View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

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.