Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Berneray in 2008: keeping the Post Office

A review of the year on Berneray. Thanks to eight other Berneray residents who have, through several evenings of blathering and alcohol, helped with this.

For Berneray, 2008 has finished in pretty much the same way that it started, demographically, with 125 residents. The number of births, deaths, and people moving away from/to Berneray has been surprisingly small in the last year. The average age of residents, as best as can be estimated, is around 58 (give or take 1.5 years either side to be sure); however, the age profile of the island is very uneven, with clumps of residents around the 45 to 55, and 75 to 85 age points.

The population has stayed remarkably stable over the last four years, being within the band of 121 to 131 between 2005 and 2008. That pretty much mirrors the Outer Hebrides, where very recent years have shown a levelling-out, and a slight rise, in the overall population. The statistics show that the myth of an ever-plummeting population figure is just that: a myth.

Will the population of Berneray change much over the next few years?

At least three houses will be renovated next year, and a new build completed. That should help increase the figures in some way, in addition to other developments which will occur. The Berneray school building, currently being turned into three flats and a three bedroom house by Hebridean Housing Partnership, will also affect the demographics. Like many other residents, I'm hoping that the general talk of sustainable communities e.g. enabling younger people to get their own place, privacy and independence, will be borne out by the first residents of the refurbished building. Otherwise, Archie our councillor who also sits on the board of HHP will have to contend with some unhappy residents :-)

School building

On the negative side, deaths and people moving away will pull the population figure down. What happens to these houses will, of course, affect the demographics. It is also possible, especially in the 2009 year of "homecoming", that overseas visitors may purchase property. Certainly, with the weakness of the pound against both the US dollar and the Euro, property in the Outer Hebrides is very attractively priced for Americans and Europeans alike.

There are many other factors and variables, but overall I feel it is much more likely that there will be an overall rise in the resident population than a fall between now and the end of 2010. In two years time, I would be surprised if the population was not somewhere in the 130’s. There are still many people who wish to move to Berneray, and places like Berneray; a constant flow of them contact me through my blog and the Berneray website with an extremely varied range of questions. If suitable property is available (and that’s the number one problem), then new residents will come.

What else happened on Berneray in 2008? Almost unnoticed, the fishing industry declined further. Just 3 or 4 residents now earn most or all of their income from fishing. Several of us worked out the figures last night; here is a ranking, by the number of residents in each 'trade' (not all trades lists), of how Berneray residents earn most or all of their income:

1. Teleworking (working from home online).

2=. Ferry crew.

2=. Education.

4. Crofting.

5. Fishing.

I thought teleworking being the “largest” industry would happen eventually, but am surprised it’s happened this quickly. (“Largest” is in quotes as we are still talking about a single digit number of people for each of those trades). That will probably surprise other people, especially as fishing and crofting are high visibility industries and working from home is practically invisible, but the math bears out. More of a surprise is how quickly the fishing industry has declined, which is really sad; the harbour, especially in summer, is now more of a pleasure boat arena.

Teleworking is crucial to Berneray and other islands for several reasons; one of which being the demographics. Remove the teleworkers and their families from the spreadsheet of Berneray data and (a) the average age of a Berneray resident becomes 61.5, while (b) several children are lost. Generally, teleworking is something done more by people of family age, so it's pretty obvious what needs to be focused on to make the Outer Hebrides an attractive (sustainable, realistic income) place to live for many families.

Speaking of teleworking, more people on Berneray had broadband installed. By the end of the year the majority of residents had broadband access at home (which is excellent and progressive), though some residents are still awaiting this upgrade. Out of the 125 residents, 64 have home-based broadband, with another 22 remaining on dialup. Even though you can now buy a good PC or laptop for less than the cost of a ton of coal for the fire, few of the remaining 39 will get Internet access, so the island will have an internet take-up rate of around 70%.

Anything else? The shop and tearoom came under new ownership from people new to the island. The prospect of the Sound of Harris fixed link receded. Sue continued to diligently build an impressive database of Berneray ancestral data. It became possible to visit a Tesco (in Stornoway) without leaving the Outer Hebrides, and quite a few residents did so. Tourism was statistically and visually quieter on Berneray, as it was across the Uists and the Outer Hebrides. The weather was generally good, apart from some nasty autumn storms. Several residents watched Obama’s acceptance speech on TV or online; one resident was there (smug).

The normal cycle of events: first footing, Calluinn night, sheep being moved off the island, Berneray Week, annual ferry refit, sheep being moved onto the island, the Christmas meal, the market in Lochmaddy, continued. More people got into growing their own, and making their own foods. No new groups were formed, though most of the existing groups had changes of officers. In a partnership between Andy and Berneray Community Council, the island finished the year with an excellent Christmas tree, sleigh and Santa.

And, of course, everyone got a little greyer and/or older.

The most significant Berneray event for me personally (and it is loosely connected with the population figures) is something which didn't happen. And that is – Berneray did not lose the Post Office.

I heart Berneray Post Office.

Berneray Post Office: picture by Flickr user radarsmum67

List all the services, facilities and amenities on the island (there’s actually quite a few) and focus on each one. What would it be like if it was gone. With most of them, I wouldn’t be bothered if they were lost (apart from the excellent Grenitote Bus Service), but the thought of losing the post office panics me.

Lose the post office and it’s a ridiculous 20 mile round trip to buy stamps, or send a parcel, or post things overseas or that are not a regular size. And on buses, that’s a large chunk of the day gone.

And it’s not just stamps and parcels, as Berneray post office offers a very wide range of services; in fact, everything except drivers licences. You can even withdraw cash from your Bank of Scotland bank account free of charge. Do not be deceived by the small size of the post office; it’s very well equipped and is pretty much the hub of the island. Minutes of meetings are kept in a box by the window. Mary the Post Mistress is one of the friendliest and most helpful people you will ever meet. It’s open 9:30 till 1 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

So it was with huge relief that Berneray Post Office avoided the last round of cuts. Especially looking at remote communities on the mainland. In my home county of Worcestershire, many rural post offices have been axed, some in villages much larger – and with much worse public transport – than Berneray.

Even if you are not visiting Berneray but are passing through e.g. to get the ferry to Harris, then the Post Office is useful. Waiting at Berneray ferry terminal? The Post Office is just over a mile, about 20-25 minutes walk, along a pleasant coast road. There aren’t many other places in Britain where, as you walk to the Post Office to buy stamps, you have a chance of seeing seals, otters and porpoise (all seen recently here). In fact, more often than not you’ll see seals from outside the post office.

I use Berneray Post Office generally in bouts of ebay sales, for stamps, for sending stuff overseas, and for paying some bills. If I got more organised, I’d use it more and that’s one of my resolutions for 2009. Some things are more important than others in a place like Berneray and, for me, keeping the local, friendly, useful and efficient Post Office is one of them.

Wishing all blog readers a healthy and prosperous 2009; John.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

It was a rock, rock lobster...

A generous local gift of two lobsters came this way yesterday (thanks). Cue B-52's soundtrack and time spent dealing with the pair, which were named Douglas and Wendy (non-Brits: it's a political thing). And here they are, being prepared for lobster salad later:

Douglas on the chopping board

Wendy, close up

Thankfully, lobster tastes a good bit better than it looks. There's a couple of bottles of nice New Zealand white wine chilling in the fridge which will provide an excellent foil. Bon appetite!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Christmas Day 2008

My fifth Christmas as a resident of the Outer Hebrides. The pictures on this entry are taken from a larger set.

Things really kick off the evening before, when many people open presents from each other. Last minute baking et al is also done, so here's what the kitchen has been looking like for the last few days:

kitchen factory

Christmas day itself started with the usual; the last of the present opening, and the remainder of the cards. There's definitely an American-theme with my presents this year, and the opening took place next to the Credit Crunch Christmas Tree (compare to last years):

Credit crunch tree

Of the dozen or so trees I've seen in Berneray houses this Christmas, the best one is probably that belonging to Donald, Nico and Cassandera. Here's a picture of it I took this Christmas Day afternoon:

Tree of Donald

Then it was time to prepare and despatch Palin the Goose to the oven, then off for a Christmas Day walk. I dropped in at the houses of two residents who otherwise would be unlikely to see anyone today. The walk took me past the "Santa in the sleigh", parked next to the tree at the Nurses Cottage:

Santa at the Nurses Clinic

Being increasingly Pagan in nature, I did the usual Christmas Day thing of visiting a stone circle, this one being on Sunhill. From here, I can look across to the house:

Pagan stone circle and Backhill

... returning to which, it was time to extract Palin from the oven, and have a most excellent (best of the five) Christmas day dinner of goose, all the trimmings, and a splash of vino.

Christmas day dinner

Afterwards? I'll skip the Queen's speech as she is stuck doing it using banal last century technology. When she does it properly e.g. Twittering under the @liz2nd moniker, then I'll take it seriously. Instead I did what an increasing number of (sensible) Brits do, and hunt for bargains in the Christmas online sales:

Online shopping

I hope your Christmas day is as equally satisfying and relaxing.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

People I hope will *NOT* have a happy Christmas

These customers and these and these. I sincerely hope your houses get burgled and your presents stolen on Christmas Eve. Karma. 


Unfortunately this doesn't appear to be an isolated incident. A friend from schooldays who works in Woolworths (though obviously not for much longer) informs that his branch has extra security in. This is to protect the staff from customers angry that the stock isn't cheaper. He's carrying one minor injury through having a pram thrown at him, but only has a few days left so he's going to face it out. Ah, what a country.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Berneray sleigh and tree

Berneray Community Council has funded a brightly lit Christmas tree for the island, as the Comhairle are too stingy / bankrupt / focused on Lewis to the detriment of all the other islands, to fund Christmas decorations.

Andy Carr did a superb job on making the sleigh and getting it and the tree sorted out. Thanks also for Jim in his garage / shed, which provided the electricity for the tree when it was parked next to the Nurs'es Cottage. The tree is currently travelling around Berneray, and will appear in various locations over the next few weeks.

Here's a not very good picture of it:


And here's a short and also not very good video of it, twinkling away a few nights ago next to the Nurses Cottage.

A peaceful Christmas, and a healthy and prosperous 2009, to readers of this blog.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Public Wifi in North Uist (2/2)

After checking out the Lochmaddy hotel on the east side of North Uist, it was time to check out the Claddach Kirkebost Centre, run by Urachadh Uibhist, on the west side of the island in terms of their Internet access.

So last thursday four of us from Berneray went there for a "works" Christmas meal. This was for some of the self-employed people who work online on and from the island, a sector that is gradually increasing here as fishing and crofting gradually decline. The Christmas lunch itself was okay; the Christmas pudding component was enjoyable.

The centre is quite impressive, being a conversion and extension of an old school. It's a combination of many things. For a start, there is the cafe, with possibly the best views of any cafe in the Uists, being a panoramic scene of sea and islands. Associated with this is the Hebridean Kitchen shop (things like fudge and jam made on the premises), a creche and Gaelic school for really small kids, a business centre and various other facilities. The Wifi? That was free, unencrypted and worked without a problem on Samantha.

The centre also has a PC lab with a number of terminals. Here, Ada Campbell is helping an elderly member of the community undertake some online genealogy research:


The PC lab and Wifi access are becoming increasingly useful for training, and for helping crofters and the like fill in online forms. You should note that, unlike the Lochmaddy Hotel, the centre keeps more to office and school hours. So where is the centre? Head on the circular road that goes around North Uist, and it's at about 9 or 10 o'clock as viewed on the map. From the junction at Clachan Stores head north; the road sign says a mile but it's a good bit further. The centre doesn't have a website yet, though it was established last year that they need one. They can, however, be contacted on email at:

Winter Solstice at 12:04pm today

The point of Winter Solstice passed about an hour and a half ago. After a rainy start here on Berneray in the Outer Hebrides, the weather improved to reveal a near-clear sky, with some cloud to the south.

Berneray is, by history, a Pagan and Norse island. Sadly, that part of the island's culture and heritage has been lost over time (though is evidenced by numerous stone circles and other archaelogical finds), so the Solstice is not celebrated here.

The view from here, pretty much to the second of the Winter Solstice:


Meanwhile, down in the much-hyped Stonehenge (which is somewhat inferior to nearby Avebury, but never mind), the usual Solstice celebrations and crowds occured this morning. A brace of pictures from people who were there for dawn this morning:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Winter Solstice at Stonehenge"]



[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="353" caption="Winter Solstice at Stonehenge"]



And so, from here on, daylight hours lengthen. Though in just 26 weeks and 1 day, the nights will start to draw in again...

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Public Wifi in North Uist (1/2)

With the recent demise of both Tigh Dearg (North Uist) and Nunton Steadings (Benbecula), we've lost two of the very small number of places in the Uists where you can go along with your laptop and get online.

Thankfully, and for a change locally, some good news. The new owners of the Lochmaddy Hotel in North Uist have installed broadband, and stuck in a Wifi system, for the use of their customers. By customer, that can be people staying there, or customers at the bar or restaurant.

This hotel is in a good spot - it's like 1 minute walk to the North Uist ferry terminal from where you get the Calmac to Skye. And you can watch various boats, and if using public transport keep an eye on the movements of the buses from there.

So today I did lunch in the hotel (a quite decent Haddock and chips with side salad), and myself and the increasingly famous Samantha (pictured) tested it.

Currently, not all of the hotel is covered by Wifi - you need to go to the reception area (where you can get the password anyway) and find a nearby room. Thankfully there is a very quiet and pleasant lounge room with nice sea views next to reception - and a big table to put your laptop on. Signal strength: high. Along from this is the Anglers lounge, where you can get a signal in some parts of the room. Signal strength: okay.

Actually I'd prefer to go online where I was instead of in the bar area, as it is quieter and more private. I had a pleasant few hours doing online things, testing skype and getting through the mammoth inbox from hell. No problems.

It's a shame that more places in the Uists don't have Wifi but, frankly and literally, that is their loss. I'm directing people (tourists, visitors, business people) to the Lochmaddy hotel from now on, on principle. It's nearly 2009; in a lot of places in the USA, and some (though not enough) in mainland UK, the number of eating places with Wifi exceeds those without. There's a simple reason for that ...

On thursday I'm eating out at another North Uist location. This may have Wifi - it it does, it'll be blogged.

Monday, 15 December 2008

A cautionary presentation for JISC IE and eResearch Call bidders

Quick link: Download the powerpoint presentation from here and look at slides 5 to 21.

While tracking the live blog (nice work, Andy Powell), it is noticeable how many of the concepts and phrases are still as relevant now as they were in the eLib programme of the mid and late 1990s. I'm probably not the only person who twitches when the phrase "Cultural Change" appears. And I suddenly remembered Project Lanes. I had an odd role in eLib in that I was the web editor of Ariadne for the first 10 issues (which often meant hassling other projects for content and updates), as well as being the UKOLN end of the eLib dissemination chain. Consequently I had some kind of contact with many, if not all, of the eLib projects for a while, and in the space of 2 years attended over a hundred events in various roles.

This gave me ample opportunity to track and observe how projects were doing. As in most programmes, many eLib projects met or fulfilled their criteria. Overall, it is easy to see the effects of the eLib programme still today. It didn't solve every problem and issue - electronic publishers, for example, still largely have UK academic libraries over a fiscal barrel. But it massively raised the profile of things digital in UK academia, did (I personally feel) change the culture in several ways, and trained a generation of people who are influential in UK academia and libraries to this day. Not bad for 15 million pounds of funding.

However, some projects fell short or went wrong. This wasn't a great issue overall (as Chris said, "Let a hundred flowers bloom", or something like that, and the community should learn from things that went wrong).

On the orders of Chris, the brilliant, no-nonsense but fair director of eLib, I created a presentation about "Project Lanes". This was a distillation of things that went wrong in various projects and consortium, and I spent some afterwards taking questions a la "Were you referring to us on this slide?" Two people still won't speak to me as they think I didn't disguise their project failings (in reality, their own failings) enough. (Shrug).

Project Lanes has re-emerged on the JISC website, embedded in a presentation by Greg Newton-Ingham, another ex-eLibber who is self-employed - Greg is now doing interesting things in data mining. The re-emergence of Project Lanes is bad as I get no attribution (not a problem, seriously), but good as it means Greg can take any awkward questions :-) It is downloadable from here, and the Project Lanes part is from slides 5 to 21. Gosh, that was a memory trip. The rest of the slides, by Greg, are also well worth a read. "Not part of the coffee room set." - yes, that will bring back a few "Them and us" memories to eLib project staff working in universities.

Why am I blogging this? Because many of the things that went wrong are still possible in projects, especially consortium-based projects. Not all of them, as JISC have been very astute over the last decade in learning, and upgrading their proposal and funding requirements. It is much more difficult for projects to fail in the same way(s) that Project Lanes "failed". However, it is still a cautionary tale, and some things in there are as relevant now as they were then. If you are putting a proposal together for a digital library, repository or some other IE or eResearch bid, it may be worth a quick read.

[Update] To answer email just had, yes everything in Project Lanes happened to projects. Names have been changed for obvious reasons.

Friday, 12 December 2008


From my office window, over Bays Loch (which is open sea). Beyond, the old school building, currently being turned into flats. In the distance, the hills of south Harris, topped with snow.


Have suddenly realised, looking at this again, that there is a very shortcut way to solving this years Christmas Tree dilemma.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

'Book' means 'cool'

From an article on slang terms entering the English language:
And the very act of text messaging can throw up new terms: predictive text tends to choose "book" when users type the letters for "cool". Solution? Book now means cool.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Dear President-elect Barack Obama

Good luck, mate. Because if this is what teachers have to resort to in US schools, then you have one heck of a massive problem to fix.


I wonder what Prez in The Wire would have done?

After-thought. Test scores won't depend solely on knowledge. They'll depend at least partially on the ability of the child to ignore non-test distractions on the exam paper. Fail, and ironically you could end up working in a McJob for one of those companies...

Monday, 1 December 2008

Solas Co-operative

After nearly two months since my last shop in there, I have returned to the Co-operative on North Uist, about 10 miles away. The next nearest supermarket is about 38 miles away, and an hour plus on several buses.

The Co-operative has changed. Significantly. (n.b. Only mainlanders say 'Co-op'. It's 'Co-operative' here.)

For a start, the shop now has a window. This has met with much approval (though I did hear one person bemoan it as "posh"), and has been the talk of the islands for a while:


It's really good, as it means the shop is lighter, and one can look out and see what direction the horizontal rain is coming from.

The till area is better. I've always found the staff in there very helpful, and the one in this picture actually comes from Wasilla, Alaska. Yes, there. And knows Sarah Palin's family well (she was taught at school by Sarah's father). She has a rather different perspective on Ms Palin than that which comes across the media. Small world.


There are signs et al up to promote Christmas-based food products, though a few of the signs are leading to some raised eyebrows and general 'tutting' locally about mainland ways of advertising things:


The shop is better stocked than it was before. The three aisles are now a bit wider so it is now possible for people to pass without the danger of anything indecent accidentally occuring. It sells essentials:


... and additionally fruit and vegetables:


And here's what I came away with in this, the highlight of most of my weeks:


The full set of pictures from today's shopping experience is on Flickr.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Through a glass darkly

As previously posted, trying to find one kind of 'thing' which represents a geographical area can be tricky. Possibly impossible. I've wondered before about what image could represent the Outer Hebrides. Maybe the beach at Luskentyre, or the plane landing at Barra, or a boat leaving the harbour.

But it's this image by The Tamed Shrew (Kate Ferris) on Flickr that, for me, represents the Outer Hebrides. And this is how you take a picture.

She took it while on a bus on the island of Lewis, looking out of the window. On September 4th 2008, through the window, then through the plastic shield of the bus shelter, she saw an old man sitting, waiting for a bus.

The picture and comments can be found on Flickr.


Why does it represent the Outer Hebrides (for me)? Because there are many old, very old, people here, both native and retireess to the archipelago. Every week, the obituary column in the Stornoway Gazette is long, while the births column is short. Funerals are an integral, frequent, intense and raw, and both private and public part of living here. Because it's in black and white, the colours of the Hebrides through the long winter. Because you just know he's got a story, his story, and it will be epic.

I've wondered several times who he is, and what his story is. And I hope he's still alive and will be alive for a lot longer, has led a fulfilling life, and is able to reflect on it with contentment.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Sound of Britain

On TV a few years was one of those crappy chart programmes - 'top something or other of Britain', which is a cheap way of filling a whole evening of the schedule. On one such programme, the 'discussion' turned to the most well-known or representative sounds of Britain.

Apart from the fact that it's nonsense (e.g. trying to rank a Scottish bagpiper against a city square nightingale), it did get me thinking about what was the sound that most represented Britain to me. My personal answer:

The laugh of Sid James.

Many of my peers will be quietly horrified I just wrote that.

Sid James (1913 to 1976) was best known as being an actor in the Carry On series of films. There's many clips on YouTube and elsewhere; here's a short one one from Carry On Camping. Sid is the one laughing several times, especially at the end - it's that particular laugh which is my Sound of Britain:


Carry On Camping was the highest grossing film of 1969 in the UK (seriously). The Carry On films were massive in the UK, especially in that oddly misunderstood decade, the 1960's with the films at their best in 1967 to 1969. Basically, each film revolved around some aspect of British life (or perceived life), with every excuse possible used to enter innuendo and double-entendres.

They made a lot of Carry On films, well over 30, though the quality markedly went down from the mid-1970's onwards as lighter smut and innuendo was replaced by less subtle humour and the most well-known characters left. For me they really finished in 1972. I've seen every Carry On film several times, and ones such as Carry On Screaming and Carry On Doctor around 25 - 35 times each. (Side note: where do you think the humour in some of the Ariadne caption competitions was derived from?)

Most people younger than me will probably be baffled by the Carry On films. As will all non-Brits. I tried explaining the humour to some colleagues in Finland last year. Didn't work. At all.

In terms of political correctness, like Benny Hill (another adolescent favourite) the films fell severely out of favour as the century rolled on, especially Carry On Up The Khyber for the portrayal of Indian people. Even now, mention of a liking of Carry On films can cause uncomfortable foot shuffling and looks amongst peers.

Being born in 1968 and being brought up surrounded by lots of older relatives, it was easy to see where the Carry On film series was coming from culturally. Two world wars and massive social changes had left Britain outwardly a repressed country - in many ways it still is. Smut, innuendo and double-entendres were almost essential. Though Barbara Windsor wasn't my early, muddled, adolescent fantasy woman (that would be Suzi Quatro, and Carrie Fisher a la Return of the Jedi), the films did have a strong impact on one of that age. They were shown a lot on the television in the 1970s and 1980s, and in those days of just three television channels, no video recorder and no Internet there weren't many other options. (Thinks) actually, in rural Worcestershire, any other options for such cultural, social and adult enlightenment.

They should have just stopped them when the quality was still high, and they were still relevant to society at the time, in the early 1970's. Still, there's some good clips in this documentary:


Anyway, all I've got left to say is 'tiffin' (insert Sid James laugh here).

RHLP: Lorcan and Clifford

RHLP: Random Historical Librarian Picture

This one from 1997. It was taken in the British Library, but appeared in Ariadne for the piece where I interviewed Clifford Lynch.


I was reminded of this today when Z39.50 was mentioned by one of the speakers at the #cetis08 conference. Which made a knot of attendees and twitter followers feel very old...

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee

After wandering around Graceland for a few hours, I'm still not sure what to make of it. The house itself is surprisingly small, and you can only follow the (planned) downstairs route, through rooms and outbuildings.


Some of the inside rooms I quite liked and thought were tasteful and restrained enough.


Others, perhaps less so. Though I do like his use and choice of lampshades:


The whole experience is very efficient; seeing the house, and doing the four additional mini-exhibitions took around two hours. Today was apparently a quiet day, but it seemed crowded to me, so in August especially when major events happen the place must be mobbed. Inevitably, much of the display area in Graceland (in the back) is focused on Elvis's achievements. The visitor is left in no doubt that he sold a lot of records:


The side exhibitions held varying interest for me. You could go inside Elvis's private jet, which was quick and not that interesting. Better was the car collection, including a Sheila's Wheels type pink Cadillac:


The place is a huge money generator; doing the maths on the number of people and thro-rate, it's racking up a lot of income quickly. Plus the restaurant, gift shop et al. Ah, the gift shop was the one part of the Graceland experience I thought was tacky, with some dubious items for sale not out of place in a Father Ted spoof. But overall it seems a fitting tribute to a man who did sell over two billion records in his career. Though the experience, as Larry Mullen Jr. noted, is jarred somewhat by rounding the swimming pool outside to be confronted with the most photographed part of the complex - the family graveyard. Five graves (Elvis, parents, sibling, grandmother) next to the swimming pool and close to the house just seemed uncomfortably odd.  

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Breakfast in Seattle

Day one of the Seattle experience. Here's Alex eating a typical Seattle breakfast:


Basically, that's the complete opposite of the Amtrak breakfast as (a) it isn't fried in fat and (b) there's enough fibre in there to make the backside of an elephant explode.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Monterey aquarium

With IL2008 over, and it being good to have the first presentation of this trip done, this morning I hit the world-famous aquarium in Monterey with a couple of other delegates. I'd heard a lot about this place, to the extent I was getting a bit fed up with it, but as I have most of a day before my train to Seattle it seems a logical place to check out.


The admission fee isn't cheap - $24.95 - which is blimey UK prices. But, after a few hours of wandering around, looking at the substantial collection of sea thingies, stroking a blue ray, and watching sharks, otters and fish being fed, it's been a pretty enjoyable time. 


There's also an otter tank with feeding times, but as I have otters at the bottom of my garden back home, it was no big thing:


It was noticeable in the cafe/restaurant that people generally avoided the "Sustainable Seafood" option and went for beef or chicken instead...


Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Virtual World Watch launched today

Even though today is the official start date, the Virtual World Watch website has been going for a few weeks now. In a nutshell, the project will be looking at the serious application of virtual worlds (not just Second Life but some of the others) to Higher and Further Education in the UK.


Why Virtual Worlds? I'll write a longer graph on this later, but essentially:

They're getting used a lot in UK universities for teaching, learning, communication, meetings, distance learning, design and a whole range of other education uses.

  • The snapshot surveys which foredated VWW show this use to be increasing. Nearly all UK universities have some kind of virtual world-based activity. Some, such as the Open University, are using it in the teaching of students.

  • The 'perfect storm' of:

    1. Better equipment (higher spec PCs and the like).

    2. Broadband becoming ubiquitous.

    3. Virtual worlds becoming more savvy and better designed.

    ...will result in more uses of this form of online communication.

  • Education is for life (Lifelong Learning), and so it's something that doesn't just happen at school but increasingly wherever you are on the grid.

  • The conventional form of school-based education can't fund itself. Whether you look at California, or the Outer Hebrides, you see school-based education in fiscal trouble pretty much throughout the western world. In some circumstances, virtual worlds can and will provide alternative methods of learning stuff.


The development and use of virtual worlds is going to be a long-term thing. Some, such as Second Life, have already been around for a few years, while this year (like Web 2.0 apps) has seen many emerge (most to falter, a few to go on). It'll be interesting to see which "stay the distance" and how they adapt and are used across the education sector.

And, as is becoming a habit when I start something new, I'm off to California. Next stop, my favourite city in the world: Los Angeles.

Hampton Ferry

I quite like Calmac ferries; they're big, comfortable, stable in even rougher weather and many do a good curry and chips.

However Calmac ferries aren't a patch on the best ferry in the world, which can be found at Hampton in Evesham. There's no lifeboats here, no safety advice over the tannoy. You pile on, and sit on the bench (only on one side, so the ferry tends to lean). Dogs can either join you or swim alongside. There's no vending machines or cafe, it's 50p and there's no RET reduction.


There's no bridges for some distance in each direction, so the ferry provides a useful shortcut between the town and the village of Hampton. It also provides a quick way for people staying in caravans on the west bank to get over to the parks and town on the east. It's open from March to October, so I was able to take this during one of the last crossings of this year:


How it works is simple. There's a chain across the river that goes through two loops attached to the ferry. The ferryman pulls on the chain; the boat moves acrosss the river.

The only problem are boats approaching in either directions. They can either wait for the ferry to get across and the ferryman to hand-crank the chain till it's well under the water line. Or, for the rowers who zip up and down the river, you can just go under it:


I like the Hampton ferry. It's only concession to the 'modern age' is that it has a website; apart from that and a few changes of staff, it's as it was when I used it for the first time um nearly four decades ago. Long may it continue.


The village I grew up in, in the Vale of Evesham. It has a mixture of houses, from council to posh bungalow to semi's to thatched cottages:


There's still orchards, but the village isn't surrounded by them as it was when I were a lad:


Historians really like the village church, as it has lots of significant detail, especially for such a small village.


One of the items in there is the flagstone of Penelope Washington, a close relative of George Washington (the family inter-married with the main family in the village in the 1600's):


At the top you can see the Washington arms. Looks kinda familiar, the stars above the stripes? Yep...

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Thursday, 9 October 2008

A Harris beach for next summer

A picture of a beach by Fiona Cownie I still haven't visited, despite living not too far away for four years and visiting the archipelago for several years before that:
the most beautiful beach in britain
That's Hushinish (there are several variations on the spelling) in Harris. Looking out of the window here at the weather, and how early it gets dark, that's one for next summer.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Pictures on the Berneray calendar

I've mentioned (okay, plugged!) the Isle of Berneray 2009 calendar before. These have been purchased by people in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China and a few other countries (though only two so far in Scotland).

Calendar sales are appreciated, as the couple of US dollars royalty we get from each one (Cafepress get the rest) go towards the hosting and domain costs of the Berneray website.

A few questions have come in, which are answered here:

1. Why is there a scarecrow on top of a hill?

That's the June picture:


That's the one Duncan from the Post Office put atop Sandhill. It's there because lambs were being born and taken literally straight away by large birds. (Yes, not all of nature is pretty).

2. Who took the pictures?

Ruth - Scotproof on Flickr - took all of them. You can find most of them in her set of Berneray pictures (there's currently 302 in there) on Flickr.

3. Where is the beach?

That's the February picture. It's the west beach of Berneray:


The picture was taken on February 13th - so, you can get good beach walking weather and scenery all year round.

4. Can I alter the events on the calendar?

Afraid not. Cafepress, the US-based Print On Demand shop who sell these online, hard print in the events; we can't edit them. Christmas, New Year's Eve and others will be familiar to many, but think of it as an education, finding out (if you don't know already) on what dates Chanukah and Kwanzaa fall on.

5. Whos is that jumping on the last picture, and where is it?

On the December picture, that's our neighbour Eilidh Carr who was recently 16:


She's jumping on top of Borve Hill, Berneray. That's Harris in the background that she appears to be jumping over. This picture also featured on the BBC website earlier in 2008.

Most of the pictures from the calendar are also on other products in the Berneray online shop, such as t-shirts, mugs, greetings cards and postcards. As with the calendar, every sale contributes a US dollar or two towards keeping the Berneray website going; thanks.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Birthday weekend on Berneray

Yesterday was a double birthday on Berneray, with Cassandra and her first cousin Eilidh both sharing a birthday. Here's Eilidh, who was 16:


... and here's one of the many fireworks launched that evening:


On monday Olan is also 16. This flurry of birthdays alters the demographics of Berneray slightly; as of monday, out of a permanent resident population of 126, 12 will be under 16 years of age. There'll be some more Berneray demographic statistics around the end of this year.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Russets of the Outer Hebrides

Something I didn't expect to see in a garden in the Outer Hebrides; russets happily growing:


I spent most summers up to age 19 selling "chips" (baskets of 5 or 6 pounds in fruit weight) of these off our farmshop in the Vale of Evesham. So was gobsmacked to see them growing here.

It turns out that Alastair in The Willows had picked up a few young trees in blossom on the mainland and planted them. The russets look right to me; hopefully the trees will make it through their first Hebridean winter.

Apple and other trees aren't unknown here (hint: look at the name of the house). There used to be one in the garden of the church, and (allegedly) a few over Borve way. One newspaper report from the early 20th century mentions an orchard in Harris, and there are various people in the archipelago giving fruit tree cultivation a go.  

So the next step - an orchard. And then ... Berneray cider! :-)

Friday, 26 September 2008

Berneray Industrial Zone

It's busy this morning in the Backhill settlement on Berneray. Our single-track road is filled with all manner of work vehicles; lorries, vans, trailers, BT engineers, and not one but two JCBs:


At one point, I counted 14 - fourteen! - vehicles either in motion, or waiting to move. At the same time. That's easily a record in the nearly four years have been living here. Not used to this level of traffic intensity and volume; maybe they've decided to build the 2012 Olympic stadium here instead?

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Berneray postcard from 1967

Alison, a regular visitors to Berneray, picked up this postcard from 1967 in an ebay auction:



Update: these are pretty much how they look now (picture by Gareth Harper):


They're houses, one of them lived in by a family.