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

The Grumpy Old Artist

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

Exhibition Poster

Exhibition Poster
Catterline Event, 2011

Oil Painting by Jim Tait

Oil Painting by Jim Tait
Helford River, Cornwall

Oil Painting by Jim Tait

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

Other Recent Works

Other Recent Works
Fordyce Castle and Village

Hay's Dock, Lerwick

Shetland-model Boats at Burravoe, Yell

Tall Ships Seascape

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

The "Karen Ann II" entering Fraserburgh harbour

Summer Evening, Boyndie Bay

1930s Lerwick Harbour

Johnshaven Harbour

"Seabourn Legend"

Greeting Cards!

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

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


In 1979, when I was a comparatively young man, I joined the ranks of the thousands-strong workforce who were transforming the largest muddy hole in Europe into its largest crude oil landfall. It was an amazing experience, and I considered, at one time, writing a book about the job and the people who were doing it. I was discouraged from this idea by the cynics who told me that no-one would believe it as a factual account. My official title was offsites administrator for the scaffolding firm who employed me, and my main duties were being in charge of timekeeping for our 180 operatives, and trying to create and run a system for materials control. There were, of course, many amusing incidents and wind-ups involved in the daily life of the massive building site and, for most of my four years there, I relished the thought of getting up at 6.30 each morning to catch the bus at 7am for the hour-long journey to Sullom Voe.

Most of the skilled workforce of scaffolders were travelling men, who hailed mainly from the industrial centres of northern England, although there were also a fair number of Londoners and Glaswegians on the payroll. They did their four weeks on the job, took their week's official leave, then began the 35-day cycle over again, and so until the end of the project which, in the case of our Offsites contract, was in 1983. I was employed as a local, so there was no week's paid leave every month - for compensation, we locals were given radius allowance for our daily travel, which was a welcome addition to our pay.

At the project's end, most of the itinerant workforce carried on to work on projects elsewhere in Britain, offshore or abroad, although a few stayed on, having developed local attachments of one kind and another. Meanwhile, I started having difficulty finding work in my chosen clerical/administrative field, so here began the process which ultimately led to my self-employment as an artist. Jobs, which had been easy to find prior to the Sullom Voe construction phase, were now at a premium. I was now in my late thirties and, for the first time in my life, unemployed. No-one seemed to have need of my skills and experience any more. Of course, I was doing all the wrong things then - wallowing in uncooperative self-pity, and not re-training in the new information technology, which was revolutionising office work at that time. It was years later before I finally realised that this was the only way to go.

However, I have digressed from the intended subject for this post, which is the sudden reappearance in Shetland of one of the travelling men from my section of the Sullom Voe workforce of those days long ago. Bobby O'Donnell arrived on the contract, along with two other Jarrow lads, Jimmy Gallagher and Peter Atkinson, shortly after I did, and these cheerful Tynesiders and I subsequently quaffed many a pint of lager together, in the bars of Lerwick, in the heady days of the early 1980s.

So it was a surprise to hear his voice on the telephone, last Friday afternoon, more than a quarter of a century after I'd last heard it. What he had to request of me, though, was not exactly music to my ears. He was arriving in Shetland on Monday morning to work, and could I find somewhere for his two colleagues and himself to stay for a few months?? In other words, he expected me to perform a miracle - do people think so much of me that they believe I do these on demand? Well, to coin a phrase - I know a man who does!

Various possibilities, all remote, presented themselves to me in my pursuit of a solution to my problem. The accommodation websites provided nothing useful, and the appropriate column in the Shetland Times seemed to be the best recourse for me. There were a couple of two-bedroomed flats advertised to let in Lerwick, and a three-bedroomed cottage not too far from there. The two-roomed flat I tried was not available until a fortnight's time, but the cottage had immediate entry. I contacted the advertiser, who suggested I come to see the house, and agreed to pick me up on Sunday morning at 11am for this purpose.

I spent an anxious Saturday, having little enthusiasm for my morning's artwork, or the window-cleaning which my sister Mary had engaged me to help with at Sandwick in the afternoon. I had a couple of pints of lager in the Lounge at tea-time (never seen it so quiet at that time before!), and retired early to bed that night.

As arranged, the advertiser picked me up on Sunday morning, we viewed the property (which was beautiful!), I had a cup of tea with him, his wife and his family, we discussed things about the prospective lessees and the lease, touching on my artwork too, and I was run back to town again. They had other people to see about the property, apparently. About an hour later, he phoned me - my friend and his colleagues had the lease, and could move in the next day.

So, at lunchtime next day, Bobby and I found ourselves on the way to the cottage again, as I had to show him its location. It's nice to have a blast from the past now and then, and I'm glad I was able to prevent them from arriving in Shetland as homeless persons. However, I can still scarcely believe my own luck in finding that place. Sadly, Bobby wasn't so lucky that day - he broke his finger when a sudden gust of wind blew the van door shut on it!

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