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.
John Moore
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The man who created the fake Tube sign explains why he did it

"We need to consider the fact that fake news isn't always fake news at the source," says John Moore.

"I wrote that at 8 o'clock on the evening and before midday the next day it had been read out in the Houses of Parliament."

John Moore, a 44-year-old doctor from Windsor, is describing the whirlwind process by which his social media response to Wednesday's Westminster attack became national news.

Moore used a Tube-sign generator on the evening after the attack to create a sign on a TfL Service Announcement board that read: "All terrorists are politely reminded that THIS IS LONDON and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on thank you." Within three hours, it had just fifty shares. By the morning, it had accumulated 200. Yet by the afternoon, over 30,000 people had shared Moore's post, which was then read aloud on BBC Radio 4 and called a "wonderful tribute" by prime minister Theresa May, who at the time believed it was a genuine Underground sign. 

"I think you have to be very mindful of how powerful the internet is," says Moore, whose viral post was quickly debunked by social media users and then national newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun. On Thursday, the online world split into two camps: those spreading the word that the sign was "fake news" and urging people not to share it, and those who said that it didn't matter that it was fake - the sentiment was what was important. 

Moore agrees with the latter camp. "I never claimed it was a real tube sign, I never claimed that at all," he says. "In my opinion the only fake news about that sign is that it has been reported as fake news. It was literally just how I was feeling at the time."

Moore was motivated to create and post the sign when he was struck by the "very British response" to the Westminster attack. "There was no sort of knee-jerk Islamaphobia, there was no dramatisation, it was all pretty much, I thought, very calm reporting," he says. "So my initial thought at the time was just a bit of pride in how London had reacted really." Though he saw other, real Tube signs online, he wanted to create his own in order to create a tribute that specifically epitomised the "very London" response. 

Yet though Moore insists he never claimed the sign was real, his caption on the image - which now has 100,800 shares - is arguably misleading. "Quintessentially British..." Moore wrote on his Facebook post, and agrees now that this was ambiguous. "It was meant to relate to the reaction that I saw in London in that day which I just thought was very calm and measured. What the sign was trying to do was capture the spirit I'd seen, so that's what I was actually talking about."

Not only did Moore not mean to mislead, he is actually shocked that anyone thought the sign was real. 

"I'm reasonably digitally savvy and I was extremely shocked that anyone thought it was real," he says, explaining that he thought everyone would be able to spot a fake after a "You ain't no muslim bruv" sign went viral after the Leytonstone Tube attack in 2015. "I thought this is an internet meme that people know isn't true and it's fine to do because this is a digital thing in a digital world."

Yet despite his intentions, Moore's sign has become the centre of debate about whether "nice" fake news is as problematic as that which was notoriously spread during the 2016 United States Presidential elections. Though Moore can understand this perspective, he ultimately feels as though the sentiment behind the sign makes it acceptable. 

"I use the word fake in inverted commas because I think fake implies the intention to deceive and there wasn't [any]... I think if the sentiment is ok then I think it is ok. I think if you were trying to be divisive and you were trying to stir up controversy or influence people's behaviour then perhaps I wouldn't have chosen that forum but I think when you're only expressing your own emotion, I think it's ok.

"The fact that it became so-called fake news was down to other people's interpretation and not down to the actual intention... So in many interesting ways you can see that fake news doesn't even have to originate from the source of the news."

Though Moore was initially "extremely shocked" at the reponse to his post, he says that on reflection he is "pretty proud". 

"I'm glad that other people, even the powers that be, found it an appropriate phrase to use," he says. "I also think social media is often denigrated as a source of evil and bad things in the world, but on occasion I think it can be used for very positive things. I think the vast majority of people who shared my post and liked my post have actually found the phrase and the sentiment useful to them, so I think we have to give social media a fair judgement at times and respect the fact it can be a source for good."

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.