To the market

Fair Isle's lambs are on their way to market and prices are down again - bad news at the end of five


It is five months since they were born, since the early mornings and late nights of those few weeks, checking everything was going smoothly. But now it is time for the lambs to go.

The vast majority of the croft-reared lambs in Fair Isle will leave the island during the autumn. The first to be shipped left last week.

In the past, two or three livestock buyers and an auctioneer would come into the isle at the beginning of September, visiting each croft in turn, and buying up all of the lambs between them. These lambs would then be shipped out to them as quickly as possible, and would mostly then be shipped on to the Scottish mainland shortly afterwards for “finishing”, or fattening-up, prior to slaughter.

This year though the system has changed. The buyers are no longer going to visit us; we must send our lambs out to them, to be sold at the livestock marts in Lerwick. This has made the job somewhat more complicated and expensive for us, although access to a greater number of buyers could, in theory, work in our favour.

Traditionally Fair Isle lambs have been among the first in Shetland to be sold. The unreliability of the weather means that shipping lambs must be done reasonably early. The lambs are transported on the deck of the ferry, Good Shepherd IV, and it needs fairly good, calm conditions to make the journey tolerable and safe for the animals.

And so last week the first two shipments were made, taking lambs in to the first sale of the year in the marts, which was held on Saturday. A third run, on which our own lambs were supposed to go, was cancelled, because the weather deteriorated towards the weekend.


Early morning round-ups were done, collecting sheep and lambs into the pens, and then putting them into trailers to be taken to the boat. Some of the smaller lambs have been left behind to wait for a later sale, in the hope that they will grow enough in the next few weeks to earn a little more.

As had been predicted, the sale itself was something of a disappointment, with prices generally a few pounds a head lower than last year. This may in part be due to the lingering effects of the Foot and Mouth scare, or it may simply be a reflection of poor meat prices from last year.

Some producers in Shetland have turned to other methods of selling their lambs. Farms certified as organic can find it easier to sell directly to restaurants and specialist markets, and in the future that may well be the direction that some crofters take.

The majority of our own lambs will now go out this week, I hope, to be sold at the coming weekend’s sale. I am trying to remain optimistic that we can at least gain some small profit from this half-year’s work. It can be disheartening to see that both lives and livelihoods are worth so little to some.

Photographs by Dave Wheeler

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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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times