View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 30 November 2009

Befehl ist Befehl

John Demjanjuk, aged 89, is standing trial in Germany for his part in the extermination of Jews at the Sobibor deathcamp - I referred to this last week. He is an ill man, and I would not be surprised if he did not make it to the conclusion of his trial in May 2010. However, Mr Demjanjuk has fought extradition to Germany for 32 years. However, he states that he only followed orders.

As an ex-serviceman I know that orders should be followed. However, even the lowest ranking soldier has the liberty not to follow orders. You can refuse to jump off a high cliff, even if a general tells you to do so. You can decline to participate in torture, abuse of prisoners or other violations of the Geneva Convention. Mr Demjanjuk had that liberty - even if it could have meant he got the bullet himself. He did not just stand idly by - he actively participated in mass murder on an industrial scale.

Minarets not allowed

The Swiss people have voted to ban the construction of minarets on mosques in Switzerland. There are currently 4 minarets in the country, with about 100 Islamic prayer houses. The reason for the ban is that it would infringe on Swiss culture, which is predominantly Christian. A worrying development. The same reasoning is being deployed by far right parties across Western Europe, such as those found in Holland and the UK. Anyone who manages to gather 100,000 signatures can call for a nationwide referendum in Switzerland.

It is deplorable that the Swiss cannot get themselves to allow expressions of multiculturalism in their country, in a world which is continually on the move, and where people from various cultures mix across the globe. I am aware that a reluctance to allow expressions of faiths, other than the one most common found in a country, is not restricted to Europe.

Monday 30 November

Today is St Andrew's Day, dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland. First Minister Alex Salmond will initiate proceedings today to have a referendum on independence for Scotland. It will not quite go the way he wants; Mr Salmond's Scottish National Party run a minority administration, and most of the other parties in the Scottish Parliament are opposed to full independence.

It is a cold day, and tonight will see a widespread frost, with the mercury down to -5C / 23F. I expect to hear even lower values from some of the notorious cold spots across the Highlands. At least the sun is out, in amongst the infrequent light showers. The birds are quite happy gobbling up the old bread that lies scattered under the trees for their benefit.

Reports from Washington State suggest that the man, suspected of carrying out the shooting of four police officers yesterday, may have died of gunshot wounds, sustained in an exchange of gunfire with one of his victims. Maurice Clemmons, aged 37, is a convicted criminal who had been sentenced to 95 years in jail for aggravated robbery. His sentence was reduced by the former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

A boy aged 4 was killed by a dog last night in Liverpool. A woman aged 63 was injured as she tried to separate the dog from the boy. When police arrived, they destroyed the dog which was in an 'agitated state'. Investigations are on-going.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Sunday 29 November

Rain, sleet, hail and snow are falling at regular intervals here this morning. Temperature has plummeted to 3C at the moment, the lowest we have seen this side of summer. Winter is here. The weather charts show a conduit of cold, arctic air, plunging straight down from the North Pole. It is engineered by a low pressure system over the Bristol Channel and another low off northwestern Norway. In one word: brrr!

Read a very interesting article on Glenn Beck, who is spearheading a lot of the opposition to Barack Obama in the States. The expression "loose cannon" is probably applicable to this chap. I have never seen such a degree of vilification of a sitting US president, and quite frankly the assertions that he is not a true American, a Muslim (i.e. a terrorist sympathiser) are unworthy.

More later.

Saturday, 28 November 2009


On Monday, 30 November (St Andrews Day), the Scottish Year of Homecoming is coming to a close, with a host of events, the BBC reports. However, a number of those events have had to be scaled down due to lack of money. Personally, I have seen very little of the Homecoming. Most of the events appear to have taken place in major population centres, like Edinburgh, Glasgow or Inverness. It all started on Burns Night, 25 January. The First Minister, Alex Salmond, has been a keen protagonist of the Homecoming. It is supposed to have been good for tourism - something that accommodation providers can't seem to agree with. Particularly here in the islands, there has been a 30% increase in visitor numbers, for a number of reasons.

1. A reduction (up to 50%) in ferry fares
2. An exchange rate with the Euro which discouraged European travel
3. The recession, also discouraging expensive foreign holidays

Nobody I came across ever mentioned the Homecoming. In fact, I haven't seen an American visitor all summer, and they are supposed to have come flocking back to the Old Country in droves. Well, they sure didn't come here.

Yes, you correctly detected a huge degree of sarcasm. OK, I'm not a born Scot, but having lived in the Western Isles for 5 years, I'd like to think that I have a fair idea what Scotland is about, in the first decade of the 21st century. And it's not all about Robbie Burns, however good a writer and poet he was. It's not all about clans, claymores and that eternal fool and historical disaster Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Scotland in the 21st century is a country that is indeed acutely aware of its history, which is in parts bloody, tragic and full of oppression. However, we no longer live in 1746, thank goodness. This is the year 2009 AD, and Scotland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. As a lone entity, it would have a severe struggle to keep afloat in an economical sense. England and Scotland have fought together, without distinguishing between either home country, in two world wars and many other conflicts since. I will go so far as to say that a stronger Scottish Parliament, with more powers devolved from London to Edinburgh would be a good thing. It certainly would be better if the current frosty relationship between Downing Street and Bute House (the respective seats of Prime and First Minister) were to thaw and improve to a decent level of cordiality with a normal flow of communication.

Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, is leader of the Scottish National Party, whose stated aim is a fully independent Scotland. He will not be the man to bring about the aforementioned improvement in relations, as that (in his mind) will not lead to an independent Scotland. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is not able to effect this change either, as he has way too much on his hands, keeping his premiership alive until the next elections, in May 2010.

There are indications that the Conservative Party under David Cameron, could take office after the next general elections in 2010. After the last elections, in 2005, exactly one Scottish Conservative MP was returned to Westminster, a trend not likely to be reversed anytime soon. If there is a Conservative Prime Minister, working with an SNP administration in Edinburgh and a host of Labour MPs, we don't need to hold our breath for the onset of improved relations between London and Edinburgh either.

Things we get used to

Carlene wrote a thought-provoking post this morning, about the things we get used to. She describes how happy she was in the early 70s, in spite of having so little money. So what things am I taking for granted that weren't around in the 70s?

Well, in the 70s, I was a youngster at school. We did not have TV in the house, and it did not make an appearance until 1980. So we had this valve-radio, tuned into radio plays and the news. It kept us occupied on dark winter's nights. I am one of three siblings, and we'd play card games, board games, you name it. Mum and dad read books to us, or we would go to the library and come back with stacks of books to read ourselves. We had a record-player, on which a limited collection of 33 or 45 rpm vinyl records would be played. You first had to plug the player into the radio with a DIN-standard connector. Personal computers? We had barely heard of computers; my uncle worked for IBM and he had to process those cards with holes punched into them. A far cry from the 32 GB flashdrives I see for sale in the shops these days. My dad did not own a car, as his office was only a mile and a half down the road, so he jumped on his pushbike for 38 years. Going on holiday meant jumping on the train for a couple of hours, then on the ferry for 2 more hours and be in a holiday cottage in the dunes by the seaside. No radio there at all. Gathering pine cones to fire the heater. And going to the toilet in a separate toilet block, outside. Our holiday was at Easter, so it was freezing at night. Foreign holidays did not commence until we were all at secondary school (high school) in the mid 70s.

I sometimes marvel at the things that are almost deemed compulsory. Like this machine that I spend so (too?) much time on. Music centres, compact discs, DVDs, televisions, laptops, desktops, palmtops, internet capable mobiles (that's what I call a waste of money). Christmas is 4 weeks away, and the adverts make me reach for the anti-emetics already. Why is it necessary to spend hundreds of pounds or dollars or euros on Christmas presents? Won't something less expensive not do the job as well? I have seen small kids nearly drowning in toys; I am a Tom and Jerry fanatic, so the kiddies channel that they appear on also showers me with toy adverts. Toys that kids, I'm sure, are bored with within one minute flat. I did not have acres of floorspace taken up with toys when I was little. But I was quite happy and content with the likes of Lego, that I did not abandon until well into my teens.

Money cannot buy you happiness. It sure makes life easier if you have more of it. Possessions do not make you happy per se, although, again, they can make life easier. You can be quite happy yet be as poor as a church mouse, like Carlene was when she married Danny. And you can be as rich as Solomon, yet be as miserable as anything.

Saturday 28 November

A bright start to the day, with stunning visibility - 60 miles or so. The sun rose just after half past eight, and will not come very high in the sky at all. I am at latitude 58 north, leaving the sun with just over 8 degrees of height over the horizon at midday. Went down the hardware store, which is located opposite the slaughterhouse. A vehicle had pulled up, which was towing a trailer full of sheep. They stood very calmly, blissfully unaware that they were not long for this world anymore. When I left the store, they had been taken inside.

A train crash in Russia, between Moscow and St Petersburg, has claimed at least 25 lives. A crater has reportedly been found at the trackside, giving rise to speculation about a terrorist bomb attack. Until a couple of years ago, Moscow was the scene of several bomb attacks by Chechen rebels.

More later.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Castle Grounds

Although the mercury is making a nosedive, I went out for a walk around the Stornoway Castle Grounds this afternoon. Had not been there for quite a while, so a few changes were noticed. Here are some of the pics I took on the hour long jaunt.

Autumn colours by the Shoeburn near the Woodlands Centre.

Little and large

Lazy Corner

Lews Castle

Cromwell Street

Friday 27 November

Quite a nice day, if a little chilly. As November draws to a close, winter is making steady in-roads, and the mercury is set to sink further over the next few days. Whereas California is basking in summerlike temperatures (LA was at 80F yesterday), we'll be at half that number (40F / 5C) come the weekend.

The BBC has an excellent article today, which makes for difficult reading, as I already mentioned on Facebook. It is the story of one of the Nazi death camps in Poland: Sobibor. It is testimony by survivors as told in the article that puts the lie on those that still seek to deny that the Holocaust ever happened. Lest we forget.

Once more, the A9 has claimed lives. Those in northern Scotland rely on that arterial route to travel from Inverness to Perth and beyond to Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is a notorious route, 110 miles of actually quite monotonous driving. Although the A9 leads through spectacular scenery, as a motorist you can't afford to take your eyes off the road. It is a two-lane highway, with dual-carriageway sections. It is at the end of dual carriageway sections that accidents happen, but not exclusively. Last night at 7pm, three cars were involved in a collision at Dalwhinnie, 40 miles south of Inverness. Two occupants died; two others were conveyed to hospital in Inverness with injuries. There are repeated calls to make the A9 dual carriageway all the way from Perth to Inverness - if memory serves, this carries a price-tag of £180m. The Scottish Government that is presently in power preferred to allocate that money to building a network of trams in Edinburgh. That is now in progress, but behind schedule and over budget.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Thursday 26 November

First of all, happy Thanksgiving to all the folks in the States. Here in Lewis, Thanksgiving is also celebrated: it is the only place in the United Kingdom to observe this religious festival in November. Elsewhere, a harvest festival is celebrated in September. Other than the religious link, I don't think there is much in common with the American holiday.

The weather today is nice and sunny - at the moment - although the radar is showing some light showers out in the Atlantic which are headed our way. I've just filled up the bird feeders, which are being emptied at a phenomenal rate. November is nearly over, and the temperature is slowly declining: a max of 9C / 48F today.

I have been sending out Google Wave invites; still got 4 in hand, so anyone who is interested please email me on adb422006 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Over in the States, there is a huge debate going on about the funding of health care. It is an issue that naturally interests me. Having read journals over the past 3 or 4 years, the problem has become quite graphically illustrated to me. Today, I posted an entry on Call for Support for Christina - and if you read her entry, you'll see the point I'm making. It is atrocious that any person combating cancer or any other major disease has to worry about money to fund their treatment. That should be taken care of through taxation or the equivalent of national insurance contributions, or even private health care insurance, to such an extent that you don't have to worry by the time you need health care.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Our gale appears to be over. The ferry, officially cancelled, sailed out of the bay half an hour ago, and apart from heavy showers, the weather has quietened down quite a bit. The showers look set to continue, with a decidedly rashy look to the satellite picture this afternoon.

What has far from quietened down is the latest typhoon. Nida, located west of Guam, has intensified explosively from 65 knots yesterday at this time (3pm GMT) to 150 knots today - 85 knots in 24 hours is extremely fast. That equates to a category V hurricane with sustained winds of 175 mph, gusting to 210 mph. I don't want to be there. Nida will strengthen even more as all the components needed for this scenario (warm ocean waters and no windshear (no difference in windspeeds up and down the atmosphere)) are in place. Fortunately, this supertyphoon is not threatening any land.

Wednesday 25 November

Strong winds lashing the Hebrides, but as yet nothing really exceptional. The ferries are disrupted up and down the west coast, and drivers are warned to be careful on exposed stretches of road - like the major bridges in Scotland. Spectacular cloudscapes with heavy showers moving through.

There is fury in the land over the decision of the Supreme Court (formerly the House of Lords, Law Lords) to disallow the Office of Fair Trading to assess the fairness of bank charges. Banks in the UK charge up to £39 for an unauthorised overdraft, whereas in fact it only costs the bank £4 to deal with the issue. Two years ago, a campaign was started to force the banks to repay to customers the excess charged - which will now not happen (at the present time).

I am trying out the Google Chrome browser, and so far so good. It is faster than Firefox, but still has glitches in it. And I don't like the way my bookmarks have been rearranged. May go back to FF at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Tuesday 24 November

Windy and a spot or two or rain this morning. The wind will pick up further to gale force later today; severe gales are possible tomorrow. Seems we're finally getting a dose of the November storms up here, well after everybody else had them.

Although people are now being allowed back into their properties in Cumbria, more flooding could be on the way. The same weather system that is bringing gales to the Hebrides is propelling 4 inches of rain towards the Lake District. Tales of complete devastation in people's homes and businesses emerged throughout Monday.

More later.

Monday, 23 November 2009

23 November 1939

Today is the day in 1939 that HMS Rawalpindi was sunk by Nazi German battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. The brief battle has gone down in naval history as an incredible display of bravery on the part of the Rawalpindi's crew. After trying to hide themselves from the Germans in the North Atlantic fog south of Iceland, they were ordered to surrender by the Scharnhorst. In response, the captain of the Rawalpindi said: never. And he fired a shell at the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau to underline his point. Bear in mind that the Rawalpindi was a converted passenger liner, kitted out with a gun and some armour plating. The Scharnhorst had to reply in kind, and sank the Rawalpindi. The bravery was noted by the German admiralty (sic!). All but 37 of the Rawalpindi's crew were lost in the sinking. Their sacrifice was not in vain; before battle commenced, the Rawalpindi had been able to signal the position of the German battlecruisers to back to base on the Clyde, and an armada of British warships was heading north to intercept. More on this story here.

Monday 23 November

Sunny intervals and drizzly showers is the theme this morning. Not much in terms of wind. That may change later today or tomorrow, but as the low pressure centre once more takes up residence over Lewis, we won't get the (severe) gales forecast for further south. As I said in last night's post, we have been very lucky so far.

Down in Cumbria, Cockermouth has been reopened to residents and business owners. They were allowed to return to the centre of the town from 10 am this morning to inspect their properties and initiate repairs etc. These could take months to complete, with the drying out process taking up to 6 months alone. The Calva Bridge at Workington still stands, but has a 30 cm dip in the central arch, meaning it is going to collapse, either of its own accord or in a demolition. People are advised not to travel using their sat-navs, as they are not programmed to take account of closed bridges and roads. Get the maps out, is the advice. Something I heartily concur with at any time.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Rough weather?

Not here in the Western Isles. Don't believe me? Have a look at these pics, which were all taken in the last 7 days. The only day that could remotely be classified as 'rough' was Thursday, and even that was 'only' at force 6.

Sunday 22 November, 7.40 pm

Sunday 22 November, 9 am

Saturday 21 November, 12.25 pm

Friday 20 November, 4.50 pm

Friday 20 November, 12.25 pm

Thursday 19 November, 10.15 am

Wednesday 18 November, 8.40 am

Tuesday 17 November, 2pm

Wet feet - day 4

Cumbria is once more afflicted with heavy rain and gales. An average November day, if it wasn't for the catastrophic floods of Thursday and Friday. Eleven bridges have collapsed across the county, one collapse was caught on amateur video. One more, at Workington, is unstable and liable to come down at any moment. Even if it stays upright, it is so severely undermined that it will require to be replaced at any rate. The Calva Bridge has been in position for a century and a half. The bridge situation is making life extremely difficult. To travel from the north to the south of Workington, e.g., requires a detour of 90 miles, through Penrith and Carlisle.

Residents and business owners have started to make their return to homes and premises in Cockermouth and Workington, only to find total devastation. The owner of a chemist shop took one look and ran away, according to the BBC reporter. The cost of this disaster to home owners alone is at least £50-100 million. The cost of repairing or replacing infrastructure can be added to that.

A Jland death

Lori, (of Lori's Love Tribe) from Sunshine CO, passed away this morning (22 November 2009) at 4.30 am local time, after a heroically fought battle against cancer. At the moment of diagnosis, last summer, it was already incurable.  

I have asked one of her neighbours in Sunshine, our own David, to write a tribute for Silent Keyboards / Jland Angels. This will be posted by myself as soon as it becomes available. I was not a reader of Lori's blog, and am saddened that I only came to know of this lady in the last hours of her life, probably at the moment of her death. Reading back through the journal, I will go so far as to say that a great person has been lost to the community of Sunshine, and to Jland / Bloggerville.

Sunday 22 November

Overcast and presently fairly bright. The barometer is at a low point, 975 mbar, and will probably dip another 10 points to level out between 960 and 965 mbar later this afternoon. The centre of a low pressure system will pass directly over us - and we're in the eye of the storm. Further south, conditions are pretty atrocious, according to the radar pictures.

Bridges in Cumbria remain a focus for concern; one, in the town of Workington, is on the point of collapse. More than half a dozen others, out of 1800 in Cumbria as a whole, are being assessed for structural soundness. The closure of bridges is going to lead to colossal traffic chaos; travelling from the north of Workington to the south requires a diversion of up to 100 miles.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wet feet - day 3

Just watched the news bulletin with the latest from the towns of Cockermouth and Workington, which are just beginning to dry up after the devastation, wrought by Thursday's and Friday's floods. The image is one of a ghost town - Cockermouth has no power at present - in a state of devastation. The main street in Cockermouth has the weird sight of miles of knitting yarn, wrapped around lampposts etc, after a wool shop was destroyed and its contents washed out onto the street. A clothesline, with the bottom half of white laundry stained a dull brown by the filthy flood waters. The tales of survival and rescue. More rain is on its way to Cumbria, and the danger is not yet past.

Après un rêve

That is the title of a song, composed by Gabriel Fauré in 1878. You can search YouTube for a recording of it. I copy the translation in English:

Drowsing spellbound with the vision of you
I dreamt of happiness, burning mirage,
Your eyes were gentler, your voice was pure and sonorous
You shone like the dawn-lit sky
You called me and I left the earth
To flee with you toward the light
For us the heavens opened up their clouds
To reveal unknown splendour, glimpses of divine light...
Alas, alas, sad awakening from these dreams
I call out to you, oh night, give me back your lies
Come back, come back, radiant one
Come back mysterious night.

I thought it singularly appropriate for the deeply tragic tale of Brian and Christine Thomas. They were on holiday in West Wales in July 2008 and had parked their campervan on a site near the village of Aberporth. Late in the evening, the campsite was invaded by local youths in cars, who sped around the site, with screeching tyres and brakes. The couple moved to another part of the campsite to be rid of the nuisance.

It was after half past three in the morning, when Brian heard someone coming into the campervan. He jumped out of bed and commenced to struggle with one of the boyracers, in order to get him out.

Except, it wasn't a boyracer. Brian awoke from a nightmare, to find he had been struggling with his wife and had strangled her. He rang the emergency services to tell them. He was committed for trial on a charge of murder. Medical evidence revealed that Mr Thomas was suffering from a sleep disorder, which meant that it was impossible to distinguish between dreams and reality. As a result, he was acquitted on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The couple had known each other for 40 years.

Saturday 21 November

Cloud is increasing in the Western Isles of Scotland as another vigorous low pressure system scoots in off the Atlantic. Its centre will pass directly over the islands, but bring gales to points south. In addition to more rain, which is the last thing required down in the Lake District. Methinks that 15 inches in the one day last Thursday was more than enough.

Locally, a war of words is in full swing over an environmental designation. The sea around Barra is home to sandbanks and cold-water reefs which are a unique habitat. The idea has been mooted to promote the area to a Special Area of Conservation, but that has certain strings attached. Fishing, to name but one, would be restricted. And that touches at the heart of the economy of the isle of Barra. Cue a war of words.

More later.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Wet feet - day 2

A police constable has drowned in the floods, which have swept the Lake District this week. PC Bill Baxter was crossing a bridge as it collapsed under him. His body washed up on the shores of the Irish Sea, a few miles from Workington from where he was swept away. Moments before, he had stopped a bus and tanker lorries from crossing the bridge in the A597 road, which runs along the coast of Cumbria.

Hundreds of people were evacuated by helicopter from Cockermouth, east of Workington, as the two rivers that converge at the town rose. Waterlevels in the main street reached 8 feet, and late last night, the water flowed at an estimated 20 to 25 mph. The water has now receded, leaving behind an indescribable mess.

Other places affected by flooding include Keswick and Kendal, in the Lake District, as well as Langholm and Dumfries in southern Scotland. The rainfall totals reached 15 inches in 24 hours; one third of the annual rainfall total for London. It was brought on by a front, which ground to a halt over northwestern England, pumping huge amounts of moisture from the tropics northeast to the British Isles. Another low pressure system is moving in, but this will scoot through with force 9 gales in the northwest (i.e. my neck of the woods).

My sympathies go out to PC Baxter and his family of 4 children, his colleagues and friends.

Second Life

Second Life, a virtual world, was all the hype some 3 years ago. The BBC was wondering if it is still a hype. No, is the simple answer.

I joined SL in 2006, but found it a singularly awkward set-up to handle. Apart from that, the folk whose avatars I came across were unpleasant, unhelpful and rude. I was not prepared to spend money on a site like that, and certainly not if there was not going to be any interest. I know someone who is doing a lot on SL, but was not really prepared to help, was in fact condescending about my professed lack of knowledge or perceived difficulties. It is a niche set-up for the select few - and I'm avoiding the word anorak here.

Friday 20 November

A showery day in the isles today, but nothing as compared to the massive floods in Cumbria, NW England. Up to 370 mm, 14 inches, fell in the mountains there, and all this water had to go somewhere. Like turning into a 20 mph torrent in the streets of Cockermouth and washing away bridges (like at Workington on the coast). At the moment, a search is underway for a policeman who went missing in the collapse of a bridge at Workington overnight. The imagery on TV last night was unbelieveable, and it is worse in daylight. More rain is on the way in from the Atlantic, with high winds.

I am pleased with the appointment of Herman van Rompuy as president of the EU. Van Rompuy was appointed Prime Minister of Belgium a year ago, after attempts to form a national government ran into protracted difficulties. He was brought in as a safe pair of hands, and if he has been able to keep the perennially frought politics of Belgium in line, then he can also sort the EU out.

More later.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Wet feet

The people in Cumbria (the Lake District) are suffering wet feet this evening. The RNLI (Lifeboat) is sending an inland rescue team to the town of Cockermouth, 25 miles southwest of Carlisle, and the TV News showed the town of Keswick under a good deal of water. I know Keswick quite well, having visited several times in 1999 and 2004. This is the result of rainfall, 110 mm (4½ inches) at Keswick, with unconfirmed reports of 276 mm (11 inches) elsewhere in the county.

Flooding is no laughing matter. The water itself is filthy, contaminated with raw sewage and what not. When it comes inside the house, everything it touches can be considered destroyed. Once the water has receded, it will take 6 to 12 months to dry out the house and make it fit for human habitation again. Flood waters stink - as I know of my own experience, having crossed (by bicycle) a flooded road under 2 feet of water in 2000. Yes, I know, a dangerous undertaking. I hope the people in Cumbria are safe tonight.

The weather forecast remains unfavourable, with more wind and rain in the offing over the weekend. Saturday and Sunday is going to be extremely windy in my area.

Thursday 19 November

Overcast and breezy, with the odd spot of rain. It's more than the odd spot they are getting in northern England and the rest of Scotland: a horrendous day down there, with little sign of improvement.

I am still monitoring the bulk carrier "Almi", which has been Not under command for the past two days or so. The ship, 42,000 dwt, is tracking back and forth in the Minch, between Tiumpan Head and Stoer Point. Don't know what is going there, but there is no Coastguard activity in the area, so I assume all is well.

More later.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Windy nook

Blowing a force 6 to 7 out there, with occasional rain. And it's going to get worse, with severe gales in the offing over the next few days. Not necessarily for us, but all points in the west of the UK. Cumbria could be in line for as much as 8 inches of rain (200 mm), which makes flooding a distinct hazard.

Nothing more to report on the hurricane front: the Atlantic season is effectively over, although the northwestern Pacific season still has 6 weeks left to run. Anja has disappeared from the weather charts in the southern Indian Ocean, the first of presumably many storms in the southern hemisphere summer. A nasty looking storm appears to be lashing the northeast of Argentina, if the satellite imagery is anything to go by. However, I have no Spanish and the Google Translator is usually awful.

London is a long way away from Stornoway, and I watched this morning's state opening of parliament with a degree of bemusement. Her Majesty appeared to be battling a cold, and I even discerned a sniffle in amongst all the Bills, set to be introduced by Her government. A General Election is due by May 2010 at the latest, so all those policy statements sounded more like a party manifesto.

The wind continues to blow outside, but I'm signing off here for the night. Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday 18 November

Bright and sunny this morning, although still quite cold - just over 5C / 41F at the moment. The "Almi" that I thought had departed is still about in the Minch, but slowly moving about to stay away from rocky shores. This is quite a large bulk carrier, 180 m / 600 ft in length, and a girth of 31 m / 100 ft, with a tonnage of 42,000 dwt.

Normally, if you get lost, you stop and ask for directions. OK, us men have a reputation for not doing so, and one Australian chap decided to keep going. And going. Until he was 370 miles from home - in Melbourne, rather than Sydney. He realised he was lost, but liked to drive.

Jump from a height into water? For heaven's sake DON'T. Down in southern Scotland, a teenage girl was killed after falling onto rocks in a pool near Dumfries. She was going to jump, then tried to abort, but was already too far gone. The 16-year old died a day later in hospital. I have seen footage on YouTube of local youngsters jumping off breakwaters and cliffs, out of bravado. You don't know what is below the water, if there is much water at all (tide) etc. Tombstoning? You could well find yourself below a tombstone with that trick.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Not under command?

I am currently watching Ship AIS, which shows shipping around Stornoway (and other ports). One of the vessels, the Almi, caught my attention, as it is marked as Not under command. That is a worrying sign. Last time that happened, the ship in question ran aground. As the map below shows, the Almi is currently drifting east, some 15 miles east of Tiumpan Head in Lewis and 7 miles west of Stoer Head (due east of Tiumpan Head). I hope the Coastguard is in contact - might give them a bell.

I can add that the ship has been marked not under command since 8.30pm this evening. Before then, the Almi was travelling southwest down the Minch at 12 knots, although it is headed for the St Lawrence River in Canada - for which it need not go down the Minch. I suspect the vessel has some sort of mechanical failure.


This afternoon, at 1622 GMT, an earthquake occurred with a magnitude of 6.8 on the Richter scale. Its epicentre was located near the Queen Charlotte Islands off the Canadian west coast, some 400 miles northwest of Vancouver. The quake was felt only as 'weak' in Prince Rupert, 300 miles to the north and other towns in the region. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre erroneously reported that a tsunami was generated, but this was NOT the case.

Sunset notes

The sun has set on another short day - it has graced us with 8 hours of its presence today. In a month's time, that timespan will be only a little over 6 hours. The weather has cleared up nicely, and only on the distant horizon do some cumulus clouds loom. The weather radar shows a new band of patchy rain or showers, moving slowly up from the southwest. Visibility is reportedly good, 40 km / 25 miles, but the cloud is obscuring my view of the Applecross Forest. The barometer is low, at 989 mbar as one low pressure system moves away and another approaches. The one following on behind is in the middle of the Atlantic and set to bring us very windy weather on Thursday. And depression no 4 looks pretty hefty at the end of the 84-hour period that the weathercharts show me. November is here, and boy, will we know about it.

Locally, the Pairc Trust, which seeks to take over the land of the Pairc Estate in South Lochs (12 miles south of Stornoway as the crow flies, but 30 miles by road) is going to ballot the residents whether to proceed with a hostile buy-out bid. Under landreform legislation, introduced in 2003, any community is entitled to buy the land off the landowner, willing or unwilling. Until now, community buy-outs have commonly proceeded by amicable arrangement between community trust and land owner, but Pairc may see the first hostile buy-out bid.

In November 2004, just after I came to Lewis, the residents of Pairc voted for a community buy-out; the first such move in the Western Isles. Now, five years later, other bids have succeeded: North Harris, Benbecula, South Uist & Eriskay, Galson - but Pairc is still mired in legalistics, brought about by the land owner who does not want to sell. Why not? Because there are plans afoot to build a hugely profitable windfarm in the Pairc Estate (pop. 400), something that would make the land owner quite rich. Will this windfarm actually go ahead? Well, the presence of golden eagles in the district could put a spanner in the works. For they are a protected species of bird, and windturbines are known to cause the death of many an eagle - those of my readers in California will be aware of that.

Tuesday 17 November

Overcast and quite wet this morning in Stornoway, although there is some brightness creeping up from the south. The current rainfront is moving away to the northeast, with bright spells following along over the Uists. Another belt of showers is showing up on the radar to the north of Ireland, midway between Barra and Malin Head.

And our local authority is cutting back on the number of hours their gritters are on the road. Is that a case of being on the slippery slope? I'm only being half funny there. A few years ago, someone died on the island's main route, the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road, when his car skidded off the road on a patch of ice. Which was supposed to have been treated.

Anyway, I'm going to have a coffee now, and after that I'll continue comparing two listings from WW1 Rolls of Honour, one published in 1916 and one in 1921. I have already dug up more than 400 missing names, and as I have 1500 names left to go through, there'll be more discrepancies. 

Monday, 16 November 2009

Monday 16 November

Overcast this morning, with the odd spot of rain. The sun is putting in a very watery appearance through thickening cloud; a batch of rain is lurking off the west coast. On Wednesday, an intense area of low pressure will bring us gales.

Was out at Goat Island this morning to photograph a live fish carrier which went up on the slipway for maintenance. The Ronja Carrier takes smolts (young salmon) to fishfarms for growing and fattening. There are several Ronja's up and down the west coast; the Ronja Pioneer is a regular visitor at Stornoway.

Tropical cyclone Anja is making a magnificent sight on the satellite pictures. Sited in the southern Indian Ocean, it is equivalent in strength to a category III hurricane. This storm is at least 500 miles from any land, and is not expected to make landfall. By Wednesday, it will lose strength and be swept away towards Australia in the mid-latitude westerly airflow.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sunday 15 November

The sun has set about half an hour ago and it is getting dark now. The weather today has been very changeable, with frequent and at times heavy showers. We can look forward to some severe weather on Wednesday.

Out in the Indian Ocean, the first tropical cyclone of the southern hemisphere season means business. Anja is moving towards Mauritius at 5 mph and has blown up to a 105 knots hurricane (that's category III). It does not appear likely that Mauritius will be directly affected - at this stage. Neither is it impossible though. It promptly leads to a flurry of activity on my tropical cyclones blog. And it's only November.

Just finished watching an episode of Colombo - always interesting to see how the great, scruffy detective works out for himself how the murder was committed. For those unfamiliar with the series, an episode of Colombo starts showing a murder being carried out.

Today, it is 5 years ago since I arrived in the Isle of Lewis. Much has changed since then.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

In retrospect

Tonight, I was browsing through the J-land Central blog and came across a listing of journals, once kept by journalers who have since passed on. Go across and remember Lahoma, Walt, Chuck, Barbara, Jim, Kim, Pam and Penny (in no particular order). It only seems like yesterday that we followed their struggles with ill health, supporting them every step of the way. The transition to Blogger appears to have broken the link, so please nip along.

Hurricane update - 14 November

As the northern hemisphere hurricane season draws to a close, the southern hemisphere tropical cyclone is firing up. The first tropical cyclone was born this morning, and Anja is expected to reach hurricane strength. Fortunately, this storm is more than a thousand miles from land of any description, and Diego Garcia is watching it disappearing to the southwest. The customary November storms around the Indian sub-continent have put in an appearance; 04A made landfall south of Bombay earlier this week.

The southern hemisphere season always draws in a large number of visitors to my tropical cyclones blog: back in 2007, cyclone Gamede, a category III hurricane, was a cause for grave concern for Mauritius and La Reunion and raised the daily count to 2,300. A record - the daily average (according to Sitemeter) stands at about 115. Since July 2006, when I commenced the TC blog, I have clocked up some 68,000 visitors.

Through the northern hemisphere winter, I shall continue to refer to cyclones threatening land on Atlantic Lines.

Title picture

I have once more changed the front picture, now taken in daylight. It shows the Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan near Carloway, some 20 miles west of Stornoway on the west coast of Lewis. I took the picture at around 4pm, just before sunset, last Wednesday. The Blackhouse Village is not home to permanent residents; the last ones left in 1974. In the early 1990s, someone took it upon himself to restore the homesteads and turn them into self-catering accommodation, a restaurant & shop as well as a youth hostel. Gearrannan (Garenin) itself lies a few hundred yards up the road, and is a normal village. Apart from homes and crofts, it also houses one of the three Harris Tweed mills in Lewis.

Saturday 14 November

Overcast and wet today, but nowhere near as bad as the weather in southwestern England at the moment. Plymouth, on the Devon coast, is reporting gusts of 69 mph, with gales widespread along the English Channel. The high tide combined with heavy rain is likely to cause coastal flooding. The stormy weather, according to the Met Office, is likely to continue into next week, with a storm headed for the northwest of Scotland by the middle of the week.

The attack at Fort Hood, Texas, is now known to have caused injuries to 43 people, including the assailant. He could be facing the death penalty. I am slightly disquietened by the backlash against Muslim people in certain sectors of American society. I understand that this is still a very fraught subject, 8 years after 9/11, but until it is known what prompted Maj Hassan to his actions, it is best to reserve judgment - and leave such judgment to the courts.

Channel Five is going to have its newsbulletins read by people with a facial disfigurement. One of them has scarring resulting from burns, sustained in a car crash; the other has a rare congenital disorder. More here.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Accidents and errors

A man, working on a local crab fishing boat, lost a finger yesterday in an accident. Hebrides News reports:

The Stornoway coastguard rescue helicopter was altered and flew to the scene some five miles off the Butt of Lewis yesterday.

It's bad enough this man lost a finger. But having to alter the helicopter first, wow.

(Yes I know, it's a typo)

Friday 13 November

Fairly bright morning, but with a lot of cloud about and windy. The south of the UK is braced for stormy weather, with high winds and gusts up to 75 mph. Sends me wondering what all the fuss is about - that's normal for the Western Isles, where I'm at.

Yesterday, a by-election was held in the constituency of Glasgow North East. The candidate for the Labour Party won, with the Scottish National Party coming second and the Conservatives third. Hard on their heels was the British National Party. There was a record low turn-out, for a Scottish by-election, of 33%. Glasgow NE is a poor and deprived area, with high unemployment and all the attendant problems. The BNP, in polling 5% achieved one of its best results in a Westminster election. I repeat my position that if parties like the BNP come to the fore, it means that there are problems in society which are not seen to be addressed by any of the mainstream political parties.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Thursday 12 November

Overcast, with some chinks of brightness and the occasional drop of rain. The barometer is slowly falling, and the rainfall radar shows a large band of heavy rain over Ireland. This appears to have our name on it. As does another band presently still out in the Atlantic.

Here in Lewis, there is a promise for 100 new jobs at Arnish (across the water from my position), if and when a fish processing factory is opened there. Bearing in mind the poor state the local economy is in, all new jobs are welcome. The Fabrication Yard has operated a revolving door policy (now it's open, now it's shut), and I'll never forget the wind turbines being taken across to Denmark for finishing, when one of its previous operators went bust in the middle of filling an order. Upon return from Kolding, one of the turbines fell overboard into the North Sea during a force 9 gale...

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Wednesday afternoon

Spent an enjoyable afternoon out and about, after jumping on the 2.30 bus to Garenin on the west coast of Lewis. Most passengers had alighted by the time we approached Carloway, and there we sat for about 10 minutes. Just after half past three, a bevvy of primary school kids came on board, to be deposited outside their respective houses around Carloway. Garenin is nearly 2 miles west of that village. It looked wintery and deserted. Which it was. All the houses were locked up, and there was nobody in the office. Fortunately, ran into a couple who had been out walking and offered a lift back to Stornoway. Which saved a wait of half an hour in a cold wind, and another wait of 20 minutes at Carloway for the connecting bus service. The lift givers took the alternative route, along the Pentland Road - one of my favourite island roads. Returned to town by about 4.45pm, an hour ahead of schedule. Which meant I had an entire hour to play with this evening.

It was cold today, with a thin wind, but with a beautiful winter's light. Although the daylight hours now come at a premium, I have to admit there is a serene, quiet beauty in this time of year. The tourists have virtually disappeared, and the buses are now the domain of the local residents. By mid afternoon, they head home from their shopping sprees in Stornoway, dropped at their door by the drivers. You can join or leave a bus at any point in this island, and my 27 mile journey to Garenin only cost me £4.40 return.

Wednesday 11 November

A brilliantly sunny day with hardly a cloud in the sky. It was very cold in the night, with the mercury dipping well below zero, to minus 2C (28F). Current temps around +9C / 48F. Tomorrow and Friday will be wet and increasingly windy.

Today is Armistice Day, and it is 91 years ago since the cessation of hostilities in the First World War. Peace was not declared until June 1919. The German Hochseeflotte was interned in Scapa Flow, Orkney, and in order to prevent the fleet being seized by the British, the commander of the fleet ordered it to be scuttled. Unbeknown to any but the most senior officers, the ships went to the bottom on June 21st, 1919. Several German sailors died, through drowning or being shot on trying to escape. During my visit to Orkney last October, I found more than a dozen of their graves at Lyness and Kirkwall. Some of the ships were raised in following years, and their metal is in great demand. Any steel, manufactured after 1944, is contaminated with atmospheric radiation originating from nuclear explosions. It is therefore unusuable for extremely sensitive instruments, like those on board satellites in space, monitoring distant stars and galaxies. The steel from the German Hochseeflotte is uncontaminated, and is used for that purpose.

Turning to the British casualties, remembered today, I would like to plug the two books I mentioned yesterday. Click on the images of the covers for details.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Follow up

My previous post, Ultimate Sacrifice, requires a bit of extra information. It would appear that The Sun newspaper had prompted Cpl Janes' mother to record her conversation with PM Gordon Brown. A callous ploy to get at the Prime Minister, who has recently lost the political support of The Sun. They have shifted their political stance, best typified by the ladies on page three. My political allegiances are nobody's business, but it is common knowledge that Gordon Brown lost a child at a young age himself, and to abuse a woman's grief and grievance is typical for The Sun newspaper.

Ultimate sacrifice

Today, the remains of six British servicemen, killed in Afghanistan, arrived at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire. The hearses carrying the soldiers threaded through the nearby town of Wootton Bassett, with the townspeople once more paying their respects. It was the 98th time they did so. Death is an occupational hazard of being a soldier, and those that join the armed forced voluntarily do so in the full knowledge that they may be required to lay down their life in the service of Queen and Country. Those that did so in past and present conflicts were remembered on Sunday, and will be remembered again tomorrow, on Armistice Day. And every day.

War is initiated by politicians and executed by soldiers. The politicians ensure that the military have the equipment to do their job, and be able to deal with the consequences. Today, we were treated to the ungainly sight and sound of one grieving mother, lashing out at Prime Minister Gordon Brown for sending her a letter of condolence allegedly riddled with spelling errors and deletions. The PM telephoned the lady in person, on receipt of her letter of complaint - and the mother proceeded to record the interview. Which was played on Sky TV this afternoon. Apart from the letter of complaint, the mother also states that her son died through lack of equipment - an assertion she repeated to Mr Brown (more on this story here). An accusation repeatedly leveled at the Government throughout both the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

To me, it was plain that the mother of the servicemen who died in Afghanistan has great difficulty coming to terms with her loss, and (understandably) tried to find someone to blame for his death. In this case, the Prime Minister. However, I would like to join Falklands veteran Simon Weston in saying that it is unfortunate that a handwritten letter contained spelling mistakes - but the fact that it was handwritten in the first place is much more important. Secondly, Mr Brown himself has lost a child, albeit at a much younger age.

Grief is something to be conducted in private. Trying to find someone to blame is natural, but at the end of the day, as I said a few paragraphs ago, death is an occupational hazard of being a soldier.

RIP Jamie Janes.

Tuesday 10 November

Bright and sunny day after a very wet and windy night. Feeling cool but that's mid November for you.
Tropical storm Ida made landfall south of Mobile, Alabama, about an hour and a half ago. The rain (up to 8 inches) is going to be the worst problem associated with this system.

Tomorrow is Armistice Day. On that occasion, I have published two volumes, listing the casualties originating from the Isle of Lewis. The books can only be bought from, i.e. through the Internet. They are NOT available in bookshops. The on-line tributes will of course remain, and contain links to the relevant pages on

Faces from the Lewis War Memorial (First World War)
World War II casualties from Lewis

Privately, I have also prepared a similar book for Harris and the Uists.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Internet surveillance

The Home Office in the UK is going to ask communication service providers to retain records of who is in touch with who on the Internet. This applies mainly to social networking sites, e.g. Facebook and Twitter. Powers of intercept already exist for telephone communcations, and according to the government need to be extended to the Internet. This would be primarily in the fields of combating crime and safeguarding national security. The content of the actual conversation would not be divulged to the police or security services.

I believe that there is a distinct difference between phone tapping and monitoring internet traffic. Phone tapping is directed against one specific telephone connection; the above described proposals can be compared to the retention of DNA samples from anyone arrested, even if they were not subsequently charged or, following a trial, acquitted. This proposed policy goes one step further, in that any contact on the internet can be monitored without limitation - whether an offence has been committed or not, and whether national security is seen to be at stake or not.

I realise that there is a genuine case for monitoring internet traffic in combating crime and safeguarding national security. But this is an intrusion into people's privacy, and we all want to be able to be in touch with whoever we wish, without the state peeping over our shoulders. I hope that proper safeguards will be in place to ensure our privacy.

Monday 9 November

Overcast today with a line of rain moving in from the Atlantic. It'll be here before nightfall. Hurricane Ida is weakening as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico; current thinking from the National Hurricane Center places landfall between Pascagoula (MS) and Indian Pass (FL) overnight local time. The storm will just about be at hurricane strength. Beware of tornadoes and the rainfall totals, which could top 8 inches from the Gulf Coast to the Appalachians and the Tennessee Valley.

9 November 1938 - an organised mob of Nazi forces and sympathisers go on the rampage in towns and cities across Germany, smashing and destroying Jewish-owned property and businesses. It was to be a marker, to 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.

9 November 1989 - a premature announcement about the opening of the East German borders leads to a spontaneous breaking of the border control points in Berlin. Nobody interferes, and the night is one of delirious happiness. The oppressive regime of Erich Honecker is at an end, something that the Soviet leaders had been anticipating and allowing to happen. It was the preamble to the collapse of another regime of oppression in Europe, that of communism.

9 November is referred to in Germany as the Night of Fate. Many key events in the country's history appear to take place on this date. I am very happy that the Wall came down in 1989, and hope that the Berliners have a great day of it today. I sincerely hope they do not forget that the Fall of the Wall ended what the Night of Broken Glass commenced.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Sunday notes

It was a beautifully sunny day in Stornoway with hardly a cloud in the sky. The temperature reached 11C, but is close to freezing at the moment. It is November and the nights are getting cold. Had a quiet day, watching television and mostly being on the Net only to post the updates on Hurricane Ida.

If you are worried about Hurricane Ida, please keep a very close eye on the forecasts. The storm will approach the northern Gulf Coast last Monday / early Tuesday, but will be in the process of turning into a non-tropical area of low pressure. The forecasters are having one heck of a job with the predictions. Rainfall will probably the worst problem, as up to 8 inches could fall in the eastern Tennessee Valley and the southern Appalachian Mountains.

Remembrance Sunday today - Armistice Day will be on Wednesday. It will be 91 years since the guns fell silent at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year 1918. As you may remember, I keep a website, listing the Fallen from the Isle of Lewis. I am preparing a publication of that information in book form, which I hope to go live with on Wednesday. Part of the proceeds of any sales will go to the Royal British Legion in Stornoway.

Hurricane update - 8 November

Hurricane Ida is currently approaching Cancun in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, with winds near its core of 90 to 110 mph. The storm will strengthen a little more, but by tomorrow, atmospheric conditions will deteriorate. Ida is expected to head north towards New Orleans, but be barely at hurricane strength upon nearing that city on Tuesday. This system is not expected to make landfall on the mainland of the United States, but instead turn into a non-tropical depression, but still with stormforce winds (force 10 to 11 on the Beaufort scale).

Follow the NHC output for 3 hourly updates.

Sunday 8 November

Remembrance Sunday. As I type, a service of Remembrance is underway up at the Lewis War Memorial. The 1,300 men lost in the First World War and more than 400 in the Second World War will be remembered. All the war dead of the United Kingdom are remembered today, up and down the land. It was said on TV this morning that the line of those, fallen in war service, would stretch from Edinburgh to London, a good 400 miles.

More later.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Saturday 7 November

Bright and sunny this morning, with the odd light shower. A procession of anvil clouds along the southwestern horizon made me fear the worst, but so far, not much rain. Overnight, the mercury went down to freezing point. A bit unusual for this neck of the woods.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday, the 91st anniversary of the Armistice that brought the First World War to a close. Here in Lewis, nearly 2,000 dead from both world wars will be remembered at a ceremony at the War Memorial. Anyone who has ever come into Stornoway from elsewhere in the island will be familiar with this prominent landmark. The below image shows its aspect from the main road coming up from the south.

Apart from this memorial, another 15 memorials are dotted all over Lewis. They will be the local focus points in tomorrow morning's commemorations.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Towards the end of the year

Yes, you read that correctly. It is November 6th, and to me, the year is slowly heading towards its conclusion. Long gone are the light nights and bright days of summer. Only yesterday did I look out to the southwest at twenty past four in the afternoon, and did I see the sun? No, it had set a couple of minutes before. The tourists have all headed home, with the exception of the odd customary winter visitor, here to experience the ferocity of the Atlantic winter storms. It has been dark for nearly four hours by the time the ferry comes in, at 8.20pm. If I see it coming in, as the curtains are drawn after nightfall. In summer, it comes in at 12.45 am, and it isn't even fully dark. Not now. When it leaves at 7 am, it is still dark. I walked past the slaughterhouse earlier this week, and caught the smell of beasts, newly discharged into its interior - to emerge onto our dinnerplates at some stage. The lambs that were gambolling on the machairlands in April and May, perhaps? Not a thought worth entertaining for too long. The verdant green, to use that dreadful duplication, has been taken off the moorlands and replaced by the dull browns, yellows and black of winter. Autumn, now firmly in charge, has been thoroughly wet, and any thought of venturing into the moors have to be dispelled. Snow, although not in the forecast, is a growing possibility. As is hail. During my first winter here, five years ago, I grew accustomed to the sound of the wind buffeting the house and hail (or rain) clattering against the windows. So much so, that in fact I could not sleep if there was no wind or hail. But I had a very restful winter in 2004/5. My abiding image of my first winter is that of a flock of sheep, crossing a snow-covered road late at night, seen in the yellow glow of the streetlights - when I was staying in an outlying area. Another memory is that of the hurricane in January 2005 which battered these islands with winds of up to 134 mph, taking five lives with it.

It is now November 2009, and in just over a week's time, on the 16th, I will be at the 5th anniversary of my stay in Lewis. Much has changed for me in that time, some of it for better, some of it for worse. In 8 weeks time, the first decade of this century will be over, as we head into 2010. The pace of change in these islands is slower than elsewhere, but change does happen.

Evening notes

A quarter past nine, and it's about 3 hours ago since the power came back on. Have defrosted, but so have some things in the freezer. Anyway, candles and an open fire helped the atmosphere.

There is a row in these islands about the location of a centre, dedicated to St Kilda and its heritage. Last week, the steering group recommended the village of Mangersta in Uig (West Lewis). The two other contenders, Harris and North Uist, are crying foul. We shall see what happens at the next steering group meeting on Thursday, November 12th. There were allegations of moved goalposts.

I was very sad to hear of the shooting at Fort Hood, TX, yesterday afternoon local time. At last reading, 13 people are dead and dozens more injured.

Friday 6 November

Pouring with rain and strong winds today. An enormous contrast to yesterday. Not much on-line time today: the power is off for electrical works in the house and I have 60 minutes of battery power to work with until the electrician is finished.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Thursday 5 November

Guy Fawkes night tonight: if you're letting off fireworks, please be careful.
- keep pets indoors with lights and music on
- light fireworks with a lit cigarette, not an open flame
- stand them in a bottle
- have a bucket of water or sand ready for the dud ones

- do not hold anything in your hand
- never throw or direct fireworks at people
- check bonfires for wild creatures before setting them alight
- use firelighters to help a bonfire on its way, do NOT use accelerants like petrol

It's a brilliant, sunny day in Stornoway  - this is the second day running we've had sunny weather in defiance of the forecast. The temperature is 11C, quite normal for early November. The barometer has risen steadily, from 970 mbar on Tuesday to 995 mbar today. I think I prefer this to what is currently bearing down on Nicaragua: hurricane Ida. This system will come ashore this afternoon (GMT) and deluge Nicaragua and Honduras with up to 25 inches of rain. Even if it doesn't make it across these countries, Ida will be claiming lives due to flashfloods and mudslides.

More later.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Social networking - one columnist's view

I read the Press and Journal newspaper, the regional paper for the north of Scotland. One of its columnists is UK columnist of the year. Not if her outpouring in today's P&J is anything to go by: prejudiced to a P. Read for yourself -

Hurricane update - 4 November

This afternoon, a tropical depression has formed in the far southwestern Caribbean Sea. It is located about 125 miles east of Nicaragua and is moving northwest. System 11L (Ida) could already be a tropical storm and will certainly be at that intensity at landfall, in the early hours of tomorrow (GMT). The main hazard is rainfall, and Nicaragua and Honduras could see 15 to 20 inches (375 to 500 mm) of rain, with possible maximum amounts of 25 inches (625 mm). Mudslides and flashfloods are a distinct possibility.

The National Hurricane Center carries 3-hourly updates.

Wednesday 4 November

A very nice, sunny day here in the Western Isles and it's been dry all morning. Hardly any cloud in the sky, although there is a breeze going. The starlings, sparrows, finches, greenfinches, doves and other small fry is still having a good old go at the birdfeeders - they don't go far when I go out to rake up the last of the leaves. When a hooded crow came in to have a look, they retreated to a safe distance in the tree, and did not resume eating until after the black and grey crow had flown away.

A baby is in hospital in Edinburgh, suffering from botulism. The 16-week old from Fife was admitted on September 19th, and is in a serious but stable conditions. I am surprised to hear of botulism in November; the disease, caused by a form of Clostridium bacteria, is commonly transmitted in hot weather, when the temperature in ponds etc exceeds 27C / 80F. It is carried by ducks, and that how the bacterium reaches humans. The clostridium bacterium lives in soil, and does not require oxygen for its life cycle. Tetanus is caused by another type of clostridium, and the hospital infection caused by Clostridium difficile takes a hold when someone's immune system is weakened.

The war in Afghanistan continues to claim the lives of servicemen from the States and the UK; five British servicemen were killed by an Afghan policemen who fired on them. NATO forces ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan in 2001, following American intervention in the wake of 9/11. The Taliban have resorted to guerilla warfare, using roadside bombs as their most effective means of killing the foreign troops. The situation in the country begins to resemble that of the 1980s, when Soviet troops tried to take control. The purpose of the war is beginning to recede into the background, as not much progress is seen to be made. Elections were held recently which were far from devoid of fraud, and President Karzai, who was reelected by default after a challenger withdrew prior to a rerun of the poll, has pledged to root out corruption.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Tuesday 3 November

Day started out very wet, but it is clearing up nicely now, and the mainland hills are even trying to put in an appearance, from 60 miles away. Spoke to someone this morning who may be a relative of one of the men, lost off a ship during the First World War off the Butt of Lewis. It was a converted trawler, the Thomas Stratten, which hit a mine on 20 October 1917. Seven others lost their lives on her that day. This entry is dedicated to their memory.

I am very pleased with the notion of "a post a day" that is going round this month. I hope many more people will rediscover their blog and find they can write more on there than on Facebook or Twitter.

Radovan Karadzic, on trial for war crimes in The Hague, has made an appearance in court, in spite of previously stating he was boycotting proceedings. He says he needs another 10 months to prepare his defence, to work through 1.3 million pages of material. The court will determine whether this will be allowed or not. It has already become clear from prosecution statements that it appears likely that Mr Karadzic was personally in charge of a lot of the war crimes, allegedly committed under his aegis.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Monday 2 November

Bright and sunny this morning with some light showers. Over on the east coast of Scotland, they have more than just a few light showers: flooding up to 4 feet deep is affecting towns from Inverness to Aberdeen to Dundee. Arbroath is cut off by flood water, Stonehaven and Aberdeen, further north, affected by floodwaters. The rain has moved away into the North Sea. The weather charts indicate that a low pressure system will take up residence over northern Scotland this week. The result will be reasonable weather here in the northwest, but awful elsewhere.

The proposed windfarms in southeast Lewis are in serious jeopardy today, after it appeared that European Union regulations on protected species could be invoked. These regulations stipulate that any area, housing golden and sea eagles, should be regarded as a species protected area, even if the area is not currently subject to such a designation. This ruling was used to turn down a windfarm application for a site near Inveraray, Argyll, which had 10 times fewer eagles than are around in Lochs.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Closing the day

Eleven minutes to eleven in the evening as I start to write this post. My header pictures has been changed once more, and this time it is not a landscape picture - it is quite typical of this time of year. The time was 8pm yesterday evening, and I went to the shop to try to get a copy of my daily rag (the Press and Journal). It had of course sold out hours before. The street is in an industrial area of Stornoway - yes, those are private homes on the right of the picture. I like taking pictures at night, and have devoted an entire set to them on

I have sorted out my subscriptions on Google Reader, and noticed quite a few blogs that were on there which were no longer in existence. The mess, caused by my ill-advised link-up to Blogger, has been sorted - I have a group of blogs that I monitor regularly; the rest are a repository of links.

Spent the afternoon and evening watching an episode of Colombo and one of Poirot. And managed to find the score for the tune for Poirot, so I can now play it on the keyboard. Should be interesting. For now, we're heading into a week with a lot of wet weather. November here we are.

Illicit drugs, the advisor and the government minister

At the moment, the British government is involved in what I can only describe as an unseemly row of the 'screaming' variety. He is at loggerheads with the head of the drug advisory council (I should really say: former head) on the classification of cannabis as an illegal drug. The government have reclassified cannabis to category B, up from the less severe category C. The advisory council have advised the government to downgrade cannabis, but the government have declined to follow this advice. The head of the council, Prof Nutt, has attacked the government over this decision. The government in turn, has asked the professor to resign - which he has done - for interfering in government policy and acting outside of his remit.

This is very harmful to all parties involved. Other members of the advisory council are quitting as well. At lunchtime, we were treated to the spectacle of a Home Secretary raising his voice on BBC TV to put his point across that he really felt the council acted out of order.

Rather than sitting down behind closed doors, and if necessary shout their heads off at each other, this is now being conducted in the full glare of the media spotlight. As a result, the credibility of both government and council is undermined. The misuse of cannabis, an illegal substance, is a major problem in society across the world. In my personal opinion, cannabis should remain classified as a category B substance. On its own, it is a harmful substance. Smoking it is more harmful than tobacco, as the amounts of tar inhaled are far higher. Cannabis can bring on florid (overt) schizophrenia in those individuals predisposed towards that incurable condition. Furthermore, there are thousands of people who can tell the horror story of a relative or friend using cannabis, then as a result, moving on to the use of heroin or cocaine. Cannabis is not an innocent "soft drug".

However, it should be borne in mind that its use is widespread, and a pragmatic approach, along the line taken by the Dutch authorities, might work. Cannabis is a proscribed substance in Holland, but the authorities will not prosecute anyone found in the possession of a quantity, sufficient for their own personal use. They also do not prosecute the owners of so-called coffeeshops, where cannabis can be purchased in small quantities. Anyone found in possession of large amounts of cannabis, clearly intended for supply, will be prosecuted with the full force of the law.

There is this misconception that cannabis is legalised in Holland. It is not. And anyone returning from Holland to the UK or any other country, in possession of a small, user's, quantity, will be liable to prosecution and a criminal record.

Sunday 1 November

A wet day in Stornoway. Not as wet and windy as is currently the case in northern England and southern Scotland - more than 2 inches of rain and winds up to 60 mph. Autumn is now firmly in charge.

I am very displeased with Blogger and Google Reader today. First of all, I am unable to manage my Followed blogs on Blogger, and when I tried to do that on the Reader, it messed up my arrangement of blogs on there. I have nearly 400 subscriptions (not all blog, but put that count at 350). Adding Blogs I Follow was a big mistake. Things rearranged themselves, and I'm find myself going through that unwanted addition to put it all back.

Some football fans, travelling by train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen last night, were dressed up as sheep. Those in the UK will be familiar with an advertisement, showing a railway station and a train full of sheep - and one man. The fans decided to have even more fun and set one "sheep" alight. Two people were hurt and taken to hospital in Kirkcaldy, on the Fife coast. Others were arrested and are assisting police with their enquiries.