Along the Pentland Road, 25 May 2017

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas 2011


Merry Christmas and a prosperous and health 2012

I am currently blogging on The Shell Gallery, but will resume full service here on January 5th, 2012.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A case of murder

Today, a service of remembrance was held at Stornoway's Roman Catholic Church in Scotland Street. Although I'm not in the island at present, there are two developments which are significant at this time.

The family of the victim, Liam Aitchison, have accepted the apology from Channel 5 host Matthew Wright. Ofcom will investigate the incident on December 6th, when Mr Wright made some terrible jokes at the expense of the murder victim and the islanders of the Outer Hebrides. This followed a massive volume of complaints, 2,200. That is three times the number received by the regulator as a result of a programme by Jeremy Clarkson (I think).

Two suspects have now been fully committed for trial following a second court appearance, and remain in custody in Inverness at this time. They remain innocent until proven guilty.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Wright Stuff - Channel 5 has replied

Date: 15th December 2011


Dear Correspondent

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding The Wright Stuff.

We would like to assure you that having investigated the matter with senior producers of the programme, nobody on the programme’s panel or editorial team had any intention of causing distress to viewers or, more importantly, the family of murdered teenager Liam Aitchison with the comments that were made in the 6th December episode. They deeply regret that they have done so; as does Channel 5. The comments made by the programme’s presenter Matthew Wright and guest Charlie Baker on the programme were unfortunate, misjudged and entirely inappropriate. Having recognised this Matthew and Charlie have apologised in subsequent programmes and Matthew apologised in writing to Liam's father.

The tragic story of Liam Aitchison’s murder formed part of the daily newspaper review. The story was running in a number of newspapers that morning, and was of interest being the first murder on the Western Isles for more than 40 years. The story was always intended to be reviewed in the most sensitive manner and both Charlie and Matthew had discussed this with producers to that effect. When the story of Liam’s murder was reached, Charlie Baker introduced it by reading a headline from a newspaper and commenting that it was a sad story. At that point, Matthew Wright interjected in what we now recognise was a highly inappropriate manner, entirely unforeseen by the production team. In light of Matthew’s words, Charlie reacted in a similarly thoughtless fashion. As soon as these comments were made a senior producer of the programme acted immediately to remind them that this was a serious story, covering as it did the death of a 16-year-old, and the conversation moved on. Regrettably this was too late as the offensive comments had been made.

In an unscripted, live programme not every discussion turns out as we might wish and having reviewed the matter after the programme finished on 6th December, both Channel 5 and the producers felt an apology and explanation was necessary. The following day, 7th December, Matthew apologised during The Wright Stuff pointing out that he certainly had not intended to belittle in any way the seriousness of a tragic story or offend anyone who knew Liam Aitchison.

Once again, we can assure you that the programme never seeks to intentionally offend anyone and all personnel involved with the programme as well as Channel 5 are sorry for the offence these remarks have caused. We are grateful to you for taking the time to make us aware of your particular concerns and have logged the details of your complaint in the Viewer Enquiries Report. This is circulated throughout the company and seen by all relevant personnel.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Wednesday 14 December

Another day of very mixed fortunes in our weather, but on balance wet and cold. There was some sunshine a few times over. The forecast remains dire yet unclear - as I said yesterday, a messy winter's month.

It was announced today that a memorial service to murdered teenager Liam Aitchison is to be held in the Roman Catholic Church in Stornoway on 20 December. Liam was from South Uist, an island that is pre-dominantly RC. I don't think that will be of any issue to the people that are going to go along to remember him. No further details on the case have been revealed, and the speculation that reaches my ears informally is unsuitable for relay.

Tomorrow, I shall be travelling to Holland to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with my father and wider family. This is therefore the last post in 2011. I shall return to Stornoway on Wednesday 4 January 2012 and will resume posting on here on Thursday 5 January. I am keeping an eye on development in the Western Isles during my absence, and may post relevant updates intermittently.

As of this coming Friday, I will be blogging on a daily basis on the Shell Gallery.

On Atlantic Lines, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tuesday 13 December

Feeling very cold, although the mercury was around 5 or 6C. However, conditions were downright atrocious in the southern Hebrides. Malin Head, the northwestern cape of Ireland, reported sustained winds of 60 mph with gusts to 80 mph at one point during the afternoon. Winter is turning very messy, as heavy snow is currently blanketing the southern Highlands. A major road traffic accident, involving 7 vehicles, closed the A9 at Drummochter Pass during the afternoon.

I was pleased to learn that Matthew Wright, of Channel 5 infamy, is to have his program The Wright Stuff investigated by media watchdog Ofcom. More than 2,200 complaints were raised with Ofcom following a program on December 6th, in which Mr Wright joked about the murder of Liam Aitchison at Steinish last month.

A gunman has killed at least people and wounded dozens more in the Belgian city of Liège by opening fire indiscriminately and lobbing grenades into a square. He then shot himself. Liège was in the news last year, when an apartment block collapsed to the ground, leading to the death of several people.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Monday 12 December

Well, today was probably the best day of this week. It was pretty chilly in the morning, but at least the sun was out. After nightfall, the rain started and the wind picked up - and it became a little milder. Tomorrow, a deep depression will scoot past our shores, bottoming out with a central pressure of 944 mbar. Last week's storm was at 960 mbar when it passed directly over Stornoway. However, the strongest winds are not expected to equal last Thursday's gale. That may occur later in the week.

Two young men have appeared in court in Inverness on a charge of murdering Liam Aitchison. One was from Stornoway, the other from Carloway, 16 miles to the west. The case continues to elicit strong emotions. Local news website Hebrides News made the mistake of publishing the portraits of the two accused - this is not legal. At present, they are only accused and innocent until proven otherwise.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hogmanay in Stornoway

This year, the Hogmanay celebrations in Stornoway will be held in the town centre, with a massive street party. About 5,000 people are expected to flock to this big shindig - which will end at 11 pm on December 31st, 2011. The thing is that New Year’s Day 2012 is on a Sunday, and any partying extending beyond midnight would infringe the Sabbath. So, it was ordained that Hogmanay in Stornoway will end an hour before “the bells”.

I have the deepest respects for people’s religious convictions. I do not extend that to imposing said convictions on other people’s lives. If anyone feels that they should observe the Sabbath in a certain fashion, then they are at perfect liberty to do so. However, that should not mean that others should be forced to do the same.

There is another aspect to this question, which annuls the argument, put forward by the relevant authorities against extended the permit for the Stornoway Hogmanay do. Are the pubs closing at 11pm on December 31st? The answer to that is an emphatic no. You can get sozzled as much as you like well beyond midnight on Hogmanay. Again, a personal choice, with which I am fine as long as it does not impinge on other people. Unfortunately, we are all familiar with the results of over-indulgence in alcohol, whether it be anti-social behaviour or road traffic accidents, resulting in damage, injury or even death.

I find this discrepancy a case of breathtaking hypocrisy and double standards, and would call for an extension of the street party beyond midnight - or else have the pubs shut at 11pm.

No, I’m not holding my breath in expectation of that all to happen.

Sunday 11 December

Quite an acceptable day, with sunshine and distant showers. Although barometric pressure is falling slowly, down to 988 mbar at the moment, there are no major weather problems imminent. By the end of the week, we may see a repetition of the storm we had last Thursday.

My previous post was on the EU summit in Brussels on Friday, when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, did not want any changes to EU treaties. These were designed to stabilise the euro currency, which is currently in jeopardy on account of huge debts of some of its member states. The UK does not use the euro, but half its trade is with the eurozone. Placing itself outside the club of 26 may have pleased the eurosceptics in Mr Cameron's Conservative Party, it hardly serves the interests of the United Kingdom. This should have been a non-partizan issue, but when Mr Cameron was answering questions in Parliament, there was a notable series of hesitations. Having given in to the eurosceptics in his own party will place the Tory/Lib Dem coalition under increasing strain. Outside Britain, it is seen as a move to safeguard the interests of the City of London and its investment bankers - a crooked bunch, as portrayed by the Dutch newspaper column. What many people in this country forget is that without the EU, the UK would be much worse off than at present. The double-tracking of the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road would not have taken place, to mention but one little local example. David Cameron may well have turned the clock back 38 years last Friday.

The party of crooks and thieves - divisions London and Moscow

I am copying a translation of an article in the Dutch national daily newspaper De Volkskrant. Thomas von der Dunk has analysed the recent events in Brussels and Moscow, and drawn some disconcerting parallels. The text remains copyright Thomas von der Dunk. 

Under pressure, everything turns to liquid. This is now also applicable in Europe, and probably soon also for the Netherlands, where Dutch PM Rutte is now caught in a terrible dilemma. However, it was only agreed in Brussels Europe should be given more powers to call 'other' countries to order but of course not us.
Transfer of sovereignty is nominally out of the question, as the prohibition is chiselled in the marble of tolerance. Europe has only been handed the means to enforce things. Whether the latter is indeed the case, remains to be seen, but it's not one without the other.

[...]
Everything liquidises under pressure - which was long taboo in Brussels is now a fact: the British are outside on their own. Would they dare to remember that old joke in London "fog in channel, continent isolated?"

Who in any case almost was isolated, was Dutch PM Rutte, who had been so foolish to promise to Cameron to look after his interests. This is an old Dutch hobby: The Hague clears up after London’s dirt.

Even when our political caste, in naive overconfidence, held a referendum on the European Constitution in 2005, several British diplomats thanked Dutch Parliament and Government: "We are so glad, you did this for us', it saved Blair a very difficult discussion at home .

Ideological allies lost
The [Dutch Liberal Party] VVD has also lost a key ideological ally: the British share with the Dutch a traditionally rigid free trade ideology, for whom Europe is little more than a market to sell our cheap waterbomb tomatoes. As cheap as possible: that is the basis for the still half nineteenth century England class society, as low-wage country always negotiates opt outs on European social legislation.

Less averse to protection
Germany and France, which are more industrial nations, are much less averse to the principle of protectionism. They are much more averse to speculation. For the Germans consists of companies that manufacture substantive things and using them to make money, the City of London runs on people who make money with money, which quickly turns into a colossal swindle.

Sarkozy has already referred to investment bankers as thieves and swindlers. Westminster refuses to accept any European measure to restrict – it is quite correct for the other twenty-six to continue without Cameron. The scammers and thieves in the City responded to Cameron’s rigidity with understandable excitement. But Labour leader Ed Miliband, however much his party is equally implicated, noted that the importance of the UK, unlike that of the British bankers, was not served with Cameron's nyet was served. The Tories have revealed themselves these days as the party of scammers and thieves.

Russian elections stolen
Im Westen nichts Neues, at least not for those who in recent decades were not befuddled by neo-liberal droning, but instead paid attention. Moreover, neither was there anything new in the East. The "party of crooks and thieves" that has long been the legitimate nickname for the party United Russia of Vladimir Putin, Russia's wealth after the weekend now again stole the Russian elections.

New was only for the first time that we could know in detail, how it's done in practice. It is also entirely a coincidence that many Russian mafia billionaires with their capital, have sought refuge in the tax haven of England, isn’t it?

Until now, Putin even without manipulation probably still a majority of Russian voters arcs, Western journalists, who usually keen on dissidents, have always tended to underrate the desire for stability and safety in the gray majority in millions of country towns. Which is often more conservative, less "worldly" (in all senses of that word) than the average protester set, which we also see in Tunisia and Egypt.

Stained by turmoil and chaos
To the Russian electorate the notion of democracy has for years been tainted on account of the turmoil, chaos, poverty and international humiliation of the Yeltsin years. After the elections in the year 2000 Putin provided a fairly safe electoral base with his promise of "Dictatorship of Law'. It was inevitable that this was increasingly more dictatorship than law, causing rising discontent in a young generation. For Putin cannot fulfil his economic promises (in return for power) either.

Is another Russian revolution in the offing? Tens of thousands of Muscovites out of a population of ten million makes that a premature conclusion.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Saturday 10 December

One of those strange days. It started literally freezing cold, with half an inch of snow on the ground and icy conditions underfoot. However, by evening, the snow had melted, the mercury had risen to 7 degrees above freezing and it was blowing a force 7. Went out for a meal to the County Hotel on Francis Street, which was a success. I'm not in the habit of plugging businesses, as most restaurants in Stornoway are quite decent, offering a good quality of food for a reasonable price. And the County, which had a refurbishment a few years back, is right in among those. It was a typical Saturday in Stornoway, with the pavements full of young people out for a night on the town. As one of my party was not happy to walk all the way home (a distance of just over a quarter of a mile) a taxi was engaged for the return trip.

Grinneas 2011

Grinneas nan Eilean (the Beauty of the Isles) is an annual exhibition which showcases work by local artists, which is also for sale. The 2011/12 exhibition is on at An Lanntair in Stornoway until January 29th. I am posting a few pics which I took yesterday at the exhibition.




Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday 9 December

The day after the night before saw me untangling the bins from the gardenhose (see yesterday's post) and putting them out for uplifting. Pity it wasn't still blowing hard, as gales on Friday lead to the hilarious phenomenon of the bindance. Empty bins go walkabout, cause obstructions and generally a hazard to all on this exposed street. Talking of bins, there was once a binfight in Stornoway. Back in May 2006, the council was giving away 3 composting bins per household from the recycling centre on the Lochs Road. It led to an unprecedented tailback of traffic on the A859, and the eye-brow raising sight of nurses barging past the policeman who told them to go away, saying "I am entitled to three free bins, and I'm going to get my three bins, so there". The people of Ness had themselves organised with the bins: a staggered approach was taken, with their own polisman directing traffic at the Ness Hall.

Today was a benign sort of day, although bitterly cold with flurries of snow - which never settled. I printed and wrote 37 Christmas cards, then printed and licked 37 envelopes (yuck). Spent £26 on stamps for cards all over the place - and also nipped into An Lanntair to view the entries into this year's Grinneas nan Eilean. I'll post pictures of the pictures in a separate entry.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Thursday 8 December

The day arrived with galeforce winds and heavy rain, but this abated through the morning. The sun came out, the barometer dropped right down to 960 mbar. But then, at 3pm, the clouds drew in, the rain started again and the wind rose. Gusts topped 101 mph at Eoropie, 25 miles north of here, and Stornoway saw 85 mph. When I tried to tame some runaway dustbins, I nearly came to grief as they decided to dance with a garden hose. Woopsie. Don't try to tangle with dustbins in 80 mph gusts. Anyway, after a quick crescendo at 5pm the winds slowly died down. At the moment (11pm), we're at 30 mph, that's force 7, and the barometer has made a quick recovery to 990 mbar. Thirty millibars in six hours is an amazing rate of increase; about as quick as the decrease overnight. By the way, the highest gust was 165 mph, which was recorded on the summit of Cairn Gorm, 4200 feet up.

Elsewhere in Scotland, the wind has caused damage to property and brought down powerlines. I suffered two power outages, one at midday and the other at around 2pm. Both lasted about half an hour. At present, 60,000 people in the Highlands and Islands are still off supply.

No, I don't have spectacular pictures of this storm. It was dark when it rose here, sorry!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The wrong stuff

It was brought to my attention that Matthew Wright, a former Sun-journalist, who presents a program on Channel 5 (here in the UK) made some derogatory comments on the murder of Liam Aitchison last month. He poked fun at the fact that it had been 40 years ago since a murder was last committed in the Isle of Lewis.

Complaints have been flooding in to Channel 5, Ofcom and not just from myself; the MP and MSP have complained as has the local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Mr Wright has apologised, but added that complainers should grow up. I don't know if Mr Wright has children (heaven forbid), but I wonder how he would feel if this had been the reaction on national television if one of his offspring had been killed. The Facebook page, set up to call for complaints against the show, has reached nearly 700 likes in 24 hours.

7 December 1941


Image courtesy http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/pearlhbr/pearlhbr.htm
Today, it's 70 years ago since the Japanese Imperial Forces attacked the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack was unprovoked, but served to bring the United States into the Second World War, as Germany declared war on the USA alongside Japan. It was a fatal mistake on the part of Japan. Although the Japanese forces managed to occupy large swathes of territory in the Pacific and southeast Asia, they were in the end thrown back on their homeland. It took the detonation of two nuclear bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to force the surrender of Emperor Hirohito, three months after Nazi Germany was defeated.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Tuesday 6 December

Today started fairly bright (and cold), but the sun soon disappeared behind clouds and by late afternoon the rain clattered down. The icy conditions were soon gone (after I had put down salt), and we are now headed for a violent storm on Thursday. Winter is by no means gone, but it is turning into a very lively and messy affair.

National TV is now on the track of the case of murdered Liam Aitchison. It showed a police investigation in progress in the Stornoway suburb of Plasterfield, the bleak shack outside Steinish and the assertion that the last murder in Lewis took place in 1968. Yes, there is a strong sense of community here. But it has not prevented this apparently vulnerable youngster from falling victim to an appalling crime.

I am pleased that the J-land community has been revived to some measure, even more so now that one of its pillars has resurfaced on the WWW. Sugar (who has not resumed her blog) turned up on Facebook this morning, and I've been very pleased to be among the many to welcome her back.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Monday 5 December

Scotland awoke to a blanket of snow this morning. Here in Stornoway it was an inch, but probably rather more higher up in the hills. A lorry crashed off the road, but its driver was fortunately unhurt. Elsewhere in Scotland, two drivers lost their lives in crashes caused by the weather. First thing this morning, the snow was just pretty.

On 22 November, 16-year old Liam Aitchison was last seen alive in Stornoway. He had come up to Lewis a few months ago from South Uist. Liam was seen walking along Anderson Road. On 29th November, his remains were found in a derelict property at Steinish, about two miles northeast of Stornoway, and not far from Anderson Road. Today, police announced they were upgrading their investigations into his death to a full murder inquiry. It is more than 40 years ago since the last murder in Lewis, and the news of this tragic death has shaken the community to its core.

This evening, I went into the town centre here to take pictures of the Christmas decorations. When I compare them to images I took in 2005, the extent (in terms of distance) and variety have sadly shrunk dramatically.


St Nicholas

Today is the eve of St Nicholas, the original and only Santa Klaus (sorry). In Holland, Flanders and western Germany, children will have spent the past fortnight or so putting their shoe in front of the fireplace, with a carrot in it. St Nicholas rides the roofs on his white charger, surrounded by Black Peters who do the dirty work of bringing presents. During the night, they wil go down the chimney to collect the carrot and leave a present in the shoe. Children who have been bad will find a bunch of twigs, indicative of punishment. The really bad ones will be taken back to Spain in the sack.

It all starts in mid-November, when St Nicholas arrives in Holland (or one of its towns) in a steamer, well, any boat really, with his posse of Peters. The Peters go off running around, scattering sweeties amidst the assembled children. Towns not near the sea or water will see St Nicholas arriving by train. Or coach if there is no railway station. St Nicholas arrives from Spain, as that is the place where his remains lie interred. Originally, he is from Turkey, but when the Muslims came, the bones were spirited across the Mediterranean to Spain

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Picture post - 4 December





Sunday 4 December

The sun has just set on a snow-clad day, with the mercury barely above freezing. At 9 o'clock this morning, a hefty snow shower left about an inch of snow which did not fully melt through the day. Through the seven hours of daylight that followed, there was sunshine interspersed with scattered snow showers. The mainland is also affected, more severely, with up to 10 inches in elevated terrain.

Two giant pandas were flown into Edinburgh this afternoon, taking up an entire hour on the BBC News. I know Edinburgh airport a bit too well, having had to wait there for a flight connection many a time. I hate waiting at airports. Having to do the same courtesy the national broadcaster is just not on. I mean, what's the deal? Yes, I know giant pandas are rare and an endangered species. They eat 25 kg (60 lb) of bamboo a day and are only fertile for about 48 hours. But if the male and female in question don't hit it off, there will be no cubs. Obviously. I'm sorry if I'm being sarcastic, but I don't see the importance.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Saturday 3 December

A day with a distinct wintry feel, as heavy showers of hail kept clattering down. At times, the town looked quite white, and the hailstones gathered up in reasonably thick layers in secluded corners. Although we managed +6C at 1pm, the mercury hovered on average around +3C / 37F. Last night saw a westerly gale, with a gust of 89 mph up at Eoropie, a very exposed location. Tomorrow, the Highlands are on warning for snow, and a layer of 10 cm / 4 inches is to be expected. Whether we get that too is not certain; the Hebrides are washed by the Gulfstream, which tends to keep things a bit milder than on the mainland.

In Germany, the town of Koblenz has seen a mass evacuation of 45,000 people in preparation for the defusing of a 1,8 tonne bomb which had turned up in the river Rhine. The bomb had been dropped by the RAF during WW2, and surfaced following record low waterlevels in the river. Checking the levels on the Dutch / German border, I notice that the measuring station at Lobith shows the gauge at 6.95 m, which is rather lower than the average of 10 m. For reference, a level of 15 m or more creates an immediate danger of overtopping of dykes and massive flooding.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Friday 2 December

A very cold start to the day; in fact, the lowest temperature of the night was reached before midnight (at 10pm yesterday), when the mercury dipped to -3C / 26F. Since then, it has grown steadily milder, with 8C on the thermometer at present. This was accompanied by rising winds and heavy rains. A gale is imminent, and will continue through the night. Disruption is likely on the ferry tomorrow morning; the overnight freight ferry has been cancelled.

The young man, found dead at Steinish a few days ago, has been officially identified. He had been in Stornoway only for a few months, but appears to have been living rough in a derelict building in the village. Police continue to appeal for information.

I have sent off another 7 Postcrossing cards. I have so far sent off  80 and received 71. Two cards have not been registered (yet) within the two months' timeframe allocated for doing so. One has been on the go since August, and the other since September. I notice that several people have taken on the hobby, which doesn't need to cost much more than the postage. I intend to send off the next batch in January.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Thursday 1 December

We're now into the final month of 2011, and it has made a better start than November ended. It was bright and fairly sunny, but very, very cold. As I type, the mercury stands at freezing, after a daytime max of +4C / 40F.

It was reported earlier this afternoon that the death of a young man in a derelict building at Steinish, 2 miles northeast of Stornoway, is now being treated as suspicious. Liam Aitchison had been missing since November 22nd, having last been seen in Anderson Road, the Stornoway street closest to Steinish. Only a mile separates the two.

BBC Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has shot his mouth off, by saying that the people who went on strike yesterday should be shot, executed in front of their families. I am aware of Mr Clarkson's propensity towards sarcasm, but do feel that he has overstepped the mark by several dozen miles. Irrespective of your views on yesterday's strike by public sector workers, those who went on strike did so out of genuine concern for their future. Clarkson is the one with the guild-edged pension, and I hope his wings will be clipped a bit. Pity his dismissal from the BBC appears unlikely. His status as hosting the most popular program on the national broadcaster is very much undeserved.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Wednesday 30 November

The day started reasonable, but at lunchtime the wind picked up to galeforce, and after dark (4pm), it increased further to severe gale force 9. Going to the shop by 5.30pm, I found the strong winds very tricky. There was also persistent rain, which did not abate until nightfall.

Some sad news in the island today, as the remains of a man were found in a derelict building at Steinish, a mile or so outside Stornoway. Police later added that these were likely to be those of a young man, aged 16, who had been missing for a few weeks. This comes hard on the heels of the death of a young woman, aged 26, in an accident in Harris last Thursday. Her car had gone off the road and ended up in a loch beside the A859 road south of Tarbert. Her funeral will take place at Bosta tomorrow.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Tuesday 29 November

It has turned rather a lot colder, with the mercury now barely above freezing. Yesterday's max was 10C / 50F, today's is 4C / 39F. The weather is marginally more friendly, with showers and less strong winds. But you do feel the cold now, and winter is definitely on the way in. There were severe problems with flooding near Glasgow today, particularly near Greenock, on the Clyde.

Good news today, in that the RET scheme is being extended to ferry services between Hebridean islands. RET (Road-Equivalent Tarriff) has reduced the fares on the Ullapool - Stornoway route by half, and has produced a 30% increase in tourism trade since its introduction in 2008. The scheme only applies to western Scotland, with the islanders of Orkney and Shetland complaining bitterly at being left out. The Shetlanders should, however, not complain so loudly. RET would mean an increase in fares on their long route between Aberdeen and Lerwick.

I have completed the project to add the portraits of WW1 servicemen from Lewis to the Imperial War Museum's Your Faces from the First World War group.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Monday 28 November

One of those eminently forgettable days, in terms of weather. Galeforce winds strafed the town, making it very difficult to walk against the wind (that is the definition of force 8 in the Beaufort scale) and lashing rain. Our hours of daylight are becoming very restricted, with sunrise at 8.45 am and sunset at 3.45 pm leaving us just about 7 hours. And on a day like today, it seems even less than that. Just saw a link about Seasonal Affective Disorder which tends to rear its ugly head at this time of year. Can't wait for the winter solstice, after which the days will lengthen again.

Another road traffic accident this afternoon, but this time not with serious consequences. A lorry was reported to be on its side on the hill at the Ceann an Ora quarry, 4 miles north of Tarbert. Cause not known, although, as I stated above, there were strong winds around this pm, and they tend to be funnelled through the gap between the Clisham and An t-Iosal on the other side of the A859.


Well, men, bored in the loo? Have a look at this

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Sunday 27 November

Last night saw hurricane force winds in parts of Scotland. Fair Isle, between Orkney and Shetland, reported 90 mph, but the Cairngorm mountains, which rear up to 4,200 feet in height, were buffeted by 114 mph windspeeds. Here in Stornoway, we reached 70 mph around midnight; Eoropie, near the Butt of Lewis, managed 86 mph. However, by the time daylight came, just after 8 am, the winds had abated in the Hebrides. The day was actually pleasantly bright and sunny, with only the odd shower of hail. In winter, it is more common for hail to fall in this part of the world rather than snow. In the afternoon, I had to wash a fair layer of salt off the windows - not just at the front (facing the sea), but also out the back. More high winds tomorrow.

I am not much of a football buff, but I am sad to learn of the apparent suicide of the manager of the national team of Wales, Gary Speed. He was only 42 and is mourned by the football community in the UK, and the population at large.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Saturday 26 November

More high winds today, with the ferry stormbound in Ullapool after making just one crossing, first thing this morning. It is now due to return from the mainland, departing there at 11 am tomorrow morning, and hopefully managing its customary Sunday return trip. The winds are not as high as on Thursday, when we topped 80 mph, but force 7 is still a near-gale.

As I have often mentioned (on Facebook), fuel prices in these islands are sky-high. A litre of diesel costs about £1.50 (that's $9.30 a gallon). In order to alleviate the pain, the UK government has gracefully allowed a 5p rebate in fuel prices. Fat lot of use. When the idea was floated, fuel prices shot up by a suspicious 4p a litre. There is something strange going on in this part of the world. Fuel is delivered by tanker ship, and the same boat delivers fuel to Inverness and Scrabster on the mainland, where prices are an eye-watering 20p a litre lower than here. If you can make sense of that, please let me know. I can't.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Friday 25 November

Yesterday's stormforce winds claimed a life: that of a 26-year old speech therapist from Coulregrein, on the northern edge of Stornoway. She had been travelling along the A859 Tarbert to Rodel road, when her vehicle is thought to have been blown into Loch nan Uidhean, just south of the Horsacleit Lodge, a few miles south of Tarbert. After being transferred by road ambulance to hospital in Stornoway, the woman died. The community is in shock.

Today's weather was very cold. Although the winds have abated somewhat, they were still strong, making the temperature of +4C / 39F bitterly cold. There were regular showers of rain, hail and sleet, with snow on high-level routes on the mainland. More high winds are forecast for Saturday and Sunday, but the worst of the conditions is expected in the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland).

This week, Lord Justice Leveson has started his hearing into the practices and standards of the British press. Several people who feature in the public eye, such as JK Rowling and the parents of Madeleine McCann, have given evidence. They complained bitter of the unparalleled intrusion into their private lives, all under the pretense of public interest. Actress Sienna Miller described how she was reduced to running down the street with a dozen burly men in hot pursuit. The only thing that legitimised their actions was the fact that they were carrying cameras. Otherwise, it just would have been a woman pursued by a dozen big men - which would have been cause for police intervention.

In the 14 years I have lived in the United Kingdom, I have never ceased to be appalled at the intrusion into the private lives of celebrities or public figures. Princess Diana died in August 1997 as a consequence of the harassment by the press. Even as the outcome of the Leveson Inquiry is being reported, some newspapers issue robust rebuttals, thereby indicating that in their minds, they are doing nothing wrong. A major change, of earthquake proportion, is required to bring about a differing stance by the press.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thursday 24 November

A foul day, with high winds and heavy rain. The private weatherstation at Eoropie, the village nearest the Butt of Lewis, reports winds at a steady 50 mph, gusting to 76 mph. Most ferry services along the west coast of Scotland are off, and there is a warning that the Braighe, the causeway linking Stornoway to the Eye peninsula to the east, could be closed for high tide at around 6pm tonight. I went to the shop, a few hundred yards down the road, and found walking into the wind difficult. Darkness is falling as I type (3.45pm). It will remain windy until at least Monday.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tuesday 22 November

After yesterday's calm weather, the wind is beginning to whip up towards galeforce as I type this (2.40pm). More gales on Thursday, with the remnant of tropical disturbance 99L scooting into the Arctic past the Outer Hebrides. I think we should be on our guard, because if this system gets closer than the weathercharts currently predict, we should not be surprised at stormforce winds.

I read an awful letter on the local news website, which (to my mind) serves to reinforce the undeserved impression that Lewis is a place of religious intolerance. A fault of Protestantism is the differing interpretations of the Bible, and everybody claiming to have a hotline to God or Jesus Christ, implying that their reading of the Scriptures is the one that was intended. The Bible, as we all know, is a collection of scriptures, handed down over hundreds if not thousands of years, through translation out of Hebrew, Greek, Latin and what not. I only have to refer to the example of the word caritas to show the pitfalls of translations. I am currently reading the Qu'ran, and this claims that mankind did not get the message out of the Torah or the Gospel; and it does not look as if they got the message out of the Qu'ran either. Or from Martin Luther, Erasmus, Dr Chalmers or whoever. I grew up in Holland, which has two different Dutch Reformed Churches - they are designated by two different words in Dutch for "reformed". The church in my home village is now part of an oecumenical triangle of the two Reformed Churches as well as the Roman Catholic church in the next town. The pastor who wrote the letter is all against people talking to each other. That is how wars start. That is how the situation in Northern Ireland spiralled out of control in the 1970s and on. And that is exactly how NOT to proceed. I hope those attending the service on the second Sunday of Advent will have an enlightening experience.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Sunday 20 November

Another overcast day, but at least it stayed mainly dry and it wasn't really cold. Not that I showed my face outside much to gauge that, to be honest. I have continued to add more portraits of WW1 casualties from Lewis to the Flickr.com group from the Imperial War Museum - where everybody can put up portraits of their ancestors who fought in the Great War.

On Facebook, I have set up a group for everybody that used to blog with AOL Journals, until AOL in their infinite stupidity closed them down in October 2008. If you are on Facebook and want an add: leave a comment. I have already added 144 members, including myself. I'll continue to hunt for more names.

The Eastern Pacific Ocean is 10 days away from the end of its hurricane season, but has spawned a tropical storm, by the name of Kenneth. This system is nearly 600 miles south of Mexico and poses no threat to land. It could develop into a hurricane, well out to sea. Out in the Atlantic, 600 miles from the Lesser Antilles, another disturbance shows promising signs of development. I should add a note of caution, as this disturbance could run up a frontal zone towards western Europe at the very end of the forecasting period. Depressions that originate in the tropics tend to make a rather dramatic impact at our latitude.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

A week in pictures











Saturday 19 November

Another overcast day with only occasional light drizzle. The high humidity made it feel cold though, and the thick cloudcover made it for a typical dark November day. Hoping for a bit more light tomorrow; we have to content with only 8 hours of the sun at the moment at any rate - which will decrease to 6 hours over the next week or so.

A lot has been said on the local news this week about 100 years of Harris Tweed. In 1911, the Orb was established as the trademark for the product, but it was not until 1960 that this was enshrined through an Act of Parliament. Harris Tweed can only be called that if the cloth has been hand-woven in the Outer Hebrides from virgin Scottish wool . The Harris Tweed industry has been reduced to only a shadow of its former self, with the dozen mills in Stornoway all closed down. Only mills in Shawbost and Carloway, about 20 miles west of Stornoway, now produce the cloth in any noticeable volume. Fellow researcher Direcleit has done a critical appraisal of the history of Harris Tweed, as told by Angus Ease Macleod, late of Calbost.

Friday 18 November

A rain-soaked day - not pouring, but just the Hebridean drizzle. And a strong breeze going. Today is Children in Need night, a national fund-raising event, culminating in a 7-hour TV show in the evening. One person has not been able to complete his challenge; a man who was planning to row the 130 miles from Castlebay (Barra) to Stornoway became unstuck when his oar broke off North Uist, half-way through his journey. The RNLI lifeboat had to come to his rescue in amongst high seas and treacherous reefs.

Over the past day or so, a large ship has been docked at the Arnish Fabrication Yard to remove a tall structure which has been camped out there since the summer. It is apparently the bottom structure of a tidal power generator, destined for trial off the island of Eday in Orkney. The other bits have been fabricated at Methil in Fife.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Thursday 17 November

An overcast day which turned rather wet in the last hour before sunset, which occurs at 4pm at the moment. The wind has picked up as well, after a handful of days with hardly any wind. The mercury made quite a jump last night, rising from -1C (30F) at 7pm to +7C (45F) an hour later, accompanied by the wind starting up from the south. Before the rain commenced, it felt very cold, although the mercury was not all that low, at 10C. End of weather report.

At the moment, I am adding portrait photographs to a group on the Flickr.com site for the Imperial War Museum. The IWM has invited all who have pictures of ancestors who fought in the First World War to add their portrait photographs to that group. Since this started on Monday, I have even encountered a picture of a German soldier among the portraits. This is not as strange as it may sound; three years ago, I photographed wargraves at the Royal Naval Cemetery at Lyness in Orkney, which contained 16 German wargraves. Those sailors died when their fleet was scuttled in Scapa Flow in June 1919. Personally, I have no problem with those guys sharing a cemetery with their adversaries in war. In death, all are equal; and it was their adversaries that gave them a decent burial.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tuesday 15 November

As I said in last night's entry, seven years ago I arrived in Lewis from North Uist. And I'm still here. At the time, I had just left Lochmaddy and was making my way north through Berneray. I went on to stay at Kershader for 3 months, then relocated to Stornoway.

MPs have voiced their disapproval of a proposed increase in fuel prices, set to come into effect in two months' time. Certainly in the Scottish islands, fuel prices have gone through the roof. At present, we're paying between £1.44 and £1.53 a litre here in Stornoway (that is up to $9.30 a gallon for American readers), which is held to be crippling. Although we have a good public transport network, many people still rely on their own vehicles to get about. And in October, fares on the local buses were raised as a result of those high fuel prices. The Commons motion I mentioned is not binding on the Government, so the price hike looks set to proceed next January.

Today was a beautiful day in Stornoway, although not very warm. There was hardly any wind, and we had a beautiful sunset. At 4pm. Yes, it's mid-November.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Monday 14 November

Another beautifully sunny day, not very warm though. That is in contrast to the south of the UK, which basked in temperatures of 18C / 64F yesterday. But I don't think I'm going to complain about our 10C / 50F.

Monday appears to be a good day for shopping, if you don't like thronged shops or supermarkets. The Post Office was practically empty when I called in there for stamps, and Tesco was not too bad. Particulary useful as I was pushing someone round in a wheelchair. On that note, when are the pavements in this town going to be levelled? Answer, they will not be.

I just discovered another interesting historical document, pertaining to the provision (or lack thereof) of medical services in the Highlands and Islands. I have often blogged about the Napier Report, but the Dewar Report is far less well known. It was published in 1912 to highlight the poor conditions in which people lived in these parts, with the Island of Lewis being singled out for particularly atrocious circumstances. It is a 43 page document (makes a change from the bulk of 4000+ pages in the Napier Report), and I intend to summarise on my Pentland Road blog this week. Local museums in the Highlands and Islands are encouraged to highlight the centenary of the Dewar Report next year.

Tomorrow is a minorly special day in my calendar: it will be 7 years ago since I came to Lewis.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Sunday 13 November

It's Remembrance Sunday, and I started the day by watching the National Ceremony of Remembrance at the Cenotaph at 11 o'clock this morning. This afternoon, I walked down to the cemetery at Sandwick, about 15 minutes' walk away, and visited the graves of some of the victims of the Iolaire Disaster (pic below). It strikes me that Remembrance appears to be a growing phenomenon in the UK, probably on account of the sacrifice currently being made in Afghanistan, where nearly 400 service personnel have lost their lives since 2001.



It was a beautiful day, and as I type this, the light is fading on a sunny afternoon. There was no wind, and it felt pleasant in a temperature of just over 10C.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday 11 November

This morning, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, thousands of people in the United Kingdom and beyond fell silent. 93 years ago the guns had fallen silent, heralding the start of the Armistice, and eventually the end of the First World War. After the end of the Second World War, November 11th was maintained as a day of remembrance. I am not going to say much else in this post, but will display a number of images, showing the war memorials here in Lewis. The fact that it takes 15 war memorials to remember the war dead of an island, home to 30,000 people in 1914 says enough. 1,350 did not return from the 1914-19 war, 530 were lost in the 1939-45 war.


Thursday, 10 November 2011

Thursday 10 November

Sunshine and some cloud about today, as temperatures remain above average at around 12C / 54F. I have spent the day transcribing tributes to the Fallen from the Isle of Lewis who lost their lives in the last two years of the Second World War. I just need to link the transcribed newspaper articles to the listings of the Fallen on the WW2 tribute. The total number of tributes now stands at just shy of 300. I am rushing to complete this ahead of Armistice Day tomorrow. There is also a separate site with transcripts for the Fallen from WW1, from the years 1917 and 1918.

I was profoundly saddened to receive a message from one of my email and Facebook contacts in Texas. The cancer that had been diagnosed in the duodenum had spread to the stomach, and had progressed all the way to stage IV, terminal cancer. The person concerned does not keep a blog, but those of you who are Facebook contacts with me know who I am talking about.

Kristallnacht

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.