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Third generation Viking

IT’S VIKING day in Lerwick again…and a fine bunch of warriors Rae Simpson, aka Sigurd “Snake-Eye” Ragnarsson, has led out behind his galley Avie-Jane.

A modest pride always features large at these events beneath the usual burly, bearded and brutal facade presented this year by a 61 strong Jarl squad, dressed in a rather fine, muted rust-red and black.

Today the pride glowed that little bit brighter, despite the drizzle, as Sigurd followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, and paraded the dazzling handiwork of the talented womenfolk he has around him. Up Helly Aa today was a real family affair.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the proceedings was the extraordinary head piece for the proclamation mounted at Market Cross for all to see.

Above the sharp-eyed comments about the isles’ latest events – even The Sun managed a mention – stood the embroidered image of a galley sailing beneath the ghost-like visage of a fierce Viking warrior.

Obviously a multi talented chap, Rae himself sewed the first five stitches on 6 September 2007, before handing it over to the experts – his wife Leeza and his mother Ann, along with Louisa and Lara Jamieson. The next 361,885 stitches took 2,448 hours, before Rae took the glory of making the last five.

“It’s an amazing piece of work. I’m just glad I wasn’t paying them,” he quipped in front of the invited guests at Lerwick Town Hall, before showing off the four additional embroidered banners he had demanded to make his parade complete, inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry that marked a different invasion of Norse men, the Normans.

Convener Sandy Cluness acknowledged the family tradition that was so evident, his own experience resonating with the Jarl’s family saga. “I have to confess a degree of sympathy for Sigurd’s old dad Ragnar. He ended his career in a pit of serpents calling himself an old bore. I often feel the same way at council meetings.”

The Jarl was quick to point out that his mythical father had called himself an “old boar”, but the point was made.

Amongst this year’s guests were former Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, born and brought up in Shetland. Sandy remembered him from school, when he was known as “peerie Norrie”.

Special mention was also made of two great Up Helly Aa stalwarts who passed away during the last 12 months – the designer of the town hall’s stained glass windows Harry Tait and the popular torchmaker Mitnie Grant.

Still with us, attending his 82nd fire festival is William “Feejur” Tait, never missing the occasion since carrying the fiddle box in 1928. Guizer Jarl in 1960, he’s still intent on dancing at every hall tonight.

Rae gave a brief version of the tale behind his character for the day, born with the mark of the ourobouros – a snake eating itself – encircling the pupil of his left eye, as prophesied by his mother. Sigurd avenged his father’s death by sentencing his killer King Ella to the “blood eagle”, too gruesome a demise for inclusion in these pages.

Before drinking everyone’s health from the same galley that has touched the lips of his forebears, he thanked his men, his women and all the visitors, some of whom have travelled thousands of miles to attend the largest event of its kind.

He even managed to thank his weather forecaster – “…he promised me a good day back last year and he wasn’t far wrong…” – before heading out through the wind and rain for the schools, the hospitals and the old folks’ homes… the grand procession and a night of revelry.