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  • Writer's picturePaula Moss


Some of the most interesting stories I hear about Shetland come from times before television and Wi-Fi. The simple way of life always sounds so appealing, but I am sure it came with masses of hard work and struggle. My friend Beth always has so many stories to tell, so I asked her if she would write down a couple of her memories so I could share them with you.


"I consider myself to have had an idyllic childhood. In summer, we seemed to have long days filled with sunshine, fresh air and croft work and a holiday at our Granny’s with many of our cousins to look forward to when there were so many of us that we slept in flatchies on the floor. The first night we didn’t sleep much so excited at all being together again but after that we were so tired from running , climbing hills, in the banks, walking and making dams that we could have slept on a clothes line.

At home, we had the burn running through our croft where we collected tiddlers, set nets, made dams, sailed seggie boats and caught fish for our tea. The sea was on our doorstep as well and we would meet with our cousins Colin and Victor and the two eldest Dale bairns Muriel and John. We looked for spoots in the ebb, we made stepping stones so the Dale bairns could cross when the tide rose, we made a map of Europe at the foot of our park out of the soft earth there and we swam in the warm water in by the Ayre. We often had to wear old plimsolls in the burn or sea as there was glass and sharp shells to cut the feet of the unwary.

Of course we helped on the croft with hoeing tatties, singling neeps (a hated job), the hay which we all loved and walking two miles to the Mors to work in the peats which we needed for the winter fuel. There was also sheep work, but this was done in conjunction with all the other crofters in the valley and was a great excitement, like a day out for children nowadays. Most of the croft work was done together at that time. Mootie o Gruttin came to help dell the yard before Daddy set the kale, we helped them set their tatties, and worked in the hay together. We raised paets with our neighbours and they helped us in turn. It made the work seem less arduous and more lightsome.

In Winter it often snowed and there would be a moon so we could see for miles. We would arrange to meet our cousins after we had had our dinner (teatime) and make slides, go sledging using old tin trays and wish for more snow. One winter our road was closed for seven weeks altogether so we had the best time. We walked from Turl to the sea on top of the ice on the burn and then out onto the ice at the sea. When Mam found out, we were all whistled home. She used Dad’s dog whistle to round us up if we went too far out of her vision for too long. She could come up onto the Knowe and whistle for us which was a signal for us to desist from dangerous activity and/or come home!

In the long dark evenings, we played cards, had canasta and 500 tournaments with the neighbouring children plus my brother had a dartboard so we all played darts. My sister and I made a doll’s house from a shoebox with match boxes for furniture which we decorated with scraps of material and old bits of wallpaper Mam gave us.

I thought the other day as I was walking around the croft what my grandchildren would think of the way we lived with no indoor toilet (We had an elsan toilet in an out house), no bath (We swam in the burn or the sea in summer and in winter had a bath in front of the fire in the old tin bath once in a blue moon). There were no carpets, no central heating so we spent our spare time in the but room where the range was. Nobody left a door open in the winter as the chill pervaded the rest of the house and we would wake in winter to see Jack Frost had decorated the skylight in our bedroom or often it was covered entirely with snow which gave an eerie white light.

We made our own entertainment and read voraciously. My sister is two years older than me and my brother was three years older than her so when they got tired of reading the Rover, Eagle or the Red Letter aloud to me, they taught me to read so they could have some peace! When I went to school, luckily, I was the only one in the intake that year so could conceal the fact that I could already read and was silently laughing at having to learn my letters. We wrote letters to our pen pals, to our cousins in the islands and those who had left. My Dad wrote regularly to his brother in New Zealand, an uncle who had emigrated before any of us were born and whom we never ever met. My mother received letters from her brothers who had moved to Scotland and from people to whom she had sold kye.

I walked three miles to the village to visit my other Granny, Daddy’s stepmother, whom I adored. We drank Camp coffee and ate big Voe biscuits thick with butter and sugar and we giggled a lot together.

Our grandchildren live a very different way of life now with bathrooms, showers daily, central heating, duvets on their beds whereas my sister and I had fought over the hot water bottle then snuggled together for warmth! They have computer games, Ipads, Ipods and television where we had none of that and instead listened to Irish and country and western music on the gramophone which had to have the needle replaced regularly and wound up after each playing. They go to soft play, adventure parks, City Farms, Zoos and visit castles and Museums. We went to see the monkey puzzle tree in Tresta, a day’s run out with the family and our friends Benjie, Agnes and their daughter Dorothy. They fly to Tenerife watching a film on their Tablets while we went to Lerwick on an old smelly bus where everybody smoked and I was sick before we reached Voe. They wear clothes from Next, H&M and Gap. We longed for a parcel of hand-me-downs for the entertainment value as well as the actual content which might be useful. My sister was tall and skinny as was my cousin Betty so clothes went from Nancy to Betty just fine but when they came back to me, my little short plump body did not fit them as well as they did and often my sister would lie on the bed laughing, while I appealed to Mam for sympathy. Then we both got a telling off for ingratitude!!

What would the grandchildren think of having to dig a path to the well, break the ice and walk home with two pails of water before breakfast? Then later, in a hard winter, leading the kye to the burn carrying a lump hammer to break an ice hole so they could drink. Naturally, we thought nothing of it as it was the way of life, the only one we knew. I look back at only happy memories."

Thank you Beth


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