Wednesday, June 12, 2013

If only they'd copyrighted the name 'Internet'...

Back in the 1960s, this was mobile wireless technology. Interestingly, 'Internet' appears to have been an actual company, based at 100-102 Beckenham Road, Beckenham. Or, as the instruction leaflet insists, 'Beekenham'. 

Terrible name. It was never going to catch on...

Thanks to Jim from Paisley for sending me this, way back in the mists of morning broadcasting...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gathering winter fuel...in summer. To the peat hill!




I would like to say I cut those peats, But I did not. My vintage tushkar has lain unused for many years. Our friend Lornie did the job, and there's enough fuel there to see us through several winters, even with the new, mighty, all-consuming Rayburn.

The thing with peat is the number of actions necessary before actually achieving burning: Clearing the hill, flaying ('fleeing') or clearing the initial turf layer, cutting (and consequent creation of the 'peat dyke' pictured), which in Shetland is a one-person job, usually a man's. Then there's raising (putting into little piles for further drying), followed by the stage I don't know the name of where you put them in bigger piles for even more drying. 

Then you have to get them home. Either by bagging them (old salmon feed or fertiliser bags) then barrowing them to the road, then loading onto a trailer, taking them home, emptying the bags and finally stacking the individual peats. OR, you can get a tractor or quad with a trailer and just put the dried peats in loose, emptying it out at home and stacking.

However you look at it, it's seriously labour intensive. 

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Isles at the mercy of an indifference to all but profit: My Shetland Times column


Spaekalation - Tom Morton

Published in The Shetland Times, 31st May 2013

Singing. I can distinctly remember singing.But we were all so drunk it's hard to be sure. it was sing, moan or weep. Certainly, the attractive woman - a complete stranger - in the next seat was, if not bellowing out a tune, gently humming to herself while hanging onto my arm. I may have been singing the weel-kent hymns  everyone else was: Nearer My God To Thee. Westering Home With a Song in the Air. What do you mean, that's not a hymn? Kenneth McKellar sang it. It must be. 

Death was staring us in the face. And to be truthful, we were quite euphoric about it. All those British Airways miniatures, handed out in bunches every time the Budgie stood on its tail and abandoned its approach to Sumburgh at the very last possible minute. The pilot's reassuring  posh murmur, all Biggles of 266, as each attempt to land was abandoned amid howling engines and screeching propellers, not to mention the occasional scream from the more sober and less choral passengers. And finally: "ladies and gentlemen, I'm sorry that low cloud has prevented us landing at Sumburgh. We will now return to Aberdeen, where arrangements will be made for those fo you without accommodation.

Ah, British Airways. Not British Airways palming everything off on Loganair. Not Flybe chartering Loganair, or whatever the business arrangement is. And the Budgies, the Hawker Siddeley 748s, they were tough old aircraft. I always preferred the Viscounts, with their gigantic picture windows and slight whiff of an age when air travel was for those and such as those. And  there was even a time, bairns, when you could smoke! Viscounts had ashtrays! Never was there a situation more perfect for smoking, as you birled around the sky, waiting for The End. What? Smoking not good for you? Who cared?

Now it's mouldering old Saabs with the internal furnishings scabby and tarnished, dirty, scratched and scored. The crews seem uniformly excellent, but there is no drink, not a drop, and certainly not for free. Good grief, there were days when stewards and stewardesses (are we even allowed to use that term anymore?) would hand out courtesy bags with half a dozen wee bottles of whisky to get you home. Heaven help you now if, in flight, you're seen sipping from a wee flask of uisge beatha. You are clearly an evil drunk and will be summarily bundled out of the emergency exit, a small parachute stapled to your buttocks.

Anyway. Back to my British Airways adventure, in the days of the Budgie. In Aberdeen, we were bussed to a hotel, given dinner and drinks, a room for the night and  let's face it, we had a bit of a party. The same thing happened in Wick, years later, when a Lerwick bound Loganair flight was stranded by snow. Though on that occasion, only dire threats persuaded Loganair to do anything more than lock us in the terminal overnight. A decade later, I still get Christmas cards from one of the tourists who was aboard that flight (Shorts 360. A terrible, aeroplane, the 'Flying Skip').

How different from the way My esteemed wife and other passengers were treated last week after Sumburgh was closed by fog. As was fully reported in this blatt,they were insulted and patronised by ground staff, greeted with indifference and unhelpfulness by SercoLink  people when they were dumped by FlyLoganberry in their reluctant Kirkwallian arms. And why couldn't they have diverted to Scatsta, anyway? One telephone call was all it would have taken. Instead, the suggestion that Scatsta was a possibility almost got Susan thrown out of the airport. As for Sercolink's PR response - strident fictionalisation of what really happened is not good enough.

I was glad to see our MSP 'Mac' Tavish taking up the rhetorical cudgels on the passengers' behalf. Then, on Tuesday, Susan was forced to use Flybynight for a day trip to Aberdeen. She ended up being bumped off the flight home, due, apparently, to a technical difficulty with the aeroplane, and not, presumably, because her name is now on some sort of blacklist. Only the intervention of a gentleman who better remain nameless and offered to stay behind instead of her meant she made it back to the Island of Many Swimming Pools that day.

We in Shetland are at the mercy of Serco and Flyboy. They control us utterly, in terms of travel and trade. These are companies with no interest in the islands they supposedly service, no cultural connection, no history and no moral imperative of public service. They are mealy-mouthed money making enterprises whose trade is our safety, our economy and our ability to move to and from the mainland of Scotland. They do not appear to care, and they must be made to.

I hate to appear to wallow in nostalgia, but thinking back to British Airways: I remember one flight to Inverness from Glasgow when the pilot, on a beautiful snowy evening, flew at low level up Loch Lomond and the Great Glen, inviting any of the few passengers aboard into the cockpit in turns. I remember the kindness of cabin staff when we travelled with babes in arms, or on at least one occasion, when I travelled with the Worst Hangover in the World. And I remember the time Susan took part in an emergency helicopter evacuation from the St Sunniva, and P&O's gratitude...

 But that was then. This is now. Our ships are run by a prison company, and our aeroplanes by folk from Exeter. And they expect us to be grateful.

end