Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Seaweed days

Another odd weather day on Berneray. Like many other days in January, there is virtually no wind, and one can amble about outside in just a t-shirt. However, the sea tells a different story of weather elsewhere; waves that surfers would drool out were crashing onto the west beach:


While walking along the beach this morning, I had to stay near the high water mark to avoid having to weave through the large quantity of seaweed being washed up. There was a lot, more than I've seen in a long time, washed up, with more coming ashore; indicative of stronger weather and energy somewhere out to sea:


Monday, 28 January 2008

Local politics for local people. And the global media.

From this video clip on STV, both of these people (a former Lewis councillor, and our current MSP) have sat in my kitchen, drunk tea and have been fed various baking (though in the case of one it was declined on the grounds it may have been poisoned). Thankfully they visited Chateau Silversprite on different times/days, else the ambiance may have been somewhat different.

For some of the various news stories and angles on the Lewis Wind Farm application, see the google news agglomeration service. Local debate can be found on the Stornoway Chat forum (oddly quiet of late), Point Online forum, and on Angus Nicolsons blog. Or you can add comments to the article in the Herald.

n.b. contrary to the impression given by some of the media, the application hasn't been turned down. The applicants have 21 days to make a better case. And it is a safe bet that whatever decision is taken then, will not be the end of the matter.

Regarding some of the other errors in the media - I had a fun Saturday morning reading various newspapers both in print and online - please could editors (especially those of certain US news media) buy their journalists a detailed map of Scotland and also note that:

  • Lewis is not a "small island" (some tourists think this every year and attempt to "do" Lewis and Harris in the three hours between ferries).

  • Lewis is off the northwest coast of Scotland, and not off the north coast / where the Faroe Islands are / nearer to Iceland than the UK / where Arran is.

  • The statement "Everyone speaks Gaelic, and not English" is incorrect on both counts.

  • There are no puffins on Lewis (please correct if am wrong about this).

  • There are airports (three) here i.e. "The Outer Hebrides can only be reached by sea" is incorrect.

  • Stornoway is not a city.

  • Cheese is, unfortunately, not a "major industry" here (there may be some confusion with Orkney, where it is).

  • It does not rain here "11 months of the year".

  • It's spelt "crofting", not "crafting", unless everyone on the west side of Lewis has quietly developed a sideline in pottery production.

  • "...where houses sell for a few hundred pounds." Not for some years now, unless the reference is to a pile of rubble. See the prices paid for houses on www.ourproperty.co.uk.


Monday, 21 January 2008

More Berneray rainbows

Plenty visible from the top of Borve Hill, Berneray, earlier today. Here's the left, centre, and right of one, framing the island of Pabbay a few miles out to sea:




Here's a close-up picture of the right side, showing a fainter second rainbow. In the background is the north western region of Berneray:


All four pictures by Flickr user Scotproof.

Stoneybridge sunset

From Flickr user Lochfada, further down the Outer Hebrides archipelago in South Uist; a picture of the sunset over Stoneybridge:


Saturday, 19 January 2008

Blue seas around Barra

Introducing - to those of you not familiar with his work - pictures by Micheal Macintyre. He's a resident of Barra, the populated island near the southern end of the Outer Hebrides archipelago. According to his profile, he's a 34 year old forklift truck driver with a family, and, as you'll see, loves taking pictures.

Here's his Flickr profile. Check out especially two sets of pictures he has; one of Boats of Barra, and another of the Isle of Barra. There's some cracking pictures in both sets, and it's a good reminder of just how brilliantly blue the sea can be around that island. A few pictures from each to wet your appetite; first, two boats:



And a couple of Barra pictures, of the west side and of Castlebay. The first Outer Hebrides beach I visited is in this picture:



Now follow the links from further up this blog posting and see his other pictures...

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Oidche Chalain in South Uist

Returning to the recent event on Berneray, other parts of the Uists hold similar events. A description, from Flickr user Howbeg in South Uist:
"Oidche chalain in South Uist is New Year's Eve where the boys (only) go round the houses and are given food and savouries, never sweets or money. All the young boys from the village go round all the houses and stand outside the door and recite a duan or poem. Then they come in and the woman of the house dishes out food to them. She then passes a lit candle round her head three times and then does the cross. If the candle remains lit you will have a prosperous New Year to come.

They then go to an allocated house, and pour all the stuff on the floor; all the boys then go out of the room bar one, he calls names and doles the stuff evenly among the rest. That way, eveyone has a share."

A picture, and some more detail, by Flickr user Loch Eynort, who also hails from South Uist:


"A number of villages still keep up the tradition namely Stoneybridge, Boisdale and Ludag. Once outside a house, they remain behind the door and recite a duan which normally ends with the words, "Fosgal an dorus agus leig a staigh mi" ("Open the door and let us in").

Once inside the lady or person of the house dishes out things like tea, bread, fruit (in our village we dont give sweets or money) as the reason behind the visit is to go to the nominated house and they then share the food and that meant every house in the village had plenty of food. The candle bit goes back to the days when the light was lit by a cruisgean (fish oil lamp)."

Eriskay pony

Taken down the other end of the Uists, on new years eve, by Flickr user Howbeg:


Monday, 14 January 2008

Berneray fire brigade

Berneray used to have a fire brigade team of volunteers, operating out of the metal shed next to the Nurse's Cottage. A few pictures from June 2002 of the team practicing have turned up on Flickr, courtesy of Flickr user Gareth Harper. These are from his set of Berneray pictures.

First up, here's Ally giving it some serious hose action:


Next, Donald puzzles over the Alcon pump thingie. Behind him is/was the fire engine:


Sunday, 13 January 2008

Christmas dinner, 2007

Going through my backlog of pictures, and still holding onto the last wisps of Christmas (the tree has still not been taken down), here's a few pictures of Christmas dinner. This was consumed in front of the last of the peat stack, which has taken three years to get through (as we burn coal, paper bricks and oil as appropriate).



Calluinn night 2008

They came, they sang, they collected 2 SNP bags full of chocolates, satsumas (5 portions), quavers, fairy cakes, flip-flops and other stuff, they sang again, the older boys took an interest in my wine collection again, they left. Yes, it's that night of the year again; there are still pictures of last years: [1] [2].

Calluinn is an ancient tradition, to mark the start of the old new year (under the Julian calendar, before it switched to the Gregorian calendar c.1600AD). Berneray is one of the very few places to still celebrate this date. In past years, it used to be teenagers and young men who wandered around the houses, collecting food. Nowadays, the school children of the island go round the various houses, reciting an old Gaelic rhyme, and collecting sweets and money.

So here they are at my front door:


... and in my kitchen, patiently singing that rhyme again:


The costumes and masks were, as you can see, very imaginative and diverse this year. Awards, as decided solely by me:

  • Best costume / most effort: Shannon

  • Best attempt to raid my wine selection: David

  • Most imaginative costume: Jennifer; we thought at first it was taking the mick out of another resident, but it turned out to be the Stig from Top Gear.

  • Deepest voiced singer: Donnie (just how old are you?)

For the best costume, Shannon wins the prize of a tin of bear meat.

A contrail to America

(With apologies to The Proclaimers)

Some days I walk on the beach, other days I stroll up the hill behind my house. Today was one of the latter, and in conditions of zero wind (even at the top). On a day like this, three human-made noises can be heard remarkably clearly:

  • the automatic announcements on the Calmac ferry, about a mile away

  • people around the island talking outdoors, or from car to car, or on their doorsteps

  • airplanes flying far overhead

And here's a picture of the latter, taken with ease as today there was no wind buffeting the camera and I:


In the largest version of this picture, you can make out a few lumps on the far middle horizon. That's St Kilda. The much closer island, not far from the shore of Berneray and the puddly machair, is Boreray (permanent resident population: 1).

It's an odd kind of feeling, that people in those planes have just seen Berneray from up high, and a few hours later will be settling down to dinner in, or over, the USA or Canada. This is what they would have seen (picture of Berneray by Paul Ashton), a few minutes before I took the picture of them:


As "isolated" and "remote" as some people think - or hope, or wish - the Outer Hebrides are, the contrails are a frequent reminder that in many ways the planet is small. At a click, I can (and do) communicate by text, voice or videolink to colleagues around the world, or watch the traffic in downtown Manhattan, the pier at Santa Monica, California, Shoal Bay in New Zealand, an active volcano in Alaska or the main square in Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle. And that "remote" is relative, and that it's possible to have breakfast in Berneray, lunch in mainland Scotland, and dinner in California on the same day.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

How much for a phone delivery?!!

In one of the more disturbing cases of excessive charges, I've heard from a resident who attempted to buy a mobile phone through the Carphone Warehouse website, recently.

Now, how big and heavy is your mobile phone? And how much do you think it would cost to have it delivered? Here's the answer from their website:

FREE delivery to mainland England, Scotland and Wales is subject to the conditions outlined below. Delivery to other UK locations is charged as follows:
 - Northern Ireland - £ 9.99 per delivery
 - Offshore locations - £49.99 per delivery

Yes, £49.99 extra. For an item so small and light, my other half frequently puts it in the washing machine by mistake (well, that's her story). 

I'm curious about how on earth Carphone Warehouse can justify that additional cost. I can see Skye from here, and Skye is connected to the mainland with a bridge (an extra complication, still, with a few online companies). So someone there can buy a mobile phone from Carphone Warehouse, but I'd have to pay 50 pounds (minus a penny) more, just for the extra short trip between Uig and Lochmaddy and the 10 miles from there to Berneray.

The Parcelforce website informs me that the cost of ParcelForce 48:

  • for delivery of a 0.2kg package from London to my house

  • delivering within 4 working days

  • allowing online tracking

  • with compensation of up to £150

...is £14.99. Which is exactly £35 less than the excess Carphone Warehouse attempt to charge.

Hmmm. So how can they justify a £50 excess over mainland delivery?

[ETA] Another Berneray resident informs:
"Just this week I was looking for a cheap PAYG no frills phone, yes I looked at Carphone Warehouse £18 Nokia phone + £19.99 delivery (in my case) was ridiculous, they will not post phones.

I continued my search elsewhere, and found delivery prices from £2.99 upwards (Ebay), I then checked Vodafone’s own site, £18 for a no frills PAYG Nokia, with FREE DELIVERY. 48 Hrs from ordering to delivery by POST was very acceptable.

I just ordered directly on the site and it went through without any problems, 1 Jiffy bag through the normal mail, not even recorded delivery."

Friday, 11 January 2008

Bear Pate tasting session

As previously blogged, I brought back some bear meat-based products from my last trip to Finland:


The bear soup went to my neighbour as a Christmas present. The pate we opened last weekend, when some reluctant victims some other people from Berneray dropped in. Here they are, tucking into Jacobs crackers, smothered in a nice layer of crunchy, slightly grey and grainy bear and pork meat pate. Get it down yers:


They lived.

Here's another picture, this one for the laydeez; on the right is James, licking the bear pate off his cracker:


Thursday, 10 January 2008

Shock news: January weather can be iffy in Scotland

It was a wee bit windy last night and this morning, though the blustery weather has mainly blown over now. However, the usual transport disruption has occured. Ferries to most of the islands have been disrupted, either cancelled or delayed. Here's the Calmac online ferry status as of early this afternoon:


And, of course, there have been problems on the EXPOSED Forth Road Bridge as per usual, and it's been closed to traffic. Initially, to all vehicles bar cars, and eventually to all vehicles. From the BBC news website today:


I really hate to point this out to the powers that be, but we have this thing called "Winter" where it gets a bit breezy. January is a particularly bad time. Three years ago the Outer Hebrides took the brunt of a hurricane-force storm. Lives were lost, and damage occured to the EXPOSED causeways. And widespread weather-related transport disruption is not uncommon, even in mainland Scotland, in the "winter".

It's all the more disappointing, therefore, that the Scottish Executive decided, with some dubious reasoning and more than a hint of behind-the-scenes lobbying by special interest groups, to replace the Forth Road bridge with another bridge (last century technology), rather than go for the much cheaper, more reliable and weather-proof option of a tunnel. If the predictions of an increase in volatile weather (climate change et al) prove true, then there will be more days per year when the current bridge and its replacement (4.2 billion pounds cost at the moment, inevitably to rise) will be closed. As has happened before [here][here][here][here][here][here][here][here][and here].


The replacement should have been a tunnel. Bad weather in Norway = so what? Progressive, forward-looking major cities such as Sydney and Stockholm go for the tunnel option, rather than the bridge option (also, incidentally, building their weatherproof option at a fraction of the cost of the replacement Forth road bridge).

Anyway, it's a good thing that the same numpty's who made this decision aren't in charge of determining the materials to be used in the bridge, as they'd probably choose something like cheese or whatever the most aggressive lobbying group wanted.