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

Sunday, 20 December 2009


My final Toll Clock Centre trade stall of 2009, which was not particularly successful in terms of sales, took place on Thursday. Many people passed by, few stopped to look, and even fewer bought. My neighbouring stallholder, who was selling Shetland sheepskins (beautifully prepared) had a much more successful day.

The commissioned painting of the Buckie seine-netter "Chrysolyte" is finished, and will be the last artwork I complete in 2009. It marks the end of a fairly successful and very enjoyable year for me, and who knows where 2010 might take me? Somewhere pleasant, productive and profitable, I hope! May your year be equally so.


When I got back from my Monday trip to Whiteness, fairly late in the evening, I found, waiting on my doormat, amid the usual assortment of cards and catalogues, the letter with enclosures which I have been earnestly awaiting for the last two months. My compensation cheque from Parcelforce, for the non-delivery of the Provence package, had arrived at last. Mind you, they hadn't paid out on the £12 insurance - but, I think that this story is one that I'll leave now, with its happy ending unadulterated!


Shetland is blanketed in a thick covering of the cold white stuff today, and it all looks very beautiful. The Met Office is not predicting an early quick thaw, and a white Christmas is a distinct possibility. Children are out on the Knab with their sledges, and those grown-ups whose duties demand travel are struggling through the conditions as best they can.

One such group of dutiful strugglers is my mother's helpers, who brave whatever the elements throw at them to give her the necessary assistance in getting to bed at night and up again in the morning. I never lose an opportunity to praise them for what they do. Without them, my mother would be in permanent residential care, and I don't think she's ready for that yet - she's only 93, after all!

My mother lives in a beautiful location, at Whiteness, on the west side of the Shetland mainland, about eight miles from Lerwick. Her house sits among the remains of an old crofthouse, on the side of a green hill, with a commanding view over the head of Stromness Voe and the Loch of Strom. Between the two bodies of water, the main road crosses a bridge, as it threads its way westwards through the hills and voeheads which form the more distant elements of the panoramic vista which can be seen from the house.

One snag about it is the non-classified "home-made" access road which connects the house to the main highway. It is precipitously steep in its middle section, and this presents problems in snowy or icy conditions. I paid my usual visit on Friday (my mother returned from her fortnight's respite "holiday" on Monday, when I was also there) and, in addition to my usual Whiteness "routine", I put a generous quantity of salt on the road, in anticipation of the wintry weather forecast for the weekend. I believe that this remained effective until the dry drifting snow set in late yesterday morning. Now anyone who has to pay a call there just has to leave their vehicle at the foot of the hill and walk up through the snowdrifts - and this is what the helpers are doing night and morning. I raise my glass to them - or I would, if I had one handy. I think the last time I had a glass in front of me was a week past Tuesday!

Sunday, 13 December 2009


I am a self-employed artist, and, for more than a quarter of a century, I have been single. This means that I am self-contained, self-obsessed and self-catering. This also means that I am a painter, accountant, filing clerk, computer operator, receptionist, despatch room clerk, cook, kitchen porter, chamberpot (or should that be chambermaid?), cleaner and general fac totum. I sack myself frequently from these posts, but I usually find that I have to be re-employed in the same positions later. You just can't get the staff these days.

There are certain things which I am obliged to delegate to more skilled individuals, however, and, on the afternoon of Wednesday 2nd December, I found myself having my locks trimmed by a hairdresser who was suffering from a dreadful dose of hiccups. "I've - eek - had them all day!", she confessed ruefully. I was glad she was using nothing more dangerous than a comb and scissors. Had she been operating a razor, the scene would have resembled a Sweeney Todd film set. The poor girl was probably sacrificing her digestive system in a futile and pointless attempt to reach a dress size zero. I suggested peppermint, but this probably came too perilously close to eating something for her liking.

That same afternoon, I posted the first batch of Christmas cards for this year. These were all going to destinations outside this country, and today I plan to get the task up to date with the ones for UK addresses. The Christmas spirit has yet to kick in for me, and I don't suppose it will in the same manner it used to in the days when I was a choir member. The weeks leading up to December 25th were marked by increasingly frequent practices of the music we were to perform on the day, and these are happy memories of unselfish times for me.

My greatest achievement of the last two weeks has undoubtedly been the successful creation of my first meat roll, to the recipe which my mother used to regularly present us with a really tasty and substantial meal. It required the use of a mincer and pudding steamer, both of which I had acquired over the past few weeks. However, I discovered that I didn't have a saucepan big enough to hold the steaming bowl, so I had to scrounge one off my kindly neighbours downstairs! For a first attempt, the result was truly a masterpiece! My next acquisition will have to be a 26cm saucepan, as I can't always rely in the charity of others - I wonder where I'm going to find space to store it!

My mother comes back from her occasional fortnight's respite care at the Wastview Centre tomorrow, and I intend to be at her home in Whiteness, to see that the place is warm and to greet her on her arrival, as I usually do. My present main worry is the long-range weather forecast, which is predicting cold weather and wintry showers for next week. I must be in a minority of people (as always) who desperately do not want a white Christmas, as this would inevitably mean transport problems for the carers on whom my mother relies for her continued wellbeing. I'm afraid that Bing Crosby's dream is a nightmare for me!

I hope all your dreams are sweet ones this week!


I sent the package, containing my French-resident client's painting, again on Monday 30th November. For you few patient, long-suffering followers of this journal, this is the one that was originally posted on 28th September, had its adhesive address envelope torn off somewhere in France, and was eventually returned to me on 24th October. Fearing the consequences of the threatened postal disputes in France, as well as the UK strikes, and, after consultation with my customer, I held back from attempting another delivery until the coast seemed clear to do so ("Fair stood the wind for France" comes to mind!). (Let's face it, the postal services are bad enough when they aren't on strike - MEEEOW!).

So, great was my delight when when I received a phone call, on Monday, from my satisfied customer in Provence, who was "enthused" (his words) by the painting. I am less than enthused, however, by the response, or lack of it, from Parcelforce, to my claim for compensation for non-delivery on the first attempt. So far, they have not even acknowledged receipt of my fax. I wonder how they respond to letters from lawyers!

A message from a second, and equally satisfied, client came by email from my "patroness" in Surrey, who is pleased with the painting I sent her as an emergency replacement for a flood-damaged work from another gallery (see last Sunday's post). Good! I love hearing from happy people.

I have held stalls at the Toll Clock Centre these last two Thursdays. These have been long, cold, dreary days (from 10am to 8.30pm), which have yielded some success in terms of sales of my giclee prints, and therefore must be recorded as successes. Here I must express my grateful thanks to my sisters Thelma and Mary. The first-named brought me a welcome cup of coffee in the late morning, and "relieved" me for a few minutes, so that I could make a pit-stop. Mary brought me a much-needed fish supper at tea-time, and helped out with sales and transport in the evening. My last stall of 2009 takes place next Thursday, by which time the Christmas shoppers will have a sense of urgency about them (I hope!). I devised a new system of transport for my goods, involving bags and cases with handles (rather than cardboard boxes) for ease of carriage. I also put price labels on all the individual prints, rather than relying on signs for this. Next week, I plan to take my Vistaprint lawn sign with me, to stick on the wall behind me. This will give a better indication of what is on display. Many people, walking past quickly, mistake my paintings for photographs, one of the pitfalls of being a photorealistic painter, I guess!

Another complaint, with regard to my content, is that I don't have paintings of Unst, Whalsay, Burra, Muckle Roe, or Brae on display. This, along with Christmas cards, is an omission I intend to remedy for next year - I can see a lot of landscape works being done in 2010.

Regarding actual "easel-work", I have almost finished my Buckie fishing-boat commission, but have abandoned all hope of finishing my tall ship "stock" paintings before Christmas.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


While people have been suffering heartache and material loss as a result of the recent rainstorms in many parts of Britain, the bad weather drove an unexpected piece of business my way. A gallery, in one of the locations so affected, had some artworks damaged, and one of these paintings had been previously chosen, by a lady in Surrey, as an anniversary present for her husband. On being informed of the catastrophe, she went Googling for a replacement, and I was the lucky painter who secured the commission. My gratitude for this windfall (or should that be rainfall?) artwork sale, is only tempered by my empathic feelings for the suppliers of original choice. I hope they were well insured.

It's an ill wind that blows nobody good - so goes the cliched proverb. While flood victims are phoning insurance companies, plumbers, joiners, plasterers and other skilled artisans, occasionally we artists get emergency call-outs too!

Sunday, 29 November 2009


It's cuck-cuck-cold here in Shetland today. A cold northerly breeze is blowing round the cletts and wicks, and my joints are stiff and sore. This is a sad admission for a so-called hardy northerner, but my days of getting out to enjoy a bracing walk "aboot da banks" in such conditions seem to be tragically over. I fully intend to confine myself to the warmth of my living-room, and address myself to the knotty problem of extracting something interesting to tell you from my activities during the last seven days.

Let's start with the artwork, which should be easy, as I seem to have achieved very little in that direction. I've begun work on what will almost certainly be the last commission of 2009, a painting of the Buckie seine-netter "Chrysolite" which, as a child, I remember calling occasionally at Lerwick during her fishing operations of the late 1950s and early 1960s. To "normal" people, one fishing boat is very much like another, but, to an enthusiast like me, each forms its own distinguishable presence from a long distance away. I've also been working a little on my "stock" tall ships pictures, although I have little progress to report on these. I'm still struggling a bit with stretched canvas as a painting surface, and I miss the days of a readily-available supply of hardboard, and getting it cut on the "big saw" at Hay & Co's DIY store at Freefield. The surface of this material was smoother, and lent itself well to the "dry" application of thin layers of paint which I favour in my skies and seas.

My friend Mark Fuller, of Tay-CAD Ltd, has timeously produced the batch of giclee fine art prints I ordered at the start of the month. I collected (and paid a not inconsiderable amount of money for) them on Tuesday afternoon, and spent the evening numbering, logging, bagging and labelling these. I now have my "stock" ready for the vast numbers of Christmas shoppers who will be thronging round my stall at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre over the next three Thursdays (I hope!).

My copy of the RYA magazine landed on my doormat at some point during Friday. It carries my advert in its Classified section, and it is definitely visible, although to how many and with what result remains to be seen. Yesterday's edition of the Aberdeen-based Press & Journal also had my advert running along the bottom of one of its pages, but it had no discernable effect on the numbers of people who visited my website during the day. In previous years, the increase in visitor numbers due to the Saturday "big ad" was quite marked, although any effect on sales was more difficult to ascertain.

On Wednesday, I ordered another batch of my promotional leaflets from Shetland Litho. The first thousand seemed to disappear fairly fast, roughly half of them going to destinations outwith these islands. As with the magazine and newspaper ads, results are hard to quantify, and any attempt at analysis is futile. I have to let people know what I do, and hope that there are people out there who like it enough to want it on their walls!

The battle with Parcelforce, over my claim for non-delivery of the painting I sent to France, continues. The first claim was lost in the post (sic!), and, after a phone consultation with one of their representatives, I faxed a copy of the second completed form to them, together with a covering explanatory letter, and copies of the related email correspondence over the period. As I have written before in this journal, I await developments. I know there will be a positive outcome, as I am not going to accept anything else. I am a determined little cuss, I have the full force of my compulsive/obsessive nature trained on this issue, and I won't relent until I have my £49.99 postage and insurance refunded!

My website appears to be undergoing a substantial update as I write this. I hope it doesn't take too long, as the run-up to Christmas is a bad time to lose one's online presence. I hope that, on or offline, your presence is felt positively by all those around you, and that you have a pleasant and successful week.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


The long-running saga of my parcel, which I sent to France on 28th September, and eventually was returned to me undelivered on 24th October, continues.

I sent off a claim for refund of my postage and insurance, and heard nothing for a while. Last weekend I thought I'd better check up on it, by email, and today I received the news that they never received my claim. It was lost in the post!

If it wasn't so funny, I'd break down and cry!


Sunday, 22 November 2009


All my good intentions expressed in last week's post came to very little, in spite of much better weather and light conditions this week. I did a little work on the two tall ships paintings. One is going to be of the two Danish full-rigged ships "Georg Stage" and "Danmark", the other is going to be a composition of various distant vessels, on a sloping horizon, viewed from the deck of another tall ship, parts of the rigging of which will be foreground features. The sea will be lumpy. I still hope to have these finished by Christmas, if only as some kind of target date for completion.

I'm taking out advertising space in the RYA magazine (which should be out round about now) and in the Aberdeen-based Press & Journal in the run-up to Christmas. I have to remind people that I'm still here, although the financial benefits of such campaigns are difficult to quantify and seldom immediate. I know of people who cut out adverts for products which interest them, tuck them away somewhere, and use them to contact the suppliers months, sometimes years, afterwards.

The fact that I am able to afford such extravagances as newspaper and magazine advertising is due in no small way to a multiple painting sale which I was able to conclude earlier this past week. As well as improving my bank balance (which had a distinct reddish hue about it until the sale took place), I can now issue a cheque for the prints which my friendly downtown graphics firm has produced for me. This also meant the application of quite a few more red dots on the Gallery pages of the website (Feel free to take a look - comments, good or bad, are always welcome!).

One of the maketing gurus, whose advice I occasionally heed, persuaded me that it would be a good idea to open a Googlemail account, as this can convey certain benefits in terms of online marketing, if one goes about it in the correct manner. I duly obliged, and I now have another email address ( and a profile, although I still have other interactive things to set up, in order to reap the rewards of using this facility. I think I should connect it to this blog somehow, although I have yet to discover how.

My faithful old printer (which I paid £15 for second-hand about two years ago) died last weekend, and, realising that death in this instance was terminal, I ordered a new Epson multifunctional device from Staples last Sunday. It duly arrived on Thursday (not bad for a remote location like Shetland) and I am now in the process of learning how all the bells and whistles work! I hope that your life is campanological and insufflative this incoming week!


One of the main events on the Lerwick November social calendar is the flu fair. This is the occasion when burghers of a certain age or infirmity can turn up at the Clickimin Centre, have a go on the dodgems, win a goldfish at the coconut shy, enjoy a cup of tea with the bearded lady (Dodie o' Nortroo always enjoyed dressing up!), and get speared like a tuna by one of the leather-clad jackbooted nurses employed by the Shetland Health Board for such purposes.

Actually, some elements of the previous paragraph are the result of my fevered imagination, and I apologise for any alarm I may have caused, in penning them, to readers of a delicate disposition. I received my jag from Dr. Krusche (who is referred to as Dr. Crush by some of the populace - makes him sound like a character from a 1960s teen magazine!). I didn't feel a thing from the injection (I almost asked for my money back) and declined the offer of a cuppa, as too much tea makes me want to do what rhymes with it (it's the tablets, you know!). I sat for the obligatory ten minutes, pondering on life, and reading some of the brochures describing the awful ailments which can afflict the human frame and what the Shetland Health Board can do about them. I then went home, duly inoculated against the dreaded flu bug.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


On a week when the wind has blown strongly and steadily from the south-east, and the rain has seemed incessant, progress at the easel has been slow. The light has been bad enough to preclude painting on several days, although, during the brighter intervals which did occur, I managed to put the finishing touches to the "St. Ninian" picture, on the topic of which I based the previous post. I've also been doing a little work on a painting of the Danish tall ships "Georg Stage" and "Danmark", which I hope to have finished by Christmas, if conditions allow.

I've booked a few stalls at the Toll Clock shopping centre here in Lerwick, in hopes to pick up some trade in the run-up to Christmas, although I was too late to book the most lucrative Saturday slots. I've got Thursdays 3rd, 10th and 17th December, which have one thing going for them, in that I will be there for the late-night shoppers. I've ordered more prints from tay-CAD, the local graphics firm, to extend my stock range, so I should have plenty to offer those who turn up on what will be three long days for me. My sister Mary has offered to help out in the evenings, in return for my help with her son's house in Sandwick. This is a very agreeable arrangement, as far as I'm concerned.

Speaking of Mary, she is on her way north tonight, by Northlink ferry, with my Musa Art Cafe exhibition in the back of the Volvo estate, which has been giving her no end of grief on the mainland. After its service in an Aberdeen garage last Monday, the computerised transmission system caused it to stall on a busy roundabout near Hermiston Gate in Edinburgh. She got it going again there, but it subsequently broke down on the way out of the city, and this time she was an AA job. They tracked down someone who knew something about Volvos, and she managed to get to Aberdeen without further incident. I can foresee an imminent divorce between her and Swedish car manufacturers, however.

After seven days when I have been grateful that the human body is waterproof and reasonably wind-resistant, I hope for conditions more conducive to work during the incoming week. I must remember to attend the flu fair, to get my annual jag, at the Clickimin Centre on Tuesday. Otherwise, I intend to spend a lot of time at the drawing board. I hope your week is pleasant and productive too.


Ladies and gentlemen, for your delight and delectation, I present my painting of the MV "St. Ninian" running before a gale on her regular route between the ports of Leith and Lerwick, carrying her usual load of passengers and what was known in those days (between 1950 and the early 1970s) as general cargo.

This was usually contained in boxes or sacks, which were offloaded in slings by the shipboard cranes. Nowadays, such cargo would arrive in containers, which would either be driven off the ship by articulated lorries, or discharged by a land-based crane, depending on what facilities are available shore-side.

I have good reason to remember the old "side-loading" system, as my very first job was a day's casual labour on Victoria Pier, Lerwick, unloading general cargo from the "St. Ninian" and loading boxes of fish for onward shipment "south". This was also when I had my first inkling that I wasn't really cut out for manual labour.

When a sling came down from the ship, my job, on this fateful day, was to guide it onto the long, flat-bed barrow, which was used to take the goods into the "steamer's store". My workmate would be standing by, with his back to me, hands clasped on the handles of the barrow behind him, awaiting the signal from me to move forward. My job, once the load was positioned, was to take off the sling, and hold the load there as we headed towards the store.

On one occasion, I had guided the load, about eight sacks (boles) of flour, to a position too far back , and, instead of going forwards, my workmate shot skywards, and hung there, straight-armed, with his little legs pumping fresh air, trying to manipulate the barrow handles in an earthward direction again. Meanwhile, the regular dockers, whose sole function seemed to be standing around enjoying the spectacle of us poor casuals struggling with our task, now started falling about in paroxysms of hysterical laughter. The chargehand, who had been supervising the sad process from the ship's rail, was mouthing words at me which, quite frankly, I had never heard before during my hitherto sheltered upbringing. At length, the sling was repositioned, and the load was lifted sufficiently for my workmate to descend to earth again. I guided the load further forward this time, and we carried on with the job.

Thus passed my first day in a "proper job", during which I gained the valuable knowledge that these delicate hands were going to earn a living other than by the sweat of my brow. I have good reason to remember the "St.Ninian", and I hope that you enjoy the picture (top).

Sunday, 8 November 2009


It's been a week of minor triumphs and aggravations. I've been working on the recycled painting of the "St. Ninian", although visible progress is difficult to discern, as it's been all about minor angle adjustments, which I must get right, or there's no point in continuing. I also started on the background of three new canvases, but I have little notion as to what is going to be depicted on them, apart from a vague idea of tall ships for two of them. People keep googling my website for tall ships, and I have little there to reward them for their search - I must make amends.

The Coast exhibition, at the Musa Art Cafe in Aberdeen, ended yesterday, without any results for me, beyond having my work showcased before the populace of the Granite City. The lack of sales is scarcely surprising, as I had hoicked my prices a fair bit to compensate for the hefty rate of charged commission. Apparently, the Musa's resident pianist (who is known by the delightful sobriquet of Chemical Callum!) recognised his grandfather's boat in one of my paintings - I haven't been able to ascertain which vessel yet.

A problem, regarding the administration of events from a remote location, was highlighted earlier last week. The removal of work after the exhibition caused me a bit of a headache, as the person who was going to transport and store the paintings for me is having to work elsewhere today, so a change of plan had to be sought. Here, Aberdeen City Corporation came to my rescue, as they have instigated a roadworks scheme outside the Musa Art Cafe, and no-one can get near the Exchange Street door with a car now anyway. A large new shopping centre has opened across the street from the gallery, and the old cobbled street has had to be sacrificed to provide more suitable amenity for the new mall. Anyway, the curator is going to store my artwork at her home until my brother picks it up some evening this week. Phew!

My sister Mary and I have been doing a little home decoration at her son's house in Sandwick. We spent part of Thursday evening and yesterday afternoon down there, doing a little "titivation" to the paintwork on the doors and facings, and various other small tasks. I'm afraid that DIY is not one of my strong points - even my wallpaper is covered in my own blood! However, I suppose I can hold my own with a paintbrush. It was a change of scenery too, and, while there, I watched the last noisy and colourful blast of the local Social Club's Guy Fawkes firework display from one of the windows. The Lerwick display, at Clickimin last night, seemed as spectacular as ever, from what I could see of it from my kitchen window. I must get out more!

Mary is off on the blue canoe tonight. Her Volvo estate car (referred to in previous posts) has an appointment with an Aberdeen garage, for a service, tomorrow, and she is going to work a few day's holiday around this and a meeting in Perth on Thursday. When she returns next Monday morning, I hope she will have my contribution to the Musa Art Cafe's Coast Exhibition with her.

We artists tend to plough a lonely furrow. Each time I am reluctantly obliged to look in a mirror, I see the person who is responsible for the ideas, planning and execution which goes into my artworks, as well as the idiot administrator who has to keep a small business going. If I don't discipline myself to put the work into this, I fail. However, I could not do the job without the logistical support of my brother and sisters, who drive me hither and thither, and without whom exhibitions would be a much more expensive and difficult process.

Here a mention must be made of my nephew Kenneth, without whom the Catterline exhibition, early last year, would have been impossible. He devised and executed the hanging system, and drove all over the east coast of Scotland, distributing my posters in every shop window, from Stonehaven to Arbroath, which would accept them. We had a lot of fun along the way, of course, but his support was crucial to the success of this event, which turned out to be my most lucrative display to date. I look forward to my next slot there, and I hope that Kenneth will be able to lend his unique brand of input to the venture, when it happens.

And of my mother who, at 93, is still a guiding light to the rocky barque which has been my life, through tempestuous seas largely of my own making, I must make a special mention. If I have known inspiration, it emanated from her strength, wisdom, love, encouragement and penetrative good humour, and I hope it will still be a beacon before me for many years to come.

Monday, 2 November 2009


As I promised yesterday, the latest painting is shown above (top). I'm very pleased with it, as I really knew I would be as soon as I saw this scene that evening in late June. Normally I don't try to make my work evocative of a single moment in time. Usually it's better just to have it stored in the memory, but I made an exception this time.

Today the clearance in the thick cloud, which has been enveloping us, made its long-awaited appearance, so I was able to capture the painting on my little digital camera (Pentax Optio 50, for anyone who's interested!). I hope you enjoy looking at it (the painting, that is!), and any comments, as always, would be very welcome!

Sunday, 1 November 2009


I admit it - I'm a pedantic old curmudgeon, and I quite enjoy it at times. So, when radio or TV presenters give me an opportunity to growl and show my false teeth at them, I seize it eagerly. Weather forecasters are frequently and unwittingly at the wrong end of my grumpiness. They seem to have forgotten that temperature is a scale on which numbers are used to indicate the degree of heat and coldness in the atmosphere at a particular location. So temperature is either high, low, above or below (or well above or well below) or at the seasonal average - right? Not according to the current generation of weather-people.

They announce that the temperature will be mild, cold, warm, hot, perishing or any other adjective not associated with with the numbered scale, and I feel my pedantic hackles begin to rise. Why can't they just get things right? Or doesn't the licence-payer understand temperature any more? Sadly, scales are probably an alien concept among the great unwashed and soundbite-educated of the vac-packed and pot-noodled consumer generation.

There was a saying which went: "Red sky at night is the shepherd's delight; red sky in the morning is the SAILOR'S warning." This is constantly being misquoted over the airwaves these days. I heard this represented, for the second time this week, on Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme, yesterday morning, as "shepherd's warning". Why on earth would the gales and rain portended by a red glow in the eastern sky around sunrise constitute a warning to a shepherd, whose flocks are little concerned by such conditions? The sheep merely seek the comparative shelter of walls and embankments during the worst of rainy windy weather.

I recall, while at primary school, being gently and firmly corrected by the teacher when I uttered this snippet of folklore incorrectly. I would like to see a buxom leather-clad schoolma'am take a keen tawse to some of the hapless media presenters, whose grammatical gaffes and cliche-peppered output are the main focus of my curmudgeonliness. Let's face it, this is one of the few pleasures left to people of my generation - and the light at the end of the tunnel is always on the level playing-field at the tip of the iceberg, isn't it?


As I intimated in last week's post, I finished the painting of Boyndie Bay (on the south side of the Moray Firth) on Wednesday. Unfortunately the weather conditions have precluded getting it photographed to put in the gallery above, as I like to do with newly-completed works - and I'm particularly pleased with this one. It's been dull and fairly windy (the weather, that is!), the only brief bright spell happening on Friday, when I was out at my mother's. I'll put the picture up as soon as the situation allows.

I entered two online painting competitions this week. I put the Fordyce landscape into one, and the canvas of Johnshaven harbour into the other. The competitons are being run by and the Artist's Magazine, but I'm blessed if I can remember which work I put into what contest. I haven't a hope of winning anything, but most of the hundreds of other entrants will be in the same position.

I'm still working on my recycled painting of the MV "St. Ninian" which ran between Lerwick and Leith from around 1950 to the early 1970s, when it was sold to Canadian owners. I don't know what happened to her after that - someone might enlighten me through this blog - who knows? I have yet to decide where to go genre-wise when I complete this work. I have a box of new canvases, still in their cellophane wrappers, awaiting my attentions. I expect I'll think of something - any ideas?

Sunday, 25 October 2009


This hasn't been the productive week at the easel which I had intended to put in. All sorts of little things such as family affairs, administrative matters, the funeral of an old friend and, in particular, the lack of suitable light for painting, kept getting in the way. The sun has been a stranger, a thick layer of cloud having covered the islands for most of the time. The wind has been strong, mostly from the south-east, which means that a heavy sea has been running into Breiwick Bay. This is particularly noticeable today, and the lifeline ferry "Hjaltland" is still at anchor in Kirkwall Bay, Orkney, as I write this. According to Ship AIS, her ETA at Lerwick is 2pm, but she certainly won't be making that now. The other ferry "Hrossey" left Lerwick on her southward journey about an hour ago, and a glance out my window reveals the Streamline container ship "Daroja" just approaching the harbour, about four hours later than her usual Sunday arrival time.

What little work I've achieved this week has been on the Boyndie Bay painting, which is now nearing completion in spite of the spasmodic nature of my artistic output. I hope to have the finished picture on display here at some point during the next few days. When I do, your comments, as always, would be very welcome!


My apologies are due to the French postal authorities, who were on the end of a tongue-lashing in my last post. Not that they ever saw my posting (very few people do!), or were particularly bothered, supposing they did - these large corporations tend to be quite pachydermal.

The package containing my painting arrived back chez moi safely yesterday, having spent a month on a journey to, from and presumably around France, although it never reached its intended destination in Provence. The contents seem to be in good condition, in spite of having attracted the attention of HM Revenue and Customs en route. Perhaps they mistook my bubble wrap and polystyrene sheeting for a consignment of best hashish - who knows? In a way, I suppose I have to be smugly satisfied with my own wrapping system, which has survived this prolonged trip.

The main mystery is how my address envelope got torn off during this odyssey. I used one of these clear purpose-built "Documents Enclosed" thingies (and yes, I remembered to peel the back off first!). This has completely disappeared, leaving a puckered hole in the wrapping at the top left corner of where it used to be. Why didn't it adhere better?

These and other questions have been buzzing around my tortured mind this morning, as I have been filling in the Parcelforce claim form for my postage and insurance. "Doo haes ta git whit doo can!", as my uncle Tirval used to say. If anyone wants a translation of that snippet of Shetland vernacular, email me at

I've kept in touch with the client to whom the package had been addressed (fortunately he is a patient man) during this sorry episode, and we have agreed that it would be better to wait until the postal strike is over before we attempt another despatch. We thereby avoid any unnecessary complications to a process which is already frought with difficulties. I'll let you know how we get on!

Sunday, 18 October 2009


I thought that I would add this footnote to my last week's post, in which I explained, in fairly forthright terms, my dilemma with regard to the sending of a painting to France.

Parcelforce are now doing their best to locate this parcel, and have allocated an employee called Sharon to attend to the problem. I wish her good fortune in her endeavours.

In the meantime, Chronopost Roissy, the firm in whose hands the package was last located, have contacted the person to whom I was sending it, and have informed him that they are sending it back to me. Yeah! Why, for goodness's sake (they obviously have his contact details), couldn't they just have delivered it to him, which is what they were paid to do in the first place? I smell a big French rat here - some pitiful attempts at setting up a smokescreen around the fact that they have lost the parcel, and they are hoping that they can just cover up the whole thing.

But if they think they can do that, they don't know me very well - n'est ce pas?


I hope you like my most recent painting, a landscape featuring a view of Fordyce Castle from a back garden in the village, of the same name, situated a few miles south of Portsoy, on the Moray Firth coast of Scotland. This is the first of a series of works in which I am making the fatal mistake of trying to evoke the memories and sensations of summer evenings driving round this lovely part of the country earlier this year.

While the Fordyce painting is full of finnicky and time-consuming detail, the work currently on my easel contains large empty areas of sand, sea and sky. It is of Boyndie Bay, looking from Banff to Whitehills, and it is less demanding of my fine-point brushes, but I hope it will be no less effective.

I am also doing my first re-cycling of one of the paintings from my Duff House exhibition earlier this year. It was a portrayal of a fishing vessel running before a gale, and will shortly be of the passenger/cargo ship "St. Ninian" in similar sea conditions.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


My brother arrived, on the Northlink ferry last Saturday, on one of his occasional northward sojourns, to see his mother and siblings, and to breathe the sweet air of his birthplace for a little while. Whenever he comes north, the two of us usually take a trip down to Sandwick, to attend the morning service in our old church, and just to take a look at the old parish. While looking from a distance, it looks pretty much like it did when we were residents there; on closer inspection it has changed practically beyond recognition in the thirty-five years or so since we stayed there as a family. There are several new housing schemes there, and many private homes have also been built. Many of the little wild places, which I enjoyed as a child, have been reseeded or built on. The Broonies' Taing pier, on which I regularly wafted my "piltock waand" to catch copious quantities of coalfish, was one of the first casualties of the oil era. It was redeveloped, along with all the ruinous old pre-war herring stations which were a wonderful playground for a growing boy, as an oil industry supply base which, in the event, was hardly ever used as such. It is now rotting, like the herring stations before it. The only time I ever visit the old place is when Arthur is home - I could cry whenever I look at it.

On this occasion, we visited our father's grave at the Sannock cemetery, which is looking well-tended and has plenty of room to cater for new tenants for at least the next century, even allowing for an outbreak of plague or genocide (anything is possible in Sandwick!). We attended the service in the U. F. kirk, which turned out to be their harvest thanksgiving. This had brought about two dozen of the faithful from their beds on a bright chilly morning. My brother rang the bell to announce the service, and I'd like to think that a few more ears would have inclined and a few more bleary eyes would have opened in the community at the unfamiliar sound - apparently the bell is only rung if he rings it.

After the service, we took a run down to the compact settlement of Hoswick, where the only sign of life was a family playing on the beach. We then came back to Stove, where we found our nephew Kenneth (who had taken a weekend off from his studies at university) resting from his home-refurbishing labours at Victoria House, the Edwardian pile he inherited from his father. He made us a welcome cup of tea before we continued on our way to Whiteness, where we were to have our midday meal with other family members at our mother's house.

I helped prepare the feast by doing the vegetables, and we all enjoyed our roast lamb with trimmings. My sister Mary was in charge of the catering operation, and we were joined by her daughter Caroline and grandsons Robbie and new baby William, who slept through most of our joviality. I took charge of the ensuing clearing-up afterwards and, within an hour, were it not for the satisfied feeling in our stomachs, we would scarcely have known that the meal ever took place. In the late afternoon, Arthur ran me back to Lerwick in the car he had hired for his short stay.

There was a certain inevitability about the fact that the next day was Monday, and the day on which the twice-yearly meeting to dicuss my mother's care package was scheduled. These bunfights are usually fairly relaxed and pleasant affairs, and resultant serious injuries are rare. On this occasion, my two available sisters (the third is teaching in Saudi Arabia), my brother, my mother (of course), two representatives of the home care authorities, and myself were of the assembled company in my mother's living room. There was little to discuss, as the system is working smoothly, and, after half-an-hour or so, the meeting ended and I was left to prepare a meal for the family (a look of abject terror came over the faces of the two care representatives when I suggested that they stayed for lunch - I took this to be a "no"!).

From the sound of contented mastication emanating from the diners, I deduced that my culinary efforts had been successful again. I had prepared whiting fillets, cut up into sections and fried in batter, accompanied by potatoes (from my sister's garden) and melted margarine - an example of the standard traditional Shetland fare which we, as a family, were raised on. After clearing up, I helped Arthur with the task of pruning the rose-bushes in the greenhouse, after which we took the prunings to the dump at Rova Head, and he dropped me off at my flat, before making his way back to Whiteness.

My brother will be heading south on the ferry "Hjaltland" tonight, and his leaving will make me sad, as these things always do. We who are left will dig ourselves in for another Shetland winter. It would be nice to think that we'll all meet up again when the gales die down and the snow clears at the other end of it. We have always had such a good time together.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


I believe that this was a Bonnie Tyler hit - it sounded like her well-gravelled emotional voice which belted out the lyrics of this song. I've been humming it intermittently all day, not because I've any particular liking for the Welsh vocalist or her music, but because of the song-title's aptness in my present situation.

You see, the painting, which was commissioned by my friend and regular client Magnus Schmidt, which I have spent the last three months producing, and which I had placed in the hands of Royal Mail's Parcelforce, on 28th September, for shipment to Provence, was last heard of in a depot belonging to Chronopost Roissy on 2nd October. Since then, it has disappeared.

I had insured the parcel for a sum which I felt was reasonable to compensate me for its possible loss, and I will make "bien sur" that I am compensated financially, at least, but what gets my goat is that I will now have to spend another three months producing a replacement artwork for my client. This time could have been spent on my next exhibition, for instance. The person who is responsible for the disappearance of this painting has stolen three months of my life, and I am annoyed about that. I don't know how many productive three-month periods of life are left to me, and I don't want to spend any of them repeating myself - I do enough of that during conversations with drunks and bureaucrats. And the nagging notion that a summer's work may have gone to provide a fix for a sticky-fingered French junkie isn't improving my mood at the moment.

I promise I'll be in a better frame of mind for my next post.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


The only artistic achievement I can lay claim to since my last post was the completion of the commissioned painting of the Whalsay seine-netter "Orion" in a Lerwick harbour being caressed by a fresh southerly breeze. I am pleased with the work, which is shown above for your delectation!

I have heard the news, from the Musa Art Cafe in Aberdeen, that none of my paintings on display there have sold, but the resident piano player has recognised his grandfather's fishing boat in one of my harbour scenes. In the absence of sales, I find this encouraging!

I have continued work on the Fordyce village landscape, which is going to be another manifestation of my recently-acquired interest in small details. Is this a further indication of a compulsive-obsessive nature, or merely a sign of the patience which accompanies approaching old age? Who knows? I don't think I displayed a great deal of patience in my last posting.

I seem to have developed a headache. Where's the paracetamol?


Just a minute - aaah, that's better! It's amazing how a bit of wind release can benefit one's heart, body and frame of mind, isn't it? There's certainly been a lot of wind, of one kind and another, generated in these islands of late, along with quite a lot of heat and slightly less light, much of it in connection with the proposed Viking Energy windfarm which, if constructed, would affect the skyline of much of the central mainland of Shetland.

It appears that a considerable majority of the Shetland population is opposed to it, and I, in my usual curmudgeonly manner, am swimming against a strong tide of public opinion in my conviction that the proposed development should take place, and that these islands will live to regret its rejection. I have several reasons for holding this belief.

Shetland's economy is fragile. The oil industry, which has served Shetland so well as an employer of islanders, is not going to last forever - oil and gas are finite resources (unlike wind!). Even taking into account the new fields in the Atlantic, which have extended the life of the Sullom Voe Terminal far beyond its original projected lifespan, the well of employment generated by the oil industry will dry up, as far as these islands are concerned. The future of other major employers, such as the fishing and fish farming industries, is equally uncertain. The former is under attack from the very body which should be supporting it, the EU, as well as the effects of climate change and fleet effort on stocks. The latter is subject to infectious diseases and uncertain markets, and many businesses engaged in this activity have already gone under. This leaves small indigenous traditional industries such as knitwear, croft-based electronic ventures, crofting itself and tourism (Lord help us!). We need a new source of income and employment which, if managed properly at the Shetland end, can keep these islands in the manner to which we have become accustomed over the past few decades. Wind is a natural resource of which Shetland has never been in short supply, and it is all wonderfully renewable! The abundance of this commodity has been the main feature of Shetland's meteorology over the centuries, to the extent that it has cost hundreds of lives, chiefly, but not exclusively, at sea. Having had it operating for so long against us, why not have it working for us, for a change?

The Shetland Islands Council organised several public meetings, at various locations throughout the Shetland mainland, during the past week, for the purpose of having the views of the population aired on the subject of the proposed development. At each of these meetings, none of which I am ashamed to say I attended, a vote was taken which, without exception, was firmly against the windfarm. Many of the objections were (perversely, in my opinion) on environmental grounds. The turbines, if built, would be situated on the hilly ridges which run the length of much of the mainland of Shetland. The surface of these hills is comprised almost entirely of varying depths of peat, and this, it is true, provides a habitat for a large variety of waders and other ground-nesting birds. But peatland is not exactly in short supply in these islands. My back develops a psychosomatic ache whenever I think of the hours spent toiling in the stuff during my formative late springs and summers at the south mainland parish of Sandwick.

Please forgive me for beginning to beat my drum against "colonial incomers" here again. One woman, who spoke at one of last week's meetings, stated that the one reason she settled here was to look at the unspoilt views of the place, and, if the windfarm development was to go ahead in its present form, she'd leave. Well, if she only came here to gawp at the scenery, please don't let me detain her! The representatives of other single-interest groups uttered their objections too. One speaker mentioned the possible failure of breeding populations of birds, not caring to mention his lack of concern for the economic wellbeing of the next generation of Shetlanders. If all human enterprise is to be sacrificed on the altar of ornithological interests, the prospects are poor for the working communities of Shetland. The dictatorial "scientific"and wildlife organisations, whose lobbies (drawing most of their support from the urban areas of Britain) are much more powerful than those of Shetlanders working at traditional (and new) industries, would be quite happy to see Shetland reduced to a kind of hippy colony (it's how many see us anyway!), in which the only people earning a decent living are social workers and drug dealers.

Many of the objections raised to the windfarm development are financial. It is going to cost an awful lot of money, let's face it, to build this scheme, but the benefits must surely outweigh the large initial outlay, and it is down to our negotiators to get a good deal for the Shetland power-consumer at the outset, so that he or she will be able to go to his or her cheaply-powered warm bed at night, with a clear conscience as to the source of his or her comfort, which, in turn, is having little negative effect on the global environment. And will these hilltop turbines be such an awful blot on the landscape?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


In what was an unplanned closing ceremony for a beautiful summer, the last two cruise ships of the 2009 season arrived almost together off the Bressay Lighthouse at 7 o'clock on the morning of the 24th September. The ships were the lovely "Marco Polo", Clyde-built in the late 1960s as the "Alexander Pushkin" for Russian owners, and the more modern and much less aesthetically pleasing "Silver Cloud". The "Marco Polo" was making possibly her last visit to Lerwick, as she is soon to head for the breakers' yard. I'm having difficulty dealing with the thought of anything so lovely being destroyed.

Also on the 24th, I completed another artwork, my first finished painting for some time, due to the colossal amount of detail I included in the scene. I wrapped and posted it to my client in Provence yesterday. Meanwhile, I've started work on a new picture of Boyndie Bay (next to Banff), hoping that I can reconstruct an evening in late June, and going against all my principles of not trying to recreate moments in time in the process. I've also been continuing work on the Fordyce village landscape and the commissioned work of the Whalsay seine-netter "Orion" in Lerwick harbour. I should have the last-named finished over the next week or so.

The end of September means that my web-hosting bill for the year falls due for payment, so I duly stumped up yesterday, leaving it till the eleventh hour as usual. My web designer is promising me a major e-commerce update to the site, which is going to greatly enhance its selling capabilities. Anything which improves my chances of selling artwork is much to be welcomed, as my prints haven't exactly been flying off the shelves these last few years. I'll believe it when I see it! Please feel free to visit the website Your comments would be most welcome at Have a nice week!

Sunday, 20 September 2009


There have been odd goings-on in Lerwick this week - more than usual, I mean. These involved a Norwegian film unit, whose activities have been made even stranger by the cloak of secrecy which has surrounded their enterprise in my town. From little snippets of information I have gleaned from some of my spies, it appears that the project is connected with a television programme whose target audience is mainly young Norwegians. Could it be a Scandinavian version of Hollyoaks?

Whatever the nature of their onscreen output, they caused the main shopping thoroughfare of Lerwick to be closed off for a while on Wednesday (as if the long-suffering pedestrians and motorists needed any more street closures - the town is practically paralysed with roadworks at the moment!). The sign of the iconic Lounge Bar was obliterated with another on which the enigmatic caption "Kim's Bar" was displayed. Who's Kim when she's at home - or more appropriately, abroad?

All appeared to be going swimmingly for this intrepid production team, until the Norwegian sail-training barque "Statsraad Lehmkuhl", carrying about 200 schoolchildren, hove into view and duly tied up at Victoria Pier, a few yards from the film crew's sphere of operations, and spewed her youthful payload into the middle of whatever scene was being filmed. If I know teenagers at all, it wouldn't take them long to fathom out what was going on, thus completely scuppering the best-laid plans of this illustrious OB undertaking.

By the time I arrived, around tea-time, at what I was surprised to observe was Kim's Bar, for my weekly quota of amber nectar, there was no longer any evidence of anything out of the ordinary having taken place, other than the sign itself (which the barman told me he hadn't yet been bothered to take down!). The street had long since been re-opened, and the film crew had, as far as I could gather, left the islands by plane. The "Statsraad Lehmkuhl" sailed in the evening, not to return again until next summer, and this latter-day Viking invasion was at an end. I wonder when the programme goes out - can I get Norwegian TV on my computer?

Sunday, 13 September 2009


A steady stream of ships has been passing by this morning, providing maritime enthusiasts like me with some eye candy, as these vessels made their way towards Lerwick harbour. They included the cruise ship "Tahitian Princess", making the second of her two scheduled calls this season. At least the weather is dry and quiet for her passengers, mostly Americans of advancing years, although, this being the Sabbath, there will be few shops open for them to browse through. I expect that none of them will make it up to the Tait Gallery, as few visitors ever do. I have considered renting a small shop on one of the main thoroughfares of Lerwick, but rates are far too prohibitive.

The first big gale of the autumn arrived on Tuesday afternoon, a full fortnight earlier than normal, and finally blew itself out in the early hours of Wednesday morning, although the wind remained at near gale force for most of the day. I heard no reports of any serious damage, either at sea or on land, although the roads around town were liberally strewn with small branches and twigs from bushes and such stunted trees as can find a foothold here. The saying goes, as regards climatological conditions in Shetland, that it consists of nine months of winter and three of bad weather. It's going to be a long hard one, as the thingummy said to the whatsisname!

I've made the usual slow and steady progress on my three current art projects - the two commissions, which I hope to have finished by the beginning of next month, and the one, done with nobody in particular in mind, of Fordyce village, on which any headway at all is proving difficult to achieve. I sent off to Jackson's Art supplies for more canvases and daler boards - I think these arrived yesterday when I was out, as the postman left notification that a large package had been taken back to the depot for collection by me there. I phoned them, apologised for my earlier lack of presence, and asked them to deliver it again on Monday. I am grateful for their acquiescence to my request. I also received a new (to me!) and cheap kind of art carrier, of A1 size, from another supplier, which disappointed me. It had no expanding gusset, as I had been expecting, so it will only accommodate two standard-sized paintings. As a result it will be of limited use when transporting artworks to and from exhibitions. Fresh supplies of paint and brushes also arrived, along with my new suit (which will rarely ever be on my back, but I couldn't resist the bargain!), which means that a conspicuous dent has appeared in my bank balance this week. I'll never get rich at this game!

About a month ago, I enrolled in an evening class called "Build Your Own Website", which should have started next Tuesday evening (this incoming week). I received notification this past week that the class has been postponed until the 27th October, "due to the illness of the tutor". I regard this particular tutor as a friend, and he has added his name to a growing list of people I know who are more or less seriously ill at the moment. I just hope they all make good recoveries. While I'm on the subject of education, my nephew Kenneth has been accepted for his degree course in accountancy at Robert Gordon's University in Aberdeen. Well done to the young man - I hope his studies go well for him.

My sister Mary and I took a run out to Walls, on the west side of the Shetland mainland, to visit our mother at the Wastview Care Centre, where she is enjoying two week's respite from the struggle to live at her home. Praise is due to the Islands Council for providing such wonderful places, although keeping them staffed is a constant concern. Mother was looking well, as she was again yesterday, when my oldest sister Thelma and I paid her another call. On the way there, we visited the family home at Whiteness, to water the greenhouse plants and see that the place was all right in mother's absence. I took some pink roses out to Wastview; I hoped, in so doing, to contribute a little to the ambience of the place, but I'll probably give them all hay fever and greenfly. On the way back to Lerwick, we called along the farmer's market at Tingwall Hall, where I bought some sausagemeat from the Scalloway Meat Company stall. I had it for tea last night, and it was, quite frankly, as bland and tasteless as the stuff from other suppliers at present. What happened to good spicy saucermeat, eh? Has it been another victim of galloping European over-regulation?

One of my favourite TV presenters is Jonathan Meades, and I was not disappointed in his programme on Aberdeen, which went out on BBC4 on Wednesday evening His quirky, erudite and knowledgeable presentation, on the architecture and layout of the Granite City, was both amusing and informative, and I enjoyed it very much. I look forward to more from him.

I had my weekly quota of three pints of lager on Thursday at tea-time. I consumed the first noggin at da Noost, which was very quiet, and the other two at the Lounge, which was much livelier. There I met a number of people whom I hadn't seen for some time. Old habits die hard - after my drinks I went straight to the Red Dragon takeaway, where I got my carry-out of roast duck Canton and egg fried rice - yum! My mouth is watering as I write this!

So that's been my past week in a nutshell - not a bad one, all things considered. Every day I made some progress on some project or other, some days on several. I have heard that the opening night of the Musa Art Cafe Coast exhibition was a very busy affair, but I have received no word of any artwork sales. Neither do I have any news to give you about any forthcoming exhibitions, but I hope this situation will change soon. Watch this space, and have a nice incoming week!

Monday, 7 September 2009


A beautiful Shetland summer seems only a distant memory, as the islands have been soaked regularly in conditions portentive of the approaching autumn. The first severe gale of the season is due to hit us tomorrow evening, so hatches will be battened down urgently during the day. One of the largest cruise ships to visit Lerwick, the "Crown Princess", is due to leave Bergen tomorrow, calling here, on her way to the Faroe Islands, on Wednesday. Personally, I think she'll stay put in Bergen.

Tonight is the opening of the Musa Art Cafe's Coast exhibition in Aberdeen. It takes place on the eve of the big oil expo which opens tomorrow in the city. I'm not holding my breath, but certainly the economic conditions seem right for such an event. Wish me luck and a few sales.

Another one of life's landmarks hove into view this week. I am now eligible for Shetland Charitable Trust's Christmas grant for pensioners and disabled people, and I received the application form on Friday. Casting foolish pride aside, I duly filled it in over the weekend, and delivered it, along with a couple of credit card payments (there's a connection there!), into the capable hands of Royal Mail this morning. I can't afford to turn down offers of money - there's a recession on.

I had a haircut on Tuesday afternoon. This is only an occasional experience for me, as I am equally happy tousled as tidy. I feel grateful for the fact that I've still got a generous quantity of "mooskit" locks which, strange as it may seem, are still substantially (and naturally!) the same colour they've always been. I only wish the rest of my body was as healthy as my hair, which is the object of envy on behalf of my peers, most of who are either as bald as neeps or whose follicles are producing only grey or white growth. So it was with a sense of deep thankfulness that I instructed Katrina Gifford to give me a serious trim.

When I emerged, duly shorn , from the hairdressers, I decided to celebrate my new-mown light-headedness by quaffing a couple of noggins of lager in the nearby Lounge. Unfortunately there were uncannily few customers at the bar - I've never seen the place so quiet. Perhaps the clientele were still recovering from the Blues festival which had taken place over the weekend just past. In a previous existence, I would have participated fully and enthusiastically in this event - now I can't be bothered. I'm becoming a recluse - I suppose it's better than a social pariah!

My family are well. My mother went off for her fortnight's "holiday" at Wastview Care Centre in Walls today. My oldest sister Thelma called on me this morning for elevenses and a natter. My middle sister Mary was a welcome visitor yesterday, bearing, as she was, a bag of potatoes from her garden at Strand. Yum! My youngest sister Angela has sent the first two email despatches of a new term, describing life as a teacher in the European compound at Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia. I gather the weather is pretty hot there just now, and she makes frequent use of the swimming pool. I'm looking forward to my Aberdeen-resident brother Peter Arthur paying us a visit next month. We're pretty close as a family, and enjoy sharing each others joys and sorrows.

I continue to make slow progress on my two Lerwick Harbour commissions and my "stock" painting of Fordyce village. Sometimes I wish I could paint faster, eschewing all my fussy detail in favour of large fields of colour, like many of the "modern" artists. But, I suppose, it just wouldn't be me. My previous attempts at styles such as surrealism have been greeted with howls of derision, as was an exhibition of flower and cat paintings I held in the Shetland Museum about fifteeen years ago. As I've stated in previous posts, it's tough being an artist!

Monday, 31 August 2009


I've continued on the commissioned historical painting of Lerwick harbour, on which I have at least another month's work to do, and on the "stock" landscape of Fordyce village, near Banff. I'm making use of some of the digital images I captured in late June. The slow progress on the commission is due to the amount of detail I'm choosing to put in - it's a good job my client is not in any hurry for it.

Talking of detail, what I use for the application of paint on masts, rigging and other "tiddly" stuff is a 3-4mm round-section fine-point acrylic brush, preferably long-handled. The fine point only lasts for one painting before it goes spade-ended, after which it can still be used for fine-lining for some time. My main supplier has been letting me down lately over the provision of these, so I have been googling new sources of supply, the first consignments of which arrived last week. I'm fairly satisfied with these so far.

My website designer has been busy at this week, giving it a zippy facelift and some technical improvements. I've been busy, when I'm not engaged in artwork, trying to get more visitors to it (see separate post on Marketing) but visitors who buy anything seem to be a dying breed.

I took a break from work late on Tuesday afternoon to have a few beers at my favourite Lerwick pubs, Da Noost and the Lounge. At the latter, I ended up in conversation with a Norwegian foursome (I speak a little of their language) and the crack was good in there for a while. The Norwegians promised to come up and see my etchings the next day, but they never showed up. They probably couldn't find the place - this happens quite often.

I had an interesting letter from the Lerwick Doctors Practice last week. It appears they are going to stop supplying Beclomethasone inhalers because of the CFCs they contain. So we asthmatics are going to be sacrificed on the altar of saving the ozone layer. It reminds me of the 1960s TW3 sketch, with Peter Cook and Lance Percival, in which a hapless soldier is being commanded to surrender his life, as they required a futile gesture. They (the Lerwick Doctors Practice) are suggesting alternatives, so I guess I'll try these out. Too bad if they don't work - there'll be weeping and wailing and gasping for breath.

On the family front, I've become a grand-uncle for the umpteenth time, and my sister Mary is now into her second stint as new grandmother, as her daughter Caroline brought forth William Fraser Thomson. Both are well, and Mary is now even busier than usual. My nephew Kenneth, at age 30, has finished his university entrance course and has passed with flying colours, the good lad. He starts his studies for an accountancy degree in late September. My mother, now 93 years of age, is still in good health, apart from her mobility problems. She goes to Wastview Centre for another fortnight's respite care next Monday. My other sisters, my brother and their families are well too, a fact for which I am very grateful.

And yes, it's an occasional niggling regret that I never had any family of my own. I did have a brief and fairly stormy marriage during the 1970s, but it finished childless soon after that, and I never remarried. I suppose it's due to a cowardly streak in me, coupled with a crippling lack of self-esteem during the vital years when I might have struck up other permanent relationships. "Who'd want an unemployed, alcoholic impoverished artist?" (I did drink a fair amount in those days).

Now that I'm 61 and feeling a lot better about myself, it's a bit late to be thinking about romance! "Da sun is ower far wast!" as they say up here. I comfort myself on lonely nights by thoughts such as not needing insurance because I don't have any beneficiaries! And life's pretty good really. I'm close to all my sisters, brother and their families, as well as my mother, and if feelings of loneliness overtake me on dark winter nights, I pick up a good book and read away the blues. My little world is a rabbit warren of escape routes!

Sunday, 30 August 2009


One of my main headaches as a self-employed artist is the nebulous and esoteric subject of marketing. Basically, I don't understand it, and every part of my very being rails against the thought of gaining any further knowledge on the subject. However, I know it is an essential element of running a small business, so every so often I take a deep breath and plunge into its murky depths, normally emerging as clueless as when I went in.

Art is even more difficult to market than most goods and services, for all kinds of reasons. Even the gurus have very little to say on the subject and, whenever I have approached any of them for advice, they become uncharacteristically unforthcoming with ideas and "useful products" to help me in my endeavours. Most of these able and intelligent entrepreneurs are into things like joint ventures, affiliate schemes, private label and resale rights and Clickbank campaigns, which are no doubt wonderful money-making tools for the marketing professional or hobbyist, but are of no value whatsoever to an artist seeking outlets for his paintings and prints. And there are tens of thousands of other artists trying to do exactly the same thing. Every week I receive several emails from Chinese studios offering me their "beautiful" products to display and sell. I now have a stock reply, saved on my hard drive, thanking them for their offer and wishing them well in their search for markets for their artwork, but explaining that the Tait Gallery is for the marketing and sale of my own artwork only. Maybe I'm missing out on something here - but no, I don't have the time to take on other people's problems.

Not that there aren't self-appointed art-marketing gurus out there. These people, fluent in Blindingly Obvious, advertise their services in tempting terms such as "revolutionary", "exciting" or "new". I once accepted the offer of a video course (with a money-back guarantee), from an American artist, who claimed to have found the secret of eternal successful art sales. I paid my $99, downloaded the course on to my computer, and set aside an evening to ingest the course. I managed to get through the first four of twenty-seven modules, before I got fed-up listening to the fellow's dreary east-coast voice telling me nothing I didn't know already. My eyes glazed over, my cigarette dropped out of my mouth and started to burn my genitals. In a fit of blind foul temper, I deleted the whole course from my hard drive. I didn't even bother to ask for my money back - it certainly was an astute piece of marketing from the point of view of the maker of the video!

The marketing whizz for Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Ian Muir, was sceptical about online marketing, when I attended a pre-arranged interview with him, about five years ago, at the beginning of my self-employment. He was convinced that the best way to market art was through exhibitions and art fairs - to have a physical presence in front of potential buyers. In this he wasn't wrong. Certainly my best event was the Catterline exhibition last year, and I hope to have another there soon. But I have found that the website has helped a bit too, along with strategic newspaper and magazine advertising campaigns. I applied a few tricks to bring the site to the attention of the public. I submitted to directories, joined online galleries and did a lot of work on getting backlinks (although my Links page, it turns out, is of limited value for this). So what the marketing gurus have to say about SEO, traffic building and keywords should be of interest to me. But, in the end, if I rank no. 1 in the search engines and receive thousands of visitors a day, this will all count for nothing if no-one wants to buy my artwork.

It appears that we are in a recession (some would say a depression) at the moment, and there is a shortage of filthy lucre about. That being the case, people are buying tea-bags, toilet roll and other essentials, and the people who manufacture and market those are presumably doing fine. Anything left after paying the mortgage and buying food , lighting and heating will go on clothing and white goods. Only after this is taken care of can a householder think of getting something nice to hang on his or her wall, so we struggling artists are always at the bottom of the food chain. And there are an awful lot of us chasing a very limited number of buyers. Times are tough for artists.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


Last Saturday, during my trip to the mainland, after having had a bar lunch at a pub in Huntly, my brother was driving us back to Aberdeen, with the boxes containing the remnants of my Duff House exhibition in the back of the trusty Fiesta. I had been taking some photographs of the picturesque village of Forgue and nearby Conzie Castle, and we had decided on having the meal before we set off for the Granite City.

Near the village of Blackburn, we were passing a farm retail outlet, when two dogs suddenly bolted out of the farm road onto the carriageway. One was a smooth grey thing, a bit like a Labrador but taller, thinner and more heavy-jowled; the other was one of these floor-mophead jobs, possibly a Yorkshire terrier (I'm not genned up on my dog breeds - as someone who has stood in their produce too often, I detest them all equally!).

The car in front, which contained a young couple, screeched to a halt, managing to avoid hitting one of the stupid brutes. My brother swerved to avoid a collision, and pulled up, ahead of the other car, in the farm access road. He and the other driver got out and succeeded in stopping the traffic while they coaxed the animals off the carriageway and into the farm complex, which consisted of a portakabin, barns and private homes.

They set about trying to find the dog owners without success. However, they did find a woman who was willing to look after the beasts until ownership could be established. Leaving the situation in this state of limbo, my brother came back to the car, and we carried on our merry way to Aberdeen, slightly mystified by the event that had just taken place.

And thus a potentially very nasty incident was avoided.


On Saturday 8th August, I decided to hold my final stall of the summer at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre in Lerwick. That day, the cruise ship "Tahitian Princess" was tied up at the nearby Morrison Dock, and her payload of passengers, mostly elderly Americans, were having a wander round town, enjoying the mild and dry, if not particularly sunny, weather. One of these, an octogenarian from Florida, stopped to have a look at my prints, and took a fancy to the one of the SS "St. Clair" off Buchan Ness.
"Tell you what," he said, "How about we do a swap?"
I can't remember exactly what my reply was, probably something like "What?"
He produced, from a carrier bag, a tan-coloured suede leather jacket.
"Wanna try it on?" he asked. I did. It fitted perfectly, even the sleeves.
"There. That jacket for the print. What do you think of that?"
I asked him why he didn't want the jacket.
"Too warm for where I come from." he replied.
I had a choice - either accept or refuse. I accepted.
I am now, officially, part of the barter system!


The view from my studio window is at once an inspiration and a distraction. Today the sky is low, grey and threatening, the rising wind is beginning to whip the wavetops into white foam, and the gannets are putting on a magnificent display of synchronised high-diving on the shoals of coalfish fry and sand-eels (which seem to be plentiful this year) in Breiwick Bay.

But, as long as I am gazing at this spectacle, I am ignoring my full inbox and pending tray, and putting little completed work into my outbox. The trouble is, I am too easily distracted. On the way north from the mainland, on the Northlink ferry "Hrossey", on Sunday night, I bought a book, from the onboard shop, entitled "At Close Quarters" by Gerald Seymour. Yesterday, I just had to finish reading it. I couldn't put it down, and all work-related activity was suspended while it had me in its vice-like grip. Now that it has released me to go about the vexing business of earning a living as a self-employed artist, here am I watching these gannets.

Not that I haven't been busy these last few weeks. I've sold five paintings locally, a further three at Duff House, and one on my way back to Aberdeen! And there have been a few prints going too. So it's clear that my bills are going to be paid for the next couple of months. But I seem to have created little in the way of new artwork this summer. Just two new oil paintings (shown above) and a couple of alterations/improvements have come off the "easel" over the last two months, since finishing the work for the Duff House tea-room exhibition. I have just one more commissioned work in progress, and lots of ideas which have yet to be realised on board or canvas. So distraction is a counter-productive force right now.

What could be described as another distraction was my trip south last weekend, to dot the necessary "i"s and cross the essential "t"s after the Duff House showing, and remove the unsold works from their store-room. These, which formed the overwhelming majority of those which I had hung so optimistically six weeks earlier, have been taken, in my brother's Fiesta, back to Aberdeen. There they will remain in storage at my brother's house until someone with available transport arrives to take them back to Shetland. Six of them, however, will be going on display again, this time at the Musa Art Cafe's Coast exhibition, which begins on September 7th at their premises at Exchange Street, Aberdeen. I have been given a whole lot of invitation cards, for the opening night, which I've got to dish out to people. I'm having trouble identifying recipients - would you care for one, or two, or six? Drop me an email ( with your postal address, and I'll send you however many you need (within reason!). You'll have to be quick, though!

So, life is full of attractive and compelling diversions, which entice an artist away from the straight and narrow path of creative endeavours, and drive him down non-productive alleyways. Family events, the administrative duties of self-employment and commercial activities, along with the frailty of human nature itself, all conspire to distract him from the serious business of painting pictures. Who'd be an artist, eh?

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


If you've read yesterday's posts, you will have gathered that all is not well in the strange demented world of the Tait Gallery. Actually, it has not been too bad as far as commissions go, mainly thanks to my Saturday stalls over the past few weeks, but the Duff House exhibition, which has been carrying all my hopes and dreams of the last nine months, has been a disaster, as regards sales, so far, and, at this moment, with less than a fortnight to go, it has not yet paid its bills, let alone yielded a profit. True, it has attracted a lot of favourable comment, and generated considerable interest, but I can't proffer favourable comment in payment for a packet of Weetabix, nor will considerable interest pay my electricity bill. I leave to your own consideration the number of times I can spend the best part of a year producing a loss-making exhibition. You'll probably come up with the same answer I have.

The attitude of the press towards this exhibition has been most peculiar too. While the Aberdeen-based Press & Journal did a feature on the event during its opening week, the Banffshire Journal, which is the local newspaper covering the area in which Duff House is elegantly situated, has chosen to disregard it completely in its columns, instead choosing to send a photograph, of me gazing thoughtfully at my creations on the Tea-room wall, to the Shetland Times, who duly published it! I realise that the Banffshire Journal is is no way obliged to publish anything on this subject, but I would have thought that local events are part of the scope of their coverage. I can but come to my own conclusions on this matter.

I finished my latest head-banging project, the rather detailed work of Johnshaven harbour (pictured above), which has been occupying some of my time, and trying more of my patience, over the last three months. I think it looks not bad. However, you may think differently - please let me know! We artists, working, as we do, in a complete vacuum, can absorb unlimited quantities of constructive criticism, as this helps us to improve our output. The most disconcerting response is complete silence, a sound that is, alas, all too familiar to me.

I've held my little stall at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre, here in Lerwick, these last three Saturdays. As a result, I've sold quite a few prints and postcards, and received one or two commissions, with the likelihood of more to follow. The stall has proved to be a useful vehicle - a symbol of my continued presence, a kind of denial of my demise in peoples' consciousnesses. Or something. I find it reminds people, who may have forgotten, that I'm still here!

The Musa Art Cafe, near Aberdeen harbour, has offered to display up to six of my artworks, so some of my unsold Duff House works (there will be a lot to choose from!) will go on show as part of their Coast exhibition (everyone seems to have a Coast exhibition these days!), which opens in September. Their commission rates are even more punitive than those of Duff House, but what's a struggling artist to do during a depression? Answers on a blank signed cheque, please, to Jim Tait, 11c Union Street, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 0ET. I look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009


The beauty of women increases in direct proportion to the age and decrepitude of the male observing and admiring them. This sad fact has been coming to my attention as, on 16th July, I attained the age of 61 summers (not to mention a few hard winters). This also means that a substantial part of my get-up-and-go has been getting up and going over the past few years. I used to be able to work a full day, and still be up for some fun and games in the evening, but those days are sadly well and truly behind me.

My work requires a degree of concentration, and, after eight hours of this, I find that all I want to do is watch a good TV programme (if such an article can be found), read a good book, or search for something obscure and interesting on the web. My creativity can only be properly focused for a limited continuous period of time, and afterwards I feel exhausted. Days involving more in the way of physical work leave me feeling knackered, although, after an hour's rest, I'm usually ready to go again. Let's face it, I'm starting to get old, and I only hope the rest of the process is going to be relatively painless.

I apologise, to the faithful few followers of this blog, for neglecting to post to it for more than three weeks. I've been rather busy and, to be truthful, my thoughts of late have been rather negative, about practically everything, and I didn't want to do a blog post while I was in that frame of mind. Perhaps that's wrong too - in order for the blog to be a genuine record, I should post in all circumstances. Anyway, things haven't changed, really, but I'm learning to live with it - to know the difference between the things I can and cannot change, basically.

There have been happy events too. Two friends, whom I last saw 13 and 38 years ago respectively, turned up to see me during the last two weeks. My youngest sister Angela, her husband Nigel and daughter Elanor (who was recently appointed leader of the Welsh National Youth Orchestra) have been up for an all-too-short holiday, transforming the peace and tranquillity of my mother's home at Whiteness into a palace of laughter and music for a week. My mother, who celebrates (although she doesn't know it yet!) her 93rd birthday on Thursday, sat in the middle of the chaos, smiling happily - she loves having her family around her.

We have been blessed with mostly good summer weather too. The flora and fauna of these islands have rejoiced as never before. On my birthday, the largest cruise ship yet to anchor in Lerwick harbour, the "Costa Magica", paid the first of her two scheduled visits for this summer. She made an impressive, if not actually beautiful, spectacle.

Maybe better times are ahead. My sisters Mary and Thelma, along with myself and whichever other family members are able to come, are going to give Mother a birthday party on Thursday evening, and I'm going to enjoy judging the drawing and painting entries in the arts and crafts section of the Voe Show on Saturday. All I need now is news of a couple more sales of my own artwork at Duff House, and life will take on a distinct rosy hue again. I need the depression to lift from my recession - soon.


I have never been in possession of a full driving licence. I've held a provisional on a couple of occasions, but have never gone through to taking the test with it. There are no doubt pedestrians and other drivers who are grateful for this fact. I hold the distinction of being the only man in Shetland who has driven a Ford 8 van up a flight of steps backwards. I hasten to add that this action was unintentional - I was about seventeen at the time, and it pleased my long-suffering father not one bit. The vehicle was slightly shorter and higher as a result of the incident, and the front doors wouldn't open or close after it.

Whether this episode put me off driving for life, or for other reasons, I have had no subsequent interest in getting behind the wheel. Consequently, whenever I need to get anywhere beyond reasonable walking distance, I have to get someone else to do the driving, whether by bus, taxi or with a friend or family member at the wheel of a private vehicle.

So I have bribed and cajoled my sister Mary to give me a lift, this coming Saturday, to the parish of Voe, in the north mainland of Shetland, where the annual Voe & District Agricultural show is to take place. The committee have invited me to be a judge in the Arts & Crafts section, and I am very much looking forward to the day. I have performed this pleasant duty on several occasions in the past, and have always enjoyed these days to the full. There are always beautifully-made articles in the crafts section, and excellent drawings, paintings and other 2D exhibits too.

On one past occasion, I had had a few lemonades and other beverages the previous evening, and had turned up feeling a little the worse for wear. I found myself gazing at a lovely piece of embroidery, in the form of a framed text which stated "He who hoots with the owls all night cannot soar with the eagles in the morning." I burst out laughing at these mots juste, to curious glances from my fellow judges and stewards.

The judging process has to be a careful mixture of objective and subjective reasoning, and I must be doing something right, as they keep asking me back. Roll on Saturday!

Saturday, 4 July 2009


Everyone loves a public hanging, and the main reason for my trip to the Banff area was mine, which was taking place at Duff House from Monday 22nd June. This was my first at this prestigious venue, and only my second Scottish mainland event. Never mind that my display was only in the ground-floor tea-room - one has to start somewhere. Maybe someday I will ascend that hallowed horseshoe-shaped staircase as an exhibitor.

On the appointed day, after I, the condemned man, had eaten a hearty breakfast, I met Jo Edwards, who supervisies the exhibitions programme, at 11.15am as previously arranged. As is normally the case, I had arrived far too early, and had made the acquaintance of a tree-stump, near the front of the house, to which I was to return on many occasions over the next few days, to enjoy the sunshine and have a smoke. I had a quick meeting with Jo and John Mair, who was going to be in charge of the actual hanging process, and we discussed the forthcoming event. She agreed to display the A4 Aberdeen harbour prints in the shop, and to display the Tait Gallery leaflets in the tea-room. With my main issues resolved favourably, I arranged to meet John Mair again next morning at 10am, and left, to walk back to my lodgings with a spring in my heart and a song in my step.

So, next morning, I found myself sitting on my tree-stump, surveying the Baroque mansion, designed by William Adam in 1735, and constructed over the ensuing four years - quite a short time to finish such a magnificent building, I would have thought. It was built for William Duff, Lord Braco, later the Earl of Fife, but he and the architect quarrelled, mostly over the cost, which was the then-astronomical figure of £70,000, and the 1st earl never actually stayed there.

From then until 1906, when the then Duke of Fife gifted the building to the councils of Banff and Macduff, the building had an interesting and sometimes violent history. Apparently, one Countess of Fife attempted to murder her husband, presumably because he had come into the house wearing his muddy boots, had aimed poorly in the toilet, broken wind in bed, or done some other of the things which drive wives to completely the wrong kind of distraction. If she had succeeded, would it have been earlicide?

Since 1906, it has been a hotel, a sanitorium, and accommodation for German prisoners during the second world war. It was given into the care of Historic Scotland in 1956, extensively restored, and re-opened in 1995. It is now jointly (and apparently successfully) operated by Historic Scotland, the National Galleries of Scotland and Aberdeenshire Council, as a venue for the arts.

I met John Mair, and we started to hang my paintings, by means of mirror clamps to hold them in place on boards suspended from the ceiling with chains. The walls are a warmish pale green colour, which set the pictures off well. We managed to hang 8 paintings by 11am, when the tea-room opened to the public, and we had to suspend operations. We arranged to meet again at 9.30am the next day to finish the job.

By 11am on Wednesday morning, the paintings were all hung, numbered, and the numbering altered on the price list to accommodate the hanging order we had completed. I went upstairs to the 1st floor, where artworks by such old masters as Allan Ramsay, Sir Henry Raeburn, El Greco and Cuyp are displayed, along with Chippendale furniture and other historical artistic gems. It felt good to have my work exhibited in the same building as these masterpieces.

The next day was the official opening of my exhibition. I hung around the tea-room, chatting to anyone who looked remotely interested in my efforts, of whom there seemed to be quite a few. Two people, one of whom worked in the building, mentioned that boats owned by their fathers were among those featured in my paintings (the "Silver Wave" and "Faithful Star"). This was the kind of reaction I had been hoping for, along with a few sales, of course. There were no takers on the first day, but I still have high hopes of a few red dots before the 9th of August, when the paintings are all taken down to make way for the next exhibitor.

As I sat on my tree-stump, later in the day, I reflected that, however the venture turns out financially, it has been a pleasure, honour and privilege to have my work displayed in this beautiful and historic venue. And, one never knows, they might just ask me back!

Thursday, 2 July 2009


My evenings would have passed slowly at my Banff B & B, during the process of setting up my Duff House exhibition. In a previous life, I would have found a pub with a nice atmosphere and got quietly sloshed. But, since my disability, operation and subsequent slow process of returning to something like fitness, I have lost the lager habit, so to speak. I can still enjoy a pint or, on the rare occasion, maybe three or four, but most days and nights pass alcohol-free, my evenings usually spent working at some aspect of my business.

A lady came to rescue my evenings from the fate of boredom. She was a friend of two of my sisters, whom she had met during a stay in Shetland some years ago. She hails from the Moray Firth coast region, heard I was in the area, and she offered to give me a tour of some of the more remarkable places in this part of north-east Scotland. It would have been foolish to turn down such an opportunity, and I gratefully accepted the invitation.

And so, on the Monday evening, she took me first to the remarkable pet cemetery near the shore at Whitehills. This flourishes thanks to a special dispensation from the Queen, who had been petitioned to intervene, after an attempt was made by the local council to remove it. Next, we had coffee from her flask on the pier at Sandend (pronounced San-INE in this parts), and then proceeded to the headland between Cullen and Portknockie, where there is a remarkable sea-stack formation known as the Bow Fiddle Rock, which had to be approached by a footpath to view. We had our evening meal at the Marine Hotel in Buckie, after discovering that our plan A choice of venue, The Admiral's at Findochty, was fully booked for the evening. By this time, the weather, fair up to now, had taken a turn for the worse, with low cloud and drizzle obscuring most of the views, but the damage had been done to my ennui for that evening.

On Tuesday, my tour guide had other fish to fry, so it was Wednesday evening when we set off on another magical mystery tour. This time, I had remembered to take my camera with me. The evening was fair, although low cloud came across from time to time. We had our Thermos coffee again at Sandend, then we drove to Fordyce, a beautiful village built around its own castle (now run as a self-catering establishment). I took a good few photographs around the place, and then we were off in the direction of Huntly. The scenery was breathtaking in the undulating countryside, made more so by the effect of the sunlight coming and going through the mist onto the hills and valleys. On the way, we passed the stark single overgrown gable of Conzie Castle, near Forgue, standing on its own in a field, and this is possibly the image, from my whole trip, that I most regret NOT taking a photograph of.

The river Deveron, flowing past Huntly Castle, is a beautiful sight, and I did get a digital image of this. This spot is reached by a road which, at one point, runs through an archway in Huntly Academy, with a cricket club and golf club among the recreational facilities along its route. Altogether I was very impressed with this picturesque town. The square, on which the hotel where we had our evening meal was situated, was another fine feature, and I took more snapshots here. Then it was back to Banff, via Tesco's filling station on the outskirts of the burgh, the village of Aberchirder, and the Sandyhill Road, which follows one side of the extensive grounds of Duff House. We visited Scotstown, a row of fishermen's cottages situated on Boyndie Bay, which looks over a sandy beach to Whitehills. Here, the late evening sun shining through the low cloud made for an extraordinary light effect, which again I caught on camera, rounding off another interesting evening.

Thursday evening was spent taking in some of the views of east Banffshire and Buchan, which were no less interesting, although my enthusiasm was flagging a little after my exhibition's opening day at Duff House. The beach and old church at New Aberdour stand out as a particularly nice location, although the strange arrangement of things at Mintlaw, which seems to consist of little more than a roundabout, the mile-long row of buildings at New Pitsligo and the town of Strichen were also noteworthy places. For my final evening meal of my stay on the Scottish mainland (for this trip!), we had very good fare at the Banff Springs Hotel which, I today observed in the Banffshire Journal, is on the market - again.

We did a good number of miles together in the elderly Fiesta, which might have seen better days, and protested at some of the steeper gradients we encountered, but it got us to some bonny spots and inspirational viewpoints. I am very grateful to this friend, whom I had never met before last week. Without her, my evenings in Banff would have seemed a lot longer.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009


I should explain that the precipitous nature of our tour of the Moray coast was due to the fact that I only had the use of my chauffeur for one day, which was Saturday 20th June. The following day, Mary was going off on an excursion of her own, visiting friends in Strichen and Inverurie, before catching the ferry, at Aberdeen, back home to Shetland, where she was due in at her work the next day. Some of us have to do it!

We finished our soup and roll in the Cornerstone Cafe at Macduff, and set out in a westerly direction this time, in continuance of my photographic journey. After passing through Banff again, we went through Whitehills without stopping, which was a mistake, as I later discovered. We made our first stop at Portsoy harbour, which is the venue for a traditional boat festival from tomorrow. We visited a ceramics shop on the seafront, and I took some photographs from the other side of the harbour, looking back towards the town. The harbour was quiet then, but by this time tomorrow it will be bursting at the seams, and resounding with all sorts of jollification. Some Shetlanders are there, carrying on from our own carnival this last weekend!

For some reason we missed the turn-off for Sandend, which was another mistake, and we found ourselves next in Cullen, a rather imposing town, the only thing about which I previously knew was its association with the skink dish. It nestles among the arches of several sections of viaduct. Add a harbour and a sandy beach, at the west end of which are some spectacular cliffs and rock formations, and you have a venue which is crying out to be photographed. I duly obliged and, looking at my efforts with hindsight, I should have taken a lot more.

Portknockie and Findochty followed, both picturesque former fishing towns, with nice harbours mostly given over to pleasure craft these days. I could easily have spent a day or more exploring the nooks and crannies of each of them, and using a whole digital camera smart card in the process, but time was our enemy.

We pressed on, arriving next at the caravan park at Portessie, and the thought entered my head that one of these mobile homes in that situation would make a brilliant studio. Pretty grim in winter though! From here, the shore through Ianstown, Gordonsburgh, Buckie and Portgordon is all largely a built-up area, one village running into another, with a substantial and industrialised harbour area at Buckie.

Here my doughty driver went bandit on me, and expressed a strong desire to strike inland to a garden centre at Fochabers. My enthusiasm was flagging a little by this time, and I agreed to her request. I sat in the car, while she visited the centre, reflected on a good day's work, and speculated on what I might find when I united my camera with my computer on my return to Shetland a week from that time.

Mary returned to the car , bearing her purchases, and we drove to the square in the middle of the town, where we discussed what to do next. Both of us were feeling a bit tired, and we decided to call it a day and return to base. We were also feeling the need for a "proper" meal which we later enjoyed in the County Hotel. We were told that our illustrious and glorious leader, Alex Salmond, had dined there the evening before, so we took the view that, if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for us. And it certainly was a very good meal, from the service, the main course, the wine, to the sticky toffee pudding (which is the only item on the sweet menu which I would cheerfully kill or be killed for!).

It was the perfect end to an excellent day, and I looked forward with pleasure to the rest of my Banff experience.