View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 29 November 2010


Website has been posting confidential memos from the US government. These include notes from its diplomatic missions around the world, and contain some pretty embarrassing comments. US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has vowed to track down and prosecute those who have leaked the documents, which is the proper thing to do. I was quite intrigued by the reaction from governments around the world to the leaks, which appear to be more one of embarrassment, rather than anger. It is like having your love letters posted on the Internet with a big huge arrow pointing towards the website involved.

I reached this conclusion because the reaction from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmedinajad. He is an implacable enemy of America but also a shrewd politician. He described the leaks as orchestrated by the US government (a statement for home consumption), adding that he would disregard them completely. The latter bit is quite significant. Ahmedinajad knows very well that the American government is severely embarrassed by these leaks, and they had in fact no direct part in their release. It is something that could potentially happen to every government in the world (and they all know it); further more, the leaked documents just puts on public display what the diplomatic community knows secretly about each other.

I have no time for Mahmoud Ahmedinajad's policies, but I make an exception in this instance: ignore the Wikileaks story. It is a lot of hot air, and the only significant impact is to warn governments to tighten up on their security protocols for documentation.

Monday 29 November

A cold but sunny day out here, although massive falls of snow in the east of Scotland have brought havoc to the roads. A lorry driver, speaking on the radio, said he had been stuck for nearly 10 hours on the A9 around Perth. At the moment, the section of the A9 south of Perth appears to be "passable with care". Many other roads at higher levels in the Highlands are closed. And it isn't even formally winter, neither meteorologically nor astronomically. Here in the Outer Hebrides, temperatures are expected to lift towards the end of this week. With the bright sunshine, ice on pavements is turning back to slush. Tonight, the mercury will nosedive to -20C on the mainland.

Tomorrow, it will be St Andrew's Day, but celebrations have been cancelled due to the adverse weather.

I may have another update later today.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Picture post 27/28 November

The Clearances - a myth debunked

First published on Pentland Road

I quote from Wikipedia on the background to this statue, which was erected near Helmsdale in 2007:

[It] commemorates the people who were cleared from the area by landowners and left their homeland to begin new lives overseas. The statue, which depicts a family leaving their home, stands at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, and was funded by Dennis Macleod, a Canadian mining millionaire of Scottish descent. An identical 10 ft-high bronze "Exiles" statue has also been set up on the banks of the Red River at Winnipeg, the city founded by those who left Scotland for Canada.

Mr Macleod has said that the statues celebrate the achievements made by Scots who went to Canada. Well, I would be quite happy to acknowledge the fact that some of the Scots did go on to do great things. But those having departed Helmsdale, and that's what we're talking about, certainly did not do well. I am going through the Napier Commission's Report, which was sitting at Helmsdale on 6 October 1883. The answers to questions 38252 and 38253 actually serve to negate the reasoning for the erection of the statue.

38252. Then you stated that the expatriated people, some of them, found their way to America, where they experienced a worse fate. What ground have you for believing that the emigrants generally experienced a worse fate ?
—The fate of my great-grandfather's family. My great-grandfather's family, except himself, all went out in Lord Selkirk's expedition to the Red River. My grandfather was married before he went out, and I have seen in my grandfather's house and my father's house a pile of correspondence describing the vicissitudes they underwent. They were left exposed on the north coast, and they had to find their way from Hudson's Bay to the Red River settlement; and they were exposed to the rigours of a lengthened winter, and, to crown all, the Indians came in and killed some of them, and the rest fled over the winter's snow to Canada. Only seven or eight managed to survive and settle in Canada afterwards.

38253. Are there many evicted families from this part of the country who cast in their lot with Lord Selkirk's settlement ?
—Yes, and that accounts for the difference between those who settled here and those who were in Kildouan before.

38254. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh.
—Had Lord Selkirk a settlement called Kildonan?
—Yes, and it is called Kildonan to this day. It is near Winnipeg. Fort Garry was the principal town in the old Red River settlement, and it has now become Winnipeg. You will see an account of it in the book called The Great Lone Land, by General Butler.

Sunday 28 November

Day 3 of the cold snap and absolutely no sign of it letting up. In fact, the thermometer plummeted to -18C in Wales last night and -15C at Loch Glascarnoch, a location well-known to travellers between Inverness and Ullapool on the A835 road. Here in Stornoway, we did not go below -2C last night, although the northeasterly wind does make it feel cold when you're exposed to it. Looking at the distant horizon, there is still a bad swell running in the Minch, but ferry operators Calmac say the ferry will sail as normal this afternoon. Images from Stornoway, from yesterday morning, featured on the BBC TV news earlier today, showing the heavy snow showers failing to dampen spirits at the farmers market at An Lanntair. It also showed cars stuck on the steep section of the A859 above Scaladale, where the road climbs up to the pass below the Clisham. 
The Met Office says there is colder air blowing in from Siberia. Over there, they can't use mercury in their thermometers: mercury freezes at -38C, and in extreme instances the temperature goes down to -70C in places.

I'll have a post with pictures later today.

It is bad enough that people who are involved in an accident drive away from the scene without checking on the well-being of others involved in it; it is even worse when the accidents results in someone's death. In Smethwick, Birmingham, a baby boy of 2 months of age died following a hit-and-run crash between two vehicles. The BBC News page carries further details of the fugitive vehicle.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Evening notes

As I type, the mercury is sinking below freezing, and the slush on the pavements will be turning the town into an ice-rink. It was eerie to read a tribute to a WW1-loss, which was attributable to, yes, icy streets. A sailor slid off the quay by his ship and drowned in Baltimore harbour on New Year's Eve 1917.

The ferry is on its way back across the Minch, and will dock by about half past eight tonight, slightly earlier than timetabled. It has only made one return crossing today. The cold conditions in the UK will persist for well over five days, the normal forecast period.

Saturday 27 November

A very wintry scene, with frequent heavy snow showers leaving a covering on the ground. Last night, the wind got up to galeforce, with gusts to 70 mph up at the Butt of Lewis. It is not nearly as bad now, but as I type, there is another shower passing through, which looks something like

The high winds have also wreaked havoc on the ferry schedule, with the 7 am sailing not departing until 11 o'clock this morning. Whether it will come back is not certain at all. There is a northeasterly wind today, which causes a nasty swell on the Minch. Today, there was to have been a cross-country running championship heat here in Stornoway, which has been called off. Yesterday's evening ferry sailing was cancelled, making it impossible for the bulk of the contestants to come over. Leaving to one side the atrocious driving conditions on the mainland. If I look on some of the traffic monitoring cameras in the Highlands, the roads look pretty horrendous in places.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Friday 26 November

An unpleasant winter's day, which started out with a good covering of the white stuff. It is still lying, with occasional light showers making sure it does not fade altogether. I don't mind snow at all, but the biting northerly wind is less than pleasant. It is a sustained force 5 to 6, with the weatherstation at the Butt of Lewis reporting gusts to 60 mph. It has caused the cancellation of the ferry this afternoon.

Tomorrow morning, the national championships cross country running are to be held in the Castle Grounds here in Stornoway, but as the competitors cannot come on the evening ferry tonight, I do not know whether the run can be held. Leaving any problems with snow to one side. One competitor, who was due to travel from Orkney, was thwarted through two ferry cancellations: one was the Stromness to Scrabster service from Orkney, the other was our ferry link.

A teacher in a local primary school has been struck off the teaching register in Scotland, after she removed the plaster from a boy's arm against medical advice. It is known what prompted the teacher to do this, but it is thought likely that the teacher concerned will be banned from working with children altogether.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Walpurgis / Halloween

On-line friend Direcleit kindly pointed me to an article in the Book of Hallowe'en, available to view free on the Internet. It refers to the background to Walpurgis Night, which I mentioned a few days ago. I would recommend other texts in that book as well, which mainly focuses on Hallowe'en.

Walpurgis Night is the counterpoint to Hallowe'en, being the time when the wintertime is said to end, as opposed to Hallowe'en which is the day that summer ends. I close with an image of the Walburgskerk [Walpurgis Church] in the town of Zutphen, 70 miles east of Amsterdam in Holland. Another church of the same name stands 20 miles to the south, in Arnhem.

Thanksgiving 2010

Today, 25 November 2010, is Thanksgiving here in the Isle of Lewis. One shop is closed for the day; most of the others are trading as normal. When I first came to Lewis, 6 years ago, a lot of shops shut after lunchtime for this religious festival. Much has changed, even in such a short period of time. I am endeavouring to find out why Thanksgiving is held in November, rather than in September as is customary in England and parts of Scotland. I am not in position to speculate why our American and Canadian friends also observe Thanksgiving in November, in parallel with Lewis. The Pilgrim Fathers left British shores from southern England, and emigration from the Hebrides did not take off until much later, in the 18th century. I have asked someone who should know, and hope to get the answer shortly.

Today is also the start of winter, judging by the icy conditions on the pavements this morning. Heavy snow has wreaked havoc on the roads of Moray- and Aberdeenshire this morning, and there is no prospect of improvement. Temperatures will be close to zero for at least the next week as a northerly blast appears to be firmly entrenched over this country.

I have now gone through the copies of the Stornoway Gazette for the year 1917, looking for tributes for servicemen from the Isle of Lewis who lost their life in the First World War. The total number of tributes will exceed 100 once I have transcribed today's harvest. I will endeavour to take in 1918 as of next week, leading to the aftermath of the Iolaire Disaster in the early days of 1919.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Wednesday 24 November

Well, winter is slowly encroaching upon us once more. A heavy shower has just left a coating of hailstones on walls and pavements, and the hail shows no signs of being in a hurry to melt. In the northeast of mainland Scotland, a heavy fall of snow has caused disruption to road travel, with many roads blocked or only passable with extreme caution.

I was deeply saddened to hear that a second explosion has ripped through the coalmine in New Zealand, where 29 miners were trapped since a first blast last weekend. There is now no hope that they will come out alive. It comes as a bitter disappointment to the relatives, who had hoped for a repeat of the Chilean miracle. The mine's owners have pledged to make every effort to retrieve the remains of the dead.

I would just like to link to the story of the couple who won a reality-TV contest with their island-based wedding.

Just to close this post, an image of a nice parhelion that appeared for 5 minutes just before 11 o'clock this morning.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Tuesday 23 November

A wet morning, with occasional heavy showers. The date for the royal wedding between William Wales and Kate Middleton has been fixed for Friday 29th April 2011.

This was the day in 1945 that Adolf Hitler got married to Eva Braun. They committed suicide within 48 hours of their marriage. April 30th is the eve of Beltane, the start of the light half of the year. April 30th is Walpurgis Night, the date on the pagan calendar on which the evil spirits of the winter half year would be exorcised. Probably unknown to Adolf Hitler, who was brought to his wit's end by the collapse of his 12 year reign of terror. April 30th is also the date in Holland on which the Queen celebrates her birthday; Queen Beatrix will be 73 this year. I don't know if she will attend the wedding in London; she'd have to hare back to Holland pretty sharply in order to attend the celebrations there.

More later.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday 22 November

A bright day, with not much change in conditions. We are under warning for much colder weather by the end of the week, with daytime maximum temps barely above freezing. Those that are reading this in the Pacific Northwest of the USA will probably chuckle as they have now dived below freezing and are having falls of snow.

The Irish Republic is having a cashflow crisis, and requiring a £90bn bail-out from various international money suppliers. Other EU member states, Greece, Spain and Portugal, are in equally dire straits. I am told that Ireland is peppered with unfinished housing schemes which were started, but never finished. Plugging one hole with another do tends to collapse on you at some stage, and that's what has happened here. I remember Ireland being hailed as the Celtic Tiger. I also remember the Arc of Prosperity, Iceland, Ireland and Scotland. Well, we all know what happened in Iceland, Ireland is following suit, and Scotland would have been leader in the pack if the UK government had not bailed out the Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland a year or so ago.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sunday pics

Sunday 21 November

Autumn is now two thirds gone, and it is getting cold. Overnight low was at freezing. Although the sun did manage to jack the mercury to 8C before lunchtime, cloud came in and we had some rain in the afternoon. Before midday, went for a walk on the Braighe beach, about 3-4 miles east of Stornoway. Visibility was extremely good, and we paid for the privilege with an outbreak of rain in the afternoon.

Spent said afternoon transcribing more tributes from 1917 onto my WW1 tribute site, and also watching some or another film on TV. Typical Sunday, not much doing at all.

Did I say there is also nothing doing on the hurricane front? The Atlantic season is drawing to a close on Tuesday of next week, and the southern hemisphere season has yet to fire up. The only area I am keeping an eye on is located in the middle of the Arabian Sea  - but even the Joint Typhoon Warning Center is not actively monitoring 92A.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Saturday 20 November

Bright and sunny day after a chilly start. A light overnight frost (-1C) left a layer of rime on the grass. But hardly a cloud in the sky, and only by sunset time (4pm) was there some more cloud. We managed to reach 9C, but the mercury is falling rapidly, and an overnight low of -3C is anticipated.

Went to the library this morning to collect more tribute articles from the 1917 Stornoway Gazette. I now have most of them, with the exception of the months of November and December. There are one or two queries resulting from this lot, so that will keep me busy for a little while.

Following the Chilean miners triumphant reemergence from their mine a few weeks ago, the same outcome is hoped for in New Zealand. However, the 26 miners missing from a mine in the South Island were working in a coalmine, and an accumulation of methane gas has increased fears of a further explosion, after they were cut off after an initial blast. Sight, sound nor signal has been heard from the miners.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Friday 19 November

Not too bad a day, with the odd light shower and a moderate breeze. The ferry is playing catch-up, making three crossings today, rather than the scheduled two. As I type, it is coming into port for the second time today. Its final sailing will be at 9.15pm tonight.

At 11 this morning, I attended the Registry Office here in the Town Hall to request information regarding one of the WW1 casualties from Lewis: Daniel Maciver. I was unable to locate his birth record - because he had changed his name from Donald to Daniel. He was born on 4 February 1878 at lot 10, Coll, to Kenneth and Mary. He was the fourth of (in the end) 12 children. The family emigrated to what was to become Saskatchewan Province. I have printed the rest of his story on the Pentland Road blog. The significance of this information is that Daniel is not mentioned on any of the island war memorials.

Tragedy struck a family in Northern Ireland last Sunday, after their 13-year old daughter was found dead. She had inhaled helium gas - which people do to make their voice sound squeaky. Helium causes muscles to contract in the throat, which gives rise to the "Donald Duck" effect. The gas is mixed in with compressed air, used by divers, to counteract the sleepiness, caused by the nitrogen (which makes up 78% of the air we breathe). However, everything taken in excess can be dangerous, and this tragic accident has highlighted the hazards of playing with helium.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Thursday 18 November

On the surface, quite a nice day. A bit of a breeze, no rain, decent amounts of brightness, if not overt sunshine. Why on earth, you might ask, have we not seen anything of the ferry since it left our shores yesterday morning at 7 am?

Well, there is this force 7 wind blowing out of the east, which will have churned up the waters of the Minch to such an extent that it is not safe for a ferry to sail. A few years ago, someone told me a story of a crossing in a force 9, which broke all the crockery in the pantry and smashed the wee bookshop. I have sailed the Minch in a force 7, which was accompanied by the sound of breaking crocks. And a fair amount of green smoke, wafting behind the ferry boat as it manfully tackled the swell. The image at the bottom of this post is from that day.

Tomorrow, we should see the good ole Isle of Lewis returning at around 7.45 am, and make a total of three return crossings during the day, to catch up with traffic. Other routes are similarly affected by the weather, although the alternative to Ullapool - Stornoway, the Uig - Tarbert crossing, is running as normal. More information on Hebrides News.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Wednesday 17 November

A windy day, which has seen our ferry cancelled after it sailed to Ullapool in the morning. We have a steady force 7 going from the southeast. The temperature, 10C, may sound decent for mid-November, but is not all that great in the strong wind.

I have spent the day building a new blog, called Pentland Road. It holds the collection of blogposts from the past 6 years, related to local (or regional) history. To quote the "About" section: The Pentland Road is a single-track road that runs between Stornoway and the villages of Breasclete and Carloway. It is a historical roadway, and I hope to make this blog a conduit for what I have found out about this island's history. 

The idea for this new site was inspired by the activities of blogger Direcleit, whose blog contains a wealth of information about the history of the Long Island (Lewis & Harris). My focus is a lot narrower - World War I and the Napier Commission Report.

On a totally different subject, I was amazed to learn that scientists had managed to create and maintain 38 antimatter hydrogen atoms for a few tenths of a second. When 'normal' matter and antimatter meet, they are both destroyed, releasing energy. That is what lies behind Einstein's famous E = mc2 (E=energy, m=mass, c=speed of light). We are all bundles of energy... I probably lost the lot of you by now.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Tuesday 16 November

Although it is dry today, there is a strengthening southerly wind, and the ferry company Calmac has already warned us to expect disruptions on the ferries. Just as well I ain't going on one. Spent an enjoyable morning helping someone track down the location of two disused schools in Harris, and consequently prompting someone else on a trip down memory lane in the general vicinity of Maraig, some 6 miles north of Tarbert.

I have just completed looking up which U-boats sank which British ships during WW1. Some strange tales there, but mostly rather sad. The fact that Remembrance Sunday is over does not mean we should stop paying attention to what happened in those war years, nearly 100 years ago.

The big news of the day is that Prince William (eldest son of the Prince of Wales) has announced a date for his marriage to Kate Middleton, whom he has been seeing for a couple of years. As Prince Charles put it in his characteristically blunt fashion: they've been practicing enough. In other words, we're going to be bored out of our wits over the next couple of months. Yes, I know I'm cynical. I just hope it doesn't end in tears, like the previous royal weddings of 1981 and 1986.

Maraig, 6 September 2009

Monday, 15 November 2010

Donald Trump and his Golf Course

American multi-millionaire Donald Trump has worked over the past 5 years to get a "world class" golf course constructed just north of Aberdeen. It involves a £1bn investment, 900 homes, 500 chalets and a hotel. The location is the Menie Estate, 6 miles north of the city, which is the location of a protected wildlife habitat. And the location of the homes of several people, who have no desire to shift.

Mr Trump has, through means fair and foul, acquired planning permission. He gave out the line that anybody who would dare to oppose his development would be seen to be closing the door on big business in Aberdeenshire. So when the planning permission was denied on the casting vote of the commission chairman, he was vilified (mildly put) in the local press. The planning application was called in by the Scottish Government and approved.

The residents who do not want to sell up are under threat of a compulsory purchase order, but whether that will actually be exercised remains to be seen.

Mr Trump is a businessman with a capital B (which I refuse to use in this blogpost), who only, and exclusively, thinks of money. That is fair enough. He trumpets (sic) his Scottish heritage ad nauseam, but then does not realise that people in Scotland do not have this pre-occupation with dollars (or pounds) that he has. Which completely negates the morality behind his claim to be Scottish. Yes, his mother was Scottish, and came from a small village a few miles north of Stornoway. Donald Trump comprehensively fails to understand that land is sacred to the rural Scot. I have been boring readers on this blog over the past few weeks with accounts of the Clearances in the Highlands and Islands - and here we have another Clearance looming, in the year 2010. OK, I am overstating my case, I mean, what are half a dozen people, scattered across a croft, a farmhouse and a converted coastguard station? But it's the principle that's at stake.

The principle is that in Scotland, money is not the leading light. It is important, for sure. But people are more important, and there is legislation in place to protect people from overdue pressure by big money. Mr Trump is completely within his rights to express a desire to build something on the coast of Aberdeenshire, and I respect him for being a successful businessman. But I hold no respect for a man in his position who rides roughshod over the little man, in his own pursuit of even more money.

Monday 15 November

No post yesterday, as I was spending my time recovering from a streaming cold on Saturday. Back on form today, and it was a cold day. A band of rain passed over at lunchtime, after which the sun returned. It did not do much to lift temperatures: mid forties Fahrenheit (around 6C) is the best we managed.

Thirteen months after being captured off the Seychelles, Paul and Rachel Chandler were released from Somalia yesterday. They were not treated very well, and the couple looked gaunt and haggard, although happy, on television. The British government has denied that it contributed towards the ransome money, paid towards the pirates. To said pirates, the Chandlers were just a commodity, which would, given time, yield millions of dollars. Somalia has no effective government and has been torn apart by two decades of civil war.

Today, it is 6 years ago since I first arrived in Lewis. I link to the entry on my Northern Trip blog.

Lochmaddy (July 1994)

Berneray (July 2009)

Leverburgh (July 2009)

Scaladale, North Harris (October 2007)

Balallan at dusk (January 2008)

Saturday, 13 November 2010

November days

The month of November is full of anniversaries, most of them sad. This week I have already referred to the Reichskristallnacht on November 9th and Armistice Day on Thursday.

That day, November 11th, is also Martinmas, the nameday of St Martin, patron saint of travellers and children. He is credited with handing his cloak to a beggar, when the latter had nothing (see tag below). Up until recently, children in Holland, Flanders and Germany would go round the streets in the evening of 11th November, carrying paper lanterns.

Today, I am informed, Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) has made his formal entry in the Netherlands. His nameday is December 6th, but that in itself is not observed. It is rather the eve of his nameday, 5th December, which is sees a lot of festivities in Holland, Flanders and Germany.

St Nicholas was bishop of Myra (present-day Smyrna in Turkey). After his death, his bones were interred in Myra, but when the Muslims conquered Turkey, Nicholas's bones were spirited across the Mediterranean to Spain.

It is from there (the legend goes) that he sails north in November in a steamship with a possy of Black Peters as his helpers. Black Peter, a reference to the Moors [North Africans] that once ruled Spain, is a bogeyman figure, as children are threatened that he will take them back to Spain if they misbehave. And all their misdemeanours are entered in St Nicholas's big book. The saint rides the streets of Holland on his white charger, with the Black Peters throwing sweeties around. At night, he rides the rooftops and throws presents down the chimneys. At the bottom of said chimneys, the children will have put out a shoe with a carrot for the horse; which will be substituted by a present from St Nicholas in the morning.

By the age of 8, children are usually told the truth of St Nicholas, and the set-up changes. Lots are drawn in families for presents to be bought for one other family members. This is then wrapped in a surprise wrapper. Our family tradition of hiding the presents and leaving instructions to the hiding place was abandoned, as the giver of one present forgot where they had hidden their present - and it is still in that forgotten location, more than 35 years later...

I would like to point out that Sinterklaas or St Nicholas has been corrupted to Santa Klaus in the Anglo-Saxon world (of UK and USA). The notion of Father Christmas is held with derision in Holland, although he has been embraced by the commercially minded. I shudder to remember the unedifying spectacle of Father Christmas and Sinterklaas coming to blows in the centre of one Dutch city, some years ago.

Saturday 13 November

A slightly sniffly morning (where's me hankies), otherwise not too bad in terms of sunshine and clouds. I've just been going through my list of blogs I follow through Blogger, and had to remove about a third of them: because they had been deleted or been made private. I am now following 118 blogs. I don't normally use Blogger for checking on journals; I have a number of you on Feedblitz, which emails me every day on any updates; and the vast majority on Google Reader. Nonetheless, over the past two years, a lot of bloggers have quit blogging: and by that I primarily mean ex-AOL bloggers.

Some two hours ago, the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from another spell of house arrest, amidst rapturous acclaim by her supporters. Ms Suu Kyi will make another appearnace tomorrow at midday local time. She is aged 65, and has been under house arrest for 15 out of the past 20 years. The ruling military junta in Rangoon has kept a tight control over her, and used the merest of pretexts for imposing house arrest. The last episode, 18 months ago, was sparked by an American admirer swimming across the lake behind her house, not by Ms Suu Kyi's request.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Friday 12 November

A quiet Friday, with the odd shower and some spectacular rainbows. The sun set more than an hour ago, and although the moon is out, I'm not expected any "moonbows". Last night, there was allegedly some aurora borealis, but I did not see any of it. Neither did I feel like traipsing out to Mossend for a clear view of the northern horizon.

The storms that battered the north of England last night have claimed one life. A lady, who was a passenger in a car, died after the vehicle was struck by a falling tree. A limb pierced the windscreen and the woman was impaled on it. She succumbed to her injuries in hospital; the driver is seriously injured. Winds in north Wales reached in excess of 90 mph in gusts, and caused extensive travel disruption. The gales are abating, and the clear-up can commence.

I'm transcribing tributes from the Stornoway Gazette for WW1 victims, and the result of one of these is shown in my previous post.

Not remembered

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has put the details of Evander Macleod, who drowned in the torpedoing of HMS Otway in July 1917, neatly on its website. Following the heavy loss of Lewis sailors in that sinking, the Stornoway Gazette also made mention of their names. Evander has since slipped under the radar. The Roll of Honour, published in 1921, does not refer to his death; the Lewis War Memorial does not mention him, and neither does the Point War Memorial at Garrabost, only a few miles from his former home at 34 Lower Bayble.

The loss of life during WW1 was, proportionately, heavy in the Isle of Lewis, and it is only to be expected that a few unfortunates will be missed in transcription. I trust that in time for Remembrance Sunday, Evander will be given the proper place amongst the ranks of island men who made the supreme sacrifice during the Great War.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Thursday evening

Today was a typical November day, fairly cold, breezy and showery. On the weather front, the most noteable feature was the barometric pressure: we went down to 954 mbar at one stage, and Barra (120 miles south of here) to 948 mbar. This basically means that a deep depression crossed over the Outer Hebrides. It also meant that we had relatively calm conditions, much in contrast to west Wales, which is seeing sustained winds in excess of 60 mph, gusting to 76 mph. The north of England is reporting atrocious weather this evening - like we had on Sunday night. At the moment, it is quite calm with northwesterly winds of 9 mph.

The broadband went off for about 6 hours this evening, but I had set up an account with a dial-up company just in case. Well, 32 kbps is nothing in comparison to the 2 Mbps I get on broadband. Websites take many minutes to load, if at all, and I just cannot imagine how we ever managed on dial-up. However, websites have become very heavy features to load, and it's not until you are reduced to snail-pace connection speeds that you come to realise that. Fortunately, at around 9.30pm, service was returned to normal.

Here in the Isle of Lewis, the electricity company SSE has announced it is deferring a decision on building a subsea cable to the Scottish mainland. This is required to transport the electricity output from the island's proposed renewable energy projects (windfarms) to the mainland; the existing link does not have sufficient capacity. This means that more than a dozen windfarms are in the doldrums, and their construction has had to be put on hold. I have always been quite vociferous in my opposition to these projects, and will not be so hypocritical as to deplore SSE's decision. The local council is furious, saying it will deprive the local economy of £2.5m per annum. A tidy sum, but in the grand scheme of things - a tiny sum. Should the projects ever come on-line, then the revenue for the likes of SSE will be a factor 1000 bigger.

Thursday 11 November

Today is the 92nd anniversary of the Armistice of 1918, when the guns fell silent after four years, three months and seven days of carnage. November 11th has since been adopted as a national day of remembrance for the UK and many other countries, who were actively involved in the First World War. The dead of the Second World War and other conflicts since are similarly commemorated on that day. Remembrance Sunday, which will be observed next Sunday (14 November) is the formal occasion of Remembrance.

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my research into the war dead of the Isle of Lewis, who number 1300 for the First World War. This number, when viewed in the proper perspective, is quite appalling.

Total population of Lewis in 1911: about 30,000
Total male population: about 15,000
Total number who were in active service, including the Merchant Navy: about 6,000
Total number killed between August 1914 and November 1918: about 1100
Total number drowned in the sinking of HMY Iolaire on 1 January 1919: about 200

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Cruel clearances in Caithness

This triple alliteration is not attempt at levity. The county of Caithness, the far northeastern corner of mainland Scotland, saw some of the worst abuses encountered by the Napier Commission. My transcriptions took me to the coastal town of Lybster. Historically, the Commission could have done with more than just one session in Caithness, as several written statements were handed in, without people being interrogated on their content.

James Waters, a representative for Dunnet, the northernmost point on the British mainland, recounts an instance of heartrending cruelty.

An aged couple, who had brought up four sons and seven daughters on the said farm, fell a little in arrears to the landlord. The factor having unlimited power, hypothecated his subjects, and as soon as law would allow it was sold by auction for ready money; I was an eye-witness to this. The mother of this large family had been an invalid for years. The factor was looking on when all was sold off but the blankets; they were ordered to be carried out—I know not whether they were taken off the sick woman's bed or not; the people felt so disgusted no one would offer a shilling for them; had any one done so they would have got them. The factor ordered them to be carried away as they were to somewhere about the south end of the Dunnet sands. It was seen next year the factor's reason for such cruelty to this man. There were five families; he was the centre one; they were all turned out next year, and their farms made an outrun to a large farm. There has not been a plough in since; it has now become a barren waste. Another case of cruelty, two aged persons—man and wife —who had brought up a family respectably, were turned out of their home and their furniture together. They had no way to go; these two aged Christians lay six weeks beside a dyke amongst bits of furniture. At last the aged man became delirious, and wandered off through the hills; the neighbours went in search, and found him wandering with his Bible under his arm, saying he was seeking his father, who had been dead nearly thirty years. He then was allowed to put up a house in the bottom of an old quarry, and I understand is still living there.

Landing on your four feet

The pastor had a kitten that climbed up a tree in his backyard and then was afraid to come down. The pastor coaxed, offered warm milk, etc. The kitty would not come down. The tree was not sturdy enough to climb, so the pastor decided that if he tied a rope to his car and pulled it until the tree bent down, he could then reach up and get the kitten.

That's what he did, all the while checking his progress in the car. He then figured if he went just a little bit further, the tree would be bent sufficiently for him to reach the kitten. But as he moved the car a little further forward, the rope broke. The tree went 'boing!' and the kitten instantly sailed through the air - out of sight.

The pastor felt terrible. He walked all over the neighborhood asking people if they'd seen a little kitten. No. Nobody had seen a stray kitten. So he prayed, 'Lord, I just commit this kitten to your keeping,' and went on about his business.

A few days later he was at the grocery store, and met one of his church members. He happened to look into her shopping cart and was amazed to see cat food. This woman was a cat hater and everyone knew it, so he asked her, 'Why are you buying cat food when you hate cats so much?' She replied, 'You won't believe this,' and then told him how her little girl had been begging her for a cat, but she kept refusing. Then a few days before, the child had begged again, so the Mom finally told her little girl, 'Well, if God gives you a cat, I'll let you keep it.' She told the pastor, 'I watched my child go out in the yard, get on her knees, and ask God for a cat. And really, Pastor, you won't believe this, but I saw it with my own eyes. A kitten suddenly came flying out of the blue sky, with its paws outspread, and landed right in front of her.'

Wednesday 10 November

A bright and sunny start to the day, and the overnight frost left the water hose outside partially blocked. After a gale, you see, the windows at the back (facing away from the sea) are coated in salt, and need to be hosed clean. But with the dribble from the hose first thing I could barely reach the downstairs windows, let alone the upstairs ones. As the afternoon progressed, grey clouds moved up from the Atlantic and obscured the sun. We are on warning for high winds later in the night. The freight ferry is not sailing, a decision they took as early as 9.30 this morning.

At 2pm, I set off for a trip to the beach at Tolsta, which I had actually not visited for quite a while. The path from the carpark to the beach is now concreted over. It was cold, sunny and a tad breezy. Visibility was excellent, leaving the Sutherland hills (50 miles away) clearly outlined on the horizon.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tuesday 9 November

A beautifully sunny but cold day, with the mercury barely on 8C. Fortunately, there was not much wind. After lunch, I went down to Sandwick Cemetery to (unsuccessfully) look for the grave of a Norwegian sailor who died after falling from the mast of a barque in 1917. Many of the older gravestones are covered in lichen, making them difficult to decipher. The shortest route to the cemetery takes me along the shores of Sandwick Bay, which are lined with shingle. Last Sunday's storm has washed tons of shingle and seaweed onto the shorepath, making it difficult to negotiate.

New moon at 5.23pm

Sunset colours

Walking to Sandwick

The bread shelves in Tesco, the day after the storms. Erm, the ferry did not sail, so no bread. Capiche?


That is a euphemism for a torture technique, employed by American forces in Iraq, to extract information from prisoners regarding possible terrorist attacks. President George W. Bush, writing in his memoirs, feels that the use of this technique is fully justified, as it prevented more terrorist outrages in the aftermath of 9/11.

Torture, Mr Bush, is never acceptable. You, as the former leader of the Land of the Free, should be the very last to condone such barbarity. The fact that the likes of Al Qa'eda see fit to descend to the depths of depravity in their acts does not justify you doing the same. Torture, Mr Bush, also elicits the responses the torturer wants to hear, which is not necessarily the truth. And your use of torture just lends power to the arguments of your political and military adversaries who say you are a barbarian, and gives them the justification for their actions.

Mr Bush was so blinkered by the fact that his daddy did not finish off Saddam Hussein in 1991 that he had, come hell or high water, finish it for him. Saddam Hussein was a clever dictator, who, seeing he was militarily hamstrung, got rid of his weapons of mass destruction, which he did possess. But they turned into a Weapon of Mass Delusion for George W. Bush. Everybody else joined in, including former British prime minister Tony Blair. Yes, they got rid of a monster, but they got landed with a Medusa instead, in the shape of Al Qa'eda. Not necessarily in Iraq, where they got booted out. But elsewhere, they certainly got plenty of followers on account of George Bush and his boundless stupidity.

Putting his age on

Many a youngster would tell a white lie when trying to enlist in the armed forces, early in the 20th century. It is referred to as "putting your age on", in other words, saying you're older than you are.

I found a good example in a Lewis soldier, James Macleod, who was born in Callanish as an illegitimate child. In February 1912, he enlisted with the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and told the recruiting officer he was 17 years and 2 months. As James was born on 24 January 1897, he was in fact not much older than 15 years and 2 weeks. His height was 5 feet 3½ inches and only weighed 120 lbs, 54 kg.

Six years after joining the Argylls, James was killed in action near Ypres on 8 May 1918. His body was never recovered, but his name is inscribed on the Tyne Cot memorial at Zonnebeke, 6 miles northeast of Ypres. A few days ago, I saw aerial footage from 1919 of the battlefields around Ypres, and of the village of Passchendaele, which was all but obliterated. After the Germans were pushed back from Ypres in 1917, they tried to regain their lost territory in 1918, but finally failed in September of that year.

This week, the website is offering free access to British army service records, which is how I managed to fill the gaps for James Macleod. His mother, Isabella, had moved to Stornoway by the time of the death of her son. When she gave birth, her occupation was marked as Domestic Servant. A few months after James had fallen, she wrote to the (Army) Records Office in Perth. I reproduce the text of the letter. Part of it is illegible due to a hole in the paper, as shown in the scan.

"Mrs Bella McLeod
8 Mackenzie Street

To Records Officer, Office Perth

Dear Sir,

Would you [...] me (his mother) of the late (killed in action (L/Cpl James Mcleod) 2 Bn Arg + Suth Hghns [Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders] Regt No S/43023 has any of his belongings come to hand. As far as I know, he had a wrist watch, Signet Ring, Pocket Folding mirror, Pocket Book or Wallet containing photos etc also a pocket knive [sic]. It would greatly oblige me if you could let me know at the earliest & how to  claim same.

I remain

Yours V. Truly
Mrs B. Mcleod"

The records do not relate whether the items, if any, were returned to Bella. She received a claims form, which was sent back to Perth, but that is were the records for James Macleod end.

9 November

9 November 1938 - an organised mob of Nazi forces and sympathisers go on the rampage in towns and cities across Germany, smashing and destroying Jewish-owned property and businesses. It was to be a marker, to what was to come during World War II - the extermination of anyone deemed sub-human by the warped mind of Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. Jews topped their league of the unfit, closely followed by gypsies, the mentally ill and many many others. The Reichskristallnacht was a night of infamy, and not just to Germany.

For Hitler was allowed to get away with literally murder for several years beforehand. In 1936, he occupied the Rhineland which had been ceded to France at the end of the First World War. The League of Nations, a toothless talkingshop, cried wolf but had no bite. In March 1938, Nazi forces marched into Austria to join that country to Germany, an event referred to as the Anschluss. Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet with Adolf Hitler on 30 September 1938, returning with the infamous phrase: "Peace for our time". Six weeks later, the Reichskristallnacht took place, a sign of ill omen. Only a few months later, Germany invaded the Sudetenland area of Czecho-Slovakia, and again, nobody moved a finger to stop. In September 1939, Hitler thought he could get away with the invasion of Poland. But instead, it prompted the outbreak of the Second World War.

The lights have gone out in Europe, it was said at the time. The lights in Europe were extinguished in 1914, and had not been relit, not even at the end of the First World War. The Versailles Peace Treaty of June 1919 contained all the ingredients for another war, which duly materialised.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Autumn bareness

Just as well I went into the Castle Grounds for a walk on Friday. The tree behind the house here still had leaves on it on Sunday morning. Twenty-four hours later, all the remaining leaves had gone. In six months' time, they'll be back again.

2 November