At this time in my personal life I was a member of our local Up Helly Aa fire festival; a community event which celebrates when the darkness is replaced by light. The event has Norse connections in that the main squad of men, the Jarl squad, dress up as modern day Vikings complete with burning a longship.
The jarl squad, composed of 50 men and boys, do most of the work in completing the suit. During 2013 we were shown the prototype suit that the Jarl, chief Viking, had chosen. When I saw the kirtle, the garment worn next the skin, I took hold of it and asked the Jarl what it was made of. “Australian lambswool” was the reply, “No way,” I said “I am not wearing that! Do something about it!” At the time we were having the museum Heritage worsted yarn made so it was an easy task to add a black shade to the collection. The yarn was perfect; being worsted it had advantages over a woollen spun yarn. It was not itchy and it tailored well. It was also very adaptable as it wove well and we used it in creating our pouch for our belt, the weaving was carried out by Andy Ross of Global Yell.
Toward the end of 2013 our suit was nearing completion and I was looking forward to the festival when fate took a hand, in November I was diagnosed with bowel cancer and told I would have surgery on December 17th. My life changed completely. A serious mixture of emotions took over and I was indeed struggling for the first time in my life. The morning of my operation my surgeon, Ms Webber came to talk to me. “We need you to focus; we need to aim for something.” I suggested our son was to be a father for the first time in March. “We need something sooner.” was the reply”. “I am in the Jarl squad in approximately 6 weeks- time I don’t suppose I will make that now”. Her reply was very straight to the point, “See you in the hospital canteen on Up Helly Aa day.”
I now realise this was her way of helping me to come to terms with my illness, a distraction from my plight so to speak, a positive thought going forward. I was released from hospital 6 days later; the best Christmas present possible thanks to the staff of our hospital. I was confined to bed for a period of time and now struggled to come to terms with my situation. I needed another focus which I believe helped me greatly; I began writing the history of J & S. When Jim Smith wrote 4 pages for the Royal Bank case study of their dad’s business dealings I suggested to him you will have to write a book someday. “Only when I take the boiler suit off,” he replied, sadly shortly after he passed away. At this point in my life I now realised suddenly that we are not immortal; not only will all Jim and Eva’s information be lost, so perhaps will mine.
I discussed this with Catherine who agreed but with certain conditions. I contacted Eva and asked her permission. She agreed and said she would send in archive material relating to her dad’s business interests including J&S and with that, I began my journey.
Thanks to modern computer technology this was not too arduous and I was also able to do work from home. Gradually I was able to leave my bed and managed to walk. A nurse would come once a day and tend to me, and also give me much needed support and advice.
After a few weeks I was able to go for short walks and as time passed gradually a bit further each day.
On Up Helly Aa day as Ms Webber had predicted, I met with her at the hospital and managed to take part in some of the festival activities. It was only later on I realised how fortunate I had been. Some people said it was down my positive attitude, that may have been part of it but the medical staff and my wife, family, work mates, and members of the Jarl squad, were at the forefront of my recovery. Of course, a great help was my journey through the decades, writing the story of my life in wool and my employers, the Smith family of Berry it gave me another focus. Last but not least my dog, Jo who had to put up with walking miles in order for me to regain my strength, my best friend, I owe him so much, and I miss him greatly.
I would like to say thank you to Ms Webber and all the medical staff that took such good care of me. I would take this opportunity to mention the MRI scanner appeal, which would be some important for the wellbeing of Shetland Islanders.
In the summer of 2014 I was again given a task by my employer to make sure Shetland wool featured in a publication, In Search of the World’s Precious Wools. The photographer and author was travelling the world in search of the finest wools. Again I was given a very short time frame to achieve our aim. With the help of several Shetland sheep producers I am delighted to say we were selected in the book along with seven other countries around the world. I am very proud to say we not only were the only UK breed represented but also the only European breed. This publication is up there with Shetland Wool Week as one of the most successful projects in my life with Shetland wool. The book was published in 2015.