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

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


This painting has been a long time in the making, having stood half-finished, since early summer, in a corner of my studio, while I got on with more urgent tasks.  Having "cleared my feet" of commissioned work, I was able to tackle my pending "on-spec" pictures, and this is the last of these.  It depicts the  second "nort boat" to bear the name "St. Giles", sailing south-westwards through St. Magnus Bay in fresh weather, having completed her day's business at Hillswick.  The photograph shows a slightly foreshortened version of the painting, there being more of the Hillswick Ness "banks" to the right of the ship on the original artwork.

The ship replaced the old "St. Giles", which had been lost after running aground in thick fog on Rattray Head in 1902.  The new vessel came into service in 1903 and, according to Alastair McRobb's excellent little book, The North Boats, was placed on the direct route, so the ship may never have been in St. Magnus Bay at all.  Not for the first time, my depiction could be a "dadbusted lie", as the magistrate said in the Comancheros film!

What McRobb's book does not tell us is what end the second "St. Giles" made.  Was she sold for further trading, or did she become a grounding casualty like her predecessor of the same name?  She is not in the author's list of north boats sunk by enemy action in World War I.  I would be very interested to know what became of this ship.

Last night I updated the website by uploading the recently completed artworks (including the above) to the Gallery Shop pages.  If you live in the islands, come and visit my stall at the Toll Clock Centre in Lerwick on Saturdays 8th and 15th December.  The usual selection of prints and cards, including the new stock additions, will be on offer, and commissions can be discussed there too!  All of it is also available to buy online through the website.  Visit me on- or offline!

Sunday, 18 November 2012


My latest painting shows Shetland's own tall ship heading southwards, with an easterly breeze in her sails.  This is the first time I've done a "portrait" of the old lady for a while, although she appears in some of my Lerwick harbour paintings.

The "Swan" was built at Lerwick in 1900, and spent her first few years, under Lerwick owners, rigged as a lugger, as she long-lined for white-fish in spring, and took on drift-net gear for the summer herring fishing.  She was bought by a Simpson-headed Whalsay partnership, who converted her to the fore-and-aft "smack" rig which she carries today.  The sails disappeared as her main means of propulsion when she had an engine installed, and a wheelhouse fitted,  in 1935.  She fished on in this new "rig" until around 1960, participating in the new seine-net white-fishery from the late 1940s, long after most boats of her vintage had disappeared from the commercial fishing scene.  She began a new career as a pleasure craft and houseboat south of the border, but fell into neglect, and actually sank at her moorings in W Hartlepool on several occasions.  She was finally rescued from her plight, and the Swan Trust was formed in 1990 to restore her to her former glory as a sailing vessel.  Her transformation was completed in 1996, since when she has been in regular use as a sailing boat, both running "tours" around Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles, and competing in Tall Ships Races.

Olsen's Almanack, in the 1938 and 1950 editions (and presumably the ones in between too!), has her details as 18 tons nett, engine 21hp, and owned by T H Simpson and others, Whalsay.  Manson's Shetland Almanac and Directory of 1949 lists her as 44.1 tons (presumably gross!), 60.4 keel length, and 75hp of engine.  I don't begin to understand the difference in engine rating between the two publications, but no doubt a marine engineer will tell me!  I have read somewhere else that her overall length is 68 feet.

I've painted her against a background of the Bressay lighthouse and the cliffs of the Ord and Bard on the south end of the island.  The painting is currently in for scanning at my printer's, and I have been promised giclees of this work (both A4 and A3) to be ready for next Saturday's Toll Clock Centre stall.  They'll also be available for sale online (as will the original painting) through the website.

Have a good week!

Sunday, 4 November 2012


I anticipate no gasps of utter astonishment when I reveal that the latest works to appear in the Tait Gallery are both seascapes.  They were both commissioned.

One of them is the third in a series featuring the Gamrie dual-purpose boat "Silver Wave" (BF372).  She is pictured hauling a good shot of herring, attended by the ubiquitous flocks of gannets, fulmars and gulls, as the crew perform the back-breaking operation of getting the heavy shot aboard.

The other painting is of the Lerwick pilot boat "Knab", viewed from the headland from which her name derives, as she re-enters the harbour after performing another "escort" duty.  This was the first of two vessels to bear the name, built in the late 1980s and replaced by a more powerful state-of-the-art version around 2005 (I'm not sure of my exact dates here!).

I'm currently working on a painting of the local tall ship "Swan".  I'd originally planned to have prints of this ready for my first pre-Christmas stall at Lerwick's Toll Clock Centre on Saturday 17th November.  It now looks as though I'll miss my own deadline by a week or two, but I should have the giclees available by the end of the month.  Watch this space!

Sunday, 30 September 2012


The weather was fair as we sped south towards Huntly that evening in late June of 2009.  The colours were magnificent, as low cloud, driven by a southerly breeze, sometimes partly obscured the sun, creating indigo shadows here and there among the golden light which played among the fields, hedgerows and conifer-clad hilltops.  We were passing through the parish of Forgue, when the view from my passenger window suddenly yielded a sight which made me catch my breath in wonderment.

Above the roadside hedgerow had appeared the top of a tall single crowstep gable which adjoined an almost-complete four-storey wall.  A tree was growing in the space which had obviously been occupied by whatever had been between this wall and gable and its now absent counterparts.  In the prevailing light of that evening, the sight was spectacular.  I asked my companion what this building had been, and exposed a gap in her hitherto comprehensive knowledge of the area.  I was determined that, on my return to Shetland,  I would find out what I could about this magnificent ruin.

The OS map of the area revealed it to be Conzie Castle.  Further online investigation led me to the fact that it had also been known as Bognie House, and it had been built, around 1670, by one George Morison, who had acquired much of the land in this area, through forfeiture, from Viscount Frendraught, who had taken the losing Royalist side, alongside the Marquis of Montrose, in the Scottish episodes of the Civil war of the mid-17th century.  According to the Canmore site record, the building is "a tall four storey rectangular un-vaulted palatial structure, with crowstep gables and the remains of corner turrets".  An ambitious project, then, but now it's a ruin, standing in a field, without even a footpath leading to it, as far as I can see.

Why Morison built Conzie/Bognie Castle is unclear, but it seems that it was never lived in.  There had been an earlier, equally imposing building (Pennyburn) to the east of Conzie, as a map of 1776 shows two mansions on the Bognie estate.  The ruins of a "dookit" also stand quite near to the east of Conzie, although no trace remains of Pennyburn, apart from the stream which gave the building its name.

Later that summer, I returned to Banff, where I had been staying when I discovered Conzie, to take down my paintings exhibition at Duff House.  The setting up of this display had earlier led me to this car journey down the A97.  My brother was helping me with the transport of the pictures, and he agreed to my suggestion of a run down to Huntly for our lunch, so that I could get another look at Conzie.  On this occasion, however, the weather was not so kind.  It had rained for about 24 hours (and most of the intervening summer apparently!), and this had just cleared when we reached the castle ruin.  It was difficult to find a place to stop on this fast section of roadway, and, when we did, I got a few photographs of the grey sodden-looking scene, in which the rosebay willowherb seemed to be the only thing thriving in the conditions.  Everything else looked defeated and depressed somehow.

So what you see above is my attempt to re-create a moment in time, a fleeting glimpse of a spectacular ruin on a June evening more than three years ago.  It has taken me four months of intermittent effort to get close to that, and this is all that we poor artists can do.  This is the third of the must-paint scenes which stem from the journey of that magical evening, the others being Fordyce and Boyndie Bay.  Enjoy!

Sunday, 23 September 2012


I wonder just how often I've painted pictures of the Bressay lighthouse over the years.  It must be of the order of a hundred times, considering the different viewpoints, and it was nearly always as a background feature to some ship or other making its entrance to (or exit from) Lerwick harbour.  I observe that, of the five paintings I have "on the stocks" at the moment, two of them fall into this category.

The lighthouse has stood there for a hundred and fifty years, and will probably stand for a hundred and fifty more.  One Swedish yachtsman of my acquaintance describes it in his log-book as like a white monastery, in the account of his first trip to Shetland many years ago.  It will probably never provide a cloistered existence, but the buildings have been used as self-catering accommodation (for monks and any other visitors who choose to stay there) since the Stevenson-designed lighthouse went automatic around 1990.  Before then, the living quarters were for the keepers and their families.

But, for a century and a half, the light has flashed out its double signal in the darkness, visible (assuming clear enough conditions) for 23 miles.  It could be seen from ships passing south of Sumburgh Head, in "da Roost" (the tide-race which reminds sea-travellers that our archipelago is set between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean).  It was always there, a regular blink of reassuring white against the surrounding pitch-blackness of everything else.  That is, until a week past Wednesday, when the beam was turned off - for good.

It has been replaced (through the good offices of Lerwick Port Authority, not the Lighthouse Board) by a lower-situated LED device which is visible for ten miles.  This is quite adequate for vessels approaching or leaving the harbour, and most boats have sophisticated electronic navigation equipment, which renders extraneous visual landmarks unnecessary (until the technology breaks down, that is!).

What's my problem with the old light being turned off, then?  Well, for a start, I liked it there, as did most other people living within the scope of its beam, and there are too many things being arbitrarily shut down, turned off or otherwise terminated nowadays.  And, even with the bank of electronic navigation equipment in front of him, the watchman in the wheelhouse of the fishing boat passing through "da Roost" still liked to cast his eye out the starboard window (if the boat was steaming east) to catch sight of the distant white blink and have his bearings (psychologically as well as electronically and navigationally) confirmed.

Seafarers (and others) like visual points of reference like lighthouse beams in their lives.  In Basil R J Anderson's Shetland dialect poem "Maunsie's Crö", the poet tells how the crö (a circular stone enclosure for growing plants) on the hilltop, although never having been intended for this purpose, became a "meead" bearing for fishermen out at sea, and there have been many examples of real-life "crös".  One such was the red light on top of the main TV transmitter mast on the Wart of Bressay.  It was removed in 1990, but, because of its intensity and height (about 900ft) above sea level, it could be seen by boats up to forty miles out to sea to the east of the islands, and it became a well-known night landmark for fishermen from a' the airts working the fishing grounds in that area.

And the reason for the Bressay light being switched off?  I'm afraid that it comes down to that old chestnut again - money, or the recently-perceived lack of it!  It's just another example of how the government is trying to save a few quid by squeezing the budgets of the various agencies, departments, quangoes and local authorities, and this includes the Northern Lighthouse Board.  Our historical beacon has become another casualty of a corporate strategy which defines price without admitting any consideration of value in its cost-cutting exercises.

We can only speculate as to what beacon might be next on the chop list.  The road up to Sumburgh Head is close to collapse under the weight of Amenity Trust plans for the lighthouse buildings there.  I don't suppose these include any safeguards for the future of the triple-flash beam sequence which was a background feature of my formative years at Sandwick schoolhouse.  It would be a fortunate result of this little personal piece of prose, if the bodies which are addressing themselves so zealously to the "slockin" of lighthouse beams and other elements of our lives' facilities, that it may be much more than a flash in the dark they are extinguishing.


Sunday, 9 September 2012


I know I shouldn't , but I'm so bored that I've decided to upload this JPEG of my painting of the rock legend, and to heck with the consequences!  A friend of mine commissioned the work, and I'm profiting none financially by publishing it here, so I hope I'll get away with it.

Once again, I have found myself, as I have on other Sundays, in front of a blank page, hoping that the Muse will return soon from her sick leave.  Seldom have I felt less motivated to either paint, write, or otherwise create anything at all, than I have during this non-event of a Shetland summer.  The artwork I have been doing has been mostly on commissions, and I have no exhibitions planned for the foreseeable future.  I entered my "Lower Voe" painting for the Oldie British Art Award competition, and it didn't make the short-list of ten.  This came as something of a relief to me, as the problems associated with getting the obligatory portfolio of work and myself from Shetland to London (which would be an obligation for finalists) was causing me some anxiety, as I don't have either a car or a licence to drive one, and I've never been to the Metropolis before!  My feet are of a particularly claggy form of clay, and I've never had any desire to travel - anywhere!

A lot of my time, over recent months, has been spent clearing out my mother's home at Whiteness, to get the place ready for the new occupants, who will be moving in in the next month or so.  My sisters and I, ably supported by my nephew Kenneth with a hired van, have been carting tons of stuff off to the Rova Head dump, and putting further copious quantities of clothes, furnishings and bric-a-brac to charity shops in Lerwick.  I was surprised when the local re-cycling firm Shetland Scrapstore accepted three old typewriters for their renovation enterprise scheme.  A numismatist is to visit me on Tuesday to look at my late father's coin collection (which he kept in two old sweetie tins in the bureau of his study), and I've made up a package of over a hundred used foreign stamps, off the many letters and postcards we found, which I'm sending off to the MS Society of Scotland, in the hope that they can still use them.

And all the time we have the uneasy feeling that we are callously and arbitrarily trashing the life of our dear mother, who now resides, apparently quite happily, in the Overtonlea Care Centre at Levenwick, a parish in the south mainland of Shetland.  The stage had been reached when she was no longer able to live in her own home, and she had become resigned to this fact when the vacancy arose at the centre at the end of April.  Since then, we have all been engaged in the various practicalities and administrative matters to do with her change in residential status and the sale of the house.  For nearly sixteen years, ever since my father died in October 1996, I have been my mother's care attendant, getting her shopping and pension, doing bits and pieces of work around the house and garden, helping her with appointments at various places, and any other matters arising.  None of it has felt at all burdensome to me, and I feel rather out on a limb now that the moment (which I have known was approaching for the past sixteen years) when my attendant services would no longer be required, has arrived.

Now, for the first time in my life, I feel a little lonely and vulnerable.  Long ago, I would have dispelled such negativity at the pub, life always having looked rosier through the bottom of a pint-glass. But that was in a sweeter bygone age, when bars were warm, friendly and exciting places where dreams and schemes would materialise and fade among my smoke-rings.  Since the Scottish government's Pick-A-Soft-Target-and-Hit-It-Hard act, pubs have taken on the clinical atmosphere of a dentist's waiting-room, much fewer people bother to go now, and many bars are closing down as an inevitable consequence.  I think the last time I visited my local (the Lounge!) was back in May, when friends of mine were up in Shetland for the Classic Motor Show.

In short, the only way I can avoid boring myself to tears is to work, and, in my line as a professional artist, it's difficult to maintain a consistent level and standard of work over prolonged periods of time.  One needs to re-charge the batteries, so to speak, and that seems to be what I have been doing lately.  I just hope the gauge registers "full" soon.

Sunday, 22 July 2012


A strong south-westerly is blowing rain against my studio window as I write this long-overdue blog post.  I hope that the weather will have improved by the time I commit these lines to my Blogger dashboard.  Our Shetland summer has been chilly and gloomy so far, but we haven't (until now!) had the volume of rain which has been saturating many other parts of Britain recently.  I take it the hosepipe ban has been lifted now!

I've now held my first five Saturday stalls of the summer at the Toll Clock Centre, and the takings have been varied, but I find that my presence there is an important and useful link with the public.  As well as meeting old friends, making new ones, and selling a few prints and greeting cards, I pick up a few painting commissions.  I've almost finished the first of these now - a portrait of Rolling Stone Keith Richards!  Sadly I won't be able to display it online, as I'll be infringing someone's copyright if I do, and that could be costly.  At the moment, you'll have to take my word for the fact that canvas Keith is much too pretty, and I'm going to have to rough him up a bit!

There are no plans for any more exhibitions in the near future.  I entered the Lower Voe painting (which I displayed here a couple of months ago) into the OBA art competition, run by the Oldie magazine. I should know by mid-August if I've made the short-list of ten for the big prize of £5000!  And here's the bit I don't like - the ten finalists have to come to London (complete with a saleable portfolio of works) for a presentation do (I forget where exactly), and the logistics of this is causing me loss of sleep.  I don't have my own transport, so I don't know how I'm going to get myself and all my baggage to a venue in a city I've never been to before.  So I'm half-hoping that my work is NOT chosen for the short-list!

A feeling of general unease is pervading my whole being at the moment.  I need to move on (onwards, upwards, sideways or backwards, but ON!) from the disaster of Catterline at the turn of the year.  The fact that I no longer have duties to perform for my mother at Whiteness (since she became a permanent resident at the Levenwick care centre) means that another element of my weekly routine is no longer there.  The times are a-changing, and things will never be quite the same as before.  My sisters, brother and I have been keeping in closer contact of late, and I'm looking forward to the visit of my youngest sister Angela, who is coming to Shetland for a few days from next Thursday.  We've planned a little party for our mother's 96th birthday in the Overtonlea Care Centre on Monday 30th July, and I'm looking forward to that little soiree very much.  All we need is for my brother to make a surprise trip up from Aberdeen, and we'll all be together again for the first time in a good few years.  Strange - we were all so very different, and yet so close.

I promise to have some more artwork to show you soon!

Sunday, 10 June 2012


I've got big ears.  They stick out a a grotesque angle from my head, and, whenever I get a close haircut, the silhouette of my bonce bears a remarkable resemblance to a prestigious golfing trophy.  I can wiggle my lugs about, and I've considered the idea that, if I could develop these muscles a bit, I could train them to become midgie repellant flaps during summer walks.

It would indeed be a good idea to find an alternative use for my ears, as I have been profoundly deaf in the right one since I contracted mumps at age 11.  "Eh?  What?", I hear you gleefully reply (everyone does it, and everyone finds this an equally apt and amusing response!).  True, I need to wear glasses for reading and writing nowadays, so it's always handy to have a place for the legs of these to sit on.  Otherwise, I could as well have followed Van Gogh's (or was it Gauguin's?) example, and cut the ridiculous appendage off.

I made the discovery that I was deaf in one ear by the usual revolting schoolboy habit of "fiddling with my bits". I noticed that, if I stuck my finger in my left lughole, I could hear nothing at all, whereas if I did the same with the right one, everything sounded normal.  I pondered this issue for a time, before broaching the subject with my parents.  Medical appointments were made and kept, and my father and I appeared at a consultant's surgery in Lerwick one fine morning.

I forget the exact location where the consultation took place - I think it may have been the old Gilbert Bain hospital, which is now the local funeral director's parlour.  My father and I were ushered into a room which seemed to contain little else besides a huge bank of electronic equipment, before which sat a tweedy version of Star Trek's Uhura (complete with sensible shoes!).  I was duly wired up, with earphones, to this massive apparatus.  The equipment bleeped, whistled, "tooed" and farted away as the woman twiddled with her knobs, and if she had informed us of the approach of klingons on the starboard bow, I would have been no less clueless as to what the object of this exercise was.  My father may even have leaned over and informed me, in conspiratorial tones, "It's life, Jim, but not as we know it!".  At the end of it, the specialist had to inform me that I was profoundly deaf ("Sorry, YOU'RE DEAF!") in my right ear, and there was nothing they could do about it.

Needless to say, I have been stone deaf in one ear all through the ensuing half-century.  In previous posts, I have touched on the embarrassments and general bothersomeness of hearing in mono rather than stereo.  I got used to it, and even learned to turn it to advantage on some occasions.  I consider myself lucky - it could so easily have been both ears!

I did get hot under the collar when a certain scientist, whose name I've conveniently forgotten, produced a theory, based on the scantest of evidence, that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.  His publication was meat and drink to the media, who go into a gleeful feeding frenzy over such scary stories (the truth or otherwise behind them completely immaterial), and the rate of uptake of the vaccine plummeted.  There are no statistics available as to the number of children who are now profoundly deaf through contracting mumps as a result of this journalistic coup.  As always, the people who caused this scare aren't hanging around to admire their handiwork, now that the theory has been discredited.

Stanley Baldwin was quoting his uncle Rudyard Kipling when he delivered the famous phrase, "Power without responsibility - the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages."  He was referring to the press barons, melords Beaverbrook and Rothermere, at the time.  Plus ça change!  Eh?  What?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


The latest creation to appear in the Tait Gallery is a landscape depicting the area around Voe Pier in Shetland.  The picture incorporates a fair number of features, but I hope it doesn't look too crowded with detail.  In the back of my mind is the notion that I might enter this into an art competition, run by the Oldie magazine, which, it is proposed, will provide an antidote to the kind of charlatan-produced ordure sponsored by Charles Saatchi and his ilk.  I have no expectations of winning, but at least I will have entered something which reflects the spirit of the contest.

The trouble with the competition is that I'm only allowed to enter one work for it, otherwise I might have hedged my bets with a seascape (which best reflects my normal artistic output) and perhaps a harbour scene.  There would probably be far fewer seascape entries (we nautical painters are much fewer in number than workers in other genre), but the chances are that the judges will have had unfortunate experiences (if any at all) with lumpy seas. This may well cloud their judgement as to depictions of it, leading them to a bias in favour of landscapes, portraiture and still life.  I've only got one shot at this, and I'm thinking of entering the painting shown above.

The painting is of Lower Voe, viewed from the pier, looking roughly north-eastwards .  I used one of my own digital images of the scene, and I've added a couple of children playing in "da ebb" and a few lobster creels, "burrups" and netting to replace the stack of yellow fish-boxes which was in my original photograph of the scene.  I thought that the bright gold would be too much of an eye-pull from the rest of the picture.  I've taken a small amount of artistic licence, therefore, but it is still far from having Saatchi inclusion potential - it doesn't smell!  I'll leave that element of ambience to your own sensual memories and fertile imaginations!

Whatever happens to the original painting, it's going to be available shortly as a giclee print.  Come along to my Saturday stalls at the Toll Clock centre here in Lerwick (starting on 23rd June).  They'll be for sale there in A3 and A4 size, along with many other good things.  See you there!

Sunday, 27 May 2012


I should never have got up on Friday.  By remaining in bed, I would have avoided personal injury, bad news and another defeat at the hands of modern technology.  Mind you, I would have missed the more pleasant events of the afternoon.

I don't recall exactly what business I was about, early that morning, when my feet got "wittered" in an old jumper which had fallen off the back of the armchair into a dark place between it and the storage heater.  I fell forwards and landed in a stupefied heap in front of my computer desk.  I rolled over onto my rear end, and began to survey my bits for damage.  Remarkably, my knees had escaped with only a small skin-burst low on the left one.  The worst injury seemed to be to the middle toe of my right foot, which is now a rich colour combination of crimson and purple.  The last time I saw that colour was on my rump, after I'd done an involuntary bum-luge down a slush-covered flight of stairs in Captain Flints pub on a winter's night some years ago.  I sported a full-colour portrait of Armageddon on my backside for weeks afterwards.

I managed to get to my feet, and found I could still walk without much difficulty, although my right foot was painful.  I slapped a band-aid on the graze to my left knee, had a bath, and decided to check my physical faculties with a walk down to Bolt's shop for my Shetland Times and other essentials.  My progress was a bit slower and more cautious than usual, but I got back safely.  After reading the news and some of the views in our local newspaper over a cup of coffee and a hobnob (a practice repeated in homes, offices and workshops all over the islands every Friday morning), I got down to some work.  I have two commissions and two "stock" works" under way at present, and I hope to have at least one of these finished during the incoming week.

I had made up my mind to visit my mother in Overtonlea Care Centre, where she is now a permanent resident, in the afternoon, so, after lunch, I made my way to "da Street", where I drew Mum's pension from the main post office, and £100 from my own bank account, and caught a taxi down to Levenwick (an expensive business, I know, but I won't be using that mode of transport very often!). I had completely forgotten that the residents of the home have their church service on a Friday afternoon, so I ended up providing some unrehearsed bass vocals to the hymns there.  I stayed to chat with my mother for another hour or so afterwards, coming away with some administrative work to do for her, and a feeling of how strange the day was turning out to be.  The misty conditions added to the feeling of strangeness.

Back in Lerwick, more bad news awaited me in the form of an email from my Swedish client, whose package had arrived damaged.  The painting (shown in the last post to this blog), which was on good quality canvas stretched over a deep-profile frame, had not been holed or torn (photographs of the damage to painting and packaging had been attached to the email), but ridging had occurred due to compression onto the frame-edges.  I suggested that he pack damp cloth between the stretcher bars and the back of the canvas at the places where the ridging had happened, and leave it for a while.  Fortunately this seems to have worked, and I have another satisfied customer.  This, however, is no thanks to the carrier, into whose hands I had placed the sum of £210 for safe delivery of the package.  No insurance was available to me from the shipping company, and I'm surprised that anyone wants to send anything of value by this means of transportation.  I had used polystyrene sheeting and bubble wrap for the interior protection, and this was inside thick cardboard secured with copious amounts of parcel tape.  The item was clearly marked "Fragile".

In the evening, further fragility was exposed in my temperament and technological capabilities when I attempted to copy some of the documents I had been given earlier by my mother.  No matter what I tried, the machine seemed to want to enlarge the documents and print only the middle section of each of them.  I went to bed that night in a poor state of mind and health.

But are we down-hearted?  On Saturday, the fog lifted, I corrected the error in my copier operation, my Swedish client emailed to say my plan had worked, and I put in an excellent day's work at the easel.  Even my toe was hurting a bit less.  Fortunately, black Fridays don't come around very often.  And, when I think of how dark are all the days of some people in the world, it puts my minor misfortunes into a more healthy perspective.

I hope to have an illustrated post here within the next few days.  Have a nice week.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Since this photograph was taken, I have had my hair cut.  You'll no doubt be relieved to hear this, although it is a sad fact that even the most skilled hairdresser cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, and the ravages of time are now all too evident on any image of me nowadays.  On the plus side (there's always at least one!), it adds a certain edge to my curmudgeonliness!

The painting featured in the photograph has now been carefully and stoutly packaged, and it will begin its journey to the man who commissioned it (who lives in the outskirts of Stockholm) with a short trip to the office of Streamline Shipping tomorrow.  According to the information on the Royal Mail Parcelforce website, the package will exceed their acceptable dimensional limits for transportation by about half a metre.  This is regrettable, as the carrier will probably charge more, but it can't be helped.

I'm sorry for the fact that I have become a stranger to my own blog recently.  I just haven't had the time to post, as there has always seemed to be something making more imperative demands on my attention than putting together some readable posts for this journal.  This is something I take quite seriously.  If I can't put anything worth reading together (and there are many subjects I want to address in these pages), I'd rather leave it until I can devote more time to the exercise.

So it is with my usual abject apologies (as well as some relief that I have posted anything at all!), that I leave you with the image of the "Force 9 Following Sea", which, along with the dimensions of 36"L x 53"H, is all I was given by way of instructions from my client.  From his response to the images I have sent him, I think he is pleased with it!  I hope to be able to post more regularly soon, and I thank you for your patience.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


The title of this piece refers to the name given by Shetlanders to the north Mainland of Shetland (Mainland being the name of the largest island of the archipelago).  Where exactly "nort trow" begins probably depends on whom you ask.  To someone from Voe, it probably starts at the Mavis Grind isthmus, whereas to folk, like me, from Lerwick and the central and south of the island, it most probably begins at Voe or Brae.  It is universally agreed that it ends at the Point of Fethaland, the most northerly point.

Wherever it begins, it was hither that my old school pal Robin Barclay and I hied on the morning of Tuesday 27th March.  We had arranged to go for a run in Robin's 4 x 4, accompanied by our cameras, and the weather turned out exceptionally fine for our excursion.  Robin is one of the old classmates who made up the hanging party for the ill-fated Catterline exhibition last November.  As it turned out, the hanging was the only good part of it, but I couldn't have reasonably foreseen that at the time.

Last Tuesday we called first at Weisdale's Bonhoga Gallery to see what was on display there.  We then continued on our way to Voe, where we gave our cameras their first exercise around the pier area.  Lower Voe is one of the most attractive locations in Shetland, strongly evocative of Norwegian west coast villages with the maroon-painted wooden buildings clinging to the steep hillsides around the voe-head.  We had an excellent bar lunch at the Pierhead Bar and Restaurant there.

At upper Voe, the main road splits into two, the right fork taking the traveller past Dales Lees to Firth, Mossbank and the north isles ferry terminal at Toft.  We took the left turning, from which the road skirts Olna Firth, and then Busta Voe on its way through Brae.  My intention had been to steer my old schoolmate in the direction of Muckle Roe, a place I had not visited since my last call there with the Bank of Scotland mobile unit around 1970.  It turned out that Robin had never been there before, so we duly crossed the bridge and took the left turning which led us along the Busta Voe side of what used to be an island, access to which was gained by stepping stones (use of which must have been a hazardous undertaking in inclement weather!) until a footbridge was built in 1904, upgraded to take vehicular traffic after WWII.  Judging by the fair number of new houses along the couple of miles of winding road between the bridge and the Little Ayre, Muckle Roe is now within easy daily commuting distance of the oil terminal and other mainland workplaces.

I have unfinished photographic business in Muckle Roe.  I'd known it was a mistake to have that coffee after my meal at Voe, and my bladder was at bursting point by the time we got back to the bridge.  Since no toilet facilities were evident, I had to employ the 4 x 4, on the mainland side, to shield myself from the eyes of the populace, as I pumped the bilges en plein air, so to speak.  Duly relieved, it didn't seem appropriate to cross over again, so I got a few photographs of the bridge area, before we continued our run northwards.  The weather was still beautiful, and it was only the grey colour of the ground which reminded us that March was not yet out.

We headed for Hillswick, and called at the craft shop, which was closed until May.  We carried on west as far as Braewick, and I can't recall when I was last in this part of Shetland - probably never in better weather.  Robin wanted to go to Ronas Voe, so it was back to Urafirth to get back on the road north.  We ended up down on a "taing", known as the Blade (I found that out from an OS map afterwards) at Heylor, looking across at the red granite mass of Shetland's highest natural feature, Ronas Hill.  A "skarf" was diving around the mussel ropes in the cobalt blue waters of the voe, and I found this place completely enchanting.  As far as I can remember, I've never been at this lovely spot in my life before.

We toyed with the idea of heading even farther up to North Roe, but Robin reckoned there wasn't enough time left, as he had to be back in Sandwick around 5pm.  We did call along Ollaberry on the way back south to Lerwick.  The breeze had been gentle, the sunshine warm, and the day perfect.  Sometimes I feel ashamed at how little I've seen of my native islands, and cross-country hiking will never be an option for me nowadays.  However, it's amazing how much beautiful scenery can be enjoyed from close to the road.  I'm looking forward to making more use of my camera, next time I'm "nort trow".

Now, as yesterday's snow is still clearing from the shady sides of the "hill-daeks", I recall the balmy conditions of a week ago, and ponder on the fickle nature of the Shetland weather. Fine days are not to be wasted here, and I'm glad I took full advantage of last Tuesday's sunshine.  I hope we get some decent weather this summer, but I'm not holding my breath!

Sunday, 25 March 2012


Yesterday, as Shetland was shrouded in thick fog, which is still persisting as I write this, my sister Mary and I joined the rest of the mourners at the funeral of our first cousin Jeemie Nicolson.  About 150 people gathered in the Scalloway Hall for this occasion, which was more enjoyable than most funerals I've attended.  True, there were a few tears, but the singing was excellent, led by the North Ness Boys, with their mother Lorna playing the keyboard for the service.  We all gave Jeemie, who had been so able physically and intellectually for most of his life, but had been largely absent in mind for the last few years, a rousing send-off as he embarked on his last voyage.

My memories of him will always be of a very able and talented man.  I recall, as a boy, looking at his photographic slide-show of Sierra Leone, where he had been working as a mine geologist during happier times for that country in the 1960s.  Later, when he took a share in acquiring Shetland's first purpose-built pelagic purse-seiner (the "Wave Crest", built in 1969), I used to go for trips to the herring fishing with her.  How I enjoyed these overnight trips in pursuit of the shoals of herring. Slightly physically disabled, I would complete my day's work at the Bank of Scotland and, still in my bank suit, I would go aboard the boat for another adventure.  I would witness the spectacle of two or three shots of herring being found, ensnared and brought aboard, and be back in Lerwick in time to start another shift at the bank in the morning.  Happy days indeed!  Later, Jeemie sold his share in the boat and began a new career as a successful author, columnist and editor.  Then disability took possession of his mind, as it has taken many another brilliant one, but at least his writings remain as living testimony of his ability, for all the world to see.

Disability, whether in mind or body, is a subject fairly close to my heart.  I had to remain seated for the whole of yesterday's service, as the hall seats were too low for me to get up quickly enough to stand for the entrance of the cortege and the hymn-singing.  Someone in the row behind me (to whom I owe a debt of gratitude), along with Mary, lent the necessary assistance to get me on my feet again at the end of the proceedings.  Disability is socially embarrassing!

My brother and my nephew still smile when they think of our niece's (or cousin's, in the case of our nephew!) wedding in the Long Room at Busta House, Brae, in late February of last year.  They sat either side of me at the ceremony, and grabbed an arm each every time we were called to stand - it was so well done, I think that no-one noticed it was happening!  Regrettably, neither of them could make it to Shetland for yesterday's service - despatches tend to be more difficult to plan for than matches.

My "krang" is host to a whole catalogue of minor ailments, all of which embarrass and debilitate to a degree.  I have been asthmatic since pre-school days, and have also suffered from a condition known as miatonia congenita, which manifests itself in the form of a muscular spasm triggered by any sudden impact or movement.  It has caused me to fall over on countless occasions when able-bodied people would just have staggered before quickly regaining balance.  As a young man, I did my best to minimise the drain on confidence, which stems from this condition,  through taking on jobs which involved physical labour, although I'm not sure what my bosses thought of my work performance!

After contracting mumps at the age of 11, I have been completely deaf in one ear (yes, this 'ere ear - and all the other jokes!).  This means, in effect, that I hear in mono, whereas everyone else around me has stereo reception.  In normal one-to-one contact, this presents no problem, but in social situations this can be crippling.  At parties, even with a moderate amount of back ground noise, I can see people looking at me with their lips flapping, but I can't hear a word of what is being said to me.  In my "courting" days, my ex-wife was highly amused by the lengths I'd go to to counteract this.  If I found myself seated on the wrong side of her, I would develop an odd and intense interest in the wall behind us, in order to get my right ear inclined towards her!  I suppose the fact that I was once married to a beautiful woman is tribute to the success of my efforts to counteract this disability.

At parties, after beginning to try lip-reading what everyone is trying to say to me, I tend to tire of this effort after a couple of hours and a few soda-pops, and drift off into a world of my own, this earning me the reputation of being either stuck-up, anti-social or just plain stupid, all of which are simply untrue.  Debilitation and embarrassment go hand in hand here, and I avoid going to parties if I can.

Over the years, I have added a broken pinkie on my left hand (sustained at work in 1978 and undiagnosed by the overstretched A & E staff at the hospital), and an extremely painful condition in my right knee, which appeared suddenly in the spring of 2006, was only treated in late 2007, and which has left me a legacy of back problems due to the counteractive measures I took to maintain some sort of forward momentum on foot during the eighteen months I endured the pain from my knee.  I've never quite recovered my former strength of limb, and it's this that makes getting to my feet, from a low seated position, so difficult.  Exercise helps, but I'm stuck with the social immobility of disability, and I empathise with others who are similarly affected.

My mother, now well through her 96th year, returns from a fortnight's respite care tomorrow, and I hope to be able to help her settle in back home at Whiteness.  She has suffered from arthritis (including numerous replacement operations) for at least half of her long lifespan, and has had severe mobility issues for the last two decades.  For now, I'll settle for being fit enough to paint pictures, post to this blog, and give my mother the help she needs to make her life tolerable.

Sunday, 18 March 2012


Scotland's glorious leader, King Alex 1, is fond of his dates.  I don't mean the brown sticky things that used to come in long-shaped tins and which I decided, at a very tender age, were never going to be part of my staple diet.  I mean significant dates in Scottish history, such as that of the battle of Bannockburn, on the 700th anniversary of which he plans to hold the "independence" referendum.  On that momentous day (the 24th June 2014 - I looked it up!), he hopes, Scotland will become a nation again. 

I've got news for him - Scotland will never be a sovereign state as long as it is subject to the tyrannous rule of the European Union.  To be a sovereign state, one has to have complete freedom of legislature, executive and judiciary, the constitutional elements in which the independence of a nation is enshrined.  But King Ted sold all three of them down the river Rhine on January 1st 1973 (there's another good date for King Alex).  Since then, the UK can only legislate as far as the lords and masters of Brussels and Strassbourg will graciously allow, the executive (civil service) is similarly constrained in its actions, and our judiciary (of which Scotland could once be justly proud) is now subject to whatever overturning edicts might emanate from that august, weird and wonderful institution known as the European Court of Human Rights (whatever that consists of).  When I hear politicians talking about British sovereignty, I wonder who they think they're kidding!

Now the winds of change are blowing through Europe (to misquote Harold Macmillan out of context!).  The financial systems of weaker member "states" are destined for meltdown, one by one, unable to adjust to the strength of the euro, and ending up in hock to the more robust systems, led by that of Germany, which will succeed in doing financially what Hitler failed to do militarily, and completely control the rest of Europe.  Once again, the UK will survive, after a fashion, not having signed up to the euro.  Perhaps King Alex has been smarter, in his intended adherence to the pound, than I have been giving him credit for.

All that is some distance down the rocky road.  In the meantime, King Alex will only reign over a satellite European province, attached geographically to a slightly bigger UK satellite, and his government will have no more power than a provincial administration.  He's very Scottish, King Alex.  The trouble is I feel no Scottish blood coursing through my veins, and I shudder to think what will happen to my beloved Shetland Islands, when and if Scotland votes "aye" to "independence" (which is what most aye-voters are being led to think they are voting for!).  Shetland stood practically alone in voting "nein" to European integration back in the 1970s, and I confidently predict that it will vote "nah" to Scottish "independence" too.  Not that this will make much difference - Shetland will be dragged to whatever grisly fate awaits Scotland in the years to come, and our islands now have a big part to play in King Alex's plans!

I've got another date for King Alex - well, it's only a year, actually, as, to the best of my knowledge, the day and month are not a matter of record.  It is 2018, when it will be 550 years since Shetland and Orkney were pledged to Scotland by a cash-strapped King of Denmark, who was obliged to provide a dowry for his daughter Margaret's marriage to James III of Scotland in 1468.  It was only a pledge, redeemable on production of 20 florins of the Rhine, which the Danish monarch didn't have handy at the time.  Somehow it was never redeemed, and the northern isles have remained politically attached to Scotland ever since.  And for some time after the wedding, Shetland had a pretty bad hangover under the yoke of the Stewart kings' cousins, who were in charge of administration of the newly-acquired territory.

Now Shetland has something that King Alex badly wants - a rather lucrative arrangement with the companies which are producing most of "Scotland's oil" around our far-flung islands.  The fields such as the Forties, Claymore and Tartan complexes off Aberdeen are past their peak production, and Scotland needs revenue from the northern North Sea and the new Continental Shelf exploration areas, because without it he hasn't got enough funds to fuel the projects which the SNP were rashly promising prospective voters at their recent party conference.  The trouble is, who is going to do the negotiations for the islands this time around?  I think that King Alex may just have the edge over us this time.

There are difficult times ahead for my beloved Shetland Islands.  The fishing industry, which was once Shetland's biggest employer, is under more and more pressure from insane legislation emanating from a completely unsympathetic European Union, which, in turn, takes the advice of a multitudinous arraignment of conservation lobbyists and wildlife pressure groups (who gain most of their support from ill-informed and emotionally charged city dwellers), who would have the whole of the sea around our shores designated as a protected area for tourists to gawp at predatory species of marine mammals and seabirds.  Most fishermen (the most endangered of all species!) have now left the industry to work in the aquaculture and oil industries, and the few remaining Shetland boats are frequently crewed by eastern Europeans, Filipinos and Africans.  To compound the problem, other European member states do not feel obliged to be constrained by European fisheries legislation, and countries outside the EU are awarding themselves vastly inflated quotas for their fleets, further applying pressure to finite fish stocks.

Our other indigenous occupations, such as crofting and knitwear manufacture, are also in decline, and our own oil terminal is seeing its throughput steadily decreasing.  According to some folk involved in the industry, Shetland is pricing itself out of the forthcoming oil installation decommissioning work.  Vociferous organisations of nimbies, who see Shetland as somehow sustainable as a guano-covered rock in the ocean (perhaps they see fertiliser production as a new industry!) are doing their level best to prevent renewable energy projects from getting established.  Tourism is vastly overrated as a source of income for anyone who doesn't provide accommodation or passenger transport.  Just ask anyone who runs a small retail outlet how much he/she makes from tourists, and I can pretty much guarantee that the answer will be somewhere in the "not a lot" category.

In fact, I predict that the main occupations of Shetland residents during the reign of King Alex I of Scotland will be drug dealing and the inevitable consequences thereof.  The increased workload of the Shetland Islands Council's Social Work Department and the NHS will no doubt provide employment for some.

On the glorious 14th June 2014, King Alex I hopes that Scotland will vote "Aye!" and start building the polytunnels which will help sustain it during its future as an oil-fired banana republic.  There isn't anything else - most Scottish indigenous industry has either disappeared or is in the process of vanishing.  But what the heck!  Scotland will be a nation again - well, sort of!  If it could negotiate independence from Europe, it might achieve independent nation status, for what that's worth.  But that isn't part of King Alex's plan, is it?  Unfortunately, Shetland IS part of it, and I wish, with all my heart, that my beloved islands had a plan B.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


My family moved to Sandwick, in Shetland's south Mainland, from Baltasound in the north isles, around Christmas-time in 1954, when I was 6 years old.  Our nearest neighbour was George John Stove, one of the crewmen on the "Harvest Hope", depicted above.  The painting was commissioned by Colin, the son of George John, and my earliest memories of life in the new parish were what seemed to be endless sunny days of  fun with Colin and the other children of the district.  Colin is now an eminent physicist, his particular area of expertise being the use of sonar in geological exploration, and he was part of the hanging party which helped with the setting up of my recent exhibition in the Creel Inn, Catterline (of which more later).

The "Harvest Hope" was built in 1949 by Stephens of Banff for Alex and Robert Duthie of Lerwick.  She was 57ft long and 27 tons gross and net.  She is pictured approaching the north mouth of Lerwick harbour in strong north-westerly winds, with the Green Holm and the Brethren skerries to port in the background.

Sunday, 29 January 2012


Now and then I get a different kind of project to work on, and this is one of these.  At various stages of a long, varied (and mostly mis-spent!) career, I've done cats, dogs, horses (for the window of Lerwick bookies'), children and even the odd reclining female nude human figure.  Being an artist, one is expected to take on whatever genre prospective patrons might shove one's way, and be grateful for their confidence and the challenge to one's skills.  It makes a change from the usual seascape and landscape themes, for which I'm better known.  Hence the portrait of the brown labrador dog shown above, commissioned by a customer in the Aberdeen area.

I copied it fairly slavishly from the little snapshot given me by the client, as my knowledge of the anatomy and bearing of dogs is limited.  I don't even like the brutes - I've stood once too often in their produce, deposited, as it normally is, on street corners and outside peoples' gates.  I would not care to encounter, on a dark night, the hound of hell which regularly drops its considerable bundle outside the Burgh Road gate of the Gilbertson Park here in Lerwick.  I would, however, very much like to identify its owner, as the mutt is in flagrante delicto, so to speak.  The satisfaction I would derive from his/her wallet depletion, on having his/her collar felt by the authorities, would be immense.

Someone offered me a dog once - probably in the pub, which is the place where I've had most of my interesting offers.  I replied that I was more than capable of doing all my own fouling, howling, slavering and whining, as most of my friends will testify.  The offerer seemed somewhat put out by this reply, although as to which part of it perplexed her, I'm not absolutely certain.

I can get quite curmudgeonly about dog owners, who confuse slavish obedience with intelligence in their pets.  They'll demonstrate how "clever" their shitsus are, as they artlessly respond to commands to roll over, do somersaults, jump over obstacles or whatever the whim of the dictatorial poochmaster might be.

Give me a haughty, supercilious and indifferent pussy-cat any day.  You can shout, point, whistle and gesticulate at a cat all you like, and it will merely regard you coolly, as if you have gone completely mad, give a disdainful tail-flick and carry on with whatever it was doing before it was so rudely interrupted.  Now that's intelligence - coupled with style - for you!

I wish all you cool cats (and your pets!) a happy and successful week.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


A happy new year!  If I made a resolution (which I haven't for at least a decade - they're a waste of time for weak-willed people like me!) it should have been to post more regularly to this blog.  I'll do my best, but my good intentions are too often thwarted by events happening around me.

While most of Britain was mopping up and compiling statistics for insurance claims after the new year storms, Shetland was basking in a relatively quiet spell of weather, with winds not reaching much more than gale force.  We, in the Northern Isles, took our pounding on Christmas Day, and we had it more or less all to ourselves.  From the Met office figures for the day, I gathered that there had been a mean wind speed of over 60mph from 2pm until 7pm, with gusts in excess of 90mph in Lerwick, and over 100mph in other locations in the islands.

We had our usual gathering at my mother's house, where her son, daughter, grand-daughter, grandson-in-law and two great-grandchildren (excellent entertainment, as always!) had assembled to attempt a demolition job, in true traditional style, on a turkey and trimmings, followed by sticky toffee pudding.  Fortunately, the cooking had been done, and we were in the process of washing up, before problems with the mains electricity supply began to manifest themselves.  Most of the west side of the island was plunged into darkness at around 5 o'clock.

By this time, we'd had the foresight to get the gas heater going in the kitchen, as the oil-fired central heating system (which is becoming rather elderly) had lost its pilot ignition due to the high winds.  Most of the other family members had left to get home around 4pm, leaving me with mother.  I found candles and an oil lamp, which provided enough light to guide us from room to room.  Just as I was about to see if I could get the gas ring in the scullery going to make us a cuppa, the mains power came back on long enough for me to get a pot of tea "trackit" on the electric cooker.  Then off went the power again!  It came on again at about 8pm, and this time it stayed on.  By then the wind had moderated to a mere storm force, and it abated quite rapidly from then on.  Around 9pm, I was able to coax the central heating back on to stay. 

My sister Mary, whose power was still off at Strand, Tingwall, came back to give me a lift back to Lerwick, as she had friends she wanted to visit there.  Coming over the top of Wormadale, it was rather eerie to see the areas, which still had mains power, glowing brightly, while other places were intensely blacked out.  We came upon a "Hydro" landrover, orange lights flashing, moving slowly down the hill, very close to the verge, obviously using detection equipment to locate mains ruptures.

It was a different kind of Christmas Day from the previous two (both white!), and I was glad I'd been there to help out at mother's.  I had a look around the place in quieter weather last Friday and, as far as I can make out, there was no structural damage, which surprised me a little, as a lesser storm, a few weeks ago, had caused quite a bit of minor mayhem.  All in all, I think I prefer the fierce winds to the snow of the 2009 and 2010 yuletides - the white stuff causes more problems in getting around.  The heroic "hydro" workers, who were spending their holiday out in the tempest, repairing faults, might not agree!

Sunday, 8 January 2012


This painting was commissioned by the great-grandson of the owner of the steam drifter "Stephens".  She is depicted leaving Fraserburgh harbour on a summer's evening, for another night's drift-net fishing for herring, during the boom years of this fishery in the 1930s.

At 87 feet in length, the steel-built vessel was built in 1911 by A Hall & Co., Aberdeen, as the Inverness-registered "Vale o' Moray".  A long and varied career followed, which saw her requisitioned for Admiralty service in two world wars, as well as having at least six different owners and three changes of name in "civilian" life, finally being scrapped in Norway in 1955.  The painting shows her in mid-career, when she was registered in Inverallochy.