You know what makes me grumpy? All the Grumpy Old Men who appeared on the BBC TV series were younger than me, that's what makes me grumpy. Mutter, mutter....

The Grumpy Old Artist

The Grumpy Old Artist
Would YOU pose for this man???

Exhibition Poster

Exhibition Poster
Catterline Event, 2011

Oil Painting by Jim Tait

Oil Painting by Jim Tait
Helford River, Cornwall

Oil Painting by Jim Tait

Oil Painting by Jim Tait
Full-riggers "Georg Stage" and "Danmark"

Other Recent Works

Other Recent Works
Fordyce Castle and Village

Hay's Dock, Lerwick

Shetland-model Boats at Burravoe, Yell

Tall Ships Seascape

The Tour Boat "Dunter III", with Gannets, off Noss

The "Karen Ann II" entering Fraserburgh harbour

Summer Evening, Boyndie Bay

1930s Lerwick Harbour

Johnshaven Harbour

"Seabourn Legend"

Greeting Cards!

Greeting Cards!
Now Available in Packs of Five or in Assorted Sets of Four

Tuesday, 23 December 2008


Hurrah for the direct labour force of Shetland Islands Council! The joiners arrived first, and, in a short space of time, repaired my leaky bathroom window. One of them left this verse:-

The joiners were very late
So they upset Mr Tait
Let's hope they find the right solution
Before he starts a revolution!

The plumber arrived just as I was penning this rhyme of gratitude to the housing department of the council:

Let joy and thanks be unconfined!
You have restored my peace of mind.
My bathroom window's watertight
And everything is now all right.
Well, everything except the plumbing,
But Hark! I hear the plumber coming!
Thanks are due to Mr Hughson
For making good this restitution
And thank him also for his ode -
I'll keep it next to my commode
To remind me of his labour
Given without fear or favour.
I'm grateful for the sweat and strain
To make my bathroom dry again.
I wish you all good health and cheer
A happy Christmas and New Year.

And I'm happy to report that my taps and outlet pipes are all working beautifully again. Let's hear it for the direct labour force of Shetland Islands Council!

Sunday, 21 December 2008


This week, I completed two paintings which are shown above. One was a commission, which I spent most of yesterday evening wrapping, ready for placing into the hands of Royal Mail first thing tomorrow, for onward shipment, by special delivery, to the Western Isles. My wrapping consists of copious quantities of bubble wrap and polystyrene sheeting, which protects the work from the roughest handling in transit. Thanks are due to Lloyds TSB, who supplied me with the bubble wrap, which I had spotted on their premises earlier in the week! It had arrived there around some kind of unit, which workmen were installing at the time I was there. I had promised to deliver the painting by Christmas, and I've made it - just.

The other painting is of the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland's cargo vessel "St. Rognvald", built in 1955, in heavy seas on her route between Aberdeen and the Northern Isles. This will be offered for sale at my exhibition, at Shetland Museum, which starts on St. Valentine's Day next year. Both these works are also on my website, of course.

I have continued work on the other paintings, at least one of which should be finished in time to illustrate my next post. My nephew Kenneth helped me to saw up hardboard (a task which is much easier accomplished by two people) on Monday, and, with one of the cut pieces, I started the "St. Sunniva" (II) commission, mentioned in last week's post.

Several people have called to buy prints during the week, including a couple who visited me yesterday and reported large crowds at the Toll Clock Centre, where I had been displaying my work on the previous two Saturdays. Perhaps I should have been there too, but each day I spend there is a day lost to working on my other artwork projects and, as I've stated elsewhere, I've paid my outstanding bills now, which was the main object of the exercise in the first place. Also, I'm running low on stock of some my prints now! I'll have to replenish them in the new year. Perhaps I'll have my own line in Christmas cards for next year - this is one of the many projects I have under consideration for 2009.

I hope you have a happy and peaceful Christmas.


On what has been a blustery week here in Shetland, I managed to complete all the tasks I'd set myself at the start of it, including the completed artwork, which I will describe under another heading. As the gales blew, and the rain fell horizontally, I banked money, paid my bills and got all my Christmas cards posted in time to beat the Royal Mail's deadline. I attended my physiotherapy appointment on Thursday, and promised faithfully to do my back exercises, a discipline which has sadly lapsed over the last two busy weeks. I had a few pints of lager on Tuesday and Wednesday, whch is really hitting the town for me nowadays!

I visited my mother at Whiteness on Friday, and found her as well as can be expected, given her lack of mobility. I plan to go out there to spend most of Christmas Eve and Day with her, and render what help I can with the preparations for our usual family feast. No doubt many of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will join us for what, I hope, will be the usual merry occasion.


Desperation to get my bathroom watertight and fully functional again drives me to publish the following ditty, penned by my own fair hand.


It is the season to be jolly
With lots of mistletoe and holly,
But I am in a state of gloom
Because of things in my bathroom.
My window leaks in lots of water
In a way it never ought'er.
When I have my pony and trap
The water rains into my lap.
As one who rarely ever complains
About the taps and, yes, the drains,
Which aren't really draining right,
And when I turn the tap off tight
It turns itself back on again.
It really is an awful pain.
A strange sense of impending doom
Steals on me in the smallest room.
I wonder what next will befall
When I must answer nature's call.
I need a joiner and a plumber
Preferably before next summer.
Repairman, please give me a reason
To have a joyous festive season!

In anticipation of a result from this piece of delightful doggerel, I have been cleaning my bathroom, living room and kitchen, which are now so dazzlingly bright, I am wearing shades as I write this.

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Once again, I have no new paintings to illustrate my post. My work progress on the five paintings I have under construction has continued, and I made good headway on the Harris commission, which I had promised by Christmas, to the necessary neglect of the others.

I received another commission yesterday, and stressed to the man who placed it that it wouldn't be ready in a hurry. I'm looking forward to this one, of the second vessel in the "North Boats" fleet to bear the name "St. Sunniva". She was a steamship, built around 1930, single funnelled and painted white, had a clipper bow, and was well admired by the seafaring cogniscenti of the day. She met her end during World War II, while on admiralty service off the east coast of Canada, and was lost with all hands. I hope I do her justice.


I have never been able to work satisfactorily on an easel. I found it far too yielding as I pressed my attentions onto it. My skies and seas are done with fairly violent brushstrokes, which made the thing retreat before me. To prevent this, I used to jam one of my legs behind it, which just made it bend over under the weight of my brush hand, so I put my other arm behind it to counteract this. My easel and I became engaged in a rather grotesque foxtrot around the room, until we found ourselves wedged in a corner, normally next to the door, where I belaboured my canvas until someone entered the room and knocked both of us over.

I finally gave away my easel to someone who could treat it better, and, since this unsatisfactory relationship, I have always worked flat on a table. This can affect the vertical dimensions of my artwork, so I have to watch out for this.


One of the nastier Shetland gales blew up on Friday, and continued to blow for most of Saturday, driving a large number of fishing vessels into Lerwick for shelter. The storm was accompanied by heavy rain, and I had serious doubts about the wisdom of carting my artwork down to my stall at the Toll Clock Centre. With the help of my sister Mary and her trusty Volvo, however, I did, and very glad I was that I had done so. A regular stream of customers, no doubt grateful to be out of the weather, visited my stall to buy prints, many of them taking their purchases to the nearby Camera Centre to be framed. My neighbouring stallholders also reported brisk business, and it was with a sense of satisfaction, as well as relief, that we packed up our remaining goods in the late afternoon to head homeward through the tempest. That will DEFINITELY be my last stall of 2008. Mind you, I said that last week.....

Now, on Sunday morning, I'm watching, through my window, the fishing fleet heading out again, battling through the still-heavy sea to get probably their last catch of the year. The sight of these boats plunging and risng through the swell is what first inspired me to put brush to canvas, and has continued to do so through the ensuing years.

Sunday, 7 December 2008


Progress continues to be slow on all my painting projects. I mentioned the seasonal light, or lack of it, in previous posts, and the situation will not begin to improve until the end of January. The world-famous Shetland Up-Helly-A' festival usually marks the first noticeable lengthening of the day, and I look forward to it eagerly.

I have no new commissions this week, and I'm having enough difficulty fulfilling the ones I've got. I completely obliterated the work I'd done last week on the Isle of Harris painting, and I've started it again afresh, this time making the background land features smaller, and the shoreline higher up the picture. I did a little more on the other four works, and I like the way the "Utopia" work is progressing. I think this will be a very nice seascape someday, possibly by the end of this incoming week - who knows?


A fortnight ago, after I'd spent a day, in sub-zero temperatures, trying to sell my prints and postcards to a non-existent clientele at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre, I swore I would never darken the door of that place again. Which is why I set off there again yesterday to have another attempt. This time it was different though. There was no snow, the roads were clear, and a goodly number of eager shoppers were thronging the centre. I sold lots of prints and postcards, making the effort of getting my stuff there and setting the stall up well worthwhile. I met many old friends, including my neighbouring stallholder, jeweller Sue Hudson, and made many new ones. Perhaps the highlight of the day was selling a print to our MSP Tavish Scott - I'm very pleased about that! And now I'm thinking about next Saturday - should I?.......


My mother was due home from her fortnight's respite care on Monday, so I took a break from the tedious business of artwork creation, and went out to Whiteness to see that everything was ready for her arrival. The weather was fair, if a little chilly, and all seemed well at the house. A warning had gone out previously about an interruption to the water supply that day, but, if it happened, I wasn't aware of it. I advanced the central heating, saw that she had a supply of essential food and drink, and busied myself with a few small jobs around the place. She arrived in the afternoon and my sister Mary arrived soon afterwards. I made us a meal, and, while I washed up afterwards, Mary filled the back of the car with rubbish which had been left in the garage from prior home improvement projects. In the evening, we left our mother well settled in to home life again, and called along the Rova Head dump, to dispose of the contents of the back of the car, on the way back to my flat. I just hope and pray that my mother manages OK at home, with no mishaps.


Now this is embarrassing, and I feel such a fool. I think I've discovered the reason for my discomfort round my midriff and the base of my spine - my trouser-belt is too tight. Oh, the shame of it! All I've got to do is slacken off my belt, and the pain decreases. Never mind if my strides fall down, my agony has abated. I have ordered two sets of braces from a reputable company, and I look forward to an unconstricted future in which joy is unconfined.

As a consequence of this revelation, and a foul temper on Thursday morning, I cancelled my physiotherapy appointment that day, feigning sickness.

Sunday, 30 November 2008


Well, blow me down, shiver me timbers and hang me from the yardarm! I signed up for the forums (or should that be fora) on, hoping to get some information I needed about some old Moray Firth fishing vessels, which I am going to portray for the Duff House exhibition next June.

I had to introduce myself to the other forum members, so I wrote a little about my origins, what I do, and made a reference to my website for anyone who might be interested in my artwork. I left this posting, and more or less forgot about it, planning to use the forum to seek the information I required the following evening.

WELL! Next thing I knew, visitors were arriving at my website in their droves, and suddenly I realised that I had happened upon a good SEO weapon. Mind you, I haven't found out the information I originally required yet.


I received another commision this week, for a painting of the motor boat "Laerling", which was used mainly as a diving support boat, and taking visitors for trips to the island bird sanctuary of Noss, until the operators retired about ten years ago, at which point she was sold to Danish owners. She was a fine-looking vessel, about 40 feet long, with sleek and curvy lines.

Otherwise, progress has been slow this week. I now have 5 paintings on the "stocks", at various stages of incompletion, and this is a bad time of year for getting paint-work done. We only have about 6 hours of usable daylight, assuming it isn't overcast, in the depths of a Shetland winter, and I don't use artificial light, as it distorts colour. I need a good week of uninterrupted effort to make the amount of headway I'd like, and it's not going to start tomorrow. I'm off to Whiteness, to see that everything is ready for my mother's homecoming from Wastview care centre, and to make a meal for her when she arrives. Normal service will be resumed on Tuesday.

The weather has been quiet for most of this week - fine and frosty for most of the time, after a blustery start.


Off I went, on Monday, to attend my first physiotherapy appointment at the Gibert Bain Hospital (which we Shetlanders affectionately and appropriately refer to as the GBH). Karen, the physiotherapist, prodded all round my spine and asked a whole lot of pertinent questions, then made me do some exercises which are to form part of my daily routine from now until Thursday 4th December, the date of my next appointment. Now, routines and I don't get on, and I'm supposed to do mine twice daily. On Tuesday I forgot about it completely, on Wednesday I did it once, on Thursday twice, Friday once, and totally forgot about it again on Saturday. Writing this blog reminded me about it, so I've just done it again. Actually I don't know if the problem is spinal at all - the pain is just as liable to be round the sides of what used to be my waist as in my back. What I've probably got is a recurrence of my hypochondria!

Sunday, 23 November 2008


My uselessness at all practical matters to do with DIY is legendary. So, when the lampholder on my 30-odd-year-old standard lamp began to disintegrate, crackling alarmingly in the process, I was very nervous about replacing it, for fear of plunging Shetland into its darkest winter since the Vikings invaded. However, I was surprised when my workmanship actually produced the desired result on this occasion, and the lamp is now glowing a happy warm orange, in the corner of the room, as I write this. For me this is a result, an achievement!

In the meantime, the skill of the Shetland Islands Council's labour force, manifesting itself in a lot of banging and scraping, seems to have prevailed against the leak in my roof. I'll know for certain when the next wet westerly gale arrives - and I shouldn't have long to wait for that!


On Wednesday, I went out to Strand for tea with my sister Mary, an experience made even more pleasant by having Korky the cat take advantage of the extra lap as soon as I sat down in her living room. After tea, we set out on the journey to Walls, which is just about as far west as it is possible to get on the Shetland mainland. The object of the exercise was to visit our mother, who is in the Wastview care centre for a fortnight's "holiday". There she gave us the news that Angela, my youngest sister, is heading out to Saudi Arabia to take up a teaching appointment in the new year, and is looking forward to the new post very much.

The weather, for our little trip west, was rather indifferent, with a westerly gale driving outbreaks of heavy rain across the islands. Colder conditions followed the next day, and, by Friday, the snow was sweeping over us, the strong north-westerly wind blowing it into drifts. These conditions prevailed into Saturday, when my stall at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre was to take place - it was doomed from the start.

On Friday evening, my old heart was gladdened by a concert from Maddy Prior and friends on BBC4. Her guests included June Tabor and some of the old Steeleye Spanners, and, to an old traditional folk groupie, since the 1960s, like myself, this was music to the ears - literally. The nervousness was showing in Maddy's voice initially, but she soon warmed to her task, and the audience was very warm towards her. Thank you, BBC.


One of my regular clients took possession of the painting of Busta House on Monday, and, on Thursday, a new contact from the isle of Harris got in touch regarding a possible commission of a painting of his boat. Later, he confirmed this as an order. This keeps the whole operation ticking over for another month or so - I can start issuing cheques to pay for some of my Christmas magazine advertising now.

I have made further progress with the seascape paintings of the Gamrie drifter "Utopia" in a sea swell, and the drifters "Golden West" and "Forethought", from the same Moray Firth port, heading out past the Bressay Light to seek the herring shoals east of Shetland. I'm satisfied with the course both works are taking. I have also started a picture re-cycling, with the February exhibition at the Shetland Museum Gadderie in view. The painting of the Fraserburgh pelagic trawler "Christina S", which has been exciting no attention since it was finished a year ago, is now in the process of being transmogrified into one of the North of Scotland, Orkney & Shetland Steam Navigation Co.'s cargo vessel "St. Rognvald". More on these subjects at a later date.


My friend Neil Robertson must be mentioned in despatches here. He gave up part of his Saturday morning to transport my chattels and me, through snow-covered roads, to the Toll Clock Centre, and did the same run in reverse at the end of my day's trading, such as it was. I thank him from the bottom of my heart. I have never passed a driving test, and probably would not be able to afford to run a car in today's financial climate, supposing I had. Friends and family have to make up for my shortcomings in this area, and yesterday's friend in need was Neil.

The stall was not a successful venture, largely because of the snowfall, which kept all but the mad and the needful snug and warm at their firesides. I sold one A4 giclee print, and nearly twenty postcards, which was remarkable, considering the sparseness of the buying public around the Centre. Quite a few people picked up my leaflets, mentioning the possibility of future commissions, so the value of Saturday's effort is actually quite difficult to quantify. The place was freezing, and I was glad to get back to my little flat to thaw out and contemplate another attempt, perhaps in a fortnight's time if space is available.

Sunday, 16 November 2008


On Saturday it was bright, showery, windy and business as usual. The same two paintings, which had occupied my time for most of the week, did so again. Progress has been slow, which is the best kind, I believe. One of my best clients phoned in the afternoon to make an appointment to view my recent work on Monday at 2pm, and someone else phoned regarding the painting of the Norwegian STS "S├śRLANDET" which hangs in the Lounge pub upstairs. The chap, who did not introduce himself properly, sounded slightly inebriated, so I doubt very much if anything will come of this transaction. Another caller, female this time, and equally inebriated, asked me if Megan was in. I had the sad duty to inform her that, much to my sorrow, there was no such lady at this address.
I had roasted a chicken for lunch today. The trouble with a chicken is what to do with the large amount which still remains after two days of eating. In the evening I consulted my cookery books, most of the recipes in which seem to be for four or more persons. This set me thinking that there must be loads of cookery books out there which are aimed at single caterers. I found three of these on Amazon and duly bought them for just £15-odd, thereby qualifying for free postage. I look forward to using and browsing through these.
The Dave channel was running another evening of Red Dwarf programmes, which meant a hilarious end to my day. I take my hat off to Messrs Grant and Naylor for a brilliant concept, and realisation thereof. Falling-about-laughable comedy at its best.


When I woke, the pain in my gut had eased, to be replaced by a splitting headache. The day dawned dull with the threat and forecast of heavy rain later in the day. I was determined that neither minor ailments nor weather would deter me from taking the pre-arranged trip to Whiteness to visit my mother. This would be my last chance to visit her before she goes for a fortnight's respite care at the wonderful Wastview care centre at Walls. We shared a few hour's pleasant companionship, as I made a traditional Shetland meal of whiting fried in batter, with tatties and melted margarine, and helped her with a few little tasks around the house.
On my return to Lerwick later in the day, I found that nothing had happened in my absence at all. As the gale and rain beat against my window, I settled down to an evening of mundane administrative jobs, which sometimes get neglected in favour of more "important" work.


On a day which saw the weather deteriorate again, I was awakened early with a pain in my stomach and side which persisted through the day. Nevertheless I carried on with work on the two paintings and made satisfactory progress.
My sister Mary surprised me with a visit to borrow my stepladder, which was to be used by an electrician in re-wiring the Samaritans building here in Lerwick. I agreed readily - it's probably the only thing I'll do for a registered charity this week.
I retired to bed early, hoping my tummy discomfort would dissipate overnight.


The day dawned bright, fair and clear, and remained so, a day which saw further progress on the artworks in hand. It also brought news of an appointment, next Monday at the physio department of the hospital, for which I have sore need. I've been suffering from back pain to a greater or lesser degree since I became partly disabled with a knee ailment more than two years ago. Since the knee operation last October I have been able to walk pretty much as well as I could before the condition started, but my back now gives me a bit of trouble. Such is life for the over-sixties - our bits start to drop off!
My sister Mary has a friend over here for a couple of days while on a UK holiday, and this nice lady bought one of my giclee prints today, for which I am grateful. In current economic conditions, any sale is to be rejoiced over. As a matter of fact, I felt so good about this and the fine weather that I decided to go for a pint or two at one or more of the local hostelries, but I soon came back, having seen little of interest in the latin quarter. I bought a fish supper on the way home.


Scaffolding was erected today around the section of my roof which hosts the chimney. This means that the leak, which has been affecting my flat for the past decade or so, could now be about to get repaired. Whenever there is a westerly gale and heavy rain, the water pours in, but, strangely, only from that direction. Fortunately it is bright today, with a moderate south-easterly.
Work has progressed on the two pictures which are "on the stocks". This was interrupted by a welcome visit from my older sister Thelma, with whom I had our usual cuppa and natter.
Most of the evening was spent on the rather soul-destroying drudgery of sticking labels on postcards, the second consignment of which arrived today. I should have a variety of items ready for sale next Saturday - A4 and A3 giclees, postcards, the odd painting or two (depending on how much room I have at my disposal) and a few items to give away too, such as the leaflets I had printed earlier this year, and a sheaf of "Artwork" magazines which, for some unknown reason on the part of the editors, I have received today.


The weather was fine at first, but it soon clouded over with the inevitable rain not long in coming. I started work on two new paintings, with the forthcoming retrospective at Duff House in mind. The first is of the Banff-registered MFV "Utopia" in a fairly heavy swell, the main thrust of the picture to be in the lighting, which I plan to be fairly dramatic and Turnerish. The other will be of drifters, as yet unidentified, going out past the Bressay Light on their way to the grounds.
Later, I started on the major task of numbering all my available giclee prints in their limited editions - a rather painstaking job, then putting them in sleeves and labelling them ready for the stall at the Toll Clock next Saturday. The first of two consignments of postcards arrived from the printers. This will be another item of interest for the multitudes of people who will, I hope, visit the stall.

Sunday, 9 November 2008


I went out for a few pints of amber nectar at five o'clock yesterday afternoon. This was the first time I'd been out of a weekend evening for more than a month - normally I can't be bothered nowadays. The Lounge has always been the pub of choice for me, and is a regular meeting-place for friends of mine at Saturday tea-time. But only one of them turned up yesterday. The smoking ban has definitely affected the numbers of people visiting such establishments. Most of the smokers don't bother coming out now, which means that many of their non-smoking friends stay away too.

Whether for this reason, the weather or other causes, attendance at the posher upstairs part of the Lounge (where music is occasionally played by local minstrels) was very low. There were more bodies in the public bar downstairs, where a few people were doing their best to avert their eyes from the television screen, which was showing the hapless Scottish rugby union team being drubbed by the Kiwis. There I spoke to my namesake, the Shetland Times sports reporter Jim Tait, who regularly gets accused of painting my pictures, and I get blamed for his sports reporting!

Upstairs, my friend Colin Jamieson and I proceeded to drink our lager and engage the pretty Norwegian barmaid in conversation, which passed a pleasant hour or so. At a tender age, due to my interest in fishing boats, I learned a bit of Norwegian, so that I could find out more about the great-liners and whalers, from the west coast of Norway, which operated around Shetland. Although I've forgotten much of the language, it still comes in useful sometimes. Nowadays, most of the Norwegian visitors to Shetland arrive in yachts during the summer months - and nice it is to see them too.

My evening out finished, at eight o'clock, with a visit to the chip-shop and a taxi-ride home. I'd consumed a total of four pints of lager. And that's as exciting and over-indulgent as my social life gets now!


On this week of momentous world events, the most exciting thing to happen to me was accidentally knocking my wristwatch into the toilet bowl on Tuesday morning. As I gazed sadly at its little yellow face staring back at me from the murky depths, I contemplated on the passage of time and considered whether to flush it or attempt a rescue. In the end I did the latter, and the timepiece is still going today.

Apart from this cataclysmic occurrence, my week has been fairly routine and quite productive. You can see some of the results above, the second and third of the oil paintings I am producing for the Duff House exhibition next summer. The main other news on the artistic front is that I've booked a stall at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre market, here in Lerwick, for Saturday 22nd November. I hope that this will be a good selling venue for my giclee prints, which need an injection of interest from prospective buyers in the run-up to Christmas.

I spent most of Thursday and Friday with my mother at Whiteness, going through boxes of old family photographs. I had an idea that I might make up a few display books of them, but the task ahead is enormous. My ancestors, especially on my mother's side, seemed to have DEVELOPED a love affair with the camera at an early stage in its evolution. There are fewer early pictures of my father's forebears in the collection - I think other family members must have most of these. Either that or they were more camera-shy, which seems unlikely from my limited knowledge of them.

Both my Shetland-resident sisters and my nephew Kenneth visited me during the week, and very glad I was to see them. My nephew always helps me with home decor tasks around the flat. Recently he put up a window blind in my studio, and coat hooks in the hall. The very idea of operating an electric drill scares the pants off me, as I am useless at all forms of DIY. Even my wallpaper is blood-spattered (my own)!

Sunday, 2 November 2008


I received an interesting item through the post on Friday. Apparently someone has nominated me for the Shetland Islands section of "Who's Who", and the communication I received was the application form for inclusion in this prestigious volume. I have no idea who the nominator was, but I am very grateful for the kind thought, or sense of humour, which moved him or her to take this step. I have filled in the online form with my particulars, and await further developments. I seem to spend a lot of time doing just that these days!


This is work, of course, which is reputed to be the curse of the drinking class, not that I do much of that nowadays. I have continued to make progress on the paintings, and the reason I haven't posted on this blog earlier this week is that so little out of the ordinary has happened. The weather has been quiet, as has life chez the Tait Gallery. I hope to have another two artworks completed before my next posting. Also by that time, I hope to have had a haircut (under local anaesthetic!), attended a medical appointment for a minor complaint (which is too painfully embarrassing to discuss here) and attended a flu fair at the local sports and entertainment centre. It will probably be my only visit there until this time next year. Such is life for a 60-year-old artistic curmudgeon - and richly deserved!


At this time of year, when people get involved in events celebrating ghosties, ghoulies, and witches with brooms and black cats, I thought I would tell you of a strange occurrence which took place in a parish here in Shetland a few years ago.

It concerned an old lady, whom I will call Maggie, which is not her real name (It goes against the rules of etiquette to call her by her real name). She was a well-liked and respected woman who had never married and, since her retirement from the local knitwear factory, her main interests were one of the local churches, of which she was an office-bearer, and her two cats, which were very well looked after, and probably the most contented moggies in the neighbourhood.

When Maggie died, one of the problems facing her friends and neighbours was what to do about the cats. One of the felines was a very sociable animal and, when a man, who lived at the other side of the parish nearly two miles away, volunteered to adopt it, the beast went willingly and tamely with him to his home, where it settled contentedly into its new situation. The other cat, however, wanted nothing to do with anyone. It took to the hills, and fiercely resisted all attempts at capture, the people eventually leaving it to its own devices for survival.

So things stood until the morning of Maggie's funeral. Then the cat, which had been quietly, and apparently happily, living at its adoptive home, suddenly and inexplicably went frantic. It was eventually let outside, where it disappeared quickly into the distance.

The funeral, which a good number of local people attended, took place, the interment being at the local churchyard, quite near to Maggie's home. It was a typical country parish graveyard, approaching an acre in size and had a boundary of fairly low walls of concrete and stone. As Maggie was laid to rest, the mourners, one of whom was my father, gradually became aware of something strange. On one of the walls sat the cat which had, that morning, bolted from her adoptive home two miles away, and on the adjoining wall sat the cat which had never been captured, and which, soon after the funeral, meekly arrived at a neighbour's house, where it settled as happily and peacefully as the other had previously done at the other side of the parish.

Sunday, 26 October 2008


When people in Shetland, as, it is said, in the rest of the UK, meet, the first topic of conversation is usually the weather. This has certainly been the case this week, as the islands have been battered by a rapid succession of severe gales, occasionally reaching storm force. Yesterday afternoon it reached violent storm magnitude, which was a little scary at times. The wind, which, in a "normal" gale, howls, rumbles and whistles, took to shaking and buffeting in an alarming fashion. There has been damage, even before Saturday's tempest. Power supplies have been interrupted, and transport links have been badly affected. All Northlink ferries, which provide the "lifeline" service between these islands and the Scottish mainland, had their sailings cancelled on Friday and Saturday. My brother, who picked the wrong time to pay a visit north to the place of his birth and childhood, has been caught up in the disruption, and, as I write this, it is with sadness that I watch the ferry, on which he is a passenger, disappearing over the horizon through the weather window. His visit was all too short.

Work has progressed much as normal. I finished my amendments to the picture of the old Aberdeen trawler "Headway" approaching Lerwick harbour in a gale (rather appropriate for this week!), and I think it will now pass muster. I have been making further progress, with the forthcoming Duff House exhibition in mind, on two more fishing vessel paintings. Both are of old Buckie seine-netters, one, the "Avoca", again approaching Lerwick harbour, but viewed from a completely different angle, with the Ness of Sound in the background. The other is of the "Sirius" leaving Aberdeen Harbour. This one requires quite a lot of detail in the background buildings, which is time-consuming and eye-straining, but, I believe, worth the extra time and effort. Actually, I find this kind of work easy and relaxing, in comparison with the difficulty of constructing sea waves.

As is normally the case on his visits, my brother and I found ourselves doing some work at our mother's house at Whiteness. On Friday morning, he pruned back the roses, in the greenhouse, almost to the roots, and planted a couple of new yellow ones he had brought with him at my request. The greenhouse needs a touch of gold! There's plenty of red, pink, mauve and white, with the fuchsias, pelargoniums, geraniums and the established roses. I helped by bagging up the pruned material for disposal. In the afternoon, we loaded the boot of his hired car with as much of the rubbish, which had accumulated in the garage over the past two years, as it would hold, and made a trip to the Shetland Islands Council's state-of-the-art disposal unit at Rova Head, north of Lerwick. There's still a trailer-load of rubbish left in the garage, but at least we've made a start.

Could it be the case that the financial constraints, which now have the country in their grasp, are driving advertising executives to desperate means to secure copy for the various publications they work for? In the run-up to Christmas, I am being offered all kinds of deals, and I am advertising in magazines, the cost of copy in which I would have thought completely beyond my means last year. Look out for Tait Gallery small ads, in monthlies with a nautical flavour, in the run-up to the festive season.

I observe, from the Met Office's website, that the weather is to be a bit quieter (and colder) this incoming week. I will find this a welcome change from the storms of the past week, and will keep you posted on this, work in progress, and events in the Shetland Islands.

Sunday, 19 October 2008


Many people have tried to find the Tait Gallery, and most have failed. It's situated in a 2nd floor flat, at the top of a stairwell accessed through a back door in a rather plain-looking building in a minor street in Lerwick. To get from the street to the access door, one must first open a gate, which is normally barred by my neighbours to keep their two small dogs from escaping. Last summer only two rather breathless and dishevelled Swedish cruise-ship passengers made it through to the gallery, to be rewarded (I hope!) by a tour of my artwork. This summer only one German visitor reached it, and only because he had the presence of mind to phone me first, so that I was looking out for him when he arrived. As a consequence of my inaccessibility, I do most of my business either online or through exhibitions elsewhere.

This week at the Tait Gallery was one of new beginnings and revisits to old projects, either to scrap them entirely, or change them in some minor way. I have a permanent little display at the Lounge pub here in Lerwick and, from time to time, I replenish this, putting new works up and taking others away for adjustments large or small. On this occasion, such an adjusted work has been my depiction of the Aberdeen trawler "Headway" approaching Lerwick harbour in a gale (like the one which is blowing tonight!). I'll put it up on this blog when I've finished, which, hopefully, will be tomorrow. A complete transformation is being carried out on a disappointing effort of two Whalsay drifters steaming along in the open sea on parallel courses, viewed from the side. I can't remember what my original idea for this work was, but the plan clearly failed! I've scrapped the work entirely, and a new picture is emerging in its place, featuring a mixture of landscape, seascape and an inevitable fishing boat. I've also started a new work of another fishing vessel leaving Aberdeen harbour. All that and the changes to my studio furnishings have meant a busy week at the Tait Gallery. I hope next week is equally productive.

Saturday, 18 October 2008


This song title, to which I have yet to append an appropriate song, is available for a reasonable consideration to anyone who wants to use it, assuming it hasn't been used already. It came to me as my sister and I were on our way from Strand to Whiteness today, just before midday. It was typical bright Shetland autumn weather, with torrential rain showers driven on a strong westerly wind. The rainbow was almost an hourly feature. We had been to my sister's place to pick up a table, which is now surplus to her requirements, due to her ongoing household refurbishments (and, thanks to this table, the worktop in my studio is now much bigger). We were driving out to visit our mother for elevenses (known as "twal" in these parts), when the rainbow straddled the road ahead, and the phrase came into my mind.

Earlier this week, I spent some time at my mother's place, helping her with various things around the house. She is 92 years of age, and, although badly disabled with arthritis, she is still able, with the support of her family and the care agencies, to stay in the house which my late father had built for their retirement over 35 years ago. She still has all her mental faculties about her, and her wisdom and guidance are still of great value to me. My father, who, for most of my childhood and early adulthood, was headmaster of a junior secondary school, died in 1996 at the age of 85, and mother has lived on alone in the house ever since. My sisters and I give her whatever help we can, and we all enjoy getting together whenever opportunity allows, as it did today.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Bloodthirsty Monsters!

My oldest (of three) sister dropped by this morning for a cuppa, and told me a tale of woe. Her grandson's pet rabbit, which he adored, had had its throat torn out by an unknown predator, and that he had suffered the shock of making the gruesome discovery himself, when he went out to visit the rabbit hutch yesterday morning. He was inconsolable, the poor little lad, and would only be slightly comforted by his grandfather's practical suggestions as to how vengeance might be sought against the perpetrator of this awful deed!
My sister was mystified as to how the beast had gained access to the inside of the well-built rabbit hutch. They looked all round it for a point of entry from above, below and round the sides and found none. They assumed that it had been a polecat (of which there are many in these islands) which had done the damage. But, I told her, several things suggested otherwise. Firstly, the fact that the beast had gone for the throat, and had apparently drained the unfortunate bunny of its life-blood. A polecat ferret only eats the liver of its prey, and liver is the bait one uses in traps for catching these animals. Secondly, the fact that there was no point of entry.
I think the culprit is the "whitrit", as the weasel is called here. It is a much smaller and thinner animal, and would be able to enter the hutch through the chicken-wire mesh. It is also more bloodthirsty.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

I finished (I think) the first of the paintings intended for the Duff House exhibition next year. It's a picture of the old Buckie MFV "Crimond", rigged for the herring fishing, rolling through Yell Sound on a dirty morning, with the Ramna Stacks in the background.
That's one done - only another seventeen to go!

A Question

What's the connection between the Shetland Fiddle and Accordion Festival (taking place this weekend at venues around these islands) and the MMR vaccine?
If the MMR vaccine had been available when I was a child, I wouldn't have contracted mumps at age 11, and I wouldn't have permanently lost all hearing in my left ear. This would, in turn, have meant that I could fully enjoy such musical social events as the Fiddle and Accordion Festival. In the company of others, on such occasions, I can listen to the music only to the exclusion of taking part in any conversation which is taking place. This leaves me drifting off into a world of my own, which, in turn, can leave people offended at my apparent dislike of their company. So I tend not to go to such events any more. My social intercourse has no musical accompaniment!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008


The light was very bad on Monday and Tuesday, so I was unable to carry out any detailed artwork. As the rain saturated these islands, I concentrated on applying broad brushwork to two seascapes with which I have been dissatisfied ever since I created them three or four years ago. The sea is now more plausible than it was, although I can't guarantee that I won't get annoyed with it again at some future date.

Each sea-wave has to be constructed carefully, tying in properly with the one in front of it and the one coming after. It all has to fit, and form a moving organic whole, bearing in mind the weather conditions I am trying to create. If ever I write an autobiography, I'm going to call it "Making Waves"!

Today, with the better light, I have been doing some detailed work on the first of the pictures which are intended for the Duff House exhibition next year. The event is going to be a nostalgic look at the fishing fleets, from the towns and villages of the Moray Firth, which worked the Shetland grounds, drift-netting for herring in the summer months and seine-netting for white-fish for the rest of the year. These were the vessels which first fired my enthusiasm for all things nautical in my youth, and which have fascinated and inspired me ever since.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

September 2008

September 2008 was an interesting month. At its beginning, I had no exhibitions of my artwork planned for 2009. By its end I had two. The first is booked for da Gadderie at Shetland Museum in February, while the second is at Duff House, near Banff, from late June through to August. However, with the finanacial world imploding around our ears, will anyone have any money left to buy paintings by then? It's a worry....