View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Friday, 30 April 2010

Friday 30 April

After a sunny afternoon, the sun has disappeared behind the clouds and the wind is picking up. It hasn't been cold today. The day started badly for an Irish fishing boat which took on water in the Atlantic northwest of Lewis. Another fishing boat dashed to their aid and saved the 5 crewmembers on board.

I'm glad the three 'prime-ministerial debates' on television are over. We still have to endure another 5 days of politics until the General Election next Thursday. I am not denying it is an important event, but it is turning more into a media circus than anything else, and I'm heartily fed up with it. I will go so far as to say that Gordon Brown's gaffe has blown away his credibility. Saying one thing in someone's face, then the opposite behind their back is insincere. Just as well I'm not eligible to vote. I would probably not bother.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Visit to Kershader

This afternoon, I jumped on the bus and paid a brief visit to the village of Kershader, 22 miles by road and 12 miles as the crow flies from Stornoway. Kershader (Cearsiadar in Gaelic) is a small crofting township on the shore above Loch Erisort, the 15 mile long inlet from the sea. It is the cause for the lengthy detour. As you come down the main road at Laxay, you can actually see the village across the water. But you still have to go down a 10 mile detour round the head of the loch!

The object of the visit was the Ravenspoint Centre, a venue that I am only too familiar with. I stayed there during the 2004/5 winter, making many miles in the surrounding moorland until conditions became too inclement. It was there that I sat through a 48 hour black-out, caused by 100 mph winds on 11 January 2005. This same hurricane claimed 5 lives in Uist, 60 miles to the south.

Today, the Ravenspoint Centre (have a look on Streetview, link provided) looks a lot smarter. The shop is now much larger; I did not look in at the hostel, which can't have changed that much. The museum is all in a small room, but held some interesting artefacts.

It helped that the weather cleared up and warmed up as the day wore on, although the wind stayed chilly.

Loch Erisort at Balallan

Pairc Museum, Kershader

Inside the Ravenspoint Shop

A year ago tomorrow

On 30 April 2009, the annual Queen's Day festivities in Holland were cruelly torn apart by a man in car, who smashed into a crowd of spectators at 60 mph. He bore a grudge against the Dutch royal family, who were seated in an open-topped bus, within yards of his car as it veered across a road and collided with a monument. Kars Tates died not long after of his injuries. So did seven innocent bystanders. A memorial to these will be unveiled this afternoon in the city of Apeldoorn, 65 miles east of Amsterdam.

I was watching the events on television in Holland that day, and it is was quite strange to see a small black car, obviously not part of the festivities, suddenly appear at high speed and crashing into a monument. Unreal. But only too real for the bystanders, and the seven who died - and their relatives. They have requested the media to please leave them alone (Google translation of Dutch article).

Tomorrow, 30 April 2010, will see the 30th anniversary of Queen Beatrix's ascension to the throne in The Netherlands. I hope it will be a festive occasion, even if the weather will be a little cool and showery. I'll keep an eye on proceedings from here in Stornoway, courtesy the internet.

Thursday 29 April

After two days of continuous rain, today dawned fairly bright, if not very warm. I'm not really complaining about 11C at 10 am, but there is a breeze going and that cools things down. I am normally a late starter, but this morning saw me heading for Sandwick Cemetery at 9 am in order to search for a particular gravestone. I did not manage to locate it (the person in question died in a  hospital in Glasgow in 1917, but might have been transferred to Lewis after death for burial). I did find 9 other gravestones that are of interest to me for wargrave purposes.

Gordon Brown had his open mike moment yesterday, when he was all smiles to a voter in Rochdale, but called her a bigot when he was safe in his car. Or so he thought, because a mike on his jacket was still working. The tape was duly played to the voter, and also played to Gordon Brown himself as he was live on air on BBC Radio 2. He was also video'd, and he knew he had dropped a clanger. The PM returned to the lady's home to apologise, but the damage was done.

The dangers of deep-sea oil exploration are becoming clearer by the minute as an open oilwell continues to leak oil into the Gulf of Mexico, following the destruction of an oilplatform. The sea is 5000 feet deep, and efforts to plug the leak by robot have so far proven unsuccessful. The oilslick on the surface is a lot bigger than previous thought, and is set to come ashore in the US state of Louisiana in the next few days. It is forecast to be the worst oilspill in history.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

St Kilda

This year, it will be 80 years ago since the islanders of St Kilda (Hiort) were evacuated to the Scottish mainland at their own request. It was on 29th August 1930 that the culture of St Kilda died with the passing to other shores of its inhabitants. This evening, Monty Halls in his Hebridean Hideaway visited the islands. The scenery was absolutely stunning. But otherwise, there was nothing there. There are no permanent residents left, the houses are ruinous, with a few exceptions, and the storage huts (cleits) stand empty and derelict. In other words, St Kilda is dead.

Monty Halls, who stayed in North Uist for six months from July 2009 onwards, got involved with the controversy surrounding the location of the St Kilda Centre. It will be a point where the culture and people of St Kilda will be celebrated and kept alive. The strife was bitter, and already reflected in Monty's programme. The other contestants were Mangersta (Lewis) and Leverburgh (Harris). Cleitraval (North Uist) is a hilltop location near Sollas, where a plaque sits on the hill, pointing out where St Kilda can be seen, 41 miles (70 km) away to the west.

In the end, the St Kilda Centre was allocated to Lewis, and will be erected off the road between Mangersta and Islivig, overlooking the cliffs of Mangersta to be reminiscent of the St Kilda clifftops. (This link will take you to the location courtesy Google Streetview). The people of Harris and North Uist are deeply upset over losing out over the centre. It will obviously bring tourists to the location involved, and Uig (in which Mangersta lies) can very well do with the revenue.

Some people in these islands have voiced misgivings over having a St Kilda Centre in the first place. I can have some sympathy with those who say it is not right to make money off people who were cruelly neglected by the Government of the day - and neglected they were. Conversely though, nothing will bring them back, and it is a way of keeping their memory and the memory of their culture alive.

Wednesday 28 April

Another day of rain with rather more wind than yesterday. Whilst the south of the UK basks in temperatures of nearly 22C, we're having to make do with 11C this afternoon. By the end of the week, all of the UK will have to do with 11C. It's only April (nearly May), and anything could still happen.

The Southern Hemisphere hurricane season is simpering to a conclusion on Friday, with nothing happening at present. The Northern Hemisphere season is slowly cranking up, with one tropical disturbance bringing rain to the south of the Philippines. The North Atlantic is still in winter mode, as is the Eastern Pacific. The seasons there will commence on June 1st and May 15th respectively.

My local rag, the Press and Journal, reported on events in the "Showboat" area of Lewis. Having a spell checker on your wordprocessor can be useful, but be careful not to allow it to automatically correct everything it perceives to be wrong. Shawbost is a lively community, and some would argue that the moniker "showboat" would not go amiss there.

Next week, it will be three years since Madeleine McCann disappeared whilst on holiday with her parents in Portugal. No reliable sightings of the girl, who would be nearly 7 now if she is still alive, have been made. Parents Gerry and Kate continue to search, and now accuse the British police of giving up on her. I can fully understand that the McCanns will never quit searching for Madeleine, but it is cringeworthy to note the flurry of fake sightings in the British gutter press. Employing the media is like wielding a two-edged sword: it can help you, but you will be chewed up and abused by the hacks to their own ends.

Finally, the Scottish National Party has failed in their bid to be allowed a representative on the final election debate on BBC TV on Thursday. They had argued that as the party in government in Scotland, they should be permitted someone alongside Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Gordon Brown. This argument has been rejected by the court, which found that the BBC had not breached its impartiality in refusing the SNP request to participate. The comments from other political parties, at the bottom of this BBC article, speak for themselves.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Caught up

I've just spent the past hour and a half catching up with blogs, something I had not gotten round to this month. In fact, since Palm Sunday (March 27th). Quite a few people have been saying on Facebook and their journals that they miss J-land. The good ole days of AOL, alerts (working or not), the wee chatroom we had for about 10 months and all that sort of jazz. I've never really taken to Blogger, but it's what we have, so that's it.

Tuesday 27 April

A very wet day here, with no immediate sign of improvement on the horizon. The rainfall radar shows a mass of rain moving in from the southwest, which will take its time to make its way east. Tomorrow should see a slight improvement, but more rain is forecast.

The coverage of the general election is beginning to tire me out, it seems to be a game for politicians and journalists, with Johnny Average left gasping on the sidelines. My take on elections is that the politicians are like tomcats in March, caterwauling their promises of everlasting fielty to the credulous recipients of their goodies. And when the evil deed is done, all the fair promises are so much fried air.

I was horrified to hear of the teacher who battered a pupil during class. It appears that the teacher had lost control of his class, and when he was sworn at also lost control of himself. He dragged the 14-year old culprit out of the classroom and hit him repeatedly with a heavy object.

When I was in school, I have witnessed a couple of occasions where the teacher lost the plot, after being goaded. Anyone can be provoked, given the wrong circumstances, and the battered youngster was by all accounts a pivotal player in classroom disruption. I do not condone violence in any form, and trust that measures will be taken to prevent a repeat. Not just towards the teacher, but also the class involved.

Monday 26 April

Forgot to put in the entry for Monday, so a few lines about that here. It was a nice and bright day, albeit without much open sunshine. But there was sufficient clearance between the clouds to give it a decent feel. Temperatures about 12C. I went to see an exhibition of local art in the An Lanntair gallery. Grinneas nan Eilean is an annual event, where everybody can submit their artwork for exhibition and, potentially, sale. The quality was variable, from the extremely good to the "I don't know what this is supposed to be" very bad. An Lanntair hangs works right down to the skirting boards, putting the sticker with artist's name and price on the skirting board.

I spent the past few weeks on a revision of data on the Faces from the Lewis War Memorial website, and continue to put them onto the site from a workingfile. Bit of a job, if you bear in mind there are 1300 names on it.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Afternoon stroll

Stornoway on Sunday is a very quiet place, where very few people move. I went for an amble round South and North Beach, and caught the following images.

Sunday 25 April - Anzac Day

Today is ANZAC day, the day when Australia and New Zealand remember their troops, lost in the Battle of Gallipoli in 1915. I refer to the linked article on Wikipedia for a detailed account of this campaign. The 95th anniversary commemorations today have been darkened by a helicopter crash near Wellington, New Zealand, in which three people were killed. The chopper was to take part in the ceremonies marking ANZAC Day.

The casualty figures of Gallipoli are sobering. The Allies lost about 44,000, with 96,000 injured. The Turks lost 86,000, with 164,000 injured. Of the Allies, the British suffered the worst losses, nearly 50% of the above total. Australia and New Zealand lost 8,700 and 2,700 respectively, with 19,400 and 4,700 injured. I once watched a movie named Gallipoli, which is a moving account of an Australian boy who put his age on in order to join up - only to be mowed down in a senseless rush on Turkish lines.

Like the First World War as a whole, Gallipoli was an unnecessary exercise in bloodletting, exacerbated by military and strategic incompetence.

More later.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Saturday 24 April

Quite a nice day, although not with a lot of bright sunshine about. The mercury is going in the right direction, with a max of 13C this afternoon, making it feel much milder than earlier in the week.

Last night, we had the first indication that summer was on its way. The small cruiseliner Quest came into port just before sundown, and left at lunchtime today. The picture I took this afternoon was not very good, but she is a regular appearance at the start and the end of the cruiseliner season.

Today's excitement centered on the Condock II, the strange ship which has been in Glumag Harbour, directly opposite my position, for the past few days. It appears, so Hebrides News tells me, that this ship can pump water into tanks in its hold, lowering it into the water. As a result, it is like a floating dry-dock. When the stern doors are opened, water floods in and the barges that it has transported here can be taken out.

Which is exactly what happened earlier this evening. I noticed a flurry of activity, with a small tug in attendance and the stern doors of the Condock II open. With a lot of manoeuvering, choice language and tight squeezes the first barge was eased out of the ship and towed to one of the piers on South Beach. The whole exercise took about 45 minutes. I had taken up front row position by the Coastguard Station and later on Goat Island and gathered about 30 pictures of proceedings.

The barge

The tug

The tow

Emerging from the hold of the Condock II

Friday, 23 April 2010

Friday 23 April

A wet day today and quite cold. The mercury has not reached much above 5C today.
The Condock II continues to discharge its cargo at Glumag Harbour. I have now found out that it came with three accommodation units for use on fishfarms.

A discussion was held on BBC Radio Scotland this afternoon from the An Lanntair arts centre here in Stornoway. It was between the five main candidates, with an audience in attendance. The BBC's main political correspondent Brian Taylor was in the chair. The Conservatives' candidate was speaking by radiolink from Dundee, as she had been unable to fly up due to volcanic ash. The BBC crew had been unable to use the same airlink, but probably squeezed onto the overnight freight ferry MV Muirneag. The link from Dundee had a bad echo on it. Mssrs Macneil, Macsween, Murray and Ms Davies provided an entertaining 45 minutes on issues pertaining to the Western Isles. As I am not eligible to vote in this election, I shall refrain from passing further comment.

As I indicated above, the plane service to this island was disrupted this morning due to unsafe levels of volcanic ash. A flight service did resume in the afternoon.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

To be remembered

Norman Morrison, formerly of 10A South Dell in Lewis, died on 16 March 1917 after suffering with TB for 9 months. He had served on the Western Front, but was repatriated with gunshot wounds. He was interred at Swainbost Cemetery, but his grave was not marked. Norman would have qualified for a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) gravestone, but was overlooked.

I have gathered what I hope is sufficient evidence for Norman to be included on the CWGC files and be afforded a proper gravestone. Even if his actual grave cannot be located.

Thursday 22 April

Nice day with a lot of bright sunshine and no showers worthy of the mention. No flights at all out of Stornoway, as a no-fly zone remains in force over the far northwest of Scotland due to volcanic ash.

An unusual ship came into port this afternoon to deliver what looks like prefabricated buildings and boats. I don't know what that is all about, but Glumag Harbour, where the ship docked, is directly in my line of sight, so I'll keep an eye on proceedings.

I should explain my previous post 'Out of Office'. When I post on Tropical Cyclones, about 70 people get automated emailed notifications of the new entry. Two people had an automated reply engaged on their email accounts, as they were away on holiday.

STV News came from outside the Woodlands Centre in Stornoway this evening, which was a nice surprise. Tomorrow, there will be an election debate at An Lanntair here, which will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland at 1215 pm. It should also be relayed on-line.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Out of office

This morning, I made the first entry on the Tropical Cyclones blog in ten days, a record time. There were no hurricanes or the like to report on. However, my entry elicited two automated Out of Office replies from the Southern Hemisphere. One from Rarotonga and one from Australia. Both were away on holiday.

Enjoy yourselves down there.

Wednesday 21 April

As I'm typing this post, MV Muirneag comes in, nearly 3 hours late. The Muirneag is our cargoboat which takes lorries and other goods vehicles from the mainland on an overnight crossing. It is cold and bright with intermittent heavy showers this morning. Much like yesterday, which saw a litany of showers of snow, hail, rain and the kitchensink. Yesterday, Stornoway airport was the busiest in the country. This morning, there is hardly a plane to be seen, as only the flights to Inverness operate. It has something to do with the presence of ash from the Iceland volcano in the area. That should not be a problem for very much longer, as the weather forecast shows the wind direction to be veering to the southwest tonight.

Meanwhile, the airlines can now start the mammoth task of repatriating 150,000 Britons stuck overseas.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Back to normal?

Since 10pm this evening, all airports in the United Kingdom have been reopened to flights. The Civil Aviation Authority has issued guidance, stating that it is now safe to reopen British airspace. This comes after a reassessment of the risk, posed by volcanic ash, to aircraft engines. Engine manufacturers have said that lower levels of ash do not pose a substantial risk to engines.

This advice was issued as a dozen British Airways flights were headed east across the Atlantic towards the UK. The airlines have been clamouring since the weekend for a reassessment of the risk posed by the ash - a reassessment they have now got. I find it very strange that 6 hours after almost all UK airports were closed, they are now suddenly back to normal. Well, up to a point. I feel that BA (and other airlines) have leaned on the regulatory authorities to shift the goalposts in their favour. Yes, it was also imperative to sort out this mess for the sake of 150,000 British travellers stuck overseas, faced with days of travelling, mounting expenses etc.

It will take a fair number of days for the backlog to be cleared, of people wishing to return to the UK and of people wishing to depart overseas. It is just as well that the weather patterns over the Atlantic are shifting, with the wind veering to the southwest later this week.

Tuesday 20 April

April showers are the order of the day here, with rain, hail, snow and the kitchen-sink coming down at regular intervals. The ferry was nearly an hour late coming in at 1.50pm (usually 1pm), and it's just leaving port on its way back to Ullapool on the mainland.

Stornoway Airport was open this morning, and was the busiest airport in the country for a while. It is closing as I type, after a flight bound for Aberdeen, takes off. Observations across the UK still show one or two layers of ash in the atmosphere at altitudes up to about 16,000 feet. It bears out the continued closure of UK airspace today. The blustering from airlines that it was all on over-reaction has been proven incorrect, as several NATO jets returned to base with damage to their engines after flying through the ash-cloud.

The poor people of Iceland are not very popular in the UK, what after the 1970s cod war, the collapse of banks in the island state with billions of savers' deposit in it and now volcanic ash. To quote a newspaper editor on Sky TV last night: we want your cash, not your ash.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Monday 19 April

After an overnight frost, the day dawned bright - but that was not to last. Several showers, most with hail, have been passing over and the wind is brisk. Although we have managed 10C / 50F today, it has mostly been around 6C / 43F.

The volcano in Iceland that has been spewing out a lot of ash in recent days, causing havoc in European air travel, appears to have changed to spewing out lava, and less ash. There have been calls from airlines to review the blanket ban on flights - they are losing £130m / $200m a day. I feel this to be premature. Reports have emerged that two fighter jets were damaged by volcanic ash, and a Met Office plane encountered dangerous levels of ash. However, the weather forecasts hint at a change by Friday, when strong southwesterlies could sweep it all away.

The British government has enlisted the Royal Navy to get Britons, stranded across the Channel home; arrangements are being made with Spain to fly people stranded in America, Asia or Australia in there, thence to be taken to the UK over land or sea.

The latest news is that UK airspace, from Scotland south, will be reopened in the course of Tuesday.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Sunday 18 April

Fairly bright and calm, with some slow-moving, wintry-looking showers about. Although London is getting up to 19C today, we're just managing to crest 5C / 41F at the moment.

No flights anywhere in the UK today, with a ban on flights now in place until midnight GMT tonight. Several airlines have sent research aircraft up to 40,000 feet to see what happens. All have returned to the ground safely, but the planes will be checked for damage, which may not be immediately obvious. It was explained this morning that flying through the pall of ash, currently lying over Europe, may not shut an engine down, it could cause irreparable damage. The volcano is still emitting ash, and the weather patterns appear to be unchanging.

Zimbabwe is celebrating 30 years of independence. Its revolutionary leader from 1980, Robert Mugabe, remains in power, having made a pig's ear of leading his country. After permitting inflation to reach eye-watering heights, wrecking the country's farming system and embarking on a systematic campaign of bullying, harassment and murder against white farmers, there is precious little to celebrate. A degree of economic stability has been achieved after a power-sharing agreement with the opposition, but things are still dire.
Below video was made in November 2007.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Saturday 17 April

Pouring with rain all day, a situation not likely to improve.

Neither is the situation around air travel in western and northern Europe. The cloud of ash out of the Icelandic volcano continues to track southeast across the Atlantic, causing a near-total shutdown of airports on the continent. The UK is also still a no-fly zone. The implications are massive. Not only are people unable to travel within countries, or fly overseas, those caught out abroad since Thursday are unable to return by air. The situation is dire but manageable for continental Europe; there are ferries across the North Sea as well as the Channel Tunnel. The situation is horrendous for anyone caught out on another continent. Travellers will run out of credit on their creditcards, hotelbills will ratchet up to dizzying heights, they cannot return to work or school. As far as transportation goes, food cannot be imported from overseas (if it has a short shelf life, e.g. soft fruit), spare parts cannot be flown in at a couple of hours' notice.

At moment of posting, all flight movements across the UK are banned until 0600 GMT tomorrow morning, and this is likely to be extended for a couple of days beyond that point.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Picture post

First of all, I have changed the front pic - I was getting depressed by the wintry scene with that ruined house. Its place is taken by a view from Harris, and I'm taking the liberty of lumping the southern part of the Long Island with Lewis, the northern part of it.

The volcanic ash from Iceland gave us a fantastic sunset last night.

Is this man drowning in his own lawn?

Smoke plumes from muirburn (this was before the volcanic ash story erupted)

Prevailing winds

Friday 16 April

A grey day with occasional light rain. Seen no evidence of volcanic ash, other than a rather nice sunset last night. I'm not expecting anything tonight, as the weather is not conducive.

Virtually all flights to and from (and within) the UK remain grounded, with the exception of a few flights to and from the Western Isles - including Stornoway. It is a patchy service, and only going to Glasgow and Aberdeen, not to Edinburgh. It will not be until tomorrow at the earliest that we'll have a resumption of services elsewhere, and that is not certain. It all depends on two factors: the eruption of the volcano in Iceland and the weather patterns. At present, winds are veering towards the west, near Iceland, meaning that the ash will be blown towards Scandinavia. However, the weathercharts do indicate that a northwesterly airflow could resume quite soon. And nobody knows how long the volcano could continue to erupt. Estimates vary from a few days to a few years.

The General Election. How long until May 6th?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Not remembered - 3

You may remember from a few weeks ago that I am working to get a casualty of the First World War on the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission register. Things have progressed, and the last piece of the jigsaw is about to fall into place. In the next day or so, I shall receive confirmation that Norman Morrison, formerly of 10A South Dell, was buried at the Swainbost Cemetery on 16 March 1917. He died 9 months after contracting turberculosis.

Once I have confirmation, a case will be submitted to the CWGC to have Norman entered onto their records. A CWGC wargrave stone will then be erected at the cemetery.

In connection with this, it has come to my attention that reservists who died after being discharged from war service do not qualify for CWGC status. Not fair, is it?

This is the Swainbost Cemetery, where 9,000 people have been buried since the 16th century.Norman Morrison's grave is somewhere in here - each stone represents a grave.

Thursday 15 April

When I have finished writing this post, all flights within UK airspace will have been suspended due to a cloud of ash in the upper atmosphere. The ash is being pumped out by a volcanic eruption in southwestern Iceland. The disruption is considerable, with tens of thousands of passengers unable to fly. People in Shetland are presently reporting a sulphurous smell. The cloud is expected to pass across northern Britain in an hour or so. It is not known how long the disruption will last, as this is tied to the volcanic eruption. Flights are grounded, because volcanic ash can cause considerable damage to aircraft engines.

Here in Lewis, we will therefore not have any mail, and the papers will be in this afternoon, on board the ferry. Not smelling any rotten eggs outside - yet.

More information on the BBC and many other websites.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Wednesday 14 April

A very nice sunny day in Stornoway, albeit slightly on the cool side. Mercury at 11C, but we are under warning for more * wintry * weather next week. Right.

I was outside earlier on when I noticed two large columns of smoke, rising to the northeast of the town. That is actually towards the airport. I then heard sirens. My twitter contacts advised me that it was most likely to be muirburn - people are allowed to burn patches of moorland in early spring.

A ship has docked at the Arnish Fabrication Yard across from my position and is loading those strange contraptions that have been sitting on the quayside for a week. I don't know what they are.

A few days ago, I learned a new expression from the field of military history. "Disembodied". It turns out that this means that a reservist is embodied when he is called up into active service. When he is discharged, he reverts to being a civilian immediately, which renders him disembodied. Weird. 

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Retrospective - II

The sun is sinking towards the horizon on what has been a gloriously sunny if slightly cool day. The ferry is just preparing to dock on its customary 8.20pm arrival, now in broad daylight. I guess I'm in reflective mood today, with no fewer than two retrospectives.

The J-land Central blog lists the names and blogs of those that have gone before, and I went round their journals, now transferred to Blogger. The year 2007 was not good for our community, but 2008 was not much better, if for a completely different reason.

Lahoma's Laments - Lahoma, RIP 25 December 2007
The Diatom Project - Walt, RIP 27 April 2007
My Reason for Reasoning - Barbara, RIP 20 November 2007
Dribble by Chuck Ferris - Chuck, RIP 1 July 2008
There are no Sundays - Jim, RIP April 2007
I shaved my legs for this??? - Kim, RIP 26 December 2007
One Girl's Head Noise (UK) - Pam, RIP 16 April 2006
Pennie's Pieces of Ohio - Penny, RIP 1 October 2007

Please call round our old friends. Their writings will be there for us all to enjoy for as long as we want.


Every once in a while, I do a retrospective on this blog, and today you're going to get one from me again.

I started blogging in October 2004, as a way of keeping a travel diary. At the time, I was flitting back and forth across the north and west of Scotland, until I settled down in Stornoway. I became aware of a community of journalers on AOL, and was propelled into that when I learned that one of their number, Pamela Hilger (his1desire) had died after a lengthy struggle against breast cancer.

In the two years following that Easter Sunday in 2006, I came quite actively involved in J-land - until AOL decided to commit corporate suicide and pull the plug on various services, including its journals. Since then, most people who wanted to continue blogging went to Blogger, but quite a few have given up. Or moved to Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or other social networking sites.

I was very pleased to note the response to an appeal on Call for Support and Facebook for one of the former bloggers, Joyce, who lost her daughter last week. It only goes to show that the community spirit is still alive, although the blogging and commenting has fallen off.

Tuesday 13 April

Nice bright day with good sunshine although with a veil of haze and some cloud about.

The piece below relates to the Harris Tweed industry. It may benefit some of you to know that Harris Tweed is a trademark, and the tweeds have to comply with standards, set out by Act of Parliament. Simply put, wool is processed by  Harris Tweed mill in the islands into yarn. This is then taken to the weaver's home, who will weave it into a tweed. The tweed will then be collected by the mill and processed to a cloth that can be turned into garments or whatever. When reading my critique, it should be borne in mind that until now, the skill of weaving was passed on between people informally.

It was with very mixed feelings that I read on Hebrides News that as of 2011 all Harris Tweed weavers will require a formal qualification before they are issued with tweeds by the Harris Tweed mills. Whilst it is a good thing that people’s skills are recognised, I am just wondering whether this is not one more nail in the coffin of the Harris Tweed industry.

In the past, weavers learned their skills informally and did not have to gain a formal qualification for the Harris Tweed mills to send them materials to turn into tweeds. They would have been only too happy for any weavers to do work for them, as their order books were bulging and could hardly keep up with demand. And I do not recall that there were major problems with the quality of the work.

I am fully aware that in this day and age, you can only do most jobs if you hold the requisite paperwork (diploma, certificate, whatever) issued by a recognised college. I do not fault anyone for going down this path in the case of Harris Tweed weavers - but only for the reasons given in this paragraph alone.
The Harris Tweed industry has been decimated, with dozens of weavers giving up their looms for lack of work. The closure of the Stornoway mill due to the (lack of) activities on the part of its owner, Brian Haggas of Keighley, exacerbated the situation further. To place a further impediment in the way for people to rejoin the industry is not very wise at all. It shows in a painful manner how skills are being lost that used to be passed down the generations, and commend those in charge of the course for endeavouring to keep them alive.
In my opinion, it would have been much better to have built up a substantial workforce first, and maintain it in later stages using the system of qualifications.

However, there is a final point which is NOT being addressed - the lack of industrial capacity. The mills at Shawbost and Carloway have nowhere near the capacity that used to exist in this island and I am very cynical indeed when I read of all the promotional activity that is going on for Harris Tweed. What is the point of doing all that, including training people to be weavers, if you don’t have the capacity to process the tweeds in the volumes that you need to make it a viable industry that will make a substantial contribution towards the economy of these islands.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Hurricane update - 12 April

There are no tropical cyclones (hurricanes, typhoons) anywhere in the world, as the Southern Hemisphere season moves to a close at the end of the month. By the second half of May, the Northern Hemisphere season cranks into gear with the East Pacific beginning to spawn hurricanes. The Atlantic follows suit in June.

Those in Hurricane Alley probably don't need reminding to start preparing for what will follow in the summer. Although a forecast for the 2010 hurricane was issued today, it is not held to have any accuracy. The above average sea surface temperatures in the area where hurricanes commonly form (1.26C above normal) does not bode well, but there are many other factors that will determine how many hurricanes will form.

Monday 12 April

Morning all. Later this week turns out just a day later, so nothing unusual after all. Felt quite tired yesterday, hence the notice.

Yesterday, I was able to sit outside for lunch and enjoy the warm sunshine. The midges were out there as well, as was a large bumblebee. That one was a queen, looking for a nest site.

This morning is overcast and not as mild as yesterday. I'll make another posting later this afternoon.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Sunday 11 April

It was a brilliantly sunny day, and we went up to 18C / 64F this afternoon.

I am resuming updates on Atlantic Lines later this week.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Saturday 10 April

A beautiful spring day, which saw the temperatures reach the dizzying heights of 60F or 15C. The highest this year so far. The garden table and chairs were put outside and mould removed from same. The birds are busy building their nests and the doves cooing lovingly around the backyard.

A plane crash near Smolensk in western Russia has claimed the lives of all on board, which included the Polish president Lech Kaczynski and senior members of his government. Poland has declared a week of mourning, and I join in the worldwide expressions of condolences to the country on its sad loss. Mr Kaczynski was headed for a commemoration of the massacre at Katyn, then in Poland, where Soviet forces murdered 20,000 Polish intellectuals at the start of the Second World War. It is now 70 years since that dreadful event and today's tragedy cast an even blacker pall over the Katyn event.

It is suggested that the crash was caused by fog. The air traffic controllers at Smolensk had suggested the plane divert to Minsk in Byelo-Russia (to the west), but this was refused by the pilots. Visibility was down to 500 metres at Smolensk, and the plane made several attempts to land before its wings clipped treetops and crashed, killing all 96 on board.

I hardly ever play the geegees, but today I stuck some money on the Grand National. Chance had it that my horse won!

Two interesting findings in the course of my local history research (see map above, click on markers to see locations). First was an interesting census record of the village of Crola. This is no longer inhabited. It stands at Kinlochresort, the head of Loch Resort, in the remote west of Lewis. In 1891, a shepherd's family resided there. Catherine Macdonald, aged 63, is quoted as a shepherd's widow, living there with her two fishermen sons John (41), Malcolm (26) and daughter Annie (22). There is also a granddaughter Ann, aged 13, presumably (but not certain) the child of John. Catherine's home is marked as having two rooms with windows. The noteworthy thing is that her offspring is marked as living in Lewis, whereas she and her granddaughter Ann, aged 13, are marked as being born in Harris. This is significant, because Lewis used to be part of Ross and Cromarty, and Harris was part of Inverness-shire.The confusion arises on account of the fact that the county boundary ran at Kinlochresort. On the Harris side of the river lies Luachair, also uninhabited today (white house in image to the right). Would you believe that there was once a school at Crola, which was a so-called side school to the main village school at Loch Croistean, a mere ten miles away. More stories on the local historical society website.

One of the nearly 1300 local casualties was Angus Macdonald, who served with New Zealand forces in France. He died of wounds on the Western Front on 4 December 1917. A naturalised American national, Angus must have crossed the Pacific after emigrating to the States. He was born in the hamlet of Islivig in the district of Uig, 40 miles west of Stornoway.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Friday evening

As the evening fades towards sunset, now by about half past eight, I can look back on a successful day's catch-up on local history tracing. With the aid of a more experienced researcher elsewhere in Scotland, I have been able to amend the details of several dozen WW1 casualties.

My mission statement remains unaltered: this is a piece of heritage which is not exclusive, it is inclusive. Everybody owes a debt of gratitude to the people who died in war, whether it be the wars from 1914-1919 and 1939-1945, or any conflict before or after. They laid down their lives in the service of King and country. They died so we can live in peace and prosperity These men and women should be, must be remembered, and keeping their memory alive is a duty to all who are in a position to do so. I count myself among those, even if I am free-lance and not allied to any specific group. I would be quite prepared to help anyone who seeks assistance in this field - or any other.


A local contact posted this on their Facebook page, and I take the liberty to copy it:

A grandfather is telling his young grandson a story. "Inside everyone there are two wolves who are always fighting - one wolf is full of evil (jealousy, hatred, greed, etc) and the other one is full of good (tolerance, kindness and patience). "And which one wins?" asks the grandchild. "The one you feed!" replied the old man. :)

Friday 9 April

Overcast with a cold wind today. It's supposed to get up to 12C, but we're a notch or two short of that.

A notch or two short of the mark was the candidate for the Labour Party in the constituency of Moray, east of Inverness. He tweeted himself into oblivion by writing offensive comments on Twitter. Stuart Maclennan was promptly deselected by the party. An object lesson to treat social media with caution. People have got sacked by blogging in the past, thinking they were just talking to themselves. Nope. You're talking to the world on here.

We shall have our newspapers delivered at a normal hour again as of tomorrow. Since Highland Airways folded, our papers came on the ferry (with the exception of the P&J) and in the shops after 3pm. Outlying districts did not get any papers before 9pm in some instances. Loganair will now take the papers in first thing in the morning, and we'll have our reads again by 10.30 am.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Recognising a stroke

Susie is recovering at an incredible pace for someone who suffered a massive stroke, all because Sherry saw Susie stumble - - that is the key that isn't mentioned below - - and then she asked Susie 3 questions. So simple - - these 3 questions literally saved Susie's life. Susie failed all three so 999 / 112 was called. Even though she had normal blood pressure readings and did not appear to be having a stroke, as she could converse to some extent with the Paramedics. They took her to the hospital right away.

Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify.
Unfortunately, lack of public awareness can spell disaster.
The stroke victim may suffer brain damage when people nearby fail to recognize the symptoms. Now doctors say a bystander can recognize a stroke by asking three simple questions:

* Ask the individual to SMILE.
* Ask him or her to RAISE BOTH ARMS.
* Ask the person to SPEAK A SIMPLE SENTENCE (Coherently)
(eg. "It is sunny out today")

If he or she has trouble with ANY of these tasks, call 999 / 112 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher. After discovering that a group of non-medical volunteers could identify facial weakness, arm weakness and speech problems, researchers urged the general public to learn the three questions. They presented their conclusions at the American Stroke Association's annual meeting last February. Widespread use of this test could result in prompt diagnosis and treatment of the stroke and prevent brain damage.

Thursday 8 April

Reasonably bright day today, with a little wind and some sunny intervals.

Here in Stornoway, the Golf Club is applying for a license to serve alcohol on Sundays. The Club says this is separate from the vexed issue of playing golf on the Sabbath. Actually, it runs a nice parallel to the current controversy over opening the Stornoway Sports Centre on Sundays. At the moment, it is closed - but you can drink yourself legless in any of the town's hostelries. So, we can look forward to having a fantastic booze-up at the Nineteenth Hole at the Golf Club, without having to tire ourselves out chopping our way around the 18 holes first.

I am already heartily fed up with the General Election campaign, even if we still have 4 weeks to go. Here in Stornoway, the election posters went up within hours of the election being called. The party faithful did not always check carefully enough where they stuck their posters - as shown in this article on Hebrides News.

A few days ago, I highlighted (on Facebook) the fact that our friends at AOHell were planning to ditch another piece of their service: Bebo. They acquired that social networking site two years ago, but it is failing badly in the States. So, AOL is going to shut something down again (provided they are not able to find a buyer - which is pretty likely in the face of competition from Facebook and the like).

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Wednesday pics

Harris Hotel (left) and First Fruits Tearoom, Tarbert


What on earth is this?

On the beach at Horgabost

Taransay from Horgabost

Wednesday 7 April

The weather today has seen a slow, steady and inexorable slide towards the rain and wind we are experiencing at present. Went on the bus to Harris at 9.35 am when the sun was out, albeit accompanied by a cold wind. Reached the beach at Horgabost just after 11, a trip of 50 miles which costs £7.05 return on the bus. The tourism season has taken off, with the A859 relatively full of cyclists, and two tourists (each way) alighting at the Luskentyre road-end. Luskentyre [Losgaintir] lies 8 miles southwest of Harris's main village, Tarbert, and has a beautiful beach. What the tourists usually don't realise is that the beach is 3 miles from the main road, and the bus doesn't go into the village.

Horgabost has a nice beach too, a minute's walk from the road and adorned (ahem) by a campsite. Fortunately, the toiletblock lies out of sight of the beach. A prohibition on campfires is blatantly flouted, with nearly half a dozen charred holes on the top of the dunes. As per usual, I was the one to spot the dead sheep: what looked like a lamb that had fallen down a cliff and collided with a rock at the bottom. The Harris hills looked beautiful, with the range from the Clisham west to Tirga Mor in sight.

The return bus pulled up at 12 o'clock and took us back to the metropolis of Tarbert. The name of that village means portage, where the Vikings would carry their longboats across the 400 yards of land that separate East Loch Tarbert from West Loch Tarbert. We had lunch in a small tearoom and rejoined the northbound bus at 1.30pm. By the time we returned to Stornoway, the clouds were beginning to cover the sky from the west and a very cold wind was blowing.

I took some 40 pictures, a selection of which I'll post in the next entry.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Tuesday 6 April

A day with varying fortunes in terms of weather. Although it is not really cold, there are showers about. Varying fortunes is also the order of the day down in London, where the Prime Minister has called a General Election for Thursday 6 May. The politicking that's been going on for a few months now will reach fever pitch, and I'll be heartily fed up by the end of today.

I am very pleased to be able to report that Scottish Natural Heritage, who own and manage the nature reserve of the Isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides, has signed over assets worth £257,000 to the island's community association. Rum has a checkered history, and it is a good thing that the island's residents, after 190 years, get control of their homes and village.

Rum's indigenous Hebrideans were expelled from the island in 1821, to make way for sheep, later deer. In the late 19th century, the island was bought by a Lancashire family of industrialists, the Bulloughs, who made their fortune in the textile industries. They built a folly-type castle at Kinloch, filled with the most mind-boggling and jaw-dropping artefacts. Some amongst the ugliest pieces I've ever clapped eyes on. After the First World War, the castle began to fall into disuse, and the last member of the Bullough family passed away in 1957. Lady Monica was carried the hard eight miles to Harris, on the island's southwest coast, to be interred in the family mausoleum.

Rum was bequeathed to the nation, and (what is now) SNH took over. The island became a nature reserve, with a colony of red deer being studied. Its only residents were SNH staff. The present take-over clears the way to increase the island's population from 30 to 80.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Monday 5 April

A wild day, with a near gale blowing the ferry back out to sea. It was nearly an hour late this afternoon. White horses ride the waters of the basin across the road and there is widespread disruption on the Calmac ferry network in western Scotland.

I have decided to maintain the website for "Faces from the Lewis War Memorial", but have taken the papercopy version off the Internet. I do not want to get  more aggravation than I already have. I have received various expressions of support away from the pages of this public blog, for which I am grateful.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Sunday 4 April

Happy Easter to all.

Not a happy Easter for myself - I am deleting my postings of the past two days regarding "Faces from the Lewis War Memorial". The Stornoway Historical Society has declared its disapproval of my work, as it is full of errors that they, nor any of the other historical societies, have any inclination, money, time or manpower, to help me to correct. I am also accused of inappropriately using their research for my own financial gain. It helps if people actually address their concerns at the time (in 2007), rather than three years down the line.

The Faces from the Lewis War Memorial will probably be removed from public viewing in the course of this week, alongside the other local history websites that are under my control.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Blog reading

I have not been visiting blogs of late, will rectify that omission over the next few days.

Saturday 3 April

Very late post for today, with not much to report. The weather was changeable, mainly wet. The birds emptied the feeders in the hours of daylight (greedy so-and-so's).

The Archbishop of Canterbury uttered sharp criticism of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland, later trying to mollify the situation. But the fact that priests in the Irish Catholic Church have been engaged in widespread abuse of children is an extremely serious matter, that has actually undermined trust in that Church. Making statements like that at Easter, a time when the sacrifice by Jesus Christ is commemorated, is not held to be very tactful.

I am closing for today and wish everybody a happy Easter - don't eat too many eggs.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Friday 2 April

The day started bright with some wintry showers, but after the wind dropped away those showers became slow-moving. I still prefer our weather to that on the mainland, where snow continues to be a problem. Nonetheless, you have to exercise care and foresight when you go out and about in the hills. Two walkers decided to ascend the Clisham, our highest hill, today, but got lost when the cloud came down. The Coastguard helicopter airlifted them off the mountain. An Clisham is 799 metres high, a respectable height at this latitude.

The Israelis and Palestinians are entering another cycle of mutually assured violence, with deathrates of 1:10 once the weapons open up. The Palestinian group Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel, and the Israelis have bombed a city in Gaza. Yawn.

One of the many April Fools I came across yesterday was related to the Uig Chessmen. The Stornoway Gazette printed a story that the associated chessboard had been found by an American tourist, Dean Hebever. The fact that the story was not featured on the paper's website was a good give-away that it was an April Fool. The other was that the local historical society did not run it until today - as an April Fool.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Visit to Sandwick

Sandwick, as longstanding readers of this blog (and Lewis afficionados) know, is 15 minutes' walk from my location. I needed to visit the cemetery there once more to photograph some gravestones that had not come out very well on a previous occasion. The weather has improved, with bright sunshine and only the odd light April shower.

Thursday 1 April

April Fools Day, with Google announcing its animal translator. Well, that's all I ever wanted. At least I can now swear at the seagulls as I chase them off the small bird's food.

My broadband service resumed just over an hour ago. A fire and flood at a major BT exchange caused an outage that for some people may last up to next Sunday. I can now proceed with the bits I gathered up offline yesterday.

Here in Stornoway, the weather is very much April showers with everything coming down, including the kitchen sink. More than 100 people incurred a 7 hour delay when their train ploughed into a snowdrift near Carrbridge, south of Inverness, and ground to a halt. A train, sent down from Inverness also got stuck. After a snowplough cleared a track, a third train managed to get through and take everybody to Inverness at 3.15 am.