View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Wednesday 31 March

Posting on dial-up, what a nightmare. How did we ever manage on a 45 kbps connection. Anyway, my ISP has been knocked off the wires due to a fire at a telephone exchange hub in London. The water, used for putting out the fire, has wreaked havoc with the machinery at Paddington. They don't know when we'll be back on-line, probably not much before Friday, I'd imagine.

Weather in Scotland: horrendous. The blizzards have claimed one life: a schoolgirl of 17 from Lanark died when the coach that was taking her and 38 schoolmates to the Alton Towers themepark slid off the A73 and onto a shallow riverbed, overturning in the process. Many roads in the Highlands are closed due to drifting snow.

I'll post updates on Facebook and Twitter, as they arrive.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Tuesday 30 March

A cold, windy and unpleasant day out here. Although the mercury is at 6C, it is icily cold outside. Worse conditions exist on the mainland, where heavy snow is wreaking havoc on the roads in the Highlands. Ten lorries were stuck on main roads overnight, although they have now apparently moved on again. White-out conditions were reported from the A835, Ullapool to Garve, road at 10 o'clock this morning. The webcam just outside Aultguish Inn, near the top of the moor, showed this image a minute ago.

No, don't think for one minute that the end of March means the end of winter. It can still be quite nasty.

My postings on Norman Morrison relate to a project called In from the Cold, which aims to afford the proper remembrance to those servicemen who are not recorded on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's registers. It is not an easy process, as all due information has to be supplied. Quite often, this is just plain not available. Neither do all men qualify who died during the First World War, even if they were on active service. 

Monday, 29 March 2010

Not remembered - continued

Following on from my posting last night on Norman Morrison's non-commemorated status on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, I have today conducted further research to find out where he lies buried. The local council referred me to the Minister of the Church of Scotland in Ness; a Twitter contact told me his mother would also have information. Have pushed out emails and am awaiting the response.

Norman's father, in reporting his son's death, marked the death register with an X - he was illiterate. Norman had 6 siblings and was mentioned in an obituary in the Stornoway Gazette of 23 March 1917 as a well-liked lad in Ness.

Monday 29 March

Awoke to a nice sunrise and an inch of snow on the ground. By 10 in the morning, it had all melted. Just as well I got up earlier than usual, as I would have missed it. Will post pictures later today. It is only 3C at the moment; we went down to -1C overnight. I have memories of a 29th March in 1969 when there was 3 inches of snow on the ground in Holland where I was at the time, aged 5.

It has been announced that Lews Castle (not LewIs Castle) at Stornoway will receive funding of £240k towards restauration. Another £2.6m could be released if a restoration plan is submitted within 2 years. Lews Castle has stood derilict for a number of years after it was declared to be structurally unsafe. The building was put up by opium trader and island owner Sir James Matheson in 1847.

Hurricane update - 29 March

Tropical cyclone Paul is a strong tropical storm which is hovering off the west coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, on the north coast of Australia. The system is carrying winds of 60 knots (70 mph) near its centre, although the radius of strongest winds is only 30 miles. Paul will track inland, but then reemerge over the open waters of the Gulf near Groote Eylandt and regain strength. Bearing in mind that the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria are warm, it is worth watching very carefully what happens.

There is a large degree of uncertainty over Paul's future track.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Not remembered

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) keeps records on all British service personnel, killed in the First and Second World Wars. In their files, accessible on the Internet, you can find out about the more than one million servicemen and -women who lost their lives in those conflicts.

Its files are comprehensive, but not complete. This evening, with the aid of a fellow researcher elsewhere in Scotland, I traced the details of:

Last address in Lewis: 10 South Dell,
Service unit: 3rd Gordon Highlanders
Service number: 3/5645
Date of death: 16 March 1917 at the age of 23
Died of wounds at home
Local memorial: North Lewis, Cross

Private Morrison is not remembered by CWGC. As soon as I have obtained the details of his burial, a case can be submitted to have Norman included on the registers of the CWGC. After 93 years (and a few days), we will finally be able to give him the honour and remembrance on the scale that he deserves. He is mentioned on the local memorial at Cross, only a mile or two up the road from his home.

Picture post - 27 March

Sleeping quarters in the Blackhouse - the haze is peatreek

Young and old - the storyteller and his granddaughter, sharing the telling of a story

Sunday 28 March

Overcast and cold, much like yesterday, but without the sunny intervals. Temperature down to 6C at the moment. Awoke this morning to the sight of the Norwegian fish survey vessel GO Sars coming into port. Not seen that one for 4 years. The GO Sars travels the Atlantic in search of shoals of fish, for Norwegian fishing vessels to scoop up.

The other unusual sight was the ferry, docked stern first. She normally docks bow first. I'll check how she is lying when passengers board, by 2pm - an hour from now. Talking of hours, our clocks were put forward by an hour last night, and I'm feeling suitably hung-over - without having overindulged.

I'll be uploading pictures later this afternoon about yesterday's trip to the West Side.

Saturday, 27 March 2010


Wreathed in the smoke of a peatfire, 80-year old Calum Ferguson tells a story from his book Children from the Blackhouse, in the Blackhouse at Arnol on 27 March 2010.

Unfortunately, I have had to remove the video at the request of Calum himself.

Saturday 27 March

Today was focused on a story teller, Calum Ferguson, who was at the Arnol Blackhouse for an hour between 11 and 12 (to speak in English) and 1 and 2 pm (to speak in Gaelic). Calum is a prolific writer and teller of tales, none of them tall, by the way. And proud of his heritage from Point, which frequently prompts him to gently poke fun at the poor sods from elsewhere in Lewis. In order to be in Arnol at 11, it required a departure from Stornoway at 9.10, as that would take us to the village the long way round. A £6 Rover ticket took care of our pilgrimage. The weather was not very good, with frequent showers and a cold northwesterly wind. Attendance at the storytelling session was good, with quite a few youngsters around. Everybody braved the dense peatreek, which at times obscured Calum from view. The stories were followed by a cuppa and a ceilidh in the adjacent Whitehouse (as opposed to Blackhouse). I am informed that the name Blackhouse is a misnomer: it should be Thatched House. The Gaelic Taigh Tugaidh sounds like Taigh Dubh in pronounciation - trust me, it does. Tugaidh means Thatched, Dubh means Black.

At 1pm, we trotted up the road to the main A858 road, past the many ruined blackhouses that Arnol has, alongside modern residences. The bus took an hour to take us to Callanish, which is 18 miles away. Once there, we had a cup of hot soup to warm us up, then we had to leg it back to the main road to pick up the bus back to Stornoway. Once more the long way round.

As I type this, I am still smelling of peat reek.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Friday 26 March

Rain coming down all day, so it's quite simply an inside day. Except for a jaunt to the shop. Since the collapse of regional airline Highland Airways, our papers have to come on the ferry, meaning they're not in the shop until mid afternoon. Only the Press and Journal, which comes from Inverness, seems to be there in the morning. The P&J is a regional paper, covering the north of Scotland. The other papers come from Glasgow / Edinburgh or from London. The bankruptcy of HA has cost 100 people their jobs; a dozen have been kept on to look after the aircraft and passengers.

Pupils at a combined primary and secondary school in Castlebay, Barra, walked out of classes today in protest over the education standards at their school. For three years in a row, a Government inspection found standards lacking. Parents have passed a vote of no-confidence in the local education authority. Said authority has said all in the garden is fine - I wonder which sandy beach they have used for burying their heads in. One local councillor has said the Western Isles Council is unfit for purpose. Pupils only returned to their classes after they were threatened with cancellation of a schooltrip, later in the year, to Barcelona. Moves are afoot to involve the Education Secretary in the Scottish Government, which I think is very necessary.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Thursday 25 March

Today started bright and sunny, but cloud has now covered the sky and the wind is picking up. It appears, from the radar, that we're missing the rain. Fingers crossed it stays dry for the rest of the afternoon.

When I went out to buy today's papers, one of them was not present. Upon enquiring, it transpired that the airline that was supposed to bring them (Highland Airways) here had been placed into administration, and ceased trading. All flights operated by the company, including lifeline services between Stornoway and Benbecula, have been cancelled. The company's difficulties stem from a large debt owed to HM Customs & Excise. The information screens at Stornoway Airport merely state that the airline's flights are cancelled.

I am going to review my use of Facebook. At the moment, I seem to be playing games and using it as a relay for this blog. Every now and again, I leave a comment with somebody's postings. Not a satisfactory situation, so I'll cast a critical eye over the situation. It may also mean a review of contacts.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The long way round

A lady, confined to a wheelchair, alighted at the station in southern England one day. In order to leave the station, she was required to cross the footbridge to the other platform. Unfortunately, there was nobody to operate the lift, so she was marooned on the platform. Helpful trainstaff suggested she join a train to the nearest junction, 15 miles away, then take a train back which would deposit her on the platform from where she could exit the station. In disgust, she telephoned relatives who hoisted her up the steps and over the footbridge. The traincompany has now apologised to the lady, and made sure the lift can be used without a member of staff present.

World Tuberculosis Day

Did you know it's World TB Day today? The BBC has put up a picture gallery with graphic images associated with that disease. I'll just jot down a few private observations on that illness.

TB is an old adversary of humankind, and has crept into everyday vocabulary. It is referred to as consumption in English, a euphemism of the sort commonly attributed to serious illnesses. In days gone by, within living memory, TB sufferers were taken into a sanatorium with plenty of fresh air - even if that was fresh air from outside at a temperature of minus a lot. In the 1950s, people were operated upon, with entire lung lobes removed. I personally know someone who had that done. It cured them - or did it? The antibiotics used to combat TB are heavy duty stuff, and just today the development was announced of a new compound.

TB has made a come-back in the last decade or two, on the back of AIDS. The latter disease destroys the immune system, which opens the floodgates to the TB.

Chemically speaking, the tuberculosis bacillus has some unusual fatty acids in its cellwall - consisting of a chain of 80 carbon atoms. Those of you familiar with bio-chemistry will recognise the extra-ordinary nature of such a compound. It means that the bacillus is well-nigh impregnable to antibiotics, which need to get into the cell of the TB bug to kill it.

Another problem is that the treatment course of TB is 6 months. Few people manage to finish a course, because their symptoms tend to disappear after a couple of days or weeks. Bearing in mind the unpleasant side-effects of some of the drugs, it is even less of an incentive to continue to take pills that turn your urine an alarming hue of pink, for instance.

If you haven't been put off yet, I'd like to highlight another aspect of tuberculosis: transmission through domestic and wild animals. Bovine TB is a major problem in farming, with some farmers blaming wild animals (like badgers) for transmission. So, even if we manage to eradicate TB in people, it might stage a come-back via the animal kingdom. Bearing in mind that the AIDS message seems to have dropped out of people's considerations when having casual sex, I don't expect the eradication of TB to happen very shortly.

Wednesday 24 March

Today has been a very wet day, which has only just now dried up.

Here in the islands, working parents are being inconvenienced by the closure of a nursery at the hospital, called Little Teddies. The nursery can be used by any working parent, but the NHS here is running a £3m deficit - and has done for 5 years - which needs to be addressed. Fortunately, an alternative facility will be in place by August.

It is quiet on the hurricane front, with only two tropical storms about. Imani is headed south across the Indian Ocean, near the 85th degree longitude east; Omais is moving slowly northwest, away from the northern Marianas islands in the Pacific. Both are not expected to be around for much longer than 48-72 hours.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Tuesday 23 March

Overcast and increasingly windy. Just after 2pm, the wind ratched up a notch to about force 7 from the south. Made progress on foot rather more difficult than usual; in a built-up area, houses and buildings can funnel the breeze. As a result, we've been treated to the spectacle of shreds of paper blown around the area. Added to that were 8 inch blobs of suds which were floating on the wind. These emanated from a sewerage outfall pipe down the shore, across from my position, where a large blob of foam had congregated. The tide is out, so we'll just await high tide at 1 am tonight to wash it all away.

The British government has decided to expel an Israeli diplomat in the wake of the row over forged UK passports. Earlier this year, a leading figure in the Palestinian movement Hamas was assassinated in Dubai by a number of men carrying forged UK passports (and other European passports, also fake). Although the finger of blame firmly points towards the Israeli security agency Mossad, no concrete evidence to link the Israelis to the murder is available. Nonetheless, the UK Foreign Secretary has squarely blamed Israel for this "intolerable" misuse of UK passports. Mossad is well known for ignoring laws when executing its brief of protecting the security of the state of Israel. Hamas and Israel fought a bloody battle over Gaza a year ago. The "peace process" is as dead as it has always been, in spite of various talking shops hosted by people like Barack Obama, Hilary Clinton and Tony Blair. I see no prospect of that festering sore being cured anytime soon.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Healthcare debate

Over in the States, the House of Representatives has passed a Bill, aimed to alter the way people in the US can access healthcare. Until now, about 20% of US citizens did not have access to healthcare insurance for various reasons. President Obama has fought hard to get this legislation passed, and it has proven to be a seriously divisive issue in America.

I was absolutely stunned to note the ferocity of the opposition to this law, and (to my untutored mind) appears to centre on the average American's distrust of the state and unwillingness to pay tax. There is also an attitude, going back to the 19th century, that everybody has to stand up for themselves (as nobody else would do so), and people who will not or cannot are just lazy lay-abouts. The S-word has also come up (socialism), and the fact that some fear the prospect that the USA will become like a European nanny state.

I am heavily biased, as living in one of those European nanny states, where you can access healthcare without it costing you an arm and a leg. The only contributions (at point of uptake) that you can be expected to make in primary care are for medicines and dentistry. Otherwise, you make national insurance contributions, as employer as well as employees, which pays in large measure for healthcare in the UK.

Over in Holland, there is a system where people pay a compulsory premium to the healthcare system (not in tax, but directly). In addition, depending on income, you may be compelled to take out private healthcare insurance. In the UK, private healthcare insurance is optional and often seen to be the prerogative of the rich.

Generally speaking, it is a government's duty to look after the wellfare of its citizens, and to make sure that mechanisms are in place which will enable said citizens to access healthcare. Those that are financially unable to do so, should be offered a way to get the healthcare they need. To deny a full 20% of the population access to healthcare insurance is neglectful (and I'm deliberately omitting choice adjectives before neglectful) and a dereliction of duty.

It is time for America to move out of the pioneer era, out of the wagons, the period of the Injuns and the US Cavalry. Out of the McCarthy era, with its shameful persecutions of people who were deemed to be holding left-wing sympathies. It is time for everybody to take responsibility for those who are less fortunate, through no fault of their own. Join the 21st century.

Monday 22 March

A brightish day with strong winds and the odd light shower. Nice rainbows, but because the sun is now higher in the sky, the rainbows remain low in the sky. When the sun is higher than 46° (halfway up) in the sky, a rainbow cannot be seen as it will be "below the horizon".

I am not a happy bunny today, because my laptop has decided to revert to its old, bad ways of giving me an aberrant colour display. It is not quite as bad as before, but it is very tiring to be subjected to abnormal colours.
Like so:

A frightening incident has taken more than 2 months to come to public attention. A motorist was trapped in her car as it was stuck under the bumper of a lorry on the A1 near Wetherby, Yorkshire. It took a full minute for the lorry driver to finally notice something was wrong. Someone took video footage of the incident (see the BBC link). The company has said that since the footage emerged, a week ago, they have taken the driver involved off the road. The police are considering what action to take.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Sunday 21 March

It's Sunday, so it's very quiet. The weather started out wet this morning, but after a couple of showers, the afternoon remained dry and not too cold. The mercury reached 10C, but is receding as darkness falls. Went out for a walk round my area of Stornoway. It is mainly industrial, with a powerstation and several defunct Harris Tweed mills. Not beautiful, but I've seen worse.

Defunct mill

Cat in window

Memorial to naval base at Battery Point

Battery Point powerstation

Iceland saw a volcanic eruption in the early hours of the morning. It caused great disruption to national and international flights, but could potentially trigger a larger eruption of a nearby volcano.

Australia's Queensland coast is recovering after cyclone Ului struck in the early hours of Sunday morning local time. Winds peaked at 106 mph, but the storm quickly lost its puff as it moved over land. Rainfall totals have exceeded 16 inches, adding to the existing flooding problems in the state. The remnant of Ului is moving west across Queensland towards Northern Territories.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Pilots, Turks and Hurricanes

Back in 2007, pioneer aviator Steve Fossett went missing in the Nevada desert. He had left an airfield and never came back. You may remember the extensive search efforts, even involving Internet users (like myself) who were asked to scan images on Google Earth for anything resembling a crashed aircraft.

You had to subscribe to Amazon's Mechanical Turk programme, which I duly did, and off I went perusing dozens and dozens of pictures of desert as seen from space. Several plane wrecks were located using this technique, but not Steve Fossett's. His plane, and remains, were located more than a year later, in November 2008.

After I got enough of staring at all shades of colour between brown, green and grey, I ventured into other areas of the Mechanical Turk. You can do all sorts of mind-numbingly dumb chores for which you get paid a couple of dollar cents a go. The more challenging tasks can earn you a few dozen cents, and the big jobs several whole dollars. In the end, I had accumulated nearly $12 in Amazon gift vouchers.

I then came across dearmissmermaid, an Internet blogger from the island of Tortola in the Caribbean. She had written a book, called Hurricanes and Hangovers, which I could purchase from Amazon. However, I could only use the gift vouchers on Amazon US. So, off I went to buy the book all the way from the States. It would cost me more than $28, but the Mechanical Turk knocked off those $12, so it's down to about £10.

When the book arrived earlier this week, it was annotated that it had been produced for me on 6 March 2010 in Lexington KY. I've let DMM know that I'm thoroughly enjoying her book - I'm not going to link, as I've done more promotion in one post than I've done for many a month.

Hurricane update - 20 March (2)

Tropical cyclone Ului is approaching the coastline of Queensland as I type (1520 GMT). I was fascinated if horrified to read the continual updates from the weather station at Hamilton Island, just off Proserpine, which reported winds of 172 km/h (that's 107 mph), with gusts to 202 km/h (126 mph). The 0900 GMT forecast from JTWC was miles out with regards to strength: they were talking about sustained winds of 60 mph with gusts of 80 mph.

The last update, from 15 minutes ago, showed winds abating (I suppose 80 mph is less bad than 107 mph) at Hamilton Island, but beginning to pick up at Proserpine, 25 miles to the east on the mainland. It is an interesting demonstration how localised a phenomenon a tropical cyclone is.

Saturday 20 March

A bright and sunny morning, if a tad on the breezy side. It's not cold, with the temperature already into double figures at 10 am. Started the day by washing the salt off the windows - couldn't see a thing. Who needs net curtains if you can have a gale and seaspray.

The freighter Wilson Dover, which was in distress in galeforce conditions off Cape Wrath yesterday, was safely towed into Kirkwall, Orkney. The coastguard tug Anglian Sovereign managed to get the ship alongside the Hatston terminal north of the town at 8 am this morning.

With reference to the Battle at Culloden, April 1746, a military historian has called for a memorial to be erected in memory of the soldiers who fought on the side of the Duke of Cumberland, in opposition to the Jacobite forces, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Not much is being made of the Red Coats, as all the attention is focused on BPC. I have previously made clear that I feel that the Jacobite prince was a royal fool and incompetent to a catastrophic degree. Whilst the clan system was already on the way out in the mid 18th century, Charlie's actions served to give the Hannoverian forces the pretext they needed to go on the rampage in the Highlands and Islands.

Culloden is often marked as the occasion which marked the end of the Scotland of old. Well, in 1707, Scotland had already ceased to be an independent nation, by virtue of the merger of the Scottish Parliament into the Westminster one in London. The rebellions by the Old Pretender in 1715 and his son, the Young Pretender, in 1746, served no purpose. To this day, the people in the Highlands and Islands can be claimed to feel the effects of the disaster that was Culloden, without a doubt.

Comparing Scotland to Norway, as some politicians like to do, throws up some unpleasant home truths. The remote areas in Norway are supported, if necessary subsidised, by the government in Oslo. The remote areas of Scotland are not supported to any degree like that of the Norwegians. The fish farming industry is a case in point, where plants and companies have been taken over by foreign parties - to be closed down and asset stripped. The Norwegians would never allow that to happen in e.g. the Lofoten Islands. So, why does the Scottish Government or indeed the British Government permit it?

No, I'm not a Scottish nationalist. Far from it. Regular readers are aware of my provenance. This post is merely one of my pet hates, the elevation of Prince Charles Edward to the status of near-sainthood in Scottish history. The man was an unmitigated disaster for Scotland.

Hurricane update - 20 March

Tropical cyclone Ului is now approaching the Queensland coast of Australia, and I'm a bit concerned about the news from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. Forecasts from the past few hours suggest the cyclone is intensifying, which contradicts the forecast from the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC). Their predictions keep Ului at tropical storm strength, with winds of 55 knots, 65 mph. BOM Australia is currently putting the storm's intensity at 65 knots and increasing. Ului is forecast to make landfall near Proserpine, with a margin of error stretching from Mackay in the south to Ayr in the north. The coastline from Yeppoon to Cardwell is under a tropical cyclone warning (map). Residents are strongly advised to follow the tropical cyclone advices from the BOM, and listen to ABC Tropical Queensland for updates.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Forever for sale

I was once again travelling the island by Google Streetview this evening, when I decide to head down the Eishken Road. About 3 miles in, there is this ruin of a house, in a glorious location overlooking the head of Loch Seaforth. It has come down in price over the years, from about £25,000 in 2005 to £13,000 today, in 2010. No facilities on site at all. Why doesn't it shift? I mean, it would perfectly suit a hermit, a holiday home, or someone wanting to be away from it all. Well, there is the minor matter of a windfarm with 33 turbines, each 500 feet high which will be constructed on the hills on the other side of Loch Seaforth.

Leaving monstrosities like a windfarm to one side, there are other reasons why houses don't sell. The house shown in this picture, which stands in Ness, has also been for sale for at least the duration I've been here. It requires such an enormous amount of work, that demolition is probably the cheapest option. Sometimes houses are not put up for sale for years. The reason is quite often that the occupants have passed away, but there is a dispute of subsequent ownership. Or nobody knows who the owner is. I'll never forget the description of the interior of a house that was put up for sale some 14 years after the last occupant had died. Newspapers, dating back to the 1930s, were still present. The man's caps were neatly piled up, and everything was still the way it was the day he died, in 1991. More often than not, houses fall into rack and ruin.

Evening notes

It was still a bit light at 7.30pm this evening, so we're definitely heading towards spring. Although we had a gale today, it was not cold. Went into town this afternoon, but had to suffer a blasting from the grit that was blown up by the high winds. During the winter, tons of grit had been dumped on the streets of Stornoway and it had not been swept up since New Year.

Just before darkness fell, a flutter of large, whitish wings caught my attention in the backyard. It flew into the hedge, which is home to many small birds, flew out at high speed and back in again. In the end, the bird sat down outside the hedge and I could see what it was: a sparrowhawk. Small wonder the blackbird was panicking. I did not have my camera on me, and the light conditions were way too poor to be able to take pictures at any rate.

The below image shows a gull taking advantage of the force 8 conditions this morning. 

Although we have had fewer gales this winter than average, it is still a relief for boat owners that they can put their vessels on hard standing during the winter months. By 1 May, they will have to be back in the water.

Friday 19 March

The above map has been cropped from AIS Northern Scotland. The MV Wilson Dover has run into mechanical problems amidst a force 9 gale and an 8 metre (27 ft) swell. The MV Anglian Sovereign is a coastguard tug, which has come to the aid of the Wilson Dover out of Kirkwall, some 45 miles to the east, trying to tow the ship to safety in Orkney. Conditions are so horrendous that to even attempt to attach a towline is proving well-nigh impossible. STV alerted me to the rescue. The location is some 50 miles north of Cape Wrath, the farthest point northwest in mainland Britain; approximately 100 miles northeast of Stornoway.

Today has been a wild day, and the weather is taking its time in calming down. The day dawned with a force 8 gale here in Stornoway, and conditions so poor that the early morning sailing of our ferry was cancelled. The wind is slowly subsiding, currently at force 6 with winds of 25 mph, but not out at sea it would appear.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Thursday 18 March

Overcast, wet and windy. With a temperature of 9C, we're lagging behind the rest of the country. Can't say it bothers me very much; I prefer the cooler weather.

Here in the islands, a ferocious row is going on in the Isle of Barra, 120 miles south of Stornoway. The school in the main town, Castlebay, has been receiving less than favourable reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate for Education, now for 3 years in a row. Parents are concerned and so are the pupils. A local internet blog highlighting the issue received 100 comments, whereas commonly the number of comments on its entries is around a dozen or so. More remarkable is that the Council blocked access to the blog from computers at the school in Castlebay. In spite of a visitation by a senior education official, parents’ and students’ fears are by no means allayed, and a move could be afoot to wrench control of the school from the council to the community. This would require the consent of the Scottish Government.

A report has been published in which the deathtoll of the bombing of the German city of Dresden in February 1945 has been put at 25,000. During three nights, British and American planes bombed the city in the east of Germany, raising a firestorm as a result. Neo-nazis have put the deathtoll as high as half a million, a claim disputed by the report's authors. They say that far fewer refugees from the east, who had been fleeing the advancing Red Army, had been in the city. Critics have claimed that the bombardment served no military purpose, but others have said that Dresden was an important logistical centre at the time.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Missing - bad outcome

Contents warning: may upset

A few days ago, I noticed a tweet from Sarah Brown, the wife of the UK prime minister Gordon Brown, that a 12-year old girl from Dordrecht, Holland, had been reported missing. A poster was linked to, provided by the Dutch national police.

Today, I received an email from my father, who is not on Twitter, saying that a girl of 12 was found murdered in Dordrecht. She had been taken across the street by a neighbour, killed and buried in the man's garden. He was a police officer. The Dutch national police fear a backlash against their officers, who are there to protect and serve.

Some of you are deeply involved with the Amber Alerts that go out for missing children. This was an Amber Alert, which can now be stood down. Unfortunately, for the wrong reason.

Wednesday 17 March

Pretty wild day and pretty wet at times. Got myself out to the Post Office to send off the letter to New Zealand I blogged about last night. Expect it to take a week to reach NZ, two weeks for the query to be sorted and another week for the result to reach me. Popped into the supermarket for a few items, and you have an express checkout available if you have less than 10 items. Well, people think that the express check-out is there if you bring your shopping in a basket. Even if it has like twenty items in it. Rant over.

Australia's northeastern coast should get worried about tropical cyclone Ului, which has been making ominous noises near the Solomon Islands for the past couple of days. The storm will head towards Queensland, but is expected to weaken to category I (on the Saffir Simpson scale) before making landfall in a few days from now.

Seen on Streetview

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Snapvine Voice Comments

In my sidebar is an option where you can leave comments by telephone. A few of you have done so early last year (thank you!), but the website ( that provides this service will be closing down at the end of March - and I'll be removing that feature from the sidebar by then.

Tuesday 16 March

Having spent most of the day on this computer, I have yet to post a blog entry. Well, it's 10.40pm, might as well do it now, before I retire for the night.

The day started well, with my camera back from repairs. It was back in working order, even though I had to adjust all the settings back to the way I want them. I could now finally also put the new strap on, which I had bought back in February, just before the thing broke.

I spent the day transcribing the roll of honour plaque in the Uig Community Centre at Erista, which (it being 500 names long) took me a while. My contact over there, meanwhile, appears to be drowning in the St Kilda Centre. It says enough that UNESCO is going to get involved. The St Kilda Centre (Ionad Hiort) is going to be built between the villages of Mangersta and Islivig, on a site from where the islands of St Kilda can be discerned on a clear day. Two other locations, Leverburgh in Harris and Cleitreabhal in North Uist, were also in contention, but were deemed (by consultants Jura) to be less suitable. The acrimony that this created at the end of 2009 has by no means subsided.

View of the Mangersta cliffs from near the proposed site of the St Kilda Centre

I was also pointed to a new resource on New Zealand casualties from the First World War. I have duly sent off for the records of one New Zealander, who (according to my information) has island roots. My files state that Angus Macdonald came from 1 Islivig. Nobody, not even the local historical society, has been able to give me much information, so I've decided to jump in at the deep end and request information all the way from Wellington, New Zealand. Am expecting this back in the course of April.


Monday, 15 March 2010

Picture post

Stornoway from the ferry terminal this afternoon (Monday)

Did you know about this tragedy? Don't think you did.

Supermarket carpark on Sunday evening

The Trumpets of Spring

Fridge magnets

Last Thursday's showers

Monday 15 March

Bright and fairly sunny today, with the mercury at 9C. No complaints.

The General Election is due in the next two months, and political parties have been fielding candidates in the Western Isles. One of them went flying on a banana skin of her own peeling over the weekend. Upon being asked what the top priorities were for the Western Isles, the Conservative Party candidate displayed a disconcerting lack of local knowledge. Ms Norquay (sic) stated that the fisheries industry was very important, and that the construction of the harbour wall at Achmore was top priority. That in itself is an innocuous statement, except there are a few practical problems in the way.

The village of Achmore (marked on above map) is the only village in the Western Isles not in the immediate proximity of the sea. It is about 5 miles from the sea, and at an altitude of 350 feet above sealevel. The radio and television transmitter masts stand on the hill Eitsal, at 800 feet above the sea. The state of the pier at Achmore is a standing joke in Lewis, and it is unfortunate that a young (age 22) candidate came out with that clanger - without even being prompted for it. (story courtesy Hebrides News). The water you see in the above picture is a freshwater loch, situated along the main road through Achmore. 

Tropical cyclone Tomas is currently roaring through Fiji, with forecast winds of 115 knots (130 mph) around its centre. The storm will continue to batter the archipelago for the next 24 hours.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Hurricane update - 14 March

Tropical cyclone Tomas is bearing down on Fiji, and is expected to pack a severe punch with winds in the region of 130 mph near its centre. The current warnings are:

A HURRICANE warning remains in force for the eastern half of Vanua Levu, Cikobia, Tavenui, Rabi, Kioa, Yacata, Koro, Gau, Batiki, Nairai, Wakaya, Makogai and nearby smaller islands.

A STORM warning is in force the rest of Vanua Levu, Ovalau, Lakeba, Vanua Balavu, Moala, Matuku, Totoya, Cicia and nearby smaller islands.

A GALE warning is in force for the rest of Fiji

Tropical cyclone Ului is now in the Coral Sea and moving west. The storm is equivalent to a category V hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale (winds of 155 mph near its centre), and I keep a beady eye on its northwestern flank, which could swipe the extreme southeastern islands of Papua New Guinea. Australia does not need to worry as yet. Ului is 900 miles to the east of Queensland, and is expected to veer to the south. Once it resumes a more southwesterly course is the point where we do start to worry. That lies just beyond the scope of the current forecast.

Sunday 14 March

A very late post for today, even though I've been at the keyboard for most of the afternoon. However that had more to do with finding out about those casualties from the First World War that I cannot trace on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. Although someone more expert in these matters is going to have a go on the hard cases, I do not foresee a huge flood of information.

I had to go into town just before 7pm this evening and lo and behold it was still light! We're near the equinox, so the evenings are now getting nice and long. Friends across the pond, you should have put your clocks forward by an hour.

For some reason unknown to me, comment notifications for my YouTube videos have not been reaching me. Got some today, and boy, did the air turn blue. Never seen such profanity on any of my sites before, and worse than that, it was all related to the start of the Sunday ferries back in July. A number of linguistically challenged people decided to let off steam over the poor folk in the video, who were chanting a psalm outside the ferry terminal before departure time on July 19th last year. Rather than let the cringeworthyness of the situation speak for itself, the genitals were all over the comments section. I've scrapped those comments.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Saturday 13 March

A bright and fairly sunny day, with the odd light shower. Rugby is once more dominating our television screens, although I have more than enough on my hands with two tropical cyclones in the Pacific.

Tomas is now bearing down on Fiji, which can anticipate a direct hit from this storm. Winds near the centre will be at 95 knots (110 mph), slightly less than previously forecast, when the system traverses the two main islands in 24 hours' time.

Ului is located between Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands and has exploded from a 65 knots category I hurricane to a 105 knots category III hurricane in 12 hours. This system will strengthen very rapidly, until it hits the ceiling at 150 knots in the course of tomorrow. The Solomon Islands will catch a whiff of this storm with galeforce winds. I am also keeping an eye on the Louisiade Islands, which string out to the southeast of Papua New Guinea, as they are within 250 miles of the forecast track of Ului. Yep, I too had to consult a map.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Friday 12 March

A sunny if slightly cool day in the Western Isles, so I lent someone a hand in painting some pieces of outside wood that needed painting. I'm not much use up a ladder, but managed to finish the job without mishap. Have continued to monitor the two tropical cyclones in the South Pacific; the people in Fiji are beginning to get concerned at what is going to wallop them late on Sunday their time. Up to the time of posting, just over 800 people have now visited my TC blog. The highest one-day total goes back to March 2007, when cyclone Gamede made ominous noises at Mauritius and La Reunion in the Indian Ocean, and 2,300 people called round to check for developments.

Here in the Western Isles, a war of words is raging between two writers on the subject of Sabbath observance. It is quite a personal strife, and the issue in general has polluted the letters column of local news site Hebrides News over the last few weeks. A campaign to get the Stornoway Sports Centre to open on Sunday lies at the root of all the unpleasantness.

A campaign to reinstate a ferry between Lochboisdale in South Uist and Mallaig on the mainland continues apace. At present, Lochboisdale is served by a ferry from Oban, which takes 7 hours to cross. The journey to Mallaig only takes 3½ hours, and since the A830 road from Mallaig to Fort William was reverted from single- to double-track, the shorter journey time across water easily offsets the added mileage by road. It is 90 miles from Oban to Glasgow, and 145 from Mallaig to Glasgow.

Hurricane update - 12 March

The South Pacific has come to life with two tropical cyclones in relative proximity to each other.

Tomas is brewing up to the east of American Samoa and will be carrying sustained winds of 110 knots (that's a trifling 125 mph) as it ploughs through the entire Fijian archipelago on Sunday GMT. Fiji is 12 hours ahead of GMT, hence my addition of the timezone. Since midnight, I have received nearly 600 visitors to my tropical cyclones blog half of whom came from Fiji. They have every reason to be concerned: Tomas will be equivalent to a category III hurricane on the Saffir Simpson scale. Those readers who are in Hurricane Alley in the States will know what damage that does.

Vanuatu is at the back end of tropical cyclone 20P, to be named Vania, which is moving west into the Coral Sea to the north of New Caledonia. The storm will intensify to the equivalent of a category IV hurricane - far away from land. As yet. Vanuatu lies about 1100 miles northeast of Brisbane, Australia.

The tropical cyclone in the South Atlantic looks decidedly unhealthy on this morning's satellite imagery. It is lying 900 miles to the east of Montevideo in Uruguay and will disappear as a tropical cyclone fairly soon.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Thursday 11 March

The day started very wet, but the sun is now managing to put in an intermittent appearance between the showers. These are not long or heavy, so can live with that.

In the South Pacific, the cyclone season is livening up again, although autumn is now on its way in down there. A new storm, which will be named Tomas, has formed east of American Samoa. It will slowly head southwest towards Fiji, and slam through that archipelago with winds well in excess of 100 knots (115 mph). At times like that, the name "Pacific" could not be more inappropriate for the world's largest ocean.

About 95% of the UK landmass can now be viewed on Google Streetview, and my Twitter contacts in the islands were joking this morning that productivity here had been cut by 90% whilst everybody gawped at their own residences courtesy Google. One self-employed person admitted losing the morning whilst "walking" across their island. Naturally, I've indulged myself as well.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Early Tuesday morning

Ice on the Basin (it was -5C overnight)

Ferry cancelled

Tuesday pictures

Eoropie Beach

Mainland hills

Looking south towards Dell

Geese afoot

Sheep in croft

Houses in Habost

Wednesday 10 March

Overcast but with some brightness about. It feels cold in the wind today, and I'm not tempted to do much outside. Still on matters meteorological, a tropical cyclone is forming in the South Atlantic. That is about the 7th system in recorded history to form there. The tropical depression is located some 200 miles off the coast of Brazil, east of Puerto Alegre and could become a tropical storm, before it gets absorbed by a frontal system by the weekend. In 2004, Catarina swept ashore in Brazil as a category II hurricane.

A debate will be held in the House of Commons at 4pm this afternoon on the future of the Lewis Chessmen. Our MP, Angus Macneil, is of the opinion that the 92 chessmen should be kept in the museum here in Stornoway, rather than in the British Museum in London. The Lewis Chessmen were found in the sands at Uig Bay, 35 miles west of here, in 1831. Repatriating artifacts is a sensitive point as far as the British Museum is concerned. The Elgin Marbles have been asked back by Greece, where they originate, many a time. And there are thousands of objects in the museum that could be argued have been looted from around the world by the British. Mr Macneil is also taking umbrage at the suggestion that the Lewis Chessmen originate in Norway. Research has suggested that they do come from there, although that is not a certainty. The alternative is that the Chessmen could have been made in this island. Anyone wishing to watch the debate in Parliament can view it on BBC Parliament, which is relayed on the BBC iPlayer, Freeview channel 81 and Sky channel 504.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Tuesday 9 March

Quite a varied day in many respects. Awoke at 8 this morning to the sight of part of the basin (inlet from the sea) opposite my window being frozen over. Overnight lows of -5C brought that about. The local news advised us that the ferry did not sail, and upon glancing out of the window I did indeed discern the familiar shape of the MV Isle of Lewis alongside the ferry pier.

It was a brilliantly sunny morning, and it looked like staying that way. Well, that sort of assumptions tends to get you wrongfooted in the Hebrides, and it promptly clouded over. Mind you, it did stay dry for the rest of the day, but we did not see the sun again after 1pm. I jumped on the bus to Ness, and that took ages to get out of Stornoway, dropping off and picking up passengers all along its route - more than customary. Arrived at the Ness Museum in Habost at 2pm and enlisted the help of the member of staff present in resolving some of my queries. The exhibition area of the museum was not heated, and I'm quietly wondering if an inside temperature of 7C is very good for the exhibits, many of which are quite old.

At half past two, I ambled down the road to the nearby cemetery and photographed 30 gravestones, marking the graves of or commemorating war casualties. This took me 45 minutes, which saw me just in time to catch the bus back to Stornoway. This was packed with schoolkids returning home from their day at the lessons. They are dropped off outside their doors.

I have not yet uploaded the pictures, so I shall put up a selection in a post tomorrow.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Monday 8 March

Bright and sunny after a very cold start. The mercury dipped to -3C overnight, but recovered nicely to 9C at lunchtime. Hardly a cloud in the sky, although visibility is not fantastically good. I cannot discern the mainland hills at all.

Listened to the local radio station Isles FM this morning, and was greeted by the customary Monday morning rundown of drunken loutishness that roams the streets of this town of a weekend night. The hangover for the culprits comes in the cold light of the Stornoway Court House on Monday.

I've spent Monday afternoon on a project to identify WW1 casualties who are not mentioned on the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) website. The initial total stands at just over 240, although the real number is probably a lot lower. Many names cannot be linked to the CWGC database because they are so common, and there is too little (reliable) information to link them. If you look for Donald Macleod in Lewis, you've got a job on your hands. There is a project underway to get all who qualify on the CWGC register that are not already there.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Sunday 7 March

Fairly bright today, but with some cloud about and a persistent breeze. Not complaining though; could be so much worse. Managed to get the better of that cold that was bothering me since Thursday or Friday, just one of those things. As I type, the Sunday ferry is about to set sail on its now customary single sailing across to Ullapool.

After the Sunday ferry, we now have a big discussion about Sunday sports. The Sports Centre here in Stornoway is closed on the Sabbath, in order not to offend those that feel that the Sabbath should be a day of rest. The unfortunate anomaly is that elsewhere within the Western Isles sports centres (like at Lionacleit in Benbecula) are open on Sundays. A girl of 10, with the backing of her parents, tried to get legal aid to force the issue, but an application for that was turned down. The campaign is still on-going, now by people with deep pockets. There is another argument: why can people get a drink in the pubs on Sunday, but not engage in sports? The latter is a lot healthier than the former.

Francis Street, Stornoway, Sunday 13 April 2008

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Trip to Tolsta

Tolsta is a township some 13 miles north of Stornoway on the east coast of Lewis. It is famous for two lovely beaches and the alleged practice of putting the cockerel under a basket on the Sabbath. Not sure that that is still being done. I went to the beach at Garry, 2 miles north of Tolsta, but one of my companions came away with a scare: sank into quicksand and did a strange injury to a finger as a result. The top joint of the injured finger now persistently stands at a 45 degree angle to the rest of the finger, never mind what you do. Got an improvised mallet splint until a GP can be seen on Monday - one saving grace, it's not painful.

Here's some pictures

Those who follow my blipfoto output are familiar with this image - an old pussycat warming herself by a fire