View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas 2011

Merry Christmas and a prosperous and health 2012

I am currently blogging on The Shell Gallery, but will resume full service here on January 5th, 2012.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A case of murder

Today, a service of remembrance was held at Stornoway's Roman Catholic Church in Scotland Street. Although I'm not in the island at present, there are two developments which are significant at this time.

The family of the victim, Liam Aitchison, have accepted the apology from Channel 5 host Matthew Wright. Ofcom will investigate the incident on December 6th, when Mr Wright made some terrible jokes at the expense of the murder victim and the islanders of the Outer Hebrides. This followed a massive volume of complaints, 2,200. That is three times the number received by the regulator as a result of a programme by Jeremy Clarkson (I think).

Two suspects have now been fully committed for trial following a second court appearance, and remain in custody in Inverness at this time. They remain innocent until proven guilty.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Wright Stuff - Channel 5 has replied

Date: 15th December 2011

Dear Correspondent

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding The Wright Stuff.

We would like to assure you that having investigated the matter with senior producers of the programme, nobody on the programme’s panel or editorial team had any intention of causing distress to viewers or, more importantly, the family of murdered teenager Liam Aitchison with the comments that were made in the 6th December episode. They deeply regret that they have done so; as does Channel 5. The comments made by the programme’s presenter Matthew Wright and guest Charlie Baker on the programme were unfortunate, misjudged and entirely inappropriate. Having recognised this Matthew and Charlie have apologised in subsequent programmes and Matthew apologised in writing to Liam's father.

The tragic story of Liam Aitchison’s murder formed part of the daily newspaper review. The story was running in a number of newspapers that morning, and was of interest being the first murder on the Western Isles for more than 40 years. The story was always intended to be reviewed in the most sensitive manner and both Charlie and Matthew had discussed this with producers to that effect. When the story of Liam’s murder was reached, Charlie Baker introduced it by reading a headline from a newspaper and commenting that it was a sad story. At that point, Matthew Wright interjected in what we now recognise was a highly inappropriate manner, entirely unforeseen by the production team. In light of Matthew’s words, Charlie reacted in a similarly thoughtless fashion. As soon as these comments were made a senior producer of the programme acted immediately to remind them that this was a serious story, covering as it did the death of a 16-year-old, and the conversation moved on. Regrettably this was too late as the offensive comments had been made.

In an unscripted, live programme not every discussion turns out as we might wish and having reviewed the matter after the programme finished on 6th December, both Channel 5 and the producers felt an apology and explanation was necessary. The following day, 7th December, Matthew apologised during The Wright Stuff pointing out that he certainly had not intended to belittle in any way the seriousness of a tragic story or offend anyone who knew Liam Aitchison.

Once again, we can assure you that the programme never seeks to intentionally offend anyone and all personnel involved with the programme as well as Channel 5 are sorry for the offence these remarks have caused. We are grateful to you for taking the time to make us aware of your particular concerns and have logged the details of your complaint in the Viewer Enquiries Report. This is circulated throughout the company and seen by all relevant personnel.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Wednesday 14 December

Another day of very mixed fortunes in our weather, but on balance wet and cold. There was some sunshine a few times over. The forecast remains dire yet unclear - as I said yesterday, a messy winter's month.

It was announced today that a memorial service to murdered teenager Liam Aitchison is to be held in the Roman Catholic Church in Stornoway on 20 December. Liam was from South Uist, an island that is pre-dominantly RC. I don't think that will be of any issue to the people that are going to go along to remember him. No further details on the case have been revealed, and the speculation that reaches my ears informally is unsuitable for relay.

Tomorrow, I shall be travelling to Holland to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with my father and wider family. This is therefore the last post in 2011. I shall return to Stornoway on Wednesday 4 January 2012 and will resume posting on here on Thursday 5 January. I am keeping an eye on development in the Western Isles during my absence, and may post relevant updates intermittently.

As of this coming Friday, I will be blogging on a daily basis on the Shell Gallery.

On Atlantic Lines, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Tuesday 13 December

Feeling very cold, although the mercury was around 5 or 6C. However, conditions were downright atrocious in the southern Hebrides. Malin Head, the northwestern cape of Ireland, reported sustained winds of 60 mph with gusts to 80 mph at one point during the afternoon. Winter is turning very messy, as heavy snow is currently blanketing the southern Highlands. A major road traffic accident, involving 7 vehicles, closed the A9 at Drummochter Pass during the afternoon.

I was pleased to learn that Matthew Wright, of Channel 5 infamy, is to have his program The Wright Stuff investigated by media watchdog Ofcom. More than 2,200 complaints were raised with Ofcom following a program on December 6th, in which Mr Wright joked about the murder of Liam Aitchison at Steinish last month.

A gunman has killed at least people and wounded dozens more in the Belgian city of Liège by opening fire indiscriminately and lobbing grenades into a square. He then shot himself. Liège was in the news last year, when an apartment block collapsed to the ground, leading to the death of several people.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Monday 12 December

Well, today was probably the best day of this week. It was pretty chilly in the morning, but at least the sun was out. After nightfall, the rain started and the wind picked up - and it became a little milder. Tomorrow, a deep depression will scoot past our shores, bottoming out with a central pressure of 944 mbar. Last week's storm was at 960 mbar when it passed directly over Stornoway. However, the strongest winds are not expected to equal last Thursday's gale. That may occur later in the week.

Two young men have appeared in court in Inverness on a charge of murdering Liam Aitchison. One was from Stornoway, the other from Carloway, 16 miles to the west. The case continues to elicit strong emotions. Local news website Hebrides News made the mistake of publishing the portraits of the two accused - this is not legal. At present, they are only accused and innocent until proven otherwise.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Hogmanay in Stornoway

This year, the Hogmanay celebrations in Stornoway will be held in the town centre, with a massive street party. About 5,000 people are expected to flock to this big shindig - which will end at 11 pm on December 31st, 2011. The thing is that New Year’s Day 2012 is on a Sunday, and any partying extending beyond midnight would infringe the Sabbath. So, it was ordained that Hogmanay in Stornoway will end an hour before “the bells”.

I have the deepest respects for people’s religious convictions. I do not extend that to imposing said convictions on other people’s lives. If anyone feels that they should observe the Sabbath in a certain fashion, then they are at perfect liberty to do so. However, that should not mean that others should be forced to do the same.

There is another aspect to this question, which annuls the argument, put forward by the relevant authorities against extended the permit for the Stornoway Hogmanay do. Are the pubs closing at 11pm on December 31st? The answer to that is an emphatic no. You can get sozzled as much as you like well beyond midnight on Hogmanay. Again, a personal choice, with which I am fine as long as it does not impinge on other people. Unfortunately, we are all familiar with the results of over-indulgence in alcohol, whether it be anti-social behaviour or road traffic accidents, resulting in damage, injury or even death.

I find this discrepancy a case of breathtaking hypocrisy and double standards, and would call for an extension of the street party beyond midnight - or else have the pubs shut at 11pm.

No, I’m not holding my breath in expectation of that all to happen.

Sunday 11 December

Quite an acceptable day, with sunshine and distant showers. Although barometric pressure is falling slowly, down to 988 mbar at the moment, there are no major weather problems imminent. By the end of the week, we may see a repetition of the storm we had last Thursday.

My previous post was on the EU summit in Brussels on Friday, when the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, did not want any changes to EU treaties. These were designed to stabilise the euro currency, which is currently in jeopardy on account of huge debts of some of its member states. The UK does not use the euro, but half its trade is with the eurozone. Placing itself outside the club of 26 may have pleased the eurosceptics in Mr Cameron's Conservative Party, it hardly serves the interests of the United Kingdom. This should have been a non-partizan issue, but when Mr Cameron was answering questions in Parliament, there was a notable series of hesitations. Having given in to the eurosceptics in his own party will place the Tory/Lib Dem coalition under increasing strain. Outside Britain, it is seen as a move to safeguard the interests of the City of London and its investment bankers - a crooked bunch, as portrayed by the Dutch newspaper column. What many people in this country forget is that without the EU, the UK would be much worse off than at present. The double-tracking of the A859 Stornoway to Tarbert road would not have taken place, to mention but one little local example. David Cameron may well have turned the clock back 38 years last Friday.

The party of crooks and thieves - divisions London and Moscow

I am copying a translation of an article in the Dutch national daily newspaper De Volkskrant. Thomas von der Dunk has analysed the recent events in Brussels and Moscow, and drawn some disconcerting parallels. The text remains copyright Thomas von der Dunk. 

Under pressure, everything turns to liquid. This is now also applicable in Europe, and probably soon also for the Netherlands, where Dutch PM Rutte is now caught in a terrible dilemma. However, it was only agreed in Brussels Europe should be given more powers to call 'other' countries to order but of course not us.
Transfer of sovereignty is nominally out of the question, as the prohibition is chiselled in the marble of tolerance. Europe has only been handed the means to enforce things. Whether the latter is indeed the case, remains to be seen, but it's not one without the other.

Everything liquidises under pressure - which was long taboo in Brussels is now a fact: the British are outside on their own. Would they dare to remember that old joke in London "fog in channel, continent isolated?"

Who in any case almost was isolated, was Dutch PM Rutte, who had been so foolish to promise to Cameron to look after his interests. This is an old Dutch hobby: The Hague clears up after London’s dirt.

Even when our political caste, in naive overconfidence, held a referendum on the European Constitution in 2005, several British diplomats thanked Dutch Parliament and Government: "We are so glad, you did this for us', it saved Blair a very difficult discussion at home .

Ideological allies lost
The [Dutch Liberal Party] VVD has also lost a key ideological ally: the British share with the Dutch a traditionally rigid free trade ideology, for whom Europe is little more than a market to sell our cheap waterbomb tomatoes. As cheap as possible: that is the basis for the still half nineteenth century England class society, as low-wage country always negotiates opt outs on European social legislation.

Less averse to protection
Germany and France, which are more industrial nations, are much less averse to the principle of protectionism. They are much more averse to speculation. For the Germans consists of companies that manufacture substantive things and using them to make money, the City of London runs on people who make money with money, which quickly turns into a colossal swindle.

Sarkozy has already referred to investment bankers as thieves and swindlers. Westminster refuses to accept any European measure to restrict – it is quite correct for the other twenty-six to continue without Cameron. The scammers and thieves in the City responded to Cameron’s rigidity with understandable excitement. But Labour leader Ed Miliband, however much his party is equally implicated, noted that the importance of the UK, unlike that of the British bankers, was not served with Cameron's nyet was served. The Tories have revealed themselves these days as the party of scammers and thieves.

Russian elections stolen
Im Westen nichts Neues, at least not for those who in recent decades were not befuddled by neo-liberal droning, but instead paid attention. Moreover, neither was there anything new in the East. The "party of crooks and thieves" that has long been the legitimate nickname for the party United Russia of Vladimir Putin, Russia's wealth after the weekend now again stole the Russian elections.

New was only for the first time that we could know in detail, how it's done in practice. It is also entirely a coincidence that many Russian mafia billionaires with their capital, have sought refuge in the tax haven of England, isn’t it?

Until now, Putin even without manipulation probably still a majority of Russian voters arcs, Western journalists, who usually keen on dissidents, have always tended to underrate the desire for stability and safety in the gray majority in millions of country towns. Which is often more conservative, less "worldly" (in all senses of that word) than the average protester set, which we also see in Tunisia and Egypt.

Stained by turmoil and chaos
To the Russian electorate the notion of democracy has for years been tainted on account of the turmoil, chaos, poverty and international humiliation of the Yeltsin years. After the elections in the year 2000 Putin provided a fairly safe electoral base with his promise of "Dictatorship of Law'. It was inevitable that this was increasingly more dictatorship than law, causing rising discontent in a young generation. For Putin cannot fulfil his economic promises (in return for power) either.

Is another Russian revolution in the offing? Tens of thousands of Muscovites out of a population of ten million makes that a premature conclusion.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Saturday 10 December

One of those strange days. It started literally freezing cold, with half an inch of snow on the ground and icy conditions underfoot. However, by evening, the snow had melted, the mercury had risen to 7 degrees above freezing and it was blowing a force 7. Went out for a meal to the County Hotel on Francis Street, which was a success. I'm not in the habit of plugging businesses, as most restaurants in Stornoway are quite decent, offering a good quality of food for a reasonable price. And the County, which had a refurbishment a few years back, is right in among those. It was a typical Saturday in Stornoway, with the pavements full of young people out for a night on the town. As one of my party was not happy to walk all the way home (a distance of just over a quarter of a mile) a taxi was engaged for the return trip.

Grinneas 2011

Grinneas nan Eilean (the Beauty of the Isles) is an annual exhibition which showcases work by local artists, which is also for sale. The 2011/12 exhibition is on at An Lanntair in Stornoway until January 29th. I am posting a few pics which I took yesterday at the exhibition.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Friday 9 December

The day after the night before saw me untangling the bins from the gardenhose (see yesterday's post) and putting them out for uplifting. Pity it wasn't still blowing hard, as gales on Friday lead to the hilarious phenomenon of the bindance. Empty bins go walkabout, cause obstructions and generally a hazard to all on this exposed street. Talking of bins, there was once a binfight in Stornoway. Back in May 2006, the council was giving away 3 composting bins per household from the recycling centre on the Lochs Road. It led to an unprecedented tailback of traffic on the A859, and the eye-brow raising sight of nurses barging past the policeman who told them to go away, saying "I am entitled to three free bins, and I'm going to get my three bins, so there". The people of Ness had themselves organised with the bins: a staggered approach was taken, with their own polisman directing traffic at the Ness Hall.

Today was a benign sort of day, although bitterly cold with flurries of snow - which never settled. I printed and wrote 37 Christmas cards, then printed and licked 37 envelopes (yuck). Spent £26 on stamps for cards all over the place - and also nipped into An Lanntair to view the entries into this year's Grinneas nan Eilean. I'll post pictures of the pictures in a separate entry.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Thursday 8 December

The day arrived with galeforce winds and heavy rain, but this abated through the morning. The sun came out, the barometer dropped right down to 960 mbar. But then, at 3pm, the clouds drew in, the rain started again and the wind rose. Gusts topped 101 mph at Eoropie, 25 miles north of here, and Stornoway saw 85 mph. When I tried to tame some runaway dustbins, I nearly came to grief as they decided to dance with a garden hose. Woopsie. Don't try to tangle with dustbins in 80 mph gusts. Anyway, after a quick crescendo at 5pm the winds slowly died down. At the moment (11pm), we're at 30 mph, that's force 7, and the barometer has made a quick recovery to 990 mbar. Thirty millibars in six hours is an amazing rate of increase; about as quick as the decrease overnight. By the way, the highest gust was 165 mph, which was recorded on the summit of Cairn Gorm, 4200 feet up.

Elsewhere in Scotland, the wind has caused damage to property and brought down powerlines. I suffered two power outages, one at midday and the other at around 2pm. Both lasted about half an hour. At present, 60,000 people in the Highlands and Islands are still off supply.

No, I don't have spectacular pictures of this storm. It was dark when it rose here, sorry!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The wrong stuff

It was brought to my attention that Matthew Wright, a former Sun-journalist, who presents a program on Channel 5 (here in the UK) made some derogatory comments on the murder of Liam Aitchison last month. He poked fun at the fact that it had been 40 years ago since a murder was last committed in the Isle of Lewis.

Complaints have been flooding in to Channel 5, Ofcom and not just from myself; the MP and MSP have complained as has the local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Mr Wright has apologised, but added that complainers should grow up. I don't know if Mr Wright has children (heaven forbid), but I wonder how he would feel if this had been the reaction on national television if one of his offspring had been killed. The Facebook page, set up to call for complaints against the show, has reached nearly 700 likes in 24 hours.

7 December 1941

Image courtesy
Today, it's 70 years ago since the Japanese Imperial Forces attacked the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack was unprovoked, but served to bring the United States into the Second World War, as Germany declared war on the USA alongside Japan. It was a fatal mistake on the part of Japan. Although the Japanese forces managed to occupy large swathes of territory in the Pacific and southeast Asia, they were in the end thrown back on their homeland. It took the detonation of two nuclear bombs, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to force the surrender of Emperor Hirohito, three months after Nazi Germany was defeated.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Tuesday 6 December

Today started fairly bright (and cold), but the sun soon disappeared behind clouds and by late afternoon the rain clattered down. The icy conditions were soon gone (after I had put down salt), and we are now headed for a violent storm on Thursday. Winter is by no means gone, but it is turning into a very lively and messy affair.

National TV is now on the track of the case of murdered Liam Aitchison. It showed a police investigation in progress in the Stornoway suburb of Plasterfield, the bleak shack outside Steinish and the assertion that the last murder in Lewis took place in 1968. Yes, there is a strong sense of community here. But it has not prevented this apparently vulnerable youngster from falling victim to an appalling crime.

I am pleased that the J-land community has been revived to some measure, even more so now that one of its pillars has resurfaced on the WWW. Sugar (who has not resumed her blog) turned up on Facebook this morning, and I've been very pleased to be among the many to welcome her back.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Monday 5 December

Scotland awoke to a blanket of snow this morning. Here in Stornoway it was an inch, but probably rather more higher up in the hills. A lorry crashed off the road, but its driver was fortunately unhurt. Elsewhere in Scotland, two drivers lost their lives in crashes caused by the weather. First thing this morning, the snow was just pretty.

On 22 November, 16-year old Liam Aitchison was last seen alive in Stornoway. He had come up to Lewis a few months ago from South Uist. Liam was seen walking along Anderson Road. On 29th November, his remains were found in a derelict property at Steinish, about two miles northeast of Stornoway, and not far from Anderson Road. Today, police announced they were upgrading their investigations into his death to a full murder inquiry. It is more than 40 years ago since the last murder in Lewis, and the news of this tragic death has shaken the community to its core.

This evening, I went into the town centre here to take pictures of the Christmas decorations. When I compare them to images I took in 2005, the extent (in terms of distance) and variety have sadly shrunk dramatically.

St Nicholas

Today is the eve of St Nicholas, the original and only Santa Klaus (sorry). In Holland, Flanders and western Germany, children will have spent the past fortnight or so putting their shoe in front of the fireplace, with a carrot in it. St Nicholas rides the roofs on his white charger, surrounded by Black Peters who do the dirty work of bringing presents. During the night, they wil go down the chimney to collect the carrot and leave a present in the shoe. Children who have been bad will find a bunch of twigs, indicative of punishment. The really bad ones will be taken back to Spain in the sack.

It all starts in mid-November, when St Nicholas arrives in Holland (or one of its towns) in a steamer, well, any boat really, with his posse of Peters. The Peters go off running around, scattering sweeties amidst the assembled children. Towns not near the sea or water will see St Nicholas arriving by train. Or coach if there is no railway station. St Nicholas arrives from Spain, as that is the place where his remains lie interred. Originally, he is from Turkey, but when the Muslims came, the bones were spirited across the Mediterranean to Spain

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Picture post - 4 December

Sunday 4 December

The sun has just set on a snow-clad day, with the mercury barely above freezing. At 9 o'clock this morning, a hefty snow shower left about an inch of snow which did not fully melt through the day. Through the seven hours of daylight that followed, there was sunshine interspersed with scattered snow showers. The mainland is also affected, more severely, with up to 10 inches in elevated terrain.

Two giant pandas were flown into Edinburgh this afternoon, taking up an entire hour on the BBC News. I know Edinburgh airport a bit too well, having had to wait there for a flight connection many a time. I hate waiting at airports. Having to do the same courtesy the national broadcaster is just not on. I mean, what's the deal? Yes, I know giant pandas are rare and an endangered species. They eat 25 kg (60 lb) of bamboo a day and are only fertile for about 48 hours. But if the male and female in question don't hit it off, there will be no cubs. Obviously. I'm sorry if I'm being sarcastic, but I don't see the importance.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Saturday 3 December

A day with a distinct wintry feel, as heavy showers of hail kept clattering down. At times, the town looked quite white, and the hailstones gathered up in reasonably thick layers in secluded corners. Although we managed +6C at 1pm, the mercury hovered on average around +3C / 37F. Last night saw a westerly gale, with a gust of 89 mph up at Eoropie, a very exposed location. Tomorrow, the Highlands are on warning for snow, and a layer of 10 cm / 4 inches is to be expected. Whether we get that too is not certain; the Hebrides are washed by the Gulfstream, which tends to keep things a bit milder than on the mainland.

In Germany, the town of Koblenz has seen a mass evacuation of 45,000 people in preparation for the defusing of a 1,8 tonne bomb which had turned up in the river Rhine. The bomb had been dropped by the RAF during WW2, and surfaced following record low waterlevels in the river. Checking the levels on the Dutch / German border, I notice that the measuring station at Lobith shows the gauge at 6.95 m, which is rather lower than the average of 10 m. For reference, a level of 15 m or more creates an immediate danger of overtopping of dykes and massive flooding.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Friday 2 December

A very cold start to the day; in fact, the lowest temperature of the night was reached before midnight (at 10pm yesterday), when the mercury dipped to -3C / 26F. Since then, it has grown steadily milder, with 8C on the thermometer at present. This was accompanied by rising winds and heavy rains. A gale is imminent, and will continue through the night. Disruption is likely on the ferry tomorrow morning; the overnight freight ferry has been cancelled.

The young man, found dead at Steinish a few days ago, has been officially identified. He had been in Stornoway only for a few months, but appears to have been living rough in a derelict building in the village. Police continue to appeal for information.

I have sent off another 7 Postcrossing cards. I have so far sent off  80 and received 71. Two cards have not been registered (yet) within the two months' timeframe allocated for doing so. One has been on the go since August, and the other since September. I notice that several people have taken on the hobby, which doesn't need to cost much more than the postage. I intend to send off the next batch in January.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Thursday 1 December

We're now into the final month of 2011, and it has made a better start than November ended. It was bright and fairly sunny, but very, very cold. As I type, the mercury stands at freezing, after a daytime max of +4C / 40F.

It was reported earlier this afternoon that the death of a young man in a derelict building at Steinish, 2 miles northeast of Stornoway, is now being treated as suspicious. Liam Aitchison had been missing since November 22nd, having last been seen in Anderson Road, the Stornoway street closest to Steinish. Only a mile separates the two.

BBC Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has shot his mouth off, by saying that the people who went on strike yesterday should be shot, executed in front of their families. I am aware of Mr Clarkson's propensity towards sarcasm, but do feel that he has overstepped the mark by several dozen miles. Irrespective of your views on yesterday's strike by public sector workers, those who went on strike did so out of genuine concern for their future. Clarkson is the one with the guild-edged pension, and I hope his wings will be clipped a bit. Pity his dismissal from the BBC appears unlikely. His status as hosting the most popular program on the national broadcaster is very much undeserved.