Aboard a quite different vessel, the Northlink Ferry, I arrived in Aberdeen the next morning. Aberdeen was in lockdown, and I planned to spend as little time there as possible, just two hours, before my train left for the South. My idea was to sit in the sun outside the ferry terminal, eating my packed breakfast, before a gentle stroll to the railway station. Ha! I arrived in Aberdeen in the middle of a rainstorm. Roads had become rivers. On the periphery of my vision, a drain cover had lifted, and the water rose from it in a translucent pillar. I struggled towards the station through floods and wind.
Aberdeen station was a huge glass tent, with the rain battering, and lightning visible, dimly, through the roof covering. It also resembled all the tents I have ever known in that the floor was covered in a thin layer of water. I sat down damply on a damp metal bench. All the trains were cancelled. Fortunately, I had some banana cake. I drew a picture. Then I found a helpful official and a bus.
The bus was going to Edinburgh. I drew a picture on the bus. After having been in Shetland for three weeks, I noticed that there were huge trees, everywhere. The sun came out.
This is the Lera Voe phone box, which is on the road between Burrastow and Walls.
The phone box is a landmark. This year it was renovated, and fitted out as a sanctuary and small room. There is no phone in there any more, unless you bring your mobile phone with you.
Henry Anderton did the renovation. His project was partly financed by a reward he obtained for having found a message in a bottle on one of his beach-cleaning outings. You can read about it in this article from the BBC, published in February 2020.
The article says of Mr Anderton: “He has bought the phonebox, near Walls, for £1 and been supplied with the regulation red paint from BT. He said: “We’ve now launched a crowd funding operation to help out the renovations – we’ve got to find a door first.”“
Evidently he found a door, because when I visited in July the phone box was complete, bright red and in great shape. There are shelves and a seat inside.
I wanted to draw the phone box with Lera Voe in the background. This is the view from the field behind the phone box. You can see the voe, and the hills beyond. The road is just behind the phone box in my drawing. “Voe” is a Shetland word meaning “sea inlet”.
Here is work in progress on the drawing.
Here is the article from the BBC mentioned above, as a PDF file.
These phone boxes , which were called Telephone Kiosks, were designed by Giles Gilbert-Scott in the 1920s and 30s. Giles Gilbert-Scott was a prolific architect, who also designed Cambridge University Library, the North Wing of the Guildhall in the City of London, and Bankside Power Station which is now Tate Modern.
The phone box at Lera Voe is a “K6” phone box, designed by Gilbert-Scott for the jubilee of George V in 1935, following his successful design of the K2 phone box in 1924. The K6 is distinguished from the K2 by the embossed crown, and the fact that it has 8 rows of windows, rather than the 6 rows of the K2.
It would be possible to date the phone box had I been more careful in drawing the crown. The crown is painted red on the Lera Voe phone box, as it was on the original phones boxes. Only in the 1990s did BT start painting the crowns gold.
There’s a lot of empty space in Shetland. As I walked around, sometimes I encountered abandoned vehicles. Here is one.
This was the last of a sequence of such car wrecks on a track. Having passed two, towards the end of a long walk, I encountered this one, the third, and thought I would take a rest and draw it. The car number was even on there.
Here’s “Chieftain”: a huge and solid vehicle. He is out in the wild, perhaps not “abandoned”, but he is evidently not in daily use, which is a pity, since he looks very useful.
I tried very hard to describe the heaviness and strength of Chieftain. He is also very large. I should have put a few birds in too, for scale.
I walked over to the distant headland, called Whites Ness. It was a long walk.
The walk round the peninsula of Whites Ness is way-marked.
When I reached the end of the peninsula, I saw that there was a lighthouse marked on the map.
I wondered if it were really there. Would it be a real lighthouse, or maybe simply a buoy off the rocks?
The path was not very well marked, and seemed to be mainly uphill. I was a good way through what was already quite a long walk. And I had to walk back. But I kept on going. It seemed an unlikely location for a lighthouse. Of course I had in my mind those lighthouses I have seen, built by the Stevenson family in the 18th Century, red and white striped, towering over cliffs.
Here there were relatively mild rocks, smooth grass and a few sheep.
But then, against all expectation, there was the lighthouse. I was delighted. There was no-one around to whom I could exclaim: Look! Look! There really is a lighthouse.
It was not a lighthouse like the one in your head. It looked a bit like a prop from a Dr Who episode of the 1960s, or perhaps some construction which had been assembled from assorted parts of IKEA flat-packs. But it was a lighthouse, beyond all doubt. I sat down and drew it.
It was hard to find somewhere to sit down so that I could be sure that my art supplies were not going to take an impromptu roll down the slope and into the sea. There were a selection of rocks, none at quite the right angle. I chose the safest, and drew my picture.
Then I packed up my things and started on the long trek back.
That evening a friend produced a useful coastal navigation guide, which informed me that this lighthouse was: “Fl.WRG8s16m9-6M”. We decoded this as: Flashing, White Red and Green, with an 8 second repeat, 16 metres above sea level, visible 6-9 nautical miles out at sea, on a good day. Anyone who is more familiar with the notation, please correct me if I have this wrong. I also found a map online.
My neighbour sent me a video of an iris he is cultivating on his balcony. It is a very special iris, a Benton Deirdre. He describes it as “bred by artist and plantsman Sir Cedric Morris in 1945. Rose pink standards and ivory falls with lilac red margins.”
It is special also because it managed to bloom on the windy balcony high up on this tower block. He posted pictures on instagram, and then at my request, sent more pictures which I used as inspiration for a number of pictures. Here are some monoprints I made this morning.
On the left is the fire door, and on the right you see the carpet sweep up in a glorious curve to the underside of the window. This is a Barbican Feature, which is a challenge to carpet fitters.
At the bottom of the far wall, to the right, is the important box fastened into a power socket. This is the power line device which extends the WiFi internet through the re-inforced concrete walls of the brutalist building.
The chairs are “utility furniture” made in the 1940s and 50s, to standard designs making the most of scarce timber. New furniture was rationed at that time. I bought them in about 1998 from a shop in Brighton, and they’ve travelled with me.
Here is another view from the sofa, looking the other way.
Here you see my knitting, together with associated paraphernalia: instruction books, a bag, scissors and bits on the table.
That little table came from my parents’ house. The knitting wool came from Shetland.
The sofa came from the shop on the Tottenham Court Road that used to be called Habitat, and perhaps still is. It is long enough to lie on, full length. That was my criterion.