Is this the image some people have of us?
Slowly, the ferry edges towards the quayside. Heavy rain is blown along horizontally on a southwesterly gale. Grey, non-descript buildings line the harbour front, which is only just discernible through the downpour, which is laced with sleet and snow. It is 1 o’clock in the afternoon, but the streetlights are on already. A line of old, decrepit coaches await the convicts, to take them to their place of habitation for the next five years. Only a few weeks ago, they were in the leafy suburbs of London - taking the opportunity to pick up a few unpaid bargains from smashed up stores as the police stood by and buildings were torched.
The families line the railings of the ferry, as they are only allowed to disembark under police escort. Their few possessions sit on trailers, which will be towed to their new dwellings. A small line of cars drives off the ferry ramp, and disappears into the gathering gloom. Resident islanders can be seen walking down the gangway, and are whisked away by waiting cars.
Finally, the call comes and our convicts walk off the ferry, leaving behind the smells of diesel, frying fat and vomit. The last three hours were hellish, tossed about on the waves as the wind howled outside. A line of police conducts the group towards a coach, and the two dozen sit down while they are driven through the town - did anyone catch any recognisable name on the road signs? The roadnumbers were in the 800s at any rate. A few Christmas lights sway in the streets, but very soon, the last houses of the town are left behind and the coaches are swallowed up by the dark, featureless landscape, in which water glistens cold and grey every few inches. A line of four high hilltops towers up to the left, and further away, a twin-topped hill looms. Who would want to live in a place like that?
The Stornoway Gazette reports that someone (whose name I will not repeat here) has submitted an e-petition to the British government to the effect that all those who were convicted for rioting last week should be banished to the Outer Hebrides for five years. And the paragraphs that started this post was the image that the petitioner probably has of the islands. It is ridiculous to even suggest that living in our islands is punishment. It is a challenge, no doubt. But the community spirit you find here is something that is sadly lacking in many other parts of the country. I think whoever posted that petition should come and have a look here for himself.