View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Wednesday 30 March

A grey, wet and increasingly windy day today. The overnight freight ferry has been cancelled due to adverse weather. That did not quite become clear from the forecast, but some weathermen give us force 7 winds at some point during Thursday.

Some good news regarding the campaign against cuts in the coastguard service. I quote from Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon:
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth): From his visits to Cornwall, the Prime Minister will appreciate the high regard for the coastguard service there and around the UK. I am reassured that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), has said that the current modernisation proposals are not a done deal. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is very important to get the plans right?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. She is a Cornish MP, and I am sure that she and the whole of the House would want me to say how much we feel for our colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray), who lost her husband in a tragic fishing accident. That demonstrates the extraordinary risks that people in coastal communities take, and our hearts should go out to her and her family.

We want to make changes only if they improve the coastguard support that people in fishing communities and elsewhere get. That is what the reform is about: trying to ensure that the real impetus is on the front line. If that is not the case, we will obviously have to reconsider the reforms, and that is why they are being reviewed. What I would say to everyone who cares about this issue is: work with us to make sure we get the maximum amount in those lifeboats and other ways of helping our fishing and other communities.

In other words, the plans that were on the table from the beginning of this year appear to be dead in the water. These involve downgrading or closing five of the Scottish Coastguard stations (including the one here in Stornoway), as well as quite a few others south of the border.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Tuesday 29 March

A cold day today, with no sun to speak of. The mercury managed 10C at one point, but I think the average was nearer 6 or 7C. I went to town for a few bits and pieces, and found a book on the Italian Chapel in Orkney, which I visited myself in October 2008. It is an old Nissen hut which Italian prisoners-of-war had converted into a beautiful little church during the Second World War.

with more of my pictures on this link.

I also managed to resolve a riddle in my local history research, when I found references in the 1901 Scottish census to people living in the island of Scarp. In the course of resolving the same query, I came across names of townships that no longer exist in Harris: Luachair is one of those. I visited its neighbour, Kinloch Resort, in May 2005.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Monday 28 March

Overcast and feeling cold today, as we have to do without direct sunlight. I've been busy with my current project, looking up census information on those who gave evidence to the Napier Commission in 1883. All those who showed up at Obbe (Leverburgh today) have been tracked, with the exception of one man who was based in North Uist, 10 miles to the south across the water. I am also looking into the residents of Boreray, an island now derelict, just off North Uist. In 1851, there were 150 residents.

In Libya, the rebels have apparently run into substantial opposition near Gaddafi's hometown of Sirte. Which was to be expected. A debate is raging within NATO, currently conducting operations to implement UN resolution 1973, over the extent of its remit. Should the rebels be helped, or should Gaddafi be stymied. A difficult call to make.

A delivery driver for the local Tesco supermarket disrupted a funeral procession at Callanish last week. He drove his vehicle into the cortege as it moved slowly along the road towards the cemetery. He stopped ahead of the coffin, on board radio blaring, leaving the procession to veer around his vehicle. It is common practice for funeral processions in Lewis to be allowed to proceed unimpeded and uninterrupted. The manager for Tesco has apologised to the family concerned.
When I attended a funeral a few years ago in Holland, traffic stopped when the hearse left the church, on its way to the graveyard. And it was a servicebus that pulled up first.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sunday 27 March

Yes, the clocks went forward an hour last night, so it stayed light until after 8pm this evening. Makes a pleasant transition from winter to spring. It was a variable day, with some sunshine and a few light showers about. It is the Hebrides, after all. I spoke to someone from the Baltic states today who was surprised that we don't get a lot of snow, and that it isn't really cold here. The Baltic states are at the same latitude as the Hebrides - but we have the benefit of the Gulf Stream.

The situation in Libya has changed dramatically over the past week, with the aerial intervention from coalition forces weakening pro-Gaddafi forces to such an extent that they had to abandon all their recent territorial gains. At present, the rebel forces are on a speed march west, towards Sirte. However, it is to be expected that pro-Gaddafi forces will possibly regroup in a major population centre to mount a concerted defence. How this will pan out in the end remains hidden in the future, and there is no predicting.

I have continued my research into the Napier witnesses, but am occasionally drawing blanks. Nonetheless, it is quite interesting to see the family life from people from 19th century Harris come to life again; even if through the drab pages of the censes of 1841 through 1901. Today was census day in the UK, and I have duly recorded myself. Reading a census from the past is like shining a narrow beacon into the dark recesses of history. For one night, we see where all those people were, what they were doing and what age they were. None of those are now left alive. As much as no one that filled out the census form today will be alive by the time the 2011 census is put in the public domain in April 2111. On Tuesday 5 April, the census for 1911 will become publicly available, but you have pay for the privilege.

Saturday 26 March

It is supposed to be dry and bright, but never trust the weather in these islands. We promptly got a handful of light showers after midday. By mid evening, the mercury had plummeted to freezing - another unexpected quirk. Daytime high was 11C / 52F, which gives no reasons for complaint at this time of year.

I spent most of the day researching aspects of local history, more specifically the people who gave evidence to the Napier Commission in 1883. This report, several thousand pages long, has kept me occupied since last summer. However, in recent times I have acquired some new skills in accessing census data (thanks Peter), which has enabled me to paint the picture of (e.g.) the Reverend Alexander Davidson, who gave evidence to Lord Napier et al on 31 May 1883. He was the minister in the Free Church in Harris, more specifically in the Bays area (the eastern side of South Harris).

At the end of the day, all the clocks had to be put forward by an hour, as British Summer Time is once more upon us. Did you put your clocks forward?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Friday 25 March

It appears that Stornoway will experience traffic problems when all traffic coming in from the east, along Sandwick Road, will be diverted between 11 April and 18 July. The road closure is marked between the two markers, with a red line. The diversion routes are marked in blue.

The summer timetables for the buses have come into force today, but the Council is not able to print timetable booklets (with all 15 routes). Instead, we are issued with computer printouts for each individual routes. Fine if you're a resident, but not good for tourists. The Council says it is cutting back - but not on refurbishing its own HQ at a cost of £160,000.

Today's weather was quite bright and at times sunny. I spent most of the afternoon looking into a small village, now deserted, in Harris. It's called Molinginish, and I have written this post on the history of its people in the 19th century.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Thursday 24 March

Not quite as nice as yesterday, but still pretty bright with some elusive sunshine. As timetables are changing tomorrow, I went out to the ferry terminal to get copies of the summer timetables for the Calmac ferries. No problem. At the bus station, they only had timetables for the individual routes, not a booklet with all timetables combined. A bit of a nuisance, and I told the staff I'd download the timetables from the Internet.

It would appear that the no-fly zone over Libya is in force, and being enforced. Gaddafi's "ceasefire" is precisely the opposite, and it is better to view that man's words in their exact opposite - he is a proficient liar. His people are suffering as a result, and I hope for their sake, that Libya will soon be a no-Gaddafi zone. Not just Muammar, but also the clique of his offspring, which are just as nefarious.

A young woman who went missing from Swindon in Wiltshire a few days ago has been found dead near the town. Another corpse was also located, and a man has been charged with a double murder.

Wednesday 23 March

A beautiful spring day, which saw the mercury at its highest so far this year: 15C / 59F. During the morning, the clouds drifted away and I took advantage of the nice weather with a foray out in the general direction of Carloway. The most scenic route there is along the old Pentland Road, which had been designed to be the trackbed of a light railway, but is now a roadway. It leads through the desolate centre of the island towards the villages of Breasclete and Carloway.

At Carloway, we diverted to the Doune Breas Hotel for lunch - but I prefer to keep my opinion of that particular meal private, as it's not suitable for publication on an open blog. We then made our way north to Dalmore, which is a tiny hamlet a mile or two from Carloway, in by the shore.

Dalmore hosts a large cemetery, and I had taken along a list of wargrave stones I needed to photograph again, as the originals (taken in 2007) were not very clear. The strong sunlight made light work of that on this occasion. The Dalmore graveyard lies right above the beach.
Here are some of the pics I took there:

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tuesday 22 March

A beautiful sunny day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. Went for a short walk around the basin in front of my position, looking for scallops. However, I only found empty shells. Looks as if the oystercatchers beat me to them.

This morning, I received notification that a little boy in the States, Caden Hall, had died six months after being diagnosed with cancer. His mother and other family members had kept us updated through a website called CaringBridge, and over the weekend the situation became desperate. Just before 2 am local time, he died. Now, without being callous, this happens a lot of the time. I am flagging it up to highlight the power of the Internet in a situation like this. Dozens of people who never met the family involved, and will never do so either, flocked to the site to leave a message of sympathy. Some professed to be in tears, or at least quite emotional. I trust these messages will help the family through their grief. I am not a parent, and cannot imagine the torment they will have gone through as their child deteriorated in front of their eyes.

I have downloaded the latest update for my webbrowser, Firefox. It is now at version 4, and it does appear to be working faster than the old version. I suspect that disabling all the incompatible add-ons will have speeded matters up for a start.

A few pics from my walk this afternoon.

Know that sinking feeling?

Houses at Newton

Hooded crow

Monday, 21 March 2011

Monday 21 March

An overcast and very breezy day. When I was outside it felt quite cold in the wind, although the mercury is at 11C / 52F. Two hundred miles to the east, in Aberdeen, the mercury is forecast to reach 17C in bright sunshine. This results from the wind passing over the mountains and warming up as it descends on their eastern flanks. In German speaking countries they call it the föhn effect.

I am very pleased to learn that the Scottish Government have now approved the right of the Pairc Community to force their landowner, Mr Barry Lomas, to sell his estate against his will. It is understood that Mr Lomas is considering legal action against this decision.

An independent valuation of the land will be carried out, after which the Pairc Trust has six months to come up with the money. If this is successful, projects for the regeneration of the area can be implemented.

This saga has dragged on for more than 6 years, starting in November 2004 when the community voted to go for a buy-out. The estate owner has used every delaying tactic in the book, trying to frustrate the legal right of the residents to buy the estate.

A complicating factor has been a proposed windfarm for the Pairc Estate, which (upon approval) would send the cost of the estate spiralling out of the reach of the Pairc Trust. Whether this will be given the go-ahead remains in the balance, particularly now that the Scottish Parliament is about to rise for elections on May 5th.

I would like to join with the Rural Affairs Minister in wishing the Pairc Trust every success in raising whatever funds are required for the purchase, and in their endeavours to regenerate the Pairc area of Lewis.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Sunday 20 March

I was interested to see the rather large full moon out last night. My pictures did not turn out as good as some others' (I have to fiddle around with camera settings, and not used to that). However, here are two of my late night pics from yesterday.

I had a very quiet day today. The weather turned increasingly windy, as per forecast. Whereas the rest of the UK is nice and warm, with temps of 15C, we are going in the opposite direction, with the mercury slumping to 5C by the end of the week.

The military intervention to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, and to stop the advance of Gaddafi's forces appears to be meeting its objectives. Whether the unspoken aim of removing Gaddafi from power will be met is uncertain.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Saturday 19 March

The day is showery and fairly cold, at least it feels cold when there is a downpour and strengthening wind. Events started after midday, when a man could be seen walking a llama down the road. Like you do. Seriously, there is someone in Ness (North Lewis) who has llamas, and people can go on walks with them.

At 2pm, a march was held from the centre of Stornoway to the Coastguard Station, just down the road from my position. It was well attended, about 200 people were on the march, with a police escort and the pipe band keeping up the spirits in the face of inclement conditions. Local politicians held short speeches once outside the CGS. The march was in protest against proposed cutbacks to the Coastguard service. The below video shows the march as it files past the Tesco supermarket on Shell Street.

Rally at the Coastguard Station

March passing along Newton Street

Friday, 18 March 2011

Friday 18 March

The day started out with beefy showers, which gradually subsided as the afternoon wore on. The mercury is headed down at the moment, with the possibility of a frost in the night.

The UN resolution to impose a no-fly zone over Libya was met by Gaddafi's immediate cease-fire. Something that was a pertinent lie, as heavy fighting was reported to the west of Benghazi, the centre of the uprising against Mr Gaddafi. Resolution 1973 provides for all measures, save an invasion, to protect the people of Libya against the oppression of the ruling clique. And may they get lost soon.

It was a week ago today that the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami ravaged the northeast of Japan. So far, about 17,000 people are either dead or missing, with half a million displaced. The crisis in the nuclear reactor has finally been recognised by the Japanese authorities, who upgraded the severity of the incident at Fukushima to grade 5 on a scale of 0 to 7.

I have continued the transcription of the war diaries from the First World War, describing wholesale slaughter. A battalion of 440 men was reduced to 80 in one day, during the Battle of Arras in April 1917. It becomes quite wearying to read the battleplans, and the futility of that conflict rises from the pages like a dark mist. I have always enjoyed doing the research into WW1, but this aspect has not been easy.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

No fly zone authorised

The United Nations have authorised the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. This means that all aircraft who are flying over the country without prior authority are liable to be shot down. All air defences in Libya will be disabled first - i.e., bombing raids will be carried out to that effect.

Gaddafi has issued a series of threats, when it became clear over recent days that this was in the offing. He has said that no mercy would be shown to the rebels in Benghazi. Retaliatory strikes would be carried out against military and civilian targets in the Mediterranean, with shipping in the basin being rendered unsafe in the medium and long term.

It is pretty clear to see what has happened over the past 4 weeks. From being in a state of denial, Gaddafi has actually moved to acknowledge the presence of the rebels and will exterminate them. I am deliberately using that term. We have seen what he was like against unarmed civilians, who dared to demonstrate against him - heavy weaponry, normally only used against armoured vehicles or fighter jets, was deployed. I remember a man being brought into a hospital, with an unexploded rocket-propelled grenade sticking out of his leg.

Since 2003, Gaddafi had portrayed himself as the bad boy turned good, after he saw what had happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. British Prime Minister (at the time) Tony Blair went to Libya to seal deals with the country's leader - but Blair had forgotten the old adage that a fox never loses its true character. Gaddafi has, so far, survived the insurrection in his own country, but in suppressing it has completely lost all credibility.

I am quite apprehensive about the outcome of the imposition of the no-fly zone, coming as it does rather late in the day. Gaddafi feels he is back in the ascendency, and being in a position of total isolation, will stick at nought to maintain his position.

For reference, Gaddafi is not really a colonel. He has promoted himself to that rank.

EDIT: Did I say that this means we've got another war on our hands?

Thursday 17 March

Quite a nice if rather cool day, but with intermittent showers passing us by. It is now clearing up, after sunset, and we can expect a frost in the night. The Highlands will dip to -7C, and we won't be that far behind.

It appears that the situation at the Fukushima reactor in Japan is barely under control, if the reactor cores have to be kept cool by dumping water out of helicopters. I hope that the rigging up of an auxiliary powercable puts things on a more sensible footing. The death toll of last Friday's earthquake and tsunami has been increased to 14,000, and there will be many more.

Libya's leader, Col Gaddafi, has threatened all shipping in the Mediterranean if the UN Security Council passes a resolution, approving the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. Rather too flicking late.

Locally, there will be a tidal energy generator in the Sound of Islay, between the latter island and Jura. There are very strong tidal currents in those narrows. In the future, similar machines could be installed in the Pentland Firth, which separates Orkney from mainland Scotland. It is expected to bring work to the Arnish Fabrication Yard here in Stornoway, where the tidal generators could be made. The AFY has struggled over the years I have been in Stornoway, opening and closing at regular intervals.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Wednesday 16 March

A fairly bright but quite breezy day, which has made it feel cold outside. In spite of the sun. It contrasts quite sharply with the weather in southern England, where the mercury has reached 17C or 18C over the past few days. You can take 10 degrees off that for our max today.

The UK Shipping Minister visited the Coastguard Station and Iolaire Memorial in Stornoway today. The visit to the latter was related to the on-going controversy about the revision of Coastguard services. On current plans, the station in Stornoway could be closed or downgraded. A vociferous local opposition is active, but restricted itself to the strategic placement of a banner along the access road to the station.

I am getting despondent regarding the situation in Libya. With a bit of bad luck, Gaddafi will manage to crush the rebellion in the east of the country, bearing in mind the sheer brutality he has been seen to be deploying so far. If he manages to recapture Benghazi, the focal point of the uprising, there will be a bloody purge of all those who dared to stand up to Gaddafi. I think the repression of opposition in Bahrain will have been inspired by Gaddafi's successes in recent times.

And the Japanese are now getting seriously worried, after their emperor appeared on television in relation to the nuclear emergency at Fukushima. If waterbombing using helicopters or watercannon is being considered, you can safely conclude that the nuclear plant is not under control, and we should expect the worst. People are beginning to flee Japan, and not just foreign nationals.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Tuesday 15 March

A bright and sunny day, but not very warm. Nonetheless, bearing in mind the problems with snow on the mainland, there is little reason for complaint. Out of the wind and in the sun, it was quite pleasant.

Went to an exhibition in the town this afternoon, showcasing a proposed windfarm near Stornoway. It will comprise of 47 turbines, each standing some 300 ft tall, and visible from large swathes of the island. I just do not take to the idea of having those structures littering the skyline here. Furthermore, it was unfortunate that the windfarm expo was in the same room as one about the Pelamis seasnake (which generates power from the movement of waves in the ocean). It requires the laying of a large undersea electricity cable from a crofting township in the east of Lewis to the mainland, which means that little Gravir will be industrialised, and the district of Lochs polluted with large electricity pylons. Yes, I'm a Nimby.

The situation in Japan appears to be getting worse. After the quake and tsunami, the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, 150 miles north of Tokyo, appears to be creeping towards meltdown, in spite of all the efforts to prevent this. The latest news mentions a fire at a 4th reactor.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Strange signs

I walked past Stornoway Police Station last week, when my eye was drawn to this sign on the (supposedly) automatic doors:

Pull doors apart to open/close

And the Press and Journal newspaper had a spellchecker glitch; they had bombs diffused (rather than defused).

Monday 14 March

Quite a nice day, if a tad nippy today. There is considerable disruption on the mainland due to heavy snow; the ski centre in the Cairngorms had to be closed after 30 inches (75 cm) of snow fell. The weather here was quite bright and sunny. I sent off another card on Postcrossing, which should hopefully reach its destination in about a week; it went to the States. The previous one reached Finland in 3 days; I omitted an airmail sticker on the first, and it took 3 weeks to get to Russia. I am yet to get a postcard in return, and that could be from anywhere. I print my own postcards (on blank postcards), using one of about 30,000 pictures of Lewis and Harris.

Today, I went to St Peter's Episcopal Church on Francis Street - the Episcopal Church in Scotland is equivalent to the Church of England.

I went there as I had word that a memorial to a WW1 casualty could be found there. I was not disappointed.

Interior of the church

Memorial to Alex John Macaskill, who died in the Iolaire Disaster of 1 January 1919, aged 19. 

There is one other Episcopal Church in Lewis; it is referred to as St Moluag's Chapel and can be found at Eoropie, near the Butt of Lewis.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sunday 13 March

A very wintry start to the day with a heavy snow shower; but it did not settle as the temperature was too far above zero for that. It is very windy, with a full gale blowing outside.

Continuing to monitor events in Japan, with television reports revealing more horrifying images of the tsunami and its aftermath. The situation at several of the country's nuclear powerplants continues to be a cause for concern.
Another on-going crisis is the Libyan one, with Gaddafi's forces gaining the upper hand on the rebel forces, moving east along the coast of the Gulf of Syrte. Gaddafi's regime uses torture as a matter of course, as well as summary executions. A cameraman from the Al-Jazeera TV channel was killed in an ambush; Gaddafi dislikes Al-Jazeera. Should he regain full control of Benghazi, the centre of the rebellion, Gaddafi is not expected to hold back. All that talk of a no-fly zone is coming too late.

I was pleased to hear from two bloggers who have been off the radar for a while. They are highlighted on Call for Support, both here on Blogger and on Facebook.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


I have experienced one earthquake first-hand, and that was nearly 20 years ago. It measured just over 5 on the Richter scale and was centered near Roermond in southern Holland. It did a fair bit of damage in that town, toppling chimney and other masonry. I was 60 miles to the north at the time, and it was a strange and frightening experience.

I awoke at 3 am, with the moon shining into my bedroom. There was not a sound - which was odd, as there is always the noise from the motorway, linking Holland to Germany, in the background. Not that night. I dropped off to sleep.

Just over 20 minutes later, I awoke to the bed swinging back and forth, and the whole house in fact creaking and swaying. It lasted for about 15 seconds, then ceased. The power had gone off, but I had batteries in my bedside radio, and this reported the quake, as well as the power outage. Things got back to normal fairly soon. The power grid had tripped out as a result of the quake, but was reset quickly.

It compared in no way to the massive quake that struck Japan yesterday, and the aftershocks are still generating tsunami waves along that country's coast. I am learning that nearly twenty 9 ft tsunami waves came ashore at Crescent City CA over the past 24 hours.

Saturday 12 March

A day of pale sunlight, as high cloud is shrouding the sun. I see shadows, so it's not completely covered. And it's been cold in the night, -5C / 23F. The mercury went above freezing only at 10 o'clock this morning. Snow is currently affecting Central Scotland, and will move north, reaching my corner of the world through the night.

I have decided to devote rather more time to my blogging friends than to Facebook games. Donna (Just Me) wrote that she had been blogging since 2004, gaining friends she otherwise would never have met. And the same applies to myself. I started blogging in October 2004, getting involved with J-land a year and a half later. Although I have infrequently called round blogs in recent months, I'll dedicate the time I used to spend on games to visiting blogs. Makes more sense, I'd think.

I continue to be horrified by the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The explosion at the nuclear plant, earlier today, appears to have served to reduce the amount of radiation at the site. But the images from the areas affected by the tsunami are mind-boggling. However, don't forget that a cubic metre of water (10.76 cubic feet) weighs a ton. And that lot was sweeping across the ocean at 600 mph, and across land at a speed of about 100 mph. The debris will have augmented the destructive power of the water.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Friday 11 March - evening notes

The massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami had me glued to the TV and the internet all day. It was beyond comprehension to watch a wall of water creep inexorably over land, sweeping away everything, and I mean everything in its path. Japan has awoken to a new day, with hundreds or thousands dead or missing, fires continuing to blaze out of control and a dangerous situation at one of its nuclear powerstations. The cooling system in one nuclear powerplant failed after the quake, and the reactor core is thought to have overheated. Radiation levels around the site are reported to be 1,000 times above normal, according to Sky TV this evening. Aftershocks continue to hit Japan, some as strong as 6.6 on the Richter scale - that is higher than the quake that devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, last month. More than 140 aftershocks bigger than magnitude 5 have been reported since the main quake, which struck at 05.46 GMT this morning, with a magnitude of 8.9.

The tsunami is rolling across the Pacific Ocean, and its effects on smaller islands or atolls are presently not known. The height of the tsunami as it is presently hitting the US states of Oregon and California has surprised me, with one station reporting a 2.02 m (6.6 ft) surge. Several people are reported to have been swept out to sea as they tried to take pictures. As I type this (1430 PST), the tsunamis are still rolling ashore, so if you're on the Pacific coast, please be careful.

Friday 11 March

Awoke to the news of the massive earthquake in Japan, which has clocked in at magnitude 8.9. This is only marginally less strong than the 9.1 quake that produced a devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean on Boxing Day 2004. This quake has produced tsunami waves of between 7 and 10 metres (24 to 33 feet), which have carried away anything in its path. This has varied from people to vehicles, boats and buildings. The pictures on NHK World, relayed through most broadcasters, are terrifying. The Japanese are used to earthquakes, but a near-9 is off their scale. As I type this, the tsunami is still rolling across the Pacific, currently affecting Indonesia. However, the tsunami warning extends right down the west coast of the entire American continent, with the wave currently closing in on Alaska.

A tsunami is not a wave, as you may see along the seashore. It is a wall of water. 

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is issuing hourly updates.
The WCATWC Warning Center covers the North American coastline, also hourly.

NHK World is carried on Sky TV (satellite, UK) channel 516.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Thursday 10 March

It's a cold morning and a band of heavy rain or snow is moving up from the west. We are on warning for 20 to 30 cm of snow. Or was that supposed to be Caithness or Sutherland (further east)? The forecast on local radio was not clear. Anyway, I'll let y'all know how we got on, and whether we needed to get the diggers out.

I am actually posting on the vexed question of a new voting system for UK Parliamentary elections. People are going to the polls about this in May, and Stuart has made a posting about it. He summarises the proposed AV [Alternate Vote] system as follows:

When you vote in a general election you will order your candidates in order of preference. Once the votes are counted, the candidate with the least number of votes is removed from the running, the votes are then counted again and all the voting slips that had the now excluded candidate as number one choice will have their second choice counted, and so an ad nauseum until, until at last somebody gets 50%.
If you really want to see proportional representation in action (which the above is not), I'd like to refer to the Dutch voting system. In Holland, there are 150 seats in the Lower House of Parliament, and about 10 million people eligible to vote for those. Which means that each seat roughly equates to 65,000 votes - this is referred to as the Electoral Divider. There are about 20 parties contesting each ballot, of which 10 gain at least 1 seat. A party that gets less than the Divider does not gain any seat at all. First of all, the number of votes for each party is divided by the Divider, which yields the first lot of seats. Any remaining votes (rest votes) will then be distributed according to a set of rules, determined (among others) by the preferential votes for any one candidate, if more than a quarter of the Divider. A tad complicated, but at least you are not in the position that your vote is wasted if you don't vote for a winning candidate.

I am not saying that the UK should adopt this system, because the political system and culture is totally different on this side of the North Sea. After the May 2010 general election in the UK I was glad to see a coalition in power. After a couple of weeks, I had to draw to the conclusion that a UK coalition is subtractive, rather than additive; confrontational rather than consensual. Weak, rather than strong. Although my political preference is not relevant (I'm not eligible to vote in UK general elections), I do prefer to see one party in office now. At least you know what you're going to get.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Wednesday 9 March

A very cold start to the day, with snow on the ground. This readily melted after the sun came up, but on higher ground it will have stayed all day. Heavy snow and hail showers punctuated late morning and afternoon, almost putting us back into winter. However, the seeds in the bird feeders were sprouting enthusiastically, showing that the equinox is only a matter of days away. High winds will affect the southern isles overnight; we further north should avoid the worst of those stormforce winds. The overnight freight ferry Muirneag is not sailing at any rate.

I have continued to transcribe the war diaries of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders in the First World War, now well into 1915. The troops made it through the 2nd battle of Ypres, and I shall rejoin them in spirit six months later in northern France. I have also uncovered another WW1 casualty from Lewis who merits inclusion on the CWGC registers, but is not there. He died in New Zealand a few months after being invalided out of Gallipoli.

Gallipoli is a name of infamy in the annals of the Great War. Allied forces were going to land on the Gallipoli peninsula, which lies at the western entrance to the Bosporus, which in turn leads to Istanbul. In 1915, this was the capital of the Ottoman [Turkish] Empire, an adversary of the Allies. The landings, carried out by British, Australian and New Zealand forces, claimed thousands of lives as a result of strategic blunders. On both sides, it should be said.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tuesday 8 March

Feeling increasingly cold as the day went on, with a heavy snow shower in the last hour before sunset. As I type this, the mercury down at the airport shows only +1C. Tomorrow is supposed to get even worse, with a forecast layer of 5 to 15 cm of snow, the higher up the more snow we're likely to get. It is only early March, after all; I've had a significant amount of snow as late as March 22nd, 5 years ago.The other aspect of today's weather is the wind; the afternoon ferry was off, and I don't think tomorrow morning's service will fare any better.

The House of Commons has decided to postpone a debate on the future of coastguard services in favour of MPs talking about International Women's Day. Now, I find that a totally worthy cause, but I rather think that actual life saving is just a tad more important. However, it appears to me that the decisions have already been taken and nothing you are I do is going to make the slightest bit of difference. Sounds despondent? Well, not quite as bad as that - there will be a march in Stornoway on March 19th to support the local Coastguards.

Monday 7 March

Absolutely pouring with rain this morning, and it only improved very gradually through the afternoon. We are on warning for snow on Wednesday, showing that March is very much a month of transition between winter and spring. The crocuses and narcissi may be out, but we still have 2 weeks to go until the equinox.

I have continued my transcriptions of the war diaries of one British army unit, the 2nd battalion Seaforth Highlanders, from 1915. I am currently going through the months of April and May, with more than a dozen Lewismen being lost at the start of the 2nd battle of Ypres (Belgium), and several more in gas attacks. According to the entry for May 2nd, 1915, the respirators were little more than woollen strips, which did nothing to lessen the effects of the chlorine gas being unleashed by the Germans. They had to lug 5,400 canisters of the stuff to the frontline. The disadvantage of using poison gas in this way is that a shift in the wind can blow it all back in your face. We are all familiar with chlorine, it is the stuff given off by bleach, especially when it is in a toilet being used without the bleach being flushed away first.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The end of the universe

The sun has been our star for 5 billion years, and will continue to shine for another 5 billion years. Nothing to worry about. Once all the hydrogen in the sun has been converted to helium, our star will swell up to reach a size close to the Earth's orbit. All life on our planet will cease at that point. Once all the helium has been converted to the next nuclear fusion element, beryllium (element #4), the sun will shrink and cool down to a white dwarf star, barely the brightness of the full moon - as seen from what's left of the Earth. In the end, the sun will go out, leaving a cinder - a black dwarf.

Stars that are much heavier than the sun will end their life as a black hole, which carry a gravitational pull that exceeds the speed of light. Nothing can escape from their grasp, and there are theories around that state that even time gets warped within a black hole. Nobody knows for sure.

Professor Brian Cox, whose programme prompted this post, states that it is the nature of the universe to progress from order to chaos, a state of decreasing entropy. He referred to that as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. By virtue of that, all the remnants of dead stars, whether they be black holes or black dwarves or whatever, will decay like a sandcastle on a windswept beach - to nothing. In the end, all matter will revert to energy (as per Einstein's E=mc2), and the universe will cool to absolute zero.

That, however, is where I start to disagree. Apart from the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the universe is governed by a few more laws. Gravity is one of them. And it is quite feasible, in my mind, that all matter will be pulled together by gravity into one entity - like the universe began? There is another law at play. The law of conservation of energy, the 1st law of thermodynamics. If the universe cools down to zero, that means that it will lose all the energy that is around at the moment. The 10 to the power of 77 atoms that slosh around the universe on a daily basis represent an ever large number in terms of energy. Energy is shown in motion, light, heat, radiation - and although it can be diluted, it cannot be lost.

I am not a physicist or astronomer, although I know a little bit about both. But isn't this fascinating!

Sunday 6 March

A sopping wet day, which improved only gradually as the afternoon progressed. Kept quiet, except for a few entries on my current project, which follows a battalion in the First World War and chronicles the days on which men from the Isle of Lewis were lost.

I also watched a very interesting programme, presented by physicist Prof. Brian Cox. He explained his theory what will happen when the universe comes to an end. I'm in danger of losing most of you (with all respect) when I say that I don't agree with his ideas. Prof. Cox says that the stars will finally all burn out and their remnants turn into radiation, cooling down to absolute zero in about 10 to the power of 81 years. Remember Einstein - mass is proportional to energy? I think all the stars will finally implode into one single entity - a new universe. I'll write a separate post about my theory. I'm not a physicist by the way, but have my own ideas on the issue.

The fishing boat Symphonie that was helped in by the lifeboat on Friday had to be helped in again on Saturday. After repairs, she went back to fishing, but broke down again within 10 miles of Stornoway. There have been quite a few rescues around the Hebrides in recent days, and it shows how vitally important the work of the Coastguard is.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Saturday 5 March

Quite a nice day, if a little overcast - in Stornoway that it. We went to Garry Beach, 15 miles north of here, and we were in broad, brilliant and warm sunshine. OK, 7C is not exactly the Med, but it was most enjoyable. Garry lies a mile or so north of North Tolsta on the east coast of the island, and lies at the Bridge to Nowhere. Because, if you continue beyond the beach to the large concrete bridge

you'll find that the road turns into a track, and a little further on, will end in a bog. 90 years ago, there were plans to extend the Stornoway - Tolsta road all the way to Ness, 10 miles further north. It has never come to anything. Walking the distance is a challenging undertaking.
Meanwhile, on the beach, the rock stacks are home to fulmars, a type of small gull, which spit fish oil at you if you come too close. Fortunately, they were 30 feet up, so well out of range.

The stacks are pieces of the mainland, which coastal erosion has separated onto the beach. They have subterranean passage, which (at certain times) you can walk through. Not today: this one was full of quicksand. 

At the southern end of the beach, there is a link to Traigh Mhor, half a mile to the south, but only at extremely low tides. I had to run to avoid being cut off by the rising tide after taking this pic. You can see the headland, Tolsta Head, which lies beyond Traigh Mhor [Big Beach].

In the opposite direction, the coastline curves away to the headland of Cellar Head, Rubha an t-Seileir [Rocky Point].

Who would come to the Outer Hebrides for a beach? Well, there should be droves here. Just as well the climate is the way it is, else the hordes would descend.

You will have noticed the fulmars cozying up together; spring is on its way.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Friday 4 March

As sunny as Thursday was, so grey was Friday. A thoroughly featureless and at times nearly foggy day. Not without excitement, although I suppose the crew of the Symphonie would not particularly appreciate the breakdown of their vessel as excitement. This Bayonne-registered vessel, crew 14, broke down just before 4 am, and the RNLI lifeboat went out to tow it into Stornoway. The two vessels arrived at 11 am. Two other rescues have had to be effected over the past 24 hours, one involving a ship off Benbecula whose cook was injured after a fall. The other was from another fishing vessel who had an unwell crewmember who required transfer to hospital. Conditions were difficult at sea.

The famous Stornoway black pudding (a type of blood sausage) has been put forward for special protection status, to prevent people from elsewhere in Scotland (or indeed the island!) from pinching the famous name for their own poor imitations. Consultation has closed, and the Scottish Government will now apply to the European Union for this special status. It has already been awarded to champagne and Parma ham.
Black pudding? Can't stand the stuff, way too rich for me.

Thursday 3 March

A cloudless and windless day, with the barometer quite high at 1039 mbar, 30.7 inches. Anticyclonic brilliance, except that cloud does move in from the west, obscuring the sun after lunchtime.

I recently obtained the war diaries for a battalion from the First World War, the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders. They were active on the Western Front, and about 110 of their number from the Isle of Lewis were lost in action. I have opened a new blog, in which I am transcribing the diary entry for a day in which a Lewisman was lost. See more here.

I am also cleaning up the transferred blog entries from Arnish Lighthouse, which was initially hosted on the BBC Island Blogging website. It is now hosted on an independent website, but the transfer missed some entries, the picture links don't work and the comments are not there. However, I only have the posts from March to December 2006 left to do.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Wednesday 2 March

A very wet day, although the rain did decrease from torrential to a fine drizzle as the hours went by. I took delivery of a new book Making the rounds with Oscar. There has been some publicity recently about a cat in a Rhode Island (USA) nursing home, which had the uncanny ability to predect when one of its residents was about to die. The doctor who made the discovery has written a book about this, extending the story beyond the abilities of the cat. Perhaps an uncomfortable eye-opener to anyone who has had a relative with any form of dementia.

Colonel Gaddafi of Libya has been described as delusional by some people. He is not, I can tell you. Our Muammar is a very clever manipulator, and admitting that anything is amiss constitutes admitting to a weakness. Making terrible threats is all part of the deal. For the moment, there appears to be an uneasy stalemate, with a failed attempt by loyal Libyan forces to retake a town in the east of the country.

In Scotland, the football competition is dominated by two teams, Rangers and Celtic. These are both from Glasgow, but one is representative of the protestant section of society (Rangers, or the Gers) and the other of the catholics (Celtics, or the Hoops). Their matches are tense affairs, and in the past led to crowd trouble. Last night's Old Firm match (as Rangers vs Celtic games are referred to) saw trouble on the pitch. Rangers lost 1-0, and had three players sent off. I don't have a lot of time for football, as I think the players are paid ridiculous sums of money, and are traded with 7 or 8-figure sums of money. However, where I come from, they say that football is war, and in that case I prefer 22 guys having it out on a grassy pitch as opposed to people slinging lead against each other.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Last week in February - picture post

Anyone for dinner?

Passing puss

23 February

Distant shower

24 February

Picture post - 27 February


The A866 road from the airport to Stornoway

The Braighe at Melbost


Cattle at Melbost

Tuesday 1 March

The start of the meteorological spring, although the astronomical spring is still three weeks away. Nonetheless, the daffodils, crococuses and snowdrops are already well in bloom.

The weather was bright but with a good amount of high-level cloud about, making it a very glary day. I spent Tuesday monitoring developments in Libya, which continue to be as confusing as ever over the past fortnight. This evening, a meeting about the proposed changes in the Coastguard service turned into a lively affair, according to a report on local news website Hebrides News.

This afternoon, one of my Irish contacts held a short private ceremony to remember one of the Lewis casualties from the First World War who lies buried near Dublin. John Macaulay was torpedoed in his ship SS Kenmare on 2 March 1918. His body washed up north of Dublin and was buried with full military honours at Balrothery. Today, a commemorative poster was put on the railings around John's grave, a  poem was read as well as a tribute. Photograph and account of ceremony courtesy David J. Grundy of Skerries, Dublin.