View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Monday 30 May

Not a good day, although it started OK. Nice bright weather, sunshine and fluffy clouds, not too cold. However, after I did a spot of work with a carpet cleaner, I began to feel out of breath. The machine has a hoover component, which blasts air (containing copious amounts of dust, even on hoovered carpets) back into the air. Which is what went for me. Seriously.

So, after suffering for 7 hours through the afternoon into the evening, when I could only breathe comfortably if crouched forward over a table, and the muscles in my chest were in pain for straining to breathe, I decided that enough was enough, and dialled NHS 24. For my non-British readers, this is the Scottish out-of-hours medical service, which you can ring up if you feel unwell and it can't wait until morning. After being grilled on my personal details and the exact nature of the problem, they sent for an ambulance. I was put on some oxygen during the 10 minute drive across town. At 8.30 pm, I turned up at A&E at Western Isles Hospital, on the northern edge of Stornoway, where I was put on a nebuliser. This handsomely did the trick, as I expected. Had to wait for an hour or two before the doctor could see me, but he was quite happy to send me home with an inhaler and some anti-histamine pills. On return home, I crawled into my bed straightaway; it was 11pm by that time at any rate. The problem was identified as an allergic reaction to dust - something I had worked out myself beforehand. The doctor wanted to see the carpet cleaner, but that is just a soapy solution.

Typing this the following morning, I can add that I feel back to almost my normal self. The inhaler works a treat; one puff and everything is open straightaway. I'm also quite happy that a number of people turned up at the hospital to see how I was, and at the door this morning. I am on a promise not to identify them openly on the Net, but they know who they are.

This is the end of the medical bulletin!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sunday 29 May

Although the day did start out with some showers, it turned into quite an acceptable Sunday in terms of weather. There were only a few spots of light rain and we had some sun. In the afternoon, I decided to take a walk to Sandwick Cemetery to try out the GPS. It performed as expected, but when I downloaded the track onto the computer, it showed last Sunday's walk with some very strange perambulations. Project onto Google Maps, it looks as if I had been calling into each and every house on Bayhead Street! A more reasonable explanation would be that the machine lost sight of some satellites along the way and got it ever so slightly wrong. It does indicate the margin of error, and when it starts to go to 20 metres and above, it's decidedly inaccurate. Here in the house, it suggests that I have been walking for hundreds of yards. Lying still.

Anyway, I went to the graveyard and had to divert around it. The entrance from the shore was blocked by a flood, caused by a blocked drain. There was about 4 inches of water on the ground, caused by the run-off from the morning's showers. It had even flooded the entrance to the cemetery itself. There were several manhole covers with water flooding out of them, as well as out of a hole in the ground. On return home, I rang the water company to report the problem.

Saturday 28 May

Half Marathon day here in Stornoway, but the weather is not as bad as I feared in yesterday's blogpost. There were blustery showers, but as the runners passed my position (at around 10.15 am) it was dry and even a tad sunny. I'm continuing to monitor typhoon Songda, which is headed for Japan. The storm will weaken to below typhoon strength before reaching there, but severe gales are likely to batter the south of that country on Sunday.

The Isle of Harris will be visited by the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay on Thursday 2 June. Charles and Camilla will visit producers of Harris Tweed, and representatives of the industry at a community centre in the Bays area of the island. Prince Charles gained a degree of notoriety in 1961 when, as a 14-year old, he ordered a cherry brandy in a Stornoway bar. Charles has since been back and forth to Berneray, south of Harris.

I was pleased to learn that fellow researcher Direcleit was offered (and has accepted) a position of part-time researcher for the Berneray Historical Society. Over the past 15 months or so, I have noticed a steady progression in his work (as shown on the blog), and I have been happy to learn from parts of his work, and to have been of assistance in some small measure along the way. I wish him well for the future in his new post.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday 27 May

Pretty awful. That is in two words the description of our weather today. The passengers on the cruiseliner Silver Explorer (pictured below) were barely able to see anything, due to the continuous rain. The cold wind added further misery. As I type this, the rain appears to have moved away east, but it certainly was a wet day.

I received the cables to connect my GPS to the PC, but that did not include the software. The mini CD contained no useful software, and I had to Google my way round the internet to get the necessary. I think that Garmin, who made the GPS device, should include cables and software with their product. However, the thing is now connected, which is all that matters. I'll give it a whirl this weekend, if and when the weather decides to dry up.

The typhoon season has fired up in the Pacific Ocean, and supertyphoon Songda blew up to 140 knots (160 mph), gusting to 170 knots (200 mph) yesterday. The storm gave a glancing blow to the north of the Philippines, and may give southern Japan a spot of bother, but only as a stormforce low pressure system. I am posting the latest updates on my Tropical Cyclones blog.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Thursday 26 May

The weather today is very cold, wet and breezy. The mercury can barely manage double figures, and coupled with a northerly wind, this makes for an unpleasant day outside.

It is also been a bad day for Ratko Mladic, but otherwise an excellent day for the rest of us. Mladic was the commander of the Bosnian Serb army in the early 1990s, when Yugoslavia fell apart in a brutal war. He is alleged to have masterminded the three-year siege of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, in which civilians were continually shelled. He was also present in Srebrenica, when this UN safe haven was overrun in July 1995. Subsequently, 7,000 men and boys from the town were taken away into nearby woods and shot. Mladic forced UN personnel to assist in the operation. Like his political leader, Radovan Karadzic, Mladic had assumed a false name. The cynical approach could be that Mladic was handed over to facilitate the entry of Serbia into the European Union.

The arrest of Mladic has been heralded with delight and relief across the world, not least in Holland. It was the Dutch Battalion of the UN peace keeping force that was present in Srebrenica when Mladic's forces invaded. I personally know several members of the Dutch armed forces who were there - at the time, I was working for the Dutch Ministry of Defense. Back in 1995, there was severe criticism of the commander of Dutchbat, who was seen to be meekly surrendering to the Bosnian Serbs. However, what choice do you make when offered the alternatives of collaborating with Mladic, or being shot?

Wednesday 25 May

My new camera arrived today, and I spent some time getting to know the basics of the device. My old camera finally packed in over the weekend, after more than 5 years and 31,600 pictures and videos. I also received a carry case for my GPS machine - a carry case that did not fit. It went straight back to the manufacturers for a refund.

The weather was quite unpleasant with grey clouds and occasional rain. Although the wind has died down, it remains cold.

There are reported to be counterfeit banknotes in circulation in Stornoway. Although none of the local banks have confirmed this, one shop has put up a notice saying that it only accepts cards or coins; no banknotes of any description. The police state that they have not received any reports of counterfeit money. Some shops say they lost hundreds of pounds of income, after notes turned out to be fake. It is strange that no confirmation can be obtained.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tuesday 24 May

Quite a blustery and showery day, with even some hail thrown in for good measure. Cars here in Stornoway are all covered in a thin layer of ash (if the rain hasn't already washed it off). The ash, from the Grimsvotn volcano in Iceland, has stopped all air travel in Scotland. Planes in Orkney and Shetland were found to be covered with a layer of ash as well. An echo of the disruption from April last year (the below picture shows some of the ash on a car roof).

The high winds have caused havoc on the mainland, but these islands did not get off scotfree either. A lorry overturned off the A859 Tarbert to Stornoway road, about 7 miles north of Tarbert. The driver was airlifted to hospital in Stornoway with serious injuries. Judging by the state of his cab, shown on TV images, he is lucky to come out of that alive.

Local people were alerted to a scam letter, where the residents of a house were advised that a relative, named Gilbert [surname of resident], had died in China, leaving $9,8m. And of course you have to email, fax, write to some dodgy address in Hong Kong to claim your cut. I'm used to seeing that c**p in email, it does not regularly turn up here.

Cruiseship NG Explorer, entering port this evening

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Monday 23 May

Although the calendar says late May, the weather was more like November today. After lashing rain overnight, the morning cleared to a rising gale. Winds got up to 40 mph, gusting to 70 mph; but down at Malin Head, the northwestern cape of Ireland, there was a 60 mph storm, with gusts to 80 mph. In central Scotland, countless trees and power cables were brought down, leading to serious travel disruption and powercuts. Here in Stornoway, we lost power between 7.15 and 7.50. One person died when his vehicle was crushed by a falling tree. Ferries were cancelled up and down the west coast, although our ferry ploughed on through the force 8 winds, eventually arriving at 9.30 this evening, more than an hour behind schedule.

Although the weather was severe here, it was nothing as compared to the tornado that devastated Joplin, MO, in the USA. More than 100 people are now known to have been killed, and more than 1000 injured. The town is largely destroyed.

So Obama sipped a pint in a pub in Ireland. Volcanic ash clouds prompted his early departure for England. Tomorrow, there will be no flights from Stornoway Airport in the morning, or from any other hub outside the Central Belt [Glasgow / Edinburgh]. We're back to April last year, in other words. Hope this stops soon; I'm due to fly in a fortnight's time.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Sunday 22 May

A slightly better day than yesterday, with good sunny spells - interspersed with showers. Still breezy, and that will only get worse. Tomorrow, we are on warning for galeforce winds with gusts up to 80 mph. I think the Philippines can expect a bit more than that by the weekend, with the north of Luzon Island going up to 125 mph gusting to 155 mph. The name of the typhoon is Songda, the first of the 2011 season. However, it won't be the winds that will be the killer in the Philippines, it will be the rainfall and attendant floods and landslides.

Went for a walk around town to try out my new GPS device, which dutyfully logged every step I took. It also claimed I walk at the breathtaking pace of 4.1 mph. Now, I do walk fast, but I also stop to take pictures. Nifty machine, and you can actually download your walked routes onto the PC. As soon as I have all the pieces of kit in place, I'll give that a whirl - hopefully by the end of the coming week. Which is also when I hope to have my new camera as well. The old one died on me this weekend, so I'm using a borrowed one until the new one arrives.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Saturday 21 May

Once more, a day of atrociously bad weather. Nothing but wind and rain, and very low temperatures. I'll have to wait for better weather to try out my new GPS device. And I've ordered a new camera, after my trusty old Olympus showed signs of imminent breakdown yesterday. I hope this Panasonic will do the job just as well. The Olympus took more than 31,600 pictures and videoclips over a period of 5 years and 3 months, and doesn't owe me a thing, even more so after two previous repairs.

A huge furore over a footballer (not my favourite breed) who objects to having his extra-marital romps put out to view on Twitter. Well, Mr CBT, you should have thought before humping the female in question. It has posed a question for the legal eagles of this world, because Twitter is on the Internet - like this blog - and therefore internationally viewed. Worse than that, the Wikileaks saga has taught us all that you only need to copy and copy and copy, and it is completely out of anybody's control. So, can the Internet be gagged? Nope.

The pilot whales in Loch Carnan appear to have gone there for a feed of octopus and a burp, and are now thought to be on their way out to sea. Hopefully.

Friday 20 May

Although we're moving into the latter third of May, the weather is more like March. I went to the shop around midday to buy a set of rechargeable batteries + charger, and it felt positively wintery. Later in the afternoon, hail and even show lashed against the windows. The cruiseliner that was promised for Tuesday actually did not turn up, and with the gale warnings in force for Saturday, the Lord of the Glens may not appear either.

A man from Aberdeenshire, Malcolm Webster, has been found guilty of the murder of his wife in 1994. At the time, he said he had crashed off the road, and the vehicle had caught fire. He had managed to escape, but his wife had not. In fact he had pushed the car into the undergrowth after drugging his wife, then set light to it. Webster tried the same trick to his next wife, in New Zealand, which proved to be his undoing. She lived to tell the tale of feeling drugged before that particular staged accident.

A pod of pilot whales, which normally roam the high seas, have turned up in Loch Carnan, South Uist. There are about 100 animals in the narrow loch, and some 20 are injured. It is thought that pilot whales beach themselves when injured or sick; and their strong family bonds mean that the others in the group will follow suit. Last year, a similar group was freed from Loch Carnan, but turned up dead on a beach in County Donegal, Ireland a few days later. Donegal is about 150 miles south of the Hebrides.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Thursday 19 May - evening notes

The day has turned into a very windy and cool affair, with occasional heavy showers. The TV news reports from Stornoway on the subject of coastguard reform showed the weather conditions beautifully.

I apologise in advance for any distress caused by my comments, below, on the subject of rape.
The UK Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, has been trying to remove the foot from his mouth, where he put it yesterday. Mr Clarke suggested that there were some forms of rape, which were less serious than others. One example was of a girl of 15 (below the age of consent), who would willingly have sex with an older man - which is technically rape. However, there was a huge outcry of the suggestion that rape be downplayed under any pretext. Mr Clarke was attacked in parliament on the issue, and has been asked to apologise and even resign. He has done neither - he has only said he could have chosen his words better. Mr Clarke seems to be unaware of the extreme distress caused by rape to the victim, and as he is the man responsible for the administration of justice, he really should apologise. Or quit. I have very little time for government ministers who show themselves so far removed from the reality of life away from Whitehall.

Thursday 19 May

A morning post, just for a change.
The route that the Olympic Torch will take across the UK next year was announced yesterday. The Isle of Lewis will see it on July 11th, but the relevant page on the London 2012 website only highlights sights-to-see in the town of Stornoway, and omitting the Callanish Stones - although a picture of them does feature on the page.

Osama bin Laden has spoken from beyond the grave. Well, Al-Qa'eda have released a video of him recorded before he was killed on May 2nd. An analyst has pointed out that Al-Qa'eda and the USA both wanted to get rid of the tyrannical regimes of Egypt and Tunisia - but the outcome desired by the protagonists is vastly different. The USA is hoping for western-style democracies (see that happening in a hurry??), Al-Qa'eda wants strict Islamic laws introduced (see that happening in a hurry??).

The Select Committee on Transport is currently sitting in Stornoway, to hear evidence about the proposed changes to the Coastguard service. Only for the UK Transport Secretary to announce that the proposals have been ditched, and something else will be thought out. Goes to show what pester power can do - an long-running campaign has been fought against the reduction in CG services.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Wednesday 18 May

Heavy showers with occasional sunshine, and the wind blowing a half-gale at 30 mph. Could have been worse, but also, could be better. Did a wee bit of local history, with more Napier witnesses from Ness. Otherwise, not much doing.

Spoke to a visitor to this island, who had been on a yachting trip over the past few days. The trip was to have gone to St Kilda, but the skipper of the sailing boat did not fancy braving 18 ft waves in the Atlantic, so it diverted down the Minch to Skye.

There was a cruiseliner in, the Quest, here on its 4th visit since April. The Marco Polo is due in tomorrow.
Also tomorrow, there will be a meeting at a local hotel regarding the revision of Coastguard services around these shores. The meeting is in fact a hearing from the Transport Committee of the House of Commons, as there is grave concern about the implications of the plans to review the UK Coastguard.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Tuesday 17 May

Went from bad to worse, in terms of weather. As I type this, just after 5pm, it is raining persistently with the wind, currently at force 5, set to rise to a near-gale later this evening. Spent the afternoon looking into four of the witnesses who spoke at the Napier Enquiry in 1883. One of them died on the island of North Rona, 45 miles northeast of Lewis. Rona has been uninhabited since the 17th century, and when Murdo Mackay and Malcolm Macdonald went there in 1884 after a row with the minister, they were not to return. After winter, a crew of Ness men went to look for them, but only found their remains. Illness appears to have been the cause of death.

Queen Elizabeth has laid a wreath at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin. The Garden remembers those who gave their life in the struggle for Irish independence from British rule in the early decades of the 20th century. One of the incidents associated with that struggle has a distant echo in Lewis history. John Macaulay, a sailor from Islivig in Lewis washed up north of Dublin in 1918, after his ship was torpedoed in the Irish Sea. His funeral was conducted with full military honours, and it would have gone down in the history of Balrothery as an event of note - if it had not been for the fact that two years later, British soldiers sacked Balrothery for the alleged murder of a Royal Irish Constabulary officer in the town.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Monday 16 May

Monday started like Sunday ended: wet and miserable. However, by midday, the rain let off and the sun started to come out intermittently. Not too bad at all by the end of the afternoon.

Tomorrow, Queen Elizabeth II will visit the Republic of Ireland for the first time. It is the first visit to Ireland by a reigning British monarch since the country gained independence in 1922. The relationship between the UK and Ireland is historically fraught. The so-called troubles in Northern Ireland are firmly tied in with the separation of Ireland and Britain, and these continue to rumble today. A terror group with republican leanings has threatened violence on account of this royal visit, and I have my doubts about the wisdom of this visit.

Some people find it pleasing to see the head of the International Monetary Fund in jail for alleged sex offences. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a potential candidate for the presidency of France, was remanded in custody today after accusations were levelled against him that he had attempted to rape a chambermaid in New York. I hope that justice is seen to be done, irrespective of Mr SK's position. The depiction of justice, a blindfolded woman holding scales, suggests as much.

I hope that the international arrest warrant against Muammar Gadaffi will be executed, in order that he can face justice too over the way he has treated the people of Libya over the past 40 years or so. We already knew he was unsavoury, but he has shown his true colours over the past few months. Osama bin Laden did not deserve a better fate than he got two weeks ago. Muammar Gadaffi in court will be a sight to behold.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Sunday 15 May

A few weather related notes. Today saw the start of the hurricane season in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Landmasses affected by tropical cyclones there include Mexico and Central America. The Baja California peninsula is likely to see one or more systems, particularly later in the period, in late summer or early autumn. The USA will not be directly impacted, due to low temperatures in the ocean off the state of California. The southwestern states may however be affected by rainfall, drifting northeast from remnants of hurricanes.

Rainfall is what marked out the day here in Stornoway. It basically rained all day, and it was thoroughly grey, wet and miserable. I kept a quiet day, watching a lot of television, some of it recorded previously. One of my favourite series, Ice Road Truckers, ended last Friday. Another Alaska related series, Flying Wild Alaska, about bush planes there, continues on Thursday evenings.

The wet weather will continue tomorrow, but I'll be resuming my local history activities.

Saturday 14 May

A day of mixed fortunes, with broad sunny spells and occasional showers. As I type the first part of this post, the sun is just going down (just before 10pm). We managed 14C / 57F today. Yesterday, I noticed that the old shellfish processing factory on Shell Street had been almost completely taken down. Its smell will not be missed. It had been out of use for the past 4 years. The local brewery had expressed an interest in the site, but demolition was to be its fate.

Site today

Site on 4 March

Although the upper picture has a wider angle, the building in the right of the picture gives a point of reference. That, incidentally, is also due for demolition.

I have spent today setting up back-up blogs (on Wordpress) for my Tropical Cyclones blog and the Pentland Road blog. I don't want to be confronted with the spectre of losing entries on either blog through Blogger's incompetence. Can't say I like Wordpress that much, because it's fiddly and the back-up of this blog failed - only the first year's entries (2008/9) were copied over. Have to try again.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Friday 13 May

It certainly was a bad day for the users of the Blogger forum, as the site was offline or inaccessible for most of the day. When service was restored, posts and comments had disappeared into thin air, and I'm still clearing up the mess that this 21 hour outage left behind. I'm not impressed, and I shall spend the weekend backing up my 52 blogs to Wordpress. I don't want to have this happening again.

Friday the 13th is often associated with black cats. Well, let me tell you the story of this black cat.

Thomas was in my life for 15 years, between 1973 and 1988. He had all his gear, and made no bones about asserting that. Fights were common between Thomas and the other tomcats in the neighbourhood, particularly in the months of March and November, when the females were in season. His wounds were nasty, because tomcats grasp each other round the neck and dig their claws in - leaving infections behind. If we could not find Thomas in the house, we only had to go after the smell.

Thomas was also a proficient catcher of mice, birds and rabbits. One rabbit was consumed under my parents' bed at 3 am, from live. Ear piercing screams were replaced by bones being crunched. And a bloated cat lying prostrate on the floor, being unable to move. Thomas ate what we ate. We would give him balls of minced meat, and he would bolt after them into the garden, where we threw them. He was mad for butter, ate runner beans and cheese.

Thomas always had varying numbers of fleas. Consorting with other cats, particularly feral females, ensured that his quota remained topped up. On returning from holiday one year, the fleas jumped for joy. So, out came the fleapowder. I had to powder Thomas. Both cat and myself were quite ill as a result of the insecticide powder.

Thomas grew weaker through the first months of 1988, and we finally took him to the vet. His kidneys were failing and he was dehydrated. Returning from the vet, he was presented with a meal of boiled fish, which he wolfed down. Over the next seven days, he wasted away at a breathtaking pace, from muscular tom to almost kitten size. One Sunday morning at the end of May, he was so weak that he had been unable to jump onto a chair. He had spent the night on the floor, but on hearing us stir, he made his presence known. By 9 o'clock that evening, he left us and passed over the Rainbow Bridge. The next morning, his fleas had also left him. All 400 of them.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Thursday 12 May

A day of varied fortunes in terms of weather. We had intermittent showers, but also glimpses of sunshine. I have a collection of my walks on the website, but one of them required a complete overhaul. The site shows images of the route, maps and directions. It does not help, however, if part of the route has been dug up and blocked due to ground works; and when an entire building has been demolished, it does change the scenery a bit. So, I went out to photograph the first half mile or so, then upload it onto the website.

In the afternoon, I had to deal with the stresses and strains that crop up on Call for Support (on FB); it's not always easy to strike the right tone, and in the heat of the moment, the wrong choice of words can spark off an torrent of consequences.

I have also continued to look into the witnesses at the Napier Commission, sitting at Barvas on 6 June 1883. The last two men, from Arnol and Bragar, came out of the census returns quite neatly - next up are the witnesses from Ness, in the north of the island.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Tuesday 10 May

Well, that was a wet day and no mistake. Torrential rain in the morning giving way to a few showers in the afternoon, but with near gale force winds. I don't think the passengers on the cruiseliner Quest, who arrived at lunchtime, were too happy with the conditions, and the ferry crossings today will have been a tad on the bumpy side as well.

Going through a stack of old newspaper articles today, I came across a cutting from the 1860s which was one big long ridicule of the Highlander, as being the proverbial mean Scot, who would even argue the price of a train fare. Have to say that attitudes on both sides of the English / Scottish border are likely to be polarised, now that we have a majority nationalist administration in power in Edinburgh. Some of it is very nasty, prompting me to get rid of at least one contact on both Twitter and Facebook. Anyway, you get that wherever you go.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Monday 9 May

Quite a nice day, although there was a distant threat of showers or even thunderstorms. None of this bothered us here in Lewis; I discount the dozen drops that fell around 4.30pm. Went for a walk round to Goat Island (across the water from my position), and provided some moral support to some people who were at the receiving end of internet bullying.


Within the next five years, the population of Scotland can expect a referendum on independence. The Scottish National Party (SNP) have gained a majority in the Scottish Parliament, and their primary aim is an independent Scotland.

It is interesting to look back over the past twelve years or so to follow the trail of consequences that has led to the current juncture. A referendum on devolution in 1999 led to the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament. The voting system for the Parliament had been designed so that no party could be expected to gain an overall majority.

In 2007, the SNP came to power following an election which was so poorly conducted that 110,000 Scots were effectively disenfranchised. This was the result of a badly designed ballot form, which people couldn’t make head nor tail of. It lead to a 10% rate in spoiled ballot papers, a percentage that normally runs at around 0.1%. In my opinion, that election should have been re-run. However, the result stood.

In 2010, the UK general election was a hung parliament, with no one party in overall control. However, in the run-up to the election, party leaders had engaged in three prime-ministerial debates. The participants included the leaders of Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. The latter party went on to lose seats at the polls, but ended up being kingmakers, projected to a higher status by the TV debates. The Lib Dems chose to get into bed with the Conservatives.

This coalition is proving impopular, with the junior partners (the Lib Dems) taking the rap for the unpopular cuts in public services. This was reflected in last week’s poll in Scotland, where the Lib Dem voters defected en-masse to the SNP; Labour and the Conservatives also lost, again to the SNP - leaving the latter with a majority of 4 in the Scottish Parliament.

Whilst I am in favour of further devolved powers to the Scottish Parliament, I am against full independence. I am even more against independence in view of the adversarial nature of the SNP’s stance towards England.

I will go so far as to point to several instances in recent decades, where bringing up grievances from the past (the Battle of the Boyne (1689) in Ireland, and the Battle of Kosovo (1389) in Yugoslavia) has had catastrophic consequences. I would hate to see the Battle of Culloden having similar consequences.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Sunday 8 May

The day started wet and windy, but cleared to a beautiful evening. As I type this, at 11.30pm, the light lingers in the northwest. We are now on the home straight to the longest day, which will see sunset at 10.35pm and daylight lingering through the 'night'.

Over the past week, I have downloaded several dozen articles from 19th century newspapers, and I'm currently transcribing and researching these. The first ones had to do with the Napier Report (which I've been working on for the past 10 months or so), but the third one went all the way back to 1812, to the time of the Mackenzies of Seaforth. They were not blessed, as the Deaf Mackenzie's four sons all pre-deceased him. The magnificent party for William Mackenzie, described in the Caledonian Mercury of 1 August 1812, was to be followed by the young man's funeral within about 2 years.

This afternoon, I watched the film Fiddler on the Roof, starring Topol. It was broadcast on ITV3. The music is very well known to me, but the film has quite a sad ending. Even more so, because the people that were turned out of their villages in the Russia of the early 20th century ended up on emigrant ships, bound for America - one of which (the SS Norge) foundered off Rockall in 1904, drowning 700.

Saturday 7 May

Quite an acceptable day, during which the cargoship Aasvik continued to discharge a cargo of sand. This involves the sand being tipped into lorries, which transport it through the town. It was bright and at times sunny, and the mercury sneaked up to 19C / 66F during the afternoon. The wind picked up from the northeast, before dying down completely.

The newspapers are full of yesterday's election results, and it is a case of chickens coming home to roost. I am no fan of the SNP and its agenda of independence for Scotland. I would like to see more government powers being devolved to Holyrood from Westminster, but the confrontational attitude of the Nationalists is the one thing we can do without. I have previously argued that harking back to the ills of the 18th and 19th century is no way of addressing whatever problems exist in the 21st century.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Scottish elections - Friday 6 May

The elections for the Scottish Parliament have yielded a clear-cut winner, the Scottish National Party. Although not all results have been declared as I type this (2.30pm), the SNP is heading for a thumping victory. It needs 65 seats for an outright majority, and right now, that total stands at 63, with about 30 seats left to be declared. The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Iain Gray, will stand down as partyleader. The Liberal Democrats, once a party of government, are now down to 4 seats. Alex Salmond will remain as First Minister for Scotland.
EDIT: The overall majority for the SNP has now been confirmed.

Here in the Western Isles, the sitting MSP, Alastair Allan, has been returned to his seat, with a majority of more than 5000 - the total number of votes cast was about 8000, a turn-out of nearly 60%.

In my perception, the Liberal Democrats have crashed as a result of their party's involvement with the coalition government in London, a participation that is deeply unpopular. The Labour party have lost because their campaign was focused on Westminster (the coalition) rather than Scottish issues - and because of complacency. The Conservatives do historically poorly in Scotland; they only have one MP in the Westminster Parliament, but about 10 in Holyrood.

The SNP stands for full independence for Scotland, but the public mood is not in favour of that. The party has pledged a referendum on independence by about 2014.

Thursday 5 May

The day of the Scottish Parliament elections saw the return of more average weather: overcast, misty and occasional light rain. The results will be coming in from 2 am onwards, with the last MSPs due to be declared on Friday afternoon. There is a convoluted system of proportional representation in place to determine the election of regional members of the Scottish Parliament.

I had a further look at the witnesses that gave evidence to the Napier Commission in 1883, and also unearthed more 19th century newspaper articles. One gave details of a long-forgotten shipping tragedy, which left the wreckage of dozens of fishing boats strewn on the shoreline north of Ullapool. Earlier this week, I came across an article on the Royal Wedding - of 1894. And distant memories of visits by Queen Victoria to Aberdeen, with her train being met by crowds at the city's station. Different days, by far. The newspapers from about 1800 show the letter S in some cases as 'f', minus cross-stroke.

The Coastguard helicopter put in an appearance this evening, practicing its winching procedures behind Goat Island. An object was dropped in the water, and the winchman was lowered down to retrieve it.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Wednesday 4 May

Another beautifully sunny day, but with increasing amounts of high cloud. Rain is expected overnight, bringing this spell of nice spring weather to a close. It is supposed to get up to 27C in southern England by the weekend; we're on the northern extremity of this heat, and will not exceed 14C. Which I prefer, to be honest.

I downloaded some more interesting news paper articles from the 19th century - I paid for a 7-day pass to download up to 200 articles; at the moment I am up to 72, including about a dozen for another researcher. The pass expires on Sunday, and I may well have in excess of 100 articles by then. I'll now have to read them all.

The weather this evening was beautifully calm, and I went out just after 8pm to watch the ferry coming in. Apart from the noise of the engines, there was not a sound and not a breath of wind. The 13C on the thermometer felt quite pleasant.

I am glad that we are going to be spared the sight of Osama bin Laden with his brains hanging out. It would have served no constructive purpose, and you always get conspiracist numbskulls who claim that the man is not really dead. However, his 12-year old daughter had seen her father being shot dead, and it's not a claim that you idly make - not from the Americans neither from the girl. We are now rid of one of history's evil personae, ranking among the likes of Adolf Hitler.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Tuesday 3 May

Daylight is fading slowly as I type this just after 9.45pm. It has been another brilliantly sunny day, but cooler than yesterday. The mercury did not make it above the mid 50s Fahrenheit, 13C. Nonetheless, the sun compensated in no mean fashion. The continuing sunny weather is provoking wildfires in various parts of the UK, the smoke of which affected Lewis yesterday. Rain will be spreading in from the Atlantic later in the week, hopefully alleviating the drought conditions that arose in April.

The repercussions of the death of Osama bin Laden continue to be felt. The US administration is cogitating whether to release pictures of the body, saying they are gruesome and could be inflammatory. Al-Jazeera says Bin Laden was not armed when his compound was raided late on Sunday (local time). His corpse was buried at sea, in order to prevent a burial site on land becoming a shrine. I reiterate what I said yesterday: the reasons for the advent of Al Qa'eda have not gone away, and although this particular group may well fade away, others could take its place.

Tomorrow is the last day of campaigning in the Scottish Parliament elections on Thursday. The latest polls suggest that the Scottish National Party could do better than in 2007, giving them a stronger grip on power. Over the past four years, the SNP have governed a minority administration, requiring other parties' consent for enacting legislation. The SNP's main policy aim is full independence for Scotland; the country became part of the United Kingdom in 1707. In my opinion, an independent Scotland is not a good idea, for economic and political reasons. The economic powerbase of Scotland is too narrow, and the SNP's approach to Westminster can be classified as confrontational. Furthermore, the banking collapse of 2008 would have bankrupted Scotland. We have all seen what happened to the countries of the Arc of Prosperity, Iceland and Ireland. I am in favour of further devolved powers being afforded to Holyrood - breaking up the United Kingdom carries more risks than benefits.

3,519 days later

Osama bin Laden was killed 3,519 days after 2,996 people were lost in the 9/11 attacks in the USA. This reminder came from Dale C. Roe, who is in charge of Project 2996, where the victims of 9/11 are remembered. To quote Martin Luther King Jr: I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.

Each year, on 11 September, I remember Norberto Hernandez and Jeffrey Dwayne Collman on this blog. With Dale C. Roe, I hope that their relatives' pain will have been lessened a little now.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Monday 2 May

A brilliantly sunny day, but for a couple of hours, we had a bank of smoke rolling across the island. The smoke comes from wildfires on mainland Scotland, 50 miles to the east. April has been one of the warmest and driest on record, giving rise to tinderbox conditions. One fire, near Torridon, is threatening properties. As I type this, visibility is back to normal, but around lunchtime we could barely see the lighthouse and the fabrication yard - both only a mile away across the harbour.

I have said what I have to say about Osama bin Laden in my previous post. Good riddance, but no real cause for celebrations. Too many have died, and his lieutenants are queueing up to take his place and carry out acts of vengeance.

The BBC is reporting that certain operators of windfarms in Scotland have been paid to switch the machines off, as their output outstripped the capacity of the electricity grid. I am an opponent of large-scale windfarms, and this licence to print money degrades their argument to the level of ridicule. A waste of money - and on windless days, all of Scotland's windfarms only generate enough power to boil 1,000 kettles.

Osama bin Laden

It is reported this morning that Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man has been killed in Pakistan. Whilst understanding the feelings of elation and vengeance sought and wreaked, I will go so far as to say that when you chop a head off the Medusa, you don't kill the monster. Another head will grow back, another man will taken Bin Laden's place.

There are a couple of observations I want to make at this juncture.
Bin Laden used the pretext of religion for perpetrating his atrocities. What he did had nothing to do with religion. Any true Muslim will tell you, without even glancing at his religious texts, that murder is not permissible under any circumstances. I object in the strongest possible terms to the vilification of Muslims on this account. Much blood has been shed because of religion - do not forget the continent-wide genocide that was committed on the peoples of the Americas, from Barrow in Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in South America, on the pretext of Christianity. 

Bin Laden got support for his cause on account of the problems in the Middle East, which are seen to be aided and abetted by the United States and its allies. The vexed problem of Israel, a state established through invasion and displacement, is far from being resolved. Israel is a magnet for aggression and terrorism, through its policies towards the people it displaced at the time of its foundation, back in the 1940s. The on-going strife with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is a festering sore, which no amount of talking will ever cure. Bin Laden and his allies see one solution: the eradication of Israel and the Jews, putting him on the same level as Adolf Hitler.

Following 9/11, the US attacked the Taliban in Afghanistan, throwing them out of power and replacing them by a so-called democratic regime - which is as corrupt as the night is dark. Nobody likes to have foreign forces in their country, and this presence is once more a rallying point for the likes of Bin Laden. Not just in Afghanistan or its hapless neighbour, Pakistan - where Bin Laden had a base opposite the country's top military academy. Bin Laden's network, Al Qa'eda, tried to exploit the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but their extreme brutality led the Iraqis to expel most of Al Qa'eda.

It is good that Bin Laden has finally gone to meet his Maker, and it won't be the six dozen virgins he will be enjoying this day. But the problems he has left behind, the problems that brought him into the ascendency, are still around, and nowhere near being resolved.

This post is dedicated to the victims of 9/11, and of all the other atrocities perpetrated under the pretext of religion.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Sunday 1 May

A beautiful sunny morning with a slight breeze and some high cloud about. Today is the third anniversary of my mother's death. Although the immediate pain of her passing has dulled, not a day goes by without a thought of her. Most people in a similar position will feel the same way. In 2008, I had to wait for several days before I could travel, due to bank holidays and formalities needing to be fulfilled. Perhaps it was just as well, as my mother's passing was unexpected and the news came rather as a blow.

Later next month, I shall join my dad for a trip down memory lane. Over the past three years, I have been to one of the Dutch islands and the Yorkshire Dales with him for that purpose.

Those of you who follow my local history blog Pentland Road will be familiar with the daily postings 'Remembering Today'. Today, there will be an additional posting, referring to the sinking of a fishing craft off Pabbay, today in 1897. Five men from that island were lost, which meant virtually all young men were gone. I have had quite a job finding any reference to this in the regional press, and I doubt anyone will be thinking of Ronald and Alexander Morrison, Donald Macneil, John Gillies or Ronald Campbell anymore. Although, knowing these islands, I think there may be families who do. I hope so. Whilst remembering my own personal loss, I also keep in mind those poor souls.

I shall post more later today.