View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Monday, 28 February 2011

Monday 28 February

The day started very sunny, but cloud moved up at lunchtime and the wind picked up. It felt chilly in the wind, little surprise if you know that the overnight low was -2C. The daytime max stands at 9C / 48F. Whatever rain we were supposed to have is now over the west coast of northern Scotland.

I heard that heavy showers are moving over the southeastern USA with a threat of tornadoes. Looks like an early start to the tornado season, but I'm not familiar with the normal weather patterns through the year in that part of the world.

I could not believe my ears when I heard the latest interview with Col Gaddafi, in which he expressed his conviction that all his people loved him. More chilling was the threat from one of his spokesmen that 'hundreds of thousands' would die, with the legacy likely to last for decades to come. We are by now familiar with the threats of civil war, but Gaddafi is known to have stockpiles of mustard gas. It is fortunate that his support is leaching away at a rate of knots; it was surprising how quickly it dissipated under pressure. The end game is shrouded in an impregnable fog - only time will tell.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sunday 27 February

A cool but very sunny day today, with only the odd shower. One or two hailshowers this morning, but nothing worthwhile since. The shower clouds were visible this earlier, but the rainfall radar tells me they are now peppering the coast of western Scotland. The northerly wind makes it feel decidedly cool, particularly noticeable when we headed across to the Braighe at Melbost, just east of the airport this morning. Although it was nice and sunny, the wind took the edge of the warmth of the sun. March is only two days away, but spring is very late in coming to this part of the Hebrides; trees do not usually come into full leaf until May.

Tunisia has seen some more very serious violence, resulting in a number of deaths and the resignation of the prime minister. Libya looks set to become the scene of a pitched battle just west of Tripoli, as Gaddafi loyalists converge on a rebel-held town. I still do not want to think how the end will come to the strife there, but the indictment to the International Criminal Court against Gaddafi, his sons and their henchmen, will be long. Not just on account of what has happened over the past fortnight, but even beforehand. Files have been recovered from a security compound in Benghazi, showing a methodical approach to torture and imprisonment.

This afternoon, reports are emerging of demonstrations in southern China, and a jumpy approach to them by the authorities. If 1300 million people decide to rebel, there is even less scope for foresight than there already is in Libya.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Saturday 26 February

Quite a nice, sunny day. We had a few showers, some not so light. But we now have daylight until well after 6pm, and in a month's time, the clocks go forward an hour. The bulbs are nicely coming into bloom, showing that spring is now not far off.

Got a resupply of stamps in the Post Office on Francis Street, which closes at 12.30 on Saturdays. I also popped into the appropriately named Aladdins Cave on Inaclete Road - it has all sort of little and not so little things. I needed some file folders, to organise the paperwork that has come with my research.  Which, today, focused on more of the information on WW1 casualties. Watch my Pentland Road blog for updates.

I haven't got any pictures at the ready just now, but I will post a selection in a blogpost tomorrow.

The situation in Libya is something I am beginning to regard with increasing dread. Gaddafi is a man who will not accept defeat, and he will take as many with him into death as he can. By all possible means, including chemical weapons. Many of those that were close to him have advised him to step aside, but Col Gaddafi does not listen. The Arabic revolution will show its most evil face in that poor country, through that horrendous man.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Friday 25 February

A bright and breezy start to the day, with some showers about. The wind rose to galeforce overnight, but is currently force 6 to 7. Not cold, with the mercury at 10C / 50F. We are due some colder weather in the next few days.

What made me laugh last night was the preview of the daily papers on TV. One of the papers is asking the question "Who is in charge of the country?". Apparently, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, is in the Middle East to cement some trade deals (read: flog arms for oil). The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has allegedly forgotten he was in charge if Dave was out. So he went on his pre-booked annual leave, irrespective of his commitments as deputy PM. The Libyan crisis is the prerogative of the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, but he didn't have a clue about organising the evacuation of British nationals from Libya. And the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, went down the pub.

Once Dave was back from the Middle East, he called Nick back from his hols, took William away from his teddybear's picnic and dragged Liam out of the Fox & Hounds for an emergency cabinet meeting. Dave himself should have flown back from the Emirates on Monday, when all this dooda began to hit the proverbial fan.

Oh well, enough sarcasm. I'm going to have a coffee and take a pic of that fishing boat which is going up the slipway across the water.

More later.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Thursday 24 February

I gather that London reached 15C today (59F), but we had to make do with 11C. Still no reason at all for complaint if I'm honest. It was just very windy, with a steady force 7 and gusts to 50 mph. The overnight freight ferry is once more off tonight due to the adverse weather conditions.

I have been continuing my research into the Lewis graveyards and the WW1 casualties buried therein. And I've found quite a few errors in my files - just as well I'm finding them, let's be honest. The First World War has some dreadful statistics associated with it, some of which I've outlined in my local history blog Pentland Road.

Sixty-five years ago today, the German city of Dresden, in the southeast of the country, was severely bombed by Allied aircraft. It generated a firestorm, and thousands perished in the inferno. There has been quite some debate about the military imperative for this bombardment. It is suggested that Dresden very little military infrastructure, and General Haig, in charge of bomber command, has been accused of committing a war crime. Today's far right in Germany, not endowed with an excess of brain cells by the sound of it, say that Hitler was not to blame for WW2 and that he who fired the first shot did not start the war. What a load of garbage. The BBC's correspondent in Saxony has written a good piece on the issue, which I recommend for your reading.

Image courtesy

Wednesday 23 February

A very wet and miserable day. Although we had a bit of sun around lunchtime, it took until nearly sunset before the clouds finally broke. The wind is picking up, leading to the cancellation of our freight ferry, which departs here at 11.30pm.

I have been tallying up the number of gravestones of local servicemen who are mentioned on private gravestones, as opposed to the official CWGC stones that I have focused on in the past. The number of the former stands at 123. I also found that 600 of Lewis's 1300 wardead from the First War have no known grave; half of them perished at sea; others disappeared into the mire of France and Flanders.

The campaign to save the coastguard service in the UK is progressing, and next week there will be a meeting here in Stornoway. Representatives from the MCA will come to the Nicolson Institute to answer questions from the general public, and boy, will that be a lively session.

The situation in Libya is just plain awful, exacerbated by the apparent lassitude from the UK government to get themselves into gear to extract UK nationals. And searches continue for survivors from the NZ earthquake, with the deathtoll rising to nearly 100.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Tuesday 22 February

Awoke to the terrible news of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that reduced parts of Christchurch (New Zealand) to rubble. The quake struck just before 1pm local time (1 am GMT), causing the collapse of many buildings and the spire of the city's cathedral. As I type this (Wednesday morning), the death toll stands at 75, likely to rise much higher as the rubble is being searched. The risk of aftershocks remains; one expert said this quake was an aftershock of the 7.1 earthquake that hit Christchurch on 4 September 2010. This was centred 25 miles away (today's quake was only 6 miles away) and much deeper in the earth's crust. It makes for eerie viewing when you see city streets, that could be anywhere in Western Europe, in rubble.

Libya continues to headline the news, with its 'leader', Col Gaddafi, showing that he only cares for himself, and not for the people he is supposed to lead. The BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner, drily put it that Mr Gaddafi had spent the past 41 years in a bubble. He doesn't like that it is being burst, so he is lashing out left, right and centre. The apparatus of state is disintegrating or defecting, leaving him only with his immediate family clique. And meanwhile, the ordinary people suffer. It sounds tired and cliché'd to hear all the diplomatic waffle from the UN and various foreign dignitaries. I'll stop here, lest I become a Hebridean-based Gaddafi look-alike, with page long rants.

Today's weather? Non-descript grey and cold. 

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Monday 21 February

A cold and overcast day in Stornoway, but at least it was dry.
The bloodshed in Libya continues, as Col Gaddafi refuses to relinquish his hold on delusion and brings in people from outside his country to slaughter those who seek to bring him down. How long will this go on? Rumours he had fled to Venezuela proved unfounded, but he will not flee. Some refer to him as a clown, but that's far from the truth. He is a clever manipulator, but will lash out with excessive, lethal force, if threatened. Images are leaking out of the country, showing burned buildings and mass demonstrations. I remain aghast and agog at the likes of former British PM Tony Blair who hugged and shook the hand of this mass murderer in 2003 - for the sake of a few measly trade and oil deals. Fifteen years after an airliner was brought down at the call of Mr Gaddafi. It also shows that the current governments of the West (whatever that may mean) are at complete loggerheads with reality themselves. They live in a coccooned, cozy world, where they talk big with their pals, at variance with what their populace is going through at the result of their windbagging. For that's what they all are, windbags. I see a talking shop in New York, otherwise known as the United Nations, which can't do a thing. I am now laughing when watching the Wikileaks twitter feed, showing the diplomatic assessments being made of the current situations. What is secrecy? It's not just a revolution in the Arab world, it is a worldwide revolution. It's called the Internet.

Closer to home, the government in London has dusted off the file named Double Summertime. This means that the UK will place itself in the same timezone as Western Europe, i.e. an hour ahead of GMT in winter and two hours in summer. I have called this a Lazy Man's Charter, serving the brainless coots in the City of London who are unable to engage their brains to put an hour on their own clock time to compare watches with their fellow Fat Cats in Frankfurt, Paris and Brussels. Dave Cameron has said it is to boost tourism, but blithely forgets that there are about five million folk, north of Carlisle and Berwick, who will have no sunlight before 10 am in winter - and who needs daylight at 11.30pm at any rate?

Monday, 21 February 2011

Sunday 20 February

Situation in the Middle East and North Africa seems to be getting from bad to worse. More than 200 people were shot and killed by Gadaffi's (imported) thugs on the streets of Libya. He is only in it for himself, not for anybody else. Hope they get rid of him very very soon - he is one of those 'leaders' that we can do without. Gadaffi is 'credited' with the Lockerbie bombings, with bankrolling and arming the IRA and quite a few other terrorist groups. And I never understood why Tony Blair went to Libya in 2003 to cosy up to this horrible character. Mach a seo, (out!), as they say in this part of the world.

I have now finished the task of mapping the cemeteries and memorials across the world where Lewismen and -women are buried or remembered. Their total stands at 400. It has proved an interesting tour by Google Earth and a handful of websites.

This afternoon saw an exceptionally low tide. The gauge was forecast to plumb to 0.0 metres, 5.4 metres below the high tide level that was clocked up just after 7 am. So, just after 2pm, I went down to the shore and found 3 scallops. They provided a nice starter for dinner tonight. I also waded across the outflow of the Newton Basin, something I do not recommend - the current is very strong and if it had gone any stronger, it would have taken me off my feet. There was only 20 cm / 8in of water there.


The ferry departing for Ullapool at 2.30pm

Newton from the basin, showing the outflow

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Saturday 19 February

An overcast day after a wet and windy night. Spent the day looking for more cemeteries containing Lewis casualties, this time from WW2, around the world. I have posted an intermediate map on my blog Pentland Road. It is not possible to search on a map like that, so I've got my thinking cap to find a solution for that problem.

I am horrified by the violence used against demonstrators in Libya. The authorities in Bahrain have withdrawn their forces from a square in the capital Manama. A wave of uprisings is sweeping the Arab world, spurred on by examples shown on the Internet. And it's the WWW that has enabled the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt in the past few weeks.

In the evening, I joined the website, listing my small collection of books. Although is better in terms of looking up books, goodreads is better from a social networking aspect because you can find contacts using the site through their email address. Librarything can't do that, unfortunately.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Friday 18 February

Closing the day on a bit of a down note, following the confirmation that a fourth blogger from the old J-land community has passed away. Lori Johnson's death was not unexpected, but the unfortunate incident with the hacking of her email account, just around the time of her passing, left a bitter and unpleasant taste in the mouth.

Today was not a particularly warm day, and not nearly as sunny as yesterday. I was not tempted to go out for a walk, and I was pretty knackered after my battle with the bogs near the Castle College yesterday.

Today was the last of my four home-alone days - situation will return to normal tomorrow. It has been very quiet since last Tuesday. I realise that I do not blog about my personal circumstances very much, but that is at the request of those around me who do not want their life hung out to dry on the Internet. And I can't blame them.

So you want to know what I had for dinner? Well, it was mashed carrots and potatoes and a quarterpounder beefburger. This is an old picture (from March 2006) of said dinner; I had an ice-cream for afters tonight.

I have completed my search for cemeteries, that kept me busy this week. I may carry on with a search for graveyards for WW2 victims, but that is not a priority. Tomorrow, I shall have a look at my to-do list. For now, I'm going to bed with a cup of tea to watch some garbage on the telly.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Thursday 17 February - picture post

Cobden House, Cromwell Street, back in full splendour

The new flats blend in well with the Royal Hotel, next door

Wicker Woman by Lews Castle

My favourite view of Cuddy Point

Views from Strawberry Hill

Thursday 17 February

I am typing this as the cloudless evening sky turns from yellow to orange to pink - the sun set a couple of minutes ago. Although it was not vastly warm, I should not complain about 9C. At the moment, the mercury is dipping fast as darkness falls.

It should not be wholly dark tonight: a large solar flare is set to slam into the earth's magnetic field, giving rise to Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). I'm at relatively high latitude within the UK (58 degrees north, London is at 51°) so I should have a fair chance of seeing the Merry Dancers. I saw them first back in October, and I'll keep an eye on the messaging service from the University of Lancaster - Twitter account @aurorawatchuk (UK).

This afternoon I went for a two hour walk in the Castle Grounds (the countrypark around Lews Castle) and managed to get up Strawberry Hill. I have made a guided tour which you can view on Google Earth by downloading this file: I am uploading pictures, which I shall put up later. Strawberry Hill is a prominent feature in the Castle Grounds, but singularly hard to get to. It requires a bogslog, then a pretty steep ascent; and a boggy descent of the northern slopes towards the Castle College. Quite strenuous - and I'm rather out of shape.

I was horrified to receive an email from an on-line contact that was not sent by her or by the relative who was quoted as having signed the email. I copy: 
Dear Friends of Lori,

This is a short call for support. We need some money for the hospital
bills and the funeral arrangement soonest. A total sum of $10,000 plus
was calculated. You can pay to my parents’ liberty reserve account
using the detail below [rest of email withheld for reasons of privacy]
Anyone who is friends with Alberta Lori: distrust ANY communcation that comes from her Internet presence. Her email is hacked, and her Facebook as well by the sound of it. The matter is being reported to the police in the US and Canada - I have had enough.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Belgian bogrolling

A blog in French has lifted the lid on the filth in Belgian politics, where they are still trying to form a government - 8 months after a general election. The leader of a far-right and separatist party in Flanders, Bart de Wever, has described a leading French-speaking newspaper in Belgium "Le Soir" [The Evening] that it is not even fit for use as toiletpaper. This follows from a report in Le Soir on Saturday, which showed an election poster for Mr de Wever from 2003 in the company of his friend and former prostitute Marie-Rose Morel. Ms Morel recently died of cancer and her funeral was a national event in Flanders, where she was referred to as "Mother Courage". Not so in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium. The reasons why the Francophones are so reluctant to do so is Ms Morel's cast-iron connection to the far-right in Belgium. However, Mr de Wever is not just bogrolling Le Soir, but also demanding an apology from the French speaking TV station RTBF for not joining in the outpouring of national mourning that Mr de Wever had demanded.

You may wonder why this is of interest to me. Well, I see certain parallels to the situation in Holland. The far right-wing PVV party, headed up by Geert Wilders, is currently propping up a right-wing coalition there. Mr Wilders was refused entry to the UK two years ago as it was felt that his presence could destabilise community relations in Britain. What really shocked me was the outrage that was expressed by the Dutch Prime Minister. This was before the June 2010 General Election in Holland, when the PVV gained more than 20 seats in the 150 seat lower house of parliament. Why is everybody cow-towing to people like Wilders and De Wever? The former has expressed hatred of islam, and is facing court action over this. The latter is a separatist and ultra-nationalist, who will split Belgium asunder in the most acrimonious fashion if he has his way. I vividly remember the pitched battles on the streets of 's-Gravenvoeren / Fourons-le-Comte on the Dutch/Belgian border in the 1980s. However, in the 1980s there was no question that Belgium could split. That option is certainly there now.

Wednesday 16 February

A grey day with some brief clearances and some light rain. I spent most of the afternoon looking up cemeteries on Google Earth, to build a database and map of graveyards where combatants from this island lie buried across the world. Been doing that for a couple of days, so I apologise if I repeat myself.

Local councils are now threatening to fine people who do not separate out recyclable waste (plastic, paper &c) where facilities exist to do so. Like they were also fining those who put their bin out on the road before 7 am on collection day, or leaving the lid of the bin open at an angle greater than 30 degrees. Or if the receptacle was placed too far from the kerb edge. I wonder who is going to wallow throught the dirty nappies, rotting fruit, vegs and meat and all the other pleasant detritus of daily life to make more money for their council.

I was horrified to read just now that former Egyptian president Mubarak had ordered his troops to crush the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Cairo, on January 30th, using their tanks. The tank crews took off their headsets, through which they had received those orders, and picked up their mobiles to phone home. And their families said: don't do it. Egyptians don't kill Egyptians. And that was Mr Mubarak on his way out. It would appear that he valued his $30bn more than the lives of the people he was sworn to serve. Good riddance.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tuesday 15 February

A very quiet day, with lots of sunshine. I am hearing tales of snow and ice in the Scottish Central Belt, but I spend the afternoon basking in glorious sunshine - behind glass, mind you. 6C is not warm in my book. This nice weather will obviously not last; tomorrow will be dreich and grey.

My main activity has been to trace more cemeteries using Google Earth and a handful of website to help me locate them in the UK, France, Belgium, Hungary, Iraq, Egypt, Canada - and wherever else the list will take me. After doing that for a while, it is good to relax with some Tom and Jerry.

More tomorrow.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Monday 14 February

Happy Valentines Day to all.

We started fair, but ended wet today. Went out for an amble around the harbour, but as I turned onto North Beach Street, a leaden grey sky and an icy blast heralded the onset of a period of rain.

Today, I looked into the sad stories of the soldiers from the First World War who were executed under the Army Act, for military misdeeds. These included desertion, abandoning the post, cast away of arms - and malingering. It has taken a very, very long time before it was recognised that most of the 306 British soldiers shot at dawn were casualties and victims of the war, as much as the other hundreds of thousands who died between 1914 and 1921. The Canadians recognised this in 2001, the British followed suit in 2006.

There are no men from Lewis who are recognised as having suffered this fate. In this post on my Pentland Road blog, I tell the story of at least one Lewisman who was executed. 

This is the memorial, in Alrewas, England, for those who were shot at dawn.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sunday 13 February

The hours of darkness were punctuated by high winds and heavy rain. These abated by about 5 am. As I glanced across the bay at that hour, I noticed a blur of light beside the lighthouse that is not normally there. On training the binoculars on it, it turned out to be a stationary ship. It appeared to be in a position to the north of the Arnish Peninsula, i.e. a bit too close in to shore for good comfort. However, its lights were on and nobody was rushing out to help, so I concluded that all was well. When daylight came, just after 7, the ship in question was on the other side of the peninsula, to the south, and its superstructure peeped above the low land by the lighthouse. I have often found the perspective to be deceiving here, particularly in the dark. The lighthouse, for instance, is exactly 1 mile from my position (across the water), but appears to be much closer. It is not until you step out on the causeway that you realise the distance.

I have completed the transcription of all the war memorials here in Lewis, with the addition of the 23 panels from the Lewis War Memorial. This contains the names of 1,600 people who were lost in WW1 and WW2. I am now continuing my search for the 400 cemeteries and memorials across the world which are the final resting place or the location of remembrance for all from the island who were lost in foreign fields, or on the seas of the world. This link shows the first 100.

13 February

Today, 319 years ago, 38 members of the Clan Macdonald were killed in Glen Coe, when their guests, members of the Clan Campbell, turned on them. Glencoe, a spectacular mountain valley about 80 miles north of Glasgow, is now synonymous with this crime. the details of which are outlined on this Wikipedia article.

The involvement of King William III renders this a black mark on the conscience of the Dutch - he assumed the English throne when he came across from Holland as William of Orange. In the Netherlands, he is referred to as the Father of the Fatherland - translating directly. 23 years ago, there were extensive celebrations on the 300th anniversary of William's marriage to Queen Mary II of England. This lasted for 6 years, until Mary's death in 1694.

William III has another black mark on his record, commonly referred to as the Battle of the Boyne. This battle, which took place on Irish soil in 1689, has been used as a pretext by extremist sections of the Protestant and Catholic communities in (Northern) Ireland for acts of violence in the 20th century.

Mind you, if you think that is bad, it is worth bearing in mind that the war in the Balkans in the 1990s was justified by Serbia's president Slobodan Milosevic on account of the Battle of Kosovo in 1390.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Saturday 12 February

Quite a nice and sunny day, but as the afternoon came to a close, the wind was picking up. We are on warning for winds up to galeforce overnight, and tomorrow will be as wet as Friday. It's a see-saw weather pattern we're in - your average Hebridean winter in other words.

Not so nice is the weather in the Indian Ocean, where tropical cyclone Bingiza is blowing up to a category III hurricane by the time it reaches eastern Madagascar on Monday. We're talking winds of 105 knots, 120 mph. The winds are bad enough, but the main threat for Madagascar tends to be flooding. Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc in the north of the island in 2008; and hardly anyone knew about it.

I am completing the transcript of the war memorials here in Lewis, all 15 of them. The Lewis War Memorial, at the northern end of Stornoway, is proving a challenge, due to the poor legibility of the panels on my photographs. I'll get there yet.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Friday 11 February

Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak has stood down and has left Cairo for Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort on the Red Sea coast. His departure follows 18 days of protests in the centre of the capital, broadly condoned by the army. Several attempts by Mubarak to placate his opponents by promising to resign later in the year did nothing to assuage his critics. And today, he left office.

It is a victory for the ordinary man and woman of Egypt, all 85 million of them. Nobody from outside was involved, and outside issues did not feature in the protests. It was an impopular and despotic ruler that was the object of protests. The advent of the Internet has made it possible, it has shown Egyptians what is possible. Tunisia, but other places too, has shed its despots. Who will be next? Gadaffi, Assad, the Arabian leaders?

What will happen next is anyone's guess. But it will be a series of decisions that are up to the Egyptians to make. If free and fair elections, promised by the armed forces, result in an Islamic party coming to power, so be it. The peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed by the late president Sadat and late premier Begin in the 1970s, does not appear to be in jeopardy. Tearing it up is in nobody's interest.

Our wet weather pales into insignificance compared to the momentous events in Cairo today.

Thursday 10 February

A bright and sunny day, which makes a change from the dreich and grey conditions of late.
I kept myself busy compiling a map showing the positions of cemeteries and memorials across the world, where casualties from this island lie buried or are remembered, who fell in WW1 and 2. Unfortunately, Google Maps is not the ideal tool for that, and my internet connection ground to a halt after 6pm. 

Having watched a programme about the natural wonders of Madagascar, the tropical cyclone centre in La Reunion promptly issued a warning that cyclone Bingiza will hit the island in a couple of days from now. As the forecast stands, maximum sustained winds will be at 85 knots, 90 mph.

The saga surrounding the downgrading of coastguard services around the UK coast took another twist, when the CEO of the MCA admitted that local knowledge would be lost if the current plans were to go ahead. Ever more unacceptable.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Wednesday 9 February

It's a grey day in Stornoway, with occasional light rain. At least it's not really cold, with the mercury up a few points to 9C / 48F. The weather will continue to fluctuate, as a battle is being fought between cold air over Scandinavia and milder air over the Atlantic. The mild air looks set to win at this stage. However, it's still only February and three weeks left in that month.

Yesterday, I was thinking that the southern Indian Ocean had been quiet so far, in terms of tropical cyclone formation. Promptly, up pops this disturbance (94S), which is rumbling away some 450 miles north of La Reunion, which looks set to turn into a nasty piece of work. At the moment, it may well intensify to a category II hurricane as it passes just west of La Reunion over the weekend. I should get a flood of visits to my Tropical Cyclones blog - when cyclone Gamede passed by the Mascaregnes in 2007, the record for the number of daily visits was around 3,000.

If you want to read a long and verbose account of speeches to a departing president of the Gaelic Society of London, look no further than my local history blog Pentland Road. Roderick Macleod lost a son in WW1 (hence my interest), and left the presidency of the GSL in 1927. His farewell do attracted about 200 dignitaries.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Tuesday 8 February

Not a very inspiring day, weatherwise, with a cold wind blowing and increasing amounts of cloud. Processed information on a Lewis-related item (see Pentland Road blog). I have more, but that will involve copying nearly a dozen pages of small print.

The Coastguard revamp continues to hog the news headlines for us in the Western Isles, because the CEO for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency insists that his staff broadly support the plans for downgrading the service, and it's just the members of the public that cry blue murder - because they are unfamiliar with the workings of the Coastguard service. The only problem with that problem, Sir Alan Massey, is that a lot of criticism of your plans actually come from Coastguard staff. Furthermore, you have only been in office for 7 months, and I think your staff know rather more about their agency than you do.

There was this journalist who thought that everything she wrote on Twitter was only intended for her 700-odd followers. She is obviously not aware that anybody can see your Twitter feed (except if you make it private). Still on the subject of social media, many people have an account on Twitter as well as Facebook, with different contacts on either service. And cross-posting may not always be a good idea!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Monday 7 February

A day of sunshine and showers, and the most fantastic gallery of cloudscapes that graces the southern horizon. Who needs paintings, television, internet when you can just look out of the window and see an ever changing tableau in the sky? Worth more than anything I can think of.
On a related topic, I have been told that my submissions to Blipfoto could feature on the website of the Scottish Government. Nice accolade.

As I have been posting on Twitter and Facebook, I have today reduced the number of Facebook apps from 187 to 44. The excellent social media website featured an article on Facebook privacy which I strongly recommend to everyone who uses Facebook. I have heard too many instances where people got caught out by the stuff they innocently put on their Facebook page; only to get into serious trouble over them. Varying from losing a job to family strife or marital breakdowns.

The reduction also showed how my use of Facebook has changed since I started on the site in October 2008. I used to authorise all sorts of apps (hence that high number), but nowadays I can't be bothered to reply to the requests - sorry.

I am presently compiling a website listing the fifteen or so war memorials in the Isle of Lewis. It's a work in progress at the moment, but you can preview on this link.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Sunday 6 February

A sunny day, but with varying amounts of cloud and one or two showers passing us to the south.

I could not believe my eyes when local broadcaster STV reported that Molly Campbell had returned to the UK. Molly made headlines in the summer of 2006, when she vanished from the Nicolson Institute here in Stornoway to be with her father in Lahore, Pakistan. Her mother, Louise, reported her missing, but the daughter later turned up in Pakistan. Molly (now called Misbah) voluntarily went east. She has now returned of her own free will again, and is living with her sister in England. Their mother has travelled south of the border to be with her daughters. Misbah's return is said to be permanent.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has enunciated that the multicultural society has failed, and we should return to a sense of national pride. That, to my mind, opens the door to negative discrimination of ethnic minorities and the victimisation of those who adhere to the Muslim faith. It is perfectly possible to be proud of your nationality, and you can take even more pride by being welcoming to those who want to join you from overseas. Mr Cameron's remarks are more redolent of the extreme-right BNP party than of a party in national government.

Saturday 5 February

Was treated to the unusual sight of MV Muirneag hoving into view this morning. Our freight ferry has not put to sea at all this week, and last night was the first time she ventured out. The Muirneag is more than 30 years old, and is not good at manoeuvering in adverse conditions. Long term readers of my blog may remember an episode in 2005, when she was caught in stormforce winds which forced her 60 miles off course, well on the way to the Faroe Islands (250 miles north of here).

I have completed another big chunk of transcriptions from the reports from the Napier Commission (1883), which is a crucial document in the history of the Highlands and Islands. The county of Sutherland was the scene of the some of the worst abuses of crofters. Bear in mind that there was more to the clearances than people being shunted off to Canada or Australia. The session at Bonar Bridge e.g. revealed how the rent of some crofters was bumped up from 1s to £6 - an increase of 1200% [£1 = 20s] over a few years. It is a long read, but if you take the time, you'd be horrified.
The next batch of transcriptions will cover Ross-shire; for Scottish readers, this is strictly speaking Wester Ross, from Ullapool south to the Applecross peninsula; as well as a session at the county town, Dingwall.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The Politician

The SS Politician was a merchant ship, which was sailing from Liverpool to Jamaica in December 1941. On February 5th, she ran aground on the island of Calvay, between the larger islands of Eriskay and South Uist. She later broke up and sank. Her cargo included tens of thousands of bottles of whisky - which inspired Compton Mackenzie to write his famous book Whisky Galore, the word Galore being one of the few Gaelic words that are in common usage in English today. Gu Leor means plenty.

The whisky was salvaged by the islanders. Although a near-endless supply of whisky may seem like heaven on earth, it did cause serious health problems in the longer run. Alcoholism and all its attendant problems, for instance.

The Politician did not just carry whisky. She also had a consignment of Jamaican banknotes, a grand piano, bathroom fittings and bicycles. The fittings were put to good use outside one islander's home, and were still being used decades later - in an outhouse beside a stream.

Even here in Lewis, there are stories around, if you know where to listen. Of the odd case being 'smuggled on request', and the skipper of the ferry distracting the 'polis' whilst the runner makes his get-away.

Friday 4 February

Yesterday's storm finally abated after midnight, but not before blasting the north of Lewis and Shetland with gusts of 104 mph. A fishing vessel broke free from its moorings in Scalloway, Shetland, and had to be tied up again - in 90 mph winds. There appear to have been no casualties. The weather continues inclement in central Scotland, but is not too bad here in the islands. There was a thin drizzle this afternoon.

Events in Egypt continue to develop unpredictably. Liberation Square remains the focal point for the movement which seeks to oust president Mubarak, whose followers tried to remove the protesters with violence yesterday - unsuccessfully. It would appear that this is an issue for the Egyptians themselves to resolve, and there is no way to predict how it will end.

The fishing vessel Jack Abry II which ran aground on the Isle of Rum earlier this week is still stuck fast. There appears to be an oil leak within the vessel, but no oil is leaking out. Dutch salvage equipment is on its way to the island, but the winter weather may delay the recovery of the boat.
This image courtesy

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Thursday 3 February

It was windy in the night, and a fall of snow brought the airport to a halt first thing. That was nothing. At 1pm, the weather turned increasingly savage, and at the moment the anemometer is spinning to 86 mph at the Butt of Lewis, 25 miles north of here. Curtains of spindrift are blown across the harbour, in front of my position, and angry white riders adorn the wave crests. Almost all ferry services in the west of Scotland have been withdrawn, in the face of hurricane force winds. Flights are still operating normally. The wind is from the south; as the runway at the airport is north/south orientated, planes can still take off. It will be a very bumpy ride though. There will be a springtide at 7pm tonight, clocking in at 4.8 metres / 16 feet, which coincides with the height of the storm - sandbags at the ready in the flood-prone areas of Stornoway. As I type, I can see huge curtains of spindrift crossing the basin in front of me, indicating that we're heading for force 11. Two poor collar doves were blown around so hard that they had to land in a tree (which doves don't like doing) before finally taking off for their roost in one of the buildings nearby.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Wednesday 2 February

Tropical cyclone Yasi has roared ashore in Queensland, with winds well in excess of 200 km/h (125 mph). The impact is as yet unknown, but as day breaks, this should become clearer.

Events in Egypt have taken a turn for the worse, with clashes between supporters and opponents of president Mubarak. Although the president pledged not to stand in the elections later in the year, this has not served to placate his opponents, and quite ugly scenes ensued in the square which has been the focal point of the popular uprising over the past week or so.

Here in the Hebrides, we can expect a fully-fledged storm, with winds up to force 12 in the next 24 to 48 hours. Gusts are anticipated to be in the range of 80 to 90 mph. Nowhere near as bad as in Queensland, but sufficient to cause damage. We'll be battening down the hatches.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tuesday 1 February

A bright day with good sunshine - and equally good, heavy, showers. The wind turns squally in the showers, but otherwise it's not too bad. We are on warning for severe gales on Thursday and Friday.

Queensland is on warning for tropical cyclone Yasi, which will strike near the northern city of Cairns during Wednesday local time. At present, maximum sustained winds near the centre are at 135 mph, gusting to a puny 160 mph. This is likely to increase further, and the cyclone could carry winds of 150 mph at landfall, gusting to 180 mph. For the hurricane savvy among you, this is equivalent to a top-end category IV system. I don't think I'd like to be in Queensland just now. Because a category IV hurricane does this:

There is a very high risk of injury or death to people, livestock, and pets due to flying and falling debris. Poorly constructed homes can sustain complete collapse of all walls as well as the loss of the roof structure. Well-built homes also can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Extensive damage to roof coverings, windows, and doors will occur. Large amounts of windborne debris will be lofted into the air. Windborne debris damage will break most unprotected windows and penetrate some protected windows. There will be a high percentage of structural damage to the top floors of apartment buildings. Steel frames in older industrial buildings can collapse. There will be a high percentage of collapse to older unreinforced masonry buildings. Most windows will be blown out of high-rise buildings resulting in falling glass, which will pose a threat for days to weeks after the storm. Nearly all commercial signage, fences, and canopies will be destroyed. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Long-term water shortages will increase human suffering. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Still on weather-related topics, the Chief Coastguard, Sir Alan Massey, made some breathtaking remarks on Scottish TV last night. He said that local knowledge should be pooled onto Google Earth. Well, that's bonny. There is such a thing as the Gaelic language in these parts; and anyone who has ever done a search on Google generally knows what a pile of results can crop up. Secondly, he said that coastguard stations are often overmanned in relation to the amount of work. Accidents and emergencies do not occur on schedule, and do not wait for daylight, when the proposed satellite Coastguard Stations may be manned. Sir Alan also admitted that the cutbacks in service were purely money-related, and if the demand for savings had not come down from upon high, nothing would have changed.