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, 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.