View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Front page

Yes, I have gone bananas with a picture of Dalbeg Beach to suit the title of my blog - Atlantic Lines. I realise it's a bit huge, so I'll be tweaking it over the next few days.

Looking back

Just copying a few entries from 16 November of previous years in Lewis.

In 2004, I had just arrived in the island, and had proceeded to the village of Kershader, some 22 miles south of Stornoway. I was to stay there for nearly 3 months, through winter in this building, the Ravenspoint Centre.

Here is the diary entry for the day

Tuesday 16 November 2004

Woke up to a guy shouting abuse in his sleep, and someone else shooshing him. The two American ladies collected their car at 8.30, declining my offer of being their guide. I set off downtown sunny Stornoway / Steornabhagh. First to the library for a full hour's worth of Internet use. Had about 40 emails waiting. Then to various bookshops, one of which stocked Soil and Soul, a landmark work by Alistair McIntosh. He is not well known outside this region, but is a staunch campaigner for community ownership. He supported the community buy-out of the Isle of Eigg in 1996/7, and managed to stop the development of the Lingerabay superquarry. This would have seen the demolition of an entire mountain for the sake of acquiring aggregates for the building of houses and roads in the UK and beyond. I also unearthed a compilation CD by Capercaillie, my favourite folk / fusion group from these parts. Went to a gig by them, as some know, back in January. Didn't walk back to my digs, no danced home. Just as well it was 11.30pm. It's no use having a CD without the means of listening to it, so I also acquired a portable CD-player. Then there was the matter of my 3 disposable cameras, all used up, which needed to be developed and printed. I would have preferred the images to be on CD-ROM, but that means you have to wait for 3-4 days, and I don't work that far in advance with regards to planning. One shop could develop & print in 2 hours, but not the CD-ROM. Sod it, I went for the prints. The most important one is attached to this journal entry [amendment 16/11/08: this was not the case]. Then I went on a walk down the harbourfront as far as the old powerstation. Sat down on the seawall and was duly joined by a nice tortoiseshell cat, a neutered tom. He rubbed against me as I sat nibbling my sandwiches, wanted to be scratched on the head and a general fuss. After that, he went down the steps to the shore, only to bolt back up them a minute later and disappear into the estate behind me. Strange animal. My bus left town at 2.20pm, heading down the road towards Tarbert. I got off at Balallan (Baile Ailean), to join the little bus into South Lochs. Recognized the driver from years ago. A ten minute journey brought me to Cearsiadar - just say KerSHAder. The hostel is part of a community building also encompassing a shop and a cafe. The volunteers in the shop also run the hostel, which is simple but comfortable. Oh, the only uncomfortable thing about the hostel is the chairs. Eugh. After a longish chat, I went inside. A run-down of things not to do:

- don't close the kitchendoor, the handle is broken

- don't switch off the light in the stairwell

- don't use the shower upstairs

- don't use the third bedroom

- don't leave the central heating on if you don't need it

Ah, it's all a laugh, really. There are only two people in the hostel now, a guy called Joe and myself. He is going round the island looking for a job and a place to live. Exchanged some stories over dinner. Joe cooked onions and potatoes with mince and shandy to drink. The television provided some entertainment, but that was about it for the night.

November evening

Whilst our American friends are beginning to eye up Thanksgiving, here in the UK, it is still more than a month to Christmas. Yes, I've mentioned the C-word. Personally, I do not contemplate Christmas until December 6th.

Here in Lewis, Thanksgiving is also observed on the last Thursday in November. It usually means a day off school for the children, as some may be required to attend communions in church. Shops tend to close after lunch (except for supermarkets and the like). Communions are held every three months.

In Holland, where I am from, Thanksgiving is not a commonly observed religious festival. It is mentioned on the church calendar in September (much like the Harvest Festival in the Church of England, but without the display of harvested goodies). In the Roman Catholic parts of the country, south of the Great Rivers (Rhine, Waal and Maas), the festival of St Maarten / St Martin was held on November 11th.
The above image shows St Maarten giving his cloak to a man without one.

The next festival on the Dutch calendar is Sinterklaas / St Nicholas, the eve of whose nameday is celebrated on December 5th. Yesterday, Sinterklaas arrived in Holland on a steamship, surrounded by a posse of helpers known as Black Peters. St Nicholas ostensibly arrives from Spain, and in the 8th century the Iberian peninsula was ruled by dark-skinned men from North Africa called the Moors. Officially, St Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (modern-day Smyrna in Turkey) but his bones were spirited out of Turkey to Spain after his death.

Sinterklaas will bring a sack full of presents for all children in Holland (Belgium and Germany) on the steamboat, but will fill his sack with children who have been bad in the past year, to take back to Spain. Black Peter, a sort of bogeyman, will make sure it will be filled up to the brim. He will also assist Sinterklaas as he rides his white charger along the rooftops, to drop presents down the chimneys. Only children who leave a carrot for the horse in their shoe will wake up to find a present the next morning.
Sinterklaas, St Nicholas and Santa Claus are in fact one and the same. Sinterklaas will have disappeared on the morning of December 6th.

AOL journals

I have written a Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post regarding the recent demise of AOL Journals. I cannot publish its contents under the terms of service of the Post, but rest assured I have been politely scathing. If anyone else wants to summarise their feelings in 200 words (yep, that's the limit of a submission to the Post), feel free to contact

Sunday 16 November

Quiet day with a bit of brightness about. The weather is set to take a turn for the worse, with a lot of rain and wind about as the new week commences, and a cold snap by the next weekend. I gather that the east of the USA has also had its first taste of winter, judging by the huge low pressure area headed east out of Labrador this afternoon. It will head north into Greenland, where it will be split in two; the eastern segment will bring us winter by the weekend.

Still on the subject of weather, I am watching a tropical cyclone (not more than a tropical storm at present) which has been drenching the Philippines over the past few days. It has turned into tropical storm 26W (meaning there have been 26 cyclones in the Western Pacific this year), and will cross the Mekong Delta, then the Malay Peninsula and could end up in the Bay of Bengal.