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, 31 May 2009


For the last three days, my beloved islands have been bathed in warm, almost uninterrupted sunshine. This morning, as I looked out over Breiwick Bay from my lofty window, the cruise ship "Polar Star" and the magnificent Norwegian tall ship "Statsraad Lehmkuhl" made their graceful way towards the sun-drenched harbour at Lerwick. My thoughts have been turning towards cruise ships this week, and I have booked my stall at the Toll Clock Shopping Centre to tempt some of the passengers from the "Aida Cara" on Thursday next, and the "Azamara Journey" the following Tuesday. If some of the passengers make it past the cordon of tour buses awaiting them at the pierhead, they may just stray towards the goods available at the Tait Gallery. Whatever their itinerary, I hope the sun continues to shine for them.

My promotional products have arrived from the manufacturers, and the T-shirts will add some welcome variety to the prints and postcards I already sell at the stall.

I've started work on two large-ish canvases this week, both of which feature harbour scenes, both of which will contain a great deal of detail, both of which will require careful planning and execution, and both of which will consume a lot of my time. One is a commission for one of my "regulars", a retired businessman and yachtsman from Sweden, and the other, of low tide at Johnshaven, is for my next exhibition at Catterline, whenever that might be - possibly next year.

On Friday, I took my weekly trip out to Whiteness which, like the rest of Shetland, was warm, sunny and caressed by a southerly breeze. My mother was well, and I did my usual bits and pieces around the house, even straying into the garden, which is in a state of natural neglect, on a couple of occasions. There is a magnificent display of dandelion "clocks" there, and it will take a week of hard labour from someone much fitter than me to restore it to any sort of respectability. At least my mother's new next-door-neighbour's cats are discouraging the rabbits, which plagued the flower-beds and vegetable plot in previous years.

I fried whiting in batter for our lunch, did the washing up, watered the greenhouse plants, and did what I could to give my mother a rest from the process of managing simple household tasks which are exhausting for 92-year-old lady on a zimmer-frame. In just another 3 weeks' time, she will have another fortnight's respite "holiday" in Wastview Care Centre at Walls, and she is always more than ready for these breaks. The uncomfortable fact has to be faced that, at some point, mother will no longer be able to stay in the home which my father had built, for their retirement, in the early 1970s. It's a lovely house and location, but she's been there on her own for 13 years since Dad died, and, for all of that time, she's had severe mobility problems. The decision to leave will be hers alone, and none of us want to lose beautiful Brugarth, which has been our heart and soul for nearly 40 years, but, at the back of our minds, is the intensely sad thought that it will happen one day. It's a thought that remains largely unspoken between my sisters, brother and I.

How can I cheer you all up after all the heavy sadness of the foregoing? I could tell you that I made scotch broth for my sister and I to enjoy on Monday lunchtime, and the resultant flatulence was probably single-handedly responsible for a deterioration in the ozone layer. Thank goodness I'm self-employed, with no-one else around to experience the fall-out, but I'm not sure if I did the staff at Shetland Charitable Trust any favours. On Tuesday I had a couple of pints of amber nectar and lime at da Noost and da Lounge, but I know my limitations drink-wise nowadays. Prior to that I'd bought a pair of wide-fitting size 11 trainers, at DE Shoes, my feet having spread from the standard size 9 which I was when in my prime. They cost £29.99, which is reasonable, and they will hopefully carry me around the mean streets of Banff and Macduff when I am away there next month.

Yesterday afternoon, my neighbour arrived upstairs with three splendid trout (one sea and two brown), half (sic!) of which I put in a bowl with coarse salt, and placed in the fridge to have for my lunch tomorrow. The other half I put in a bag in the freezer for another occasion. Hurrah for Alex and Greta Munro (not their first mention in these columns) - may the fish always rise for them! Greta says she uses me as a cat. I'll purr, scratch the furniture and make holes in the garden for her any day!

Sunday, 24 May 2009


The squad of plumbers plumbed all day on Friday. For most of the day I was out, having promised to accompany my mother to the hospital for an audiology appointment, and to do my usual bits and pieces at her Whiteness home. I returned to base at about seven in the evening, to find my water flowing fully again. I became, in an instant, extremely grateful for the services of the council artisan, without which we must surely all perish - or at least smell bad.

Now that the paint is dry on the artwork for the forthcoming Duff House exhibition, I've been getting in my usual tizz over the travel details and other admin associated with the event. My framer has chosen this weekend to biff off on a trip to Poland, supposedly to return this incoming week. I sure hope he does - he has an awful lot of work to do. I've ben passing some hours this week resurrecting my large landscape of St. Cyrus, which was sadly lacking in light and depth. It's improved, but it needs a bit more done on the field in the foreground. I should finish it tomorrow.

And then there are the considerations of what to take with me, in the two small cases and shoulder bag I've decided will hold my stuff. How many Tait Gallery leaflets, what documents and maps? I'll be navigating on our way there, so we'll probably end up in Ullapool or somewhere equally exotic and far away from our intended destination. I need some decent footwear for my size 11 plates, which have spread from my former standard-fit 9. I've got my shirts, socks and underwear organised, and I've ordered a pair each of jeans and cargo breeks, and a light waterproof jacket (just in case!). Should I have a haircut before I go? Probably. And I've got to remember that Northlink Ferries ticket, without which I needn't bother to leave the house. How much cash will I need to take with me? Should I make an arrangement with a branch of my bank in Banff? How is this whole thing going to go? Will I sell a few paintings or will the past 9 months have been all for nothing?

I've ordered some T-shirts to give my sister and myself a corporate image for our trip. There are 12 of them, which might seem a bit over the top for our personal use, but I intend to sell 8 of them. Anyone fancy a Tait Gallery T-shirt? The colour is grey, and there are L and XL available, or there will be in about a week's time. They are £12 including postage, and it will be a case of first come, first served. Drop me an email at if you're interested.


A shimmering flock of arctic terns has been indulging in a feeding frenzy on what must be a shoal of small fish in Breiwick Bay this morning. It has been a remarkable and unusual sight. Other seabird species have been joining in the bonanza. I can only speculate as to the type of fish - Sprats? Young coalfish? Who knows?

Thursday, 21 May 2009


As the BBC, in its customary compulsive obsessive manner, has declared this to be poetry week, I thought I would make my own contribution to this lofty cause. I resolved that I would pen a short poem to commemorate an event which took place in my life this week. Well, today it happened, and here it is:

A pipe has fractured in my block.
The plumber has turned us off at the main.
"What will become of us now?", we conjecture,
"Maybe we'll never see water again!"
Nine flats with nary a drop in their sink
Plague and pestilence surely will follow.
Two dozen souls beginning to stink,
Empty cisterns sounding hollow.
Now is the start of a long hot summer,
Too much time with no toilette.
Wield your spanner, Mr Plumber!
Let us all get sweetly wet!
No washes, douches, flush or rinsing -
We'll be society's disdain
Can I be any more convincing?
Plumber, come and fix our main!

I believe that next week is Wet T-shirt week (can you even conceive of what I have planned for that!), followed by the events of "Slap Someone with a Salt Mackerel" Day the following weekend.

Watch this space.

Sunday, 17 May 2009


I have made good headway during the last month, and I have seventeen paintings ready for the Duff House exhibition. I hope to have the eighteenth and last one finished by the end of this incoming week. I call this one the magnum opus, as it depicts a crowded harbour in a great deal of detail, and is taking so long to complete.

My framing has arrived from a supplier in Nottingham, and my trusty framer Keith Hughson is now bringing his expertise to bear on them. While I'm not bad at creating stuff in 2D, I'm useless at all forms of DIY, as my flat can testify - even my wallpaper is covered in blood (my own, I hasten to add!).

All the travel and accommodation arrangements in connection with the exhibition have been made, and the ferry fares paid for. I'm looking forward to my trip - the last time I was in this part of Scotland was in 1958, when I was ten years old. We had a family holiday, based in a Buckie B & B called Redburn House, and we toured the region in Dad's old Wolseley. At that time there was an open-air swimming pool at a place called Tarlair. I have no plans for any skinny-dipping on this occasion though!


By a happy coincidence, my trading year ended yesterday, at the end of a week of startling revelations regarding the expense claims of our parliamentary representatives. Today, I have been putting the last month's figures into the Excel spreadsheet on which my year's income and expenditure is outlined. It makes depressing reading - I appear to have been living beyond my limited means again. Over the period I have made a trading loss of over £1400, some of which I hope to receover from the Duff House exhibition, which begins next month. Perhaps, in these financially troubled times, I have fared better than most.

I observe, from the spreadsheet in front of me, that my heating and lighting bill for the year has gone up to £900, I have spent almost £1800 on advertising in its online and offline forms, and almost £2100 on art materials and graphics services (my giclee prints). Stationery, which includes all office expenditure, has set me back £1200. Depressingly, I have spent less than £100 on postage, which reflects the lack of overseas orders for my work. (Incidentally I have spent nothing on daily newspapers, and this will continue to be my policy).

However, I have claimed nothing for my hob-nobs, which are of the plain variety, as chocolate gives me migraine. I have no swimming pool or garden, and no second (or third) home to claim mortgage interest relief (or whatever it is) on. I get postally bombarded with long-life lightbulbs, and any dry-rot on my premises rots away unnoticed and untreated. I won't go near the subject of lavatory-seats.

I have spent nothing this year on moat clearance. I repel unwelcome visitors by creative drawbridge use, and my neighbours' small dogs discourage them further. Later today, a Greek student called Thanos Bicycle-clips, or something similar, is coming to see me with a questionnaire on young people living on islands (a subject I know little about, but I was probably the only person who answered his email). I expect the poor fellow will be bloodied and dripping wet when he arrives, so I'll offer him coffee and a hob-nob (plain) to help him feel better.

As to spending hundreds of pounds on horse-manure, I generate enough of the smelly stuff in the columns of this blog to render any such expenditure completely unnecessary. A few years ago, our local council began a campaign to encourage compost development in the islands. At that time, my late brother-in-law, whom I still miss dreadfully, was a councillor, and I suggested to him that this would be a good description of proceedings at a Policy & Resources meeting. He was less than impressed by the analogy.

So, in conclusion on this subject, I'm afraid my creativity does not stretch to my accounts. Some people maintain that it doesn't manifest itself in my art (or my writing) either, but, after 5 years of self-employment, I'm still in business, and I hope to stay that way for some time to come.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


My friend Patricia Gray, of Synergy Publishing, who visited our beautiful islands last summer (not for the last time, I hope) has expressed her displeasure, in the columns of "The Shetland Times", over the first of the ITV series in which the comic actor Martin Clunes has embarked on a whistle stop tour of Britain's remote islands, ostensibly to explore the psychology of isolation which, in mainland peoples' eyes, must attend our remoteness from the rest of the British population. In the course of the Shetland part of his odyssey, he met in with various people, most of whom were incomers, and at least one of whom, Stuart Hill, is an even bigger clown than he is.

She says that she hopes I didn't see it. I didn't. I think I was watching the coincident snooker, or rather I was working, with the snooker as a backdrop to what I was doing at the time. I avoided the "Islands" programme, as I knew it would contain little to enlighten or entertain me. Despite the gravitas attached to the broadcast in the Radio Times, I knew that this was merely a vehicle for the self-promotion and bank balance maintenance of a TV celebrity.

The programme has excited very little attention in the media here, and Patricia's was the only letter in the "Reader's Views" column of the "The Shetland Times" to refer to it at all. My mother watched "Islands" and hated it, probably because she is unfamiliar with Mr Clunes' television output, and expected something more scholarly.

But "sooth-moothers" have been talking tosh about these islands since time immemorial, and somehow the sun still rises in the morning and sets in the evening. Shetlanders still go to work each day to earn a pretty reasonable living for themselves and their families. Smoking-jacket-clad TV personalities, complaining about the smell in gannet colonies, present no problem either to the gannets or the islanders. A much more real threat is posed by the agendas of single-interest city-based pressure groups, who care not a whit whether Shetlanders make a living or not, as long as the subject of their focus is promoted, now apparently with the support of the Scottish Parliament. Anyone who wishes to deny us the right to put Shetland produce on our tables, and to earn a living from what has always been our most precious resource, the sea, is a far greater obstacle to the prosperity of these islands than clowns like Clunes. Another real issue is the oppressive over-regulation emanating from Europe. Patricia mentions the naturalist Kate Humble (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in the Queen's Hotel a few years back), but she has no more interest in the welfare of Shetlanders than Clunes does.

I harbour no ill-feeling towards "sooth-moothers" and some of my best friends hail from outside these islands. I have always enjoyed their company, and appreciate the contribution they make towards our economy and society. However, when they arrive, as some do, with a colonial attitude, seeking to alter the customs and practices of those damned unwashed natives, my hackles start to rise. And I don't like myself with risen hackles - I go around muttering to myself uncharacteristically, and thinking thoughts that I would rather not think.

People who seek to use Shetland as a marketing tool for their own produce are another threat to the future prosperity of these islands. Entrepreneurs have arrived in the sooth mooth to set up shop selling Shetland Wiener schnitzel, Shetland pate a foie gras and Shetland blueberry pie, not to mention liquor with an advertised Shetland content which, as far as we can tell, does not even amount to fresh air.

The "Islands" programme will leave us no worse than we were before. It may even encourage more visitors, who might just stumble upon a genuine Shetland product to buy during their stay in "isolation". Apparently Clunes met Steven Spence, who is a genuine Unst man, and, as to the other people he encountered on his visit, it is natural that one clown should gravitate towards another.

I hope Patricia and I are still friends after she's read this post in response to her "Shetland Times" letter. She has always encouraged frankness from me, and this is it. We regard the islands from different standpoints. I look upon them as a native Shetlander, with my concerns towards future generations of islanders, while she looks at the place primarily from the standpoint of landscape, nature and wildlife. The two interests should not be mutually exclusive, but, in the end, it should be Shetlanders who decide the future of their own islands.

Sunday, 3 May 2009


It's a sunny showery Shetland Sunday, and the tanker "Petroatlantic", which has been at anchor in the bay of Quarff for the last few days, has just slipped her mooring and is slowly making her way out to sea, no doubt to load a cargo of crude from the oilfields west of the islands.

And no doubt there will be a few sore heads around the islands this morning, as Shetland Folk Festival enters its fourth and final day (final if you disclude the Final Fling tomorrow night, which is for invitees only). For the first time in more than a quarter of a century, I have not been involved in it at all. Perhaps I'm getting too old for this energetic event - I don't know. I just seem to have lost interest in it. Don't get me wrong - I still think it's a wonderful thing for the islands, but, for me, it has somehow lost its appeal. It has changed (some would say evolved) over the years, partly due to extraneous forces, partly because of the input of subsequent committes of organisers, and partly because of other factors.

The smoking ban was a killer blow for me, as it has been for other social events. A folk festival held in a clinically sanitised environment seems like an atmospheric oxymoron. The system of running the Festival Club changed in other ways too. They ceased to have free concerts in the main club-room about ten years ago, and this was really what made my club membership worthwhile having. They had a mix of local acts and one or two visiting artists at these events, and I enjoyed these to the full. And the Final Fling concert itself has been later and later starting. It used to get going with the raffle draw at about 8.30 rather than the 10.30 kick-off which now seems the norm (possibly due to a later licence). The final blow for me came last year, when they ceased the "tradition" of the real ale bar being brought up and run by people from the mainland, all folk enthusiasts themselves. The person in charge was usually the allocated guest for accommodation at my flat, which is situated right across the road from the club. Over the years, the bar staff became my friends, and I looked forward to meeting them year after year. Last year the local manufacturer of real ale took over the bar facility, and Bill Morris, from Glasgow, and his colleagues, became surplus to requirements and consequently history.

Another reason has been my encroaching disability. About three years ago, my right knee began to give serious problems, and soon I was unable to walk more than a hundred yards without collapsing in severe pain. Looking back on this time, I don't know how the heck I managed. I live in a second-floor flat, and I could only descend my stairs on my backside, having launched myself from a chair at the top! Just over eighteen months ago, I had an operation on my knee, which restored my mobility to a degree, but not to the extent that I can participate fully in social events - I have become something of a hermit. Up until last year, however, I always made my spare bedroom available for a Folk Festival guest. This year, however, the event has gone ahead without me - somehow I don't think I'll be missed!

My love of folk music goes back to the late 1960s and the early days of the "revival". Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were developing their music in the US, and following closely in their wake were Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell and a name that has been largely forgotten, it seems, but who had the most remarkable voice of them all, Carolyn Hester. On this side of the Atlantic, Martin Carthy (still going strong as far as I know) had teamed up with Dave Swarbrick, formerly of the Ian Campbell Folk Group, and I attended one of their concerts at Aberdeen's Music Hall in 1967. If I hadn't been "hooked" before, I was played, netted and landed after that. The Humblebums (Billy Connolly's Group) also made an appearance at the venue around then, as did the McCalmans (still with Hamish Bain in the line-up) and a little-known female traditional singer/guitarist called Barbara Dickson. My own favourite genre was the singer/guitarist, with the instrument being properly finger-picked by such people as Carthy, Ralph McTell, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn. Their sweet and economic expertise was such that I actually took up guitar-playing in a classical style some years later. I didn't persevere, and I will never perform - I would much rather listen to people who CAN play - but I know that acts appearing at the Shetland festival have influenced many people here to play, and some of the best musicians in the folk idiom now hail from these islands. Power to their elbows, fingers, mouths and vocal cords, I say! I hope they've had a brilliant weekend.