The band on the Victoria Pier stage gets most of the cold crowd's attention. The fiddler's wearing fingerless gloves; the singer's hood's hooked on her head. Half the audience is in the steamy beer tent. The rain sweeps down on the other half, and the northerly bells out the flagged rigging in tense, shivering arcs on 47 tall ships.
The audience stamp and sway and yell and whistle but half the collective consciousness is always going to be distracted, glancing all about to see who's joining the crowd, who's fraying away. The influx of new souls that have come with the boats have changed the dynamic, too, like a sudden plankton bloom. There's face-painters, bands, crews, food sellers, fairground rides, craft stalls; man on stilts, person with a puffin's head. There's a guy clinging to a hauled anchor, painting it black. There's the fisheries boat. A container ship passing up. The Bressay ferry trundling back and fore. Ropes slapping in the wind.
And folk. Colleagues and bosses from all the jobs you've ever done, and there are the dear friends and the ones you like but never seem to see and the surprising number of faces you don't know. Folk you know but don't recognise until the last minute because of the waterproofs cinched tight about their faces. Ones who've moved away but come back for Tall Ships. People who are good at names, and people who are good at faces. People who are good at both, or ones like me who are good at neither. Local celebrities. Neighbours and their families. The friends who give you a home. The friends who tell you what you want to hear and those who tell you what you don't want to hear, and the ones that listen, and the ones that don't, but make you laugh, and there are the ones whose communication is coded and clever, talking on one level and meaning on another, and the ones who are completely transparent in all their communication. There are the ex's and the new partners, and the ones terrified of running into them; and there are more whose losses are more present and more painful.
This hyper-sensitive consciousness, generously and necessarily aware of other lives, is always vulnerable. The Town Hall flag's at half mast, and everyone is thinking of Norway.