that local photography enthusiasts share of the mirrie dancers. No seeing what events I’m missing.

As a big fan of displacement activities the internet provides so much of that. What started out years ago as the irritating sound of a dial-up-connection with access to websites and email has grown and morphed into a thing – a thing which our lives revolve around.

Locally the internet has become a part of our cultural lives. There’s all the local groups that now have pages on social media and we interact with people that you would normally just say hi to on the street. Young people who live in the most remote areas of Shetland now can socially interact with peers in ways which never really happened before and we no longer have to remember to switch the wireless on to hear the weather because you can listen again – at lambing time that’s an essential local service.

It’s heartening to know you can put up a post saying, “does onybody keen whaar I can get better internet provision” and you’re guaranteed to have the Shetland version of “going viral” feedback. (This will be attempted once back online).

Culture, at its heart, is about the media. We now have access to it 24 hours a day. The media helps to shape who we are socially – it influences what we think about and what we believe.
The classic example of this is Disney. There are not many people who have not seen at least one Disney film. There are not many little girls who don’t know all the words to the songs from Frozen in the same way there are not many little boys who don’t want every toy available for Star Wars and make a weird sound when they swish their pretend light sabre.

Disney have access to our children from an early age and not just through film. They have their own TV channels, websites, social media platforms, products, stores and theme parks. How do they influence what our children believe?

Underneath the subtleties of what appears like innocence films are messages that are reinforced at all levels of their operations. If you are a little girl you can only be pretty and accepted if you are a princess like Elsa or Anna and if you are a little boy you can only be a real man if you are tough and strong like Han Solo … or even Chewbacca.

Good old fashioned American values are thrust down our children’s throats and we don’t really care – because we don’t necessarily realise that’s what’s happening.

Locally? Well the cultural media machine has been gearing into action over recent weeks as we build towards to the forthcoming Scottish government elections. There will be various attempts by the different parties to utilise the internet in order to influence local voters using social media.
The local selects who enjoy commenting on every post, with variations on the theme of things they have said many times before, will be sitting with massive grins waiting for the opportunity to appear clever.

There will be things shared that make you wonder. There will be things shared that could make you change your mind. There will be things shared that are untrue but you will take for truth – just because it’s written in black and white and it’s on the internet and somebody you know has shared it … therefore it must be true.

Whilst I sit in internet darkness there’s part of me that now feels relieved that I can’t see all of that happening. But then I think that it would be nice to touch base with what is happening in the world again, or to see whose birthday it is and to do what many Shetlanders enjoy – be nosey online.

Culture Commentary

Is the Fair Isle ganzie to a Shetlander what the kilt is to a Scotsman?

Smack bang in the middle of the first oil boom the new school in Mossbank had the lingering smell of fresh paint. Everything was new – the building, the teacher and the classmates.

As one of the few pupils from a local family the first baby steps into education were marked with a realisation. That was simply that the home-made tightly fitted Fair Isle ganzie was one that wouldn’t be part of the personalised school uniform – not if there was a desire to blend in with fellow pupils.

A decision was made early on to keep the ganzie to special occasions – like the tattie holidays and wearing at home. There were many who saw the Fair Isle ganzie as something to poke fun at or brand the person wearing it as a “Magnie” – the stereotypical name for a local. Of course, locals returned the compliment by branding everyone a sooth­moother. However, there was something that stuck internally – that wearing your ganzie was not really cool.

For all that, there is something about the ganzie which strikes a chord internally – somewhere deep that is not just memory. It specifically does that when you are away from Shetland.

It’s like reestit mutton and Balta biscuits – when you don’t have it you miss it. On a cold winter’s day you often wish you had the lovely scratchy Fair Isle ganzie to protect you from the bitterly cold wind. When you see someone wearing one you notice it – it’s like a big patterned beacon. Stirring thoughts of home.

Of course Fair Isle is worn by many people outside of Shetland. It has also been going through a little bit of a fashion boom, not least of course thanks (or not) to the big fashion “copy” house that is Chanel.

For someone from Shetland it’s not a trend though. When you are walking along a high street south and you see a Fair Isle ganzie or Fair Isle design you twitch and stare longingly before tut-tutting in a knowing way at the price tag before moving on wistfully.

For anyone from Shetland who has worn a ganzie (arguably that list would include hoodies and the James Morton tank top special) then the feeling of hankering after that unique and often scratchy garment is one that will be appreciated by any owner – past or present. Whether your old ganzie has been made into a Burra Bear or not quite often it is an item of clothing that forms part of our identity. An item of clothing being so closely aligned to identity is not that unusual. The most obvious example would be the kilt and Scotland.

Culture Commentary 2 660

There’s no denying that anywhere in the world if you were to ask someone to describe a Scotsman they would inevitably be wearing a kilt (and playing the bag pipes, eating haggis, reciting Burns and tossing a caber). The stereotype is one that has been embraced within culture.

Modern day weddings in Scotland often see the groom and his best man wearing kilts. That has become almost the norm. Kilts and tartan litter tourist shops and the stereotype and identity is one that is solid in its acceptance. It is celebrated and there’s no sense of shame attached – Scottish people are proud of their kilts.

Has Fair Isle reached the same dizzy heights? If we were to describe a stereotypical Shetlander would they be wearing a Fair Isle ganzie? Or, do we still hide behind the not cool feelings of the late seventies and eighties – with not enough time past to help heal that wound?

There was a time when you could safely have said yes – Fair Isle jumpers definitely are what identifies a Shetlander. That’s not the case now – in exactly the same way that Scotsmen don’t wander about every day wearing kilts.

There has been a major change though – thanks to trends and changes to our attitudes it’s no longer uncool to wear Fair Isle. 

That can only be a good thing.