Friday, 31 January 2014

As tradition dictates

As recent tradition dictates, on Up Helly Aa night (last Tuesday in January) I go round to my brother's flat, we order a takeaway, he connects up the laptop to the telly, and we watch the Up Helly Aa webcast and get faintly homesick. Or maybe nostalgic. Really if you can't be there in the wind and rain (and it was a particularly vile night in Lerwick that night), watching the webcast in warmth and comfort is the next best thing. It started out a few years ago, as one of the commentators said, with three cameras and a laptop. Maybe that's slight exaggeration (or it might be the literal truth!) but it was a fairly low-key affair, and lots of fun for all that. However it's getting more slick and professional every year, without losing its sense of being truly local.

My pictures are rubbish because obviously being pictures of the telly they're a bit fuzzy, but you'll get the fiery gist and possibly get an idea of how windy it was.

What a lot of non-Shetland people maybe don't know, even if they've heard of Up Helly Aa, is that this one, the big one, the Lerwick Up Helly Aa, is only one of a number of Up Helly Aa celebrations, as a lot of the country areas have their own on different nights. An absolutely filthy night is often the norm for a rural Up Helly Aa. In the town, the galley is burned in the playpark in the middle of town so although it was certainly a grim night on Tuesday they get a degree of shelter from surrounding buildings.  When you're launching a galley into the sea in a gale, in a village that is barely more than a hamlet and everyone's tramping through bog and across beach to watch, a wild night in every sense is pretty much what's expected.  There's a teeny bit of footage, plus a bit of good-natured ribbing at the expense of those who burn their galleys in a playpark, in this video.

There's no denying however that the Lerwick Up Helly Aa is a real spectacle.

The town hall flies the raven banner for the day and this year the clock faces were lit up in red. It doesn't show up very well in that photo but it looked good on the webcast. Social media make the experience more shareable - a lot of people were tweeting about it, tweets were being read out by the webcast commentators and I saw a tweet from one of my old school friends, now living in New Zealand and therefore up early to watch it, so we're now following each other on Twitter. Shetland people are often scattered round the world anyway, and since the oil boom there are a lot of people who possibly only lived in Shetland for a short time but get a chance to relive Up Helly Aa this way. Technology makes the world smaller. And also a bit weirder.

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