Sunday, September 30, 2007
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Thursday, September 27, 2007
woken in the wee small hours to the thrumming and rumbling of heavy
machinery. In the absolute silence of a Shetland night, such sounds
are magnified tenfold. Noisy nights could be expected if this place
was a vast urban conurbation, but it's not, it's a small island where
the sheep probably outnumber the humans. At the first sound outside,
I woke in darkness, wondering what on earth was going on. Voices,
splashes, sounds of metal ringing on stone and under it all, a
generator rumbling and coughing into life. In the pitch black of a
Scalloway night, my neighbour had turned on floodlights and could be
seen hurling concrete into a mixer with gay abandon prior to doing a
spot of recreational wall building and pickaxe wielding. He was doing
this a scant thirty feet away from where I clung to the edge of my
futon and profoundly dammed his eyes.
Monday night, the show began at 2 a.m and finished at dawn. Tuesday
night was a later performance, beginning at 2.40 a.m and finishing at
dawn. Last night it began at 3.15 a.m. and by then I was so sleep-
deprived and desperate, I climbed downstairs and phoned the police.
Curtain came down twenty minutes later. There were no encores.
Yeah, I know. You think I should have gone out and spoken to the
insanely insomniac concrete-mixer and pick-wielder myself. You think
it was a bit...cowardly and mean of me to sic the law on him? You can
see it, hmmm? You would've done that, eh? Got your clothes on,
grabbed a torch ( it's pitch dark out there - no streetlights - the
floodlights are for his benefit, not for community illumination) and
gone next door to remonstrate with a neighbour you've never met. A
very strong neighbour ( you should have seen the vast stones he was
hefting around - phhhwoarrrrrr) with a pickaxe. Yeah, right. Sure you
So. Silence blankets the shore tonight. I'm flailing around in a
sleep-deprived fog, trying to stay awake long enough to draw a
cartoon promoting, announcing and introducing the first meeting of a
Stitch and Bitch group in Lerwick. I hope I have cojones enough to go
back to the shop where I was initially rebuffed for enquiring as to
the possibility of there being such a group already in existence in
Shetland. Go back to the shop and ask if they'll be good enough to
put up the poster that I ought to be Getting On With instead of
The idea behind the S & B being that if you build it, they will come.
But if you build it in the middle of the bloody night, your neighbour
will grass you up bigtime.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
children tucked up with a long-distance word from their mama and I'm
wrapping myself around Martin Taylor's sleepy, smoky jazzy riffs for
late-night grown-ups and wondering if I'll ever get to be good enough
to improvise a few of my own. Today the fiddle part of Fiddle and
Pins was hauled out blinking into the grey daylight of a wet and
misty afternoon, actually a wet morning too and probably, after I
finish here, an unbelievably wet evening as well. Last night's concert
reminded me that music can be the best company ever, even if you're a
crap musician like me. One of the joys of electric violins is that
while I'm going through this hideously discordant re-acquaintance
with my fiddle, I'm near as dammit inaudible.
Trust me, this is a blessing. On an acoustic violin I'd sound ten
times more ferkin' awful than I do now. But now, I can saw away and
feel like I'm really sounding not too bad, mainly because all I can
hear is whatever genius I'm jamming ( I use this word loosely) along
It does give me a completely illusory feeling of playing well, and at
this stage in the game, that can only be a good thing, because if I
could really hear what I sounded like, I'd consign my little black
bendy fiddle to its case and never let it see daylight again. So
today I've played along with Afro Celt Sound System, Charlie Haden &
Pat Metheny, Martin Taylor, Martyn Bennet and Jesse Cook. In my
imagination I'm up there in front of a wall of Marshall amps, speaker
towers, decks and...oh do shut UP, you at the back, I know I'm a sad
Today the World of Real Work As Opposed To residency work sent an
email wondering if I'd had any thoughts regarding a cover for The
Trouble with Dragons. I hear the sound of distant whips, I fear. It's
odd, having crossed the tipping point of the residency and cantering
towards the home run enables me to hear what has largely been
inaudible until now. And what do I hear, pray?
I can't deny
I heard it once
It said 'Goodbye'.
Amazing how I've managed to tune out the normal background hum of
money-related anxieties. I really feel about a million miles away
from all that nonsense. But, alas, we have to eat, shoe the children
and keep the roofs from blowing off, so perforce, I have to nail my
nose back to the grindstone. I mean I haven't exactly been taking it
easy, but I have taken time out to do stuff that feeds the soul
rather than the maw of Mammon. I don't want to give the false
impression that the residency has been one long sojourn in the Big
Easy, but I am all too aware that pretty soon I'll have to re-engage
with The Moderately-Sized Difficult.
Cue the Cajun music. Ma jolie blonde va gris maintenant. Zydeco
filles go wahhhhhh. Iko, iko stay here.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Today, at the gym, my precioussssss noisypod died on me, and no
amount of rescucitation and restoring and restarting and reloading
can bring it back from the dead. I am, as I speak, digging it a very
small grave and will consign it to the great Apple in the sky just as
soon as I come up with an apposite piece of music to hum at its funeral.
All suggestions welcome.
A pod-less planet looks pretty bleak to me. Not to mention the sheer
impossibility of doing any exercise whatsoever without the noisypod
to fire me up and set me going. What? No music? Phwoarrrr. Fergeddit.
In that case, I may as well sit back on my couch in the potato
position and commence The Consumption of Chocolate. Tried to log on
to Apple and buy a pale, shuffling substitute, but couldn't even
manage to do that. Dial-up is crap for online shopping, a fact which
has saved me a fortune, but which, as of now, is a royal pain in the
ass. I want a pod, and I want it, if not now, then next week, weather
I'm trying to make light of this but...inside I'm looking down the
long Black Tunnel To The Time of Complan and Zimmers. Is this the
beginning of The End? First the i-pod goes, then the i-sight, closely
followed by the i-deas and on and on, until the floor is littered
with teeth, hair, prostheses and the only thing left to look forward
to is when Nurse swings by to turn the l i-ghts out.
Opened a little red box posted from home and discovered two posies of
sweetpeas, only slightly crumpled after their long journey to
Shetland. This tender gift reduced me to a state of hiccuppy sobs,
which I'm sure was not their sender's intention. Sweetpeas now
gracing my table in a teapot, their petals unfolding in soft shades
of pink and lilac. A little reminder of a garden that is still
blossoming a long way south from here.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
eyes. To hope that there is a greater world beyond the temporal,
beyond the world of the senses, beyond this world of 'stuff'. Some
days I can believe in the vision of an emerald green beyond; other
days I shudder to think that the home planet and all her wriggling,
striving, breeding billions are all there ever was, or will be.
Today, your upbeat narrator has some difficulty in finding any joy in
counting herself as part of the human race. Today, I am revolted by
my tacit collusion in the horrors going on in Iraq. Had I not been
reading the Guardian's recent extracts from Naomi Klein's new book
'The Shock Doctrine : The Rise of Disaster Capitalism' I could
cheerfully have continued forgetting that every day since Iraq was
invaded, there has been a dirty war rumbling away on the other side
of the world.
In the interests of my own mental health, I am quite good at
forgetting. Some things are too foul to bear too much daylight being
shed upon them. Some things are too shameful to be spoken of.
Forgetting is easier, tidier and allows me to sleep at night.
Thankfully, I don't have to deal with this kind of stuff every day of
my life or else I would be unable to continue with the simplest of
Like drawing breath.
Every time I fill my tank, every time I turn on a light, every time I
buy some manufactured item without an impeccable pedigree ( hand-
crafted from local ingredients, grown organically, harvested by well-
paid workers, minimally packaged etcetera ; though the 'sourcing' of
such faultless items is an exhausting task in itself, so sometimes I
lapse and buy something with a potentially dirty history) every time
I connect ( as a consumer) with the world of big business, I am
connecting with the same world that is raping the people and the
country of Iraq.
Ergo - I am part of the problem. Therefore, I am responsible. Tracing
back the lineage of suppliers of our everyday goods can lead to the
uncomfortable truth ; we are all part of the problem. With the best
will in the world, some of us have been buying goods from the same
companies who are making billions in the 'rebuilding' of Iraq.
That's the same country we destroyed from the ground up. It exists
beyond the grey images on our television screens. Or, should I say it
existed. Now it's a war zone of our own making. Every time we filled
our tanks, we were part of it. Every time we did nothing to stop the
war. Every time we silently colluded, turned away from the carnage
and taught ourselves to forget. Every time we self-medicated with the
many drugs we use to keep our forgetting at an acceptable level. We
read on, skipped channels, scrolled over the bits about collateral
damage and turned instead to the accounts of a houseful of human
puppets jerking about to the dictates of the media.
There's an obscenity at the heart of our society that fills me with
horror. Every time I connect to the internet, my inbox fills up with
foul matter which I am forced to wade through to get to my work-
related emails. This is the same foul matter that we wade through in
our newspapers and televisions in order to get to the stuff which
interests us. We are drowning in a sea-tide of foulness, and slowly,
inexorably, we are developing an ability to ignore it, to tune it out
and not to let it upset us. We are slowly adapting to a climate
change within the human spirit. This kind of adaptation is dangerous
in the extreme. For if we lose the ability to empathize with our
fellow-humans, then we lose part of our humanity, and that, as
history has shown, is very bad news indeeed.
Only connect, someone once said. It's one of my favourite
instructions for how to live this life. Connect ourselves to every
living soul, connect to our beautiful planet, connect to the fact
that we are all part of one vast, living organism. All of us,
connected. Each of us responsible for each other.
Monday, September 10, 2007
excitement for one weekend, or for one girl. Regrets have I none.
As well as doing two full-on children's events* at Wordplay
( Shetland's annual book festival), my past four evenings have been
spent hurling food down my neck in time to leg it across Lerwick in
time to watch special screenings of several films curated for
Screenplay ( Shetland's first film festival) by Mark Kermode. Mark's
next venture almost as soon as he lands back on Blighty is to fly
out to the US and interview Neil Young of the nasal voice and less-
than-cheerful-subject matter songwise.
Yeah. That Neil Young. Anyway, watching Mark's choice of films and
hearing the directors and editors of said films come up on stage
after the screenings to talk to him about their work was utterly
fabulous. Although I was dragging myself back over the hills to
Scalloway at ungodly times of night under the red and unblinking eyes
of the windmills, it was well worth it. Even the films I didn't like
were worth staying up to watch. Much in the same way as writers and
books are demystified by seeing authors at book festivals, so too
were the films and their auteurs. Ken Russell was programmed to
appear, but was taken ill shortly before the film festival began. His
editor Michael Bradsell came, though, and talked long into the night
about what it was like to be involved with making such screen
classics as 'The Devils' and 'Women in Love'. Both shown in their
restored, uncut, director's cut version.
I won't bang on and on about what that was like except to say that
the banned orgy scene in 'The Devils' faded into near risibility
beside some of today's tamer episodes of that godawful live-action
television series which I refuse to name. Mhmmm. That one. Actually,
come to think of it, Ken Russell actually appeared on said godawful
etcetera. Make your own connections there.
Also saw Ian Rankin-inspired 'Reichenbach Falls' ( weird seeing Ian's
beloved Edinburgh used as a backdrop when I'm in Shetland. Did not
feel even remotely homesick) which was a neat bit of entertainment
made on two quid, three buttons and a paperclip. Heard the director
and producer discuss how one goes about putting together seventy-five
minutes of film on an impossibly tight budget. Also saw 'The Flying
Scotsman'; the true story of the young clinically depressed cyclist
who cobbled together a racing bike made out of old washing machine
parts and went on to break world records with his Frankenstein creation.
Also heard some astonishing poetry written in response to the work of
several craftspersons. In some cases these collaborations were true
marriages of heart and mind - a poem about a selkie, with all that
implicit elemental erotic imagery coupled with the lush softness of
a hand-felted piece cut to resemble seagrasses. To call this a scarf
and the words a poem, is to miss the point, I think. Then there was
a bookbinder who bound a brutal and brilliant work about war into the
form of a ziggurat which unfolded, accordion-like to reveal series of
black and white pared-down images illustrating the escalating menace
in the poet's words.
Then had my socks blown off by singer-songwriter Lise Sinclair's
launch of her cd 'Ivver entrancin' wis'. And it was. As was I.
Utterly entranced by not only Lise's voice, but the songs for voice
and cello and harp which she had composed and sung in response to a
selection of poems, old and new. Collaboration across the disciplines
appears to be key. As one who has worked for her whole life on her
own, I find the notion of working closely across the artforms to be
pretty revolutionary. Obviously, I don't get out much, or even enough.
Then there was the crack in the green room. Or should that be
'craic'? What is the Shetland equivalent? I think those were some of
the best conversations I've ever had in my entire working life. Damn.
It was so good you could've bottled the spirit and sold it as a
Distiller's Cut. Normally, the green room is the last place you'd
want to be before an event, except when you're performing, there's
nowhere else to go. Whooooo. I've been in some hideous ones -
watching famous authors getting hammered on bathtubs of champagne,
famous authors turning up with their own homeland security, famous
authors air-kissing anyone they think they can use, famous authors
demanding drugs, famous authors being famously prick-like...yeah,
well, you can imagine how gruesome that can be. Compare and contrast
the green room at Shetland where a tableful of persons with literary
pulling-power were discussing their favourite soups and how we could
all give up the daily grind down the word-mine and initiate
Shetland's inaugural Soup Festival.
My ribs hurt from laughing so much. My throat sounds like I've been
chewing gravel. The bags under my eyes have got bags...and I confess,
I haven't touched the fiddle or the pins all weekend.
Tong peas is what I say.
* By full-on I mean Little Red Riding Hood ( the Shetland version
would sound something like Peerie Rid ) taking a shark to her Granny,
who lives in a concrete hut (with some resemblance to a public
toilet) a long way away along the beach. The beach and the hooded one
were mine, but the rest came from my audience of loudly inventive
persons of small stature.
The other part of full-on was a small excursion into live dragon-
birth complete with grunts and heavings. Hey ho. All in a day's work.
Nnnnrgh, uh, uh, uh, nnnnnrghhhh....pop, waaaaaahhhhhhhhh.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
On the floor of my little Shetland abode is a tangle of cabling which might possibly have previously belonged to Emerson Lake and Palmer. The fact that all this snaky stuff is located directly below my sleeping platform (1) is a tad alarming. Better not fall down the ladder in the middle of the night, only to become ensnared in cables and crash to the floor again. That would only confirm my status as village idiot even more irrevocably in the eyes of the local population.(2)
Despite being in knitter's knirvana, I'm coming up against blank wall every time I try to find something like a group. My bleatings of -isn't there a 'stitch and bitch' here?- are met with polite puzzlement. My search to find the fabled knitter who divides her time between Shetland and New Zealand produced a disappointment so acute I almost sat down and wept in the wool shop. The knitter in question sails off to Aberdeen tonight and then flies out to NZ next week. I won't meet her after all, and I had rather hoped that she might be able to introduce me to a coven of proper knitters who might pluck my pins out of my trembling hands and say - look, pet, here's how it's done.The lady in the knitting shop who passed on this information referred to there being a 'sooth-moothed' weavers and stitchers thing at a gallery/woolmill in the west of the island. By sooth-moothed, I infer she meant 'soft-southerners with their interfering appropriation of Shetland inter-generational crafts'.
You have to admit, sooth-moothed is a hell of a lot easier to say.
After she said that, I decided it was time to go. Today, in the pouring rain , wind and lowwwwww clouds, I drove to find this woolmill. Got there, only to find it had closed today to take down an exhibition, so there was no contact made there either. The drive had meant to encompass a walk, but it was so disgustingly cold and wet and dreich outside that I couldn't face it. The mill is situated nest to a rare stand of trees ( Shetland is not known for its forests), so that was a lovely find because I've lately realised that I need reference points from the natural world to convince me that we're moving from season to season. Trees are the perfect thing.
In the absence of climate markers, you understand. It rained in the spring, it rained in the summer and now it's autumn, guess what?
1. Sleeping platform. Yeeees. This is, technically, a misnomer. It's a toss and turn and twitch fitfully platform. With scant futon involvement. On a futon-as-biscuit scale running from Carr's Table Water through to Custard Creams, I'd say I was sleeping on a Rich Tea. Need I say more?
2. First hour on the island, I went to the village store to buy milk for the cup of coffee which I was hoping would reorientate me to my true Italian nature. So. I am shy. Stop snorting at the back. I AM shy. At first. I've never been here before. I don't want to stand out, so I'm wearing deepest battered goretex and wellies, just like everyone else. I'm in the shop, making my purchases, thinking - hey, this is cool. Here I am in my foreign destination, and nobody knows who I am. I might even be a local and it's great and...my mobile text alert went off somewhere deep in a pocket ( one of twelve, three of which are so inaccessible, amputation of arms is necessary to access them) in goretex jacket) and in loud tones, everyone was treated to - 'rrrrr, message from the Dark Side there is'.
Oh. My. God.