BRESSAY UP HELLY AA
Right – Having been to my first Up Helly Aa I can see why whisky is the national drink. I can't say I have never been so cold. I might have been. I simply can't remember it. I do remember how my hands felt as a child going out snowballing, and my mother having a huge supply of Dad's woollen socks hanging over the Aga rail. We would go out snowballing and generally messing about in the snow, then rush in to change one pair of sodden, soaking wet, icy cold socks for a slightly dryer and warmer pair, and the tingling and aching in one's hands was what I experienced at the Bressay Up Helly Aa.
After missing last night's spectacular display of the Northern Lights – Best I have ever seen in all my forty years – as one of the locals told me, I did wonder if I would be best to head for some isolated northern facing spot, and was torn between that and the Up Helly Aa. On the principle that from my current experience the Up Helly Aa was a safer bet we went with that, and in the event as darkness fell so did the rain. Well – fell would hardly be a good word to describe it, as that would imply it came downwards and not totally sideways.
I had checked the notice board in the Village Hall which looked like everything would start at nine, but with the amount of cars arriving, plus from my spot down by the old harbour, seeing the bus with the Yarl Squad arrive I went up early. And a good job too. The whole thing – assembly, lighting the torches, brass band, parade, passing the burning point, returning to the burning point, doing lots and lots and lots and lots of cheering and waving of axes and torches, throwing the flaming torches in, doing lots more cheering and Up Helly Aaing, more band playing and going back to the hall for a good session, is well and truly over and done and its nowhere near nine o'clock. If I had stayed in Thebus they would have all gone past me, but having been told they went up the hill and round the other way I had wrapped a scarf round my head and neck, put on two vests a jumper, two cardigans, a padded coat and a rain cape thick thermal socks, insulated boots, and ventured out to the hall which was the assembly point
I was pleased I did as otherwise I would have missed the 'Assembly' which involved a lot of men standing around in the freezing cold wind and rain, with bare knees, wanting to say – get a move on – but refraining. And the youngsters who were in the Viking boat, together with Mum and Dad Viking, yelling 'Why is it taking so long, Hurry up. We're getting cold!' But Vikings up here need to be tough, and they obviously start them young.
The torches were enormous. When I was young we had Jumping Jacks and Flying Aeroplanes, and hand held Squibs and Firecrackers, but now even to suggest that a child should be too near a Sparkler is socially incorrect. I love it up here. The torches were sending off three and four inch pieces of burning 'stuff' which flew across the fields in the wind for hundreds of yards. Children and adults stamped on the biggest bits, not that it would have set fire to anything as it was too jolly wet. It wasn't just the Vikings who had torches. There were plenty spare, and anyone could carry one in the general procession which followed on behind those dressed in all the gear.
After a fair bit of standing around in the cold and wet eventually the torches were lit with an enormous gas flame gun and they went off like rockets, the heat from them, even from a distance was appreciable. At one point when down wind of the procession I did wonder whether I was wearing anything flammable, then remembered even if I had been it would have been too wet to catch fire. Most of the men had beards, and I suppose that proves an extra measure of bravery to carry a big flaming torch in windy weather above a full beard.
I am ashamed to say I was just TOO COLD to go up to the hall after to enjoy all the entertainments, which from the programme went on until well gone two o'clock. Once the torches had been thrown into the boat I got back to Thebus as fast as I could, switched the heating on high - blow the lack of LPG between here and mainland Britain. Put on the kettle and in swift succession made myself two large, stiff hot toddies.
With the result that, even though warmer. I was now in no fit state to go anywhere, except bed, which I did and slept soundly.
In most parts of Britain after an event like that there would have been lots of noise as everyone departed, with rowdy youngsters tooting horns and revving motors and yelling obscenities. But here there was no outdoor aftermath of unpleasantness. Its how England would have been some fifty or more years ago, and I hope for their sakes they never catch up with us in those ways.
CLICK ON ANY OF THE PICTURES BELOW TO ENLARGE
I took lots more than these but it was so windy the camera was blown about and they have come out too blurred