Fresh in from far out - Shetland

<em>New Statesman Scotland</em> - They're playing our song again

I should have known. The argument about Procul Harum was a dead give-away. There I was, calmly preparing some musical highlights for my millennium birthday party (I have the dubious distinction of being a Hogmanay baby) when I discovered a dusty CD entitled Procul Harum's Greatest Hits. Now, I harbour a strange affection for the baroque pop of Messrs Gary Brooker and Keith Reid, writers of strange, ornate, oblique songs from the sixties such as "Homburg" and "A Whiter Shade of Pale". But it was when I played their seagull-infested masterpiece "A Salty Dog", at an admittedly high volume, that things became a little tense.

Sobbing as the song ended and the last gull vanished into perfectly reproduced tape hiss (I become emotional on birthdays, or at least my own), I announced that this was the song I wanted played at my funeral. There was an eruption from the kitchen, initially of soup. A gallon of broth, to be exact, as my wife was engaged in preparing for the influx of celebrants. Some imprecations of a particularly salty nature resulted, and then some ferociously noisy mopping up and pail-slamming. The rest was mere shouting:

"That's typical of you! So bloody selfish! Telling us what you want at a funeral you won't even be at! And will only be happening because it's your fault!"

I said nothing, quickly realising that this was the wisest course.

"And, anyway, that's hideous music, horrible, depressing and hateful. Put something good on."

Nothing infuriates an anally retentive, obsessively musicological male as much as such a declaration from a woman. Suddenly, all the resentment, all the years trying to explain why this guitar solo had to be listened to in complete silence, why the Eagles and Garbage are both garbage, why the lyrics to "Subterranean Homesick Blues" are worth having typed and framed . . . all this and the reasons why girls like Paul Weller (cheekbones, no talent) exploded. "Women don't understand rock music," I bawled. "All they want is easy-listening crap!" And then, furiously, I put on a Blue Nile album, all of which are exactly the same hour of tremulous moaning about rain in city streets. "That's what you want, isn't it? Utter shite!"

Then the sink overflowed, as my wife was doing a spot of after-dark gardening in order to impress anyone parking their car near the ash disposal area. She came back in to find me mopping up and the depressive noise of Paul Buchanan's melodic muttering soaking away with the suds. She smiled. "Don't mind me," she said. "I'm just a bit premenstrual. God, the Blue Nile have really had their day, haven't they?"

The full horror then hit. A premenstrual millennium; a post-millennial menstruation, albeit at second hand, was to be mine. This was premillennial tension with a vengeance. I had just been reading Leo Marks' wonderful book Between Silk and Cyanide, in which the Special Operations Executive's codemaster during the second world war realised that the teams of women engaged in decoding messages from agents in occupied France were exhibiting to him inexplicable cycles of variable incompetence. He had never heard of menstruation at the time. Marks enlisted some senior female officers to subtly sort things out - and explain to him what was going on - but all I could do in my situation was scream. So I did. It was more tuneful than the Blue Nile.

"Did you know," said my wife, "that women in close proximity tend to synchronise their periods? In fact, nearly everyone I know on this island tends to have them at the same time. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a result of all living on the same small land mass. Just imagine," she grinned, "that every woman in Shetland may be premenstrual right now!"

Shakily, I finished mopping the floor. The concept of an entire island throbbing with PMT was hard to take in. I decided to ask for a list of suitable wifely music to keep things buoyant. Abba. The Elvis Christmas Album. Absolutely no Tom Waits or John Lee Hooker. Yes to Orange Juice, no to Edwyn Collins solo. Paul Weller but no Jam. Fine.

Everything went well. I treated every pre- and post-millennial woman I met with the kiddest of kid gloves. Next day, hangover-free and feeling merrily millennial, I took the dogs for a walk, and when I came back the stove was on fire and the house full of smoke. "Whaddaya expect? I'm premenstrual!" my wife snarled, as I dismantled, amid clouds of red-hot soot, the Rayburn she'd been trying to light with lighter fuel.

And then she added: "Where's that Procul Harum album, by the way? They're brilliant!"

This article first appeared in