Sunday, 30 December 2007

Old boat, new skipper

A picture by Calum Paterson of the Provider, returning to Berneray harbour today, with its catch. This is the first time the boat has been out with the new skipper at the helm.


Calum is the brother of Ruairidh Paterson, who is the new skipper of the boat, and the son of Margaret. He is ably assisted by his deckhand James "Welly" Ross; James and Ruairidh cut their sea-teeth on the boat under the skipperage of John Angus.
It's good to see local careers take off; we hope they have many fruitful days of catch ahead.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas Eve sunset and moonrise

Sunset from the top of Borve Hill, on Berneray:


...and, not long afterwards, the moon rising as reflected on Bays Loch:


Monday, 24 December 2007

The hills of Uibhist a Deas (South Uist)

Another picture from Flickr user Shuggy Spicer:


This one was taken on June 4th 2007, not far from where he took another picture featured earlier this month. The three main summits in the distance are, from left to right, Thacla, Beinn Corradail and Beinn Mhor.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

December dawn

Dawn over Berneray, the sun rising from "behind" North Uist, this morning:


Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Hills of South Uist

A picture by Flickr user Shuggy Spicer:


I've been down to South Uist several times in the last few months for work, and it's quite interesting how different it is from this part of the Outer Hebrides (remember that the Outer Hebrides is longer than most people think - end to end it's further than from Glasgow to Newcastle).

They have really tall hills there (in comparison to here). The accents are different, as are the phrases used. There is more Catholic imagery, such as statues, and various services such as shops are open for some of Sunday. Going to South Uist is (almost) like going on holiday to somewhere very distant - despite the fact that it's little more than an hour away on the bus.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Mentioned in despatches...

An article in Information World Review describes some of the Second Life research I did over the summer and autumn. Oddly, the article has also been replicated in the online version of What PC?

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Christmas Tree!

Yesterday, a quick return trip on the bus to a North Uist shop resulted in:


Yes, it's a seven foot tree, all netted up and ready to be decorated. After finding out that it's too big for the tree stand, a bucket, some bricks, soil and plenty of water are employed into service. And then the net is cut off ... boing! Thus emerges a rather large amount of branches, which take up much of one end of the living room:


Rearranging the furniture became a necessity, to avoid compromising the essentials. Such as room to play on the Nintendo Wii, and being able to see the tv to watch the DVDs I suspect I'll be getting this Christmas. Decorating the tree took little time in comparision, though due to the girth of the monster, it took two - long - strings of twinkly lights to go around it:


As per usual, anything new draws the attention of Ms Attention Seeker:


Attached to the tree is some helpful information on how to keep it alive for re-planting. So it's sucking up water every day. Also on the label is the website address of the company, needlefresh. According to them, the tree is a grade 1 Nordman Fir. But surprisingly, it's not from Norway:

"The Nordman Fir originates from the Caucus Mountains and occurs on both sides of the mountain range. Seed for Christmas tree production is therefore collected in either Turkey or Georgia. There is a preference for the Georgian seed as this is from the northern side of the mountain range and the trees naturally inhabit an area with a colder climate than those from the southern side.

This means that they are naturally later flushing in the spring and are much less likely to suffer from frost damage. The area Ambourlaui has become a favoured region for seed collection, and this seed has become the most famous region for seed to be used for the production of Christmas trees."

Turkey or Georgia? Heck, the tree is in for a bit of a shock when it gets planted in my Outer Hebrides garden in January :-)

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Voice in Second Life

Today I attended a seminar in Bristol. Though I never left Berneray in the Outer Hebrides. Yes, it was Second Life time again, with Andy from the Eduserv Foundation introducing it to real-world ILRT staff, while other people flew in to Eduserv Island to listen, participate and generally annoy the speaker.

This was the first time I used SL with voice (listening) on.


It was, at first, weird listening to people speak in SL; then doubly so as I could hear the real world audience (some of whom were ex-work colleagues). I twirled in SL, and it was cool - the sound of Andy's voice moved across the speakers as though in the real world. I went outside, flew up, fell to the ground, wandered about, and the sound faded and got stronger as you would expect. Rather impressed.

I didn't use the voice option to "speak" myself in SL; that's something maybe for another day when have seen (or rather, heard) how other people have used it.


As ever, there is a downside. One of the other delegates suddenly started blaring out very loud music; probably accidentally, as her avatar immediately ran off outside the in-world conference centre. Cue music fading into the distance. I tried the list of gestures at one point, to find that several of them seemed to have a yawning sound that drowned out the increasingly harassed-sounding speaker.

Anyway, it was a good event. Now Linden Labs needs to introduce an "aroma" plug-in, so the smell of cheese garlic bread or Scotch pies can be wafted in-world... ;-)

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Winnie and Paddington, tinned

Back from a 10 day trip to London and Finland, which included the usual array of eating and drinking experiences. Much to write about later, but speaking of food, here's something I picked up from one of the (impressive) array of shop at Helsinki Airport:


Yes, it's an assortment of bear meat. I was a bit concerned about whether I could get it back to Berneray, bearing in mind the various posters at airports with restrictions on food products that can be brought in and out. However, as Finland is in the EU, the meat is tinned, and it looks okay it seems to be fine.

We'll be trying some of these out later in the month. We can now offer visitors something a little different, namely bear pate on Hebridean oatcakes. It's quite appropriate for here, as there is a school of thought that the name "Berneray" is derived from the shape of the island resembling a bear cub. More plausible is that it is derived from the Norse for "Bjorn's island", and in Swedish/Norwegian the bear ingredient of the tins is Björnkött (bear meat).

For clarification, there are no bears on Berneray. Apart, now, from those in tins.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Test card


This service is temporarily sozzled I mean suspended. Normal service will resume soon.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Up and down Borve Hill

This is an easy walk - Borve Hill is not a steep hill - that I often do when I need a break from the computer and the smell of cats defecating.

From near the bottom, the hill looks steep, and the summit isn't visible as the sides curve to a lesser gradient the higher one gets:


A stroll of less than 20 minutes (or less than 10 at a good pace) results in some fine views. This is helped by there being no much larger hills anywhere near Borve Hill, so it's a pretty much uninterrupted vision.


From the top, the options are to return home, to carry on over the other side, across the machair and down to the beach:


...or to head north along and down the flank of the hill, to either Loch Bhrusda, the north end of the west beach, or the hills of north Berneray:


Sunday, 18 November 2007

Harbour days

One of the advantages of living here is that there is a busy harbour very close by. It's always an interesting place to have a wander around, remembering that it is very much a working harbour, with fishing boats chugging in and out, and offloading their catch. Time it right, and it's a good place to purchase a fish or lobster that's about as fresh as you can get.


The current harbour is 18 years old, and already looks to be quite crowded a lot of the time. Even here, in mid-November, there's a number of sailing and pleasure boats in there, in addition to the fishing boats. As someone who knows practically zero about boats and sailing (but who gets out on them as much as possible), the striking thing is the diversity of boats that berth (see, am getting the lingo!) there.


Berneray hasn't quite reached the extent of Grimsay harbour, where it's sometimes possible to walk from one side of the harbour to the other across the boats literally wedged in there. However, during the summer, the harbour got nearly full on several occasions. Pontoons on the other side of the causeway for long-term berthing have recently been mooted.

With the profile of the Outer Hebrides rising, several youngsters looking to take careers that involve boats, and boating and yachting becoming a less exclusive pursuit, I do wonder if some extra facilities will be needed on, or near, to Berneray in the next few years to cope with any increase in sea-based traffic.


Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Finnish/Scottish humour and city rivalry

This is from a piece on the rivalry between cities in Finland:
Turku and Tampere also share a rivalry. Turku is far older and has had a greater impact on history, whereas Tampere is more populous and has a greater significance as an industrial city, lately also in the Information Technology business. Inhabitants in both Turku and Tampere view the people in the other city as uncivilised. A popular joke in Turku asks why children in Tampere have a flat nose. The answer is that there is a Turku midwife working in a Tampere hospital. After delivering a child, the midwife holds him/her into the glass of a window and says: "Look now, child. That way is Turku, there is civilisation."

This is strikingly similar to Scotland and Scottish humour. In that paragraph, change "Turku" to "Edinburgh" and "Tampere" to "Glasgow" and you have something so identifiably Scottish in terms of humour and major city rivalry.

eBay a go go...

That's the latest batch of sales through eBay dealt with. Here's the mountain of goodies on my office rug shortly before hauling them down to Berneray Post Office:


The use of eBay is good for several reasons:

  • less "stuff" going into landfill sites, or being stuck unused on shelves

  • less "stuff" being made (as more "stuff" is reused) is environmentally good

  • it provides business for post office branches

  • ...and also Royal Mail deliveries

  • the seller gets a bit of cash

  • ...and the buyer doesn't have to pay full market value for new goods

There are losers as well. Shops that sell new items will have their sales impacted, as will the producers of these items. I guess that makes eBay an online shopping system that is in some ways anti-consumerist (or pro-recyclist?).

I've been eBaying for 7 years now, during which time I've sold 239 items and bought 10. For speed I usually sell items in batches, doing 20 to 30 sales at a time. This also brings in lumps of cash (one batch a few years ago paid for my flight to California). It's fiddly at first, and working out the postage costs per item is a bit time consuming. However, the advent of Paypal has made payment collection much easier, being pretty much instant and not requiring messing around with cheques.

For many items, this is the best time of year to sell (in the run-up to Christmas, as people look for cheaper presents). The best time to buy is probably in the month after Christmas, when unwanted or quickly-used presents (e.g. DVDs watched once) are sold in quantity and it becomes a buyers market. So, with less than 6 weeks to Christmas Day, this is the optimum time to have a clearout of DVDs, computer games and other postable stuff you don't use anymore that people get as presents, and make a few pennies.  

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Outer Hebrides beach weather

In a summary: often changeable. Bring waterproofs and suntan lotion. Here's a Harris beach to illustrate:


That's another picture by Flickr user Rachel Bibby.

Monday, 12 November 2007

The Outer Hebrides

On my Facebook profile, I put up the question:

When you hear the name "Outer Hebrides", what's the very first thing you think of?

Here are the responses so far. The first italicised batch are from residents of the Outer Hebrides; the second batch are from non-residents:

  • Wet and windy.

  • The bleak beauty at edge of the world.

  • Wind, wind and more wind.

  • Sea, rocks, sandy beaches, bogs, peat, tweed, hills, heather, fishing, sheep, gaelic, machair, ceilidhs, calmac, wind, eagles...

  • The Western Isles.

  • Home!

  • A land of extremes, can be the most beautiful place on earth or God damn awful if the weather turns on you.

  • Somewhere cold, wet, and windy.

  • The best beaches outside of New Zealand - and the lovely sound of Gaelic.

  • The Islands in the North Sea.

  • Greek mythology.

  • I thought it was somewhere more north.

  • Beaches.

  • Midges! (If it's anything like the west coast...).

  • All the amazing beaches and the vast peace and tranquility.

  • Your pictures of the safest road crossing ever.

  • Desperation to be sitting on the machair in Barvas again, looking out to the sea and thinking nothing else matters.

  • Windswept islands with no trees and grey lashing waves.

  • Islands, and ferries.

  • Remoteness! almost off the edge..

  • Wee Frees.

  • Sea.

  • Sweaters and wool.

  • Scotland. Islands. Barren yet strangely beautiful (in places). Great beaches. Unfortunately no distilleries. Cold and rain followed by amazing warm sunshine.

  • Hushinsh (sp?) beach.

  • The Inner Hebrides.

  • The very first thing I think of is some faraway galaxy! But I visited about a year ago and can't wait to go back. So the second thing I think is "calm(ing)."...

  • "The Men from the Ministry" radio series (it was made into popular Finnish version "Knalli ja sateenvarjo" 1979-, new shows made only for the Finnish audience). In it Outer Hebrides was a punishment.

  • Islands.

  • The shipping forecast.

  • Scotland.

  • Gregor Fisher (Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation).

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sunday, ferries and "blue laws" in the Outer Hebrides

First, some background: "A blue law, in the United States and Canada, is a type of law designed to enforce moral standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest." More details and examples here.

Sunday opening may not strike most people as a big issue. However, in the Outer Hebrides and especially on the island of Lewis, it is a major and emotive issue. See, for example, the news article and online debate about a Lewis shop which opened (and then rapidly closed) on a Sunday. 

Here in the Outer Hebrides, the two main "battleground" issues concern whether the ferry between Stornoway on Lewis  and Ullapool on the mainland should resume sailing on a Sunday, and whether the sports centre in Stornoway should open on that day. Here's the ferry (picture by Alan Davey):


And yes, I did say "resume". There have been Sunday ferries from Lewis before, though it's difficult to pin down the date when they stopped. 

On the "Keep things closed" side, the arguments are:

  • Religious / scripture grounds.

  • A "day of rest" makes for more opportunity for families to be together.

  • Sunday closing helps to keep the local "culture" intact.

  • An increase in noise and disruption. 

  • People should not be forced to work on every day of the week, which under contract many would for seven day opening.

  • Sunday closing holds back the 24/7 consumerist culture that is found in most other places.

  • Once a few Sunday openings happen, a "domino effect" will result in other services opening on a Sunday, and the Outer Hebrides will become indistinguishable from the mainland.

On the "Open things that are closed" side, the arguments are:

  • Similar services in the Outer Hebrides are already open e.g. flights to and from Stornoway airport.

  • Freedom of choice for people irrespective of their religious or personal views.

  • Having services closed on a Sunday helps propogate a "backwards" impression of the Outer Hebrides.

  • More transport options make the Hebrides a more attractive tourist option, pumping money into the local economy.

  • Bringing the islands into modern standards makes them more attractive to move to, helping demographics.

  • The island are losing people to the mainland, especially younger people, due to restricted options and opportunities.

  • Family e.g. students in mainland universities, would return home more frequently as it would be logistically easier.

In April last year, Calmac started running a Sunday ferry across the Sound of Harris. I was one of several residents and tourists (and a lot more politicians and media) on that ferry, curious as to the days events:



There was consensus on the ferry that, though there had been some debate and opposition, the big battle would be over the Stornoway - Ullapool Sunday ferry crossing.

And debate there is; often heated, across several media, and apolitical. On both sides, you will find people who detest each other for socio-political reasons (and personal history) making the same arguments.

Debate is carrying on in some online arena; here's a few:

From an Internet perspective, there's a widely-held incorrect view that it's just the pro-sailing, pro-Sunday opening residents, and assorted atheists, of the Outer Hebrides who go online to argue this one out. As the debates above show, that's complete nonsense. The Outer Hebrides have many residents who blog, debate online or upload content. These include a considerable number of churches in Stornoway (population 8,000 and the largest town on Lewis) alone such as the Stornoway Free Church, Stornoway Free Church of Scotland Continuing (n.b. those last two are different), New Wine Church, Catholic Church, Scottish Episcopal Church, Stornoway Baptist Church and the Free Presbyterian Church.

The latter of these have a clear policy on Sunday; if you visit their website on that day of the week, this is what you will see:

Bloggers who argue in favour of retaining Sunday closure on religious grounds include this resident of Lewis and this minister.

That second blogger is an interesting and high-profile resident, as he also writes a weekly column ("Back Lines") in the Stornoway Gazette, some of those writings also appearing on his blog. And it's the letters page of that newspaper which is one of the main arena for discussion, being read widely by residents. The Gazette also has a sort-of website, on which it unfortunately only makes available a fraction of the content and letters it receives. Letters within it on the Sunday issue include:

Until recently, the proportion of letters "against" Sunday opening/ferries was much higher than "for", though recently it's about even.

Calmac are due to meet in a soon where they'll (possibly) make a decision. It will be interesting to watch how this particular long-running issue evolves before then.

Mangersta, Uig, Lewis,


Picture by Flickr user Rachel Bibby.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Sunrise from Berneray

Taken close to the longest day of the year, June 2007:


Picture by Flickr user Tom Gardner.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Commonwealth beach volleyball comes to Berneray?

And why not? Now that Scotland, or more specifically Glasgow, have won the bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games, then it makes sense to bring the beach volleyball and similar events here. To quote from the Lonely Planet Guide to Scotland:
"The superb beaches of western Berneray are unparalleled in Scotland."

And they're right. Here's the location; three miles of unspoilt, unpolluted beach:




There's plenty of places for the media to stay on Berneray and in the Uists (there's usually media here for some programme or other much of the time anyway). Accommodation would need to be built for the competitors, but that would solve the problem with lack of housing in the area (joined-up). Some other facilities that can be used are already here e.g. the community hall:

It's a safe environment; there's an airport (Balivanich) less than 40 miles away which takes smaller planes, and this would provide an opportunity (joined-up again) for the runway to be upgraded to take international flights.

The world seeing a hebridean beach on TV (or, more likely by then, Internet-based media) would raise the profile of the archipelago; show what it is really like; encourage tourism; encourage people to move here (sustaining communities); and show that these are not isolationist islands (and other negative stereotypes),

An event such as this would be the perfect showcase for the Outer Hebrides and its beaches to the world. And why not - doesn't the Outer Hebrides have the organisation and capability to hold just one event, in an international showcase that isn't happening for another seven years?

Afterthought - what is the Gaelic for "Beach Volleyball"? Think about it - making the event bilingual through all media would be the greatest international promotion of Gaelic ever.

Never leave a cake tin liner unguarded


Alternately, never own an attention-seeking cat.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

3rd anniversary today

Anniversary's, occasions and special events should always be celebrated with a cake. So here's a homemade Mansikkakakku, which is a traditional Finnish cake. In the Finland style, lots of berries, in this case strawberries, on top:

The anniversary? On November 8th 2004 (a less windier day than today) I turned up in a removal lorry driven by Robbie (fellow Community Council member from Lochwinnoch), to move into the house on Berneray. By coincidence, one of the other Outer Hebrides bloggers passed through Berneray and wrote about it just a week later. So I've now been a resident of the Outer Hebrides for three years.

Berneray hasn't altered hugely in those three years. The school (picture below by Calum Paterson):


... closing has been the biggest infrastructure change, but ironically there are now more children resident on the island than then (but alas the school cannot be reopened). We've had two elections, both of which led to incumbent Labour politicians losing to SNP candidates. Broadband is available to some properties on the island; many residents - of all ages - use it for communication, online shopping, work, finding information, uploading videos and pictures, and Bebo / MySpace / Facebook. Shortly all Berneray children will have broadband at home (a socially healthy marker) and most residents will be using it when the remaining masts go up.

The permanent resident population has had a net increase of 4, up from 119 then to 123 now. However, the demographics are very unevenly distributed; out of those 123, only 12 are between the ages of 18 and 45. House prices have significantly risen (though there is rarely a house for sale on Berneray), and continue to do so across this part of the Outer Hebrides. Sunday ferries have come:


... and the Air Discount Scheme has made connections more affordable (though still more competition is needed to drive down prices for residents, visitors and businesses alike). The profile of Berneray, through the old media (newspapers, radio and TV) and the new media (online) has risen.

The next three years on Berneray are difficult to forecast. The weather - which affects everything - means there is a random element in most predictions.The Sound of Harris fixed-link project looks likely to progress, connecting the Uists, through Berneray, to Harris and Lewis via probably Killegray and Ensay - though how long before it is built - or dug - is uncertain. BTs 21st century rollout, which will (if as publicised) change the communication set-up for everyone in the UK, should be near to us. Homeworking and teleworking online will (have to) become more common, especially as petrol prices increase; £1.50 per litre in 2010? The Comhairle and other organisations that come into contact with residents will be putting a lot more information (about themselves and those residents) online; the online planning system is but one of several similar initiatives in the pipeline.

And there'll be more trees on Berneray (hurray! - though remember the bit about the weather...).

Most of the schoolchildren as of now will either have left school, or will soon be leaving. House-building, births and deaths, move-outs and move-ins, mean it's anyone's guess as to whether the population rises or falls. I'll predict that between now and November 8th 2010, we'll have a increase in population to the mid 130's. This will be assisted by a few house-builds for incoming residents, a few residents having children, and largely by the conversion and population of the school building. It'll be an interesting next three years to be a resident of Berneray.


Today also marks 2 years to the day since I started blogging. As I wait for the first forecast storm of the winter (later this morning, but now only a mere Force 9 which according to one local crofter is "like the fart of a sheep"), it was interesting to read that entry for November 8th 2005:
"Last night marked the first significant storm of this winter. Winds reaching 95mph, horizontal rain, and waves that make you feel seasick just looking at them.

Plus, just as our first anniversary of moving to Berneray commenced, a power cut ... Thankfully, the storm receeded very quickly, and the power came on within 30 minutes ... 

Tonight, it couldn’t be more different. A starry, clear, sky. No wind at all; stand outside and all that can be heard is the distinctive sound of waves reaching on the western shore. Hmmm; just seen the weather forecast for friday…"

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Firework night

Technically it was one day early, on November 4th; as ever, the weather forecast determines many things on Berneray.


Our neighbours had a bonfire and a box of fireworks, which was a good opportunity to get rid of the spare wood that was left by the previous owners and wasn't suitable for kindling.


Food and drink consisted of the agreeable combination of wine and chocolate goodies, and marshmallows for roasting in / on the bonfire, on long skewers. Unfortunately, this wasn't the best of culinary experiences, as the outer part tended to be charcoal, being ripped off to leave a gooey mess inside. The marshmallows also had the distinct tang of varnish from the door that was being combusted on the bonfire. That's us poisoned.


Events were completed with a double rocket blast into the sky (hopefully not being mistaken for distress flares):


Monday, 5 November 2007

Monday, 29 October 2007

Fish cages

A picture from my wander around the east beach of Berneray yesterday:


That's a fish-cage thingie. Six of them. The giant things are being constructed on the machair, close to the beach. They are then dragged by large machine onto the beach, and into the sea.

And there's more still under construction on the machair. They'll eventually hold, at a safe guess, a lot of fish.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Light over Berneray

This picture from Andrew Midgley shows the light over the north east corner of Berneray:


The white building in the centre right is the old manse, which is currently being restored by the owner. It was designed by Thomas Telford, who also designed the old church, the ruin of which is just behind and to the left of it.

There's a larger version of this picture which gives more detail.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

"When I graduate ...

... I will probably have a job that doesn't exist today."

Interesting viewing about digital culture and education:


(Cheers TTW)