View across the Outer Harbour of Stornoway

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.