View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Crofting. It's a way of life in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and I have the greatest respect for all those men and women who seek to, and succeed to make a livelihood with crofting. That immediately points out the in-built, purposefully designed problem with the concept.

Crofting was conceived, early in the 19th century, to give tenants sufficient land not to starve, but also insufficient to make a full livelihood. As a result, they had to supplement their income from crofting by other means. The Napier Report (1883) tells us that bonded labour to the landlord was a widespread phenomenon in the 19th century. This meant that the landlord could compel tenants to perform labour for him, whether they liked it or not.

Much has changed, but crofting remains a flawed concept. Since 2002, it has become legal to feu off infinite numbers of plots from the croft land. That completely defeats the object of the exercise. The acreage of the croft is diminished, which was a major complaint in the Napier Report - insufficient acreage.

The flawedness of crofting is also demonstrated by the large amounts of grants and subsidies that crofters are entitled to. You get a grant to build an improvement (usually a home, sometimes an agricultural building) on the croft. If the croft yielded sufficient income, this would not be necessary.

As I said, I have great respect for the crofters. They work their socks off, not just on the croft but in other areas of employment as well, to make ends meet. However, I think the current movement towards community ownership offers an opportunity for revolution. I'm not advocating abolishing crofts and crofting. I'm advocating using community ownership to make it possible to make a full livelihood out of crofting.

Average speed cameras

In Scotland, the A9 trunk road links Stirling with the cities of Perth and Inverness, extending further to Thurso on the far north coast. The distance is some 260 miles, 420 km. Between Perth and Inverness, 110 miles / 180 km, the road switches between dual- and single-carriageway at irregular intervals. The landscape tends to be monotonous mountain scenery, and lapses of attention are unavoidable. The speedlimit is 70 mph / 110 kph on the dual-carriageway sections, and 60 mph / 100 kph on the single carriageway parts.

Over the years, single- and multi-vehicle accidents have claimed dozens of lives, and speeding, driver frustration (being stuck behind that slow lorry or caravan) and just plain bad driving have been contributory factors. The Scottish Government have finally agreed to convert the Perth to Inverness stretch to dual carriageway all the way by 2030. In the meantime, a system of average-speed cameras has been installed to monitor and reduce speeds.

I have been appalled by the reactions to this scheme prior to it going live on Monday. A senior government minister (of the UK administration) has led the campaign against it, which to my mind is tantamount to condoning the breaking of the law. If implementing the cameras leads to longer journey times, the only conclusion I can draw is that people have been breaking the speed limits for years. To alleviate the problem of 'slow lorries', the speed limit for HGVs has been raised to 50 mph for the dual carriage way sections.

The A9 is a challenging route at the best of time, and any scheme to improve safety should be welcomed. Not slated just because people are forced to obey the law. I think I prefer to be ten minutes late rather than be one minute early going into hospital out of a car crash - or worse. And you can factor in the longer journeytimes - it's called: planning.

Thomas - repost

Reposted from 13 May 2011

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.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Friday 17 October

Some of you may have heard of the custom of Sinterklaas (St Nicholas) in Holland, Flanders and parts of Germany. In Holland, this festival, held on 5 December, was an innocent celebration, marked by the giving of presents. Ostensibly by a man with a white beard, red robes, a peaked hat and a crozier, assisted by black men scattering sweeties around.

Monitored the approach of hurricane Gonzalo to Bermuda through the afternoon and evening. The highest windspeeds occurred after midnight (UK time). It was interesting to see the weather deteriorating at an incredible pace.

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Thursday 16 October

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Meanwhile here in sunny Stornoway, it's actually quite a bright morning, although with substantial amounts of mid-level cloud about. A major weather system is inching in from the Atlantic, bringing rain to points south. We should escape the worst of it. However, next Tuesday could see the arrival of the remnants of hurricane Gonzalo. This storm, a category 4 hurricane, is homing in on Bermuda. After passing that island tomorrow, the system will head for Newfoundland. It will transform into a normal autumn storm, which could bring gales to the UK - but 5 days is a long time in weather forecasting.

The SNP demand to be included in the "leadership" debates for the 2015 general elections. I don't think so. They, according to leader-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon, can't wait to be out of the United Kingdom. Clamouring for yet another referendum on independence. I dislike those "leadership" debates, look who was included in 2010 and got into government, although his party lost seats? And now Farage, heaven help us, will be there - so can we expect him in government if there's a hung parliament again? OK, let's be fair. UKIP only have 1 seat in parliament, so the SNP (with 6) should be there. Really? Would they be part of a coalition to the UK government?

Wednesday 15 October

Brilliantly sunny day in Stornoway, with hardly any cloud. A moderate to brisk easterly breeze, with the mercury propped up to 13C / 57F by the sunshine.

Had a very interesting talk with someone from Edinburgh University about a project called Scotland's War, which aims to record the contribution made by the people of Scotland to WW1; not just those soldiers and sailors, but also the people at home. As most of you know, I have compiled a large amount of information on WW1 casualties and combatants from the Outer Hebrides, hence the approach to myself. My input can be accessed via this link.

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Tuesday 14 October

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Morning all, it's quite a bright morning here in Stornoway, with a bit of an easterly breeze. Mercury at 11C / 52F, which is not bad for mid October.

I'm pleased to note that the MV Loch Seaforth will not become a bargaining chip in the negotiations to save the FSG shipyard where she has been built. So, in the next few weeks, our new ferry will arrive. Without having a suitable pier to dock at. Instead of berthing trials, she'll have anchoring trials. Very necessary, as the construction company at the new ferry terminal can't drill piles into the seafloor - maybe a new seam of diamonds has been found there?

It is 75 years ago today since HMS Royal Oak was sunk in Scapa Flow, Orkney, south of the islands' main town of Kirkwall. 834 sailors, many of them just boys, were lost in the sinking. Royal Oak was torpedoed by U-47, captained by Günther Priem, which had sneaked into Scapa Flow, past the blockships. Earlier today, HMS Bangor, in Orkney for the commemorations, lay a wreath at the site where the wreck of the Royal Oak now rests at the bottom of the sea.

Monday 13 October

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Bright day in Stornoway after a chilly night. It didn't get colder than the 3C / 37F I mentioned late last night, but it was nippy. The mercury has bounced back up to 11C / 52F, so no complaints here. I was concerned to hear of a gas explosion in North Bragar yesterday, which left a pensioner with burns in hospital. It would appear his cooker had a gas leak. Without casting aspersions on the gentleman concerned, it should serve as a reminder to have gas appliances checked on a regular basis. Certainly at this time of the year, when we start to use our gas- or oil-fired central heating boilers again.

Can somebody explain the discrepancies in the news on the MV Loch Seaforth? News reports from Germany in late September announce the deal between the Flensburger Shipyard Ltd (FSG) and Siem Shipyards of Norway, to stave off bankruptcy for FSG. The BBC, ten days later, announces that the deal is not a certainty. If it falls through after all, the MV Loch Seaforth (according to STV News) might never come to Stornoway.

Sunday 12 October

Lovely five mile walk in the Castle Grounds this afternoon. It was quite calm today, hardly any wind. That made the 10C on the mercury feel slightly less cold than it was. Walked the length of the Creed River, almost as far as the main road - I do realise the river itself stretches another 7 miles or so into the centre of the island. The most remarkable aspect of the walk were the autumn colours, almost at their best.

I am thoroughly disgusted with those people who are not prepared to accept the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum of 18 September. The rules were plain - a majority would suffice, and clause 30 of the Edinburgh agreement (which enabled the referendum) says that the outcome would be accepted by all parties. Hope over Fear? The fear is that Scotland is going to waste another two years talking about independence, followed by another two years of campaigning. It's been called the Neverendum.

What is that strange, unpleasant sensation that is pervading the house through cracks and crevices this evening? It prompts you to turn up the heating, don more clothes, crouch in front of the fire and shiver uncontrollably. Let's check the outside thermometer (at Stornoway Airport). 3C / 37F? OMG that's cold. Ah, so that's what it is. It's cold tonight Strange thing is, though, that Flesherin records 8C / 46F - because that weather station sits high up on top of a cliff. Cold air sinks. I'm on the seafront in Stornoway, at the lowest point in the town. The airport too sits very low down, nearly at sea-level.

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Saturday 11 October

Took the bus to Uig at midday, which delivered us promptly to Valtos, 34 miles west of Stornoway, after 50 minutes. Had lunch with an acquaintance, then went round the district by car, visiting Aird Uig (ugliest place in the island), Crowlista (made up for Aird), Timsgarry and the villages of Uigen, Reef, Kneep and back round to Valtos. The bus, which you have to book the day before, returned us back to Stornoway by 7.20pm. It got dark on the way back, and it's not often that I'm out by bus after dark. Pics on this link.

Friday 10 October

A calm day with changing cloudscapes all the time. Not much wind, and what wind we have comes from the east, barely force 2. The odd shower about, but even that doesn't amount to very much. Slightly milder than yesterday, 13C / 55F is not bad for mid October.

The Royal National Mod is starting over in Inverness. This is the prime venue for showcasing and competing in Gaelic culture. The focus is on music, but recitation and sports also feature. There is heavy involvement from children, from the age of 5 to adults; it has never ceased to amaze me when a youngster of 6 stands on a podium in front of 500 people to sing or recite their piece. Adults compete later in the week, focused more strongly on music. They perform individually, in groups and/or in choirs. The event starts in earnest next Monday, and will end on Saturday morning.

The Mod is held every year during the mid-term holiday for the children; next year it will be staged in Oban, and in 2016 it will return to Stornoway.

There is considerable uncertainty over the delivery of the new ferry, MV Loch Seaforth. It was reported that the German shipyard was in financial difficulties, but that a take-over bid was in progress. It finally transpires that the ship has been bought out by operators CMAL, in order that it does not become a pawn in the aftermath of any collapse of the shipyard.  The Loch Seaforth will come to Scotland in the next few weeks - the pier at Stornoway is nowhere near ready.

Thursday 9 October

I have been watching the programme about HMS Timbertown, the internment camp in Groningen, Holland, where 1,500 British sailors were kept during most of the First World War. The programme focused on the 102 Lewismen among them. I felt it was very nicely done, and want to give credit to all involved. My contribution was the reading of the newspaper article, describing the funeral procession for one of the island internees through the streets of Groningen.

In brief, although these men were in a 'cushy' camp during the war, they did make a contribution, however brief, at Antwerp, and therefore deserve all the recognition. Like the remaining 6,100 islanders who fought in WW1.

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Wednesday 8 October

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Grey and wet sums up today, and the other keyword is cold. 10C / 50F is not a daytime high I have seen for a long time.

Stop press. Urgent, breaking news from the Isle of Lewis.

A cow got stuck in a bog in Galson in north Lewis on Tuesday morning.
Fire crews were called out to rescue the animal shortly after 9am.
They managed to pull it out safely.

* Ends *

Well, if that's all the news from this part of the world, we can't complain. At least somebody pulled.

Tuesday 7 October

The storm has subsided, but there was quite a bit of damage and disruption, also on the mainland.

Broadband speeds have recovered from 0.15 to 6.76 Mbps, after a fault over the weekend.

Following the fire in a building on Cromwell Street, three teenagers aged 13 have been arrested on suspicion of arson.

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Monday 6 October

Although the sun is currently peeping through the clouds, the weather is quite unfriendly today. A strong to near-gale force wind is whipping up a swell in the Minch, and causing further delays to our ferry service. For some obscure reason, our ferry went to Ullapool last night, and is now stuck there.

Now, this is more like it. If on-shore windturbines lead to cheaper electricity for local consumers, then I'd be a little less unhappy about them. And we don't need all that many of them.

That story about the twitter troll who tweeted horrible things at Kate & Gerry McCann. Who never look on-line at anything to do with their daughter who disappeared in Portugal some years ago. The woman was confronted about her behaviour by Sky News, and was found dead the next day. Trolling is something I do not see the point of, and it was even more pointless in this case. Why waste your life away doing something as empty as that? Anyway, too late now. RIP.

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Sunday, 12 October 2014

Australia and its ethnic minorities

I've had to think about this for a little while before reposting.
I disagree with what Ms Gillard says.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard - Australia

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.

Separately, Gillard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying she supported spy agencies monitoring the nation's mosques. Quote:
'IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT... Take It Or Leave It. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians.

'This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.

'We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, learn the language!

'Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.'

'We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.

'This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, 'THE RIGHT TO LEAVE'.

'If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country that accepted you.

My appraisal:

Australia, as we know it, did not exist 250 years ago. It came into being when the landmass was used as a dumping ground for criminals. Australia has always been a country people emigrated to, from all over the world. I agree that it has a primarily Christian background, and the first language today is English. However, people coming in from other backgrounds, whether they be Muslim, Hindi or whatever, should be able to worship as they see fit. They should be able to speak their own language as they see fit, whilst adopting English as a second language. The way Ms Gillard has expressed herself is hostile and racist. She claims to be Christian, well, her attitude is far from Christian. The only way to deal with the issues that she seeks to address is to talk with the relevant groups. Not encourage them to leave. Maybe the Aborigines should encourage the white settlers to leave.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Sunday 5 October

It's all go on the typhoon front. Phanfone is headed for Tokyo, which it is set to pommel at category 1 strength during rush hour tomorrow morning; and Vongfong is making a beeline for Guam and surrounding islands as a category 3 typhoon - winds of about 100 knots. After that, it will strengthen further to 130 knots before heading north, for Japan.

In the eastern Pacific, Simon was a major hurricane (> 100 knots), but is now weakening, en route for Baja California. Its attendant rains will reach Arizona and New Mexico next weekend. That's the third tropical system to soak the desert southwest of the USA.

The heavy rains of Phanfone may well have contributed to an accident at the Japanese Formula 1 Grand Prix, where one driver ploughed into a support vehicle on the track, leaving him critically ill in hospital with brain injuries.

Was watching a cormorant drying its wings at lunchtime, until the tide flooded his perch.

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The weather today was filthy, with plenty of wind and rain. The ferry company decided to retime its sailings to and from Ullapool, putting them forward by three and a half hours. Then, not as scheduled, the boat went back to Ullapool at 6pm, where it will remain until tomorrow.

Saturday 4 October

So you think the day starts so nice, innocent and calm.


Except these ominous anvil clouds start to develop


Very ominous!


The lifeboat went out at 3.54pm


only to come straight back in at 4.05pm


A RIB had overturned at the Tarbert ferry terminal, and the three occupants were in the water. Another boat rescued them, so the lifeboat could return to station.

We went out for supper in An Lanntair, where one other diner laughed continually and very, very loudly. It's a miracle the glasses didn't shatter. Anyway, the sticky toffee pudding was delish, after the fish & chips.


Friday 3 October

A fire in a tenement on Cromwell Street in Stornoway chased people out of their beds and virtually destroyed a beauty salon on the first floor. Apparently, there was a fire at the same location some 8 hours before, and police are treating the incidents as linked and suspicious.

The Inn Between, between Shawbost and Bragar, has been sold off to the Horshader Development Trust, and will be converted into offices.

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