Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Here in Stornoway, a meeting was held this evening between disgruntled islanders and the boss of fuel wholesaler Scottish Fuels, Sam Chambers. I am awaiting reports of the meeting, but am not holding my breath on an imminent reduction in fuel prices by 15 to 20 pence. The problem is that a fuel tanker plies the waters of northern Scotland, delivering fuel oils to places like Inverness, Scrabster, Kirkwall, Stornoway and the Uists. Petrol prices in Inverness are some 15-20 pence lower than in Stornoway, in spite of the fact that the juice is delivered by the self-same boat. A previous meeting between Mr Chambers and the local council led to acrimonious scenes outside the council offices in Sandwick Road here.
Monday, 30 January 2012
A bright and fairly sunny day, but show your face outside and it is bitterly cold. A brisk southeasterly breeze whistles through the town, and even if the mercury stands at 6C / 43F, it feels more like well below freezing. Frost will be the order of the night in days to come, with hard frosts in mainland glens. Living within a few dozen feet of the sea, the mercury should keep close to zero at night. Frosts do occur regularly here, but tend to be less severe due to the proximity to the sea.
Two local policemen have become celebrities on the internet after they were pictured taking to the guitar and drums while on duty. They were on active duty at the time, but Northern Constabulary have not come down hard on the bobbies, saying the men were engaged in community policing – which is not always heavy going. To quote Gilbert & Sullivan: “A policeman’s lot is a happy one”.
As I type this, the light fades as the sun dips well below the horizon. Sunset time is 4.40pm, which is more than an hour later than at the solstice, in late December. Even at sunrise, we have gained 40 minutes, with sunrise now by 8.35 am. We’re slowly climbing out of the deep valley of winter.
Sunday, 29 January 2012
An Lanntair and South Beach
Stornoway Town Hall, inside from outside
Saturday, 28 January 2012
Friday, 27 January 2012
An asteroid has passed the earth at a distance of about 37,000 miles, a quarter of the distance to the moon. The object, measuring only 37 feet across, shot by us at 4pm local time. Now that darkness has fallen, the moon, Jupiter and Venus are gracing the southwestern sky.
Homes in Orkney have been scanned for the presence of radon gas. Radon is radio-active and is produced by naturally occurring uranium in rocks like granite. Upon formation, the gas seeps out of the rocks and can accumulate in homes built on top. One home in Stromness is reported to have 3000 times the accepted maximum concentration inside. Adequate ventilation is usually sufficient to prevent problems. Radon can contribute towards lung cancer.
Thursday, 26 January 2012
The young man that was found dead in Inverness on Sunday apparently succumbed to hypothermia. His funeral is to be held at the Habost Cemetery in Ness, North Lewis, tomorrow afternoon. A funeral service is to be held at the Cross Church of Scotland, followed by burial at the new cemetery. There have been a few deaths too many of young people in recent weeks and months.
This year will see the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War. Between 2nd April and 14th June that year, Argentina and the United Kingdom fought over the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic. The Argentinians lost 649 troops, the UK 255 and the Falklanders themselves 3. The vexed issue of sovereignty has not been resolved - not satisfactorily in the eyes of the Argentinians at any rate.
Wednesday, 25 January 2012
It is Burns Night tonight, but I'm afraid there is no haggis, tatties nor neeps on my dinner plate. It is a chicken korma with rice, heated courtesy the microwave oven and rice boiled in plain tap water. What Robert Burns would have made of the current furore over the independence referendum we shall never know. I salute Robert in spirit, not necessarily with spirits (although I'm known to take a dram on occasion). I reproduce the poem A Man's a Man for a' that
Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an' a' that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a' that!
For a' that, an' a' that.
Our toils obscure an' a' that,
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The Man's the gowd for a' that.
What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an' a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man's a Man for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, an' a' that;
The honest man, tho' e'er sae poor,
Is king o' men for a' that.
Ye see yon birkie, ca'd a lord,
Wha struts, an' stares, an' a' that;
Tho' hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, an' a' that,
His ribband, star, an' a' that:
The man o' independent mind
He looks an' laughs at a' that.
A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an' a' that;
But an honest man's abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, an' a' that,
Their dignities an' a' that;
The pith o' sense, an' pride o' worth,
Are higher rank than a' that.
Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a' that,)
That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.
For a' that, an' a' that,
It's coming yet for a' that,
That Man to Man, the world o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that.
Tuesday, 24 January 2012
Tonight, Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, has delivered a speech on his plans for Scottish independence. I have previously made clear my opposition to Scottish independence, for political as well as economic reasons. I should add that I take particular exception to Mr Salmond's policy of creating divisions between the Scots and the English, playing on past (perceived) injustices, inflicted on the Scots by the English.
His continual references to the battles of Culloden (1746) and Bannockburn (1314) remind me of comparable references being made in Ireland to the battle of the Boyne (1689), and in the former Yugoslavia with regards the battle of Kosovo (1389). We all know what happened as a result of such references in the aforementioned regions. Rather than harping on about the past, Mr Salmond should look to the future.
As far as that is concerned, he reminds me of your average American foreign intervention. The US went into Iraq in 2003 without giving prior consideration to what was to be done once Saddam Hussein was ousted. That was the easy bit, it took less than a month. Establishing a stable successor state took about 8 years, well, the Americans withdrew last year, but Iraq is by no means stable. Alex Salmond has not given proper thought to what it takes to run a country either - other than referring to Scotland's oil. Does he want to join the Euro? Bad idea at the current state of affairs. Does he want to retain the pound sterling? What is the point of becoming independent then, I'd wonder.
For pragmatic reasons, I maintain that Scotland becoming independent is a bad idea. The way the idea is being pursued by Mr Salmond makes it an even worse proposition. My opinion.
Oh, on a final note, before I close this rambling diatribe. Someone suggested that Orkney and Shetland might want to stay in the UK. Well, I think they'd rather join with Norway in that case. And perhaps the Western Isles might want to follow suit.
Monday, 23 January 2012
Last night, the Northern Lights put up a nice display over Lewis, but further north in Shetland, the display was positively dazzling. I could even see the aurora from my position on the southern edge of Stornoway, i.e. through all the light pollution. Tonight, at 10pm, no aurora is in evidence. I am told that tomorrow and Wednesday night (given clear skies), more aurorae are possible.
More bodies have been recovered from the Costa Classica cruiseliner, which sank off Italy 11 days ago. I remember a visit by the Costa Classica to Stornoway in May 2006, which was timetabled for a Sunday afternoon. That was a poor bit of planning, because anyone in the tourism industry knows that nothing moves in Stornoway on Sunday - shops are closed, visitor centres at attractions around the island are shut as well.
Today's weather in Stornoway was cold but pleasant, with broad sunshine interspersed by occasional showers. These were accompanied by bright rainbows. I'll post images in a later post.
Sunday, 22 January 2012
The ferry came back from being stormbound in Ullapool, and returned to the mainland 10 minutes early. After completing the evening run from Ullapool, the MV Isle of Lewis will sail to Birkenhead for its annual refit. The MV Clansman will take over for the next couple of weeks. The latter vessel is slower, so the timetable will be stretched a bit.
A man of 68 did not return to his B&B in Stornoway as planned and has been posted missing by police. A lad of 16 was posted missing in Inverness yesterday, but after a search in the city this morning, his body was found. It strikes a jarring chord in this island after the death through murder of a 16-year old two months ago. Liam Aitchison was buried at Daliburgh at the end of December. The cause of death of Scott Campbell in Inverness is being held as unexplained by police.
Saturday, 21 January 2012
Tropical cyclone Funso is starting to move away from Mozambique, although high winds are probably still affecting the area around Quetimane. The storm will intensify to 115 knots, but once away from the Mozambique coast is not posing any further threat to land. Its effects have not yet filtered through to the newsfeeds.
Today was a decidedly cold day, with a westerly gale and occasional wintry showers. The ferry sailed to Ullapool first thing this morning, but has remained stormbound there for the rest of the day. She is expected back here tomorrow afternoon.
Friday, 20 January 2012
Today's weather in Stornoway was grey and overcast, with rain moving in during the afternoon. It did not feel really cold (7C / 45F), but that will change. Tomorrow, we can expect severe gales and wintry showers, making for a bitterly cold day.
People in Mauritius are worried about tropical cyclone Ethel, which is bearing down on the island of Rodrigues, 400 miles to its east. Ethel will be a category 1 hurricane as it passes over the island during the next 24 hours, with winds just above the 75 mph threshold. I am not able to access the website of the Mauritian weather service. My own TC blog has so far attracted more than 800 hits today.
Thursday, 19 January 2012
The hurricane season has come to life. In the southern hemisphere, that is. Tropical cyclone Ethel is threatening the small Indian Ocean island of Rodrigues, a few hundred miles east of Mauritius. It could be a nasty hit, as the storm will be at peak intensity, 90 mph. Further west, tropical cyclone Funso is running down the Mozambique Channel between the island of Madagascar and mainland Africa. This storm will not directly affect land, but in five days' time, it will be at 110 mph. And not yet at peak intensity.
As I reported on Facebook, my Tropical Cyclones blog is suddenly very popular, with 1,000 pageviews just today. I have been keeping the TC blog for five years, and this always happens when a cyclone threatens Mauritius or environs. The largest number that ever visited in one day was more than 3,000 in early 2007, when TC Gamede threatened the French island of La Reunion, west of Mauritius.
Wednesday, 18 January 2012
There is a debate raging about the referendum on Scottish independence, and I'm heartily sick of it. The current topic of conversation is: who will be eligible to vote. Common sense would dictate all voters on the electoral register for elections to the Scottish Parliament. However, there is a train of thought that says all people who are Scottish born but living elsewhere in the UK should be enfranchised as well. Let's extrapolate this straight into the realms of discrimination and disenfranchise all people in Scotland who were not born in the country.
What put a grim smile on my face today was the news that Donald Trump is seeking to withdraw from the Balmedie golf resort plan. He has built his golf course at Balmedie (6 miles north of Aberdeen), and caused huge upset in Scotland a few years ago as he bullied Aberdeenshire County Council into accepting his outrageous plans, after their planning committee rejected them. I haven't forgotten the vituperation in the Press and Journal newspaper at the time, poured out over the Council who dared to oppose a scheme that would be the salvation of Aberdeenshire, if not Scotland itself. The First Minister, Alex Salmond, did some very odd moves to get the scheme through. And now it might all fall flat on its face. The reason that The Donald has given for his possible withdrawal is the proposed windfarm off the Aberdeenshire coast, which will be within sight of his scheme. Knowing that renewable energy is a keystone of the Scottish Government's policies on the environment and the economy, we can fairly safely assume that The Donald will be withdrawing from The Dunes of Scotland in the next couple of months.
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
We had the news that the first windfarm on Lewis will start construction in the spring. The turbines will appear along the Pentland Road, 5 miles west of Stornoway. It will destroy any vestige of wilderness in the area, where I have done a fair bit of walking in 2005. I am very displeased at this prospect, but I'm afraid there is nothing that can be done about it.
I was sad to hear that another five bodies were recovered from the wreck of the Costa Concordia off Italy today. I was disgusted to hear the translated exchanges between the liner's captain and the coastguard, which showed that the captain allegedly values his own hide higher than that of his passengers; which are his responsibility. If found guilty of any charges brought (manslaughter has been mentioned), the master of the ship could face 15 years in jail.
Monday, 16 January 2012
I have completed the transcription of service records of Lewismen in Australian service during the First World War. I have already had positive feedback from the grand nephew of one man, originating from the Carloway area of Lewis. I am in the process of copying the summaries onto the Internet. Although I have not yet tidied up the resulting website, you can have a peep.
After the horse in the house, there was the horse in the bog. The equine in the bog was pulled out in a few hours yesterday. The horse in the house looks there to stay. Personally, I find it completely unacceptable to have a horse in any house. In this particular instance, the horse had pasture in a neighbouring village. However, the horse's owner fell out with the owner of the pasture, leading to the horse being dumped outside its owner's home. She decided to take inside, rather than enlist the offered services of the SSPCA (the Scottish equivalent of the RSPCA) and the local council.
Those reading this post from Holland may remember a song by comedian Andre van Duin in the 70s or 80s about a horse in the hallway.
Sunday, 15 January 2012
Have finished looking up the service records for the 70 servicemen from this island who served in the WW1 under the Australian banner. Eleven of them lost their lives; two deserted, never to turn up again. Their names will not be revealed by me.
Five people are now known to have died in the grounding and partial sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy. A lot of questions remain to be answered, the first one being: is there anyone left alive or dead in the wreck. The second is: how on earth could this happen? The captain has said that he hit a rock that was not charted properly. At least he went out of his way to beach his vessel in shallow water, to give everybody the best chance of survival under the circumstances.
From my perspective, going on a cruise has become too much like going on a bus. Apparently, nobody was given an emergency briefing upon embarkation - anyone who ever uses a ferry or plane will be bored by those briefings. Anyway, that's for the Italian authorities to sort out.
Saturday, 14 January 2012
The weather here in Lewis was quite reasonable today, mainly overcast and about 7C / 45F. Can't expect much better at this time of year. It'll be much the same tomorrow.
Have looked up more service records for Australian servicemen, originating from this island. I have 15 left to look up, out of a total of about 70.
Friday, 13 January 2012
I'm continuing my perusal of WW1 service records, and some of them are not a credit to the soldiers involved. There is one, whose name I withhold, who was put on court martial for hitting a serving boy in a beertent over the head with a bottle, after he didn't get served fast enough. The soldier went AWOL for three years and was discharged in full disgrace in 1920. One other just disappeared after he was shipped over to the UK.
Thursday, 12 January 2012
Last night, I posted about the hurricane of January 2005, which claimed the lives of five members of one family, representing three generations. The North End of South Uist has seen two other accidental deaths in recent years. Archie Steele died after apparently being struck by a car on Monday night near the village of Ardmore in South Uist, a mile or so south of the causeway to Benbecula. And Simon Macmillan was found drowned in Loch Bi, a mile or so southwest of Ardmore, after going missing in December 2008. He was a Merchant Navy cadet, who was returning home after a party at Daliburgh. It took weeks for his body to be recovered from the shallow waters of the loch.
Talking of water, there have been frequent problems with the water supplies in these islands. The visitor centre at the Callanish Stones, 18 miles from Stornoway, has had to close repeatedly last summer after the water supply dried up. This week, the residents of villages around Laxdale, just north of Stornoway, were told to boil their water after a broken waterpipe and a broken sewage pipe were found right next to each other in the district. Last autumn, some islanders in North Uist were boiling their water until they saw blue in the face while Scottish Water got a new part delivered and installed at a water treatment works - with a repeat performance this week. The water company is in the process of upgrading its water pipes all over the Western Isles.
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
The next morning dawned breezy and bright. Everybody heaved a sigh of relief. That was a bad one, but it's only damage. By 9.20 am however, reports start to emerge from the Southern Isles. Five people are missing in South Uist, after they fled their home the previous evening at around 7pm. Rising tides had started to approach their home, and pebbles were hurled against walls and windows. They enter two cars and drive from their home at Eochdar towards the causeway, linking South Uist and Benbecula. A fatal decision. That road parallels the stretch of sea that separates the two islands. The southeasterly storm, combined with a springtide from the northwest pushed the waters of Loch Bi up; but on account of the floodtide they could not drain into the sea. The loch flooded a small causeway, sweeping the cars into the water. By morning, the five missing people are found dead. They include a mother and father with two young children and a grandfather. This article on the BBC News website shows their faces.
This is a repost from an entry I made on 11 January 2010.
I am not very pleased at the moment, because my camera has developed a fault. I'm sending it off for repairs, and hope to have it back in service soon. Meanwhile, I'll continue to take pictures, using someone else's camera.
I'm still going through Australian service records from the First World War, and sometimes, the soldier's private life crops up in the correspondence. One young lady wrote to the Army to request the correct address for letters to her intended. She had despatched 30 epistles, but none had arrived, and a degree of acrimony had apparently crept in. Some 3 to 4 years later, the service file includes a transcript of a marriage certificate: to a different woman.
Last night, my researches turned up a deeply tragic turn of events in the life of one soldier. He had gone to France in 1916, but was returned home to Australia after contracting pneumonia. Although the man had recovered from his illness, it left him out of breath at the merest exertion. Six months after repatriation, he once more applied for war service - but was rejected. The army records show he had died after discharge, and I wanted to know if his death was directly attributable to his war service, which seemed likely. Not so. When I accessed the death record, with the help of fellow researcher Direcleit, it showed that our man had hanged himself, at the age of 25. We will never know why, because an inquest ruled that no indication of his state of mind had been apparent beforehand. RIP William Arthur Bawden.
Tuesday, 10 January 2012
The road appears to be the place not to be this week.
- An elderly man, seen walking along the road in Back (here in Lewis) was found dead only a few minutes later. His demise is thought to have been of natural causes.
- What happened to the 49-year old in South Uist, whose corpse was discovered along the main A865 road at Ardmore is not yet known. Just before 10 am, he was discovered along the side of the road a mile or so south of the causeway from Benbecula. As I type this (3.30pm) the road remains closed for police investigations. Northern Constabulary have appealed for information.
- Also closed was the C97 road in South Harris at the village of Geocrab. It appears that a crane has toppled over and is blocking the road. Diversions are in place - one look at the map shows it's a pretty lengthy one via the West Side of Harris and Leverburgh.
Monday, 9 January 2012
It is my personal opinion that full independence for Scotland is not a good idea, for economical and political reasons. The bank bail-out for the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland some 3 years ago required £50bn; the GDP for Scotland is £137bn. Had the bail-out fallen to the Scottish Government, it would have wrecked the Scottish economy. The British GDP is £2,500 bn. Furthermore, the current debate is highly polarised, placing English vs Scottish. The Czech Republic and Slovakia parted on amicable terms in 1993. If Scotland and England were to split up, I don't think it will be as amicable.
Sunday, 8 January 2012
Sunday was overcast, drizzly and thoroughly uninspiring as well. Roll on Monday.
This vessel is one of several French fishing vessels which put into Stornoway for a crew change. They are usually in and out of port in just over an hour. One of them was involved in a recovery operation, 50 miles northwest of the Butt of Lewis at 2 am last night, when a man had gone overboard. A search was conducted, and the fisherman was recovered from the sea, but was sadly found to have died. The vessel involved, the Jean Claude Coulon II, proceeded to Stornoway, where she was met by the appropriate authorities.
My sympathies go out to the family and friends of the deceased.
Saturday, 7 January 2012
I am currently going through service records for Lewismen who served with the Australian forces during the First World War. There were about 60 of them.
Friday, 6 January 2012
Over the Christmas period, this island raised its eyebrows when a car was removed without its owner's consent and chased down the A858 at Bragar by police. The driver promptly lost control of his vehicle and ended up in the ditch. He was arrested. Crime-levels here are mercifully low, which explains why the murder of Liam Aitchison in November was such a shock. This poor 16-year old was buried at Daliburgh's Hallan Cemetery last week. One of his alleged assailants was released on bail to a Highland address; the other was remanded in custody.
Image courtesy BBC
News was announced today that TV and radio presenter Bob Holness had died in his sleep at the age of 83. Most people will know Bob as the host on Blockbusters; I knew him through the BBC World Service as the presenter of Anything Goes, a popular music request show. The popular music referred to any genre you may care to think of, and I feel much endebted to Bob and his programme for introducing me to a wide variety of music. Although classical has my preference, I am not averse to music from the 1920s to the 1950s, before the onset of pop as we know it from Elvis onwards. Victor Borge and Spike Jones are among my favourites, but also the Laughing Policeman by Charles Penrose, 1926.
Bob is the second World Service host to die in the last four years that I had regular dealings with in the 80s and 90s. Gordon Clyde passed away in 2008 at the age of 75; he hosted The Pleasure's Yours and would play regular classical music requests from me for relatives. Bob also played several of my requests, and it is with sadness I learned of his death. He had suffered a series of strokes in the last decade or so.
I usually miss one aspect of the Hebrides when I'm not there: the big skies.
Thursday, 5 January 2012
The plane took off a little after 9.30, and arrived at Gatwick just over an hour later at 9.35 (local time).
The aircraft was put into gate 104, which leaves passengers with a 15 minute walk to the customs point. Then you have to go through the security rigmarole again before you end up in departures once more. The flight to Glasgow, from gate 55B, left nicely on time at 11.35, and delivered us in Scotland 75 minutes later. It was a wee bit bumpy, and you couldn't see a thing due to cloudcover below. Glasgow was wet and windy. An hour later, the weather had not improved as we departed for Stornoway from gate #1. I had not been looking forward to sitting in seat row 3 (which has a blanked out window), but the stewardess very kindly asked me to move to seat row 10. I didn't mind at all, as I wanted to have some view. What view?! Just white clouds all round. Upon arrival near Stornoway, the aircraft kept going north to make a turn round back south. There was a strong southwesterly wind blowing, and planes have to land into the wind. We were there at 3.15. I was very kindly offered a lift into town.
Over northern Lewis