View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

Friday, 18 December 2015

Shell Gallery

Until January 13th, postings will be made on The Shell Gallery blog.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Wednesday 16 December

Probably the last post on this blog this year. On Thursday, 17th, I am travelling to Holland, to return to Stornoway in the New Year.

I am considering to merge Atlantic Lines and the Shell Gallery into a new blog during January, but will confirm that in a following post, nearer the time.

Wishing you Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year. 

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Islam vs Christianity

A lot is being said about Muslims and the Islamic faith, particularly where Islam has been abused as a pretext for committing atrocities. I have read the Qu'ran, the Muslim's holy script, and although it was only a cursory glance (which took me a year), I will just tell you what I took out of that reading.

Islam is the younger brother of Christianity, as much as Christianity is the younger brother of Judaism. They share common forefathers, such as Abraham. Quite specifically, the rulings of Islam are quoted as being excluding those of other faiths, such as Christians and Jews. In other words, Muslims respect those faiths.

In the Qu'ran, God expresses exasperation over the hard-headedness of mankind, saying that He gave Man the Torah, but Man ignored that. God then gave Man the Gospel, but Man ignored it. So then, God gave Man the Qu'ran - and Man IGNORED THAT AS WELL!

In both faiths, there are factions, who are battling each other over interpretation of the scripts. However, in Islam, the Prophet has been given the one and only interpretation by God. In Christianity, there is room for interpretation. And don't we know it.

In other words, I don't know why on earth Muslims and Christians are fighting each other.

Aren't we all brothers? 

I actually do know why people fight. It's over power.
It's shameful that religion is being dragged in as justification for the most heinous of crimes.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Wednesday 9 December - Donald Trump

Donald Trump hopes to be nominated candidate for the Republican Party in the US presidential elections in November 2016. He has opened his mouth very wide, stating that all Muslims should be banned from entering the USA until the politicians have worked out what the hell is going on.

I have no time for sweeping statements like that, and on face value it is objectionable, coarse, undiplomatic and unbecoming of any statesman. However, let's cut away the fluff, smoke and fireworks and see what has prompted Trump to trump so loudly - trump used here as synonym for flatulence, by the way.

Several terrorist attacks have been carried out, with justification to the Islamic faith. I name but a few: the attacks on the New York World Trade Center in 1993 and 2001 (to name the worst), the mass shooting in San Bernardino last week and the attacks in Paris in January and November this year - and so many more.

What we should do about Donald Trump's exhortation is take the warning seriously. The warning that the current atrocities being carried out by "Islamic State" should NOT be used against Muslims as a group. That's what IS wants us to do. We, in America, Europe and beyond, should engage with the Muslim community in our midst, to ensure that they are an integral and integrated part of our community, respected and valued. To make sure that those who are disaffected with the society in which they live do NOT fall for the lure of IS, which preaches hatred under the thin disguise of religion. Listen to those who have genuine complaints about the way they get treated, and get them back on board.

What we should NOT do about Donald Trump is to take his exhortations seriously. I don't think it helps the debate to strip him of honorary degrees (like Robert Gordon University has done today), as it just entrenches his views and turns him into a martyr.

People like him are warning signals that there is a problem in society, which is not being addressed. Starve him of the oxygen of support, by addressing the problem, and he will be silenced. Donald Trump has his place in society, making and investing money. He should stay the hell out of politics.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Sunday 6 December

A scattering of terrorist incidents, small in scale but troubling. The one in California, where two lone wolves went on a killing spree, is bewildering. There is some suggestion that they 'self-radicalised', without being connected to a known terrorist group. In history, religion has often been the focal point for radicalisation, and in this day and age it is Islam. It is my opinion that interference by foreign powers in the Middle East has fomented the current state of affairs. The reason for such interference is strategic, going by the name of crude oil. Oil is the lifeblood of a modern economy, and no nation can do without it, or (more to the point) its derived products. What would have happened if the Middle East had been nothing but the sand pit it is on the surface? Well, we shall never know. But I'm afraid when you sow wind, as we Europeans and Americans have done for more than a century, you will one day reap the storm. I am horrified at the current state of affairs. It will only get worse, not better, through a bombing campaign that the United Kingdom joined last week. It appears to have become a rallying point for people with an axe to grind against 'The West', or even their own countries. Should we bomb ISIS? Only if it is backed up with a ground offensive to remove them. Who will do the ground-offensiving? Only local forces. Are there any? Well, the Iraqi army is a paper tiger, and we have decided that we don't like Syria's leader Assad. Of course we don't, he has driven half his population from their homes and a large percentage of them out of his own country. Although I cannot understand the Middle East, I know one thing. You NEVER gain anything there through violence.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Wednesday 2 December

I don't want to write about Syria again, it is filling the news media and social media ad nauseam. Weather? Well, it is quite interesting, fluctuating between mild and chilly and between calm and stormy. It's early December and winter is making its presence felt. The battle with autumn will reach fever pitch on Friday, when severe gales to storm force winds, bringing sustained winds of 45 to 55 mph (70 to 90 km/h) to our islands. Ferries could well be cancelled, electricity supplies interrupted and all the other hazards that a good blow brings. I expect a full supermarket on Friday morning, just before the highest windspeeds occur. It is 7pm as I type this, and darkness has long since fallen. The sunset was colourful, which is always nice and uplifting. But our nights are long and dark, and it won't be daylight until about 8.15 tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Tuesday 1 December

Back in 1985, I wrote an essay on AIDS, HIV and the treatments available at the time. It was around that time that the disease Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome had come into prominence, some 25 years after it first emerged in humans in Uganda. Apparently, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (which gives rise to the complex of symptoms that is called AIDS) came from monkeys, and thanks to human interference jumped the species barrier. Another species of animal that gets a comparable disease is cats, where it is called FIV, feline immunodeficiency virus. HIV attacks the immune system, leaving the body open to all sorts of infections. These are not normally a problem in healthy people, but cause serious illness in someone with HIV infection. HIV is transmitted through body fluids. Blood transfusions were initially a source of infection. HIV's main transmission route is sexual intercourse. In the 80s, the disease first manifested itself amongst homosexual men, but very soon found its way into the heterosexual community. After a public awareness campaign, the usage of condoms and the practicing of safe sex increased markedly, but a recent news item warned that AIDS is in the ascendancy again in the young, teenagers and young adults. The safe sex message has not gotten through to them - yet. AIDS is not curable, although drugs have been developed which slow the progression of the disease by slowing the multiplication of HIV. Research into a cure continues, as does research into a possible vaccine.

Monday, 30 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #30

Today is the last day of a couple of things.


National Novel Writing Month - done 14 instalments, adding up to 1800 words, not 1800 words each

Movember - yep, I'm a hairy harry and will have collected £67.

Hurricane seasons in the Northern Atlantic, Eastern and Central Pacific basins. 

In the context of this blog, it is of course also the final day of National Blog Posting Month, and the final entry under that initiative on this blog for this year. It has proved surprisingly easy to write about something each day, and I have enjoyed it. My post counter will click to 3,435 when this post is published, one more than I anticipated.

When I first started blogging as part of the AOL Journals community (known as J-land), I would post up to a dozen entries each day. This was very much interactive, and many other bloggers would be reading my posts, as much as I'd read theirs. When AOL shut down its blogging service, most went over to this forum, Blogger, but many have abandoned their blogs now. Facebook has taken the place of J-land.

I shall continue intermittent blog posting here on Atlantic Lines.

This is NaBloPoMo signing off for 2015.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #29

Winter is making itself known in these parts, with hail, snow and thunderstorms. Thunderstorms usually occur in the islands in winter, as hailstones moving up and down in the atmosphere gather up static electricity, which discharges as lightning. Summer storms, which are due to the build up of heat and humidity, are rare here. Late November is a normal time of year for the first flurries of snow, and today's low temperatures are nothing out of the ordinary either. On the Scottish mainland, the snow has been more of an issue; severe gales over England and Wales compounding the weather problems there, although no snow there. Today's weather is part of a huge weather system, which stretches all the way southwest across the Atlantic. The Caribbean island of Curacao has suffered severe thunderstorms, which have led to flooding - all part of the same frontal zone. The hurricane season in both the Atlantic and Eastern and Central Pacific basins is drawing to a quiet close, as of tomorrow.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #28

Had a simple meal tonight, consisting of broth, lamb, potatoes and vegetables. A typical island meal in by-gone days. An equally typical meal would consist of salt herring, potatoes and milk. I have also had salt mackerel, instead of herring. Mackerel fishing is easy, you just hang a line with hooks in the sea, and within moments, you'll have as many mackerel as you have hooks. However, you have to salt them quickly. In days gone by, salmon was regarded as the poor man's fish - in contrast to today's perception. If you had to eat salmon it meant you were too poor to afford a boat to go out to sea. Porridge is another stand by - many have it with salt, but I prefer it with sugar or syrup. Stornoway Black Pudding? Too rich for my liking.

NaBloPoMo - day #27

So now the Turks and the Russians are eye-balling each other over Syria. Personally, I think the Turks went way over the top by downing that Russian jet. On the other hand, the Russians have been taunting the Turks from the moment they arrived on the scene over Syria, with one incursion of Turkish airspace after another. Meanwhile, the Islamic State terrorists are laughing up their sleeves. Wouldn't it be a lovely coup, if the two big men of the East, Russia and Turkey, came to real blows over this? However, this is all but a distraction from the real issue. You don't defeat ISIS with aerial bombardment. Boots on the grounds are required, and it will have to be regional forces, not the blunderbusses from America or Europe. We are in danger of a repeat of the events in the wake of 9/11, when a knee-jerk response from the USA, however understandable, led to the invasion of Iraq. In my mind, that was the action which indirectly led to the establishment of the ISIS group. Saddam Hussein was a horrible despot - but he had at least the sagacity to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, turning them into weapons of mass delusion. In 2003, he was hamstrung and virtually unable to move. It would have been better if he had been left in place. However, Saddam Hussein was strung up in December 2006, and nobody bemoans his death. What took his place was an ineffectual government, riddled with religious strife, which allowed ISIS, upon its establishment a few years ago, to quickly take over swathes of its territory. Syria was and is being ruled by another despot, Assad, whom we wanted to bomb out in 2012. And look who is now regarded as a useful despot? The same Mr Assad. Back in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein was regarded as a useful despot, a buffer against the screaming lunacy of Iran's islamic revolution. When his usefulness expired, he was discarded. Assad is useful against ISIS. If and when they are eradicated from the face of this earth, he will be discarded as well. Let's hope we manage this without stumbling into a confrontation between Russia and other powers in the region if not the world at large.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - Thanksgiving (day #26)

Today is Thanksgiving in the island, a religious occasion, not necessarily anything to do with the consumption of turkeys. Some 10 years ago, shops would still close at lunchtime to allow people to observe the occasion. Schools now close on the Friday and following Monday for the holiday. This is one of four times in the year when the island communions are on; remember that Lewis, Harris and North Uist are staunchly presbyterian. I'm faintly disgusted with the overt references to Black Friday, that have surfaced in commercial Britain, which has been borrowed from the USA. In the States, Thanksgiving is connected with the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers in America. In the Hebrides, it is purely religious.

NaBloPoMo - day #25

Television is a relative late-comer to the Outer Hebrides. In the 1960s, two enterprising gents set up a television relay in the town of Stornoway, with a receiver on a hill overlooking the town. Signals from a transmitter on the mainland were then fed round town by cable, to whoever was prepared for them. In certain weather conditions, it was possible to get TV reception without this relay, but islanders beyond the town had to wait until 1972, when the transmitter tower at Eitsal, outside the village of Achmore, was taken into service. Eitsal is a hill rising to 700 feet above sealevel, and with the tower rising another 700 feet, its top stands 1400 feet high. The transmitter serves an area of the Scottish mainland, still more than 45 miles away, as well as most of Lewis, Harris and parts of the southern isles. The transmitter was converted to digital television when the national switch-over from analogue to digital occurred in 2010. Those who are out of 'sight' of Eitsal tend to use satellite receivers, from e.g. Sky, for their TV needs. Freeview, the digital TV service in the UK, offers a good range of channels for nothing - Sky subscriptions can become very expensive very quickly.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #24

Politics is a fickle game. Back in 2012, there was a move for the Royal Air Force to become involved in a bombing campaign in Syria. The object was to oust dictator Assad from power. He was such a horrible man, using chemical weapons and barrel bombs against his own people, just because they did not agree with his politics. How things change. Here we are in November 2015, and there is a bombing campaign going on against a terrorist organisation that calls itself Islamic State, and all of a sudden Mr Assad is the good guy that is supposed to help us suppress IS. Isn't it weird though that the one constant in this whole game has been a certain chap by the name of Vladimir Putin, who, at last check, was president of Russia. He opposed the bombing of Assad in 2012, and is now bombing everybody opposed to Assad - including IS. For international consumption, he stresses the bombing of IS, and certainly for internal consumption as well, after a Russian airliner was brought down by IS-affiliated terrorists in the Sinai, Egypt. We can expect the RAF to become involved in the bombing campaign, and this should be seen as being in support of Assad. Nobody, apart from Syria's army and the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, are in position to take on IS on the ground. And on the ground is where they will be beaten in the end. Meanwhile, where is that coward who shed his suicide vest in Paris, rather than using it to blow himself up on November 13th? Anybody, in Brussels particularly?

Monday, 23 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #23

The word dreich came in handy to describe today. Grey, drizzly, windy when appropriate. The last days of November, when daylight hours are at a premium, frequently become like that. On really dark days, the streetlights may come on during the day. It is the reverse of late May, when the light never seems to fade. I don't actually mind this time of year (too much). I watched the ferry go out first thing this morning, at 7 o'clock, in darkness, and daylight didn't put in an appearance until nearly 8. The weather did brighten up later in the afternoon, but by that time it was 4 o'clock - and time for the sun to go down. Many people don't venture out too much, other than to do their Christmas shopping. Yes, I'm generalising here. We have a free newspaper here, called Events, which lists everything that's going on in Lewis and Harris. And you'd be surprised!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #22

Stornoway on a Sunday is a quiet wee place. Our town, population 9,000, falls quiet on the Day of the Sabbath. Those so inclined go to church, at 11 am and at 6 pm. Those without transport and not able to walk the distance are taken to church by minibus, driven by volunteers. Otherwise, the public bus service does not operate at all. Until 2006, there was no ferry in Lewis or Harris; it was in that year that the Leverburgh to Berneray ferry commenced Sunday sailings. The Stornoway to Ullapool ferry began Sunday operations in 2009, with Tarbert to Skye commencing a few years ago. When you go for a walk around town on a Sunday, the streets will be deserted. The shopping precinct, which stretches along Cromwell Street and out to Bayhead, as well as along Point Street, Francis Street and North and South Beach, are shuttered and empty. Fishing boats sometimes do put to sea, or come in, but otherwise it's utter calm. Even the supermarkets are closed; the only shop open is a filling station which has a wee shop on the premises. In summer, tourists can be seen wandering the streets, looking for a restaurant or a pub to open. Restaurants open from late afternoon; pubs also open in the afternoon. The sports centre is closed, leading to acid comments that you can get drunk on the Sabbath, but not do anything healthy. Is anything likely to change? In the 11 years I've been here, there have been subtle changes, and more will come. Are shops likely to open on Sundays in the near future? I don't hope so. Not out of religious fervour, but just to have one day where everything is quiet. The ferry leaving port at 2.30pm, and returning at 9pm, does not bother anybody.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #21

First snow of winter 2015/16 fell in the night, and we woke up to a dusting of the white stuff on roads, pavements and hillsides. It was cold, just on freezing, and it took the sun a little while to lift the mercury off zero. Snow is a pain if you have to travel by road or rail, but when it is freshly fallen, it is just beautiful. So calm. The calmness of winter, having settled down from the raucousness of autumn. Oh, autumn is not done with us yet, it'll be back in the new week with more gales and rain. But this first taste of winter was nice. I like the way the seasons change. I'd be bored with sunshine and warmth every day of the year.

Friday, 20 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #20

November is two-thirds done and has finally remembered that it stands at the gates of winter. A quick gale blew up after dark, but the day was perishing cold: only a few degrees above freezing. The ferry was tied up all afternoon, because the northerly winds whip up quite a swell. It was the old Isle of Lewis; the new ferry, Loch Seaforth, is heading north from an extended refit at Birkenhead. Every passenger ship has to undergo an annual overhaul, to ensure it is still in a fit state to carry fare-paying passengers. In a fit state to run a ship was most certainly not the first mate of the bulk carrier Lysblink Seaways, back in February. He was EIGHT times over the Scottish legal blood alcohol limit, and he was so blootered that he ignored all warning sirens, hooters and noises from his navigational equipment. The Lysblink Seaways disputed passage with the Ardnamurchan peninsula at 12 knots, and lost. She is an insurance write-off, and has been scrapped.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #19

I'm casting my eyes back eleven years, when I had newly arrived in Lewis. I was based in a backwater of the island, some 22 miles south of Stornoway (by road) and it would take me a busride of 45 minutes to get into town. On the way back, there would not be a connection, so I would have to walk back 5 miles along the road. Not that was much traffic, fortunately. At one time, I was offered a lift by a young mum with a baby on the backseat. She had her chariot stoked up to 80F to keep the bairn warm. On another occasion, I had had a glass of coke in the local watering hole, and was offered a lift up the road by some of the patrons. They had definitely had something stronger than coke, and were flinging the beercans out the window as they blasted down the road at 60 mph - on a road where 40 mph was the top-end of advisable. The area was unremarkable, but I enjoyed exploring its many lochs, moors and hillocks. I left after three months, and was happy to do so. Next stop: Stornoway.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #18

The fall-out of the November 13th attacks in Paris continues to reverberate. This morning, police in northern Paris staged a pitched battle with some people with alleged links to the culprits of the slaughter of Friday night. One of them blew themselves up, raising fears of further suicide belt bombings in Paris. And not just in Paris, this could come anywhere. A very scary scenario. Let us not forget though what actually allowed an organisation like Daesh, Islamic State, ISIS or ISIL or whatever you wish to call it, to flourish. How about Western involvement in the Middle East? Did it start with the invasion of Iraq? Our involvement with Iraq over the past three decades has been positively schizophrenic. Supporting Saddam against Iran, whom we don't like, them fighting Saddam when the poor sod doesn't get it that we won't back him on every madcap scheme he thinks up. We bombed the crap out of him when he invaded Kuwait in 1990 / 91. So we strung up Saddam, and what were we left with - a power vacuum. Filled by people with an axe to grind agains the USA, and there is an awful lot of them down the Middle East. How about the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and the displacement of the resident population of the area that was called Palestine? No, not even that started it all, although it didn't help. The British protectorate of Palestine in 1903? Well, getting close, but it was but a milestone. The Crusades. Ever thought about those? The Pope was up to his neck in political trouble, so what do you in a situation like that? You create a diversion, and when you appeal to people's religious zeal, you can go far. Hey, where did we see that again? Some 900 years later, under the banner of a different religion, but same thing. Not saying that it was down to the Crusades, but it is a starting point. It all gets a bit vague before then.

One general point about the current situation. I'm pleased that even Putin's Russia is seeing the light on this issue. It is deeply saddening though that it had to come at the cost of 224 innocent tourists on board a flight from Sharm el-Sheikh to Petersburg a few weeks ago.  My thoughts and prayers remain with the family and friends of all victims of terrorism.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #17

We started with some sunshine this morning, but cloud soon took over. It is the time of year where cloudy weather can prompt the streetlights to come on, and you may need the lights on in the house during daylight hours. It is the time of year that separates the hardy from the not-so-hardy in these islands, and it is the great litmus test of endurance. Could you endure days of 6-7 hours of daylight? Incessant strong winds, hail being flung against your window day and night, having to tie down your bin lest it flies down the street? Ferries cancelled, empty shops as a result? Even planes are cancelled in strong winds. If you are able to put up with three or four months of that (November through to February), then you are made of Outer Hebrides stuff.

Monday, 16 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #16

Second half of November, and the facial hair is growing nicely for Movember. Anyone caring to sponsor me is welcome to do so on My November story, ostensibly for NaNoWriMo is coming along in fits and starts; I cannot manage 1,800 words a day, it'll be a miracle if I manage 1,800 words a week. Nonetheless, feel free to check out its progress on Writings from Castle Town. I am managing, thus far, a post a day on Atlantic Lines.

Today is a windy day, with galeforce winds, stormforce in the Southern Isles and occasional heavy showers. The airport closed for flights at 6pm, to indicate the severity of the conditions. The gale blows from the west, which is at right angles to the runway (which runs north to south). On January 2nd this year, a plane was blown off the runway in a freak gust of wind. Ferries to, from and within the Western Isles are all cancelled today. This will be the last strong wind event for a while; temperatures will now fall through the week, until we get snow this weekend. Never a dull moment here.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #15

On this dark November's day, with the rain lashing down and winds rising towards a crescendo of another force 9, I am struck by conflicting emotions coming from many quarters. A hatred of Islam, in the wake of another atrocity visited upon the innocent in its name. A desperation from the genuine adherents to that faith that it was not in their name. We stand with the French, although some can't stand 'em. I have no problem with France; I've only visited the country a few times: 1982, 1998, 2001 and passing through a number of times on board a Eurostar train. I have read the Qu'ran, with some difficulty, and cannot claim to know it. Neither can I claim to know the Bible. I regard Islam as the young brother of Christianity. Islam acknowledges Christians and Jews as fellow faithful, and even states that the Torah and the Gospel predate the Qu'ran.

In the centuries since 1492, the indigenous people of several continents were killed, hunted down and humiliated in the name of God. I don't think God intended his Guidance (which the Bible is) to be interpreted in such a fashion. You will not kill, is one of the Ten Commandments, isn't it. So don't dodge the issue by claiming that other people are not human. Some say that the Scriptures of Islam contain the justification for mass murder upon the infidel, the prostitutes and the idle - descriptions used against the victims of the Paris attacks of Friday 13th November. Some say that if you don't adhere to the Scriptures as interpreted by a senior clergyman, you're an infidel. In certain times, you'd be burned alive at the stake. Nowadays, you could be mowed down with a machine gun. Even if you've never read the Scriptures, just hear about things like Joan of Arc or the Prophet Muhamed.

There was no justification for the Paris attacks of 13th November or 7th January this year. If anyone knows a way to put the evil genii that is Daesh back into its bottle, well, step this way.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #14

Once more, terrorism has reared its ugly head. Ten months after an attack on a newspaper office, 127 people are now known to have been killed in Paris. The culprits took their own lives; one was killed by police. The political angle is interesting, if chilling. The consequences and outlook are bleak. My thoughts are with the family and friends of those killed and injured.

November 14th has been darkened again, 75 years after Nazi Germany bombed the English city of Coventry. More cheerfully, the festival of Sinterklaas has launched in the Netherlands, with St Nicholas arriving by 'steamship' with his entourage of Black Peters. He will go round, delivering presents to children, young and old. It will culminate on December 5th, after which Sinterklaas will disappear, back to 'Spain'.

Friday, 13 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #13

News reached us yesterday that one of  the neighbours in the street had died suddenly. I didn't really know the man, and his wife was a passing acquaintance. However, others were very familiar with the gentleman concerned and distraught at his passing. The funeral will take place next week. The format is unique to this island. A service of commemoration will be held in one of the local churches, which will last for half an hour or a little more. The coffin will then be taken outside and carried up the road by male members of the congregation, each taking a turn at the 'lift' - the generally accepted term here. It depends on the number of people present for what distance the coffin will be carried. After everyone who wishes to do so has had a turn, the coffin will be taken by hearse to the cemetery for interment. Only male relatives (and friends) are usually present at the graveside.

My sympathies are with the family and friends of the deceased.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #12

There is a forecast for high winds, with dire warnings about disruption to transport (on sea and on land). This means that shops will not be able to be supplied, as the ferries are not running. It will therefore come as no surprise that the local supermarket was as busy as it would be on an average Saturday. Although the day started with a very colourful sunrise, cloud soon spilled over and rain and wind arrived. By sunset, 4pm, there was a brief lull in the weather, but only for the fun really to get started during the hours of darkness. Roads were closed at times of high tide (7pm), as high waves overtopped the coastal defences. Power supplies were interrupted during the night and buses were taken off the road after 6pm. Highest windspeeds in Stornoway were 45 mph sustained, with gusts to 84 mph in South Uist. Actually, your average winter gale. The Met Office named the low pressure system Abigail, although I believe they misspelt it. Should have read ABIGALE.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - Armistice Day (day #11)

97 years ago today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent as hostilities came to an end. The First World War was over. The peace treaty that came into effect, in June 1919, contained the seeds for the next conflagration, only a little over 20 years later.

The First World War did not really register on my radar until I came to the UK in 1997, as it did not affect my home country, the Netherlands, directly. The one million refugees from Belgium certainly had an impact, and a blockade of all goods going into Germany (mostly through Holland) led to shortages in Holland. However, the overriding memory of WW1 includes the wholesale slaughter at the Western Front in France and Flanders, the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic, and the first use of poison gas at the battle front. Tanks and airplanes also made their first appearance.

In my opinion, piling the blame for the first world war squarely at the door of Germany (and its allies) is historically not fair. All parties who went to war against each other were to blame, Great Britain, France and Russia as much as Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey. They were raring for a fight. Crippling reparations after the war led to economic collapse in Germany, and it was only a question of time before someone took political advantage of it. He promised to make Germany great, singled out one ethnic group to blame for all the country's misfortunes and got away with murder in the process. We all know his name. Adolf Hitler.

If one good thing came out of the Second World War, it was the dawning of some good sense amongst the leaders of Europe, particularly in West Germany (as was by that time) that cooperation rather than confrontation was the way forward. However, even with that in mind, World War Two also left a deadly legacy. The problems in the Middle East, already badly handled by the colonial powers Britain and France (until 1920), were to be compounded almost beyond resolution through the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, I'm sorry to have to say.

As we observe two minutes' silence at 11 am this morning (this post is scheduled to coincide with the start of that), we remember the Fallen from all conflicts. We should also reflect on the consequences of our actions in all conflicts. Did we learn from any mistakes, or are we not prepared to admit that mistakes were made, or that lessons should be learned from them?

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #10

The last two posts were looking back at days in history, one sad, the other evil. Today's entry is neither. Eleven years ago today, I was on a long-distance coach from Fort William to Uig (Skye), a journey of about 130 miles or 4 hours. It is a scenic trip, particularly the stretch between Invergarry and Cluanie, where the A87 affords a long view down the glen, west towards Loch Hourn, some 25 miles away. After crossing the bridge, the trip goes the length of the Isle of Skye, a place I had seen quite a bit of in previous weeks. My arrival in Lochmaddy was at 4.45pm, when it is nearly dark. The place I had booked into (which will remain nameless) was equally dark and empty. Thanks. Fortunately, there were vacancies elsewhere, and it was to be the start of an extended stay in these islands. At first in Uist, but after a brief foray into Berneray, finally into Lewis and Harris. Much has changed in the 11 years that have passed since. The natural and evocative beauty of the islands and their environment has not. Neither has the kindness and welcoming attitude of the people that live here, only too aware that we all may come to rely on each other at a point of adversity. As I type this, we are a few days away from what may become the first stormforce wind event of the autumn and winter. That could prove, once again, to be a test for all.

Monday, 9 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - Kristallnacht (day #9)

I always make a point of commemorating 9th November 1938. It is a black day in a black period of European history. A black day, although even blacker ones were to follow in the six and a half years afterwards. In the Germany of Adolf Hitler, Jewish properties across the land were attacked, vandalised and torched. This included homes, shops and synagogues. Cynically dubbed Reichskristallnacht, it was a concerted campaign of terror against those who professed the Jewish faith. The German word means national night of broken glass. Although in German, nouns are capitalised, I refuse to afford the translation the dignity of capitals at the start of each word. It was a disgrace on humanity and a stain on the culture of Germany past and up to 1938. Far worse followed, because between 1939 and 1945, six million were put to death at the orders of Nazi Germany - merely for being Jewish and / or not conforming to their warped ideas of what constituted a proper human being. We are all proper human beings. Many ordinary Germans did know about what went on, but would not speak out. Mostly through fear, a few because they condoned what went on - or they just wanted to get on with their lives. The phrase, after the war, was Ich habe es nicht gewusst, I didn't know about it.

Commemorating the Kristallnacht tends to leave me upset. However, we have moved on, and it's now 77 years since those awful events. Nonetheless, I'll continue to post about this subject in coming years.

Lest we forget.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - Remembrance Sunday (day #8)

Remembrance Sunday is upon us once more. Although none of the combatants who fought in the First World War now remain alive, there are still some very elderly veterans left who saw action in the Second World War. Their numbers dwindle year by year, until they too follow their comrades who fell in action between 1939 and 1945. The final bell will most likely toll some time in the 2030s.

Here in Lewis, the focus is heavily on commemorating the Fallen of the First World War. I have often quoted the figures, and I'll do so again.

Population in 1911: 30,000
Total signed up for active service: 6,200
Total number who died as a direct consequence of the war: 1,300

Of those 1,300, about 180 died when their transport, HMY Iolaire, sank outside Stornoway Harbour in the early hours of 1 January 1919. I refer to this list for names and details. The impact of these losses is reflected in the island's 17 war memorials. Apart from the main one at Stornoway, memorials are located at Garrabost (Point), Melbost, Back, North Tolsta, Cross (Ness), Borve (Shader to Galson), Barvas (under construction), Bragar (Arnol to Shawbost), Carloway, Tolsta Chaolais, Callanish, Great Bernera, Timsgarry (Uig), Kershader (Pairc), Laxay (Balallan to Keose) and Crossbost (North Lochs).

I do not seek to belittle the sacrifice made by men from other islands in the Outer Hebrides - Harris, Berneray, North Uist, Grimsay, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay. Information here.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #7

Well, it's been a while since I wrote a blogpost every day. In recent years, it became a compilation of Facebook posts and pretty pictures. Since August, I've only written something if I felt like writing about it. Doesn't mean I'm scraping the barrel at the moment, there is plenty going on to serve as inspiration. The next two days will be a case in point, but I'll let those posts speak for themselves. It's a bright November Saturday, where the news is still dominated by holiday makers stranded in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, after a plane came down in the Sinai desert. Yes, I know it's an inconvenience, but there is an obvious political angle on it all as well. Whoever meddles in the hornet's nest that's the Middle East is bound to get stung. Is it really that easy to buy someone to let you plant a bomb on a plane, if that's what brought down that Russian airliner last week? Does it have any connection with the Russians (claiming to be) bombing the crap out of Islamic State in Syria? Who can tell. Putin was warned by leaders in the Middle East, particularly after the Soviets were booted out of Afghanistan following a disastrous intervention there in the 1980s. You can't resolve the problems in the Middle East by force - alone. Violence is the one way that is certain to lead to failure.

Friday, 6 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #6

As I type this, four hours after sunset, the rain is clattering against the windows. The weather has treated us to a varied menu, from sunshine to showers, from poor visibility to a glorious sunset. It's November, and we'll know about it. Sun rises at 8 am, and sets at 4 pm, and we'll lose a total of two hours of daylight by the time we hit the winter solstice. This is the time of year where people here complete their preparations for winter. Extra light-bulbs, candles, oil lamps; coal and logs for the fire; salt for the drives and paths around the house - and anti-freeze for the car. Winter here means short days, long nights - not necessarily perishingly cold, but certainly cold enough for ice on the roads. The local council, under severe financial restraint, has had to prioritise roads for gritting, which doesn't normally start until 6 am. That is not going to help anyone going on the ferry in the morning, as you have to be at the ferry before 6 am. Those in the outlying districts have to leave before 5 to make it on time; the ferry staff are very strict on the deadline. I have not seen much snow in Stornoway over the nearly one dozen winters I have been here. The deepest snow fell in the winter of 2010 / 2011, when 6 inches fell in November, which did not melt until January. The slush that resulted froze again at night, leaving the pavements in the town impassable. Pedestrians (like myself) had to chance their lives in the roadway, and when I wanted to go to Sandwick one day, I was physically unable to cross a 6 ft wide path, as it was too slippery. I don't mind winter, but some people do. It is that time of year when people who came to love the island in summer, with blue skies, the green grass and the glistening sea, endless days of sunshine - suddenly find that the streetlights stay on all day, it is dark grey outside, with hail and rain lashing the windows, the grass is yellow, brown or even black and there is only 6 and a bit hours of daylight. If you do survive a Hebridean winter, you're made of stern stuff. I've made it through about ten.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #5

Today is November 5th, Guy Fawkes night here in the United Kingdom. Fireworks displays in various places, including here in Lewis, and warnings about safety for people as well as animals. Guy Fawkes is credited with the gun-powder plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Nowadays, he would be called a terrorist. If he had succeeded, he would have been a hero. With all the talk of terrorism around the world, it reinforces the old adage that one man's terrorist is someone else's freedom fighter. Which brings me onto those that abuse religion for their political ends. At the moment, it is "Islamic extremists"; 500 years ago, it was Roman Catholic extremists. I mean, burning at the stake, exterminating the population of an entire continent in the name of God, isn't that any better than "Islamic State" in 2015? Before Columbus felt the religious imperative to conquer what became known as America, people from Europe were trading quite happily with folk in East Africa, without batting an eyelid at the colour of their skin, or having qualms about their religion. Trade was the name of the game. Soon, it became exploitation. In the name of God? I don't think so. Want my take on it? God is setting us challenges, and we're failing abysmally. Why do I say that? I paraphrase the Qu'ran (yep, that Book): God gave man the Torah, and he ignored it. God gave man the Gospels, and he ignored it. God gave man the Qu'ran - and he ignored it!

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #4

November is settling in nicely, and I'm progressing nicely with Movember as well. You can donate, if you wish to do so, through my page on that site. I'll think about posting a pic on the final result. I do think it is a good idea to highlight issues surrounding men's health. For men, it is perceived as a sign of weakness to admit that there is anything wrong with them. Particularly when it comes to things like your prostate or your testicles. However, cancer in either can be just as deadly as any other form of cancer, and it's a good idea to give men a heads-up about things like that. Another problem is mental health, with 1 in 4 people experiencing a depressive episodes at some point in their lives. Again, men don't want to admit they are feeling down, or worse, for fear of being regarded as a wuss, a weakling or not very virile. Taking mental health issues out of the taboo corner is imperative. Having a broken mind is just as bad as having a broken leg, and it takes far longer to heal. You can't ignore a broken leg, and a broken mind also needs fixing. Support Movember.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #3

November rules, and it rules foggily. Fog also shrouds the identity of those who gained control of the Twitter and Facebook accounts of our esteemed weekly paper, the Stornoway Gazette, aged 99 come next January. Apparently, there is considerable disquiet about outsourcing of work, such as design, journalism and what not. The editor was called unpleasant names, the paper was referred to as having declined from an esteemed broadsheet to a dire publication. To top it all, the Gazette shop, at the corner of Francis Street and Kenneth Street, is to close at the end of the year, since it is not seen to be commercially viable. Somebody is seriously rocking the boat, and although Johnston Press (who publish the Gazette) say they are dealing with it, the Gazette's Twitter account continues to display the last utterances of the disgruntled employee. Those who are supposed to be in the know of course say 'It wasn't me guv, honest'. In this small community (Stornoway's population is about 9,000), everybody knows everybody else, and as a result you tend to sit on criticism, or ventilate it in limited circles. This little spat made it as far as the webpages of the BBC and the Glasgow Herald, one of the largest papers in Scotland.

Monday, 2 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #2

November has come in quite mild this year. I always talk about the weather because it is important, if only because it determines whether our ferries can sail. That in turn is vital, as everything comes from across the water. Stornoway, a town of 9,000 souls, lies on the eastern shores of the island of Lewis, and is 50 miles northwest of the mainland port of Ullapool. The passenger ferry Loch Seaforth takes two and a half hours to cover the distance. At present, her predecessor, Isle of Lewis, is on the run, as the Seaforth is in drydock for her annual overhaul. At night, freight is taken to the islands by ferry, which currently is undertaken by the Hildasay. She will leave once the Seaforth comes back from drydock. The Hildasay normally plies the route to the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland) and is run by Serco. This brings a political angle, as the Western Isles ferry routes are up for retendering. There are two contenders, Calmac (the current operators) and Serco. Calmac is state-funded (its island routes are lifelines), but if the tender is awarded to Serco, it will become a private enterprise, a wholly for-profit operation. Whether that is in the best interest of the islands, or even the ferry crews, is subject of a fierce debate. A decision on the tender is to be taken in 2016.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

NaBloPoMo - day #1

This month, I endeavour to post on this blog at least once a day, each day. My post count should therefore stand at #3435, if not more, by the end of November. I have blogged for more than eleven years, starting in October 2004. At first, it was a diary of my travels through northern Scotland, later a diary of life in Stornoway, in the island of Lewis. In 2006, I became involved with J-land, the community of journalers on AOL - America Off Line as some called the service rather scathingly. To date, I have never met any of the bloggers from the community. But I have become involved with their trials, tribulations, triumphs and challenges of day life. Some have passed away, and I felt their loss keenly. Latterly, I have moved onto Facebook, and Atlantic Lines, the successor to Northern Trip on AOL, was in danger of languishing in the doldrums. This month, I hope to revert back to old form.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

NaNoWriMo & Movember

NaNoWriMo means National Novel Writing Month, and that is always November. Every day, you are committed to writing at least 1,840 words of a novel, that will eventually comprise at least 50,000 words. Some of you may have read my short stories, and I'm not sure I can manage 1,840 words each day. I'm writing this on 31st October, and I'll sleep on the subject matter of my novel. I may not come out with a coherent idea to start with, but it'll grow. Much as my facial hair is set to grow in November, as part of Movember, when men grow their moustaches and beards for charity. No, you're not getting any pics, not on a public blog like this. LOL.

I shall continue with my occasional postings on this blog, but will publish a NaNoWriMo posting every day for the next 30 days. Gawd, what have I let myself in for ;-)


In amongst the furore of the large numbers of migrants, refugees and what else, that are coming into southeastern Europe, one question remains unanswered. It is not why all those people are on the move. That is pretty well documented, hashed up on our television and computer screens day in day out. A brutal civil war in Syria, unrest in Afghanistan (tell me something I didn't already know), repression in various parts of the Middle East and griding poverty in large swathes of Africa. I am slightly non-plussed why all those people are united in their desire to go to Germany. But even that is not relevant.

The question is: how do they come to Europe's shores, and more to the point, who is organising it. Who stands to pocket a million pounds a boatload, and doesn't give a pin for the fate of those on board, whether they reach the other side or just Davy Jones's locker? Who has the logistics to organise hundreds of boats and thousands of lifejackets? Seen those pics of the mountains of lifejackets that are accumulating on the Greek island of Lesbos? A lot of the Middle Eastern migrants arrive through Turkey, which (on the surface at least) doesn't bat an eyelid at what goes on on its western shores. I do not point the finger at the Turkish government persé, by the way, although their role does not stand up to scrutiny. A similar people smuggling exercise was occurring between Libya and Italy, with countless numbers of boats and thousands of people ending up on the Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.

In the fierce debate over the numbers of people that have to be housed across Europe (do they?), the question of transportation and logistics is not being addressed.

Who are the people smugglers, who supports them, bankrolls them (if they need bankrolling by now), and what do they stand to gain by Europe's discomfiture; in plain English, what is the political angle.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


For several years now, there has been discussion on upgrading the electricity link between Lewis, Harris and the Scottish mainland. This is particularly necessary in view of the various windfarms and other renewable energy projects in the island. SSE, which are proposing to build the link, are holding a public consultation from 21 October until 20 November. I am publishing my feedback to the project below.

For reference, HVDC means High Voltage Direct Current.


A few points as feedback for the Western Isles project.

1. The list of renewable energy sites which would connect into the HVDC link does not include the Pairc Windfarm. Planning consent remains current (if memory serves), but the developer SSE withdrew a while back. A new developer is still being sought. I would have expected this project to be included as well. Again from memory, the output would have been not far off 100 MW.

2. The Muaitheabhal windfarm (Eishken) still features in the list, in spite of the fact that developer GDF / Suez (or whatever they are called these days) pulled out. If the logic applies as per point 1, I would have expected this project to have been omitted from the list.

3. Over the past few years, SSE have put back a decision whether or not to proceed with the HVDC link on the grounds that they did not feel its economical viability was assured. This became an issue after consent for the North Lewis Windfarm was withheld in 2008. The rump of that is now the Stornoway Windfarm.

4. From the above points, I feel that the question becomes pertinent whether SSE feels that the HVDC is economically viable. If the answer is now affirmative, the follow-up question should be whether this still applies if no developer is found for Muaitheabhal, as that would slash 159 MW off the total Western Isles output, reducing it to approximately 290 MW. A developer has to be found by 2017 - the expiry date for the planning consent. Looking at your documentation, your timeline suggests that the construction of the link would be well underway. Would it not be commercially more sensible to wait for a developer to be found for Muaitheabhal, rather than take the substantial risk of committing SSE to a major investment (of some £1bn) on which it may then not get sufficient return?

5. I am getting the impression that SSE is actually now committing itself to the construction of the HVDC link, possibly under political pressure. This, from my perspective, emanates from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar all the way up to the Energy Minister in the Scottish Government. Whilst I appreciate that renewable energy has its role to play in fulfilling the energy requirements of the United Kingdom, there has also been a shift away from on-shore windfarms, due to changes to the subsidy structures that underpin these projects. Not everybody is happy to live under the shadow of a windfarm.

6. I am bemused to note that the Muaitheabhal project, without a single turbine on the hills, without a millimetre of infrastructure to link it to the National Grid, and without a single wattsecond to show for output, has already succeeded in producing hundreds of thousands of pounds of 'community benefit'. If anything, that shows me that this drive for on-shore windfarms has more to do with the lapping up of subsidies than a genuine desire to reduce the environmental impact of electricity generation. I am aware that there is the Siadar Wave Barrage amongst the Western Isles projects, adding the grand total of 40 MW to the overall output.

You will appreciate from my comments that I am critical of the advent of the HVDC and some of the renewable energy projects that have come to dot Lewis. I do hope that my remarks, meant constructively, are of use.



Thursday, 15 October 2015

Film rebuff

I am not into films at all. I have only darkened the door of a cinema twice in the last twenty years. First occasion was in 2001, when I went to see The Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings trilogy) - too violent and noisy. My remaining memory: please lob off his head so we can get on with the storyline. I know Lord of the Rings back to front. Second movie was Harry Potter and the Somniferent Stone, which (as my cheeky rename implies) nearly sent me to sleep. 

Oh, I saw a few local movies during my time in Stornoway - The Rocket Post (December 2005) was enjoyable. The Rocket Post is about the explosive failure of the experiment to send mail from Scarp to Harris by rocket - which exploded after launch, scattering the mail far and wide. 

Another example is Crowdie and Cream, after the book by Finlay J Macdonald. The subject matter is a young boy growing up at Scarista in the shadow of looming World War II. It brings a laugh, mingled with a tear. The most moving episode is when the men go off to war on the ferry, and are sent off with a Gaelic psalm. You can watch the excerpt here.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Putin in Syria

Russia's president Vladimir Putin has put in his nine-pence worth by bombing Syria, to bolster his buddy Assad. The Americans are predicting reprisal bombings in Russia proper by IS militants; the Russians already have had their less than fair share of terrorism from the Caucasian republics like Chechnya and Dagestan. These bombers also claim Islamic allegiance. Syria is a long-standing ally of Russia (previously: the USSR) in the Middle East. Apart from providing a port for Russian warships on the open Mediterranean, it is also Russia's sole true ally in the region. Not something they'll readily give up. 

If you want a yardstick to measure Putin's policies by, he is a bully. If you show him weakness, or if he perceives a weakness, he will exploit it. Politically, I don't think he cares if he is described as on the left or the right. I have watched a frightening documentary on the rise of extreme nationalism in Russia, not unlike the rise of national-socialism in the Germany of the 1930s. Like in pre-war Germany, Russia's fall from grace in the 1990s is blamed on someone else, being the West of course.

I am not saying that I am that enamoured with "the West's" world policies. The current situation in the Middle East is entirely of the making of the Europeans and the USA, right up to the present day. If I start to write about that, I'll be here until next year.

Saturday, 3 October 2015


October is here and autumn is strengthening its hold in the Outer Hebrides. Summer wasn't much to speak of out here, with a few warm days and / or a few sunny days. Summer 2015 here was mostly cloudy, windy, cold, or a combination of any of the three aforementioned. That has not deterred the visitors, which have come thick and fast. On foot, on their bikes, in their cars, in coaches, by plane or by cruiseliner. The local bus service, which (for the population of 20,000 that it serves) is excellent, will have done very well. Some buses even take bicycles, for those pedallers whose energy is short of the distance they need to cover. When October is over, the bus service will have reduced somewhat, as the requirement is no longer there. Did I mention that a return ticket from Stornoway to Leverburgh, a distance of 55 miles (90 km), only costs £10? That's $15 or €13.50. A single ticket from Ullapool to Inverness, same distance by road, costs £12, just to give a comparison. October sees the advent of the Royal National Mod, which is being held in Oban this year. Next year, it will be in Stornoway, and the participants are already busy with their preparations. The Mod is a Gaelic cultural event along the lines of a competition. The most coveted prize is a Gold Medal in traditional singing. The Mod is also known, irreverently, as the whisky olympics.

I have not posted pictures on this blog since the middle of August, another victim of the easy-posting lure of Facebook. I'll post a selection in a separate post.

Monday, 28 September 2015

Facebook is down, but we blog on

Facebook is down around the world, so, as I smirked on Twitter, a surge of productivity is gripping the globe. At least I have the option of writing down my thoughts on Twitter in 140 characters, or (more verbosely) here on Blogger. Google Plus is still around, in spite of it all. Ach, let's just go and do something useful. Posting the hurricane updates, for instance. Isn't it 10 o'clock yet?

Inter island connections

Joined up thinking (and more importantly: ACTING) required for improved inter-island connections. Are they really that bad though? It is possible to cover the 140 miles between Stornoway and Castlebay in 8 hours by public transport, which I think is not too bad at all. Yes, re-instate the inter island flights post haste. What should also be done is the double-tracking of the entire Outer Hebrides spinal route. Sections which are still (partly) single track comprise the A859 Tarbert to Leverburgh, the B893 Berneray to North Uist, the A865 North Uist circular, the A867 North Uist to Lochboisdale, the Daliburgh to Eriskay road and the A888 Barra circular road. OK, I'll dodge the flying pigs.

Blogging anniversary #11

On 28 September 2004, I was seated in the common area of Kirkwall Youth Hostel, and had my half hour on the communal computer. At the time, I was user of AOL, and discovered their blogging service Journals. I opened a blog (or journal) and named it Northern Trip. At the time, I had been on the road for about seven weeks, and was coming to the end of my four week stint in Orkney. I returned there, for those interested, four years later, in different circumstances. A fortnight later, I found myself in Kyleakin, in Skye (see pic below), and decided to start making daily entries in my blog. The first entry refers to people going swimming in the sea at Kyleakin, which today sends shivers down my spine. Last week, a man went missing doing just that, and his body was discovered last Wednesday a few miles away to the north. From Kyleakin, I went to Eigg, Rum, Lochaber and finally the Western Isles, which greeted me on November 10th. My entry into Lochmaddy was one to be forgotten, and my eleven year stint here has not been without hitches. But then, what would life be without its challenges. Four years after opening Northern Trip, AOL closed it down and I switched to Blogger to open Atlantic Lines. A transfer to Facebook followed shortly, and I am now mostly 'blogging' on Facebook. I kept this blog going mostly as a photoblog, but have recently taken to writing longer postings here, something that Facebook is less suitable for. What the future holds is not clear for me at this stage. I have enjoyed 11 years of blog, and hope to add many years to that.

Kyleakin, Skye, October 2004

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Winter looms

The tourism season is entering its last four weeks. It will come to a close with the mid-term break in the second half of October.

When the Royal National Mod Oban 2015​ is over, and the islanders and their youngsters back on home soil, we batten down the hatches for winter.

Locals will be familiar with the EVENTS: what's happening in Lewis + Harris​ magazine, the latest edition of which will be ready for picking up in early October. There is a surprising amount of stuff to do in the Outer Hebrides, even in winter.

Those dependent on public transport will have their wings clipped after October, as winter timetables come in with a reduced service.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Coming home

Coming home has a special meaning in these islands. Anyone coming to Lewis, e.g., is said to be coming home. Even if their actual home is elsewhere, even if they have no connection to the island. The expression encompasses more than just arriving in the island, it denotes a spiritual connection, one that the islanders themselves feel very strongly, particularly when away. They experience what in Gaelic is termed cianalas. However, this longing transcends life itself. Many an islander who passes away on the mainland, or even outside the UK, will be brought back to these shores, where he or she was born, grew up, went to school, and left to go to university, college, work, raise family and live their lives. However, they always want to come back to their home soil, even in death.

Next week will see another instance, when the remains of one islander (I did not know him, only very indirectly) will be brought back on MV Loch Seaforth at lunchtime. The coffin will then be driven to a mission hall in Bragar, 15 miles north of Stornoway on the west coast of the island where a brief funeral service will be conducted. After that, the interment will take place at Bragar Cemetery. As in the case of all island cemeteries, that graveyard is located near the sea, looking out west over the Atlantic - for ever.

Operation Market Garden - 71 years on

Seventy-one years ago last Thursday, the airborne landings commenced just west of the city of Arnhem in eastern Holland. On 17 September 1944, the Allied forces had been on campaign through western Europe for 3 months, after the successful landings in Normandy on 6 June. Airborne troops were parachuted into the area between Ede and Arnhem to engage the Nazi-German forces, which were occupying Holland at the time. Although the Allies managed to penetrate into Arnhem, they failed to seize the Rhine bridge there. Fierce fighting in the city dislodged them from forward positions. Poor communications as well as a stronger resistance than anticipated forced a withdrawal south across the River Rhine.

Arnhem and Oosterbeek were evacuated, and looted by the Nazis. Holland north of the Rhine remained occupied until the early spring of 1945. In the wake of the failed action at Arnhem, the Netherlands' railway network in the occupied sectors went on indefinite strike. This caused major problems for the Nazi forces, but also for food supplies - by the spring of 1945, many people in the major conurbations in western Holland had starved to death. Others survived by eating flower bulbs. The Allies finally managed to cross the river at Remagen, between Cologne and Koblenz, in February 1945.

Reposted and modified from an original posting in 2009

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Refugee crisis, Assad and Putin

I feel for those people from Syria, who see no way out of their situation but to flee their country. They flee president Assad, not ISIS. Who is bolstering Assad? Vladimir Putin. Next question. Tens, hundreds of thousands of people is an invasion. It is going to destabilise Europe, something by which Putin has to gain. By bolstering Assad, ostensibly against ISIS, Putin will gain brownie points. He may well help to obliterate ISIS, something we would all benefit from. It would also show him to be stronger than the USA, which cannot make a substantial impact against ISIS. Who, meanwhile, is facilitating the transport of those tens of thousands across the Mediterranean to Greece and Italy? People smugglers. It is time we addressed the root cause of the refugee crisis. Can we, if its root cause is being supported by a major player on the world stage?

Saturday, 12 September 2015


The British Labour party has elected Jeremy Corbyn as its new leader with nearly 60% of the votes, leaving his competitors behind by a margin of 40%. Will this be the start of a reversal of fortunes for Labour in Scotland? Some Scottish commentators immediately take the constitutional slant (that's the reason I've gone off the news big time recently), but let's see whether Mr Corbyn can mount an effective opposition in the UK, thereby reestablishing Labour as a credible party of opposition north of the border. Both are needed; neither are present at the moment. For reference, I'm not a natural Labour supporter; I dislike many of the Tory policies and can certainly not stand the SNP.

Friday, 11 September 2015

9/11 - 14 years on

This tribute is published on the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on 11 September 2001, under the auspices of Project 2996.

Jeffrey Dwayne Collman

Image: Family photograph, via

Source: Aurora Beacon News, Aurora IL 9-23-2001
Jeffrey Dwayne Collman, age 41, of Novato, California, formerly of Yorkville, IL, a flight attendant for American Airlines, died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:45a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

Jeffrey was a 1977 graduate of Yorkville High School in Yorkville, IL. Jeff was formerly employed, for over 10 years, at All-Steel in Montgomery, IL. He had then worked, for a brief time, at Cedar Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, California before attaining his dream of being a flight attendant with American Airlines. Jeffrey loved his job and traveling to other countries around the world. He also loved to play and watch tennis. Jeff was a true people person who enjoyed visiting with and getting to know others. He became a flight attendant in 1997. Two years later, Jeff received the American Professional Flight Attendant Award and was considered a spirited and dedicated flight attendant. He liked to entertain children on his flights, and he was fond of playing tennis and traveling, friends said.

He is survived by his parents, Dwayne and Kay Collman of Yorkville, IL and Beverly Sutton of North Aurora, IL; his close companion, Keith Bradkowski of Novato, Ca; his brothers, Charles Collman of Fort Meyers, FL and Brian Collman of Las Vegas, NV; his sister, Brenda Sorenson of Aurora, IL; his step-brothers, Steve (Linda) Gengler of Yorkville, IL and Chuck (Lakshmi) Gengler of South Orange, NJ; his step-sister, Susan Bohan of California; a god-child, Marlene Wakelin; his half-sisters, Laura Kries of Brooklyn Park, MN, Caroline Sutton of Joliet, IL and Vickie Michel of Aurora, IL; several nieces and nephews, many loving aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Jeffrey will also be missed by 100 other flight attendants.

He is preceded in death by his grandparents and his brother, Mark Allen Collman.
A memorial service was held on Monday, October 1, 2001 at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Yorkville, IL with Pastor John Leaf officiating.

Father’s thoughts
Dwayne Collman's imagination gets the best of him when he thinks about the final minutes of his son's life on American Airlines Flight 11. He's filled with horror thinking about what the 41-year-old flight attendant from Yorkville went through as terrorists with knives steered the plane into the first World Trade Center tower. Collman knows his son received safety training in flight school, but he doubts it ever could have prepared him for the challenges he would face on the morning of Sept. 11. The grieving father is sure of one thing about his son, though, even if the details about his death are not certain:
"He would have fought like hell."

Jeffrey Collman, an American Airlines flight attendant for five years who grew up in Yorkville, died Tuesday morning when his hijacked plane, destined for Los Angeles, crashed into New York's famous landmark at 8:45 a.m. Though his body has not been recovered, his parents knew he was gone when he didn't call within a few hours after the tragedy. He had sent his stepmother, Kay, an e-mail the night before, telling her he would be flying from Boston to Los Angeles the next morning.

"I knew he was in that accident because every time there was something going on with airplanes, he would call and say, 'Hey, I'm all right,' " said Kay Collman. "So I knew that, when he didn't call, he was on that plane."

His parents [...] say Jeffrey Collman wanted to be a flight attendant because he loved to travel and meet people around the world. After working for years at Allsteel in Montgomery, he moved to California about five years ago to pursue that dream. Lifelong friend Dolores Humphrey, who went to school with Jeffrey Collman at all grade levels in Yorkville, said she feared he was killed when she heard the news because he often flew early-week flights from Boston to Los Angeles.
She said Collman never lost contact with his friends, even though his job took him around the world.

"Every time he got into town, he would call anyone he knew to meet for breakfast," said Humphrey, who last talked to Collman [5 days before 9/11]. "He would talk for a couple hours, then have to go fly somewhere else."

His stepmother said Jeffrey was the type of person who could "sit down next to someone on a plane and walk away knowing their life story." His father said Jeffrey loved tennis and flew around the world to watch professionals play. Kay Collman says her stepson never went anywhere meekly, and he loved his job so much that she's sure he didn't back down in the face of terror. "He took it seriously," she said, "and he would not have let anyone walk on him."

Humphrey said Jeffrey talked of flying even when he was a child, and his dream came true when American Airlines gave him a job. He was never afraid to fly, she said, always asserting that he was safer in the air than anyone on the ground. Collman's parents have begun to realize how their son died, and that he will always be remembered as a victim on one of the saddest days ever in the United States.

"It's completely different than just someone dying," Kay Collman said. "We'll have the pictures forever. We'll always see where he died. It's part of history."

Seattle Times, 17 September 2001
His partner, Keith Bradkowski, said Collman was courageous and safety-conscious. "He was so focused on safety," Bradkowski said. "If there was a threat, he would have done anything in his power to prevent it." He didn't normally work the Boston-to-Los Angeles route but made an exception to get vacation time at the end of the month. Collman grew up in Yorkville, Ill., and besides Bradkowski left behind four brothers and a sister. (Seattle Times)

Further information: the fate of Flight 11.

Memorial to flight crew


Blogger Nathanael V.  found out 5 years after 9/11, that Jeffrey Collman was a neighbour's grandson.


and as attributed above.

9/11 - 14 years on

When this post is published, it will be exactly fourteen years to the minute that the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center in New York. The events of what is now referred to as 9/11 are only too well known.

My thoughts are with all victims, whether identified afterwards, or not. In New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

My thoughts are with the passengers and crew on the four flights destroyed. My thoughts are with the victims killed in the World Trade Center. My thoughts are with those emergency workers who lost their lives trying to save others'.

My thoughts today are with the families of those who perpetrated these atrocities, for they lost too. Even before the events of September 2001, they lost their loved ones to a delusion of hate that is not of the religion they claimed to be faithful to. Hatred leads to destruction - as shown seven years ago. Forgiveness is a pillar of Christian faith, as it is one of the Islamic faith. Whether those that lost a loved one in 9/11 can find it in themselves to forgive is beyond my scope.

But first and foremost, my thoughts are with Norberto Hernandez, whose tribute I first filed on Northern Trip, the predecessor to Atlantic Lines, in 2006. The searches for Norberto on Google are contaminated with references to the Falling Man, who was in fact another victim, Jonathan Briley. This confusion has led to much anger and anguish, something the families of both men could do well without.

Norberto, rest in peace.

This entry, as stated above is dedicated to the memory of

Norberto was a pastry chef from Elmhurst, working in the restaurant Windows on the World on the 106th and 107th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York. After the attacks, he was reported missing for a week until parts of a torso and an arm were found in a collapsed stairwell. DNA testing and finger printing reveiled that these were the remains of Norberto. It also invalidated claims that the image of the Falling Man was that of Norberto; this was another victim of 9/11 who will be the subject of a different tribute.

At the time of the attacks on the WTC, Norberto was aged 42 and had been married for 25 years. He was the fourth of ten children by his parents’ marriage, and also had six half-siblings through his father. His parents separated when he was young. Norberto himself had three daughters, three grandchildren and 37 nephews. He was a man of Puerto Rican origins, and had hoped to spend his final days there. Instead, after 9/11, a funeral service was held and his remains cremated in Puerto Rico.

His sister Luz described Norberto. “He was quiet, kind”, she said. “He was a handsome man. Everybody loved him, you know. Everybody.” Norberto’s nickname was Bible, as he was very dependable. Together Forever was his motto.

Norberto started work in Windows on the World at the age of 17, washing dishes. He was interested in cooking, so a manager paid for his tuition at cooking school. Norberto became pastry chef and worked up to 10 hours a day. His sister Luz said that he made cakes, desserts, cookies and bread. His cakes were fabulous.

Outside work, Norberto loved sports, and was a fan of a Puerto Rican boxer, Felix Trinidad Jr. Four days before the attacks, he rang his mother and asked her to play “I would cry but I have no more tears” four times.

In the immediate aftermath of the plane striking the North Tower, Norberto called his sister Luz. “He said: ‘Yeah, don’t worry, I’m OK”.They were disconnected, and when Luz tried to call back she could not get through. Other accounts from Windows on the World tell that smoke and dust filled the restaurant after the strike, and that people lay on the floor to escape the worst of it. Air was beginning to run out at the time of the last contact.

These are the facts that I have managed to pull together from the Internet.

From the little that I have learned of Norberto, he came through as a gentle giant. Although 6’2” (1.84m) tall, he was always listening, and talked later. His family suffered a double loss, as Claribel Hernandez (his sister-in-law), a secretary working elsewhere in the North Tower, was also killed in the attacks. Norberto was close in the family and responsible, which earned him the nickname Bible. He loved his work, and by the look of one of the images, loved to impart that knowledge to others around him.

September 11th, 2001, dawned as a brilliantly sunny morning in New York. Two planes were flown into the two towers of the World Trade Center, leading to their collapse within 2 hours. The destruction of so many lives was brought about by mindless hatred and madness, fuelled by religious zealotry which was not based on any writing in any scriptures in any religion.

Norberto may have heard of that on news reports, but it was probably quite far from him. He was a man that lived for his family, always there for them. A diligent worker, putting in up to 10 hours a day, loving his creations from the oven. Travelling to the WTC on the Subway every morning, his thoughts were probably far from what was to happen not that much later on that fateful Tuesday.

Two thousand nine hundred and ninety-six are known to have died that day, or in its immediate aftermath. Norberto’s ashes were scattered in his homeland of Puerto Rico. His memory lives on in his family, and in the memory of those that read this. He is deeply missed by those close to him.

To Norberto Hernandez

Rest In Peace

This link is no longer operational

I have attempted to contact the University of Columbia to use the material in this link, but have not received a reply. As it is central to the tribute, I have used it, and acknowledge the writer, Sarah Clemence.

This is a poem by Barbara Phillips, from which I have used some factual references to Norberto. It refers to him being the Falling Man though.

I have been granted permission by UIM to reproduce the commemorative quilt for Norberto.
Link no longer operational
The poster, pictured above, proclaiming Norberto as missing after the attacks, hung on a walkway of Manhattan for more than a week

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

76 years ago today

Today in 1939, Nazi German forces invaded Poland. An ultimatum by the British government for them to withdraw by midday (11.00 GMT) on 3 September was ignored, prompting the declaration of war.

Five years, eight months and five days later, World War II had come to an end in Europe. It left behind massive devastation, tens of millions of dead and a political landscape altered beyond recognition. Six million people were murdered just for professing the Jewish faith, being of Jewish parents or having the merest connection with Judaism - murder conducted on an industrial scale.

The impact of WW2 continues today, unabated. The crisis in the Middle East is one of the worst results of the last World War, as is the burgeoning confrontation between Russia and NATO / the West. Similarly, the current migrant crisis is also an offshoot of the 1939-1945 conflict.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Princess Diana - 18 years on

Where were you 18 years ago today, the day that Princess Diana‬ died in a car crash in Paris? The day that the BBC cried, the day that Great Britain was in tears. The people's princess, the single royal that everybody could identify with. The paparazzi - they're still around, stalking Diana's grandchildren. The Queen, shockingly out of touch with public sentiments at the time, is about to celebrate being the longest reigning monarch on September 9th. Charles, the longest waiting incumbent to the throne - will he ever ascend it, or will he cede to William? I know where I was on 31 August 1997. Do you remember?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Migrant crisis

I am horrified to watch all that imagery of the thousands of migrants flooding in from southeastern Europe, desperate to get to places like the UK and Germany. I am not condemning them. They are the victims, with a capital V. Many are from wartorn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, where they could not stay. Others come from places where there is little economic future. They have all made the dangerous crossings, over land and sea, lured by promises of great riches. The villains in the piece are the people smugglers, who are making hundreds of millions out of this crisis. The historic background is equally black, and in fact it closes the circle. For it is the policies of western European countries like the UK and France in years gone by that have created this crisis. And it is countries like the UK and France, not to mention Germany and others, to make an attempt to sort it out.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

9/11 commemoration 2015

On Friday 11th September, at 1.46pm, this blog will feature my annual tributes to two of the 9/11 victims, Norberto Hernandez and Dwayne Collman. If memory serves, it will be the 9th year I have posted 9/11 tributes, and will continue to do so in the future.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Ashley Madison

Ashley Madison is a site where you can arrange for an affair with someone who is not your married (or otherwise) partner. Now a group of hackers have exposed their entire database of users, names, addresses, credit cards, you name it. And people are a tad upset over that. They thought they could philander without anybody else knowing about it. Well, tough. I just do not understand people who think you can be private on-line. You CANNOT.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Tuesday 18 August

Out in a car once more, this time down the Pentland Road to Carloway. From there, called into Dalbeg and Dalmore, before heading down into Tolsta Chaolais and finally a diversion to Linshader, on the other side of the loch from Callanish. Another brilliantly sunny day, feeling warm in the sun at times. Closed the evening with a meal at the Caberfeidh hotel.

P8186549 P8186555 P8186562 P8186568 P8186576 P8186578 P8186584 P8186586 P8186612 P8186617 P8186616 P8186622 P8186633 P8186638 P8186645 P8186649 P8186655 P8186658 P8186667 P8186674 P8186683 P8186685 P8186692 P8186700 P8186703 P8186710

Monday 17 August

P8176534 P8176535 P8176538 P8176540 P8176544 P8176546

Sunday 16 August

P8166522 P8166525 P8166527 P8166529

Saturday 15 August

P8156506 P8156509 P8156514 P8156516