View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, when we remember those that have fallen victim to the virus over the years. When AIDS first came to prominence in the mid 1980s, it was initially thought to be a disease that only affected homosexuals. Not so. It is a sexually transmitted disease, passed between partners during sexual intercourse. The virus (human immunodeficiency virus HIV) is also passed upon blood-blood contact, like with blood transfusions when the blood has not been checked.

AIDS, the complex of diseases that is brought about by infection with HIV, leads to death because it knocks out parts of the normal immune system, which defends us against bacteria, viruses and other pathogens. Although drugs have been devised that can slow the progression of the disease, AIDS is not curable, and a vaccine is still a long way off. It is 25 years ago today that AIDS came to prominence, and at first there was great awareness of practicing safe sex (using condoms &c), but this seems to be falling by the wayside.

AIDS was first discovered among humans in Uganda in 1959, although the HIV virus, naturally occurring amongst primates (monkeys, apes) will have been around for a lot longer. HIV has counterparts in other species, such as cats. There is, to my knowledge, no cross-over between species - having said that, the close relationship between primates and humans means that the virus was able to cross between the two species groups, something that happened just over a hundred years ago.

World AIDS Day is, to me, about preventing the spread of the disease. This means education.
It is also about ensuring that medication is easily accessible, whilst research continues to find a cure or a vaccine.

Leslie Nielsen

I am not a cinema goer (full stop), and the only films I have gone to see in the last 10 years were Lord of the Rings (I, II and III) and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (which nearly sent me to sleep).

However, I have always found myself nearly choking with laughter when watching the Naked Gun movies on TV, starring Leslie Nielsen. Modern slapstick, expertly handled (sometimes literally). I was ever so sad to hear that he had passed away after a short illness two days ago. So, let's have a laugh.

Wednesday 1 December

The last month of the year is here, and the early winter is tightening its grip. A fall of snow left an inch of the white stuff here in Stornoway, although the bright sun has served to burn most of it away. We are left with the snow that fell over the weekend, which is slowly evaporating in the sunshine. Our temperature? Well, we reached +1.6C at 1pm.

Temperatures in Altnaharra, in the far north of mainland Scotland, have peaked at -12C this afternoon, after dipping to -20.5 overnight. As darkness falls, the mercury is expected to plumb new depths, down to -22C. And the following night might see it go down to -25C. Altnaharra is located in a valley, where the cold air pools; the snow serves to lose even more 'heat' and down goes the temperature. Residents in the village have been unable to reach the main road, and some have not seen their car since Friday - when it got buried under snow.

Falls of snow are much more of a problem than extreme temperatures. Snow has now reached the south of England, leading to passengers stranded on trains overnight; air passengers unable to fly out of Gatwick or Edinburgh (I know the feeling) and road travellers unable to budge. It is reported that 1 metre of snow (that's 40 inches in old money) has fallen in the northeast of England.

No let up in sight.

Tuesday 30 November

A quiet day in the islands, with a little additional snow after nightfall. Snowfall elsewhere in the United Kingdom is causing mounting problems on the roads, for schools and on the rails.

I went to the library to find more tributes from the First World War and found nearly 20 for the months of April and the first half of May 1918. I also had some positive feedback from a cemetery website in South Uist that had been set up earlier this year. Whether a similar thing will happen in Lewis is questionable. Having put out some feelers here and there, I think people need to warm to the idea. Seeing your loved ones' gravestones on the Internet may not be everybody's cup of tea.

Today is the last day of the northern hemisphere hurricane season, with the exception of the Northwestern Pacific which may generate storms up to New Year. The Eastern and Central Pacific basins have been unusually quiet, with no storms in the Central Pacific, and only seven storms in the Eastern Pacific. The Atlantic season has spawned 19 named storms, with 12 hurricanes. I would not be surprised to see one or two names withdrawn - the most deadly one was Tomas, the last hurricane.