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31 July 2002

Stress?

What does 118/60 mean to you? Not much? But it is a clear sign of the benefits of our week away.

I have just had my annual medical and my blood pressure is satisfactorily below par for a 55-year-old. So maybe six days in Shetland were the cause.

Apparently the people of Out Skerries have had to have water brought out to them as they are suffering a drought. Well the Shetland Mainland seemed to suffer no such problem last week!

Our first couple of days were dreich but when the sun appeared on the Wednesday it was uncomfortably hot. And then it was wet again. No pleasing some folk!

As it happened our visit coincided with the retiral of one of the pilots at Sullom Voe. And he is an old pal. When the phone rang it was with an invitation from him to visit the oil terminal while he was still there.

Our afternoon there was fascinating. The control room is awash with technology and the challenge for pilots who conduct large oil tankers through the ‘voe’ was clear.

But George Sutherland, the General Manager, was able to tell us that after 25 years of operation the latest environmental assessment shows zero impact from their intensive activities.

By contrast the roads, schools and community centres across Shetland show clearly the benefits of oil. And much of it is down the far-sightedness of one man – Iain Clark.

Clark had been the Council’s Chief Executive when oil first looked like coming to the area all these years ago. He ‘cut a deal’ that delivered a flow of cash over the years for the Council and for the people of Shetland.

So when a tanker departs after loading oil from the Council owned and operated terminal, it is local people who benefit.

If only we had had people looking after the rest of Scotland’s interests in the same way. It shows what one can do when you take charge of your own affairs.

On my pal Iain Barclay’s last day, what did he do? He took out the ‘Golden Victory’ from its berth to the open sea. Four hours’ work and definitely a job for a mature pilot to manage. A third of a million tonnes manuevering in a tight space.

In fact one of the world’s 12 largest ships outbound with Scottish oil to, of all unlikely destinations, the USA! And another £120,000 berthing fee for the locals in Shetland.

Fish

My wife Sandra was brought up on a steady diet of fish. Her mother used to have an occasional fish or two heaved at her when a trawler passed by on Loch Ness.

And when she lived in Burghead my mother-in-law was part of a fishing community and family. To this day Auntie’s ‘Herring Box’ sits on the dressing table with bits and pieces in it.

It is no surprise that fishing has been an important local industry for Shetland as there is isn’t much prime farm land and the sea seems to be in sight from everywhere you are.

An invitation to the North Atlantic Fisheries College in Scalloway was a real treat.

The student canteen is open to the public – by appointment. And it is so popular that demand often exceeds the space available. But we were lucky and went there with our pals.

My huge lemon sole was just one of 8 fish dishes on the menu with only one ‘veggie’ and one ‘meat’ alternative for those eccentrics not attracted to seafood. And it was good, very good indeed!

And after lunch we were shown one vision of the future for fish. They are providing stock for cod and halibut fish farming.

The brood cod we saw were mean and large. Much larger than most I see on my visits to the market. But the staff don’t see cod farming displacing hunting for wild stock for many years if ever.

They see farming as a way of filling in the gaps in supply and so if we manage it right, it could be an ally in delivering the constant supply of fish that supermarkets demand.

Halibut present a significant economic challenge for the fish farmers. Because they live at the bottom of the tank rather than swimming at all levels, it takes a lot of tanks for a halibut farm.

And they grow slowly.

But the College confirmed my concerns on one aspect of fish farming. The food for farmed fish is made very largely from the catches of ‘industrial fisheries’. We need to catch some five tons of fish to grown one ton of farmed fish.

And so fish farmings’ real effect on the ecology of the sea is probably negative. So hunting for wild fish will be with us for a while yet.

10 July 2002

Insect Life

As anyone who holidays in west coast Scotland will know, the one thing that can spoil one’s day is – midges.

So it was with interest that I saw a TV item about insects as human food. Now I must admit to chewing the odd insect.

When I bit down on a wasp that had flown into my mouth, accidently I must say, it got its revenge by biting the in side of my cheek. Not fun! And other Scottish insects have made their way in from time to time.

In our travels around the world over our 33 years married, Sandra and I have encountered many foods new to us. We first tasted frogs legs in a Chinese Restaurant’s Annex in Unjang Pandang. That is in Sulawesi in Indonesia.

Annex is actually a bit of an exaggeration. We sat at a long table under the stairs in a part-built office block opposite the restaurant. I think they’d done a deal with the night-watchman for extra space. They needed it. Their food was excellent!

And on trips to the Middle East and in Africa, I have been variously offered ants in chocolate, bumble bee in honey and stir-fried locust.

But it is a Thai entrepreneur who has started a chain of cooked insect stalls. And he plans to bring them to the West. I wish him well.

If we could only harvest Scotland’s midges we would be world-beaters.

Our family used to caravan at a rather ‘midgie’ Achmelvich, near Lochinver in West Sutherland. It was a wonderful place for kids. And for some reason it attracted lots of medics like my GP father.

Dr David Hendry was a favourite. It seems that he had been a tunneller in a PoW camp in the last war. And he helped us build a network of tunnels in the sand dunes. Each year under his expert supervision we opened our previous efforts and extended them.

So I took happy memories with me when I sadly joined his family at his funeral last week.

Another doctor had not been so ‘lucky’. As a Jew he had been in a Nazi concentration camp.

Even on holiday, memories haunted him. He had to have a slice of bread constantly at his bedside so that if he woke in the night he would know that he was free. Free of Hitler, but never free of his memories.

I was criticised by a daily paper for my ‘P45 Stunt’ to focus attention on the failings of the Head of the Scottish Prison Service. In a free society they can make their comment.

When Parliament is not in session, we have to find other ways of getting messages across. Sometimes we match the mood, sometimes not.

But the use of Hitler by anti-Euro campaigners in the last few days to demonise our friends across the English Channel made me cringe. I don’t think that was just a matter of taste. I thought of that doctor and his bread.

Stewart Stevenson
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