View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 31 January 2011

Monday 31 January

Atrocious weather today, with strong winds (up to galeforce) and persistent rain. I nonetheless ventured out at lunchtime for a rally at the Coastguard Station to join a protest against the proposed closure of the station. They held a short march in front of the station, with banners and placards protesting against the closure. A handful of people held speeches, some very powerful, and with the chant "Save Our Station", the rally was closed at 1.30pm.

Trades union banners

Save Our Station

The march

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Sunday 30 January

After a spell of heavy rain and high winds, the sun has come out to grace us with its presence for the last hour of daylight. There was a cloud of seagulls over the harbour outside my window, and when I went down to find out what attracted 400 gulls it turned out to be BIRDSEED. Lewis Crofters stock birdseed and other stuff, and as we have not had any heavy rain for a while, a lot of it got washed down the stormdrain and ended up in the harbour.

A moutain walker in the Highlands is the luckiest man alive, after he fell down 1,000 feet off a mountain top, east of Ben Nevis. He was spotted by the crew of a helicopter, who had been sent to his rescue. They did not believe he was the casualty, as he was standing up and reading his map. However, when the chopper crew saw the trail of debris, leading from the summit to the point where the man was standing, it did become clear he was the casualty.

Not so lucky were the passengers on a train in the German state of Sachsen-Anhalt, when it collided head-on with a goods train near Magdeburg. Ten of them died, and 33 were injured. The cause of the crash, which headed on a single-track line, is not clear. German railways (DB) have a good safety record.

I have completed the website for the casualties from the Uists and Barra from WW1 and WW2, replacing two separate webpages. I do not have as much information on the Uists as I had for Lewis, so hope it does serve some purpose.

And today brought more sadness to J-land, when I was told that Angie Marshall (Can you all hear me at the back?) had passed away unexpectedly. I was not a regular reader of her blog, but the expressions of grief over the past few hours have shown she was well loved in the community, and will be sorely missed.

Saturday 29 January

A bright day, but the high cloud does not bode too well for the near future. Went outside Stornoway for the first time this year, to Bosta Beach in Great Bernera. That's about 30 miles by road. Bosta is one of my favourites in the island; I also wanted to go there to see the Time and Tide Bell that was installed there last July. It was not working, as the clapper appeared to be missing. In the evening, we gave the restaurant in the An Lanntair [Lantern] arts centre another try, and this time everything was good. Prompt service, good food and a decent price. I'll spare you the disasters that have befallen me there over the past five years.

Looking towards Roineabhal from the Bernera road

Old and new: the slipway for the pre-1950s ferry to Great Bernera, and the bridge

Loch Barraglom, near the Bernera Bridge


Bosta cemetery

Tide and Time Bell

At Bosta Beach

Hurricane update - 30 January

The Australian state of Queensland will take delivery of two tropical cyclones this week. Anthony is headed for landfall near the town of Ayr later today or early tomorrow. Its highest winds are at 45 knots, that's 50 mph or equivalent to force 10 on the Beaufort scale. The Australian weather service is issuing warnings.

I am far more worried about tropical cyclone Yasi, which has formed between Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, 1500 miles east northeast of Queensland. The Joint Typhoon Warning Center is forecasting that this storm will blow up to an upper-end category III hurricane, striking the Queensland coast near Cairns with winds of 110 knots, 120 mph, on Friday of this week.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Friday 28 January

The day started fairly bright, but cloud increased and when the sun went down, just after 4.30pm, there was some rain. We'll get more of the wet stuff through the night. Did I mention we had the saltboat and the coalboat in at the same time on Wednesday? Well, the coalboat usually leaves the town painted black, with lumps of coal scattered along the streets.
I spent a few hours in the library, to look up the croft histories for South Uist. I am not very familiar with that island, and I had to check the Gaelic names of the townships there against the English ones I have on file. I shall now incorporate those on my Berneray to Vatersay tribute site.

Thursday 27 January

I have blogged about two things, Auschwitz Memorial Day and the ditching of an RAF Tornado jetfighter off Rubha Reidh lighthouse. I spent the day processing the information I gleaned from the Berneray and North Uist croft histories, and putting a tribute to Barra on the Net as well.

Croft histories show each and every person who has occupied a croft since about the middle of the 18th century, in some cases. A croft is a piece of land that is leased from a landowner. It is not by definition a farm. Neither does it automatically include buildings. Houses, sheds or whatever are regarded as improvements. Crofts in the 21st century may well have a ruin of a blackhouse on it, which was rendered uninhabitable in order for the crofter to be able to apply for a grant to built a modern house on it. To my knowledge, nobody lives in a blackhouse the way it was done up to the middle of the 20th century. Apart from the crofter, the leaseholder, there used to be cottars (a peasant farmer), who would work for the crofter, but did not hold land as such.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Crashed Tornado jetfighter

A Tornado jetfighter has crashed northwest of Rubha Reidh lighthouse, 18 miles southeast of Stornoway. Two crew ejected and were recovered from the water by Coastguard helicopter, and flown to hospital in Inverness. RNLI lifeboats were launched from Stornoway and Portree. Coastguard tug Anglian Earl is on the scene of the crash to try to recover the wreckage - as shown on this image from AIS Minch.

It's ironic that there is a vigorous debate over the closure of Coastguard Stations, and of the RAF base at Lossiemouth, where the Tornado was based.

Auschwitz Memorial Day

Today it is 66 years ago since the infamous Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Soviet forces. More than a million people, mainly Jews, were killed there during the Second World War. The process was conducted as an industrial process. To date, some of the goods left behind by the victims of the Holocaust remain on display. These include suitcases with name tags, spectacle frames, hair and shoes. I have never visited Auschwitz and am not likely to. January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day, remembering all the victims of the Nazi's policy of extermination of all those they considered to be sub-human. We must never forget. 

Wednesday 26 January

An overcast and cold day, although it has stayed dry.
Scottish politician Tommy Sheridan, who once headed the Scottish Socialist Party, has been sentenced to 3 years in jail for perjury. He lied under oath whilst fighting a defamation case against the Sunday tabloid News of the World which had alleged that Mr Sheridan had visited a sex-club in Manchester. The trial was a sordid affair, and I could not get over that Monday evening news bulletin on Radio Scotland, last November, when a list of people was read out who had had sex with each other.

Sordid is the word to describe the News of the World, which is gutter press at its worst. I was positively astonished that British prime minister David Cameron appointed a former editor of that rag to be his communications advisor. Do you know why he needs somebody like that? Mr Cameron has been educated at Eton (a private school for the very privileged) and therefore hasn't got a clue what goes on for Johnny Average. Anyway, Andy Coulson got sacked over allegations over phone hacking / tapping, that his journalists are said to have carried out over the years. Some of their alleged victims are high-ranking politicians like former PMs Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Sordid is also the saga around two sports commentators, who were caught on microphone as saying that a female linesman at a soccer football match would not know the off-side rule, because she was a woman. The person concerned to be a very capable linesman at a Premier League football match. It got worse, when one of the commentators was seen asking a female production assistant to tuck a microphone into his trousers, and discussing (on camera) a woman, in such language that the broadcaster concerned would not show us anymore. Although one of the men concerned has apologised to the linesman, the other would only offer his excuses over his contribution to the furore, not over his language or his attitude to women.
I thought we had come a long way in society with regards to sex discrimination, bearing in mind that women now get to high positions just as easily as men. I am even more disgusted with football than I already was now that I see this rampant sexism coming into the open.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

BBC World Service

I am extremely angry tonight at the announcement that more than 600 staff at the BBC World Service are to be made redundant (that's a quarter of its workforce), and five of its language services shut down. This follows a 16% cut in its budget, as supplied by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I have gone so far as to describe this as state-sponsored vandalism, which takes no account of the invaluable work that the BBC WS does around the world.

I have been a supporter of the BBC WS since the early 1980s, and although I do not listen to the station at the moment, that does not diminish my appreciation of its work. In many areas of the world, its output is often the only source of reliable information, particularly before the advent of the Internet. But as anyone with a modicum of common sense will realise, you have to be careful which sources to use on the Net.
I fully support any (lawful) action taken to reverse these cuts, and do hope that a reversal will take place.

Tuesday 25 January

Overcast with occasional light rain. 'Nuff said about the weather here.

It's Burns Night in Scotland, and it's haggis and whisky galore. Tortured renditions of Burns prose and poetry will be the order of the night, made even more tortured by the water of life. Haggis is an offal-based meat dish, and various bits and pieces of a sheep's innards are turned into basically mutton mince, packed into a sheep's stomach. This is served with neeps (turnips). I've tasted it once, and it's not far off mincemeat; but knowing how it's made it is not something I'd care to repeat in a hurry. Our local supermarket has shelves, laden with haggis. Leaving my slight sarcasm to one side, I would like to state that Robert Burns did not just write in Scots, he also wrote in perfect English. This is in Scots, with verses 1, 3 and 5 read by Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond:

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.

Over in Shetland, it is Up Helly Aa tonight. The streetlights will be turned off at around 7.30pm, after which a torchlit procession will carry the boat through the town. It will then be put in place and all the torches tossed into the boat, which will duly burn to a cinder. Celebrations will last until and beyond first light (around 8.30 am). I dread to think what the combination of Burns and Vikings will do to the Shetlanders; but when asked what Burns meant to Hebrideans, the answer was a simple 'not much'.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Monday 24 January

An overcast and at times wet day, with a cold wind blowing. Not very enjoyable to be outside, to be honest.
I was just watching a documentary on the people who keep sheep in remote islands, off Lewis and Harris. On the Shiant Islands, this is extremely hard, partly on account of the crazily angled terrain, partly on account of the fickle weather conditions.

Tomorrow, I intend to start compiling a map, showing all the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries around the world where casualties from Lewis lie buried. That is 400 locations, including war memorials. I also want to check up on the Harris casualties of both world war. There is far less documentation on their number than on their Lewis comrades.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sad news

A second blogger has passed away; yesterday (Saturday 22nd), Daria Maluta lost her fight with cancer. This is a profoundly sad day for our community, and I'm having to pull myself up by the bootstraps quite sharply.

Bill and Daria: Rest in Peace.

Sunday 23 January

My father is 77 years old today, and is having a full house over in Holland. I sent him a present (courtesy Amazon) a week or so back, which I hope will come in useful this coming summer.

I was very sad to learn of the death of fellow blogger Bill Janssen, who died two months ago after a sudden but short illness. Others had been asking how he was, after he did not post after November 21st last. It appears he died a week after that. I tried to email Bill, but got a reply back from his son, Bill Jr, with the message. I have posted on Facebook and on the Call for Support journal, and the messages are flooding in. Not all my readers will be aware of my affiliation with the J-land [AOL Journals] Community, which goes back to 2005. Until October 2008, there were hundreds of bloggers in the US and the UK who were linked together courtesy their on-line blogs. When AOL deleted the journals in '08, we emigrated en-masse to Blogger (and other providers), losing many along the way. But courtesy Facebook and Twitter, the strands are pulled together again, and the community is resurfacing. I have noticed that there are people who scoff at the notion of on-line friendships and the like - but I am preaching to the converted if you are reading this. Bill's journal will remain on the Net, as a tribute to him. In the years to come, people will call round and leave a message in remembrance, as is commonly done with the many other journals left behind by those who went before. Bill - Rest In Peace.

Stornoway had a bright and sunny day - except for that one rogue shower at lunchtime - and there are promising buds on the trees and shrubs. However, it's very early days, we still have two months of winter ahead of us.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Saturday 22 January

Not a bad day by any standard. Although it was mostly cloudy, there were some chinks in the overhead cloud cover, and neither was it really cold. 9C this afternoon. At the moment, we're having spring tides, with the most interesting aspect being the low tide. Tomorrow afternoon's ebb tide will clock in at 0.3m (1 ft), which should allow for some exploration of the tide line for any shellfish.

These men are two of the kidnappers of Linda Norgrove, who was kidnapped last autumn. She died when American troops mounted a rescue bid, which went disastrously wrong. The picture was taken by Linda herself, and is one of several found on her camera and mobile phone. The image has been released by Linda's parents, John and Lorna Norgrove, to highlight the humanitarian issues that are current in Afghanistan. Apparently, Linda was kidnapped for money. It also puts the US rescue mission in a different perspective. Whilst I do not fault them for mounting the rescue bid, I maintain that a peaceful, negotiated, settlement could have been reached. And at the end of the day, the responsibility for Linda's death lies squarely with the two pictured above - and their comrades. They paid the price.
Over the past decade, I have felt that American troops have gone barging into places like Iraq and Afghanistan without doing their homework - shoot first, think of the consequences later. Perhaps I should qualify this, as it's the politicians that send the poor sods in without giving them the proper background information.
(Image courtesy

Friday, 21 January 2011

Picture post - 21 January

Sunset colours, Balallan, 4.20pm

Pairc War Memorial, Kershader


Ram and ewe

Loch Erisort, looking east

In the Pairc Museum, Ravenspoint

Friday 21 January

Quite a nice day, with good spells of sunshine. And I cannot grumble about daytime temps of +8C, 46F, in spite of the breeze that was blowing. In the afternoon, I jumped on the bus to Lochs to visit the Ravenspoint Centre at Kershader, 22 miles (by road) from Stornoway. The journey takes about 40 minutes. Once at the Ravenspoint Centre, it took me the grand total of five minutes to realise that I would not find any of the information required about 18th and 19th century residents of Cromore, 8 miles east of Kershader. So, I had a little while to go on a short walk. The bus journey back was punctuated by primary school kids who all had to pile out of the people carrier in order to let me on. I was back in Stornoway at 5pm, and it was not yet fully dark. We are now one month from the shortest day, and the days are lengthening nicely.

I've taken about 40 pics, and will post those in a separate entry shortly.

Lost at sea

The fishing boat, belonging to a Shetland fisherman, reported missing last night, was found wrecked on rocks on the Isle of Bressay, just east of Lerwick. I'm awaiting further details.

A passenger has been reported missing from a ferry, which had sailed from Larne in Northern Ireland to Cairnryan in southwestern Scotland. The vessel, the European Highlander has been thoroughly searched, and air and sea searches are underway.

Jo Yeates

This lady was murdered on December 17th, after she had gone out to buy some food in the city of Bristol. On Christmas Day, her remains were recovered along a frozen country road near the city. She had been strangled. Initially, her landlord was arrested on suspicion of her murder,  but he was later released on bail. Yesterday, a Dutch architect, Vincent Tabak, was apprehended in Bristol. He was Jo's next-door neighbour. Vincent came to Bristol in 2007 and according to Dutch broadcaster NOS lived there with his girlfriend.

I was taken aback by ITV [a commercial broadcaster in the UK] which had cameras in Mr Tabak's hometown of Veghel, north of Eindhoven in Holland. I'm not surprised people there were reluctant to discuss the case. Under Dutch law, a suspect is not identified by his full name, only by first name and the first letter of the surname.

This morning, police were granted more time to interrogate Mr Tabak, and further investigations at addresses in Bristol continue.

Thursday 20 January

A cold January day, but at least it was dry. Went to the library, where even the librarian had to search high and low for the booklet I was wanting - only for me to discover it did not hold the information I required. So, a visit to the community centre in South Lochs is imminent. I also continued my searches on the Internet for another aspect of local history, the results of which are posted on my Pentland Road blog.

Still on aspects of local history, I discovered that WW1 and WW2 casualties from Lewis are buried and / or remembered in 400 different locations across the globe. I intend to compile a Google Map with them all, a nice little project. Oh, I made a very nice discovery in the library (no details), which (to my mind) has endorsed and vindicated my activities in the field of local history in Lewis.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Zodiac shift

We all heard about the shifted zodiac signs? Well, you may be interested (or not) to hear that the Pole Star at the time of the Pyramids was called Kochab, a minor star in the constellation of Ursa Minor. And even longer ago, it was Vega, the primary star in Lyra.

What happens is that the Earth wobbles around its axis in a cycle of about 23,000 years. This means that the axis will veer round over that period of time to point at a different part of the sky. In other words, there will be a different North Star over the millennia, see image below.

Apart from this perhaps obscure aspect of astronomy, it has had the astrologers in a tizz in recent times. Since the signs of the Zodiac were defined, the above described phenomenon has moved the apparent star signs round by one position. And someone has also ordained that there is now a 13th star sign, Ophiuchus (the Snake Bearer), which can be found near Scorpio. The sun moves into each star sign a month later than in the distant past. Fortunately, someone else has ordained that nothing has changed, so you can stick to your original star sign in your horrorscope, and your future has not changed.

If you Google about "Zodiac shift" you'll find some articles written in atrocious English. 

Wednesday 19 January

Another acceptable January day in the Western Isles, with some sunshine about. It's not warm and there is a bit of a breeze blowing. But dress up well, and there is little to complain about. I spent a little while in the library, looking up some information on 19th century residents of the village of Leurbost, some 8 miles south of Stornoway. There is one more look-up pending, this time for 18th century residents of Cromore, which lies 12 miles south of Stornoway by sea but 30 miles by road.

Separate from that, I am going to compile a map of places where Lewis servicemen lie buried who gave their life in WW1 and WW2. I was pointed to a similar map of casualties from Portsmouth.

Last week, my father told me about a problem in his town by email. Last night, I received a text from him, suggesting that the problem had surfaced again. His puzzled response led me to the conclusion that the problem had only occurred once, and that his text message had taken FIVE DAYS to reach me.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Fuel prices

I have mentioned that fuel prices here in Lewis are at a ridiculous level. This has prompted at least one person of my acquaintance to relocate closer to their place of work, with the object of ditching the car. An average car would take about £60-£70 to fill up with fuel at the £1.49 / litre rates for diesel at the moment. The relocation is apparently a common occurrence at the moment. One thing that annoys me is the variation of fuel prices across the Highlands and Islands. A tanker leaves the refinery at Grangemouth, east of Edinburgh, and supplies fuel oil to the north of Scotland, places like Aberdeen, Inverness, Scrabster (on the north coast) and Stornoway. Why is it though that petrol costs less in Inverness than in Stornoway? There is no justification for this at all.

There is one positive slant - fewer cars around, and possibly people taking to their bikes or shanks' pony. Good for health, unless the pavements and roads are icy.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Tuesday 18 January

Quite a nice day, but not very warm. The sun set an hour ago, with some clouds over the horizon. It's been a calm and quiet day, as I process the results from my researches in the island croft histories. Tomorrow, I shall look at these books again, this time at the request of another researcher. I may also have to go out of town to check records that have not been published by an island genealogist, Bill Lawson. It is these books that I am currently using for reference, but the range, covering all of Lewis, is by no means complete.

Did I mention that fuel prices here in Stornoway are close to £1.50 a litre? That, for my American readers, equates to $9 per gallon. The fact that remote communities will not get a so-called fuel-derogation has led to an angry outburst by local MPs against the Treasury. Funnily enough, the UK government is going to introduce a minimum price for alcohol, a measure opposed by members of the Scottish Parliament in 2010. Oh well, just as well I don't drink much (alcohol), and that I don't own a car.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Without the Internet

Without the internet? I would not be able to do what I have been able to do over the past decade, and especially over the last 7 years or so. But who am I in the grand scheme of things. No, I am writing this post with several events in mind.

Without the Internet, Julian Assange would never have been able to globally publicise the documents that were leaked to his organisation from the American government. That in itself has only led to embarrassment to the US authorities, not just because of the leak, but also over the persecution of Mr Assange. Worse is yet to come. Today, it was revealed that a former Swiss banker has leaked data on 2,000 secret Swiss bank accounts to Wikileaks. These could implicate dozens of people in high office; any pertaining to UK residents could lead to investigation by the Serious Fraud Squad and prosecution. Without the Internet, this would never have happened.

Without the Internet, the people of Tunisia would never have been empowered to rise up against their autocratic leader, forcing him to flee the country. Without the Internet, the demonstrations in Iran against alleged fraud in the reelection of its president last year, would never have made it onto the world stage. They would have been brutally suppressed, and hardly a beep leaked to the outside world. And, on the subject of Iran, without the Internet, the Stuxnet worm would not have been conceived, or been able to disrupt the workings of Iranian uranium enrichment plants.

Without the Internet, seemingly impenetrable bastions of power are now vulnerable. Swiss banks, thought to be the safest in the world, are now shown to be as strong as their weakest links: the much feared disgruntled employee. And he can be prosecuted, fined, jailed, even put to death. But the information is out there; and even disrupting the website does not help, as the establishment of dozens if not hundreds of mirror-websites will render that defence futile.

The Internet has come of age, and the second decade of the twenty-first century is opening to a whole new, brave world, which operates to new rules. The old ones are becoming defunct.

This video shows the opening credits to the 1995 BBC series "People's Century". Which person, alive in 1900, would ever have been able to envisage what the world would be like 111 years later? And who, alive today, will be able to imagine the world in 2122? We won't be there to see it.

Monday 16 January

The flurry of tropical cyclone activity in the southern oceans has come to an end - for now. TC Zelia has turned into a storm depression which will lash New Zealand over the next day or so. Nothing else appears to be forming, but the southern hemisphere season is yet young - equivalent to July in the northern season.

Here in the far north of Scotland, it has turned perceptibly colder. After 10 degrees over the weekend, the 5C this afternoon felt quite cold. The hat and gloves came in handy as I made my way into town for a stint in the library. I went through the croft histories for several townships in order to glean more information on some of the WW1 casualties, for whom I only have scant information. I have already made amendments to more than half a dozen names, and more are to follow as I continue to process the information.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sunday 16 January

Quite a nice day, but breezy and feeling cold in the wind. There were a few showers out and about earlier, but it has turned dry through the afternoon.

The weather remains the main topic, as I continue to monitor the one tropical cyclone currently left in the southern hemisphere: Zelia is racing southeast across the Pacific at a breathtaking 24 knots (nearly 30 mph), with winds near its centre of 105 mph. The storm will cease to be a TC within about 48 hours, before it reaches New Zealand. As I type, Zelia is west of New Caledonia, which will experience strong winds and heavy rains in the north.

I intend to gather some more information on some of the WW1 casualties from Lewis, by taking a look at the croft histories for parts of the islands. These show the people that lived on each croft since it was established as such - usually in the late 18th century. There are about 80-90 names that I have too little information on, and I hope to get some clarity for about half of that number.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Saturday 15 January

I am typing this blogpost whilst trying not to be annoyed over the murder being committed on a Chopin piano concerto on Classic FM. The interpretation is laboured, heavy and the pianist sounds as if he has his nose pressed against the score, wondering how he is going to reach the end of that lot of peasoup that Frederic jotted down a century and a half ago. Classic FM tells me that it comes from an album entitled "Bullets and Lullabys", compiled by James Rhodes. Well, how apt.

Saturday started decidedly wild, and it's been a while since we had a gale. The ferry crew wasn't sure they were going to do all the runs today first thing, but I saw the Isle of Lewis heading out at half past two, and no further indication on the Calmac website that there was going to be further disruption. After today's high, 10C, the highest for nearly two months, we are likely to see slightly colder weather with night frosts into the new week.

Here in Scotland, we are due elections to the Scottish Parliament, and the pary-political skermishing is already starting up as the main parties are selecting their candidates. Please don't ask me to explain the system of proportional representation they have in place in Scotland. In practice, you have constituency MSPs and regional MSPs. Yes, I know, it's easier to explain that the universe is based on the square root of minus one. For the next four months we're going to be subjected to all sorts of rubbish, not just from the candidates but also from everybody else who is a party faithful and thinks they know it all.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Friday 14 January

I am slowly getting rid of another bout of cold, which crept up on me through the week. Just as well I had this new box of hankies in, they've been going at a rate of knots. Nonetheless, I have not really got any reasons for complaint, if I see what nature is throwing at Queensland and Brazil.

Here in the Western Isles, it is a day of brightness and showers (I have not seen the sun as such today), and we are on warning for a gale tonight. The overnight freight ferry, MV Muirneag, has been cancelled.

There is a bit of a wrangle going on regarding the closure of local schools. Eleven had been earmarked for closure, but the junior secondary schools in Lionel (Ness) and Shawbost have been reprieved by the Scottish Government, as have the primary schools in Carloway and Seilebost (Harris). The council is displeased, because this puts a spanner in their works of revamping education in the isles. Local parents are pleased though, as it means that children can be taught closer to home.

Again on the subject of natural disasters, there are two tropical cyclones around that people should be wary of. TC Vania is currently traversing New Caledonia, an island some 1,000 miles east of Cairns, Australia. The storm carries winds of about force 10 on the Beaufort scale. More worrying is TC Zelda, which has blown up off the eastern tip of Papua New Guinea. This system will reach hurricane force within 24 hours as it marches southeast across the Pacific. New Caledonia could (again) get a swipe from it, and New Zealand will probably see the storm when it has ceased being a cyclone - but still a nasty storm depression.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Thursday 13 January

Darkness has fallen on an indifferent day, very grey and lightless. Although the days are lengthening, it is still very much mid-winter.

I am not very pleased with my on-line travelagents, whom I contacted to submit a claim for compensation after my delayed journey to Holland last month. They got back to me today, telling me to send my claim to the wrong airline. Wonderful. I can see an insurance claim coming up.

Floods seems to be the order of the day. The flood at Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, has peaked at nearly 3 feet below the predicted level. The devastation remains huge, and I anticipate the loss of life to rise further. Two or three tropical cyclones surround Australia, although none will affect the landmass of that continent directly.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Wednesday 12 January

A much milder day in Lewis today, and not too bad in terms of weather. The ice has nearly all gone now, and for the first time since November 26th, I am seeing green grass again. That is seven weeks... I'm nonetheless not complaining about weather, certainly not after seeing the devastation wrought in Queensland. An area of about 300,000 sq miles is inundated there, after rainfalls of 11 inches within 24 hours in places. The death toll continues to rise slowly, but once this is all over, it will be much, much higher than the dozen or so currently on the list. This video shows the incredible power of the water as it rises in a flash flood, emptying a car park of cars and not in the conventional manner.

Meanwhile, two tropical cyclones are around Australia as well. Vince is headed for the west coast of Australia, but is not expected to affect mainland WA. Vania is expected to pass near or over New Caledonia by Friday. My tropical cyclones blog is taking its usual high number of readings, with nearly 700 today. The one-day record of 2,300, taken when cyclone Gamede threatened Mauritius in 2007, is yet to be bettered.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Hurricane update - 11 January

Not had a hurricane update post for more than two months, but we're now having the first tropical cyclone of 2011. It currently goes by the prosaic title of 05P, meaning it is in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean. The system is located in the archipelago of Vanuatu, where the southern provinces are on alert. 05P will move southwest and cross the Grand Ile of New Caledonia [Nouvelle Caledonie] on Thursday (Friday local time) at nearly hurricane force. I am posting updates on my Tropical Cyclones blog.

Australia's year of disasters

The floods in the Australian state of Queensland are getting worse and worse. It all started before Christmas with a tropical storm near Cairns, which was followed by a protracted period of rain. This led to extensive and deep flooding, with the situation around the town of Rockhampton, 700 miles further south, being particularly dire. This now appears to have been eclipsed by flooding around the state capital, Brisbane, where 6 inches of rain fell within 75 minutes last night. Walls of water, up to 20 feet (6 m) deep have come crashing down the river valley, sweeping away everything in its path. A dozen people have died in the floods, although the casualty toll may not be known accurately until the floods subside. Queensland's state government publishes emergency updates on this link.

Elsewhere in Australia:
Over the next few days, the state of Western Australia will have to look over its shoulder, as a tropical cyclone appears to be forming 900 km to the north of Exmouth. Once it has formed, it will double back on its present westerly course and could pose a threat to the Pilbara or Kimberley coasts.

A similar hazard exists some 700 miles east of Queensland, where a tropical cyclone could form in the island state of Vanuatu. Four provinces of Vanuatu are on Yellow or Blue Alert at present.

Tuesday 11 January

A bright and sunny day, although the sun has now disappeared behind a veil of high cloud that is moving in from the west. Rain and sleet are on the menu tonight, and a gradual thaw is forecast for tomorrow. Today's max was +5C just after midnight; five hours later, the mercury had dipped to -3C. We're just above freezing, but that has not done much for the perilous state of the pavements. Yesterday morning, the presenter on local radio station Isles FM broke her arm whilst walking along the road to the station. I copy the story from the station's website:

Isles FM presenter Kathleen MacIver was a casualty of the winter ice yesterday morning - but she didn't let it stop her presenting live radio for two and a half hours. Kathleen slipped and fell on icy pavements on Newton Street at 5.30am, breaking a bone in her elbow and bruising her leg badly. After crawling to a kerb and getting back on her feet, she limped in to the radio station and was on air at 7.30am. "I did the show with one arm and between gritted teeth," said Kathleen, who did not tell listeners of the pain she was in. Fellow presenter Lionel Sewell took over soon after 9am and Kathleen went to Western Isles Hospital, where a broken elbow was diagnosed. Managing director David Morrison said: "That she still went in to do the breakfast show with a broken arm says a great deal about Kathleen. Not many people would have done that." She's now on bedrest and forbidden to work until she has recovered completely! 

Six years ago today

11 January 2005 is one of those days that everybody who was in the Outer Hebrides at the time will not forget. A deep Atlantic depression moved past our islands, bringing with it winds of force 12 on the Beaufort scale, with gusts in excess of 130 mph. At the time, I was staying in Kershader, 12 miles south of Stornoway as the crow flies - more like 22 miles by road. At 6.22pm, the power went off, not to go back on again for 48 hours. The wind was already howling around the building. Blue flashing lights penetrated the darkness from across Loch Erisort - police cars were stopping traffic on the Stornoway to Tarbert road after a lorry driver reported a sheep flying past his windscreen. The driver of the South Lochs bus that night was mightily relieved to make it home in one piece, he told me later. Trees were downed, roofs taken off, vehicles crushed under trees - and hundreds of them toppled in the Castle Grounds in Stornoway. High tides lapped at the doors of people on Cromwell Street and Bayhead in the town. Boats were torn off their moorings and smashed into the ferry terminal. Slates became like missiles, and pedestrians blown off their feet. Some who sought refuge were denied entry; others were taken inside.

The next morning dawned breezy and bright. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief. That was a bad one, but it's only damage. By 9.20 am however, reports start to emerge from the Southern Isles. Five people are missing in South Uist, after they fled their home the previous evening at around 7pm. Rising tides had started to approach their home, and pebbles were hurled against walls and windows. They enter two cars and drive from their home at Eochdar towards the causeway, linking South Uist and Benbecula. A fatal decision. That road parallels the stretch of sea that separates the two islands. The southeasterly storm, combined with a springtide from the northwest pushed the waters of Loch Bi up; but on account of the floodtide they could not drain into the sea. The loch flooded a small causeway, sweeping the cars into the water. By morning, the five missing people are found dead. They include a mother and father with two young children and a grandfather.

This is a repost from an entry I made on 11 January 2010.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Monday 10 January

An overcast and chilly day, although the mercury is slowly creeping up. The pavements in this town are in a hazardous state, but as the thaw progresses, this should steadily improve. Whether the weather contributed to an accident involving a school bus at Galson is not known. Nobody was injured when the vehicle went into the ditch on its way to town.

I am very pleased to hear that the harsh rhetoric in American politics is finally being called to account. Since Barack Obama came into office, two years ago this month, I have been quite frankly disturbed by the highly charged tone of political debate in the States in that time. It is a good thing that there is an open debate, and that politicians are criticised, where criticism is due. But people like Glenn Beck and the Teaparty Movement should really examine their consciences as to whether the tone of their criticism could have contributed to pushing the murderer of the six at Tucson over the edge. Jared Loughner is accountable for his own actions - if his mental state is deemed to be such that he can stand trial. I hope we will see some change in tone from here on.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Sunday 9 January

Kept a quiet day today, with lots of television (not all good). The weather was reasonable, with good spells of sunshine but low temperatures. Some freezing rain this evening, but it would seem that the mercury will rise during the week. At least we'll be rid of the ice-locked pavements. I've "enjoyed" that since late November, and the fun is wearing thin.

I was horrified to hear of the shooting of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in Tucson, Arizona, yesterday. The death of six bystanders was even more shocking. Whatever the reasons for the gunman, I am pleased he was captured alive to face justice. I am aware of a strident debate within the state of Arizona, which borders Mexico, on the subject of immigration. Whether that had any bearing on this incident is not known; some people appear to think the polarisation of that debate may have contributed to it. I can obviously not comment.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Saturday 8 January

A nice sunny day, after yesterday's heavy snowfall. We are due more heavy snow showers tomorrow. Perversely, I am told by my family in Holland that the mercury there has leapt up to 11C / 52F. Not so here; the thermometer at the airport has not risen above freezing all day, and is currently plunging down: -4C a quarter of an hour ago. The snow on the pavement turned to ice overnight, making the walk into town a slip-sliding affair. Pavements are not cleared of snow or ice. The wintry conditions have also caused travel disruption in the air.

The American government has demanded that the website hand over all details of supporters of Wikileaks. This has been endorsed by a court order, which has prompted Twitter to describe the action as harassment. I am of the opinion that this court action is not so much upholding the law of the land as upholding the illusion that the emperor wears clothes, if you catch my meaning. Whilst releasing classified documents is an offence, it seems that thus far, the only casualties of the whole operation has been one diplomat's career and the good standing (what good standing) of the US government overseas. I am quite frankly appalled.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Switzerland, 1983

In July 1983, we went on a family holiday to Switzerland, at the resort of Blatten, marked on the below map. I am sharing a handful images from that time.

Sparrhorn mountain, 3,021 m [10,070 ft]

Belalp resort overview

Matterhorn mountain, Zermatt

Friday 7 January

The dominating theme of today is the snow, and I'll let the imagery do the talking. Suffice to say that the airport shut late in the afternoon, and there is a nice blanket of the stuff now that darkness has fallen.

Going like the clapper

I could not help but smirk when I read that the clapper for the main bell in Cologne Cathedral had fallen down. You may recall from my 23 December post on the Shell Gallery that I was less than impressed with the reception in the Cathedral. It is of course no laughing matter that an 800 kg metal object comes crashing down from a height of about 400 feet; but its fall was fortunately broken by a metal structure further down the tower. The main bell itself weighs 24 tons. "Fat Peter" is only rung on a few occasions, and the clapper broke into pieces on January 6th (yesterday) as the bell was rung for Epiphany. Nobody was hurt in the incident. The clapper is likely to be recast. [source:, in Dutch].

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Thursday 6 January

Epiphany today; some Orthodox Christian churches celebrate Christmas today. Pope Gregory put the calendar forward by 12 days in 1582, but Orthodox churches did not adopt this change.

It was a wintry day today, with frequent snow showers sweeping over Stornoway. The ferry is sailing normally, after being repaired following a breakdown on Hogmanay. The Muirneag, which carries our freight, is not going out tonight due to adverse weather conditions.

During my absence in Holland, I received a large amount of information on a former president of the London Gaelic Society, who originated from the Isle of Lewis. Roderick Mcleod was involved with the LGS for decades, between 1882 and 1930. I shall summarise his information on my local history blog Pentland Road.

Picture post - 5 January

Rising above a closed cloud cover over western Holland and the North Sea

Amassed snow at Gatwick - remember the snow disruption over Christmas?

Snow showers moving south over Lancashire, leaving snow visible on the ground

Snow over the Lammermuir hills south of Edinburgh

Edinburgh and the Forth Bridges

Last light over central Scotland, 5.31pm

Wednesday 5 January

The journey back to Stornoway went without a hitch, unlike the outward trip. The taxi came as booked around 5.45 am and took us to the railway station in Arnhem, 4 miles away. The direct train to Schiphol Airport departed at 6.16 am, and filled up with commuters for the cities of Utrecht and Amsterdam along the way. Arrived at the airport at 7.30 am, and breezed through check-in to gate D21. Plane was a tad late, but everybody got on fine and we left for London Gatwick at around 9.30. After a flight above clouds, the weather at Gatwick was clear and fine; big banks of snow a vestige of the all the snow bother from before Christmas. I am a bit annoyed that I had to go through the security rigmarole again; I could just as easily have gone through a side-door if I had known which gate. But I did not, so I kicked my heels in the departure lounge between 9.45 and 11.45. Bought an Independent and did all the Sudoku puzzles. Flight 8922 to Edinburgh was pretty full, but it got us there nicely on time at 1.45. Had some lunch at Edinburgh, but the Christmas jingles drove me up the wall. It's January 5th, for goodness' sake. I asked the Flybe desk to reprint my boarding pass (which was not possible before I left Holland), then spent two and a half hours watching planes come and go. Darkness fell after 4 o'clock, and my flight was finally called at 5 pm. Once they managed to lock the hold door, we took off for Stornoway at 5.30. Could still see some daylight on the southwestern horizon, but that soon faded. Showers greeted us across the Minch, and we landed at Stornoway at 6.30. A taxi took me back to town for the usual £6.

I'll post some pics in a separate entry.