Da Street

I took part in my school’s YES Company programme during 1992/93.  Our company, BECSA, in a ruthlessly capitalist move, was formed to mop up the overspill in demand for adult computing nightclasses in pre-Internet days.  As a band of 8 pupils we retaught what we’d just been taught about a subject we barely knew well enough to teach.  Which, I understand, is what being a secondary school teacher is all about.  1


BECSA didn’t win the Shetland heats: another company who produced a magazine, Allegedly Ltd (containing an exclusive interview with Arthur Fowler), did. I’m not bitter.  Apart from these last 20 years.

Allegedly Magazine, 1992

Allegedly Magazine, 1992

Arthur Fowler: stealing our hearts and our Christmas Club money.

Arthur Fowler: stealing our hearts and our Christmas Club money.

The following year, YES Shetland’s winning company was a troupe called ‘Aurora’ who created another publication – a small staple-bound book entitled ‘Da Street’.  With help from museum staff and local historians they catalogued the recent history of Lerwick’s Commercial Street, itemising, alongside a few pictures, which business each building had housed in the last 100 year period.  I think it’s one of the best things to come out of a Shetland YES company. Perhaps a revised print could be issued?

Da Street.  Published 1994.

Da Street. Published 1994.

The really interesting thing to me then, as now, is that Commercial Street hasn’t really changed shape in living memory.  Façades, of course, are always in flux.  Shops change hands and entire businesses and tradenames can vanish into time.  Foundation stones, window and door outlines remain as fixed as when I first met them as a boy.

When you are young the world appears to have always been this way, and the first change you witness can be like an earthquake.  With one closure or renaming your whole world has changed.  Maybe witnessing enough change makes you immune, with each subsequent disappearance or remodelling having less and less impact.

But for me it’s still eerie walking into a building I knew laid out in a once seemingly fixed format, and finding it transformed to another. Did, my past actually happen? New buildings don’t have such ghosts attached, but of the ones on Commercial Street some foundation stones feel as if they are your foundation stones too.

I remember many conversations in-ower with Granddad which had the phrase, ‘this place usedta be…’ and I thought, ‘wow, he must be old, I can’t remember it being that at all’. I only had to let a little time pass and I was saying it too…

I suppose this film is for anyone who has felt that they may be the same inside, but part of their exterior foundation has metamorphosed just beyond comfortable familiarity, hiding under paintwork, plaster and ‘progress’.

The Street project is ongoing.  For Screenplay 2014 I gave what I’d completed so far the title, ‘Back in Stock‘, though ‘Time Frame’ was a cheesy runner-up!

  1.  A joke.  Teaching is of course also about long summer holidays and despair.

I really should update the website more often.  Perhaps I’m just not so good of a self-publicist?  However…


This month sees the premiere, during Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games, of Flotsam.  Flotsam is a film submitted under the Ebb Tide Project: a venture between Shetland Moving Image Archive, Shetland Arts Development Agency and the Shetland Heritage Association.  Its remit:

…to commission a series of films to be screened from 19th to 25th July on the Tall Ship “Glenlee”, at Riverside in Glasgow. This approach will tie in with the connections between Shetland, Glasgow and the Commonwealth countries.

Glasgow was once the seat of shipbuilding, and many of the ships built on the Clyde took Shetlanders all over the world, many to Commonwealth Countries. Men returned to Shetland with exciting tales and wondrous artefacts and some of these artefacts are held by heritage groups around Shetland.

The project sets out to use old stories of far travelled folk to inspire new film making. A commissioning brief for local film makers will be developed by Shetland Arts to create a number of contemporary short film; these will be creative pieces of film-making, inspired by stories, journeys, imagery and artefacts.

Flotsam’s selected artefact is a Skovi Kapp.

A Skovi Kapp was a Shetland name for a particular kind of bowl. The bowls were decorative objects, originally from Russia. i.e. Muscovy bowls, but also other countries accessible by boat from Shetland.  They were made of wood, usually with a floral motif painted in black and red and were lacquered or varnished, and were brought as gifts.It is not known when the bowl ceased to be a decorative item and became a supernatural implement but it is said that witches used the Skovi Kapp in ritual to sink boats at sea, summoning a swell to capsize the vessel.

The last witch accusations in Shetland were Barbara Tulloch and her daughter Ellen. They were burned in the 1700’s in Scalloway.

The film shows a re-enactment of how a witch may have used a Skovi Kapp bowl and a suggestion of the fate of the person uncovered using such an artefact.   One possible motivation for wrecking a vessel would be to obtain its cargo, hence the title of the film, ‘Flotsam’.

Tickets available