We are 60 Degrees North

It's a bit windy today!

Getting to Cunningsburgh at seven in the morning was not a problem, promising to be a lovely sunny day and I was going to be doing some filming in the newest series of ‘Shetland’, the crime drama which has taken the world by storm. It won two BAFTAS this year as well so it is something that has done our county’s tourist industry a heap of good and now people all over the world have seen it and are talking about Shetland as a place to visit!


The filming itself wasn’t too bad just the repetition was a bit tiring after a while and then the change of camera shots and a separate set of actions needed from the extras. I played a Gravedigger and had to kneel a lot! I was clad in my blue boiler suit and hi vis top and my mate Ian was playing an Environmental Health Inspector, he is one in real life! covered in one of those white body suits which covers you from head to toe, yes boots covered as well, and a head cover leaving him looking like a naked Oompa Loompa!! Some of the other extras were Shetlanders and some of the jokes they were cracking were in danger of making us all convulse during the filming but we managed to keep it together. It was a good craic and a pleasant way to spend the morning! It was nice to meet Doug Henshall again, he plays Jimmy Perez in the series, as he is a very nice approachable man. The weather held out too and it was quite warm…. not so much fun for poor Ian though as he was air tight and baking at what he termed a slightly uncomfortable temperature!!


My red trombone? Someone asked what I had done with my pBone? I still have it sitting in my bedroom and use it occasionally. It has a perfectly good sound but the Yamaha has a completely different sound and is a lovely instrument. We are supposed to be doing a performance on the 17th June in Scalloway so are learning a list of tunes for this purpose! I went and got myself some professional earplugs as I already have a slightly mutton left ear which was due to wearing a single earphone in very noisy West End musical shows over a long period of time! Annoyingly my hearing problem reared its head a long time after I had retired from crewing.


I have started working on various dance pieces for our November shows already as we also have a show to do in July which Shetland Arts has organised as an evening of dance at our music venue Mareel.  Because of the odd size of the stage I have deliberately chosen a style of dance that has not really been seen up here in Shetland, Folk Dances well European folk dances and some Israeli ones too. We have a brilliant band here called Odessa and they play a mixture of Klezmer and Roma music with some fabulous rhythms. So, I am going get four of the band to record some pieces for us to rehearse with and those four will perform live at the Mareel performance plus they will play live for the shows in November. Well this is what is going to happen in theory! I have found a lot of the dances on YouTube and remember doing some of them when I was a youngster in Dannevirke in NZ when I did my ISTD exams back in the late 60's/early 70's and just have to reload the old memory banks! A lot of these dances are very old and in circle form. The steps are not always that complicated and sometimes quite simple but it is the way you perform them that matters. Hopefully the audience will enjoy this because as I said it is something completely different!


We are also doing a Nutcracker suite this year with the Community Training Orchestra playing! Logistically it is going to be a nightmare to organise but I am fairly confident I will get it done! I have a brilliant committee who organise everything, a Thai Wardrobe lady who is a dynamo where costumes are concerned. I even have a stage manager who although only 17 is very competent! Her Dad always does our lighting as well and a very good job at that too! The pressure for me this time is that the dances are so recognisable so I can't muck around too much with them! Though I have seen a brilliant Belgium production set in the 50's and Graeme Murphy staged something called 'The Story of Clara' for The Australian Ballet this year which although a completely re-invention of the classical ballet got massive acclaim from the critics. So I don't see any harm in putting my own spin on it to be honest. I sadly can't do the whole ballet as I simply don't have enough boys! I had a new boy start two weeks ago and he does gym and swims as well. 8 years old and has a six back that I could only hope to attain with a lot of time spent in the gym, which I don't have!! I have bribed another boy to take part, his sister does ballet already, and he is in the local dance group which does a form of hip hop etc and he also takes part in all the drama group actions. I have seen him perform on stage and he certainly has plenty of energy and can cut a move as well so here's hoping!


I am going to put the Snowflake piece on at the end of the suite because I want to have the magical effect of snow falling in the theatre! That is going to create some interesting problems in itself at the interval!! Massive sweep up operation!! But as my good old mate Bobby used to say, 'It's all doable' and that is true! It should be fun to do anyway! I may well have to call on the skills of some of my dance mates to help me via the long-distance medium of Skype and Messenger!!


The weather has slowly changed here for the better thankfully and it is time to start planning some planting. I have already planted some chilli seed which I have to thin out to plant in seperate pots and I have some flower seeds to plant out when it gets warmer. I actually cut my lawn a week ago and the Couch grass has grown 2 inches since then!! Nothing will get rid of it! I poisoned it last year and it grew back even faster!! To dig it up you have to dig down about two feet and if you miss even a tiny little bit of root then that is enough for the dammed stuff to grow back even faster and bigger! If any of my readers out there have the magical knowledge of how to get rid of this blimming plant then I would be very grateful!!


‘Whisky Galore’, a remake which I normally try to avoid going to see but I had a free moment so decided to go to see it. It wasn’t bad but there is something about those old black and white films and the lovely way that they were crafted. The cast was very good and I loved Eddie Izzard’s role in it! He is a very good actor!!


Right, I am sorry but I am going to get political now. As you may all know the UK is in the throes of the last week or so of campaigning for what is perhaps the most important Election of its time. If the Tories get back in then the UK is basically f**ked! As I see it. The way tthe polls are going they predict a hung parliament which to my mind will be equally disasterous for the country.  The UK has been ruined by the Tories with their greedy governing and pure incompetence. The treatment of seriously sick and disabled people and sanctioning their benefits has been nothing short of disgusting. This letter and article below by a friend of mine in Kent highlights adequately what is going on with the UK under a Tory Government.  My heart really does bleed what they have been through personally and this reflects what happens right across the whole of the UK. Nothing has been changed in what is reproduced below and I have permission to shout this from the rooftops


Strong and Stable Social Care?

This evening, with the help of a good FB friend who is media savvy, a friend of mine written to the Guardian, Independent and Mirror plus BBC Radio and TV about the Kafkaesque nightmare that is Universal Credit. Her words “I have a good face for radio nowadays if I'm called for interviews as I think I've aged 10 years in the last two weeks. It may not help M as time is pressing but, hopefully, it will help others that are desperately sick and vulnerable. Strong and Stable Social Care? I don't think so”.


Respect and love to my friend Jill, who has written the following letter to the Guardian, Independent and Mirror plus BBC Radio and TV about the Kafkaesque nightmare that is Universal Credit. Please share. I know it would mean so much to her and M to think that the horror they've gone through is causing a tidal wave of revulsion and calls for a more humane system. Edited to clarify: M and Jill are close friends of mine. This is their story, which they have asked to be shared as widely as possible.


"My much-loved partner Mark of 23 years is dying from mouth cancer. No cancer is good but this form is particularly cruel, restricting ability to eat and speak. He lives in a Universal Credit area and words totally fail me as to how barbaric and inhumane the system is. This is the reality for many of our most vulnerable people in society and Mark wanted to tell his story, to reveal the shocking truth that lies behind Theresa May’s “Strong and Stable” Social Care plans. Sadly, his story is far from unique.


Mark’s story began when was diagnosed with terminal Cancer by a Macmillan Nurse at Guy’s Hospital. She told him to apply for fast track Employment Support Allowance (ESA) as he was not expected to live beyond 6 months. Due to the postcode lottery, it turned out that he should have applied for Universal Credit (UC).


This took weeks to reveal itself and Mark had to live on very little money as he was self-employed but unable to work. Having struggled to complete 60 pages of the ESA form his efforts were wasted. Moreover, ESA can be backdated to the date of diagnosis, but UC cannot. By the time Mark was able to start over with his UC claim his health had severely deteriorated and his concentration levels had become poor due to high levels of morphine medication. He sat next to me at my computer whilst I completed the form. In his condition, he was a bit befuddled with the incredible levels of detail required, but without completing all the mandatory boxes you can’t progress through the form. In short, the process is completely unsuitable for the physical and mental states of the people who have to use the system. In addition, you only have limited time to complete the form online before it shuts down and this requires you to start over.


The system then requires that the claimant is “verified” by Experian. According to Experian, Mark doesn’t exist, although he is very much still with me as I write this story. Several “helpline advisers” did not help, simply parroting the statement that they did not deal with online applications, although this was the number given on the UC website. Mark was asked to take his identity documents to a Job Centre, quite a trial for a man who had not been out or, indeed, off his bed for over a fortnight, stick thin and sleeping most of the time. I was told that, without verification, his claim would not go through. After verification of his terminal illness had finally taken place, I thought all was well and he had fast tracked his claim. How wrong I was. The following day, Mark was told that his claim could only be processed once he had completed a to-do task and that once again he needed to verify his ID online. His first payment, if his claim is accepted, will be on the 24th June, months after he needed the money to live his final months in some level of comfort and dignity. “It is shameful – the hallmark of an advanced democracy is in how it treats its vulnerable people and I have been let down by the system”


But, Mark’s story does not stop there. Mark subsequently found out that he has to have a “Fitness to Work” telephone interview. I called the Universal Credit Work Coach to ask if she was aware that he is terminally ill and has difficulty speaking as he has mouth cancer. She said she did but said it still had to be done. I cannot think of any words that express my contempt for her callous and emotionally bankrupt approach to Mark’s predicament. I have spoken with others about Mark’s experience and it seems that this is quite the norm in our “civilised society”.


Theresa May’s Government are presently rolling out Universal Credit across the UK. God help those that are desperately ill with no one to look after and support them through this Kafkaesque nightmare of a system which makes it virtually impossible for vulnerable people to live their final days without misery. If Mark was on his own, he would be dying in utter desperation and starving to death in his flat as food banks don’t do home delivery.
“Universal Credit is universally inhumane. An animal receives better treatment than humans under Theresa May’s Strong and Stable Care System”. I will be writing to all the forthcoming General Election candidates for my constituency including the former Conservative incumbent, Rehman Chishti, about this shameful situation in the hope that others may receive better treatment than Mark."


So there you have it in a nutshell, from someone who has been in the firing line! I was in floods of tears when I read this… I’ve heard stories about this kind of thing but never something so personal, as these two-lovely people are really good friends of mine so I am so furious that Mark has to experience all this nonsense when he is, basically dying from a horrible and undiscriminating scourge of a disease which shows no mercy and takes no prisoners. This is happening to hundreds of people who are in the same boat as him probably many who have given up the fight because they think the system is ….


Having watched pieces of the so-called Leadership debate on TV I so passionately want Jeremy Corbyn to win this election outright. There are so good positive things in what he is proposing to do and slowly but surely, I think people have woken up, especially the younger generation, and realized what a load of tripe they are being fed by certain parts of the media, all the owners of whom don't even reside in the country, pay any UK tax, and pull the strings of the Tory politicians. Roll on 8th June and let’s hope people go out in their hundreds of thousands and vote for a fairer society for the many and not the few!


I apologise to my overseas readers for this long diatribe but I had to tell the story of Mark in particular as it sums up everything of what is wrong with our society, it is a damning inditement of our Government and how they have treated the lesser fortunate in our society.


Till next month.


The Web Cam


This is the Da Neuk webcam set up for people who might like to sit and watch a Shetland sunset. We cannot always guarantee fine weather as the weather in Shetland can change very quickly and dramatically even in Summer. With the volcanic eruption earlier this year the weather patterns have been extremely erratic to say the least affecting crops and sunlight levels. However during August and September we do experience some rather sensational sunsets and if you tune in to that address above around 20:45 to 21:30 GMT time then you should see something! Enjoy


This webcam is on the house of our local satellite dish installer. You can see the bay of Spiggie from his camera and Reawick, the small hamlet where he lives. Feel free to log onto this. A very much different view to ours!



All the music played on this website is performed by Shetland Artists. If you are interested in purchasing any of Shetland Music CDs then please do contact me.