Sunday, 29 November 2015
Winter is making itself known in these parts, with hail, snow and thunderstorms. Thunderstorms usually occur in the islands in winter, as hailstones moving up and down in the atmosphere gather up static electricity, which discharges as lightning. Summer storms, which are due to the build up of heat and humidity, are rare here. Late November is a normal time of year for the first flurries of snow, and today's low temperatures are nothing out of the ordinary either. On the Scottish mainland, the snow has been more of an issue; severe gales over England and Wales compounding the weather problems there, although no snow there. Today's weather is part of a huge weather system, which stretches all the way southwest across the Atlantic. The Caribbean island of Curacao has suffered severe thunderstorms, which have led to flooding - all part of the same frontal zone. The hurricane season in both the Atlantic and Eastern and Central Pacific basins is drawing to a quiet close, as of tomorrow.
Saturday, 28 November 2015
Had a simple meal tonight, consisting of broth, lamb, potatoes and vegetables. A typical island meal in by-gone days. An equally typical meal would consist of salt herring, potatoes and milk. I have also had salt mackerel, instead of herring. Mackerel fishing is easy, you just hang a line with hooks in the sea, and within moments, you'll have as many mackerel as you have hooks. However, you have to salt them quickly. In days gone by, salmon was regarded as the poor man's fish - in contrast to today's perception. If you had to eat salmon it meant you were too poor to afford a boat to go out to sea. Porridge is another stand by - many have it with salt, but I prefer it with sugar or syrup. Stornoway Black Pudding? Too rich for my liking.
So now the Turks and the Russians are eye-balling each other over Syria. Personally, I think the Turks went way over the top by downing that Russian jet. On the other hand, the Russians have been taunting the Turks from the moment they arrived on the scene over Syria, with one incursion of Turkish airspace after another. Meanwhile, the Islamic State terrorists are laughing up their sleeves. Wouldn't it be a lovely coup, if the two big men of the East, Russia and Turkey, came to real blows over this? However, this is all but a distraction from the real issue. You don't defeat ISIS with aerial bombardment. Boots on the grounds are required, and it will have to be regional forces, not the blunderbusses from America or Europe. We are in danger of a repeat of the events in the wake of 9/11, when a knee-jerk response from the USA, however understandable, led to the invasion of Iraq. In my mind, that was the action which indirectly led to the establishment of the ISIS group. Saddam Hussein was a horrible despot - but he had at least the sagacity to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, turning them into weapons of mass delusion. In 2003, he was hamstrung and virtually unable to move. It would have been better if he had been left in place. However, Saddam Hussein was strung up in December 2006, and nobody bemoans his death. What took his place was an ineffectual government, riddled with religious strife, which allowed ISIS, upon its establishment a few years ago, to quickly take over swathes of its territory. Syria was and is being ruled by another despot, Assad, whom we wanted to bomb out in 2012. And look who is now regarded as a useful despot? The same Mr Assad. Back in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein was regarded as a useful despot, a buffer against the screaming lunacy of Iran's islamic revolution. When his usefulness expired, he was discarded. Assad is useful against ISIS. If and when they are eradicated from the face of this earth, he will be discarded as well. Let's hope we manage this without stumbling into a confrontation between Russia and other powers in the region if not the world at large.
Thursday, 26 November 2015
Today is Thanksgiving in the island, a religious occasion, not necessarily anything to do with the consumption of turkeys. Some 10 years ago, shops would still close at lunchtime to allow people to observe the occasion. Schools now close on the Friday and following Monday for the holiday. This is one of four times in the year when the island communions are on; remember that Lewis, Harris and North Uist are staunchly presbyterian. I'm faintly disgusted with the overt references to Black Friday, that have surfaced in commercial Britain, which has been borrowed from the USA. In the States, Thanksgiving is connected with the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers in America. In the Hebrides, it is purely religious.
Television is a relative late-comer to the Outer Hebrides. In the 1960s, two enterprising gents set up a television relay in the town of Stornoway, with a receiver on a hill overlooking the town. Signals from a transmitter on the mainland were then fed round town by cable, to whoever was prepared for them. In certain weather conditions, it was possible to get TV reception without this relay, but islanders beyond the town had to wait until 1972, when the transmitter tower at Eitsal, outside the village of Achmore, was taken into service. Eitsal is a hill rising to 700 feet above sealevel, and with the tower rising another 700 feet, its top stands 1400 feet high. The transmitter serves an area of the Scottish mainland, still more than 45 miles away, as well as most of Lewis, Harris and parts of the southern isles. The transmitter was converted to digital television when the national switch-over from analogue to digital occurred in 2010. Those who are out of 'sight' of Eitsal tend to use satellite receivers, from e.g. Sky, for their TV needs. Freeview, the digital TV service in the UK, offers a good range of channels for nothing - Sky subscriptions can become very expensive very quickly.
Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Politics is a fickle game. Back in 2012, there was a move for the Royal Air Force to become involved in a bombing campaign in Syria. The object was to oust dictator Assad from power. He was such a horrible man, using chemical weapons and barrel bombs against his own people, just because they did not agree with his politics. How things change. Here we are in November 2015, and there is a bombing campaign going on against a terrorist organisation that calls itself Islamic State, and all of a sudden Mr Assad is the good guy that is supposed to help us suppress IS. Isn't it weird though that the one constant in this whole game has been a certain chap by the name of Vladimir Putin, who, at last check, was president of Russia. He opposed the bombing of Assad in 2012, and is now bombing everybody opposed to Assad - including IS. For international consumption, he stresses the bombing of IS, and certainly for internal consumption as well, after a Russian airliner was brought down by IS-affiliated terrorists in the Sinai, Egypt. We can expect the RAF to become involved in the bombing campaign, and this should be seen as being in support of Assad. Nobody, apart from Syria's army and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, are in position to take on IS on the ground. And on the ground is where they will be beaten in the end. Meanwhile, where is that coward who shed his suicide vest in Paris, rather than using it to blow himself up on November 13th? Anybody, in Brussels particularly?
Monday, 23 November 2015
The word dreich came in handy to describe today. Grey, drizzly, windy when appropriate. The last days of November, when daylight hours are at a premium, frequently become like that. On really dark days, the streetlights may come on during the day. It is the reverse of late May, when the light never seems to fade. I don't actually mind this time of year (too much). I watched the ferry go out first thing this morning, at 7 o'clock, in darkness, and daylight didn't put in an appearance until nearly 8. The weather did brighten up later in the afternoon, but by that time it was 4 o'clock - and time for the sun to go down. Many people don't venture out too much, other than to do their Christmas shopping. Yes, I'm generalising here. We have a free newspaper here, called Events, which lists everything that's going on in Lewis and Harris. And you'd be surprised!
Sunday, 22 November 2015
Stornoway on a Sunday is a quiet wee place. Our town, population 9,000, falls quiet on the Day of the Sabbath. Those so inclined go to church, at 11 am and at 6 pm. Those without transport and not able to walk the distance are taken to church by minibus, driven by volunteers. Otherwise, the public bus service does not operate at all. Until 2006, there was no ferry in Lewis or Harris; it was in that year that the Leverburgh to Berneray ferry commenced Sunday sailings. The Stornoway to Ullapool ferry began Sunday operations in 2009, with Tarbert to Skye commencing a few years ago. When you go for a walk around town on a Sunday, the streets will be deserted. The shopping precinct, which stretches along Cromwell Street and out to Bayhead, as well as along Point Street, Francis Street and North and South Beach, are shuttered and empty. Fishing boats sometimes do put to sea, or come in, but otherwise it's utter calm. Even the supermarkets are closed; the only shop open is a filling station which has a wee shop on the premises. In summer, tourists can be seen wandering the streets, looking for a restaurant or a pub to open. Restaurants open from late afternoon; pubs also open in the afternoon. The sports centre is closed, leading to acid comments that you can get drunk on the Sabbath, but not do anything healthy. Is anything likely to change? In the 11 years I've been here, there have been subtle changes, and more will come. Are shops likely to open on Sundays in the near future? I don't hope so. Not out of religious fervour, but just to have one day where everything is quiet. The ferry leaving port at 2.30pm, and returning at 9pm, does not bother anybody.
Saturday, 21 November 2015
First snow of winter 2015/16 fell in the night, and we woke up to a dusting of the white stuff on roads, pavements and hillsides. It was cold, just on freezing, and it took the sun a little while to lift the mercury off zero. Snow is a pain if you have to travel by road or rail, but when it is freshly fallen, it is just beautiful. So calm. The calmness of winter, having settled down from the raucousness of autumn. Oh, autumn is not done with us yet, it'll be back in the new week with more gales and rain. But this first taste of winter was nice. I like the way the seasons change. I'd be bored with sunshine and warmth every day of the year.