Sprit!

Nu kommer det ni alla väntat på, rapporten över alla whiskysorter Skottland och Shetland har att erbjuda!

Nä, nä, den får ni allt vänta på ett tag till.

Det är nämligen så att Shetland har inget eget whiskey bränneri.  Närmaste bränneri finns på Orkney öarna och vem vänder sig till konkurrentöarna…

Nej, detta ska handla om GIN! För gin tillverkas, om inte just här på denna ögrupp, så på fastlandet av Shetlands lokala vilda “kryddor”.

Att livet är fullt av överraskningar är så sant. Pete, en arbetskamrat från Star-Rent-A-Car tittade in på museet idag med en present. Presenten var en flaska  Blackwood´s gin

Vi hade nämligen diskuterat sprit i största allmänhet under en av våra trivsamma lunchtimmar och då hade jag fått lära mig om just denna gin.

Efter vad jag kan förstå är Blackwood´s  gin fullständigt unik och jag ska om en stund provsmaka den.

Smakrapporten kommer vid ett senare tillfälle.

Unbelievably,…

…we’ve had three straight days of great weather. Shetlanders would use the word “gorgeous” and, in all truth to the word, that is exactly how it’s been. People have been out sledging or building snow sculpture-like projects of snowmen or small caves. Being used to the subarctic, we found no reason to be inside with this wonderful February day…and, unbelievably, it is only just that!

Not being a work day, we headed westwards with Jeppe, to a place we hadn’t been before. And, coming to a road’s end, we trudged uphill only to find a small picnic table waiting for us to use. We had a picnic and enjoyed the view…the sun…and beauty of a snowy Shetland.

foulawintervy01-copy“…The snow covered island of Foula, westwards from the mainland and alone in the Atlantic. Wonder what the people are doing out there, today?

westerwickwintervy01-copyPhoto: Wester Wick view with Foula in the background

papilcliffhillsvy01-copyPhoto: Yesterday: from Papil towards the Cliff Hills
whalewickwintervy01-copyPhoto: Whale Wick with Foula out in the Atlantic

Shetland Ponies…

shetlandponywinter05 …is a topic I haven’t really covered, though I have a past as a horse owner. Unlike sheep, who usually dash away when one approaches, Shetland ponies usually come towards you. They somehow think they are going to get treats or food. Taking candid pictures of them lying down or peacefully eating is difficult since their friendly curiosity draws them to you like small furry magnets.

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I don’t like using a telephoto, but I guess I’ll have to try. Still, they see you coming, take a couple of minutes to think about what you’re planning to do, then amble towards you. Maybe they like having their picture taken?

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Unlike the Shetland ponies I’ve had the displeasure of knowing in Sweden, often spoiled, undisciplined and wanting to bite, the ponies on Shetland are absolutely sociable and lovable.

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They are outside all year around. Their fur becomes thick in wintertime. Some are very clean from the rain and wind and some can be very muddy and untidy with tangled manes. So, it’s exceptionally nice to find clean ponies like these.

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Can you tell which pony is only a foal? It was a nice wintry day again and I hope you enjoy these images! Shetland’s ponies are really really …cool!

Jeppe’s Wintry Driving Tips…

…for British motorists! With the present snowy road conditions on the mainland, Jeppe wants to give some helpful hints for British drivers. Naturally, if you don’t have to drive, please don’t! Otherwise, here’s what Jeppe has to say…

jeppeinwinter01Photo: Jeppe waiting for an oncoming snowstorm. He’s not worried!

    1. BE PREPARED if you take yourself out on uncertain wintry roads. Prepare a thermos of tea/coffee, a couple of sandwiches, some fruit, sweets etc should you drive into the ditch and need to wait for help. Don’t forget to take a torch with fresh batteries. Remember, mobile phones may not always work, so don’t rely on these. Have an extra blanket in the car or even thermo coveralls. First aid kit! Small shovel! Flares! Matches and a small sack of firewood could be good to have for long waits or at night in isolated places. Sacks of sand/grit in the boot is a good idea! Just use common sense and be prepared for personal safety.
    2. NO SUMMER TIRES is a great rule! At best, good quality all-weather tires. In the Swedish arctic, we use studded tires with their own wheels that we put on our cars when road conditions require it. So, be smart and not lazy- take a grip on the problem of snowy roads. Snow chains for cars don’t take a lot of space and you should practice putting these on before you need to use them. Careful with driving too fast into slush piles…your front wheels may pull into traffic or off the road. When starting out, carefully test braking conditions on a straight un-crowded stretch of road. Then drive sensibly.
    3. MANUAL TRANSMISSION is smartest. Do starts veerrrry sloowwly and with feeling. Even second gear can help. With automatic transmissions, put in low and gentle with the gas. Should you start sliding, gently pump the brakes and look for a soft spot to land. Front wheel drive is good. Jeppe thinks 4×4 are best…but, he’s a little bias.
    4. BACK WHEEL drive…a few sand sacks in the boot just over the back wheels. Get some weight on those driving wheels.
    5. TRUCKERS- if you can, lift your back wheels slightly up and put more weight onto the power wheels. Buckets of sand/grit on your trailer to spread out on difficult places or on starts/ uphill can help. Almost reached your driving time limit? Be smart and take a nap or just pull over and enjoy life.
    6. COUNCIL ROAD PEOPLE…Salt just makes water out of snow. This freezes and requires more salt…freezes…more salt etc. You have to spend the time to plough slush and snow away; not just make it into water. Be better with ploughing and snow removal using correct plows and methods. This may mean 24 hour procedures. Use more sand/grit (with 10-15% salt to make it stick and not blow away) Take a course about roads and snow removal from geographical areas that know how to do it!
    7. BEST OF ALL, when it gets bad, take time to play and test snow and road conditions when you can. Not a bad idea to gain experience on oily test tracks etc. And…better late for appointments than dead.

….Here’s hoping some of the above will help. Stay safe out there!
Now, some wintry scenes from West Mainland, Shetland…
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shetlandsnowvy02-copy
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Last Photo: Shetland’s “winter woolies”

Up Helly Aa…

…is something really different and Shetlanders can really get fired up about it. A thousand or more men loyally parade with lit torches through the streets of Lerwick, Shetland. In front of them is their appointed Jarl, a guiding light for his followers who all shout comradely cheers and sing songs of enthusiasm during this festival of fire. These rivers of men pull an effigy of a Viking ship to it final destruction by fire in the heart of the city. Up Helly Aa represents norsk tradition, fire and comradeship unlike anywhere else. Glowing…fervent…forceful and with proud intent.

uphellyaa01Photo: The Jarl parades his men through the conquered streets of Lerwick, Shetland during Up Helly Aa.

Traditionally, there is some evidence of this Shetlandic celebration that points to the early rural 19th century. A rowdy celebration was noted in 1824, by a visiting missionary where he documented that midnight brought an uproar of drums, horns, banging of pots, discharging of guns, screams and some drinking and fighting to the town. At that time, this was around Christmas Eve, during the darkest part of the year.

The celebration grew bolder during the 1840’s. Groups of masked men had formed and they ran the small cobblestone streets of Lerwick dragging barrels or tubs of burning tar in their wake. Eventually, these groups became rivals and the tradition accumulated to an annoying degree. Many complaints were heard arguing the dangers and the mess that was left in town.

Then around the latter half of the 19th century, and up to WW I, changes came about with new ideas and more structure. Here the name Up Helly Aa, apparently having Norsk origins as does Shetland, came to be used and rival gangs became coherent, working together and forming a unified group of individual squads. “Guizing” came about and the squads of men introduced elaborate disguises; not so uncommon as dressed as woman. The fire festival was moved to the end of January, traditionally the last Tuesday of the month, and a Viking theme with the squads being lead by a common leader, the Jarl, was permanently sanctioned.

uphellyaa03Photo: A firey fate awaits the Viking galley in the evening finale of Up Helly Aa celebrations.

And so it still is today. For Up Helly Aa, Shetland has a “national holiday” with schools closing and people getting free from work. Tuesday morning, the Jarl and his men parade through the streets of Lerwick, as if the town had been invaded by Vikings and the conquerors meet the conquered. During the day, the Jarl and squads pay visits to halls and organizations and, finishing off the day, a grand parade unlike one could imagine, weaves its fiery self around the streets to the final burning of a Viking galley to the awe of spectators and long distant visitors.

uphellyaa06-copyPhoto: Torches from a thousand men seal the fate of the Viking galley at Up Helly Aa, Shetland

The rest of the night is one whopping all night party. The squads visit pubs and halls and enjoy a Viking evening until the next morning. Lerwick can then rest. The squads retreat for a well deserved rest but carrying thoughts, plans and new ideas for the next coming Up Helly Aa 2010. Same month, same day; probably a little better and impressive!

With Up Helly Aa, I was impressed with the rows and rows of torches, flowing along the darkened streets of Lerwick, and the well organized day/evening events that were brought about by truly dedicated volunteers who obviously had fun doing it all. I would highly recommend a visit at least once in a lifetime…perhaps, twice or more to really enjoy Up Helly Aa and Shetland.

If the spirits of early Vikings were gathered on the hills surrounding Lerwick and watched the evening procession, I would imagine they would nod to each other, wink an eye and smile with unanimous approval!

uphellyaavy03-copyPhoto: Up Helly Aa is a midwinter Festival of Fire on Shetland

Jeppe Has Come Home!

In a recent blog, I explained how Jeppe the Jeep was re-registering to a U.K. vehicle; re-becoming a British road subject again. Refreshing memories, Jeppe was first registered into the British system and grew up in London. After tooling around this exciting city, and coming into Swedish ownership, Jeppe was an export/import item and became Swedish. Here, he handled the traffic of southern Sweden and tasted the Stockholm asphalt until his owner decided to let him go.

With our adventure plans, I purchased Jeppe and off we went to the excitement and challenges of new adventures, first in Lapland and later through Norway, the ferries and finally putting his paws on Shetland turf…uh…roads. But, foreign cars can only be kept foreign for 6 months within a 12 month period in the U.K. Jeepe was looking forward to “coming home” again! (Is there a Hamefarin for older Jeep Cherokee’s?)

jeppebritish03 “Now I’m Swedish…”

U.K. Vehicle Importation
The process requires a dedicated amount of determination to shuffle through the bureaucracy and put up with U.K. paperwork. The government department that deals with importing a vehicle is the DVLA. They take care of all procedures and are similar to those expected from Sweden’s “Vägverket”.

The basic requirements are …basic. The vehicle must show British insurance coverage for at the least “Third Party, Fire & Theft”. Comparatively, this is a sort of “halvförsäkring”. Then, a vehicle must be U.K. MOT approved, which Jeepe became after a little touch-up welding on his body. A paper from the HM Customs & Revenues must be filled in for importing vehicles. If the car is older than 10 years, customs and taxes don’t have to be paid. Finally, there is a barrage of papers to be filled in. All of these papers, with the exception of insurance, MOT and customs, can be had in a package from a DVLA office.

After filling in every necessary detail, and most likely several hours of knocking your head on the kitchen table, the vehicle registration application can be sent in. Now comes the tricky parts.

jeppebritish02“…and now I’m not!”

Costs
If the vehicle is coming from the EC and was not earlier registered in the U.K., a registration fee of £55 must be paid, together with the yearly road tax. Road tax for Jeepe, being an older car and not engaged with the new CO2 emission rates, was £185 per year. This is paid via a postal check, which costs £10 to be made out. The whole letter must be sent through registered mail, of which it takes two special registered mail envelopes costing 2 x £5 = £10. Earlier, you shelled out £53 for the MOT and, if there was complications and the vehicle had to be re-checked within the 10 working day limitation, it could be another £20 or so more.

Why 2 registered envelopes?

The DVLA requires ALL papers including ALL documents concerning the vehicle to be sent in original condition. No copies are allowed! Just originals! Together with the postal check (for those with a calculator on your desktop, you can add up the costs) you must supply DVLA with identification proving you are who you profess to be. If you don’t happen to have a U.K. paper driver’s license or similar ID, you submit your passport…in original, together with a bank statement or utility bill as proof of address.

That’s why the two registered envelopes. The whole application with papers and ID must be with registered mail, and the return of such, to safeguard not getting lost along the way. Remember…the passport…in original!

The process is fairly quick, I must say. Including mail transport, it was only 4 working days until I received the official papers. In these, is the approval of registration letter, the paid road tax decal, for the inside of the front windscreen, and an official document stating what the car’s plate number is. Actual license plates can be bought over the counter at any approved garage or parts store (£22) with the correct document and ID.

jbautoparts01Photo: British registration numbers, or license plates, can be bought over the counter at approved stores. Here- J&B Autoparts, Lerwick

britishvehiclelicense01Photo: Freshly made U.K. license plates

Back to Jeppe
Jeppe is a very happy Jeep, now! Not only did his carer do a good job with the paperwork but, since he was a British road subject before, he got his old plate number back! Isn’t that cool? Well, Jeppe thought so!

So, if you want to import a used motor vehicle from the EC to the U.K., this blog may give some pointers and good advice. At least, Jeppe hopes so. Jeppe has come home and is a happy Jeep…even if he’s limited!

Welcome back Jeppe!

jeppebritish01“Lawdy, Lawdy…I’s lookin’ gooood!”

HM Royal Mail Service…

…on Shetland, or for that matter in the United Kingdom, is something that I have had to relearn to appreciate. Not that I have to relearn about the Royal Mail here, but to relearn that this service and function is available and a highly appreciated service for U.K. citizens. After living in one of many “outback” communities in Sweden, where the postal service has declined to unimaginable proportions and where politics and down-budgeting has turned postal services over to amateur grocery stores or petrol stations, I must say it is with pleasure to be able to use good-old-fashioned postal services again…than the alternative of closed post offices and unprofessional service!

Since our arrival, I have been to the Lerwick post office many times and have observed that many Shetlanders use this service. Usually with 3-4 postal assistants behind the counter windows ready to meet everyone’s needs or questions, it is commonplace that a line of patiently waiting customers is there. When really busy, as with Christmas and the festive season, the line would often go out onto the sidewalk and down along the front of the building.

royalmailcar01Photo: A bright red RM delivery in Scalloway, Shetland

Most small villages have a regular post office and normal postal service. Even if these are found in the same locality as the village shop, there still is a proper “post office” area with a proper “postmaster” to serve the public. Unfortunately, this last year has seen two small village post offices losing status and closing. Perhaps they were down-budgeted or the public didn’t use these efficiently?

The mail is flown in from the mainland in the mornings and then taken to Lerwick for sorting. From Lerwick, the post is driven out to all these smaller post offices and from there they are distributed to each house with a type of “rural mailman”. These mailmen, or women, deliver post 6 days a week, in every Shetland-type weather, right up to your front door! In some cases, if the house hasn’t any letter box, the mailman will place letters just inside the door for you. All local post offices are open 6 days a week.

Now, what other services can the Royal Mail provide? I’ve noticed that the Lerwick office has a manned currency exchange; no wonder with all the summer visitors and a shipping industry here. Not only can a person conduct many banking errands at the post office, but they can purchase pay-as-you-go mobile phone cards, buy house, car, retirement, health or personal insurances, hook-up to electricity, broadband or telephone delivery, purchase a small variety of office necessities like staplers or tape or even buy that USB memory stick they had forgotten to bring along to town. The post office is fun.

Shame that…ahem…Swedish postal services aren’t the same! And, in spite of most households on Shetland having broadband connections and email accesses, Shetlanders use their post offices. I for one will continue to enjoy the HM Royal Mail services in Shetland…while contemplating what’s happened in Sweden!

PS- Again, about Shetland weather, we discovered these “snowdrops” below coming up outside our bedroom window… in January!
snowdrops01

Jeppe Is Safety Checked…

…in order to turn him back into being a British resident. Jeppe originally was British in his earlier life, while cruising the streets of London. A Swedish family had owned him, while they temporarily worked in the U.K. capital for several years, and then brought him to Sweden and registered Swedish. Because of changing circumstances, the family decided to sell Jeppe and that’s when we became owners. We needed Jeppe for our adventures on Shetland.

jeppemot_01Photo: Jeppe gets a lift at the MOT station in Lerwick, Shetland

British vehicle laws allow EU visitors to have their vehicles on English soil for maximum 6 months in a 12 month period. Jeppe now has to be “reborn” to a British subject again. To do this is a minor wall of bureaucratic procedures to contend with. Besides filling in registration papers and a custom declaration, for importing vehicles to Great Britain, Jeppe must be safety checked and approved for this country’s regulations and demands.

So, this blog could cover Christmas time or New Years or there of. Instead, Jeppe has been to MOT inspection, which is basically similar to “bil besiktning” in Sweden, or safety checked.

Jeppe had a time just before Christmas. He did not pass! Apparently, two rust hole had come about underneath him and these had to be welded. So, they holes were quality welded by the fabulous Burra Motor Repairs and a new time was to be made. Unfortunately, Christmas and the festive season put a stop to Jeppe’s anxious ambitions for approval and it wasn’t until Jan. 5 that Jeppe received his approved MOT certificate.

jeppemot_02Photo: Two rust holes stopped Jeppe’s immediate MOT approval and a welding job was needed.

Now, he’s waiting to receive confirmation of British car insurance and then he’ll send in a package of papers and forms, all must be original and not copies, to the DVLA offices in Aberdeen. Hopefully, this will go quickly and we’ll keep everyone informed about Jeppe’s British return.

Have a Festive…

…season! According to my personal observations, this is the more common way of, for we who come from another English speaking culture, saying Merry Christmas on Shetland. Naturally, there are small signs that can be observed with the salutation, Merry Christmas, but the majority of written greetings use the word “festive” in it.

If I would open up the Shetland Times and glance over the advertisements from businesses, shops and council departments that announce Christmas closings and hours, I find the occasional “Merry Christmas and Happy New Years” embedded in the ads. Perhaps a British language tradition, but I feel this is slightly suspicious and originates from a dominating American influence. (Americans do have trouble feeling comfortable with other languages than their own, or…?) Ah…well!

But I became thrilled with seeing “Happy Christmas and a Prosperous New Year” sticking up among the advertisers. Christmas seems to mean festivities, or a fun and joyous occasion, and these words can be seen most everywhere. In newspapers, in stores, on signs…a shade more dominating than “merry” and I’ll admit, I sort of like that word. It’s wishing an actively joyous period or season, but is neutral and fits most everybody’s feelings.

Then, being from the “independent colonies of the British Empire” myself, “Merry” this and “Merry” that is a little worn to my ears and eyes. I enjoy seeing or hearing something different like “happy” and “festive”. A word that would be connected with, in this case “season”, naturally would be Holidays; like “Happy Holidays”, but to my way of thinking, this “holiday” is too connected with British vacations; “going on holiday”. And, thought I’m sure some Brits are off on “holiday” to New Zealand, Thailand or Spain, the “festive season” of the year sounds better to me.

But, however it is written or said, the hearts of those who use Christmas greetings are still one and the same. So, let me use my heart and wish everyone a Very Merry Festive Season Christmas and a Happy Prosperous New Year…from Shetland!

knittingchristmaslady01 Photo: A storefront window in Lerwick during the festive season

victoriapiervy002Photo: While Christmas shopping was going on, Victoria Pier guests gave their own festive season of lights

The Shortest Shetland Day…

…of the year and all one can write about is the weather. Must be the number one topic Shetlanders, and many more, can speak of, as the sun crosses over the islands on its lowest journey of the year.

And, yes, we did have sun today. Above 66° longitude, the day in northern Sweden is just a few hours of blue twilight before the sun tuckers out, sighs and quickly plunges deeper under the horizon. Had it even had the time to be faintly noticed by the frigid occupants of the north? Doubtful!

Yet, Shetland had clear skies this morning. The isles could wink upwards and easily break out a smile seeing that the sun was definitely in its sky. Not under the horizon. Not just a hair teasingly over the horizon. It was a good 15° or more over it and stoutly bragging its presence. The temperature was a blossoming +9° Celsius in places and the shortest day of Shetland started out beautifully…until about midday.

It was at this time that the angry, roaring and infamous Atlantic winds came in from the southeast. Like weather Orcs, the clouds streaked forward across the sky, occasionally consuming the sun and plowing out a path that the wind charged along, whipping up the ocean waves and spitting out froth in its wake.

Force 7. Then, force 8 followed with force 9. Around two in the afternoon, gusts of a possible force 10 sunk its teeth into the water due west of Hamnavoe. The waves smashed onto the outside barrier reef only to be spat across the land and waterfall downwards on the eastern bank, like a broad river of salty rapids, only to recruit again with the water in the boiling bay beyond. So quickly did the wind smash into Shetland today, that some said it was the worst of the season, as they gazed through west-facing windows in the shelter of their houses.

And, what do two north dwellers do? Do the stay home? Do they retain shelter in their “granny flat” and no brave the winds? No! They were no scared of the weather Orcs. They jumped into Jeppe and headed westwards to visit good friends and had an immensely fun day visiting Papil, giving small seasonal tidings and wishing a very Merry Christmas. A super day, as Shetlanders would describe it.

But, afterwards, when the winds were at their worst, what did our two north dwellers do? Did they frantically head back to the flat and its dry comfort? Absolutely not! They headed for their wonderful Meal Beach and went down to the shoreline, now completely covered with waves. Almost grasping for handholds, so as not to be blown backwards from the wind and swept across the mud of the hillsides or roll across the grassy fields (as one or two sheep had observantly done) they reached the frothy beach and… searched…for a piece… of weathered rope!

Because of the wind and the cutting rain, no photographic documentation can reveal the adventures these two north dwellers had on “shortest day of the year”. They almost giggled with glee. Good day! Great friends! And, unusually stormy afternoon winds to playfully go to the beach in! Ah, well…who would’ve thought?

PS- Five minutes ago as of this writing, we had thunder and lightning in the Shetland skies. Cool?

Talking about Shetland climate…
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Photo: Although not connected with the text, an example of a Shetland garden and it’s green state for December…
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…and the garden can still boast of a few roses still