Friday, 9 July 2010

Hej Kids,

Here's my latest article from Shetland Life Magazine:

I recently took the long road from Unst to sample the Flavour of Shetland festival at the pier in Lerwick. It turns out the flavour of Shetland is paella and strawberry waffles (not in the same dish). That and Chinese food seemed to be the most popular dishes on offer. There was a little bit of Shetlandic fare there in the form of a bannock-making exercise and one local butcher, but apart from that not much else of a Nordic hue.

Of course we all know that this festival, like all the others, is just another apparatus for merrymaking. There was no slouching in putting the entertainment tent together and I was there in my capacity as Shetland’s comedian in residence. As I was contracted by Shetland Islands Council that day I didn’t actually tell any jokes, I just promised the delivery of jokes with a guarantee that while some people will be left bemused, the majority of Shetlanders would find the jokes funny. I would then put the reactions to that statement under review and pay for an expensive consultancy to come in and analyse the data to help me work out which particular joke I should tell to the public and in what style. Taxpayers can expect delivery of the gag by March 2012.

As is usual with a Shetland festival the entertainment was of exceptionally high quality. And the paella indeed was mighty fine. In fact in the two years I have lived in Shetland I have never eaten so well. One night my wife and I had an entire meal all of which came from Shetland, most of which came from our own village. The fish was a gift from a neighbour who had caught it that morning. It was dressed in bread crumbs from the Skibhoul bakery’s bread and eggs from another neighbour’s chickens. The veggies came from the Unst Regeneration Project and the rhubarb for the crumble came from our own garden. And as is de rigueur it was all washed down with “Sonny’s Beer.” (That’s Valhalla Brewery beer to you.)

I am quite the amateur gourmet as it happens. As an actor, writer and comedian of some twenty years I have, as you can imagine, worked in a lot of kitchens: it is the staple fall back position of any serious artist interested in eating or paying rent. In my time at the stove of many a hostelry I have learned a few things about how to produce quality dinners cheaply and quickly. As a house husband with a six-month old and a working wife I have never felt that experience to be as valuable as I do now – wife home, dinner out, wean bathed, bed. Well that’s the theory but with the regular power cuts on the all-electric isle of Unst it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes it’s more like-wife home, camping stove out the cupboard, beans for tea, wean swabbed down with wet wipes, bed.

Being a couple of progressive hippy types my wife and I are hoping to avoid any off-the-shelf processed foods and feed the peerie man the same meal we are having. The new regime is revitalising my interest in creating lovely grub. It took a while to get it right – I don’t know if you have ever tried to puree a sassermaet roll but it’s not too easy or appetising. However my culinary juices are flowing. If we are having chilli con carne he gets mince, tomato juice and baby rice; for haggis, tatties and neeps he gets the tatties, the neeps and a mash up of various greens with baby porridge; pizza for us? Mashed tomato, peppers and mushrooms with pizza crust for baby. And for spaghetti bolognaise, just take a generous spoonful off your own plate and buzz it with some of mother’s milk. Bellisimo!

As well as the nutritional value of such a practice the idea is that as life goes on your offspring will get used to the idea that you all sit around the table eating the same thing and you don’t end up with the whiney wean whinging “Ah don’t like that!” every time anything vaguely natural or healthy gets put under their petulant little noses.

So I have my idea for next year – the Flavour o’ Peerie Shetland. You come to my stall straight from the shops with the bag of ingredients for tonight’s tea and I construct a dish for your little one out of what you already have in the bag. No more overpriced jars of bib-staining mush. And if all the ingredients you give me are from Shetland, all the better. I know we are onto a winner.

It’ll definitely be far more successful than my stand-up routine was this year.

Sandy Nelson

Friday, 18 June 2010


Welcome to my new refurbished Blog.

The first peice of news is that The Bus Stops Bright, The Bustops Orange!

Once again Jane McAuley and family have brightened up the usual miserable experience of waiting in a bus. As you can see the cushions display a little African art footballing motif in honour of the World Cup in South Africa (or more likely they were the only orange cushion covers the McAuleys had kicking around their attic.)

Check out previous years' makeovers:

Think Pink!

Blue Period.
Vincent was 'ear (geddit?)

Disco disco disco disco!

Friday, 9 April 2010

Back In The U.N.S.T.

It's been a while since my last post. My time has been taken up with this guy... ...and lots of trips down south for work. (No paternity leave in showbusiness, folks.) Bloody murder! For his first three months I've been the semi-absentee father, coming back after every other week to find he has developed all these wee routines and quirks that I must automatically understnad and respond too and I now sit panicking and clueless as his mum goes back to work. Time to roll my sleeves up.

So here's my latest Column from Shetland Life to be getting on with. I promise to be more prolific fae noo oan.

Nelsons Column.

With all the talking points of contemporary Shetland life, whether it be the debates on wind farms, the blue print for education and Dave Clark, or the arrival of Tesco, Mareel and Simon King, the most significant thing to happen to Shetland since Sullom Voe was built has gone unnoticed: Sumburgh Airport now has a cappuccino machine! Yes, I know that’s a typical metrocentric incomer attitude to have but for us ex-city kids the cappuccino is our reestit mutton bannock. We can’t start the day without one. And as a frequent flyer I always felt something missing from my sitting-around-waiting-for-a-boarding-call experience.

And a good cappuccino is hard to come by. No disrespect to the staff at Sumburgh but you’ll find a cappuccino machine is a temperamental, fickle, moody thing that even a Krypton Factor finalist would take a while to learn how to control. And the recipe is often up for debate. As far as I’m concerned it’s double espresso + foamed milk + choccy topping = cappuccino. Too much steamed milk and it becomes a Latte. Blend the foamed milk and steamed milk into a silky texture and it becomes a Flat White.

Sumburgh already has everything else you need (snacks, bar, toilets, newsagent, bairns bit, News 24) so once they have mastered “The Devils Cup” it will become, for my money, the best airport in the world.

Honestly. In my travels I have been through 30 odd airports in Europe, North America and Asia. Sumburgh is the most comfortable and welcoming. In addition to the qualities listed above it is always a quick, easy check in, a simple passage on and off the plane, and the most breath taking scenery on take off and landing. I still get a thrill on every landing. Every single time I find my internal dialogue muttering, “We’re only 20 feet from landing! Why is there still water below us?” Then the runway suddenly appears like magic as if Odin’s mechanic has just slid his trolley beneath us.

Up until the Java generator arrived, the most significant thing that set Sumburgh apart from other UK airport is that no-one is trying to sell you anything. Most UK airports these days look like shopping centres with seats in the middle. In fact, the very same week that ex-first minister Jack McConnell was making his G8 summit-related speech on how Scotland’s youth were being made subject of a wasteful consumer society, Prestwick airport finished it’s refurbishment so that you HAD TO walk through duty free to get to your plane. It turns out they are all like that. Gatwick has a food court upstairs just like any generic glass roofed consumer trap. On the information screens at Nottingham East Midlands the phrase “Wait In Lounge” has been replaced by “Relax and Shop.” No pressure.

We will all remember through the noughties when pairs of salt-of-the-earth women would follow you along the concourse, bullying you with questions about your income and outgoings, persuading you that if you didn’t have a credit card you were some kind of archaic luddite without a clue about modern living. They are still there but they at least bully you into giving to charity these days.

And it’s not just the airports. Go into your bank these days and while you are boringly paying in a cheque and thinking about the rest of your day you are being interrupted by a list of personal questions leading up to selling you a mortgage or loan by an ordinary frontline worker who has been instructed by invisible management to do so. Try buying a magazine and a bottle of water at WH Smith without being told that you’ll get a giant bar of Galaxy and a bag of Haribo half price with your purchase (which would be a bargain if you actually wanted it).

Things got silly just the other day as I sat in the morning holding my cappuccino (homemade) in one hand and rocking my new born baby in his rocker with the other. I received a “courtesy call” from my bank. They weren’t selling me anything they assured me. They just wanted to make sure they had all my updated details and that they were providing me with the best service possible. On hearing of our new bundle of joy they asked if I knew about the new Scottish Governments trust fund scheme. I told them I had and was already looking into it. They then proceeded to punt various deals to me. Now, it’s not my name on the trust fund policy. It’s my son’s. The poor little guy is only nine weeks old and already someone is trying to sell him something. How sinister is that?

The only thing I want someone selling me, or my family, is a decent cup of coffee.

Sandy Nelson

Friday, 29 January 2010

Here's my latest colum from Shetland Life magazine. Just to fill you in on the local context, the cooncil have introduced this thing called "Blue Print For Education" which assesses the viability of schools. It's been quite controversial. Any road up, here.

As I write this in mid December it is around about that time when tabloid newspapers start to bang on about Christmas Scrooges: offices that ban decorations because of health and safety, city councils who won’t put up Christmas lights in case it offends other religions (they mean Muslims) and schools who cancel the nativity for the same reason. I know some people are a little over zealous in their misinterpretation of political correctness, but if you are an inner city school with an equal pupilship of Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists and whatever else then why should you simply have Christmas when you have Chanukah, Aashura, and winter solstice vying for attention?
We all know, too, that a lot of these management decisions are often personal decisions dressed up. Let’s say Teacher A and Teacher B don’t get on. Teacher A wants a nativity. The more senior Teacher B says no but can’t say “it’s ‘cos I don’t like Teacher A” so she says “it’s offensive to other religions.” Or maybe the head is just a total skinflint, or didn’t get that bike he wanted when he was ten and so is taking it out on the world. And lets’ face it, Christmas is not compulsory. People don’t care what is being observed. They just want to see their kids on stage.

For instance, up here in Unst, Baltasound Junior High is putting on Bugsy Malone as its Christmas show this year. No shepherds, wise men, mangers, gold, frankincense or myrrh in sight. In fact, in this day and age I’d say that a show about a bunch of dolled up wise guys ‘n’ gals swigging gin, dancing and fighting is a far more prescient way to celebrate the holiday season. Every pupil in the school gets involved, whether singing, dancing, acting, set building, stage managing or playing an instrument. And don’t worry, you won’t see “Rotundly Challenged Sam”, it’s Fat Sam, fair and square. The teachers and pupils at BJH are intelligent enough to know there is a difference between referring to a fictional 1920s character as fat and just walking into a class and shouting “Oi fatty!” at the heavily built kid.

As a writer, actor and expectant parent I am over the moon that the local school has such an enthusiasm for the arts. By the time you read this there is a good chance that my first child will have arrived in to this world. He/she will be born in Paisley, where my wife’s family live, but we have promised Sylvia, local registrar, that we will bring the wee thing back in time to be registered in Unst. My wife is the art teacher at BJH and when she arrived for the interview in summer 2008 she fell in love with Unst. But not just Unst. It was the school itself, and the art room with its kiln and plenty of natural light. It was Maggi and Ann and Ruth and the poly tunnels full of fruit and veg grown and attended by the kids. It was Mr McConnell and the way he championed technical for girls and had the pupils build picnic tables for the nursery school.

Pretty soon after we moved into Baltasound we fell in love too with the community. We loved the support we got from all of our neighbours, with their home grown veg, fresh eggs and locally caught fish; the local musicians with their concert nights at the hall; the fundraisers for the youth club, school sailing trips to Norway and nursery school gym equipment.

So much activity revolves around the school. I am currently involved with Unst Audio, a group dedicated to preserving Unst’s musical culture, which operates out of the “Big Jangly Hut”, a building separate from the main school – perfect for drum students – and the best equipped music department I’ve ever seen. My wife runs the jewellery classes on Tuesday nights – one of the most overly subscribed and best attended courses in all of Adult Learning. Every year the pupils design, build and paint the galley shields for the Uyeasound and Norwick Up Helly A’s.

When you add it all up you realise that the school is the community. It is the sole reason we repopulated Unst to the tune of three. When my wife and I saw how confident, open minded and mutually supportive the kids were at BJH and how they grow up into well rounded high achieving adults, we knew we wanted our children to grow up in this particular community and attend that particular school – eco-friendly, community-driven, high-achieving: it’s as perfect a school as you can get.

That’s if it stays open, of course. But what kind of moron would want to close down a school like that?

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Life in The Craft Lane

Here's my latest column in Shetland Life magazine for those who can't get it unless you go to Barretts of Byres Road. S.x.

Last weekend I enjoyed the glitter and magic of The Clickimin Christmas Craft Fair. My wife, in her capacity as a jeweller and silversmith set up her silver at a stall between some beautiful photographs of Shetlands wild flowers and a collection of gorgeous woven textiles. (Textiles? in Shetland? Could happen.)

I was there in my capacity as her shop boy. I was pretty much blown away by the quality of goods on offer- particularly the table full of tasty handmade sweeties across the aisle that I had to stare at all weekend, my teeth and waist line screaming “don’t do it!”

All of the traders a met and spoke to were exceptionally welcoming to us newcomers to the fair, full of compliments for the work and encouragement. Happy crowds came and went gathering up all of their Christmas presents in one go. One recurring theme was how people kept saying that they wanted to give their loved ones something special, unique or handmade and that they were extra chuffed to be buying from small independent traders. In fact the woman who ran the coffee shop blatantly claimed “Ahm no’ sending my money sooth!”

It’s very heart-warming to hear this. We still have a great respect and love for the “croft industry” even though the world of big business is letting everyone down. I’m not sure I want to spend my dark winter afternoons traipsing around the busy shopping centres of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh giving my money to the big high street stores owned by conglomerates of “entrepreneurs” who have little interest in what their shop is selling just so long as it sells.

I think that’s one of the basic problems that causes big business to mess up- they don’t care what they are selling. They just care about the selling itself. Look at Duncan Bannatyne, our representative “up by the bootstraps” Jock in the Dragons Den. He started selling ice cream then moved on to selling residences in care homes and that lead into selling memberships to the gym. Sorry, but I don’t see the link. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with confectionery, pensioner care or exercise; I’m just saying I think it’s pretty clear that the man has no passion for the actual thing he is selling.

Take Sir Allen Sugar too. Just before he took over the Sinclair Company on behalf of Amstrad he went on record saying, “We’re business men. We’re not made up of ex-graduates throwing a bunch of electronic components into a plastic box.”

Oh it’s that easy is it? Well I tried throwing a bunch of electronic components in a plastic box. All I got was an awkward and boring baby rattle. There’s a bit more to it than that. Here was Sir Clive Sinclair, the man who in the 1970’s, while everyone though he was delusional, had the vision that one day there would be a computer in every home in Britain - the man who developed the microchip which is probably in your own mobile phone right now- ridiculed for having a baldy head, a ginger beard, a utopian vision of the electric car and a predilection to innovation over salesmanship. The Businessman doesn’t care. If it doesn’t sell it doesn’t matter-move on and sell something else. At least before Sir Richard Branson invested in soft drinks and aeroplanes he spent twenty years getting rich off something he didn’t necessarily make but he absolutely loved and understood-music. (Notice how they are all Knights, by the way. The new Templars?)

I would like to shout out to two young groups I met at the craft fair who showed great love for their product. One is Anderson High Schools entrepreneurial team, Calibre, who have developed “The Ti-Pod,” a tee-pee style greenhouse designed to encourage people to grow their own fruit and veg in limited space. I believe they raised a lot of awareness about self-sufficiency and a few sales to boot. (So enthusiastic were they I overheard them in heated discussion about whether it should be pronounced “Ty-pod” or “Tee-pod.”)

The other is Windhouse Productions, a collective of teenage writers who have taken old Shetland ghost stories and rewritten them in their own words for a modern readership. Even though the book will not be published until 10th December they managed to sell many advance copies just with their passion and enthusiasm for the project. I’ve got mine on order.

It was wonderful to see so many diverse groups in such a mutually supportive environment selling such a variety of wares that they had created with their own hands and imaginations right here in Shetland. The rest of the UK could take a tip.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

More Shetland Life

Hej Kids,

It turns out I'm the new columinst at Shetland Life Magazine. It's like the Sunday supplement magazine to The Shetland Times except it's once a month instead of once a week (there only 22,000 people up here.)

Anyway, for those of you who can't get the magazine here is the first of I hope many articles in the section known as (wait for it...) Nelson Column!

Nelsons Column Nov 09.

My wife and I are about to enter our second Shetlandic winter. When we arrived to live and work in Shetland in August 2008 we were informed “If de can stand two winters, de’ll be fine.” Well, I say informed; we were more instructed. This is an aspect of the Shetland psyche I have come to admire in a curious way- a straight forwardness mixed in with a laid-back attitude.

I grew up in a North Glasgow housing scheme called Cadder where all the streets were named after places in Shetland- I grew up on Vaila Street; my best friend lived on Tresta Road; I went school on Herma Street- so it was strangely fitting that I ended up here. And with a name like Nelson, and a childhood obsession with my Norwegian heritage, I slotted right in. In fact last month at Baltasound Hall I performed at a show where everyone in the first act was called Somethingson- Johnson, Adamson, Nicolson, Sandison, Jameson, Nelson.

I often return to Glasgow to work, at least once a month in fact, so I am constantly reminded of how Shetland is indeed its own thing. The mess of contradictions is fascinating. When you first arrive it’s a straightforward, “Who are you, why are you here and what do you want?” Then as soon as you have explained yourself it’s “Yes that sounds reasonable. Come on in, how can I help?” Perhaps the sharp contrast of summer and winter influences this see saw attitude.

When we arrived here last year the storm around Mareel was still raging. Even after the building was given the go ahead in a close called democratic election, people were calling for recounts, shouting how they were avowed to overturn the decision. Many vociferous words were exchanged.
“Wow”, I thought, “What kind of building could invoke such hue and cry? A maximum security prison? A nuclear waste refinery? An Al Qaeda training ?”
“It’s a cinema.”
“It’s a cinema and concert hall with a rehearsal room.”
“Like a picture house?”
”Where people sit silently in the dark sharing a bon huer with a touching storyline or a rollocking blockbuster?”
“And a concert hall with a state of the art sound system to attract world class musicians?”
“And a rehearsal room with a sprung floor for peerie lassies to go to dance class and couples in their thirties go to do salsa lessons?

Whether or not you will rejoice in Mareel or obstinately refuse to enjoy it once it’s built, you can be assured that this is the kind of debate that is lacking down south. Shetlands propensity to ask questions and make noise ensured that the Sumburgh departures are the only flights in FlyBe’s entire fleet that offer a piece of hold luggage and a refreshment in the ticket price.
And of course we cannot ignore the huge furore surrounding Viking Energy. Even those who are completely in favour of building a wind farm are asking question after question, making sure that what they get is what they want and are not palmed off with any old system.
From what I observe that wouldn’t happen down south. A Glasgow conversation could go like this:
“Excuse me, pal, we want to build a motorway slip road through you kitchen.”
“Uch, that’s ridiculous!”
Then they would sit back smoking their fags blaming asylum seekers, teenage neds and “they idiots in Brussels” rather than use that energy to question those who actually have the power to make the decisions that affect their lives.
Perhaps Shetland has always been like this. Certainly in the 70’s Shetland asserted itself as the only council in the UK to benefit from oil revenue. Shell even regarded the council’s chief executive, Ian Clark, as more difficult to deal with than Colonel Gaddafi.

I think it goes deeper. It’s the Scandinavian in you. As a regular visitor to Sweden I have noticed that young and old are in touch with socio-political goings on at all levels. Shetland even looks like a Scandinavian country- wheelchair and pram access properly built; pothole free roads; the arts and leisure taken seriously; a proper reliable public transport system (honestly, if a bus or a ferry is cancelled up here it’s because it is physically incapable of moving. Down there it’s one flake of snow and the place comes to a standstill.)

Now of course Shetland does have its downsides, which I would be foolish to discuss in my first column for this publication, lest my effigy appear at this year’s Up Helly Aa (he said, flattering himself). But it is the Cartesian habit of questioning everything that impresses me, and takes me back to my 1980’s youth when people shouted loud.

So as a result of last winter, my wife and I go into this winter with our first child on the way. That’s the kind of winter I like.

Sandy Nelson Oct 2009

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Marshalls Misdemeanours

This Friday, November 6th 2009, tune in to BBC Radio Scotland at 11.30am for hilarious campus comedy "Marshall's Misdemeanours."

Comedy set at Kibble College of Culture and Sport, where we follow the adventures of Marshall and his mates as they embark on ill-advised love affairs and are tormented by past rivalries.

I play Marshall and am surrounded by the beautiful cast Gabriel Quigley, Stephen McNicol, Louise Ludgate and Gavin Mitchell. It is directed and produced by Marilyn Imrie of Bona Broadcasting.

Me as Marshall.

It's available on BBC iPlayer for one week after.

Go Kibble!