Along the Pentland Road, 25 May 2017

Wednesday, 31 January 2018


Although away from the island, I do keep an eye on what goes on there. Two things jumped out at me in recent weeks.

First, a visitor centre related to the Iolaire Disaster is to be built in Stornoway. I have frequently highlighted this tragedy over the years I've been in the island. Next New Year, 2019, it will be exactly a century ago the sinking of the HMY Iolaire off Holm Point. The 205 souls lost are currently commemorated in graveyards across Lewis, as well as in the memorial on Holm Point. It is good that more prominence is being give to this key event in the island's history. I completely understand why people were previously reluctant to discuss this; grief is a private matter. However, with the passage of time, it is perhaps appropriate to share it with the world, thereby lessening its poignancy. I hope so.

Secondly, the arts centre An Lanntair opened last Sunday, 28th January, to screen a film. This gave rise to vocal protests by Sabbaterians, who feel that this is a violation of the Sabbath. I can never help but note that pubs are also open on a Sunday in Stornoway.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

January 2018

I left Stornoway on November 16th, 2017 for family reasons. There are also personal reasons for this protracted absence from the island, and from this blog. Currently in Holland, I would normally refer to the Shell Gallery blog as per previous years, but I am not blogging there either. Facebook is my primary medium at present. My heart remains in the Hebrides, even if I'm not there.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

9 November - Reichskristallnacht

9 November 1938 has gone down in history as the Night of Broken Glass [Kristallnacht]. That night, an organised mob of Nazi forces and sympathisers went on the rampage in towns and cities across Germany, smashing and destroying Jewish-owned property and businesses. It was a foretaste of what was to come during World War II. The extermination of anyone deemed sub-human by the warped mind of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. Jews topped their league of the unfit, closely followed by gypsies, the mentally ill and many many others. The Reichskristallnacht was a night of infamy, and not just to Germany.

Hitler had already been allowed to get away with murder for several years beforehand. In 1936, he occupied the Rhineland which had been ceded to France at the end of the First World War. The League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations, cried wolf but had no bite. On 12 March 1938, Nazi forces marched into Austria to join that country to Germany, an event referred to as the Anschluss. Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler on 30 September 1938, returning with the infamous phrase: "Peace for our time". Six weeks later, the Reichskristallnacht took place. Only a few months later, Germany invaded the Sudetenland area of Czecho-Slovakia, and again, nobody moved a finger to stop. In September 1939, Hitler thought he could get away with the invasion of Poland. But this time, it prompted a declaration of war, signalling the outbreak of the Second World War.

The lights have gone out in Europe, it was said at the time. The lights in Europe had already been extinguished in 1914, and had not been relit, not even at the end of the First World War. The Versailles Peace Treaty of June 1919 contained all the ingredients for another war, which duly materialised.

After the unspeakable atrocities of the Second World War, Germany was divided into four by the victorious allies. The British, French and American sectors became West Germany, whilst the Soviet sector was turned into East Germany, a communist state. Berlin was similarly divided. Until 1961, people from the East fled to the West in droves. A barrier was erected across Berlin in August 1961, later replaced by a high, concrete wall. Similar barriers were put up along the borders between East and West Germany. Anyone trying to flee from East to West was shot on sight, no questions asked. The advent of Mikhail Gorbatchov as leader of the USSR in the 1980s heralded a start of change. And when this wind of change blew across eastern Europe, it blew away all the communist regimes within the space of a few months in 1989.

The Berlin Wall was torn down on 9 November 1989, and you can see the dilemma. Do we remember the Kristallnacht, and not celebrate the reunification of Germany? Do we celebrate the reunification, and ignore the Night of Broken Glass? Maybe the two can be reconciled.

The Berliners remember the Kristallnacht in a very low-key but poignant manner. Every year, in the evening of November 9th, candles are left on the doorsteps of houses that were ransacked that night.

The flame, burning at the top of this post, is my candle of remembrance for Kristallnacht.

Friday, 3 November 2017

Friday 3 November

The clocks went back on Sunday, and the sun is now setting at 4.30pm. At solstice time, in 6 weeks from now, sunset will occur at 3.35pm. We are now into the short days leading up to Christmas; Hallowe'en has been and gone, and Guy Fawkes (an English phenomenon) will be celebrated this weekend. On 5 November 1605, Guy Fawkes had planned to blow up Parliament in London; but it all went horribly wrong and he met his end on 31 January 1606. A fireworks display commemorates this event. Looking across the North Sea, St Nicholas will put in an appearance around November 18th, with a reigniting of the debate whether Black Peter should be black, and (more to the point) whether St Nicholas European style should be superceded by St Nicholas American style (Father Christmas).

Friday, 27 October 2017

Friday 27 October

In these islands we rely on ferries for all our supplies, both of goods and of people. During the winter months, these ships all have to undergo their annual overhaul in a drydock. This means that other vessels have to cover a run whilst the regular ship is away. Here in Stornoway, this means that we now have our old ferry Isle of Lewis. Things have not been going smoothly this week; the boat has been an hour late coming in on its evening call. Ferry company Caledonian Macbrayne have this SMS (text message) service which advises those who wish to be informed of disruptions. They do get it wrong.

Yesterday, the message read that MV Isle of Lewis had arrived in Ullapool at 1734 (5.34pm) and departed Stornoway at 1818 (6.18pm). Now that's a fast turn-around. Discharging and loading the vessel, sailing the 50 miles to Stornoway, then discharging and loading again and sailing once more, all in the space of 43 minutes? Wow!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Wednesday 25 October

A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a local friend. The lady in question was only 55, and although I was aware of long-standing health problems, her death came as a shock. What came as an even bigger shock was the funeral. The attendance was close to 1,000 which did not fit into the building of the Free Church Continuing in Sandwick. The deceased had been a pillar of the local community, being active in all sorts of roles. She was a well-liked and respected figure, so the fleeting, single reference to her name was took my breath away. That was the only time she was referred directly. In certain parts of presbyterian Scotland, when you have died, the remains have to be put in earth - the soul has departed. Until recently, graves were hardly if ever revisited. I don't want to appear disrespectful - it is one of my cast-iron principles to live and let live - but it rather jarred with the personality of the deceased.

I am aware I have now published two posts on the subject of death, so I'll try to change the topic.


Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Tuesday 24 October

A few weeks ago, I was given the opportunity for a lift to the district of Uig, 35 miles west of Stornoway. It was a cold, windy afternoon, and the village of Erista (where I was dropped off) lies at an exposed altitude of 60 metres (200 feet) above sealevel. It felt positively cold when I ambled down the road past the old church (now being converted into other uses) and down to the former manse, Baile na Cille. That's Gaelic for Church Town. It features a small but ancient burial ground on a promontory above the Uig Sands. Visibility was not that great, and I've been there before in brighter conditions. My lift-givers were visiting an ageing relative whose memories of recent past were dim, but very clear on the distant past. It resonated with me that the very old among us are lonely at the top, looking down and back at their past. In the case of the person I'm talking about, they looked down on the village of their youth. From a "great" height. A height that will soon become insurmountable. Personal circumstances also echoed, as I have relatives in similar circumstances. My gloomy mood was not improved by the realisation that this was one of the last sights seen in his life by Torsten Kulke, the German man who went missing on cliffs at nearby Aird Uig in July. His remains washed up round the corner on Cliff Beach.

PA149788 Road to Aird Uig (right)
PA149782 Former Uig church at Timsgarry
PA149783 Uig Sands, with Baile na Cille bottom right
PA149780 Baile na Cille cemetery
PA149771 Bay at Baile na Cille