View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

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.