View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Saturday, 31 October 2009

If you're in the States

Don't forget to put your clocks back one hour - we already did that in Europe last week, so you can do it as well. Trust me, you can.

A 78-piece set of cutlery

Was removed from a woman's stomach, according to The Sun newspaper. Not one of my regular sources of information (their claim to fame is a bare-chested lady on page three). However, the woman who was the subject of the newsitem in the Sun had been swallowing forks and spoons, so had to go under the knife (sigh, I know) to have them removed. It appears she was suffering from a psychological disorder.

A year ago today

All our blogs were being erased from AOL's servers. A few days ago, Yahoo closed down their Geocities websites, but at least they were being archived. Our journals were summarily deleted. Why they could not just be archived as well is beyond me. The result has been a depletion of regular bloggers, if only because a large number of us have moved on to Facebook and a few to Twitter. Others have simply stopped blogging. A great shame, and very poor customer service from AOL.

Anyway, let's not look back in anger, and move forward.

Tomorrow is All Hallows, when we remember those that went before us. Let us keep in thought those who are trying to come to terms with a loss of a loved one, whether this be recently or in the more distant past.

Saturday 31 October

Happy Halloween to all who celebrate. Please keep it nice.

Typhoon Mirinae has barged through the Philippines, and has left 10 people dead in Quezon Province. The storm is currently headed west, away from the archipelago, and will reach Vietnam in a few days' time. Mirinae is the 4th typhoon to hit the Philippines within 2 months. As you know, I monitor tropical cyclones closely. My relays on the Tropical Cyclones blog make for dreary reading, and hide the impact such systems have on people on the ground. The Philippines are squarely in the firing line, and flooding is always the most severe impact that typhoons have there. The website of the Philippine National Disaster Coordinating Committee, which yielded the above casualty figures, reveals what actually happened.

This entry is dedicated to the memory of
Sarah Mae Vargas and Rodrigo Rodriguez, Camarines Norte; hypothermia
- Louie Alano, Catanduanes; Hypothermia
- Flora Estacion, Camarines Norte; Drowning
- Tirso Ramos, Cavite; fell from roof
- Edsel Laviña and Roderico Cabardo, Laguna; drowned
- Marge Taiño and Julieta Zagure, Laguna; pinned under collapsed wall
- Edwin Capayas, Quezon; drowned

Friday, 30 October 2009

Friday 30 October

Wet and windy today, and it will get a lot windier before the day is out. We are under warning for a gale this afternoon, after this load of rain has gone through. It is autumn and don't we know it. Typhoon season continues apace in the Pacific, with typhoon Mirinae barreling into the Philippines, bringing winds of 100 mph and double digit (in inches) rainfall figures.

The Internet could see the advent of website addresses in scripts other than Latin (what you are reading now). Russian, Arabic and Chinese will be introduced on November 16th, and URL's in those scripts will appear by the middle of next year. Half of all internet users use an alphabet other than Latin.

More later.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Archers - Phil Archer's actor dies

To those in the UK, Radio 4's soap opera "The Archers" is an institution. First aired in 1950, the agrisoap is an almost daily companion after the 7pm news, with the strains of Arthur Wood's "Barwick Green" heralding the start of 15 minutes of trial, tribulations, love, hate and intrigue. The Archers is the longest running soap, nearly 60 years on radio. One of its principal characters was the patriarchal Phil Archer, portrayed by Norman Painting - and the BBC announced this evening that he has died at the age of 85, following a 9-year battle with bladder cancer. Painting wrote nearly 1,000 scripts for the series, and recorded his last episode on Tuesday. This will be broadcast on 22 November.

I have listened to the Archers for 26 years, and although "Phil Archer" had only rarely been making an appearance, I was sorry to hear that the actor, Norman Painting, had died.

Thursday 29 October

Overcast with only the odd drop of rain. Although it is only ten past four, it is already getting dark and in a minute, I'll have to put on the lights. The lighthouse across the bay is already working, as is the beacon in the shipping channel beside it. Temperatures are quite acceptable for late October, with the mercury at 14C.

A St Kilda centre is likely to be built in Lewis. A project group has researched three applications, from Leverburgh (Harris), Cleitreval (North Uist) and Mangersta (Lewis), for locations for such a centre. Placing it in St Kilda itself is not practicable, due to the remoteness of the archipelago - 45 miles away in the Atlantic, and more often than not inaccessible as a result of inclement conditions. Mangersta is a small township in the far west of Lewis, 40 miles west of Stornoway. On a clear day, St Kilda is visible from there. The island was evacuated in 1930, at the request of the population. At the centre, to be built at Mangersta, life and culture on St Kilda is to be celebrated.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Wednesday 28 October

A quiet day with not much happening in the world of the Western Isles. It is milder than of late, with the mercury at the dizzying height of 13C / 55F. The birds are all aflutter around the birdfeeder, and the starlings are going to town on a lard-based feeder. When the sun rises again tomorrow morning, they'll have the added benefit of a feeder full of peanuts and another lard ball on the tree. The squabbles and squeaking around the tree will be even louder than today's, I'm sure.

BBC Highland's newsreader garbled up the name of a particular breed of sheep, which forages on St Kilda. Rather than calling them by their proper name of Soay Sheep, he referred to them as Soya [sic] sheep. This had to do with a unique breed of mouse, the St Kilda field mouse. The house mouse of those islands died out shortly after people left in 1930.

Piracy remains a major problem in the Indian Ocean, east of Somalia. A yacht, carrying an elderly British couple, has been seized by the pirates and is being tracked at a distance by a European Naval Force. Meanwhile, closer to home, a skull-and-crossbones flag that had been flying over Inverness was lowered after a former seaman protested, saying that piracy was no laughing matter. The Jolly Roger had been hoisted because of Halloween, this coming Saturday.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Now that the clocks have gone back, my routine is moved back one hour - the hurricane updates are always issued at the same times, 0300, 0900, 1500 and 2100 hours GMT. However, having moved from GMT+1 to GMT means that I issue the bulletins on the Tropical Cyclones blog one hour earlier by my own clock. Currently, there is only typhoon Mirinae which will hit the Philippines over the weekend. It has been a busy season, but only in the Pacific. The Atlantic is as quiet as a mouse.

The sun is now setting at a quarter to five, and this will regress to half past three by Christmas. November is not my favourite month, and don't start on that "looking forward to Xmas" lark. I was brought up, looking at Christmas as a family affair, going to church in the morning (or for the Watchnight service the evening before), then have a huge meal with the family in the afternoon. And prostrate yourself before the Holy Gogglebox in the evening. Giving presents used not to be customary in Holland. Pressies would come on 5 December for the feast of St Nicholas. I am fed up with the commercialism that surrounds Xmas, it renders the occasion cheap and tacky.

Here in Stornoway, the Christmas lights will go up in the main shopping precincts, Francis Street, Point Street and Cromwell Street around December 1st. They will be illuminated during a festive ceremony on a Thursday evening, if it isn't pouring with rain or blowing a gale. Here are a few images from 2006 - the illuminations of following years were far less impressive due to cut-backs.

Tuesday 27 October

Day 300 of the year 2009. Only two months left until Christmas, and the shops will explode with Xmas paraphernalia on 1 November. First though, we've got to get Halloween out of the way.

Today is wet in Stornoway as a large area of rain passes through from the Atlantic. It appears to be restricted to Scotland only, if I look at the rainfall radar. It's not warm, 10C. Yesterday, the birdfeeder was filled up and hung on the tree, and the sparrows and starlings did not take long to discover its delights. More than half a dozen birds flutter on and around it at any one time. The strange thing is, they tend to disappear at lunchtime.

Yesterday, the trial began at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Holland, of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Mr Karadzic refused to be present at proceedings, claiming he needs another 10 months to prepare his defence: which he is planning to conduct himself. The trial was adjourned until today, when it will be decided whether to impose counsel on Mr Karadzic (which he has already rejected). The delaying tactics by Mr Karadzic have been met with anger by the relatives of those killed by Bosnian Serbs in the Yugoslav conflict of the 1990s.

The fall of Srbrenica in July 1995 was one of the worst atrocities of that bloody war, and the involvement of Dutch UN troops, who appeared to collaborate with Bosnian Serb forces, still sits very uneasily within Dutch defence circles. In 1995, I myself worked for the Dutch MoD, and know a serviceman who was at Srebrenica.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Monday 26 October

Overcast with occasional drizzle this morning. Things are going to deteriorate, with more wind and rain for tomorrow. More leaves to sweep up by Wednesday in other words.

The BBC is reporting that the planned upgrade to the power-line between Beauly (near Inverness) and Denny (near Stirling) is recommended for approval by MSPs. The current line carries 132 kV, which will be increased to 400 kV. The pylons are expected to be 200 feet / 60 metres tall each, and there will be 600 of them along the length of the current powerline. The planning application for this upgrade has been the subject of a public inquiry, the report of which was submitted to Scottish Ministers 8 months ago. The application attracted 18,000 objections.

The upgraded powerline is important for renewable energy projects across the Highlands and Islands, as it will convey electricity, generated by these projects, to users in the Scottish Central Belt and into the UK National Grid.

Objectors have stated that this will irrevocably harm the iconic landscape of the Scottish Highlands, and adversely affect tourism. They also think that alternative options have not been sufficiently explored.

This issue is controversial, and involves high stakes, politically and economically. The Beauly to Denny powerline is part of a policy to cover Scotland's [sic] energy needs, without recourse to new nuclear powerstations.

The relevance to Lewis is high. A number of renewable energy projects are in the pipeline for this island, including a 39-turbine windfarm at Eishken, and a smaller 6-turbine project some 5 miles outside Stornoway. Similar schemes have been mooted for North Tolsta, Ballantrushal and the West Side between Shawbost and Dalbeg. Other schemes include a tidal barrage at Shader (although is probably only going to generate electricity for local consumption) and a wave-energy project off Great Bernera. In order to get this power to mainland consumers, a powerline will also have to be constructed between Little Loch Broom (Dundonnell) and Beauly, as well as a subsea cable (referred to as an interconnector).

Should final approval be granted by Scottish ministers (very likely), then we are likely to see the construction of the Eishken Windfarm go ahead at pretty short notice, and the same will apply to the Pentland Road scheme.

I do not believe that windfarms will bring long-term, sustained employment to the Isle of Lewis. There will be short-term work in the construction of the windturbines and electricity infrastructure. Once the turbines are in place, only a handful of people will be needed to monitor and operate the windfarm. The community benefits of the Eishken windfarm are spurious, in my opinion, as they require a massive cash injection from said community - and Lochs is not exactly the most affluent area in this part of the world.

The environmental impact will be substantial. I am restating my assertion that although nobody is entitled to a view, views is what attracts tourism. That being a mainstay of the island makes a shore-based windfarm a good example of a shot in the foot.

Although the final decision rests with Scottish Ministers, I cannot imagine that approval for the powerline upgrade through the Highlands will be taken lying down by its opponents.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Reading of blogs

Well, the number of posts to be read on Google Reader has once more climbed above the 100 mark, so tomorrow I shall head that way once more. There are a number of journals that I keep a close eye on, including those highlighted on Call for Support. Other people I monitor through Facebook. Getting slightly square-eyed (my bodyclock says it's 11.25pm, although the wall clock calls it 10.25pm). More tomorrow.

Halloween 2009

Found one of Donna's tags for Halloween on my Photobucket account, and decided to put it in the sidebar, until 1 November. Other Halloween images below. The one with the wee black cats is a bit sad: some years ago, an American animal welfare charity banned the sale of black cats around Halloween, as the poor things were known to get subjected to abuse. It's not just animals that are abused: vulnerable people are known to be targeted by people acting outside the good spirit of Hallowee for bullying and harassment.

Sunday 25 October

Did you put your clocks back last night? If you didn't, you either forgot or were in the USA.
The usual post clock-change jetlag pervaded this morning, not helped by the dreich, wet, grey and uninspiring weather conditions. Only now, an hour and a half before sunset, has the rain let up. One of those non-descript Sundays. The ferry left, as per schedule, at 2.30pm.

Over in Orkney, a member of a lifeboat crew had to be airlifted to hospital after he was injured during a call-out. The Kirkwall lifeboat was making his way to the island of Stronsay when it encountered a particularly high wave, and the man was injured in the resulting lurch. The marine casualty, a yacht whose anchors were not holding, was attended to later in the night.

Still on issues lifeboat related (I get a feed from their call-outs), a group of youngsters decided not to call 999 when their boat got into difficulty, as they were afraid of getting into difficulty with the police. Fortunately, people ashore had their wits about them and called the Coastguard. After their rescue, the teenagers were given their dreaded lesson in marine safety. Something also afforded to the drunk skipper of a yacht, which ran straight onto a breakwater in Devon.

Down in the Isle of Skye, volunteers have been draping the parapets of the Skye Bridge (linking Kyle of Lochals on the mainland to Kyleakin in Skye) in knitwear. Stitches on the Bridge spans 400 yards of bridge in very colourful creations. Pictures and further info on their website.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Saturday 24 October

What started as a bright morning has turned into a very wet afternoon. The rainfall radar shows red colours over northern Lewis, indicating very heavy rainfall. The low pressure centre is situated between Northern Ireland and the southern Hebrides and is moving northeast across Scotland. It will give us another wet day tomorrow, but a ridge of high pressure building in from Iceland should usher in a nice Monday. Yesterday's glorious weather is now but a distant memory.

Don't forget to put your clocks back tonight if you're in the UK and Europe; the USA keeps DST until next Sunday, November 2nd.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Visit to Tolsta Chaolais

It was a brilliantly sunny day today, which saw the mercury up to 15C and me out and about in the island. At 2.30pm, I joined the bus to Carloway and 45 minutes later I was dropped off at the road-end at Tolsta Chaolais. This is a small village, off the main road, about 2 miles south of Carloway on the west coast of the island. It has its own small graveyard, and after a 40 minute walk and a wee bit of detective work, I managed to locate it near the coast. TC is situated in a valley beside its own loch, see pictures.

Tolsta Chaolais graveyard

Friendly kitty

Friday 23 October

Beautiful morning with bright sunshine and not a breath of wind.
I did not watch last night's Question Time, but am pleased that the man from the BNP got a good roasting. Which is all I'll say on the matter.

For more than 40 years, a debate has been going on in the UK whether it should adopt the same timezone as the rest of Western Europe. At the moment, clocks in Great Britain are 1 hour behind Europe. A trial of 'double summertime' was abandoned in the 1960s after protests from those in Scotland, who experienced sunrise at 10 in the morning. Safety concerns were the prime consideration. Now, a prominent historian has said Scotland should be left on its own "tundra time" (I quote), whilst the rest of the UK goes one hour forward. Nice one. Two different timezones within the one country, one account of latitude, is ridiculous. Yes, the US has at least 4 timezones, but that is because it stretches across at least 60 degrees of longitude. The UK only straddles 9 degrees at a stretch. Furthermore, I think it is rather insulting to suggest people cannot work out 1 hour's time difference to work out when appointments are, as Mr Horne suggests. Mr Horne, in my opinion, should emigrate to the tundra to contemplate his utterances prior to making them.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Java Update

Two days ago, I was prompted to update the Java on my computer to version 6.0, update 16. The result has been a bit of a disaster, and I have now completely removed Java. When clicking links that look like they have some javascript behind them, they did not work. They did work upon removing the Java. And ceased working when Java was reinstalled. So, if anyone out there has any ideas how to sort this, I'd be much obliged.

Did someone say - forums? Can I reply - chocolate teapot?

Ferry helps yacht

Last night, the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry MV Clansman was on passage from Oban to Barra, when it came across a yacht whose mast had suddenly broken. This happened in the Sound of Mull, northwest of Oban. The ferry stood by the vessel, the Morwenna, until the RNLI Lifeboat came down from Tobermory to give her a tow into Mull. More here

Image courtesy Nick Brannigan via Hebrides News

Thursday 22 October

A nice bright morning, with a lot of contrails in the sky. I'm having a job with the hurricane updates at the moment, because Hurricane Neki is headed for the Papahanaumokuakea (pronounciation) National Monument northwest of Hawaii. Will have to look it up, never heard of it before. Intriguing names like French Frigate Shoals abound there.

There is a lot of fuss over the presence of the far-right British National Party on the Question Time programme on BBC1 tonight. A bit too much fuss. The BNP advocate the involuntary removal of all aliens from Great Britain. They do have elected representatives on local councils and in the European Parliament, and are (as such) a legal political party. The BBC is legally speaking correct in its stance to give the BNP a place on the debating programme, even though few people subscribe to its policies. They err very closely on the side of legality, shown by the fact that they were forced to accept non-British-born membership applications.

Parties like the BNP thrive in a climate where government policy is seen to be failing, and particularly at times of economic hardship, like at present. The fact that the BNP has elected representatives should be a wake-up call for the Westminster administration to look at race relations within the UK. They have improved, but not enough. Failure to act, or even take cognisance of the reasons for the popularity of the BNP, can (in extreme circumstances) lead to a danger to life. By giving this party a chance to air their views on national TV, those of us with a properly working brain can see what they stand for. And decide not to support them.

No, I'm not watching Question Time. I never do.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


We had a colourful sunset here this evening, and I share a few of the pics I took between 5.30 and 6.00pm.

Wednesday 21 October

After a wet start, the weather has very slowly brightened up through the day. Now, half an hour before sunset, the sun has appeared from under the cloud cover and bathes the area in a golden glow.

Rumours that Al-Megrahi has died are untrue. The man, convicted Lockerbie bomber, was recently released from prison in Scotland back home to Libya, on humanitarian grounds.

And the bomb squad was out in Stornoway this afternoon to deal with a suspect device. No news on the nature of this device, just a lot of fuss in one of the town's streets.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


Kathy made an interesting observation on my previous post "Change" - does writing blogposts form relationships between people?

I think it does. Very much so. The "Call for Support" blog is demonstrative of that, as we share the sad and the happy, the triumphs and disasters in our lives. And sharing such does form a bond. The blogs being abandoned means the bond is weakened if not lost. I don't think that Facebook could really replace that, and certainly Twitter cannot. We'll have to see how things pan out.

Missing diver's identity confirmed

On October 3rd, a diver went missing whilst spear-fishing off Ardnamurch Point, on the Scottish mainland. Ten days later, the body of a man, dressed in a wetsuit, was found washed up on the shores of Loch Slapin in the Isle of Skye, 30 miles to the north. Police have tonight confirmed the identity of the man as that of Iain Rodger, a 66-year old man from Kilchoan in the Ardnamurchan peninsula, who had been reported missing by his wife on October 3rd.

My sympathies are with Mr Rodger's family and friends.


This evening, as I was browsing my Twitter-feed, I noticed a message from Sandra about her dog, Jake. See Call for Support for details. The fact that I found this on Twitter was already an indication about the changes that have happened in our erstwhile community that we called J-land. Many have moved over to Facebook and use Twitter alongside. I browsed some of the blogs that were in Sandra's sidebar, and found many to be defunct or not updated since the move from AOL. Jan, who was once the figurehead of AOL Journals, has now not updated her journal since last June. And there are so many others like her.

Makes me quite sad in a way. But, such is life. Change happens, and not always for the best. Facebook is cluttered with the messages about various games, and I usually don't bother to trawl through all that. I am following about 140 people on Twitter, and as I glance at my Tweetdeck window, it is about as much as I can handle.

Just a memory from 3 years ago

Tuesday 20 October

Fairly bright today, although there is a cloud cover. The sun peeps through some of the cloud at times. The easterly wind is gradually increasing, but the gale we were promised is not likely to materialise on the coast.

The RNLI is now offering a service whereby you can be notified by text if your local lifeboat is launched - or any lifeboat indeed. They also relay on Twitter whenever they launch. The texting service involves a monetary donation for each text. I take an interest as I have an open view of the harbour entrance, and frequently see the lifeboat coming or going.

One of the most dramatic rescues I have witnessed myself took place 3 years ago. Within about 20 yards of me. I copy the entry from my Northern Trip journal for 1 July 2006:

... Just as we're having lunch, the sound of the helicopter becomes noticeable. The helicopter is right outside the house, hovering over the basin. Hotel Lima is tending to a yachtsman that we noticed earlier, struggling to control his boat in the force 6 winds. His boat lies overturned, and a winchman is going down to assist the hapless sailor. Newton Street very quickly fills up with spectators, the police are in attendance, directing traffic and all who are outside are drenched by the water which the helicopter's updraft is spraying around. The yachtsman manages to make dry land under his own steam - his own two legs. Meanwhile, the wrecked boat lies on its side in the basin, and slowly drifts towards its mouth. The lifeboat moves to the mouth of the basin and launches a dinghy. There is a sandbar across the basin, which makes it impossible for boats to leave it at low tide, and the tide is falling right now. The wreck is towed to Goat Island, where the damage is assessed. The boat is not holed, so it's left anchored on a mooring....

Monday, 19 October 2009

Classical music

The link plays a recording of a record, which is more than 50 years old. Jose Iturbi, who died in 1980, plays Rachmaninoff's Prelude no 3 in c# minor. The recording is deeply personal, as it was one of the records that my mother gave to my father on his birthday in the late 1950s. Technical quality is not terribly good, and that's not just due to the method of recording - holding a mike in front of an audio speaker. The record itself is a tad crackly. This record set me off on a journey around the world of classical music, which I explored using the BBC World Service's programs in the 1980s and 90s. The late Gordon Clyde, who died last year, presented The Pleasure is Yours, until 1990, followed by Brian Kay and Gordon's personal friend Richard Baker. I recorded pieces of classical music on cassette tape - and that tally stood at about 200 tapes some 6 years ago. I have not added since.

I am a very critical listener, and entertain pop music only on sufferance, as the musical quality is usually measured in the negative ranges on a scale of 1 to 10. Exceptions apply, such as these guys from 1977. Did I mention I play the piano?

1956 or 1965?

I was looking up the 20th century concert pianist Solomon Cutner, who lived from 1902 to 1988. He was a gifted pianist, whose career was cut short by a stroke. This paralysed his right arm, but in spite of that, he managed to finish a recording session on which little evidence of the stroke can be heard. The Wikipedia article links to an obituary in the New York Times, which states that the stroke occurred in 1965. Everywhere else the date is given as 1956. Transcription error? Don't think so. The NYT also states that the pianist recorded in the 1960s, which is not correct.

Portrait courtesy Macconnect

Monday 19 October

A gradual change is occurring in the weather today. After a glorious sunrise just after 8 am, the morning stayed sunny albeit cool - mercury at 10C. By lunchtime, a blanket of cloud started to move up from the south, and at 2pm the sun had gone. The front edge of a rain front is just coming ashore in South Harris, 50 miles to the south.
Visibility is extremely good, 50 km (30 miles), and earlier on I could clearly see the mountains of the Applecross Forest, 60 miles to the southeast on the Scottish mainland.

Out at sea, mauve stinger jellyfish are reported to be swarming. These creatures, a nuisance to humans, are deadly to fish, particularly farmed fish. A large part of the economy of Western Scotland depends on fish farming, and the Marine Conservation Society is monitoring the situation closely. If the jellyfish come into a fishfarm, they can decimate stock, leading to damage worth hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds. This happened in Ireland in 2007, when billions of mauve stingers killed salmon in fishfarms off the north coast.
Picture courtesy

Sunday, 18 October 2009

9 November

This is a date that is obviously still a couple of weeks away, but I am having a problem. For the past few years, I have marked this date as being the anniversary of the infamous Night of Broken Glass [Kristallnacht] in 1938. On that night, Nazi supporters, police and troops went on the rampage across Germany, destroying Jewish-owned property and synagogues. This was a concerted and premeditated act, laying down for all to see what Nazi Germany was all about. The burning flame, on the left of this post, is a reminder of what happened that November night. And what was to follow.

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 my dilemma. Do I remember the Kristallnacht, and not celebrate the reunification of Germany? Do I celebrate the reunification, and ignore the Night of Broken Glass? Or can the two be reconciled? The city of Berlin is mounting a huge celebration on 9 November 2009, the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Wall. I wonder if anyone will think of the Kristallnacht then. For the two are inextricably linked. The Kristallnacht heralded the start of tyranny - perhaps the end of the Berlin wall heralded the end of it. Maybe that's the way to look at it. I'll think about it. I'm not convinced.

Queen Mary 2

As seen from Stornoway, from 12 miles away at 3.21pm today.

Sunday 18 October

Fairly bright and sunny today, quite a nice afternoon. As I type this, I find out that the Queen Mary II cruiseliner is passing down the Minch - and right on cue, she appears from behind the Coastguard Station. I can only just make her out on the distant horizon, 12 miles away. Hebrides News has an extensive write-up about the QM2.

Spent part of the morning raking leaves - and judging by the state of the trees, that will have to be repeated a few times more. Last night was very windy and wet, but the day dawned bright, cloudless and innocent. I'll post a picture of the QM2 later today.

Hurricane update - 18 October

One of the most powerful hurricanes this season is currently in the Eastern Pacific: hurricane Rick carries sustained winds of 180 mph near its centre, with gusts up to 220 mph. Rick will weaken as it moves north, due to lower ocean water temperatures and less favourable atmospheric winds, but could still pack a punch as a category I to II hurricane on landfall by the middle of this week.

Typhoon Lupit will pass north of Luzon Island, Philippines, on Wednesday, as a strong typhoon, with winds of 130 mph. 

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Hurricane update - 17 October

Hurricane Rick, which formed south of Acapulco on Thursday, is now a category IV hurricane as it moves west northwest, parallel to the south coast of Mexico. Sustained winds near its centre are at 125 knots, that's 140 mph (220 kph), and will exceed 140 knots by tomorrow. That makes it a category V hurricane. As the storm veers north, the seawater temperatures (currently near 30C) will fall, and the atmospheric conditions will no longer be conducive to sustaining this intensity. By the time Rick makes landfall in Baja California, expected on Wednesday or Thursday of next week, it will be a category II hurricane. Still enough to cause extensive damage and disruption. Website Baja Insider is giving the local view, albeit somewhat behind.

From the archives: Friday 15 October 2004

This morning, I took the 9.36 bus down to Elgol (Ealaghol in Gaelic - top image courtesy Flickr user vtveen, lower image courtesy It took its time, arriving at Elgol Pier at 10.15. Once you reach Elgol, it's a very steep descent from 110 to 0 metres. Not much to be seen there, apart from a stunning aspect of the Cuillins. Unfortunately, I haven't got the pictures available. Sgurr na Stri stands out between Camasunary and Coruisk, and the teeth of the Cuillins rearing up to the left. Rubha'n Dunain tapers out just beyond Soay. I climbed up the hill until the sign that said Camasunary 2 1/2 miles, Sligachan 10 1/2 miles. I joined that path and commenced an airy cliffwalk, and if I say airy, it was. It quickly became fairly rough, and required a bit of scrambling. Not to mention that point where it ended at the edge of a 100 ft precipice. Yikes! I'd missed a turning that was not signposted. Half way up the coast a glen comes up from the hinterland, and it takes a bit of mapreading to find the onward route. It remained a fairly tough undertaking, and was knackered by the time I collapsed on the beach at Camasunary. Lots of flotsam and jetsam up there. There is also a farmhouse and at the far end, right underneath Sgurr na Stri a bothy. This contained two sleeping platforms, one of them actually occupied (this was 1.30pm) by a sleeping person. Lots of candles in bottles. A shelf contained spare food. This bothy was fairly tidy. I've heard stories of people abusing these remote hide-outs for lonely booze-ups. I dabbled about Camasunary for a bit, then went up the hill and slowly, very slowly, made my way to Robostan, where I'd be waiting for a bus back to Broadford. I arrived there at 4.40, bus not being due until 5.30. So I decided to walk for a bit, rather than stand there and freeze. Half a mile beyond Strathaird House I came upon a lame sheep. It didn't run but merely hobbled painfully. When I stopped a little distance behind it in order not to scare it into hobbling into the road, into the path of an oncoming car, it looked round at me. Mutely saying "Now then, are you really going to kill me?". But I crossed to the other side of the road and it hobbled away. A few miles further, in sight of Torrin and the Red Hills, a German couple pulled over and offered me a lift to Broadford. Which I accepted. They were due to travel back to Karlsruhe the next day, but would fly to Frankfurt Hahn. Some 80 miles away from Frankfurt. Arrived back in Broadford at 5.45.

Saturday 17 October

No complaints about the weather, although the wind is a tad nippy. Mercury dipped to freezing overnight, but is currently nicely back up into double figures.

It is low tide at the moment, and it is quite a low tide, bearing in mind it is springtide. For those not much versed into matters tidal, when you get a springtide the flood tide comes in very high and the ebb tide very low. A few years ago, during an especially low tide, I was able to go out onto the exposed seabed and collect about 8 clams. No surprise then when I say that I never found another clam in the area concerned! It is quite disconcerting to think though that 6 hours later there was 17 feet of water above the place where I had been picking those shells.

Our MP has asked for the summer timetable for the ferries to be extended into November. Its current validity runs out next Saturday, October 24th. He states that the slashing of ferry fares, due to a government subsidy scheme, has promoted ferry traffic last summer. Mr Macneil appears to be unaware though that the tourist season tends to end at the close of the midterm break, i.e. by the penultimate weekend in October. Five years ago, when I was travelling western Scotland, I could not help but notice that everything ground to a stop by October 24th or thereabouts, and that was not related to the ferry services. Being in the Isle of Skye at the time, which can be reached by bridge, it was very noticeable. Also, the Stornoway to Ullapool ferry service is the same right through the year. Other services in the Western Isles do see a reduction in service though.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Friday 16 October

A beautiful sunny morning in Stornoway, with hardly a breath of wind. Quite cool, at present only 8C / 46F. Overnight low was +2C / 36F.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders is returning to the UK after overturning a ban on his entry to the UK, previously imposed by the UK Home Office. Mr Wilders produced an anti-Islam movie, Fitna, in March last year, which raised a furore but was in my mind too stupid to waste 15 minutes of my time on. Geert Wilders is the leader of a political party in Holland, which is as intolerant as the country's reputation is tolerant. I do not understand why he is so revered over there - I think he's a proper disgrace.

Late last night, two hillwalkers were taken to safety from the Steall gorge near Fort William, after becoming disoriented in the dark. I know the area myself, and it is quite tricky to negotiate in daytime. If you're on the south bank of the river, you have to cross it using a single wire.

Water of Nevis at Steall

Wire bridge at Steall

Pictures courtesy Flickr-user HighlandSC

Thursday, 15 October 2009

From the archives: Tuesday 12 October 2004

Well, all good things must come to an end. On Tuesday morning, I moodily packed up my things. Unfortunately, when I came down to Kildonan, my backpack was transported to the house for me. So its weight came as an unpleasant surprise. Said goodbye to my hosts and lumbered across to the pier in 60 minutes. That is actually normal time, especially bearing in mind I diverted through the Lodge Gardens. On arrival at the pier, the Eiggach were in great confusion regarding The Boat. It was very well known that the regular one, Lochnevis, was away for its refit. The Raasay, a very much smaller craft, was taking its place for cargo. At midday, a mast appeared above the pier and everybody streamed down to have a look. No passengers. At 1pm, another cry "the boat is here" sent me scurrying down the pier again. This time round, it was for passengers. I could see nothing of it until I got to the point where John Cormack was standing. "Erm, John?" I went. "Did they wash Lochnevis at too high a temperature?" The Ullin Staffa was really wee. But a lot faster than Lochnevis. It covered the distance to Mallaig in 60 minutes, where the regular ferry takes 80 minutes. On departure from the pier at 1.15, the sea was choppy, and we took over a fair amount of seaspray. Some of the kids turned green and were sent out on deck for some fresh air. One young girl was beyond help and proceeded to spew up over the side. Nice. The adults stuck to their devices for keeping seasickness at bay. Arrival in Mallaig at 2.15, and we had to clamber onto the loading ramp for Coruisk, the Skye ferry. This materialized at 2.40. Coruisk was taken into service on 14/8/03, only to be taken out again before the month was out because she had lost a propellor on entering Mallaig Harbour. I had to wait for a bus for 2 hours at Armadale. I walked down the road to Aird for a bit, sat on a grassy knoll and had a coke in the local pub. On return at the main road, I stood waiting for the 5.35 from Armadale Pier, when one of the shopkeepers advised me that "this was not a stop". No. But the bus would stop there anyhow. However, I didn't want a row, so I dutifully toddled off to the Pier and boarded the number 52 for Broadford at 5.35.

From the archives: Monday 11 October 2004

Went out earlier than before, and tootled across to the Pier to start with. From Kildonan Farm House, you can actually short cut to the Pier via the cliffs. Of course, you must cross some fences :-\, but they're there to keep the sheep in. I finally reached the point opposite the pier, and came across Lady Runciman's Bathing Hut. No longer up to spec, as several planks were missing from the walls, and Lady R would have been severely embarrassed changing in there. Whether she actually did go for a dip in the days of yore, history does not recall. My attempts to cross Pier Bay were thwarted by deep and wide streams. And the sea of course. I had to wind my way around the obstacles and found myself outside Shore Cottage. No problem, I just walked round to An Laimhrig. There I partook of a cup of Nescafe, 50p, and chatted to a yachtswoman who was over with her family out of Ayrshire. Later that day she would sail, with hubby, young boy and dog, to Soay, 15 miles away under the Skye Cuillins. Apparently 2 people live there, but the Arisaig boat Sheerwater delivers their mail. Why the Western Isles (Mallaig based) or even the Bella Jane (Elgol, right opposite Soay) cannot do that, nobody knows. Later on that day, the golden labrador would bite Diesel, the Carr's dog, for mischievous behaviour. The lab behaved impeccably. Diesel, a lil monster, did not. I marched up Pier Hill, past Galmisdale and up the path to the Scurr. That is well eroded and little better than a mudchute. I did comment on that to some people, but did not receive much of an active reply. Once underneath the Scurr ridge, I diverted to Lochan nam Ban Mora (Loch of the Big Women) to find the bench, which had been placed there earlier in the year in memory of Brigg Lancaster.

He had died early in 2003 in a road traffic accident on the island, when his jeep left the road at Sandavore, and it rolled over. As this happened at 2am, he was not found for another 8 hours. Although he was still alive when he was found, he succumbed to his injuries. Brigg, aged 31, left a wife and a one-year old girl. The plaque on the bench simply reads 'honesty'. A bottle of whisky is commonly left at the bench, for people to have a dram. Unfortunately, the Famous Grouse had been smashed. I just sat there in complete silence, looking over the water of the lochan. Later on, I went on my way. I met Brigg only once, before he got married to Tasha Fyffe. He seemed a decent enough person.

Although I have visited Eigg for 15 years, I still managed to get lost amongst the lochans. I had to get the map out (disgrace) to remind myself of their location.

Next stop: Lochan Nighean Dougaill, Lochan of Dougal's Daughter. Her lungs were alleged found floating on the surface of the lochan after she was abducted from the nearby township of Grulin. The abductor was a kelpie, one of the good people, of whom we cannot speak. Grulin was cleared in the 1850s, and now only ruins and the bothy remain. With some difficulty, I managed to wind my way around to the Twin Lochs, at an altitude close to 1,000 feet. Corra-bheinn towered some distance to the northeast, above its own lochan, which I could not see. I had to stay that high because of Glen Charadail, which cuts deeply into the hills here.

The Twin Lochs can be crossed at midpoint, but be prepared for wet feet. The traverse to the western end of Lochan Beinn Tighe is a nightmare, 2ft high tussocks of heather and boulders. I disturbed 3 sheep, missed by the shepherd George Carr, so he has a job to go and retrieve them lol. Clambering over more boulders round the shoulders of Beinn Tighe, I finally managed to reach reasonable terrain at 3.15. I collapsed on the shores of the lochan and took a 45 minute break. Then followed a fairly speedy descent towards Laig, but not without the infernal barbed-wire fencing. And when you ignore clear warnings in the terrain that you're standing above a cliff, well, you have to clamber. Don't you. LOL. Reached Laig at 17.30, and the main road at 18.05. Although it's only a mile, there were plenty of blackberries to distract me. I came across Liz Lyons and Morag MacKinnon, outside's the former's pigsty - sorry, yard. Morag's cows were blocking the road further on at the summit of Bealach Clithe, so that was an interesting exercise in shooing the damn creatures to the side. Arrived back at Kildonan at 18.55. A good, long day, and I was well knackered. Asked for a rum coke - for those who don't know me, I hardly ever touch liquor.

Hurricane update - 15 October

The Atlantic hurricane season remains as lifeless as the proverbial dodo, but the East Pacific season, which runs concurrently with the Atlantic one, is roaring. This evening, storm number 20 formed, some 400 miles south of Acapulco and what will be Rick is expected to strengthen very quickly indeed, to hurricane force as early as Saturday (GMT) and major hurricane by late Sunday. Although the storm is currently heading away from land, it is expected to veer northwest, and could be on a collision course with Baja Califormia - with winds of at least 115 knots - early next week.

The West Pacific typhoon season is also in conveyor belt mode. After tropical storm Parma finally disappeared from the weather charts after gracing them with its presence for 17 days, we now have tropical storm Lupit east of the Philippines. By the time this storm reaches Luzon Island, it could be a category IV typhoon. As if Luzon hasn't already had enough typhoons this season: after 3 helpings of Parma, preceeded by a deadly deluge from Ketsana, Lupit could deliver another heavy blow with 125 knot winds and the usual catastrophic downpours.

It is habitual to retire hurricane / typhoon names if a storm, carrying that name, has caused catastrophic loss of life and / or damage to property. There will never be a hurricane Katrina, or a typhoon Durian. Ketsana is also unlikely to reappear again in 6 years' time (the lists of names rotate on a 6 year cycle). Last year, no Western Pacific typhoon names were retired. There will be quite a handful this year, unless I'm badly mistaken.

Thursday 15 October

Overcast with occasional drizzle today, but not cold at 13C this morning. Roadworks in my area of Stornoway sends cars onto the pavement, without a thought for the pedestrians on said pavement. Wonderful.

Two weeks ago, three people died when their car was struck by a train on a level crossing at Halkirk, in the far north of mainland Scotland. The cause of the accident is being investigated, and my comments below are not a reflection on any party involved in that tragic collision. The traindrivers' union ASLEF has said its members will slow down to 20 mph at any level crossing without barriers (the one at Halkirk only had lights). There has already been a negative reaction to that plan, if only because the Inverness to Thurso train already takes 4 hours to cover the 150 miles, and this go-slow would extend journeytimes even further. It would disadvantage the train against the bus, which incidentally, also takes 4 hours.

In my opinion, car drivers should be compelled to come to a full stop at any railway level crossing without barriers, then proceed slowly across. I believe that the current Highway Code already states that the onus is on the driver to ensure the crossing is safe to tackle, as the train cannot stop. After the train struck the car at Halkirk, it took a quarter of a mile to come to a full stop, although it was only doing the statutory 50 mph. Also, there is a litany of incidents of crazy drivers who fly across level crossings when the lights are flashing, barriers coming down (or already fully down). It is not the trains that should slow down - it's the drivers that should.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Wednesday 14 October

Overcast once more, but dry. There is a breeze, but nothing too disconcerting. A contact in San Francisco is telling me stories about the big storm, the remnant of typhoon Melor, which has hit the area. Deep snow has fallen in the Sierra Nevada, and warnings abound about flooding. Tropical storm Parma is coming ashore in Vietnam, and will dissipate later today, after 17 days on the go. That is a respectable lifespan for a tropical system - the record stands at 30 days. A new cyclone has formed east of Guam, which will now see a third tropical storm whizz by. In the 3 years of hurricane watching, I've not seen this many storms pass over the Northern Marianas. 22W, the current name for the new system, will head for the Philippines, which is having a singularly bad year. It got three helpings of Parma - I think I'd prefer the ham they make in Parma.

The body of a man, clad in a wetsuit, has washed ashore on the beach at Camas Fionary in Skye, pictured below (the top marker on the map). His apparel suggests that this was the diver who went missing off Ardnamurchan Point (bottom marker) 12 days ago. The outcome of a post-mortem examination is awaited before police will confirm or deny that this is the case.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

From the archives: Sunday 10 October 2004

From October 9 to 12, 2004, I stayed in the Isle of Eigg. I have a long-standing acquaintance with that small island, which goes back to 1989. My abiding memory of that first visit was a stunningly beautiful island, littered with wrecked and cannibalised cars, generators throbbing in the night, and conking out just as you're having your supper (leaving you in the dark).

Sunday 10th October dawned overcast but clear. The visibility was going to be the dominant feature. After breakfast, I left Kildonan at about 10.30, I really should not be keeping my host from her work by yakking so much lol. My progress up Eigg's main road keeps being impeded by ripe blackberries. Which obviously, I have to go and pick. Anyway, the piece de resistance of the road north through the island comes when you descend Bealach Clithe [pronounced Byalach Cleey] and first the towering mountains on the neighbouring island of Rum (seriously, the place is called that) hove into view. At 2,800 feet, they are impressive at 4.5 miles distance. The next corner reveals the green swathe of Cleadale, the crofting community, over which the 1,000 foot high cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe [Ben Vooy] tower to the east. I slowly ambled down the road, past the houses of Cuagach, the terrible sideroad to Laig Farm and the old folks houses. Then you arrive at a T-junction, at which I went left, towards Seaview. This house was occupied by Angus MacKinnon, one of the island's elders until his death, a few years ago. It appears to be empty now. The blackberries distracted me. You can walk to Camus Sgiotaig, the Beach of Singing Sands from Seaview, but don't fall off the cliffs. You've got a bit of a job finding the way down. Don't chase the sheep over the cliffs either. Please. Once on the beach, the white sands, if dry, produce a shrill shriek if you rub your shoes over it. Or just walk over it. The streams cut a deep channel right through the sands, and you've got to be careful not to fall through the layer of sands if the water has undercut it. Otters have been seen playing in the kelp on the tideline. Towards the south, there are caves and natural arches to explore. It should be possible to walk back to Laig Beach, a mile to the south, but do watch the tides. I climbed up the hill at the north end of Camus Sgiotaig and ploughed through some dead bracken towards the pass of Bealach Thuilm. If you want to you can cross the stile and descend into Talm, which is overlooked by an 1,100 foot high cliff, Dunan Thalasgair. I climbed up the green hill behind the Dunan right to the top of the cliffs. Took me 15 minutes, but left me well out of breath. On the top, I got a signal on the mobile. Transmitter is located at Mallaig, 10 miles distant to the northeast. I went through the gate and proceeded to walk south. The views were phenomenal. I could see the Outer Hebrides from Barra Head north to South Uist, then again North Uist to Berneray and possibly Harris. To the south, I saw Tiree, the Treshnish Isles and Staffa and Mull. Having gorged myself on this panorama, I went south. Right by the edge of this cliff, only inches away from it. Not for those suffering from vertigo. Met a lady with her children, who had climbed up to the ridge from a point a few miles south. Then it's a case of following the cliff edge south, and choosing a route. Those heading for Kildonan just take aim for the farmhouse and make your way across. Beware of barbed wire fencing, and beware not to underestimate the distance.

Along the top of Beinn Bhuidhe, south of Dunan Thalasgair

Singing Sands Beach

Rum, seen across Laig



I'm not that much of a political animal, although I can get a bit hot under the collar over local issues. Windfarms is one of them. But that's not what this post will be about. It will be on quite a contentious issue: Scottish independence.

At the moment, the devolved government in Edinburgh is run by the Scottish National Party, headed by its leader Alex Salmond. The stated aim and objective of the SNP is to gain full independence for Scotland, and to leave the United Kingdom. During the elections for the Scottish Parliament in 2007, the SNP promised it would organise a referendum on independence within its first term in office. The party scraped into office by the margin of 1 seat, leaving it in a minority government. It needs the cooperation of other political parties to get any major legislation passed. The other main parties at Holyrood (the seat of the Scottish Parliament) are opposed to full independence for Scotland.

As matters stand, the SNP will not be able to organise a referendum, as they do not hold the necessary mandate in parliament. It is therefore necessary for them to persuade other parties to agree to a referendum. And that's where it gets interesting. Independence comes in shapes and sizes, it is not as black and white as it may appear to be on first sight. The Scottish Government could be granted powers to levy its own income tax, in other words, that more powers be devolved to it from the UK Government in London. Full independence would mean that Scotland would organise its own defence, and have its own foreign policy. And there are all sorts of shades of grey in between.

Which brings the focus on the referendum, and the questions to be asked therein. If the SNP wants to get its referendum off the ground, it would appear likely that concessions need to be made at this stage - in terms of how far any increase in devolved powers would go as a result of said referendum. It is, however, not a wholly Scottish affair. It is a United Kingdom matter. Will this referendum, and its outcome, lead to the break-up of the Union?

My perception of this situation is that it could, potentially, lead to the break-up of the UK. The way politicking is going at the moment in Scotland, I cannot see a referendum coming off the ground. If anything, bearing in mind the SNP's stated objective (the break-up of the United Kingdom), I would be opposed to having it.

Tuesday 13 October

Overcast and windy this morning, but as yet dry. The rainfall radar suggests the odd spot of rain is possible.

I am sad to report the death of my aunt at the age of 70. She was the youngest sister of my mother who passed away nearly 18 months ago.

Inverness could lose a landmark building to the wrecking ball, if councillors vote to demolish Viewhill House, the city's former youth hostel. I remember staying there in 1996, before the new hostel was built on the eastern outskirts of the city centre. Viewhill House was built 170 years ago by an engineer who constructed the Caledonian Canal alongside Thomas Telford. The below picture, from July 1996, shows the view from the building.