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, 18 December 2011


It's hard to explain, to you faithful few followers of this blog, why I haven't posted to it in a month.  I suppose the reason is that I had nothing I wanted to tell anyone about.  How can I explain how I feel, after all the elation and hopeful anticipation of a month ago, about the fact that not a single painting has been sold from the Catterline exhibition?  It's difficult to satisfactorily explain, even to myself, how, after eighteen months of producing my best work, and about £2000 of expenditure, my paintings have attracted not a single buyer at a venue where I sold nearly half of the artworks just four years ago.  I can't really explain it, but its's a fact I have to accept, get used to, live with and get over.

That fact, coupled with the seasonal lack of daylight hours to work with, means that my output is at almost as low a level as my general morale, and it's difficult to write creatively in my current situation too.  On several occasions during the past four weeks, I have sat down with a blank sheet of paper in front of me, waiting in vain for the clouds to lift and reveal the welcome apparition of some kindly muse to inspire a decent piece of prose.  The page remained obstinately blank.

A wintry gloom has thus descended over the Tait Gallery, and I've been doing my best to fight it.  I have a full order book, and the first of these commissions, of the motor boat Njördr, is shown above.  The second, of a steam drifter leaving Fraserburgh harbour, is nearing completion, and there are two or three more in the pipeline.  I just wish there were more hours of daylight to help speed up the process, but that, along with the weather, which has been quite fierce at times lately, is something else I just have to live with.

Domestic duties have been major consumers of time, of course, and my mother is giving me the usual anxious moments.  At 95, she's getting a bit worn out, and won't be able to stay on her own much longer.  Strange how we've never really thought of her as old until this last year or so!  Her home, at Whiteness, has withstood all of the winter storms so far, although the front gate has suffered quite a bit of damage, and I found the glass pane from one of the lean-to greenhouse skylights lying, apparently intact, on the floor.  This has happened very recently, and the resultant hole has been boarded up to await a more permanent repair in the new year.  Bits of the ornamental garden blockwork, carried out over many creative hours by my late father in the 1970s and 1980s, have been falling off, and I found what would have made a substantial potful of rabbit stew (had I been as good a shot with a two-two as my late brother-in-law Rob) playing chase-me-catch-me around the borders, which have been woefully neglected over the past few years anyway.  As soon as I appeared in the garden, the bunnies bolted over or through the ramshackle drystone dykes and under gates, only to return, no doubt, within an hour of my departure.  I found myself missing my beloved old grey cat - no rabbit dared come near the garden when she was around!

I held the last of my four pre-Christmas Saturday stalls at the Toll Clock centre yesterday, and I sold a few items as usual, although my takings were down on the previous three Saturdays.  The fact that there's always been a few quid heading bankwards over the last month has taken the sting out of the complete financial failure of the Catterline exhibition so far.

It's back to the easel tomorrow for me, hopefully to complete the Fraserburgh painting by Friday, when I head for Whiteness to do my duty as kitchen flunkie for the Christmas dinner at mother's.  My sister has promised me some sticky toffee pudding for afters - now that'll be worth doing a bit of hard labour for!  Have a happy and peacerful Christmas!

Sunday, 13 November 2011


The last time I hung an exhibition in the Creel Inn at Catterline, it was in the new year of 2008.  I held out no high hopes for sales success, as this was the "graveyard shift", a term I use to describe that time of year when people's spare cash balance is at its lowest after the festive season.  Nevertheless the event sold well, and I was anxious to see how another show at the back end of a year would fare (although we are now in an economic recession).  In 2011 I received my opportunity to do just that, and this year's display was duly hung last Monday (7th November).  I await developments with eagerly bated breath.

One thing that was certainly different this year was the hanging party.  In 2008 this consisted of my nephew Kenneth Halcrow and myself, and I am glad that he was there again this year to lend his considerable skills and enthusiasm to the process.  But this time, some of my childhood friends had decided to make a reunion of it too!

Back in the 1960s, I stayed in the Shetland community of Sandwick, and I travelled daily to and from the Anderson Educational Institute (now the Anderson High) in Lerwick, on the school bus, accompanied by Colin Stove, Robin Barclay and Kenny Bull, who all lived in the same part of the same parish as I did.  Now renowned in their chosen professional fields of physics, haematology and architecture, all married with grown-up families and on the point of retirement, they had decided to combine a reunion with making up a hanging party for my exhibition at the Creel Inn.  I'm very glad they did.  Along with my sister, who had provided the transport for the artworks from Shetland, and her friend Joe Irvine, we all took up residence at the Ship Inn, Stonehaven, last Sunday afternoon.  The weather was unbelievably fine for early November, and there followed two evenings and an intervening day that I won't forget - ever.

The evenings were largely of reminiscence of the Shetland of half-a-century ago, over drinks and meals at the Ship Inn.  Just before 9 o'clock on Monday morning, I mustered the troops and off we set, in a little convoy of cars, to Catterline, to find that my nephew had arrived from Aberdeen before us.  Two of the paintings had been slightly damaged, one in transit and the other during the framing process, but hasty repairs were made to one and an arrangement made about repairs to the other (for which I will shoulder the repair and delivery costs, should anyone wish to buy it).  The hanging process was finished by midday, and we all gravitated down to the area around the tiny harbour to enjoy the sights and sounds of this spectacular scene on a beautiful day, before meeting up again at the Salutation Hotel at Inverbervie for some lunch.

In the afternoon, we went our separate ways.  Mary and Joe took the most energetic option of a walk from our Stonehaven hotel to Dunnottar Castle.  Robin Barclay and I took a trip down to Tod Head lighthouse in his 4x4 - I'd always fancied going there (what is it about lighthouses that seems to draw people towards them?).  My nephew Kenneth went back to Aberdeen, while Colin and Kenny had other work to attend to.  We all met up at the Ship Inn again in the evening for more laughter and libation, although this was no wild drinking party.  It was all a bit reminiscent of "Last of the Summer Wine" (who of us fits which of Roy Clarke's characters I'll leave to your speculation!).

The next morning, the weather had changed from brilliant sunshine to dull, damp and windy, which it remained for the rest of my mainland excursion.  My plans had had to be changed as, unbeknown to me, the Creel Inn is now closed to business on Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter, with effect from this year.  This meant that I could no longer meet anyone there on Tuesday, either press or public, and I suddenly found myself with nothing to do that day.  With the rest of the party having gone that morning after breakfast, either home or to attend to business elsewhere, Mary and I took a run over to Banchory, which has changed beyond recognition in the forty years or so since I was there last.  It is a massive private housing estate now, and the old town centre was unapproachable that day due to roadworks.   We found a big garden centre on the edge of town, and had a plate of cock-a-leekie soup and a roll in the cafeteria there, before heading back to drop me at Stonehaven, as Mary had to catch the boat back to Shetland that night.

So there I was, on my own, in a grey, damp and miserable-looking Stonehaven.  I popped over to the Marine Hotel to give them a couple of posters, and had a pint of amber nectar while I was there - it would have been frightfully bad manners to come out without buying anything!  My brother and nephew joined me for a couple of beers in the evening, back at the Ship Inn.  The fun and sunshine of the previous day were now mere memories, but who knows what significance I'll attach to them over the coming years?  I already know that days like Monday 7th November 2011 don't come by that often.  Treasure the memory, Jim!

On Wednesday, feeling slightly hung over, I checked out of the Ship Inn and took a taxi down to Catterline for the only "opening hours" of the exhibition which I will be able to be present for.  The weather was cloudy, chilly and windy, and only one family trurned up for lunch that day.  Then Joe Irvine, who had been visiting his son in Oban, picked me up from the Creel Inn and drove me up to Aberdeen, where the boat back to Lerwick and home awaited me.  My trip had ended in something of an anti-climax, but the exhibition has been left, like a stake-net, to attract (and hopefully entrap) buyers over the next two months.  I won't know the extent of the harvest until after Christmas.

In the meantime, I have a full order book to attend to.....

Sunday, 30 October 2011


The title of this post might sound a bit C S Lewis-ish, but it stems from a rough English translation of the names of the three ships featured in this week's featured painting.  This is the last of the new works I've managed to complete for this year's Catterline exhibition (I hope it's completed!).  I still have a bit to do on tarting up one of my old tall ship paintings, and I hope to get this done tomorrow.  If I don't manage it, this one will probably not be making the journey south, as I would like to get a new frame on it for the occasion, and it'll have to dry before going to the framer.

My able assistant-cum-driver and I will be hitting the high seas next Saturday evening, and I hope the seas are not high enough to cause similar problems to those encountered by the ferries earlier this past week.

The ships featured in the painting above are, on the left, the Dutch topsail schooner "Wylde Swan", the 3-masted Dutch topsail schooner "Gulden Leeuw" (Golden Lion) on the right, and, in between, the Polish full-rigger "Dar Mlodziezy" (Gift of Youth") receding into the gloom which attended the departure of these ships from Lerwick in late July.

Dutch ships dominated the 'A' class of vessels in this year's Tall Ships Race, and the "Wylde Swan" was  one of the most interesting of these.  She is owned by the same organisation which brought the brigantine "Swan van Makkum" to these islands for the 1999 event, and subsequently sold that vessel to Italian owners.  The "new" boat was actually built as a steamship in Germany in 1920, and she has also operated under the Norwegian flag, before being acquired by her present owners, who have converted her into the impressive two-masted topsail schooner which graced Lerwick harbour in July.

Equally interesting, and also originally a steamship, is the "Gulden Leeuw", which was built as the Danish oceanographic research ship "Dana" in 1937.  I remember admiring the sleek lines of this grey-painted ship when she called at Lerwick in this capacity during the 1960s.  However, I would never then have dreamt of seeing her return in 2011, rigged as a three-masted topsail schooner, with a fully-square-rigged foremast.

This will probably be my last post before my trip to the mainland.  My thanks must go to Cecil Hughson, who has been framing all the paintings, and to my sister Mary, who has the onerous duty of transporting them and me safely to the Creel Inn, Catterline, for next Monday's hanging.  Thanks to these old friends who have volunteered to help with the hanging of paintings and distribution of posters.  Finally, thanks to all those who have emailed me their good wishes - it is very much appreciated, I assure you.

Have a great fortnight!

Sunday, 16 October 2011


The last two paintings for the Catterline exhibition are of sailing vessels, and this is the first of these.  It features three of the windjammers which took part in this year's Tall Ships Race.  From left to right, these are the Dutch brig "Morgenster", the barque "Europa" (also Netherlands-registered) and the Norwegian gaff-rigged ketch "Liv".  The painting, on canvas, measures 30" x 20" (as you see, I've never been decimalised!).

Now ALL I have to do is finish the final painting (a 24" x 24" canvas), get these two framed, do the packing of paintings, hanging materials and personal effects, and we're off!  According to the Met Office website, the long-term weather forecast is for unsettled conditions, with gales at times and near-normal temperatures, for early November.  The near-normal temperatures should mean reasonable road conditions for driving on the mainland, but the gales I'm not so keen on, as they can disrupt ferry journeys.  Let's hope that Guy Fawkes night falls on a "day atween wadders", as that's when we're booked to catch the blue canoe for the mainland!

People say I worry too much - maybe they're right!  Have a good week - whatever the weather.

Sunday, 9 October 2011


I finished work on this painting last week.  It is of the Arbroath-registered seiner/trawler "Random Harvest II" rolling along in a freshening south-easterly as she approaches the lee of Lerwick harbour.  She was built by Gerrard Bros. of Arbroath in 1958, was 68 feet long and 50 tons gross and net.  She was owned by a partnership headed by skipper David Teviotdale of Arbroath.

I hope to complete two more paintings, both of tall ships, for the Catterline exhibition, which opens on 8th November at the Creel Inn.  I hope you like the poster at the top of this column.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


I know I promised to display this painting here three weeks ago, and this only serves to demonstrate the fragile nature of such undertakings.  My excuses seem feeble in the extreme now, as I reflect on what has happened over the period - family matters, a "chest cold" which has been doing the rounds of my native islands and made my life a misery for a fortnight, and, at the same time, trying to keep some kind of painting workrate going, as the Catterline exhibition is being hung five weeks tomorrow.  I still have so much to do in connection with this that it's scaring me practically witless.

I have seen the sample of the exhibition poster which Tay-CAD are producing for me, and it is excellent.  These will be going up in shops, hotels, pubs and eateries around the north-east of Scotland prior to the event.  My framer is busy with my paintings at the moment, fares and accommodation have been booked, and my first grant claim form has been submitted to the SIC's economic development unit for payment.  All extraneous factors seem to be going well, and only the artwork remains to be completed!

While I am struggling to get the last three new artworks finished (and alterations done to some older ones) in time for the Catterline display, the orders are building up too.  I have been promising these potential clients that I'll start work on their artworks before the end of October, and I hope that they keep faith with me meantime.  As someone pointed out to me recently, it's better than having an empty order book, and I suppose there are many artists who would dearly love to have my "problem"!

The painting which illustrates this post is of the Aberdeen trawler "Leswood" heading south-east from Lerwick in choppy weather conditions, with the Bressay lighthouse bearing silent witness to her departure.  I hope to have my portrayal of the Arbroath-registered seiner/trawler "Random Harvest II" ready to illustrate another blog posting this time next week, but, given the broken promises of my last post, I am reluctant to make such a rash definite undertaking!  The last two new works for the Catterline exhibition are of tall ship compositions, and I just hope to have them both ready for the event.  This is dependent on metaphorical fair winds between now and then.  May only gentle zephyrs fill your sails this week!

Sunday, 11 September 2011


This is just to let you know that I am still in the land of the of the living and painting production.  Shown above is my version of the Fraserburgh dual purpose fishing vessel "Girl Pat", rigged for drift-net fishing, approaching Lerwick harbour, with the Bressay Lighthouse coming up to starboard.  This is sheer nostalgia for me, evoking a summer's morning in the 1950s and early 1960s, when scores of these vessels took part in the herring fishery.  Although I was never actually off at the drift-net fishing, I can remember the sights, sounds, and in particular the smell of a busy morning at Lerwick fishmarket, with boats tightly crammed into the pier, landing the silver darlings in baskets onto trucks and bogeys for the short journey to the fishmerchants and curers' stations.

I received good news on Friday, from the Economic Development Unit of Shetland Islands Council, that my exhibition grant application was successful.  This means that my wallet is now going to develop a serious leak, as I make the purchases which I have been putting off until I received the news about the grant.

I've almost finished a painting  of another fishing vessel from the same period as the "Girl Pat".  This is the Aberdeen trawler "Leswood", heading out of lerwick in less summery conditions.  More of that later in the week.  Have a nice one!

Sunday, 28 August 2011


The Northern Isles of the UK are being buffetted by bad weather again.  This morning I happened to be listening to Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme, to which an Orkney resident had phoned indignantly, protesting at the coverage given to the American hurricane, while Orkney was being blasted by 80mph winds (which were not even being mentioned!) on this side of the pond.  It's not quite as bad as that in Shetland, but it's still a lively envoi to what has been a dismal summer up here.  The Tall Ships Shetland visit, the Walls Show, the Scalloway Gala and several cruise ship visits are just some of the events which were either wiped out or badly affected by adverse weather conditions this summer.

As yet not weather-affected has been the artistic output from the Tait Gallery.  This week, I've been working on two fishing boat pictures destined for the Catterline exhibition.  Both pictures feature the Bressay Lighthouse, but from completely different angles. One is an aerial view of the Aberdeen trawler "Leswood" heading for sea in heavy weather, the other is from a more lowly viewpoint, of the Fraserburgh motor drifter "Girl Pat" coming in to land her night's catch.  I'll be doing more in a similar vein over the next 6 weeks or so, and I may be recycling a few older works to make up numbers for this event.

I've put the Stonehaven painting (featured on last week's post) in for scanning, with a view to featuring it on the posters for the Catterline exhibition.  I'm starting to make lists of things which will come with me (and it's still more than two months away!) - picture wire, cutters, split rings and blue-tack will be vital.  I've begun to think about gallery labels for the paintings, and I've bought sheets of coloured card for use in their manufacture.  My sister Mary (in charge of transport) and I were discussing the trip over lunch last Wednesday.  As a direct response to last week's post, I now have another volunteer to help with the hanging - that's a full lynch mob now!  The power of social media, eh?

For a few months now, I've ben racking my poor befuddled brains for a suitable exhibition title.  All that I could come up with is "The North Sea, The Mearns and Other Scenes".  I know that this is prosaic in the extreme - exactly what it says on the tin, so to speak.  But it's the best I can come up with, and it is typical of me - prosaic, pedantic and pathetic!

On Friday I was delighted by the smiling face of my niece Elanor Gunn beaming out from a page of the Shetland Times.  She had graduated from the RSAMD with a first class honours degree in violin performance, and my mother was so pleased and proud to see her grand-daughter's photograph in the paper she has read and supported for nearly a century.  We're still somewhat mystified by the same paper's non-publication of Elanor's earlier, and equally remarkable, achievement of being appointed leader of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales.  Her tenure of this position came to an end earlier this year, but the distinction is none the less.

On a much sadder note, my first cousin Don Leslie lost a long battle with illness earlier this week and, on Tuesday, I'll be going to what will undoubtedly be one of the biggest funerals Lerwick has known during my lifetime.  My deepest sympathy goes to Marion, Richard, John and all the other family members.

At times like these, the words from "Maunsie's Crö", by Basil R J Anderson, come to my mind:

Da years geed by as aye dir geen
Da winter white, da simmer green
Da voar aye saan, da hairst aye shoarn
Aye someen deed, aye someen boarn

Sunday, 21 August 2011


As I reflect on a week in which the sun has shone often and long on my beloved islands (a pity it didn't do so earlier in the summer!), I do so with a degree of satisfaction for a number of reasons.  My mother received her long-awaited and much needed visit from the chiropodist before returning home from her fortnight's respite care at the Wastview Care Centre at Walls.  I was at Whiteness to greet her and help her settle in again, and if we can get another long-term issue, that of her footwear, resolved, then things might not be too bad for her.  Of course there are still problems with her ears, her eyes and what she believes to be an inoperable (due mainly to the fact that she's 95 with severe mobility problems) hernia, but, for now, we'll accept getting her feet comfortable at least.

Since my last posting, I lost another friend with the passing of John Gray at Lerwick.  His funeral took place in the driving rain (which also practically wiped out the Walls agricultural show!) of Saturday 13th August, and I was unable to attend because of a previous arrangement I'd made with my sister Thelma to do a little work at Brugarth, Whiteness, in preparation for our mother's homecoming.  John, who was a year or two older than me, pursued a career, as many Shetlanders did, "deep sea" as an able seaman in the merchant navy, until ill health forced him to come ashore in the 1980s.  He was a big man, with a forthright nature and manner, who detested bovine ordure in all its forms.  I always enjoyed his company whenever we met in the "Lower Lounge" at Lerwick, and I shared his pedantic take on the pitiful output of today's educationally-deprived and electronically-misinformed society.  Even though I rarely go to the pub these days, I, along with many others, will miss his larger-than-life presence around town.

I hope you like my painting of Stonehaven (above).  Two of the rooms in the Ship Inn (the white building on the right) will be occupied by my sister Mary and myself on the nights of 6th and 7th November, while we attend to the hanging of my exhibition at the Creel Inn, Catterline (a few miles south of there), which will be opening, if all goes well, on Tuesday 8th.

I've spent a lot of time these last two weeks organising and collating accurate quotations from various suppliers (of framing, ferry passages, posters and such essentials) in order to get a grant application, for some of the exhibition's costs, prepared.  This went off in the post on Thursday morning, and I was very glad to see the back of it!  The funding body is the Shetland Islands Council's Economic Development Unit, and I'm very grateful to them for their help with this project and several others in the past.  Unfortuantely the Unit does not help with mainland accommodation costs, but, when I think of the alternatives with regard to transporting an exhibition of paintings to an off-island venue, I do not consider a couple of nights' hotel residency an extravagance.

Now all I have to do is produce ten more paintings over the next two months (I've started work on four of them already) to make up the display numbers.  And no-one can help me with that!  Have a nice week!

Sunday, 7 August 2011


I reached the almost invisible milestone of 63 years of age on 16th July, and, with the inevitability which attends man's attempts to administer the unmanageable, my mother turned 95 exactly a fortnight later, on Saturday 30th.  It was a good day for a party, if nothing else.  This summer is going down as one of the gloomiest on record!

Two afternoons before this momentous day dawned, I was walking along Lerwick's Hillhead, thinking of my mother and her forthcoming birthday, when the notion struck me - quite suddenly and violently - to nip into George Robertson's electrical goods shop to take a look at their selection of TVs.  (I should explain here that Mum's current TV screen, at that time, was 22", which was really too small for the size of her living room.  She was having difficulty distinguishing the Gs from the Qs on Countdown.)  In the shop, I was pleasantly surprised to see a 32" job, with all the channels and technostuff which Mum would be capable or desirous of using, for less than £300.  I checked its availability with one of the shop staff, went home in a state of breathless excitement and contacted all of my siblings regarding their views on a birthday present from the five of us jointly.  They were all enthusiastic about the idea.

My sister Mary and I visited the same shop next day, bought the set, and off it went in the boot of Mary's Urban Cruiser (it just fitted!).  The following day, all of us who were within a car journey's distance gathered at Whiteness to celebrate Mum's special occasion.  My niece Caroline's husband David did the installation of the new set, while the rest of us kept Mum's attention diverted in the kitchen.  She is delighted with her present, and we all wish her many happy days to enjoy it.

As pleased as she is with her new telly, a visit from the chiropodist would have delighted her even more.  The NHS has been letting her down badly in the foot-repair department, a representative of which last paid her a call in February.  Her severe mobility problems are not improved by this neglect, and I have witnessed her practically pleading with a telephone answering service for some much-needed attention to her feet.  It breaks my heart to see her suffering this way, and, if I try to intervene on her behalf, I run up against the bollard of patient confidentially, which the NHS use both as a blunt weapon and a shield against any inconvenient treading on of their own bunions.  My mother is 95, for heaven's sake, and not as well-equipped for bureaucracy-battling as she once was.  All she wants and deserves now is a chance to live out her remaining days on this earth in as pain-free a peace as possible.  However - as my late Dad used to say, there's more than one way to skin a cat, and most of these methods involve constructive letter-writing.  Let's see, who can I write to about this?.........

I heard of another significant date (aside from birthdays) last week, namely that of my my exhibition at the Creel Inn, Catterline.  I have now had the long-awaited confirmation that my paintings will be on display there during the months of November and December, and the space will be available sometime in the first week of November.  I hope to hang on either Sunday 6th or Monday 7th.  My sister Mary, who is doing the driving, is hoping for the former date, and my nephew Kenneth, whose help was invaluable during the last Creel Inn hanging in early 2008. will be off work that day to assist.  Everyone loves a good hanging!

Now, I have to get Tay-CAD to do some quality posters for me, and I need to get some decent framing from the mainland.  An advert in the Press & Journal wouldn't hurt (except for my bank balance) and I have fares and accommodation to sort out.  There's a grant aid form to fill in.  Oh, and there's the small matter of getting a dozen more paintings done over the next three months!

Have a nice week!

Sunday, 31 July 2011


I caught my first glimpse of one of the participating vessels in this year's Tall Ships Race on the gloomy, damp morning of Tuesday 19th June.  The ship was the Dutch gaff-rigged ketch "Urania", and she was at anchor in Gulberwick bay as my brother Peter and I were on our way, through the Black Gaet, to Scalloway.  At our village of destination, we found another participant, the Bremen-registered "Esprit" (another ketch, of more recent build), and a very smart little ship she was. When we returned in the afternoon, she had been joined by the Dutch three-masted schooner "Eendracht".  Meanwhile, in Lerwick, the Norwegian ketches "Auno" and "Wyvern av Aalesund" had arrived, and another couple of small ships had arrived at Cullivoe, Yell.  Shetland's role in the 2011 Tall Ships race had begun to be played, and people were looking anxiously skyward, as well as seaward, to see if the weather was going to be kind.....

It was - briefly.  Next morning dawned bright and fair, with light winds, although there was a bit of cloud cover coming and going.  I sat at my window, enjoying a cup of tea with my sister Mary, who was one of the liaison officers for the Colombian barque "Gloria", watching her ship picking up the pilot off the Bressay Light and making her elegant way in towards the harbour.  Mary went off to perform her diplomatic duties, and I was left to try concentrating on doing a day's work.  Some hope!  I kept stopping to look seaward, as more and more of these beautiful ships approached.  The almost indefinably-rigged "Pelican of London", the Polish barquentine "Pogoria" and the Dutch topsail schooner "Gulden Leeuw" arrived during the morning, followed by the "Lord Nelson", "Dar Mlodziezy" and "Alexander von Humboldt" in the afternoon.  Other smaller, less easily identifiable, ships were also making their appearance.  That was a happy day for me, with my greedy eyes almost getting their fill from what was before them.

The next day, Thursday, was the first of three consecutive ones for which I'd booked a stall to sell my arty wares.  My brother Peter had agreed to help me transport my goods and display units down to the Toll Clock Centre in a car he had hired for his holiday here.  I am very grateful to him for his help, which speeded this process up, as well as saving me a taxi fare.  The wind was freshening from the north, although otherwise the weather was still quite pleasant, dry and bright.  Most of the participating tall ships had arrived by midday, although it was early evening before the Norwegian barque "Statsraad Lehmkuhl" arrived at her allocated berth at Shearer's Pier.  The sound of rock and roll music could be heard  from the stage at Holmsgarth.  Shetland had started to boogie, and my brother caught the ferry south that evening with the sounds of the party ringing in his ears.  The view of the harbour from the ferry would have been spectacular too.

I had arranged to leave my display units at the centre for the next couple of nights (at my own risk, of course), so that I only had my bags of cards and prints to transport back and forth each day.  I was glad of this facility as, with my brother gone, lugging all that stuff up and down my stairs each day would have been a pain - literally.  I had also arranged for my friends Lynne and Malcolm to look after the stall for a few hours on Friday, while I went out to Whiteness to pay my usual visit to my mother and see that she was OK for the weekend.  By evening the wind had risen to near gale force, from a northerly direction, although it was still dry and quite bright, and it bore the sound of the Levellers all over town, from the Holmsgarth stage, that evening.

Saturday dawned dry, and still reasonably bright, but the strong winds were becoming an issue.  With no improvement forecast for Sunday, the decision was made to postpone the departure of the ships (which had been previously scheduled for Sunday) until the following day when winds were expected to ease.  My last day at the Toll Clock Centre was a busy one, and by close of business, I had far exceeded my notional target figure for the three days takings - it had certainly been a worthwhile venture for me.  I had met many old friends, including one with whom I'd done business only online, and made many new ones.  I had added Slovenia to the list of European countries in which my artwork is owned.  As Captian Gabriel Perez of the Colobian barque "Gloria" was presented with one of my prints as a souvenir of his Lerwick visit, my artwork is now in every continent of the world!

I am grateful for the help of Jim Wilson of Allied Taxis in getting my display units and remaining stock of cards and prints back upstairs to my flat after my successful three days at the Toll Clock Centre.  There, on the news, on Saturday evening, I first heard of a shocking event which had taken place near Oslo, Norway, in which a gunman had gone on a killing spree of youngsters at an island camp......

That evening, lying in bed, I was listening to the gale-borne sound of Bjorn Again on the Holmsgarth stage.  This was interrupted, at midnight, by the explosions of the firework display, after which there was a brief pause before the ships' sirens began a symphony of their own.  Lerwick was still in party mode.

I had hoped to go for a walk around the harbour with my camera next day, but this notion was soon eliminated from my plans by the weather  - driving rain borne on a north-westerly gale.  There would be no point in taking a camera out of its case in such conditions, which only eased late in the day.  Sounds of music, presumably hastily-arranged gigs by local artistes (of whom there are many!) were still to be heard on the wind, as my sister Thelma and I went out to see our mother at Whiteness in the afternoon. She was well, although missing her summer visitors (first my sister Angela and her husband Nigel, then my brother) terribly.

I hate goodbyes too, and multiple departures are hard for me to take.  In the gloom of a leaden-skied Lerwick last Monday, I watched from my window as the first of the tall ships left the harbour, led out by our own "Swan", followed by the Dutch brig "Morgenster".  Over the next few hours, these beautiful vessels put me through the torture of the Parade of Sail.  Some of the ships won't be back - ever.  I understand that the green sails of the "Alexander von Humboldt" have graced their last Tall Ships event, as shortage of funds means that an essential refurbishment cannot take place, and she will have to be either sold or scrapped.

The last farewell was to my friends Lynne and Malcolm, to whom must go my last and most deeply-felt expression of gratitude.  I had a few lagers with them on Monday evening, and they departed on the Tuesday night ferry on the first leg of their journey back to Tyneside.  They had three of my paintings with them, and they had given up some of their own holiday time to look after my stall on the Friday while I attended to other essential matters elsewhere.

Now I look at the empty Lerwick quaysides, and wonder if they will be graced by such lovely ships again in my lifetime.  Who knows?  We Shetlanders certainly know how to organise and enjoy a good party, regardless of prevailing weather conditions.  It must surely happen again.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Here is my portrayal of the Aberdeen trawler "Paramount" (A309) ploughing through a moderate North Sea swell in fine weather as she searches for the white fish shoals.  She was one of a pair of sister ships, built for Peter & J Johnstone Ltd by the Mitchison yard at Gateshead on the Tyne, in 1959.  The other boat was the "Partisan" (A310).  They fished out of Aberdeen until the mid-1970s, when most of this class of side-trawler had become obsolete.  I don't know the fate of the "Paramount" - whether she was scrapped at this time, or sold abroad, as some were.  Perhaps someone will be good enough to enlighten me.

This painting represents my strategy to turn out some simpler and less detailed seascapes, which are  less time-consuming to complete than the more complicated landscape scenes I had been doing up to then.  Time is a very finite resource for me, as I try to get a reasonable-sized body of work together for the Catterline exhibition at the end of this year.  However, being something of a martyr to my own cause, I've now embarked on another complicated work of Stonehaven harbour.  The only way I'm going to keep the momentum going is to do a couple more seascapes concurrently with this.  Work, work, work!

Talking of seascapes, the Tall Ships are making their way towards Shetland as I write this post.  This evening, I was amazed to discover, from my Ship AIS, that our own "Swan" has taken less than 36 hours to make North Uist from Greenock.  Now that's going some - and this stage of the event (the Cruise in Company) isn't even a race! 

Sunday, 3 July 2011


The latest oil painting from my curmudgeonly artistic brush is this portrayal of the Aberdeen trawler "Vigilance" (reg. no. A204) approaching her home port in choppy weather.  Part of the long stretch of sandy beach, which extends northwards from the harbour, is visible in the background.

The "Vigilance" was one of several Aberdeen trawlers built of wood at various shipyards in the north-east of Scotland in the late 1950s, in this case at Peterhead in 1958.  She was 90-odd feet long and 149 grt.  She appears with the Aberdeen registration in Olsen's Almanack until the early 1980s, and I don't really know her fate thereafter.  Maybe someone will enlighten me.

I'm currently working on another Aberdeen trawler, the steel Tyne-built "Paramount", which I hope to have completed this incoming week.  I've also started a painting of the inner harbour at Stonehaven.  This will take longer, and I plan to do other seascapes concurrently.  All this work is intended for the Catterline exhibition which I am still hoping to hang in early November of this year.

Wish me luck, and have a nice week!


Take a look at and you will find there is a new range of four A6 greeting cards featuring my oil paintings of tall ships.  These, and many other products, will be on sale at my stall at the Toll Clock Centre during the Tall Ships visit from 21st July.  There are also a couple of new giclee prints available.
The cards were produced, to the usual high standard, by Digital Colour Services of Crediton, Devon.  I'm sure that David Cole will be grateful for the website plug

As usual, I haven't had the best of luck with my choice of subject-matter.  Three of the ships featured on the cards were here for the last Tall Ships visit in 1999, but they aren't coming this year!  These are the Danish full-riggers "Georg Stage" and "Danmark", and the German schooner "Johann Smidt".  C'est la vie, as they say around the Esplanade of Lerwick.

If you happen to be in Lerwick for the nautically-themed fun and frolics from the 21st to the 24th July, please feel free to drop by and take a look at what's currently on offer at the Tait Gallery stall. The Toll Clock Centre is close by the Morrison Dock, where many of the ships will be berthed.  Come on - you know you want to!

Sunday, 12 June 2011


The comprehensive education system is now well into letting down its second generation of scholars.  Amongst the better-documented failings of this regime, there lies one which has probably escaped the notice of many commentators.  It appears that many adults are emerging from this woefully inadequate institution not knowing their parts from their places!  Let me explain.

I listen faithfully to the BBC regional radio stations, and I have heard reports (both on Radio Shetland and Radio Aberdeen, but I have no doubt the problem is more widespread than this) of events TAKING PART and participants TAKING PLACE in them.  This has become so prevalent recently that it is beginning to make my curmudgeonly, pedantic and pre-comprehensively-educated blood boil.  I feel obliged to record my protests against this latest assault on good usage of the English language.

If, during my secondary schooldays, I had presented a piece of composition, containing such a piece of grammatical incorrectness, to Lollie or Johnnie Graham (the English teachers at that noble establishment), it would have returned adorned with an enthusiastic chiding in red ink.  The tragic thing is that mine is probably the last generation which will even notice the error.  I may as well enjoy my pedantry while I'm still around and there are still a few of my elders and contemporaries who have a clue as to what I'm talking about.

It makes me sad to think that grammatical refinement will soon be an obsolete irrelevance to most people.  The standards which my generation regarded as commonplace, at school and beyond, will soon be considered unnecessarily esoteric, and have no place in the digital age.  After all, some may argue, what are spell-checkers for?

Spell-checkers will give the correct (probably American) spelling for any word considered by the compilers to be in common usage, and this should explain its inadequacies and limitations quite well.  It takes no account of context, English idioms, figures of speech or other phraseological idiosyncrasies which make this language so much larger and richer than the sum and spelling of its words.

The same applies to the dialect of my dearly-beloved Shetland, which once contained thousands of words which were entirely unique to this part of the world.  They do not appear in any spell-checker, and each subsequent generation is losing thousands of these words and phrases - for ever.  There are many reasons for this, chief of which is that the way of life which was defined by these words and phrases, and to which they pertained, no longer exists.  What is left is being corrupted, mostly (but not entirely!) unintentionally by those using it, and by racial, cultural and socio-political influences.

There are probably few who will mourn the passing of grammatical correctness (which has been largely replaced by the hilariously ultra-pedantic political sort).  However, written prose and general social conversation are much the poorer for its absence, and I wish I could feel smug about being one of the last generation to know its parts from its places.

Sunday, 5 June 2011


Wednesday June 1st dawned wet and windy, and it got wetter and windier as the day went on.  At morning coffe-break time, I looked out through the gloom over Breiwick Bay, and I could just make out the massive receding form of the 93,000 grt cruise ship "MSC Poesia".  I don't think she ever got her anchor dropped - they'd seen enough of this awful place, and I can't blame them for heading off to a place where the weather might be kinder.

What a pity she hadn't been here the day before, when the sunshine was almost unbroken, and the south-westerly breeze was gentle and balmy.  I spent that morning clearing the border at my mother's house, in preparation for setting a few plug plants (of a species as yet undetermined!), while my sister Thelma attended to a few other tasks around the building, as well as using the garden hose to wash some of the Icelandic volcanic residue from her car.  Mother was into the second week of her respite fortnight at Wastview Care Centre - she comes home tomorrow, and I'll be there to help her settle in again.

Now, one of the strange side-effects of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud, which caused such chaos among airports and airlines in the spring of last year, appears to have been on people's gardens in these islands, and in those of our neighbouring archipelago of Orkney (according to one of the contributors to Radio Orkney's Postbag last Wednesday).  Last summer, the honeysuckle bush which, for decades, had been sprawling over the back garden wall at Brugarth, Whiteness, and throwing out a few reluctant flowers each summer, suddenly burst into a peach-coloured cascade of blossom.  This year the daffodil blooms seemed to be twice the size and number they usually are, and that all over the islands.

Can it be that what has been causing grief to car-owners (and joy to purveyors of car-cleaning equipment), and costing the airline industry millions of pounds, is having a beneficial effect on our flora?  Or not?  Does anybody care?  Or not?

Whether you care or not, have a nice week!


Well, here it is - my version, in oils, of the village of Fettercairn.  It is one of the results of many trips around the Mearns area of north-east Scotland, with my brother in his car.  I've portrayed the scene as it would be in March, with a newly-ploughed field in the foreground, behind which are the trees and red-brick houses of Burnside Road.  Although there are many picturesque views in the north-east, this was one of three which I knew I'd have to paint as soon as I saw it, the others being St. Cyrus from the north, and Boyndie Bay, viewed from Scotstown, Banff, with the headland of Whitehills on the other side of the bay.

For many listeners of radio Scotland winter traffic reports, the name of Fettercairn will be familar, as the road between here and Banchory, over the Cairn o' Mount, is frequently closed by snow.

I've turned my eyes seaward again for the next paintings, which will be seascapes featuring Aberdeen trawlers.  I've begun work on two of these, with intent to build up my stocks for the Catterline exhibition at the end of the year.  I'm still proceeding under the assumption that I have a display booked at that time and venue, as I haven't heard anything to the contrary!

Sunday, 29 May 2011


While most of nature seems to be ahead of schedule here, I am far behind where I ought to be in terms of finished works for the forthcoming Catterline exhibition.  As far as I know, I am still due to exhibit at the Creel Inn in November and December, but I am going to have to put my foot firmly on the accelerator pedal for the next few months if I'm going to meet my own set target of 25 new works to take down on the ferry with me.

The trouble is, I'm getting far too fussy nowadays.  I pick complicated scenes, I hate to be lacking in any minute detail, and it takes far too long to finish.  Tomorrow I hope to have finished my ultra-fussy painting of the back of Burnside, Fettercairn, and after that I am going to embark on a series of seascapes, which are less complicated and consequently less time-consuming.

Other things make demands on my time too.  On Thursday afternoon I took two tall ship paintings to my local printing firm Tay-CAD for scanning, with a view to extending my stock range of giclee prints to offer at my stall at the Toll Clock Centre during the visit of the Tall Ships racers in late July.  I'm looking forward with some excitement to this event, and I hope the weather conditions are more favourable to the participating windjammers than they were on their last call here in 1999. 

On that occasion the wind was dead against them on all three races, and they were forced to tack and gybe from St. Malo to Greenock, Greenock to Lerwick and Lerwick to Aalborg.  In the event-filled second stage, a Polish crew mutinied in Greenock, a Russian vessel was dismasted in the Moray Firth, and another boat went aground in the Summer Isles.  Two days after it had all finished, as far as Lerwick was concerned, the Mallaig-based converted fishing vessel "Eda Frantsen" arrived back in, having tacked for 36 hours in the south-easterly gale, and only made 30 miles.  Our own tall ship, the "Swan", had to put in to Egersund in south Norway, unable to make the necessary southerly miles to get to Aalborg in Denmark.

This year, I hope the winds are fairer.  Certainly the party at Lerwick won't let anybody down!


Further to my posting of Wednesday 16th February, I feel I must extol further the excellent practical properties of drip strip from an artist's point of view.  This spongy stuff, which people used to soak up water caused by condensation in internal window-sills, in the good days before double-glazing salesmen, has other applications than those for which it was designed.

Kept damp (not soaking wet), and placed in between the canvas and the inner edge of the stretcher frames, it prevents ridges appearing where brush pressure has been applied to the canvas surface.  I apply my paint straight from the tube, with no thinners of any kind, so I tend to scrub my undercoats in vigorously to keep down on the little pinprick "holidays" left due to the canvas grain.

But there's more - can you stand it?  I decided to see if the same stuff would work with earlier artworks which had been spoilt by the unsightly ridges.  I took one such previously completed painting, applied the drip strip (once again damp, not soaking wet!) in a similar place, to cover the frame-edges,  placed the painting rightway up, and put a few reference books (dictionary size!) on top of the ridges.  I then left it for a day or so, and, when I took the books off, the ridges had all but completely disappeared.

I wish to make clear that I am not getting a penny from the manufacturers of drip strip for this post, neither were any animals hurt in the process outlined above.  This is just another handy hint from the pen of your friendly handyman artist - a kind of cross between Van Gogh, Tommy Walsh and  Anneka Rice.  Remember where you heard it first.

Sunday, 15 May 2011


When I held my last exhibition at the Creel Inn, Catterline, in early 2008, the success of it was due, in no small measure, to the efforts of my nephew Kenneth Halcrow.  He provided the transport, he devised and executed the system for hanging the paintings, he drove all over the Mearns and beyond, distributing the posters which I'd had designed for the event, and he sought out and searched through DIY shops in Inverbervie and Montrose for more picture wire, a large amount of which turned out to be an integral part of the hanging arrangement.

He also chided and corrected me if my customer service came short of the mark.  On the first afternoon, while we were in the process of the hanging operation, a couple of local men of senior years arrived to see what was on display.  They were heard to lament the lack of sailing ships among the subject matter, and Kenneth made sure that I had taken note of this deficiency for future displays.  He also saw that I handed out business cards liberally to anyone was showing even the slightest interest in the artworks.  In short, if he had not been there supporting me (and I was still recovering from a serious knee complaint which had only been operated on a couple of months previously), I think I would have broken down and wept when I saw the magnitude of the task before me when I arrived at the exhibition venue that Monday morning!

So, mindful of the lack of sail-power evident in my last Catterline show, I have been doing a few tall ship paintings over the past year or so, and this is the latest.  It depicts the 32.9m schooner "Johann Smidt" in fresh weather and an ocean swell, with one of the large 1980s-Polish-built flush-deckers in a trough behind her, and other sailing vessels visible in the distance.  I'm quite pleased with my sea, and I hope it attracts some favourable comment (perhaps even a buyer ultimately!).  It is available, along with many other goodies, from the Gallery Shop on my website

The schooner "Johann Smidt" was built for Dutch owners in 1974 as the "Eendracht", but was sold to her current German owners when the new larger three-masted schooner "Eendracht" was built in 1989.  Both these ships were in Lerwick in 1999 for the Tall Ships Race, and I hope to see them here again this year.  I'm sure it will be a splendid spectacle and party, and I've booked my stall at the Toll Clock Centre for the occasion.  Arr, Jim lad!  See you there!

Sunday, 8 May 2011


Yesterday morning, I went for my quarterly (roughly!) appointment at the hairdresser's in Mounthooly Street, Lerwick.  Duly shorn of my "mooskit" locks, I took my predetermined walk home by the "scenic route", calling along the Spar shop in Thorfinn Street before walking down Breiwick Road.  For part of its length, this follows the line of the lower "Battery Banks" and the Waari Geo, where Lerwick Swimming Club members used to meet in the days of my youth, when men were men and women were a bunch of hard cases.  (I hasten to add that I never swam myself, being an asthmatic wimp, with miatonia congenita and a wonderful sense of self-preservation, coupled with a tendency towards cowardice).  Nowadays most of the swimming is done in the more benign climate of the Clickimin Centre pool, although, given a warm summer day, the beach at the Sands of Sound, and others throughout the islands, will still ring out with the shrieks and laughter of people "gyaain in for a dip" in the sea.

I digress, however (a filthy habit - I know!).  I walked down the road named after Breiwick Bay, which I was now surveying (for what I couldn't tell), when suddenly I heard the unmistakable rasping calls of the arctic tern.  Sure enough, two of the graceful "sea-swallows" were diving, swerving and ducking over the shallow water at "Da Sletts", and shrieking as if engaged in a heated domestic argument with each other.  This sound of the "tirrick" is definitive of the Shetland summer, and it's nice to see them back.  A pity the fine weather of the past week seems to have left us, but maybe that will return too!

Monday, 2 May 2011


Calm down, dear!  This is not a painting (yet!).  This house stands at the end of a long, winding and bumpy road, and I took this photograph yesterday, after my sister Mary and I had navigated this vergeless, barrier-less, and mostly tarred highway to the hamlet of Nibon, in Shetland's north mainland,  in unbroken sunshine yesterday.   There are only three dwelling houses, along with two holiday chalets, in this isolated and beautiful spot and, as far as I can remember, I have never been here before.

On the way to Nibon, we passed the end of the side-road which leads downhill to the isolated croft of Gunnister, which stands near the head of the voe of the same name, while on the other side of the valley is the other hamlet of Ennisfirth, access to which is by another side-road leading from a more northerly turn-off from the main road north.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing I noticed about this area is the complete lack of new buildings (apart from the holiday chalets), which have been springing up aplenty in other parts of the islands over the last few decades.  And another thing - that road must be the devil's own to negotiate in wintry conditions!

The trip north was the result of my contract to supply the St Magnus Bay Hotel with a series of paintings on the theme of the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Company's relationship with this area (and former ownership of the hotel).  I had consulted my OS map and, according to that, the best vantage point  for getting a photograph of the Ness of Hillswick (which the ships would have had to pass on their way to and from the anchorage in the bay opposite the hotel) would be the end of the Nibon road.  I bribed my sister with the promise of a meal in the hotel's restaurant (which does an excellent carvery on Sundays), booked our table, and off we set yesterday.  The photographic part of the mission was reasonably successful, the meal was excellent, and we delivered the five paintings which represent the first completed works in a series of many for this impressive establishment.  We took the paintings to the first-floor drawing room, which is a spacious and grand affair, and I feel good about having an association with this splendid and historically significant building.  I wish the new owners every success in their venture.

The commission is also a long and winding road, of which the end is yet nowhere near in sight, and I have somehow to fulfil this along with my Catterline exhibition.  As far as I know, I still have to produce the latter for sometime around the beginning of November, although I have yet to hear anything from them about actual dates.  I hope to get these soon.  More on the St. Magnus Bay Hotel commission, and the two historical incidents which are connected to this place, and which I have been asked to portray on canvas, in the near future.  Enjoy your week!

Thursday, 28 April 2011


People can usually remember where they were at certain defining moments in history.  On November 22nd, 1963, aged 15, I was in a classroom at Sandwick J S School when someone (I forget who - it may have been my father, who was headmaster at that time) brought us the news that President John F Kennedy of the USA had been assassinated.  I'm not sure just what significance I attached to this at the time, apart from it being a nasty thing for someone to go and do to such an important person.  After all, killing was a capital offence, and condemned under the Ten Commandments, which was just as bad.

On the fine sunny lunchtime of 29 July 1981, I was in Canteen 15 at the yet incompleted Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, when I watched part of the wedding, of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer, on a TV set which someone (I know not who) had brought in for the occasion.  In fact, this was the only time I can remember watching a TV set at the site, and I did so with some indifference on this occasion.  I'd only gone in there to get fed!

On the 11th September, 2001, I was at my mother's house at Whiteness on that fateful afternoon when we were first aware that something awful had happened in New York.  I seem to remember that it was on a Tuesday. My mother had left me in the kitchen to clear up after lunch, and had gone through to the living room to watch Countdown or something.  When I arrived through with cups of tea for us both, all that seemed to be on any of the four available TV channels was images of two burning skyscrapers.  This was my first awareness of the Twin Towers terrorist atrocity.

Tomorrow, when Prince William ties the fateful knot with his darling Kate, I plan to be at Whiteness again.  I don't plan to watch the wedding, although my mother probably will.  I'm no anti-monarchist, but other peoples' weddings just aren't my bag.  I've got plug plants to pot in the greenhouse, in addition to my other duties, and I don't have time for this anyway.

I just hope that the marriage ceremony will take place without disruption from some idiot who wants to become a hero for whatever cause he or she has adopted, and who feels that this would be furthered in some way by spoiling the day for countless others.  Unlike the marriage, such a cause is doomed to failure, and nothing deserves it more.  There are people dying daily around the world for what they believe are worthy causes, and it begs the question - are any of them worth killing and dying for?

I always cry at weddings anyway!

Sunday, 17 April 2011


The lofty word "inspiration" is sometimes coined to define the process by which we visual artists arrive at our creations. I have never used this word to describe the sources, whether mental, spiritual, physical or digital, for my artistic outpourings. In reply to anyone who (mostly in jest) inquires solicitously of my "inspiration", I counter that, if I was ever truly inspired, the last thing I'd want to do was paint! "Motive force" would be a more apt description of the impetus behind my creative impetus, and it has been seriously lacking since my last posting to this blog. It's not that I have been doing nothing, but there has been little enthusiasm for my work. I have wasted far too much time worrying about family matters, administrative issues and other things which have taken on a far greater significance in the scheme of things than they should have.

And then I watched the London Marathon today, and all of a sudden my little worries took on a perfect insignificance when compared to the issues faced by some of the fund-raising competitors in the race. There were people running 26-odd unforgiving miles with missing limbs, eyes and other vital bits. The pain and anguish some of these folk have endured just to get to the start-line should be inspiration to me, and it is.

That's all the inspiration I need for this week, thanks. I'll just get on with the job, and feel grateful for the faculties I am able to use in its accomplishment, such as it is. This week, I intend to spend more time with a brush in my hand, and less in contemplation of life's unanswerable questions, most of which remain unanswered even after prolonged contemplation. Have a good week!

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Early last Sunday morning, having remembered to adjust my watch to BST, and having established that it was now 6am, I went to the bathroom of room 57 at the Premier Inn (West Central, Aberdeen) and eyed the facilities suspiciously. As I thought, the shower was in the bath, and this was no good to me. I am slightly disabled with miatonia congenita (a hereditary muscular condition) and the lingering effects of a knee condition (which was successfully operated on in late 2007, but the previous 18 months of serious disability had left their mark on my back and leg muscles, not to mention my confidence!). I'd sooner use a purpose-built self-contained shower unit, such as one finds in most ensuite guesthouse bathrooms, and on the Northlink Ferries. I would rather shower on a ship in a force 8 than climb into and out of a slippery bath before and after showering . So I had a sink "swittle" of most of my bits before getting dressed for breakfast at 8am.

My nephew Kenneth had offered to take me for a run north of Aberdeen last Sunday, an offer I had accepted eagerly. The morning was bright and sunny, as were my spirits as we left the city just before midday. To my shame, I had never been to Peterhead before, and I was surprised by what I saw when we arrived there. I had previously known that there was an oil harbour and a fishing harbour on the south and north sides of the Bay respectively, but the sandy beach and recreational facilities at the head of the Bay took me by surprise, for some reason. We pulled in to a car park there, joining a few bikers and other motorists to survey the scene. Sandford Bay, on the south side of Peterhead, is dominated by a huge power station which dwarfs all other buildings in the area with the exception of the massive sports complex nearby. The town itself is nicknamed the "Blue Toon", and I couldn't make out why, as most of the buildings there are of a pinkish granite. We went to the fishing harbour, which was empty of all but about a dozen whitefish boats and the three locally-registered large pelagic ships. The Fraserburgh trawler "Ryanwood", now apparently working on her own, arrived with what appeared to be a good catch (she was noticeably down in the water forward), and tied up at the fishmarket. We had a look at the succession of little docks and piers in the inner harbour, and I felt sad thinking of how different this place would have looked even fifteen years ago, before decommissioning started the process of fleet reduction, which had been declared necessary by the unelected and incompetent tyrants of Brussels.

We started south again, sticking closer to the coast for our return trip, and our next stop was at the Bullers o' Buchan (between Buchan Ness and Cruden Bay) which is a spectacular cliff formation similar to, but much larger than, comparable geological features in Shetland. Simply put, what seems to have happened is that a sea-cave has forced itself inwards and upwards, finally dislodging the ground above it, leaving a massive hole in the land adjacent to the coast. Down in the bottom of the chasm, no sign of the dislodged ground remains - only a little beach remains, the water coming through the cave on the sea-side of the feature. I would estimate the size of the oval-shaped hole to be around 50 metres long by 20 metres wide, and around a hundred feet deep. These amounts may be on the conservative side.

Onwards we went to Cruden Bay, which consists, to a large degree, of several hamlets joined into a corporate and natural entity, around a sandy beach, a golf course and a burn. A large church, which I've previously noticed from the "north boat", stands imposingly on a rise to the south of the town. I found this place attractive, and took some photographs of it. There are also some modern housing schemes and several licensed premises here, which leads me to believe that no-one need go thirsty in Cruden Bay!

Bypassing the hamlet of Whinnyfold (which may have been a mistake, but time was a finite resource for us), our next stop was the picturesque village of Collieston, built around a steep little cove, which has changed little since my last visit here around 35 years ago, although a new housing scheme has appeared on the landward side, I suspect much to the displeasure of the established residents at the time of building. We watched from the head of the pier as a young lass scrambled up the precipitous grassy slope on the south side of the village. My camera came into service again here, before it was time to head southwards again.

By now, the sky had clouded over a little, and a short sharp shower fell as we approached Newburgh. Situated at the mouth of the Ythan estuary (which is much more extensive than I remember it), this place has changed almost beyond recognition. Blocks of executive flats have sprung up to define its new role as a dormitory town for the oil industry, and must have swelled its population at least tenfold. I recall this as an attractive village, where the approach road from the south once led to a scene where an old mill jutted out into its own reflection in the water. We looked for this, but couldn't find it. We had afternoon tea in the cafe bar of the Udny Arms, where a few well-heeled-looking locals were watching the early stages of the Scotland/Brazil football match. Near the door, a border collie eyed me balefully from its nose-on-the-floor position as we left. I was tempted to wind the beast up, but thought better of it!

A trip down Aberdeen beach from Bridge of Don to Footdee brought our afternoon journey to an end. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of people and cars at the amusement area around the Beach Ballroom, and the scene brought no tears of nostalgia to my eyes whatsoever. I'd had a wonderful weekend away, and it was now time to to finish it with the trip north on the ferry "Hrossey". My thanks to my brother and nephew for giving me such an inspiring tour of the north-east of Scotland.

I had the shower, which I had been looking forward to for the past twenty four hours, as the ship went through practically calm seas off Fair Isle at 5am next morning. I had breakfast on board as we passed Mousa, and joined the many schoolchildren and adults who made up the throng of foot-passengers going ashore through the covered walkway just after 7.30am. My next intended trip to the mainland will be in late October or early November when I hang my second exhibition at the Creel Inn, Catterline. The actual dates are yet to be advised, and I emailed the proprietor yesterday for these, as there are passages and accommodation to be booked, and grants to be applied for in the meantime. Oh, and a lot of painting to be done too!


I hope you like my landscape painting of a springtime scene in Howe o' the Mearns. This area has some of Scotland's richest farmland, where newly-ploughed fields are defined by others yellow with daffodil crops, bordered by rows of hawthorn bushes. Farmhouses, barns and clumps of trees add to the attractiveness of this part of what used to be south Kincardineshire and north Angus before boundary commissions made their arbitrary and senseless decisions about which new region should contain what. The hills of Glenesk and Cairn o' Mount are in the misty distance.

I was down in this area last Saturday, the main reason for my trip "south" being to use up my remaining two concessionary vouchers, for Northlink Ferries, (of which we 60-plus people get issued with four a year), before they became invalid on the 1st April. It's rather a good scheme, and I hope it survives the "austerity" measures through which the poor citizens of this country are going to pay for the extravagances of the rich. It was ever thus - why should it be different now?

The weather was disappointing for much of last Saturday. It rained on and off for much of the day, precluding any photography while it was in "on" mode. My brother and I first visited Stonehaven, then Catterline, the venue for my next Scottish mainland exhibition. The latter has been affected by landslides over the winter, although not as much as the former to the north. We next had a wander round Johnshaven harbour, which was much emptier of boats than last time we were here, and the tide was even lower. On to St. Cyrus we travelled, hoping to have a pot of tea and bacon-buttie at the Old Baker's Shop Cafe (which my brother can remember as a functioning bakery), but the place was closed. Over tea and scones at the St. Cyrus Hotel, the proprietrix told us that the cafe owners had emigrated to Dubai.

We headed inland from here, pausing for a few minutes to admire the splendid view west from the summit of the Hill of Garvock, where the whole of the Howe o' the Mearns stretches out from Laurencekirk to the crouching animal shape of the Hill of Wirren beyond Fettercairn. Last Saturday, however, the hill was obscured by mist. One of my favourite scenes is the red brick houses which lie to the left, as one approaches Fettercairn from the east on the B9120. The rain was holding off at this time, so I made my brother stop the car (in a massive pothole!) here while I got some digi-pictures of this. I intend to paint this scene soon.

On to Edzell, and lunch, as it always seems to be, was taken at the Panmure Arms Hotel there. It was excellent, as always. I had the beef olives, while my brother went for the haddock. Our next stop was Brechin, and I have not set foot in this attractive place since I once hitch-hiked from Aberdeen to Edinburgh on the inland route (big mistake - the jouney took nine hours!) in 1968. Instead of passing through the city, we parked the car and went for a walk through some of its streets, visiting the ancient cathedral, which was scaffolded inside and out, so there is obviously some extensive restoration taking place here. Under leaden skies, we walked for a while by the river South Esk, before setting off in the rain to Auchmithie, near Arbroath, where a welcome cup of tea awaited us at the home of our old friend from schooldays at Sandwick, Shetland, by the name of Kenneth Bull.

Kenneth, an architect by trade, and now in semi-retirement, has lived, with his wife, son and supercilious tabby-cat, in an old coastguard station atop a cliff at Auchmithie for many years. (The government wants all coastguard stations to be converted into private dwellings soon, and we are in the process of persuading them what a bad idea this is!). Kenneth gave us the sad news of the demise of the aforementioned cat during the winter. Although cats take a more realistic view of their own mortality than we humans do, I well know how distressing the loss of a pet cat can be, having witnessed the passing, some more suddenly than others, of some well-beloved ones of my own.

And then it was back up the coast road to Aberdeen, where we arrived at the Premier Inn next to the Cocket Hat just before 6pm. I checked in, had a rest, then had an evening meal and a pre-arranged pint with my old friend Alan Johnson later that evening. No sign of Lenny Henry anywhere, but I did see another couple of Shetlanders, who were obviously also overnight guests, occupying another table in the bar of the Cocket Hat. Wherever you go in this world, you'll find that a Shetlander is somewhere in the neighbourhood!

Sunday, 20 March 2011


When I catch a cold, it normally runs the same course - four days of shivering sneezing misery followed by four weeks of getting rid of the gunk which clogged up my tubes (sorry to those of a sensitive disposition!). So it has been with me this last fortnight, and I've been catching a cold financially too.

I took out an ad in the Independent on Sunday on 13th March, and wished I hadn't bothered. The ad agency had contacted me with the offer of a panel, which had become available due to cancellation by someone else, at the bargain rate of £185 + VAT, as opposed to the "normal" rate of £600 + VAT. Their circulation figures were around 700,000, which is certainly a lot more than that of the special interest mags in which I've advertised up to now. I went for it, as I've been considering advertising in one of the "big" papers for some time (just to see what would happen!), and I probably wouldn't get a better deal than the one which was being offered. They designed a beautiful panel for me, and it duly appeared in the magazine section of the paper (at the foot of a page of similar-sized ads). My website viewing log showed the poorest figures for a month that day, so I now KNOW this doesn't work!

In anticipation of the increase in sales which the advert would produce, I had invested another £200+ in new stocks of greeting cards and giclee prints. I have sold a few of these lately, but not in a quantity which would justify the expense I've incurred over it. Then, on Saturday 12th March, my computer desktop monitor packed up, and I had no option but to replace it , at a further cost of £150. Ouch! For a self-employed artist on a very modest income, an outlay of £600 over the course of a single week, before I'd even bought myself something to eat, is a fairly serious matter.

Thank goodness it hasn't been all bad news. My client loved the painting of the ill-fated fishing boat "Kildonan" (see posting 28/02/2011), and I've received a commission to do a number of "Nort Boat" paintings for the St. Magnus Bay Hotel in Hillswick. I've now started this, with the "Sovereign", a paddle steamer which was one of the earliest in the fleet, having been acquired in 1836 and running on the Aberdeen - Shetland route until 1867, when she was wrecked near Aberdeen.

I've been working steadily on the stock/exhibition works too. I've nearly finished a Howe o' the Mearns landscape, and have begun another seascape with an "under sail" theme, which has a dual purpose in that the 2012 Tall Ships race is visiting these islands in July. I expect I'll be getting some themed greeting cards and giclee prints for that event too.


Monday, 7 March 2011


This is my version, in oils on canvas, of the Shetland fishing boat "Kildonan", passing the Bressay lighthouse as she approached Lerwick harbour. She would have done this many times in her short career. She was a 50-odd foot "zulu", built originally as a sailing vessel, and had been fitted with a wheelhouse and a diesel engine, as many of this class of boat were, in the years just following the first world war. One early summer morning in 1932, her crew had just finished hauling a good shot of herring, and one of the two brothers who owned the boat went down to start the engine for the short voyage back to the market at Lerwick. Instead of starting in the usual manner, it went on fire, the blaze spread quickly, and the crew had no option but to abandon ship and take to the small boat to watch their livelihoods go up in flames before their eyes. The skipper, whose daughter (now aged 80) commissioned the work from me, once said that the saddest sound he had ever heard was that of the drift-net buoys bursting in the intense heat.
No doubt fire-fighting equipment was much less sophisticated in those days than that carried as standard and by regulation now. In addition, there are the many other modern safety devices, without which no present-day skipper would ever even consider putting to sea. Some of this is electronic, some connected with advances in other fields of technology and communication, such as the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon), whose prosaic title bears similarities to the "does exactly what it says on the tin" advertising slogan, all of it designed to improve the safety of mariners at sea.
And then there is, but not for much longer in its present form apparently, the Coastguard, a worthy organisation of people dedicated to keeping seafarers healthily afloat. They, being local to their station, know the coastline and the inshore waters in their local areas intimately, and have representatives on call at all times to deal with any emergency which may arise (and frequently does). Their radios and other points of contact are constantly manned to pick up signals from any vessel which might be in trouble, and they normally take control of any rescue operations which may have to be mounted in their areas, be it a ship in distress, a cliff fall or stranding (man or beast!), or a missing shore walker. In short, if anyone's safety is compromised, either at sea or near the shoreline, the coastguard is there to use its local knowledge and skills to put an effective rescue plan into motion.
Until now, that is. In order to save a few million quid, the coalition government wants to shut the local coastguard stations (the few that are left) down. Hapless beleaguered-looking representatives have been despatched to the various locations where the doomed stations are situated, with the remit to persuade the turkeys that voting for Christmas IS a good idea, that closing the stations is a wonderful scheme which will make the system SO much more efficient, and is NOTHING AT ALL to do with the fact that our rulers need to recoup the huge sums dished out to senior bankers as a reward for practically bankrupting the country, and putting seafarers' lives at risk is a price worth paying for this. They are having difficulty selling this to the natives, however. The deal is this - there will be one fully manned technology-driven unit in Aberdeen, and one other part-time 9 to 5-opening one at either Stornoway or Lerwick (fight amongst yourselves for that one, folks!). Tough if your job takes you to sea outwith these hours, as most seafarers' jobs do! Are there really people in Regulationville who think that seamen finish their eight-hour shift, change into their casuals and have a pint in the pub on the way home to the wife and kids?
Then there were the coastguard tugs (now off contract, I believe, and in the process of getting repainted for their new jobs), which were introduced in the aftermath of the "Braer" oil spill. They were to cover the sea areas around the Western and Northern Isles, to take broken-down ships (of which there have been many) in tow, thus guarding our coastlines against pollution, and crews' lives from being lost at sea in these busy areas. I almost laughed out loud when I heard about the Royal Navy nuclear submarine HMS "Astute" grounding off the Gairloch last year, and having to be towed off by one of the very ships they want to get rid of!
Of course, closing Coastguard stations is nothing new. The last government got rid of the Orkney station, amongst others, and in England, the National Coastwatch Institution, was set up in 1994 as a kind of substitute for defunct Coastguard units. It is entirely staffed by unpaid volunteers and supported entirely by voluntary contributions (rather like the RNLI, it seems), but this body has no representation north of the border as yet, as far as I know. I hate the idea of this really, as it appears to let a Government of knaves and charlatans get away with their incompetence, mismanagement of resources, and callous indifference to the wellbeing of sailors and others who rely on them for a degree of protection. Once again, an essential service is being sacrificed on the altar of capitalism and consumerism. This is what David Cameron calls the "big society", after all - people who will work for nothing and let him "off the hook", to use a fishing expression.
Comparing the summer of 1932 with the present day in terms of safety at sea is not easy, and there are few similarities. Marine diesel engines were at an early stage of development back then. Rescue equipment was limited to a wooden lifeboat, a few lifebelts, the strong arms of the fishermen themselves and anything else that came to hand at the time! Nowadays there are advances in technology and safety devices too numerous to list here. This is just as well, for this government has made it clear that, as far as it is concerned, we could be back to the 1930s. The sea is still as dangerous a workplace as it ever was, and I hope that every time a life and/or a livelihood is lost with this evil coalition's tacit approval, they are left in no doubt of the fact. I am sure that the media, in its various forms, will be delighted to assist!

Sunday, 27 February 2011


I reckon that's the number of times that I've made alterations to this painting over the six years since I first produced what I thought was a good representation of the MV "St. Clair".
She was completed in 1960 by the long-since-closed Hall Russell's shipyard in Aberdeen. She was the third ship to bear the name for the North of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland Steam Navigation Co. Ltd., and she turned out to be the last before this firm was taken over by Coast Lines Ltd in the mid-1960s, and this company was absorbed into P & O Ferries early in the 1970s. She was also the last side-loader on the route (the next "St. Clair" being the first ro-ro ferry), and consequently she was the last ship to use Victoria Pier for loading and discharging of passengers and cargo. I took my first trips to the mainland as a student on this ship, and I have many happy memories of wild nights on board.
The painting has spent most of the time since 2004 on the wall of the Lounge in Lerwick, and every time I looked at it, I knew that it needed more work done on it. The fifth, and, I hope, the last, changes were made to it about a week ago. I altered the sky, the angle of the horizon, the distant Sumburgh Head, and the sea behind and in front of the ship this time. I've been looking at the work off and on for the last week, and, for the first time, I have a sense of satisfaction about it. I hope and believe there will be no sixth amendment to this particular painting.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Yet more obsequious hand-wringing after the manner of Charles Dickens' character Uriah Heep (as illustrated by my drawing of my impersonation of the revolting chap!) is required. I just keep making mistakes and, unlike most of today's politicians, I'd prefer to admit to them! They usually end up costing me money too.
After telling you about my brilliant scheme to prevent ridging to my canvases being caused by the edges of the stetcher frames, using draught excluder strip, I invested in a couple of rolls of this product, only to discover that it was far too narrow for this purpose, and it was also self-adhesive, which is not a desirable property for my purpose either. So, another £7-odd wasted, unless I need a draught excluded at some point in the future.
Back to the drawing board, to coin the popular cliched phrase! I googled condensation sponge strip, and up came (amongst other things!) Drip Strip! Eureka! I bought some, I've tried it, and it works! It'll work even better when I refine the technique of applying it a bit.
More apologies for late posting, but I had to prioritize tasks, such as hanging my Lounge Bar mini-exhibition, which had been removed so that the pub owners could redecorate the place. I also had to update the website with recent works (, which is now done - I think! Uploading the images, creating thumbnails, using the Image Manager and doing all the necessary hyperlinking is tricky for an internet comparative newbie like me.
As to current artworks, progress is much as usual - slow but steady! I've begun modifying one of the Lounge mini-exhibition items. It was of the third ship to bear the name "St. Clair" on the Aberdeen to Shetland cargo/passenger route. I'd depicted her with Sumburgh Head in the background, but I'd made the land too close up, and this had been irritating me for years, so at last I'm doing something about it. I plan to work at this today. I'm working on another historical Shetland fishing boat commission, and I've begun a largish (40" x 20") painting of the Mearns, near Luthermuir, in April, when fields of daffodils can be seen giving the landscape striking bands of yellow against the dominant dull browns and greens. My next exhibition at the Creel Inn, Catterline, later this year, is the intended destination for this
The days are visibly lengthening now, which is good for artwork production, although the weather is certainly not improving. We had storm force winds bearing rain across the islands for most of Monday, although yesterday was bright and mostly dry, if a little windy. The Met Office are forecasting snow for today. It's all part of the rich tapestry of life on my native islands, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Have a good week (what's left of it!) and I'll try to do better with my posting schedule in future!