Lucky, lazy natives...

Performing for the tourists, bad news about a caddy and ideas for words that rhyme with puffin

A misleading sense of calm has descended upon the isle this weekend. Any visitor lucky enough to be here today, strolling around in the warm sunshine, will be marvelling at the tranquil, trouble-free lifestyles that we islanders appear to lead. Perhaps even a hint of jealousy will cross their minds as they saunter past and wave hello at the lucky, lazy natives. But then they will remember, with a sudden flash of relief, that no, while doing nothing all day is certainly appealing, it really wouldn’t be good to live this far away from Marks and Spencer’s.

It is easy to see how they might come to their conclusion. There is a stillness about everything today. The sea, for once, is pressing gently against the shore, rather than trying to attack it; the sheep and their lambs are lying sleeping, ignoring the discomfort of their thick, winter fleeces; even the windmills have stopped turning now, and stand, motionless, over everything. But what do people expect? It is Sunday, after all.

Our last lamb finally appeared this week, nearly ten days after the penultimate one. We were beginning to wonder if the ewe was simply pretending to be pregnant, but she got it right in the end. The season has been very successful overall, with 44 lambs and only two mortalities. One of the lost lambs was, unfortunately, the first of our two ‘caddies’, who died on Friday night. Bottle-fed lambs are apparently very prone to digestive problems, and this one had been poorly for some time. We tried everything that the vet, our neighbours and we could think of, but she just didn’t quite get through. It was sad to lose such a good-natured caddy, particularly for her companion, who has been moping around the field alone since then, looking bored and lonely.

This morning we planted some of the last few empty rows in the vegetable garden: spring onion seeds went in, as did the red cabbage and curly kale seedlings. Most of the other vegetables have also been planted or transplanted in the past couple of weeks, and not much remains before all the space is filled. Then it’s just a case of weeding, watering and waiting our way through the summer.

This afternoon has provided an opportunity for a brief sigh of relief, before the next sharp intake of breath is required. I felt not a glimmer of guilt as I sat reading in the sunshine, enjoying myself immensely, thank you very much. I am now sunburnt, but satisfied. What more could I wish for on a Sunday afternoon?

On Tuesday the first of this year’s cruise ships will arrive, with just over one hundred people on board, all expecting refreshment, entertainment and suitable things on which to spend their money. Knitwear, crafts and other gifts will be offered for sale; drinks and home-bakes will be provided; music will be played. Even those of us who have no desire to be involved in the tourist industry seem somehow unable to avoid it entirely.

I will be playing and singing, along with some of the island’s other musicians; though I’m sure my songs must be something of a disappointment to people. I imagine that folk want to hear songs about Fair Isle: about birds and cliffs and boats and sheep and things like that. Unfortunately, I don’t know any. If only I could write a song about puffins, I’d be a millionaire by now. But the problem is that puffin doesn’t rhyme with anything; in fact, puffin rhymes with nothing. Well, it nearly does anyway.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.