"Service above self"

Rotary Club of Shetland

Rotary wheel outline 100 x 100

The Rotary Month

March / April 2012

Spring is a busy time for the Rotary Club of Shetland. The Club holds a cheese and wine evening at the town hall each spring and, as well as being a big fundraiser for the Club, the evening is also the occasion when the Club hands out cheques to the organisations that are being supported. We were delighted this time to be able to support Disability Shetland, Sail Training Shetland, the Anderson High School Special Needs Unit, Red Cross Shetland, Childline, Combat Stress and Disaster Aid. The Club’s main fund raising focus for the period, however, was the Cancer Research Relay for Life and successful raffle and a matching donation from Club funds meant that £2,000 will be given to the Relay for Life.

The Club's weekly meetings saw the usual wide array of speakers and topics and March kicked off with a fascinating talk from Sarah Laurenson of wool brokers Jamieson and Smith. The business was started by the Smith family of Scalloway in 1932, sorting and grading wool during the winter months. The business moved to Lerwick in 1946 and to the North Road in 1960. There are now two sides to the operation. The first is the traditional wool broking business, which buys wool from well over 700 crofters and farmers. The other side is the yarn business which has seen a big increase with the renewed fashion for knitting and the move away from manmade fibres. Ninety percent of the yarn business is now done over the internet.

Our next speaker was Rotary member Dennis Leask. A few years ago Dennis and his wife went on a long trip on their sailing boat around the Mediterranean and Dennis was particularly taken with Gibraltar. Having imagined that Gibraltar was at the mouth of the Med his first feeling was disappointment at finding that it isn’t – it’s about twenty miles up the coast. Dennis and Tess spent about two months there, though, and took the opportunity to explore the history of the place. Given its location, Gibraltar was strategically significant for a long time and people went to great lengths to defend it. The Rock, the mountain that looks over the town, is like a Swiss cheese, criss-crossed with tunnels that form the defences. These days they are more of a tourist attraction, including a theatre in one of the caverns.

Our next meeting also had a historical theme as member Donald MacKinnon brought us a tale from Tanganyika. Like several members of the club, Donald has a keen interest in boats and the sea and had been intrigued by a story from the First World War. Lake Tanganyika in Africa is four hundred miles long and in the First World War, the Belgian Congo was on one shore and German Tanganyika was on the other. The Germans had boats on the lake and so the British thought that they should have some too. A rather eccentric British officer called Spicer-Simson was given the task of getting two boats, Mimi and Toutou to the lake. After being shipped on the railway from Cape Town to the Belgian Congo, they had to be moved 140 miles overland to Lake Tanganyika. A team of 100 men, two traction engines and teams of oxen did the work and, six months after leaving the UK, the boats were launched on Lake Tanganyika. Once on the lake the two boats captured one German vessel and then sank a German warship, the Hedwig von Wissman.

Our next meeting was a complete change as member Steve Benn educated his fellow Rotarians on the history of the lavatory. As man started to settle in one place, so problems started with diseases. The Egyptians recognised the problem and they probably had the first toilets, although these were only for the elite. The Romans were a more egalitarian lot, with toilets for rich and poor. Their engineering meant that they had flowing water and some places even had lead piping. Victorian London had a distinct lack of sanitation and lots of problems with disease and, in response to the Great Stink of 1858, Joseph Bazalgette led the project to build London’s sewers. We should still be grateful to him.

One of the great things about Rotary is that you get to meet people from all sorts of aspects of Shetland life and our next meeting was a move to the present day with a talk from Andy Steven of Promote Shetland. Andy explained what Promote Shetland does and members were surprised at the breadth of the work that they encompass, covering not just tourism but with a lot of focus on Shetland as a place to work or to do business. Andy explained how Pride of Place is a key part of the campaign, with Shetland people promoting Shetland when they are away being an important part.

Our last speaker for April was club member John Groat who gave an entertaining talk on life as a young lad in post-war Shetland. John was the youngest of nine children growing up in a small house in St Sunniva Street in Lerwick. With the weaving shed across the road and the park behind the house there were always places to play and people to talk to. School arrived when John turned five and he managed his first day fine. He was just surprised the next day to find that he had to go again. Weekends meant working in the family bakehouse, with John as chief doughnut fryer and, at Christmas, assistant cake decorator. When work finished, it was time to buy a line and hooks and head off to the pier to fish with the other boys. The old bakehouse backed on to one of the herring stations so there were always people to talk to and things to do. Summers were spent outside, but winter meant time in the warmth of the coopers’ huts.

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