View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sunday 17 November

After a sunny start, we are now (12.40pm) having rainshowers and the wind is picking up. The temperatures are on a downward slide, and we'll bottom out at 4C / 39F by Tuesday, with a probability of some snow. This being the Hebrides, we'll quickly bounce back to 9C later in the week, thanks to our warm blanket otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean.

I was amazed and annoyed by a report that the UN has criticised the phenomenon of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) in Holland. Yesterday, Sinterklaas (St Nicholas or Santa Claus) arrived in Holland for his annual visit, and his entourage consists of dozens of Black Petes. These are people with their faces painted black, making them look like negroes. They caper around, scattering sweets and little presents to young children, if they have been good; if they have been bad, they're going back to Spain with Black Pete and Sinterklaas. St Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra (Izmir in modern-day Turkey), but when the Muslims took over the city, his bones were spirited across the Mediterranean to Spain. For a while, Spain was occupied by the Moors from North Africa, who are very dark-skinned. I hope you can now see why Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet are the way they are. It has nothing to do with racial discrimination, although, if you wish, you can of course read that into it. Black Pete is referred to in Holland as Sinterklaas's footman, so it is very easy to play the slavery and race cards. In the Netherlands, people are very annoyed at this inference, particularly as it seems to come from people who don't know the first thing about the festival.

Saturday 16 November

A grey day out here, but the sun is trying to put in an appearance. Strong southwesterly winds bring in spells of light rain, with unseasonably mild temperatures of 13C / 57F. In a few days' time, we can take off the leading "1" in the Celsius reading for our daytime max as we get our first blast of winter.

Looks as if our old freight ferry Muirneag has found her regular run, from Samsun in Turkey to Gelendzhik in Russia. This is rather a longer run than her old haunt in the Minch - 18 hours across the Black Sea. We wish her well.

Friday 15 November

This week has been dominated by the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan, which swept across the Philippines as a category V storm, with winds up to 200 mph / 320 kph. It has left thousands dead in the archipelago, and the survivors without food, water or shelter. An aid operation is slowly swinging into action to alleviate their plight, but it will be a long time before everything is back to normal out there. Another tropical cyclone, prosaically named 03A, has claimed several hundred lives in the Puntland area of northern Somalia, but that news was completely snowed under on Monday.

Thursday 14 November

Wednesday 13 November

We have a gale today, with gusts to about 55 mph at the Butt of Lewis. Who had the beans last night?! Anyway, plenty of cancellations and disruptions on the ferries, with our ferry stormbound at Ullapool until this evening; she is due to come back at 8.20pm. I know of at least one person who was supposed to come on the now cancelled lunchtime service.

It is two years ago this month that teenager Liam Aitchison was found murdered at Steinis, a mile or two outside Stornoway. BBC Alba's Eorpa dedicated a programme to the tragedy. It had a major impact on the community, particularly because people in the Hebrides pride themselves on the caring and community aspects of their islands. It is felt that this somehow fell by the wayside in this case; without negating the primary blame, borne by the two convicted murderers.

I am continuing my additional research into the WW1 dead of North Uist, and have reached some interesting conclusions. Unlike Lewis, the vast majority of casualties from North Uist served in the Army, particularly the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders; I have, thus far, not come across many Royal Naval Reservists. Yesterday, I found a man quoted as being from Leriva. That was a corruption of Eilean Leireabhagh, a small island a few hundred yards south of Lochmaddy. A house still exists there, according to the Ordnance Survey map. His place of birth was given as Stromban, Sron Ban, the nearest township on the road to Clachan.