View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

One year on

On 30 September 2008, AOL gave us a month's notice to quit and abandon our journals. Yes, it's a year ago. Tomorrow will be the first anniversary of this blog, Atlantic Lines. As I said a few days ago, much has changed. Not always for the better, but not necessarily wholly for the worse either.

On 30 September 2004, I was in the process of relocating from the Northern Isles to the Western Isles. I'll post that day's diary entry below.

For the first time in weeks, I had a room (or more accurately: a cabin) to myself. At 7 a.m., I found myself in a rain- and windswept Aberdeen. Delayed my departure from the ferry until the latest possible hour. Slouched off into the city at 10 a.m.. First thing needed: a townplan. Second: a post office, to send off maps and other stuff related to Orkney that was no longer required. A dark-coloured lady tried to chat me up in the PO, what a laff. Spent the rest of the morning sloping round the soaking-wet streets, with that bloody big pack on my back.Want to find the library, but Aberdeen, the Granite City, is very grey and even greyer in this rain. After I buy a pastry in a shop, and miserably eat it on a bench, I locate the library. I walked past it several times during 40 minutes, just past the Robert Gordon University. No, the library wasn't that great either. Few terminals, very limited time, and the terminal I was on crashed. Went to the station and found there was a train to Inverness at around 3pm. I was on it. Aberdeen I just do not like. Folk are friendly enough. Train departed at 3.25 and it was pretty full. As we went east, the rain relented although it stayed overcast right the way through. I can't say I'm riveted by the Moray or Aberdeenshire countryside - sorry, was in a foul mood all day today. Arrived in Inverness at 5pm, and booked into the Youth Hostel on Millburn Drive. Then went back to the Safeway for shopping. Had a lot of bother finding my way round, I had become quite used to the Co-op and Safeway stores in Kirkwall. Cooked supper,did the laundry, went on the Internet using vouchers. Fairly good deal: £1 for 20 minutes, or 24 minutes if you join the club. As membership was free, I gladly joined back in Kirkwall. Show a couple of young hostellers how to use the laundry machines. There is a group of disabled kids in who are on a trip out of Shetland. In Inverness, you can only get into the rooms using a swipe card. Some strange characters in my room tonight. Typical Mediterraneans, don't like them.

From the archives: Wednesday 29 September 2004

In the morning, I jump on the bus to the Houton Ferry, to go to Hoy. Crossing was rendered uninteresting, because we were required to stay below decks all the way to Lyness. On arrival, I have to time my walk carefully. Lyness itself is just plain unsightly. It used to be part of the Scapa Flow naval base, and after the war the Royal Navy just pulled out and sailed off into the sunset. The base was just left to fall to ruin. Worst are all the buildings, also scattered over the hillside beside the village. I walk north along the B9048, in the general direction of Moaness, at the northern end of Hoy. After about 45 minutes, I have left the village and am in the farming area of the island. Workmen are laying long stretches of blue piping, which I later learn are water mains. At 12.45, I reach a picnic site by Pegal Bay.This abuts a small, fenced-off nature reserve. All along this road you'll encounter milestones, totting up the distance between Lyness and Moaness. After Pegal Bay, the road veers inland to cross over the shoulder of Pegal Hill to Lyrawa Bay. Below Lyrawa Hill, 5½ miles / 9km outside Lyness, I encounter Betty Corrigal's grave. This is a recent feature, a fibre-glass tombstone dedicated to the memory of a young woman who committed suicide after falling pregnant out of wedlock in the 18th century. She fell for the charms of a sailor, who afterwards disappeared. She was buried in an unmarked grave, because suicides are not buried in consecrated ground. She lay undisturbed for 160 years, until her coffin was found by peat cutters in 1930. Her body had remained virtually intact, only the noose beside her had turned to dust. She was reburied, but during WW2, sailors frequently got her out. Finally, in 1949, she was buried for the last time. An American minister asked for the current headstone to be erected, but this was not done for another 27 years. After a moment or two, I squelched my way back to the road. I walked up the track, onto the nearby Lyrawa Hill, to view the gun emplacements that lie abandoned there. Nice views east, towards Wideford Hill near Kirkwall, and the hills above Houton. At 2pm, I went back towards Lyness. Forty minutes later, I was very kindly offered a lift back to Lyness by an elderly Australian couple who were here to trace ancestors by looking round graveyards. Their car made short shrift of the remaining 4 miles, and I was left with 1½ hours to kill around Lyness. Wandered up the hill to an ugly, derilict, concrete building that looked as if it had been some sort of HQ. Everything covered in layers of dirt, electrical wiring hanging all over. To escape the chilly north wind, I sat down in the lee of the building for a cuppa. Then ambled down to the ferry terminal. Ferry arrived at 4pm, but they raised the ramp again. It's not due to sail until 4.40. Have a look round the Scapa Flow museum, and the hazardous dockside. Ferry leaves on time, and I'm having a pleasant chat with a nice couple in their mid 50's. They offer me a lift back to Kirkwall once at Houton. One other person joins me in the car, but not before somebody returns me a glove I had dropped somewhere. I'm dropped off outside Safeways for shopping at 7pm. On return to the hostel, I decide to take the late ferry to Aberdeen. A quick taxiride at 10.30 duly delivers me to Hatston, where the ferry lies docked. After about 10 minutes, I'm allowed on board. Am shown to my cabin, where I take a shower, then retire for the night. The ferry sails at midnight, and exactly 4 weeks after arriving in Orkney, I'm leaving the islands. The swell rocks me to sleep.

Postscript: I'd be back in Orkney in October 2008 - will post pictures in a later entry

Train crash

Image courtesy Press and Journal

Yesterday afternoon, just after 2pm, the 1038 Inverness to Thurso train collided with a car on a level crossing at the village of Halkirk in the far north of Scotland. Its 3 occupants were killed, one of them was flung from the vehicle. The train came to a halt about a quarter of a mile down the track. It had been travelling at 50 mph when the collision happened. Investigations into the cause of the accident are on-going, and the names of the deceased have not yet been released, such pending the outcome of a post-mortem. None of the 18 passengers and 4 crew was hurt on the train. They were transferred to a nearby hotel. The train was taken to nearby Georgemas Junction railway station.

Services to Thurso and Wick remain suspended; trains from Inverness terminate at Forsinard Station, from where buses are put on. Travellers are advised to allow an extra 60 minutes for their journeys. More details here.

My sympathies are with the relatives and friends of the victims, who are reported to be elderly.

The Sun

Logo courtesy

The Sun is a tabloid newspaper here in the UK with the highest readership, put at over 3 million copies sold each day. It is (in)famous for page three girls (who show off their assets). I usually glance at the paper when I'm buying my daily rag, the Press and Journal. I have very little time for The Sun, as it contains very little news (IMHO). I'll leave it at that.

Political Britain was all afluster today when The Sun announced it was no longer backing the Labour party (who have been in government since 1997), and instead switched its allegiance to the Conservatives. Only in Scotland did the Sun shift from Labour to nobody else. That's a piece of non-news if ever I heard one. The Sun, as I stated above, does not carry news (of note), and its editorial stance looks as if it is written on a sheet of lavatory paper. Yet it has delusions of grandeur, saying it backs winners in general elections.

This shift in political allegiance is very nice for the Conservative Party, as much as it was not nice for them in 1997, when the Sun started backing Tony Blair's Labour Party. It does show that The Sun has not got an opinion of its own, it does not stand for anything. The paper's editor has said that it backs the party that best appears to serve the interests of its readers.

Some people think that the Sun is for those who cannot be bothered to engage their brain. That's not true. You have to think very hard to read the Sun. Because you DO have to think for yourself - is what the Sun thinks is good for you really good for you?

Wednesday 30 September

September goes out with a bang, several bangs in fact. Typhoons, earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding. It almost sounds like the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Typhoon Ketsana started off by causing severe flooding in Manila on Saturday, dumping more than 16 inches of rain on the Philippino capital in 12 hours. More than 100 people lost their lives, and they are still cleaning up. Three days later, Ketsana had blown up into a fully fledged, category II typhoon and slammed into Vietnam. A similar deathtoll, and a similar number of people homeless - 730,000 in the Philippines and Vietnam combined. Even northern Cambodia was affected, and 11 lives were lost there.

Ketsana had barely disappeared from the weather charts when the Earth had an itch and jolted 3 inches under the Pacific. Six and a half miles of water were bumped upward and outward, and swamped the Samoan islands with a 25 feet tsunami. Even Hawaii, thousands of miles away to the northeast, saw 5 feet of tsunami running by. The devastation in Western and American Samoa is huge, and the deathtoll as yet incomplete. Yesterday evening, as the wave rolled round the Pacific, I (and hundreds with me) spent several hours relaying warning messages on Twitter.

Twelve hours after the Samoan quake, which measured 8.3 on the Richter scale, the earth moved again, and this time it was Sumatra that bore the brunt. Although no sizeable tsunami was generated, the devastation in western Sumatra was once more huge. The death toll at time of posting was quoted as at least 1,000, and probably much higher.

More natural disasters loom for the Pacific in the next few days. Two typhoons, one actual and one in the making, are shunting up Typhoon Alley to the east of the Philippines. Melor will slam into Guam on Saturday with winds near 110 mph, whilst Parma (further west) could cause problems in Luzon Island, Philippines before making for Taiwan.

The Atlantic hurricane season? What's that?? There have so far been 6 named storms, of which 2 in September, which is supposed to be the peak of the hurricane season. I am pleased for those in Hurricane Alley who (so far) have been spared the worst, although you should never count your chickens before they're hatched - and there is two months of the season left. The reason for the quietude of the Atlantic this year is an abnormal temperature pattern in the eastern Pacific, which is warmer than usual - it is called El Nino. As a result, atmospheric conditions are unfavourable for tropical cyclones to form in the Atlantic. Long range forecasts state that a tropical cyclone could form in a week or so from now. I'm keeping an eye on developments on my TC blog.

Western Isles residents wanted for study

A PhD student from Lancaster is looking for residents of the Western Isles who are willing to give an hour or so of their time to talk about the use of language. Α project is being run across the UK and Ireland about the difference between how older and younger people speak and how they feel about it.

If you are interested to participate, or know people who want to take part, please leave a brief note in comments. I’ll relay the email address (which will show up in the comment notification) to the academic concerned, and you can then make arrangements direct. Confidentiality will be upheld by this blogger, and for anyone participating in the study.

Please relay.
Thank you.