Title picture: Sunrise, Stornoway, 24 November 2016

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

January 2005 storm - in memoriam

On Tuesday 11 January 2005, we were about to experience the worst storms in 50 years. At 3pm, exactly as forecast, the wind whipped up to hurricane force. Powerlines went down all over the island, leaving people without electricity for anything between a few hours and up to 6 days. Property damage was widespread and severe.

Staying in South Lochs at the time, I lost power at 6.20 that evening, not to get it back for 48 hours. From the darkness, I could see blue flashing lights across Loch Erisort. Later, it became clear that this was the police, closing the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road. A lorry driver had reported as sheep flying past his windscreen. The driver on the last bus into South Lochs had a terrifying time keeping his vehicle on the straight and narrow.

By 6pm, people in Stornoway were physically blown off their feet. Some sustained injuries as a result. Trees in the Castle Grounds were falling like match sticks, boats were ripped off their moorings and tossed onto the harbour wall at the Newton Basin. Flooding affected the town centre.
Down in the Southern Isles, a family of five found their home in Iochdar, South Uist, being pounded by pebbles and flying spray from the nearby sea. A flurry of phonecalls arranged a move across the causeway into Benbecula. Two cars would carry the grandfather, two parents and two young children across the few miles.

Dawn broke at 9 o’clock. The islanders, from Barra to Lewis, were mentioning that it had been a particularly nasty one, and people were comparing notes what damage everyone had sustained. A phonecall disturbed the sense of relief. People were reported missing in South Uist. A search party started combing the South Ford, which separates Benbecula from South Uist. The bodies of five people were found in the course of the next few days. They were those of a grandfather, two parents and their young children.

The funeral service, a few days later, was attended by 1,500 people, one out of every three islanders in the Southern Isles. Only 500 could actually enter the church, the rest followed the service outside, as it was relayed through loudspeakers.

Total damage was estimated to be worth £15 million, including severe storm damage to the causeway system stretching from Berneray to Eriskay. Repairs are only now being carried out.

This post is dedicated to the memory of those lost in the Iochdar tragedy.

(Annual repost)

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Christmas & New Year

I am not blogging regularly these days, but as I am travelling to Holland today (21st December), I shall reopen my Shell Gallery blog for any updates. I'll see you all there.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Old teachers

Learned that the headmaster of my secondary school died a few days ago at the age of 83. Yes, I left school that long ago. He was a nice man, whom I met a number of times in recent years during my Christmas visits to Holland. Not the last few years, as he was in a nursing home. I'm a little sad. 

I also remember my maths teacher, who passed away a year after I left school. He was a formidable north country man, who was dedicated to his final year-students. Although very ill with stomach cancer (I later learned) he came in specially for us. He gave me the insight in the world of algebra, differential and integral calculus as well as trigonometry that had eluded me for so long. I remember him with respect.

Then there was the religious education teacher who did not read the Bible with us, but insisted on showing us videos about real life. About sex. About what goes on inside the oven of a crematorium during the incineration of a body. I had to write an essay about Mahatma Gandhi (at the age of 17), for which I was granted 10/10, as it was 20 pages long. But he did wonder whether I had actually learned something from him. Not at the time. I have now.

Not all my teachers were wonderful. Some smoked in class - this was the late 70s, early 80s. Two got into a fight with a pupil. That is unforgivable, and unspeakable. I don't think either of them are still alive, and I quite frankly don't really care. Neither do I care much about the bearded geography teacher who got pissed off with the know-all that was me who knew all the answers to his questions, and finally shut me up by saying "would you like to take my position in front of this class?" 

Tragedy struck at least once, when a fellow pupil was cycling along a road and a car driver opened his door into his path. The lad was knocked off his bike and promptly run over by a car coming in the opposite direction. He died later that night. I sometimes think about him, he had a whacky sense of humour.

Hilarity was also not far off, particularly when we went on a schooltrip at age 12. We went to the Ardennes (a very hilly area in eastern Belgium) and were made to walk the Hautes Fagnes. That translates as the High Bogs. We slept in youth hostels, and the one at Bevercé (near Malmédy) was less than clean. But, horror upon horror, whispered the boys and girls, there was a boy and a girl who had snogged. And had S. E. X. Just as well we had to do more walking the next day. The journey home was punctuated by the radio on board the coach playing "Dancing Queen" by ABBA. And that's where I'll end this trip down memory lane.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Of mice and men

In my years in Stornoway, I have witnessed the publication of varying schemes to enhance the economy and employment in Lewis. One of the most publicised of these is everything to do with windfarms. One was mooted that would have seen 180 turbines, standing 450 feet tall, marching from Port of Ness in the north to Bragar in the west and Stornoway in the south. Never came to be. What we have now is about 20 turbines, scattered across the island and not many more able to be built due to the lack of a high-voltage cable to the mainland. That will cost over £1 billion, and the likelihood of it ever coming to pass is asymptotically close to zero.

Next we have the Arnish Fabrication Yard, a revolving door if ever I saw one. At one point, it was going to be the base where all the aforementioned 180 turbines were going to be built. When that disappeared, it was going to be a renewables base offering work to 3,500 men. Well, the current unemployment figure in the Western Isles stands at 500. The AFY now has about 70 on its roll, working on a project - and they'll be laid off once complete. Four years ago, a site for industry was excavated on the road into the AFY, but that is yet to be put into use. Perhaps the electrical infrastructure for the interconnector (subsea high voltage cable) is going to be put there. I refer to the likelihood of said cable ever being laid.

So, now Stornoway Port Authority has mooted some great looking plans to expand marina capacity. A new marina in the Newton Basin, and another one off Gob Inacleit, better known as The Battery, and not as Sandwick Village. The latter one looks a bit iffy, as very exposed to swells in the Minch at times of high winds. I hold out more hope for the Newton development, as that also includes expansion of the slipway and hard standing for boats. SPA itself is more bullish about the proposals for Glumag Harbour, where a quay for large cruiseliners is to be built, with facilities for offshore industries. Just one little snag. Money.

I realise that my piece has more than a slight whiff of negativity about it, born of experience through observation. I can't help noting that there is a degree of fixation on renewables, all heavily dependent on subsidies which are beginning to dry up. I am still hoping for a more flexible approach, taking the bigger picture into account, without looking at specific interest groups. That has done untold damage to the island economy.

Saturday, 10 December 2016


It was reported today that hackers, allegedly operating on behalf of the Russian government, managed to influence the outcome of the American presidential election. Their findings were handed over to Wikileaks, who published the relevant material. This made a couple of things clear to me.

Hilary Clinton had too much baggage from the past, waiting to be unearthed, to be a safe candidate that would stand up to scrutiny. She failed in that regard. The Democratic Party made a definite mistake in putting her forward. Oh, don't get me wrong - I like Donald Trump even less.

The Russian government, in its dealings with rival countries (like America and the European states), has decided that direct, military confrontation, is not going to work. NATO has been flexing its muscles directly on Russia's borders, with the Baltic states, in the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis of 2014.

So, weakening is in order, and it is beginning to look that it is in the Kremlin's interest to have a weak president, Donald Trump, in the White House. Further interference is becoming apparent in the German elections in autumn 2017, with ferreting being detected against Angela Merkel.

The Brexit phenomenon will weaken, if not cause the demise of, the European Union in the next decade or so. The Brexit poll, heavily slanted on the nationalist angle, will see its reflection in the Dutch parliamentary election in March, with anti-Islam and anti-immigrant candidate Geert Wilders, likely to end up with the largest number of seats. I'm not suggesting any Russian interference in the Netherlands, they are unwittingly doing the Kremlin's job themselves.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

St Andrews Day 2016

Last day of November is the national day for Scotland. I have nothing against national pride, but I do have something against nationalism. I am pleased to note, though, that the nationalist government at Holyrood [Edinburgh] is losing relevance at a rate of knots. Knots being what the administration is tying itself into, with inconsistency being the common denominator.

Today is a grey and overcast day in Stornoway, with a breeze whistling through the streets, blowing the last of the dried out husks of leaves in front of it. This autumn has been quiet, with only one episode approximating a gale in it. I am making no predictions for the winter.

Today is also the last day of the hurricane season in the Atlantic, Eastern and Central Pacific basins. The southern hemisphere season starts in earnest in December, what is the start of their summer.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Monday 28 November

November is coming to a calm close, here in the Outer Hebrides. The tourists have long gone, the roads have reverted to commuter routes, and not a bicycle to be seen. Apart from those ridden by local residents, who are easily picked out as not carrying large amounts of luggage. Darkness falls before 4pm at this time of the year, and ice has been a regular occurrence in the mornings and late evenings. It has even claimed the lives of a married couple in the village of Gravir, who appear to have slipped and fallen badly late one evening. They were laid to rest in the village cemetery last Friday. May they rest in peace.

Glen Ouirn, Gravir, July 2007