Category: Comment

Intergenerational working

In our April issue of Shetland Life, we feature a piece on intergenerational working and the Inspiring Purpose Project which saw Shetland scoop the top prize at an awards ceremony in Edinburgh last year. The full feature is available in the April issue (out now). The following are the stories written about the servicemen who were selected and researched as part of this fascinating project.

We have also included a piece from the Shetland Life archive which looks at the story of ‘A Shetlander who influenced the course of World War One’ (Shetland Life, August 1987).

We hope you enjoy these stories as much as we did and please give them a share on Facebook!

Insipring Purpose Stories

Christian Tait & Aimee Williams

Morag Nicolson & Vaila Thompson

Pat Christie & Elise Rendall

Sonia & James Inkster

A Shetlander who influenced the course of World War One

Magnus Nicolson Story


Welcome to this month’s issue of Shetland Life. April has come in with a bang, the clocks have changed, and we’re beginning to really feel the returning sun in the evenings.

Join Shetland Life for this April issue as we take to the seas again, but this time we’re heading underwater to discover the fate of the Spanish Armada vessel, El Gran Grifón, with Dr Colin Martin who led excavations on the wreck in the 1970s. We also hear the poignant and tragic tale of HMS E 49 which was lost in the First World War, and Laurie Goodlad takes to the water and discovers the joy of snorkelling in the first of a series where readers are invited to Challenge the Editor.

Elsewhere, Ali Grundon Robertson talks beach cleaning, and Alex Garrick-Wright meets Dirk Robertson on the eve of his exhibition at Shetland Museum & Archives. We also welcome Misa Hay to our team, and she talks us through all things gardening in Shetland. We’re delighted to have Misa with us. She has been growing from her garden in Tingwall for a number of years, producing food for her family and the table, fresh from the garden. She writes a very inspiring blog about gardening at 60 north which you can find at

There’s so much to shout about in Shetland at the moment, and with the clocks springing forward we’re now enjoying longer days, so please let us know how you spend the light nights, are you getting out into the garden or perhaps packing a picnic after work and heading to the hills? Whatever you’re up to, we love to hear about it, use our hashtag for the chance to be featured online or in the magazine #myshetlandlife.

It’s been encouraging to see so many new subscribers joining our readership and signing up to the printed magazine subscription during the first three months of 2019. Remember you can subscribe to Shetland life online at and let us know if you have any comments or suggestions at

As ever, have a great month and enjoy Shetland Life –  OUT NOW!

After dark special

The nights are fair drawing in. Luckily, Shetland abounds with opportunities to get involved in creative projects and make the most of these long dark evenings.

Our October celebrates all that nocturnal Shetland has to offer: from pub life to night classes.  Alex Garrick-Wright meets with Isleburgh Drama Group and Frankie Valente draws on an inspirational friend for some winter project ideas.

Draw the curtains, light the fire and enjoy!


Love Island

Summer’s a romantic time of year, isn’t it? Long walks on the beach, secluded picnics in the sun, and warm evenings that never seem to end. Romance is in the air, and this month Shetland Life is taking a look at love — celebrating it, reminiscing about it, and seeking it out in the first place. We’ve looked at love in Shetland from many different angles to make sure there’s something for everyone.

So whether you’re leafing through as you idly swipe away on Tinder, or you’re curled up with your sweetheart, read on and enjoy!

The girl in the photograph

Life story
If you don’t believe in fate; read on. Dale Smith recounts a real-life love story of chance that might just change your mind.

The large framed photograph, currently hanging in Isles­burgh Community Centre’s Room 9, had intrigued the staff for years. Not even the long-established employees knew who the two teenage girls pictured were. All that changed one day when Janice Drummond confirmed that one of the girls  was her auntie.

What is a Shetlander?

What is a Shetlander?

As an incomer to these islands I’ve found that this question can result in heated debate. Some folk believe that a Shetlander can be anyone who lives here; others maintain that your family needs to have been in Shetland for at least two generations before you can go making any such claims for yourself. Then of course, there are all kinds of Shetlander definitions in between these two poles.

Genevieve White, Editor

Talking Trump

A certain Mr Trump was the subject of the Althing’s February debate. Speaking for the motion “Trump: we got what we deserved” were Donald S. Murray and Thor Holt. Speaking against the motion were Jonathan Wills and Ryan Thomson.

Thor Holt and Ryan Thomson were kind enough to share their post-debate reflections and analysis with Shetland Life. You can read what Jonathan Wills and Donald S. Murray had to say in the print version of the magazine (out on February the 3rd).

Thor Holt

Having experienced the Althing for myself, I’m here to tell you that Shetlanders in general, and Althing attendees in particular, are unique. Actually, I was so gratified to have been asked to speak at Althing, which has no equal I’m aware of elsewhere in the UK, that I made the trip North just to get involved.
My argument was based on what I labelled “The Pogues Effect”.
In September 1988, my younger Brother Luke gave me a Pogues album for my fifteenth birthday. The trouble was, I instantly lost it, and while searching the house, found Mum in the Kitchen feeding the unlistened to cassette into our cooking Aga.

“Mum! What are you doing?!
“Thor, I’m sorry, but this music is evil!”

To be fair to Mum, it was called Rum Sodomy and the Lash, so her assumption of unpleasantness was perhaps not without reason. Like many folk these days, by age 15 I was an atheist, so didn’t do “evil”, “the devil” or indeed religion of any kind.
What was the result of the Pogues burning incident? You’ve guessed it. I went out and bought everything I could find by The Pogues, listened to it incessantly, often while drinking. Shane McGowan would have been proud of me.
This reaction by my loving, caring Mother, who was only trying to protect me from something she saw as unpleasant, is exactly why Trump got elected. Allow me to explain…
Three parts of US society; the old legacy media, establishment political dynasties, and the celebrity plus billionaire class had an understandable reaction against ‘The Donald’, who they perceived as unpleasant or even evil. Some of this was for good reason, some for fairly evident self-serving reasons.
However, by so doing, they built up a religious fervour which just made Trump more interesting, and voters all the more likely to listen or “buy into him”. And of course, just like an underage drinker listening to music he’s been told not to, many soon-to-be voters who’d been “ordered” not to vote Trump, didn’t tell pollsters their voting intentions either! “Evil Trump” religious fervour made that too uncomfortable.
There were of course, other crucial factors leading to The Trump win. Truly pivotal were the “speak blunt truth to power” whistleblowers, Wikileaks. The fact is, Hilary was perceived as “damaged goods” and once it was leaked that Bernie never had a fair chance, the rot really set in. Trump, with his willingness to say what many felt they are no longer allowed to, attracted worker votes, including perhaps surprisingly, three times as many Muslim Americans as had voted for Romney in 2012.
With challenges like Brexit, and the migrant crisis, many parts of Europe are becoming increasingly insulated, as individuals only engage online, and won’t select to hear opposing points of view.

Thor Holt is an executive coach, trained actor, and former TEDx speaker who believes everyone should be free to make a bigger impact. In 2011 he founded a communication training business to serve the energy, legal, higher education, and entrepreneurial sectors.

Ryan Thomson

When I was asked to speak at the Althing on the topic of Trump, I accepted without thinking twice. I was delighted to have been asked. I also thought, given I am standing for Council for the North Isles ward in May, that the opportunity to practise some public speaking wasn’t something I could pass up. Naturally, not being a Trump fan, I chose to speak against the motion, believing that we did not get what we deserved.
It was a very cleverly written motion, and much of the debate was spent picking through who “we” actually were. The UK? Shetland? The attendees of the Staney Hill Hall that evening? Mankind?
The foundation of my argument was that we could not possibly have deserved Donald Trump, simply because we were not able to vote or affect the vote in any way. We gave warnings to our cousins across the pond and the very highest politicians in the land informed the USA they would not like to see Mr Trump as President.
I gave examples of Mr Trump’s personality, providing evidence through numerous quotations as to the man’s character, touching on the fact he received 3 million less votes then Mrs Clinton thus losing the “popular vote”.
However there was nothing myself or my partner, the experienced Althinger Dr Jonathan Wills could do to persuade the attendees that evening that we did not deserve Mr Trump. Indeed, it was the excellent arguments of the equally experienced Donald Murray and his partner Thor Holt who won over the audience and eventually the debate.

Ryan Thomson is the director of Tagon Stores in Voe. In May this year he will stand as an independent candidate for the North Isles ward.

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.

November Comment by Vaila Wishart

We are different from other parts of Scotland. There are aspects of our culture which are distinctive and we’re fortunate that people are passionate about keeping them.

Take knitting, for example. When it stopped being taught in our schools an army of (mainly) grannies took over to make sure the knowledge is passed on to the next generation. Dialect and fiddle are still taught in schools, and are also alive and thriving in our homes.

Our weather, an acquired taste if ever there was one, combined with wildlife, geography, geology, archaeology and history, gives this little archipelago a character of its own and we celebrate these differences with festivals and other events throughout the year.

Other areas have singular traditions too. Our next-door neighbour to the south, for example, has a completely different dialect and culture as well as landscape.

There are not many political differences with other parts of Scotland, but there have been attempts in the past to make it so. The Shetland Movement’s desire for more autonomy was all well and good, but some of us recollect that the lovers of all things Scandinavian over Scottish reduced the council’s reserves to almost nothing with rash investments and uncontrolled spending. Yet there are still folk around who quote the shining example of Faroe, conveniently forgetting that when it went bankrupt it had to be bailed out by Denmark.

Some use the Falklands as a good example of what could be achieved if we had more control over our own affairs. The Overseas Territory of the Falklands (population less than 3,000) does have millions in reserves from fishing rights yet pupils have to go to England to do their A levels and stay there if they want further or higher education. That’s a wee bit further than a trip from the Ness or the West Side into Lerwick.

If press reports are correct, the recently-launched Wir Shetland group believes we would be millions better off if we left the EU and became a British Overseas Territory, taking control not only of fishing rights and oil and gas, but the entire economy. Who exactly is going to relinquish those rights?

Overseas territories are often islands where people stash their cash to avoid paying tax or are strategic military bases. Neither of those options appeal. The mini-nationalists of Wir Shetland, one of whom thinks so much of the place that he doesn’t even live here, appear to be mainly of the Tory variety.

The kind of policies Tories pursue are currently apparent in Westminster: look after the wealthy and kick the poor. That’s not the kind of Shetland I want to live in.

Sharing knowledge and discussing mutual concerns with folk in other parts of the country is a good way of finding solutions to our current problems. We’re not so different from other areas in wanting more local control. Those involved in Our Islands Our Future are working on aspects of it, but it takes time and needs a good case to be made in a reasoned way with those who do hold power in order to make progress.

Playing Stop The World We Want To Get Off is not likely to hold much sway with the politicians in either Westminster, Holyrood or Brussels. Perhaps a better title for Wir Shetland would be Wir Fantasists.

Razor clams – spoots to thee and me – were once an occasional treat for us coastal dwellers. They have now become a delicacy prized by gourmets and fashionistas in posh city restaurants. A recent Sunday Herald article spelled out the consequences. Down the West Coast of Scotland spoots are threatened by overfishing; in some cases by electro-fishing, which is not permitted in Scottish waters.

Furthermore, illegal fishing, if done in waters which have not been classified as fit for consumption, can lead to food poisoning, but with shedloads of money to be made, that is not something that bothers illegal fishers.

There are calls for better policing of this lucrative trade. While there have been a few prosecutions, fisheries minister Richard Lochhead is quoted as saying the government is determined to enforce the law. And so it should.

Fashion is hard to avoid in any aspects of “lifestyle” (dreadful word) and food is one of the casualties of this fickle industry. Over the decades changing fashions can leave us bemused.
We have been urged, for the good of our health of course, 
to go to work on an egg, to 
drink milk, then semi-skimmed, then skimmed, to avoid dairy products and eat margarine, eat cereal for breakfast, eat a Mediterranean diet (in this climate!), eat raw vegetables, avoid red meat, eat berries because they are superfoods, drink more red wine, avoid alcohol – it’s all fashion mixed with pseudo-science.

Best to ignore it and just stick to a balanced diet. You won’t catch me falling for any of that nonsense. Now where did I put 
my yuzu juice and the chia seeds…