View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Spammed laughter

I normally just chuck spam in the bin and don't even read it, but there was this message that Hotmail once more failed to recognise as spam. So I had to see it. Well, apart from the usual cacophony of errors in grammar and spelling there was also this colossal turn-off. Someone passing themselves off as a 19-year old woman, saying that age doesn't matter in a real relationship, so she is comfortable with my age.

Yes dear, next please.

Sunday 28 February

Last day of the month and last day of the meteorological winter. And it's been a long, hard, cold, snowy and icy winter this year. Officially, winter does not end until March 21st, I know. Today is bright and clear, with visibility approaching 20 or 30 miles. Went down to the Braighe, the isthmus linking the Eye peninsula (Point) to mainland Lewis, and the northeasterly wind made it feel icily cold. Very bracing. The tide was right out - we're having the equinoctial springtides, bringing a difference between high and low tide of 18 feet, 5.4 metres, here. Spare a thought for the people along the Severn estuary in southwest England, where the tidal difference is 14 metres, nearly 50 feet. The Severn bore, a 7 ft tidal surge, will be putting in an appearance at 9 am tomorrow morning.

The tsunami has done its worst and is currently fading in the Pacific. It seems to have wrought destruction in Chile, where an 8 foot surge wrecked boats and harbour facilities. The last major impact was seen in Japan, nearly a full day after the initial quake, with a 90 cm surge. In Chile meanwhile, ungainly sights of looting mar the efforts to save people who remain trapped in ruined buildings.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

End of day

As the tsunami, generated 16 hours ago, continues to make its way across the Pacific, the death toll in Chile rises - more than 200. The surge reached Hawaii some two hours ago and in places was nearly 1 metre above normal tidal level. In New Zealand, harbours reported that the water was like a washing machine and tidal flows running at 12 knots, a lot faster than normal. Apart from 5 fatalities on Juan Fernandez, off Chile, no casualties have so far been reported from the Pacific basin, resulting from the tsunami. It is also affecting the west coast of the US, with a surge of 5 feet above normal tidal levels reported in southern California. The wave should decline as it passes north towards Canada - the tsunami passed the US/Canadian border a few minutes ago.

The tsunami is expected to continue for another 15 hours or so, reaching the island of Taiwan and the Bering Strait by around 1500 GMT tomorrow.

If you're in an area under threat: please follow all advice and directions by local authorities. A tsunami is not a single wave and a threat will persist for several hours after the first wave has passed through.

Saturday afternoon

Today is a vast contrast to what the rest of the week was like. There is bright sunshine and hardly any wind. The ferry operator Calmac is busy catching up on two days of missed sailings due to the gale and swell. This morning at 6.15, the MV Muirneag left port to slowly amble across the Minch to Ullapool, followed 45 minutes later by the passenger ferry Isle of Lewis. The Muirneag took about 4 hours to cross the Minch, and returned at 4pm with some lorries. Quite a few of those would have been stuck on the A9 between the central belt and Inverness on account of the heavy snow of this week. The Isle of Lewis is due to return tonight at 9pm on her scheduled run.

I have spent the day closely monitoring the tsunami which is fanning out across the Pacific. The wave is currently traversing French Polynesia and will reach New Zealand in two hours' time. The Californian coast will see the first of this wave in just over 2 hours' time at 1202 PST, reaching the Canadian border 3 hours later. By that time, the tsunami is expected to have reached Australia, between Sydney and Brisbane. Hawaii is also due to see the wave, in 3 hours' time at 11.05 HST. At the moment, wave reports suggest that the tsunami is down to a matter of inches on passing the Mexican coastline.

Devastation in Chile is said to be great, with around 120 fatalities. Television reports show dramatic scenes of collapsed buildings and highway overpasses.

Saturday 27 February

A fairly bright day but with a lot of high cloud about, making it a hazy afternoon.

As is being extensively reported, a powerful earthquake, measuring 8.8 on the Richter scale, has occurred off the coast of Chile. The quake caused extensive damage in Chile and the deathtoll currently stands at 78. Because the tremor was centred below the sea, a tsunami was generated, which came ashore in Chile some 19 minutes after the initial shock. It was 2.34 metres, 7.7 feet, in height. This tsunami is now rolling across the Pacific, and the entire Pacific coastline is under warning for a tsunami.

Warnings are issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center for the entire Pacific basin, minus the Pacific coastline of the USA and Canada. These are covered by the West Coast and Alaska Warning Center. Finally, sections of the Australian coastline are under warning from their Bureau of Meteorology. It will take a full 24 hours from the time of the quake (0634 GMT) for the tsunami to make its way across the Pacific, in spite of its horizontal speed of 500 mph. All warning centers carry advice and information on what to do if you are in a warning area.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Friday 26 February

The sun is out in amongst the wintry showers and strong northeasterly winds. Heavy snow and drifting is continuing to wreak havoc in the Highlands, with dozens of roads closed, rail services disrupted and schools off. Due to a heavy northeasterly swell, our ferry link with Ullapool remains disrupted for another day. Supplies are diverted through Tarbert in Harris, 40 miles south of Stornoway. The TravelScotland website is practically inaccessible this afternoon, as thousands of people try to find out whether their intended route is passable. That is better than shouting their heads off at the poor souls at Radio Scotland who only relay the news about bad road conditions - as one presenter put it at 8 am this morning, they are not causing it.

At 12.30 pm, the following routes were closed:
A939 Tomintoul - Cockbridge
A93 Braemar - Spittal of Glenshee
A889 Dalwhinnie - Newtonmore
A9 Dalnacardoch - Blair Atholl
A835 Aultguish - Braemore Junction

A cruiseliner has crashed into a dock at Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt, killing three sailors. The Costa Europa encountered severe weather as it approached the dock in the early hours of this morning. Its complement of passengers have been accommodated in hotels in the town.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Horrors beyond description

Alistair Urquhart is a sprightly and vivacious 90-year old Scotsman. He was in the news today because of the publication of his book The Forgotten Highlander: One Man's Incredible Story Of Survival During The War In The Far East. It is a story of his suffering whilst a prisoner of war of Japan during the Second World War. As my post title states, his experiences are beyond description and beyond comprehension. There are explanations for the extreme brutality, meeted out by the Imperial Japanese Forces between 1941 and 1945 to the POWs that they captured. However, that does not exhonorate them. Mr Urquhart continues to harbour a deep-seated hatred of the Japanese, undimmed by the passage of 65 years.

At the end of the BBC article, he summarises his continuing dislike of the Japanese. The Germans have atoned for their misdeeds between 1933 and 1945, and their youth is being taught about the abomination that national socialism was. The Japanese are being taught nothing of the sort.

I can understand and do not seek to negate the suffering of Mr Urquhart. I once knew someone who was married to a man who had been held in a Japanese prisoner-camp. The experience left indelible psychological scars and caused the break-up of the marriage. At one point, Emperor Hirohito, who died 20 years ago, was intending to visit the Netherlands, a visit quickly aborted after a public outcry - the Japanese occupied the Dutch East Indies from 1942 until 1945, incarcerating many colonial Dutch people in the process.

I will say that the Japan of 2010 is a completely different society to the Imperial Japan of the years before the end of World War II. How a nation deals with its collective guilt is a very difficult issue. From my point of view, a lot of the present day ills of the world can be traced back to appalling policy decisions by successive British governments - the Middle East being a prime example. Other colonial powers, the Dutch included, also have blood and guilt on their hands. However, you only have to look at Northern Ireland or the Balkans to see the consequences of holding grudges. Ulster's "troubles" are going back to the Battle of the Boyne in 1688, and the July parades in Belfast are a reminder of that. The war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s go back to a battle in 1389 - and the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic frequently referred to that event.

We should never forget the atrocities committed during the Second World War. We must learn the lessons, pay homage to those that lay down their lives in those years, but also continue to look to the future.


The political world in Westminster is all awhirl because Labour politician Harriet Harman ostensibly sent a tweet to Conservative politician Alan Duncan. Except she did not. A direct message (DM) came to Mr Duncan from Ms Harman's Twitter account, which had been hacked into. She must have received a DM herself, reading something along the lines of "LOL that you?" followed by a dodgy link. Having followed the dodgy link, she will have put her username and password into the boxes and hey presto, her account was hacked.

Rather than making a whole song and dance about it (as the BBC did), prominent Twitter users like Harriet Harman and Alan Duncan should keep abreast of developments on the Internet in order not to fall for hackers like described above.

Thursday 25 February

Blowing a full gale this morning and the windspeeds are gradually increasing. Gusts reach 55 mph, and it is therefore not a surprise that our ferry service has been cancelled for today. Plane services to and from Stornoway are also disrupted, but I have this sneaking suspicion that this is more due to snow problems at mainland airports than our force 8. The mercury is stuck at +2C, making it feel especially cold with a windchill of -7C.

As I said, the mainland is coping with two feet of snow in places. This has led to major problems on the roads and the railways. Dozens of drivers were trapped in their vehicles overnight, and hundreds of schools are closed in the north of Scotland. This contrasts with southern England, with temperatures of +10C. Beware of hurricane winds on Saturday or Sunday down there.

More later.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Evening notes

Strong easterly winds continue to blow, and there is some light rain about tonight.

An avalanche in the western Highlands has killed two climbers on Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe, this afternoon. The avalanche struck just before 5 pm. A major search operation was mounted, which resulted in the recovery of two bodies this evening. Police advise intending climbers to check for avalanche risks before setting out for the hills.

Bad weather is headed our way, meaning that ferry services are likely to be disrupted. It is starting tonight, with our freight ferry (MV Muirneag, shown below) not crossing to Ullapool due to heavy swell. The Muirneag is not a terribly good seaboat.

Wednesday 24 February

Overcast and cold today, although the thermometer is at +4C / 39F this afternoon. The snowballs I had put out as ammo for chasing seagulls away from bread put out for birds have melted on me. Snow is causing extensive disruption across the eastern Highlands, with dozens of schools closed by lunchtime and major delays on arterial routes. Here in Stornoway, there is only an easterly breeze.

Over the weekend, an Atlantic storm will power up and pass Spain en-route for the UK with potentially hurricane force winds. At the moment, the arrival of the low pressure system off the English Channel is timed at the end of the 5-day forecast period, so no specifics at present.

The deputy First Minister of Scotland has apologised to the Scottish Parliament in the matter of a badly written letter. Ms Nicola Sturgeon had written to a court on behalf of a constituent, who had been convicted as a second time fraudster. This caused a political storm at Holyrood two weeks ago, and the minister made a statement to Parliament on the matter this afternoon. She admitted that the wording and composition of the letter was more reminiscent of her previous profession as a lawyer than of her present occupation as MSP. There have been calls for her resignation, but I don't think it will come to that.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Tuesday 23 February

Another bright and sunny if not very warm day. We had a fall of snow late last night, which has not shifted in places sheltered from the sun. Nonetheless, the mercury did not drop below freezing last night. The birds continue to have a hard time of it, particularly when the seagulls swoop in to gobble up any bread left outside. Their appearance tends to see me chasing them off. I have no compassion with seagulls - they are scavengers and can get a meal out of the sea if the ground is frozen. Small garden birds have little alternative.

Was reading an article on bad science in movies. Now, I am prepared to overlook certain impossibilities for the sake of a good yarn; I smile benignly at Star Trek movies, where travel tends to be conducted at speeds in excess of the speed of light. That's about as plausible as drawing the square root of a negative number. It doesn't really bother me; I'm not a film buff.

For the first time in many weeks, I have no hurricanes to follow in the southern hemisphere. Things have fallen silent - for the time being at least.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Monday pics

The first of the series of pictures I took on my trip to Arnol today is now my new header picture on this blog. Yes, it was that cold.

Arnol used to be a populous little place, but as you wander down the main streets, a series of abandoned blackhouses and ruined houses stare out from the roadside. It is not customary in the Hebrides to remove something that is no longer in use, whether that be a safe or a house. Houses whose occupants have passed away are also not touched.

The four snowmen stood outside a house in Barvas, 4 miles east of Arnol.

Visit to Arnol

Decided to take advantage of the sunny weather and head out of town to Arnol. That is a small village, 15 miles northwest of Stornoway. It is famous for the Arnol Blackhouse, a restored blackhouse of the sort that people used to live in until the 1970s. I did not visit the Blackhouse, which has halved its entrance fees, but instead went to the RSPB bird reserve at Loch na Muilne (Mill Loch), half a mile away. The weather was brilliantly sunny, but quite cold. There was a lot of snow around (although not deep), and the moor was frozen over. The loch was also frozen over, and there were no birds. The only birds of note were a group of three geese, some starlings and chickens and geese in a farmyard. There were also plenty of cats about, and some kids having fun on swings and roundabout by the junction.

Arnol has a remarkable collection of ruined blackhouses, and some of the ruins show a progression from blackhouse to modern house. The village also overlooks the shoreline along to Bragar and Labost, further west up the coast.

As I type this, the 91 pictures are uploading, so I shall post a selection of these in a later post.

Monday 22 February

Good morning from a sunny but very cold Stornoway. Overnight low was a teeth-chattering -7C at 7 am, within an hour of sunrise. Since then, the sun has set to work and jacked the mercury up to +3C an hour ago. There is ice on the waters of the basin across the road from me (and that's an inlet from the sea, to clarify for new readers), which will now melt quickly.

The golf course at Scarista, Harris, has won a £64k improvement grant from Sportscotland, in spite of not being open 7 days a week. Local Sabbath observance requires the course to be shut on Sunday, and that initially jeopardised the grant. Quiet talks over the past year have result in the grant being awarded, although the course remains closed on Sundays.

View from Scarista

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Viewpoint Lewis

The island on which I reside lies at the northern end of the Outer Hebrides, and is actually the largest island off the mainland of Great Britain. Lewis and Harris (one landmass) stretch for 80 miles between the Butt of Lewis in the north and Rodel in the south. On a clear day, visibility extends for 75 miles, as I discovered some time ago.

The two humps on the horizon are the Red Hills by Broadford in Skye, as I said, 75 miles to the south of Stornoway. This picture was taken on 10 February, when visibility was very good. You can see from Cape Wrath all the way down to Kyle of Lochalsh; Cape Wrath is visible at night particularly on account of the lighthouse, whose flashes can be discerned from just below the horizon as you stand near the Butt of Lewis. The mountains on the mainland stand out at this time of year, wreathed in snow.

From my own viewpoint in Stornoway, I can make out the hills around Applecross on a clear day (like this afternoon), a mere 60 miles to the southeast.

Sunday 21 February

Nice and bright after a very cold night. Before midnight, towels drying on an outside line had already turned into boards, and the mercury ended up at -5C. At the moment it is above freezing, and we're looking at cumulus clouds drifting overhead.

It is a quiet Sunday in Stornoway, and not much moves, apart from church traffic. This week, the first cask of legally distilled whisky for 166 years will leave this island to be sampled at a bar in Glasgow. The spirits are not strictly speaking whisky yet (it is not quite 3 years old), but will pack a hefty punch at 65% alcohol-by-volume. The whisky was produced at the Red River distillery in Uig, 40 miles west of Stornoway.

I was shocked to see the video footage of flooding and mudslides in Madeira, a Portuguese island southwest of the Iberian peninsula off Africa. The capital Funchal was overrun by mudstreams, and there have been more than two dozen fatalities as a result.

The BBC has obtained transcripts of discussions within the Scottish Government, which show that they could be planning an referendum on the independence of Scotland as early as 30 November 2010. I would like to refer to the article for details, but I am very concerned by this head-long rush into independence by the SNP administration.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Looking across the water

I'm rather concerned about developments in political Holland today. As I mentioned in an earlier blogpost, there will be early general elections in the country after the government collapsed over a disagreement regarding deployment of troops in Afghanistan. Coalition partners Labour and Christian Democrats fell out over the issue, and elections are now in the offing for late spring or early summer.

Since 2002, a new political force has sprung on the scene in Holland - the farther right. By that I mean parties who oppose immigration and/or advocate removal of migrants from the country. It should be borne in mind that the issue of migrants could not be discussed properly in Dutch society in the wake of the Second World War, a conflict that saw the mass murder of millions on account of their faith. When Pim Fortuyn emerged in 2002, he amassed a huge following for daring to place on the agenda the vexed issue of immigration. Elections held in the aftermath of his assassination in Hilversum in '02 brought his party to government, a government that fell after only a few months.

The 2010 elections are expected to bring the successor to Pim Fortuyn, Geert Wilders and his Freedom Party, a large number of seats in Parliament, and probably ministerial posts. Mr Wilders is known in the UK, as he was denied entry to Britain in February 2009 for his far-right political views. Upon appeal, he was allowed into the country to expound his views to a favourable audience at the Houses of Parliament in London. I dread to see Mr Wilders assume government responsibility - he could well end up tarnishing the Netherlands' reputation as a tolerant society, and a country that welcomes the genuine refugee.

Life in the Hebrides

A reprint from a few years ago

Dogger, Fisher German Bight
Once again, the weather's sh***
Howling wind, cold rain and hail
Calmac's boats will never sail

Lundy, Fastnet, Irish Sea
Looks about Force Ten to me
The bin's away; blown down the croft
It's ragged contents swirl aloft

Rockall, Malin , Hebrides
I'm fed up with days like these
It's still dark at half past ten
When will we see the sun again?

Fair Isle, Faeroes, South East Iceland
Sorry kids, the veg is still canned
I'm cooking tea by naked flame
Oh Lord don't send us more the same

Saturday 20 February

Awoke to a good covering of snow, after an overnight low of -3C / 26F. Temperatures have now lifted to +2C / 36F, meaning a slow thaw. The birds are well tended, with seed on the ground and in feeders, in addition to bread. The seagulls like the bread too, but they are chased off as soon as they appear. The ferry just came in for its lunchtime call, and will depart at 2.30pm - it's Saturday.

The Dutch government has fallen over a disagreement between coalition partners Labour and Christian Democrats over future deployment of Dutch troops in Afghanistan. Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende will submit the resignation of his cabinet to Queen Beatrix today. Elections will follow in due course. The government had been heavily criticised in recent months over its role in the Iraq war in 2003.

Here in the Western Isles, a row is escalating between the Council and Stornoway Port Authority. SPA is apparently the only independent harbour authority in the UK, with other harbours being administered by local authorities. Stornoway's harbour is independent and SPA have said it has worked within the framework set out by it under Acts of Parliament. The Authority also says that following £14.5m worth of budget costs, the Council would probably make stringent cuts in the running of the harbour - which requires £1.3m annually.

Yesterday, golfer Tiger Woods apologised over his behaviour in recent months. Do I care? Do I want to know?
Yesterday, BBC TV soap Eastenders reveiled who had killed one of its characters. Do I care? Do I need to know? As I said on Twitter, I follow one soap - The Archers on BBC Radio 4 - and that's enough for me. As far as Mr Woods is concerned, he should always bear in mind that being the world's number 1 in a sport brings responsibilities.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Picture post

Lewis Street

Thursday sky



Hurricane update - 19 February

Tropical cyclone Gelane is currently approaching the small Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, 350 miles east of Mauritius. This storm is equivalent in strength to a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, so packing quite a punch. By this time tomorrow, Rodrigues will feel the full force of Gelane, even if that system will then start to weaken slightly. The weather service for Mauritius (under whose jurisdiction Rodrigues falls) is issuing warnings (in French and Creole).

Friday 19 February

As I type, the ferry is coming into port for its customary lunchtime call. Quite a cold day, but still fairly bright with distant showers. Overnight tonight, temps in the Highlands could plummet to -15C, so winter's back. The weather charts shows some interesting developments early next week, but it's still quite far off.

Yesterday, there was a resumption of sabre rattling between the UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Twenty-eight years ago, the two countries fought a war over the territory. Although the UK won, Argentina maintains that it has sovereignty over the islands. The present exchanges centre on oil exploration on the continental shelf in the South Atlantic, which Argentina claims as its own. The government in Argentina insists shipping bound for the Falklands and calling at Argentinian ports get a permit before proceeding. A drilling rig is going to start exploration shortly, and the company will reroute its resupply lines through Brazil.
Islas Malvinas - when are the Argentinians going to take the hint?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Thursday 18 February

A cold day, which started in the morning with plenty of hail showers. The cloudscapes were spectacular, and although the showers ceased later on, the view remained enthralling. I have to say that to my mind, the cloudscapes are sometimes a lot better than the rubbish shown on television.

I'm just reading reports that a small plane has crashed into an building in Austin, Texas, which houses offices for the Inland Revenue Service IRS. The 199 employees inside appear to have been evacuated safely, although one person is reported to be missing. The pilot apparently flew the plane into the building on purpose, and left a suicide note on a webpage. It was a long-winded ramble against the IRS, that the 54-year old pilot had a grudge with - it can be accessed through the site of if you're interested.

Locally, the protests against the refurbishment of Stornoway Town Hall continue unabated, although the Council is expected to ratify the proposals tonight. I'm slowly getting the impression that the Council did a colossal booboo with this planning application, if all the claims by the opposition are true. It's a shame though that nobody objected against rather more visible demolitions of historic buildings in Stornoway in 2007 and 2009.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Wednesday 17 February

Occasional wintry showers and feeling quite cold today. Only 3C on the thermometer, so definitely down on recent times.

A lot rougher is the weather in the Indian Ocean. It is mid summer in Mauritius, which means that it is hurricane season down there. Tropical cyclone Gelane is moving south from a position of about 550 miles north of Mauritius, and will pass to the east of the island by about Sunday. Winds around the centre could peak at 110 mph, but probably will not impact Mauritius.

Locally, the contentious proposals for upgrading the 80-year old Town Hall have come in front of the council. Unfortunately, as I type this, the link provided by local news site Heb News is not working. The Stornoway Gazette link does give more info, and says that the committee decision will be put in front of full council tomorrow. If approved, the Scottish Government will have to give its consent for the alterations to the listed building. Opponents to this scheme have vowed to take their fight to the Scottish Government.

The letters section of Heb News is filling up with cries of woe from expat Lewismen who hold fond memories of days of yore in the Town Hall. I wonder what they would have to say if the building fell to pieces on them.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Tuesday 16 February

A cold and overcast day, with a chilly easterly wind. Snow is making conditions difficult in the Highlands, but out in the west, we're not troubled with precipitation of any form.

Spent a few hours in Stornoway town centre this afternoon. Visited the local museum, which has a memorial plaque for Old Boys of the Nicolson Institute who died in the First World War. After a bowl or two of soup in the library cafe, I found a useful publication with more info about WW1 casualties. Accompanied a friend round shops brought the time round to 4 pm, and I was glad to get back indoors. It was very chilly indeed.

Locally, a planning application is to be submitted to install a tide bell at Bosta Beach in Great Bernera, 30 miles west of Stornoway. The bell is operated by tidal flows which move its clapper. Can't say the idea appeals to me terribly much, but then it won't disturb many people. Nobody lives at Bosta; there is a cemetery nearby, and I'm not certain that anybody visiting that will be taken with the notion. The tidebell won't make a very loud sound, I'm told.

Image courtesy Marcus Vergette

Monday, 15 February 2010

Ten years on-line

This month, it will be 10 years ago since I set my first steps on the World Wide Web. My Hotmail account records my first email on 1 February 2000. I still have that account, and it is active. No longer active is my pharmolo account with AOL; any email that comes into that inbox is automatically redirected to my adb422006 account with gmail. An email account with Yahoo is only used because of its link to my Flickr photo accounts. I set it up whilst staying in a place which blocked the AOL website.

I joined AOL for its dial-up ISP service in April 2004, and brought me the first experiences of social networking on-line. The News Debate Chat was a rough and ready affair, invaded at times by the less appetising elements in British society. Following my relocation to Scotland in the summer of 2004, this fell by the wayside for a while, as I changed to blogging.

AOL Journals allowed me to record my travels in the north of Scotland in the summer and autumn of 2004. A year later, the much maligned VIVI awards introduced me to the circle of journalers; the untimely death of Pam (his1desire) at Easter 2006 turned me into a full member of Jland.

Jland ceased to exist in October 2008, after AOL decided to scuttle its journals division. A fair few of us migrated to Blogger, but many others abandoned the community.

My ten years on-line has seen a marked change in my personal circumstances, much of which I have decided not to discuss on here. Reading back through the emails from 2000 to 2010, I can see that quite clearly. The biggest shock, which I did share, was the death of my mother, now nearly 2 years ago. I tend to operate on a "live by the day" basis, which means I do not make a forecast for the next 10 years.

The Internet has proved an invaluable source of information to me, and a way of meeting new people, new friends. The Internet has also caused me a fair bit of distress, both directly and indirectly. Not all my friends understand the concept of social networking involving people you have not met, and are unlikely to ever meet. The Internet has an extremely unpleasant dark side to it, the least manifestations of which are the spam emails. However, it is here, and here to stay. 

Monday 15 February

Cold and at times wet today, with wintry showers this afternoon. After a period of milder weather in the Hebrides, air from the Arctic is presently moving south across northern Scotland and will bring snow to the mainland. I'm typing this just after 5.30pm, but it's still light outside. Due to the poor light conditions though, the Arnish Lighthouse has been operating since 4pm.

(Image courtesy Reuters) Two commuter trains have collided head-on south of Brussels, near the town of Buizingen. Eighteen people are now known to have died, with nearly 60 injured. The local service from Quiévrain to Liège crashed into the service from Louvain to Braine-le-Comte. Initial speculation suggested that one of the trains had ignored a red light, but that has been branded as premature. Weather conditions at the time of the accident, 8.30 am local time, were poor with falling snow, but snow is a common occurrence in winter in Belgium and does not normally pose major problems on the rail network.

The Eurostar service between London and Brussels has been suspended until further notice, although trains do run as far as Lille, in northern France. It will take a considerable period of time to clear the wreckage from the tracks. This accident is rated as one of the worst in the history of the Belgian railway NMBS; a crash in the Netherlands in 1962 claimed 92 lives.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Sunday 14 February

Happy Valentine's Day, if you celebrate. It's been a very quiet day here in Stornoway, as is customary on Sunday. Apart from those going to or coming from church, little has moved. Only the clouds and occasional light rain. The ferry is presently on its way in, back from its normal single Sunday sailing.

Although I'm not much of a rugby fan, I couldn't avoid watching some of the Six Nations action this weekend. Scotland managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, after losing 24-31. They had been ahead 24-14 only 10 minutes before the end. Their opponents were Wales. Ireland were giving a hammering by France, losing 10-33. England was the only home country to manage a win, beating Italy 17-12 in Rome. I find rugby a very physical game, but at least you don't get all the daft backchat you get in football. Players listen to the referee, and that's it.

Next week, I intend to revisit the local museum to take pictures of a memorial plaque there. I do have photographs of it, but cannot read the names on it. I went to the library yesterday, which was rearranged a few weeks ago. Where is the local history section? Well, that's been put in the middle of the place, and you have to walk around with your reference books to find a table to work on. Not a vast improvement.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Saturday 13 February

Overcast with some light rain here and there. An old-fashioned Atlantic depression near Greenland is slowly sinking south, and will pass across the UK after tomorrow. It will grind to a halt over England, leaving us with easterly winds and possible snow early in the new week.

Apart from the screen of the laptop, the printer is now also going on the blink. If I want to print pictures at any quality better than draft, the result is a third of the normal height - in other words a squashed picture that bears more resemblance to a television test card. Anything else feeling like collapsing??

My camera has gone in for repairs, and I hope to be reunited with it early in March. Meanwhile, I am using a friend's camera.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Winter Olympics

A shadow was cast over the start of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, after a luger from Georgia was killed in an accident. He crashed, following which he was catapulted over a wall and slammed into a pole. A decision is to be taken whether the luge competition will proceed as planned.

Hurricane update - 12 February

Tropical cyclone Rene is currently traversing American Samoa, east of the dateline. The storm will gain intensity and impact the southern islands of that archipelago as equivalent of a category I hurricane. NOAA Pago Pago is issuing warnings. I am keeping a very close eye on the forecast track for this storm, as it appears to be making a beeline for the North Island of New Zealand in 5 or 6 days' time.


Posted last night about my malfunctioning screen. This is what greets me at start-up:

Friday 12 February

Nice and bright today, with the odd light, short shower. The latter was not in the forecast, but it did not bother anybody much. Three herons were having it out in the corner of Stornoway Harbour that I overlook. There was also this continuing battle to outwit the seagulls, who will swoop in to gobble up any bread left outside. The trick is to place it under bushes or against a tree trunk. Gulls want to have space around them to spread their wings, and enclosed spaces make them nervous. A tree trunk constitutes an enclosed space, to their mind.

I was shocked to read the list of service cuts, proposed by our local council. It is one thing to keep the council tax at the same level, a policy imposed by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh, it does mean that less money is coming in each year - on account of inflation.

Sunset was once more stunning:

Thursday, 11 February 2010


Over the past 6 months, the screen on my laptop has been showing increasingly interesting colour schemes, which bear little resemblance to what the computer part of it has been putting out to it. After doing a few DIY diagnostic tricks, it turns out to be a hardware fault. Screens on laptops are prone to break or fail, so I went onto Amazon and ordered a replacement LCD screen. This arrived in the mail this morning, so I sat down and took the screen part to bits and installed the new LCD. You can well imagine the sinking feeling when I switched the laptop on afterwards - only to be greeted by a mitigated version of the same bl**dy fault.

As regular readers are aware, I have been going on dozens of flights over the past 21 months (a journey to Amsterdam involves three flights) and I had my laptop in my case - which goes into the hold. Hold luggage is subjected to a frightful battering, and I suppose something has been damaged at some stage.

I'll have it fixed at some stage, but it's not a major problem. I fortunately have the use of an external screen - which allowed me to ascertain that it was the screen going wonky.

Sunset notes

The sun set a quarter of an hour ago, but not in the blaze of glory we had yesterday evening. A light shower passed by just at that moment.

The US are all preoccupied with their snow storms, so much so that a hurricane-related blog is talking about nothing else. Bit of a disappointment, if they miss that steady procession of hurricanes in the South Pacific: Oli, Pat and now Rene. The Pacific is certainly not living up to its peaceful name.

In Scotland, the Deputy First Minister (Nicola Sturgeon) is under political fire after she wrote a letter to a court on behalf of a constituent who has been found guilty of fraud. Again. Having been imprisoned in the 1990s for stealing benefit cheques whilst a postmaster, the suspect has now been claiming £80,000 in benefits he was not entitled to. As a member of parliament, Ms Sturgeon can expect to be called upon to write letters on behalf of constituents in circumstances as described above. Whether it is wise to do whilst holding a senior position in the government of the day is questionable. Ms Sturgeon will explain herself to the Scottish Parliament on February 24th.

Thursday 11 February

Nice day with increasing amounts of sunshine. Temperature +7C, which is quite decent for this time of year. If you have snow, please take care.

I'll make a longer post later, but want to display this expression of team support on a website displaying information on tropical weather. At the top, it says: NOTE: AMSR-E data back in sync, WHO DAT!!!!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Wednesday 10 February

A bright and sunny day, even feeling warm. The mercury made it to +8C, the warmest in the country. Went for a walk to the Iolaire Memorial, which is 45 minutes' walk away by Holm Point, about 2 miles south of my position. The route takes me through the village of Lower Sandwick, past Stoneyfield Farm and through an area of incredibly thorny gorse. A gravel path leads to the memorial itself. Visibility was absolutely stunning: I could make out the hills near Broadford in Skye, 75 miles to the south. The sun set in a blaze of colours around 5.10pm.


Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hurricane update - 9 February

The South Pacific is seeing one tropical cyclone after the other this season. After Oli, there is now Pat. This system, a strong category I hurricane, will pass through the South Cook Islands, along the 159th degree longitude west. Northwest of American Samoa, another tropical disturbance is brewing up and I wouldn't be surprised to see yet another cyclone on the maps by this time tomorrow.

The South Pacific is home to a scattering of small islands, but in the three or four years that I've been monitoring hurricanes, there have never been this many systems passing through. The reason is the current El Nino situation, which brings elevated seawater temperatures in the western and central Pacific Ocean. El Nino is now abating - which is not good news for the Atlantic hurricane season. The strange coincidence is that El Nino tends to suppress the formation of hurricanes in the Atlantic, so 2010 might see a more lively season than 2009.

Picture post

Sunset 9 February

Piece of cake, anyone?

Gloves drying on the line

Tuesday 9 February

Today is the fifth anniversary of my stint here in Stornoway. It is a bright day, but we already had a shower on one side of the house. Our regular ferryboat, the MV Isle of Lewis has returned from its refit. The relief boat Clansman is on its way across from Ullapool. Will see whether it will also do the afternoon / evening run; probably will.

Two years ago, a British Airways Boeing 777 crash landed at Heathrow Airport due to the formation of ice crystals in its fuel systems. Fortunately, nobody was seriously hurt. The pilot, who no longer flies, tells of his experience. It was indeed miraculous that there were no casualties.

Having had pretty extensive flying experience in the past 21 months, albeit on small planes and short routes, I am of course aware of the inherent risk of flying. As I was waiting for my first flight last Tuesday, the television screen at Amsterdam Airport showed footage of plane crashes. I think I left a comment on Twitter, saying that is not something I prefer to watch while waiting for a flight. However, back in 1987, the Herald of Free Enterprise ferry sank at Zeebrugge. A few months later, I was due to cross the North Sea on another ferry service, and people asked me if I wasn't scared to sail. No. If anything happens, it will, and it is safer to take a ferry, or take a plane, than it is to cross the road or drive a car.

More later.

Monday, 8 February 2010


The Isle of Arran ferry collided with the pier at Kennacraig, on the Kintyre peninsula, at 9.30 am last Saturday. The 14 passengers were disembarked safely, and nobody was injured. Damage was said not to be severe, and the ship was able to make its own way to the Clyde for repairs. Flickr user md93 took pictures. Not severe??

Automatic door

Is this truly an automatic door? I'm being pernickety here, but in my mind, an automatic door opens when you approach it...

Stornoway Library

Monday 8 February

A bright but cloudy day (the two can occur at the same time!) here in the Western Isles. It is cold this morning, but not a lot of wind. Whatever wind there is comes from the east, and it will blow in more cold this week.

This morning, I listened to our local radio station Isles FM to hear the local news. There was no local news. So, I looked up my local news website Hebrides News, which did list some news. However, I suppose it is no great deal that the secondary school here is narrowing the choice of courses for its senior pupils.

The South Pacific is spawning one tropical cyclone after another: today, Pat is brewing up east of American Samoa and will be threatening the Cooks Islands as well as French Polynesia. Pat will reach category I on the Saffir Simpson scale.

More later.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sunday 7 February

A bright and at times sunny day, but feeling cold in the wind. Went for a walk in the Castle Grounds (see previous post), where things were still very much on a wintry footing. The snow has only been gone for a few days, so very little to see in terms of crocuses or snowdrops. Afterwards, a lunch at a local restaurant. By 3pm, it was homeward bound. The streets were Sunday-deserted - although it was past ferry departure time. In the hour or so before 2.30pm, people who are travelling to the mainland will have passed through the town. It appears we had the best weather in the country; there will be snow in the east this week.

Castle Grounds, 7 February