Friday, 30 December 2005

Thursday 29/12/05

It was an extremely cold night on the mainland. Aviemore reached down to minus 13C, and was only at -10C at 11 a.m.. The southcoast is also very frosty, Bournemouth was at -6C. Up here in Stornoway, it stays well above freezing, because of the strong winds. The webcam was offline last night because the server had broken down. Cloud gradually increases through the morning. The mainland mountains, visible at sunrise, slowly fade into the mist. The wind increases, topping force 7 by nightfall. Tiree has the worst of the winds, gusting there at 51 knots, force 10. Go out at 2.30 for a drive around Point. We go up the sideroads at Garrabost and Sulisiadar, which give nice views of Broadbay and the villages from Tong to Tolsta. Tolsta sits on the hills above Gress Bay. We head north to Portnaguran and its tiny harbour, beyond that to the road's end. We turn back to Port Mholair (Portvoller) and go to Tiumpan Head Lighthouse. It blows pretty hard out there, and it's perishingly cold. The lighthouse is on. The mountains on the mainland can be seen clearly, about 30 miles to the east. A man stands outside the old keeper's cottage, which is currently in use as a kennels cum cattery. He was due to pick up some dogs, but there is nobody about. We head down to Sheshader, to see the little house that Jerry had his eye on, back in November. Once we do find our way into the next village, Payble, the light begins to fail. Can just about snap a pic of the hill between Upper and Lower Payble. We go right through to the end of Eagleton, but then return to the A866. I go to the library to scan the pictures, which I mentioned in an earlier post. I have the cooker tonight, preparing carrots, potatoes, onions, mince meat balls. Goes down well, in spite of the very late hour of 9 pm. We were delayed watching a programme about Para Handy, Master Mariner, who was created 100 years ago by Neil Munro / Hugh Foulis. Snow falls between 9 and 10, which soon turns to rain.


I was amazed at the colours at sunset these past days. And at sunrise as well. Normally, I expect light to start to fail 25 minutes after sunset, but at this latitude this is extended to 40 minutes. I am not a native of the islands, but one of the reasons I have come here is the natural beauty. Whether it is in the images shown above, at a time of good weather - or in bad weather, as I showed in a much earlier posting about the November 11th hurricane.
Being caught up in a thunder, hail, snow, sleet (and kitchensink) shower back in January, whilst going down the
Lochs Road at Leurbost, with the bus driver being forced to reduce speed to a crawl. No snow or ice at the next village, Keose.
The many rainbows in the spring.
The joy at seeing the first green shoots, in April.
Hearing the first bleating of lambs in a pasture at Breascleit late in March. Walking the island in the bitter winds of February, and seeing the sad remains of the sheep that did not make it through the winter. Or the sheep that was knocked down at the Marybank cattlegrid in April, and was slowly decomposing in peace in the ditch that it was dumped in over a period of 6 months.
Seeing the days lengthen to an incredible extent, sunset at 22.30, with the light lingering to the nadir of the night at 01.30, then returning fully at 03.30. But also shortening of the days, with the present daylight hours of 09.15 to 15.35.
The howling of the gales, 4 in one week in November. Clattering of hail and thumping of the wind against the window at night - waking up in the middle of the night because there is no noise.
Watching the breathtaking coastal scenery at Filiscleitir, or the stunning mountain scenery from Rapaire, Teileasbhal, Mullach an Langa. Or beautiful Glen Langadale, where I'm forever fording that river under frown of Stulabhal. The little mouse on the slopes of that mountain, the one that allowed me to stroke it. The yellow grasses on the moors of South Lochs, finding your way in amongst a myriad of lochs, streams and bogs.
Loch nan Eilean, south of Garyvard.

Place seems to have gotten under my skin.


(first published on Arnish Lighthouse Blog, BBC Online_

Thursday, 29 December 2005

Wednesday 28/12/05

Another bright and sunny morning, but windy. Can see Skye and Applecross at sunrise. Go for a bit of shopping late in the morning, but there is a very keen wind blowing. Metcheck is back to reporting weather, rather than being a pseudo chatroom. Aviemore reports -7C at 10 a.m.. After lunch I accompany mrs B's son to Gress cemetery, where he visits his auntie's grave. She passed away in August '04. Afterwards, we go down the road to Back, where we pay a visit to his niece and her husband and children. We spend a convivial few hours in chat. At 5.30, we return to SY to pick up my latest pictures. I find I've got a problem with the low winter light in many of them, but there are some spectacular ones about. I'll post them on here in the next day or so. Supper consists of an excellent roast dinner.

Tuesday 27/12/05

Nice sunny morning, but with a little more cloud than yesterday. There is also more wind, which accentuates the low temperatures. 6 C is not bad, particularly in comparison to the -5 at Aviemore and the snow that blankets eastern England. Metcheck is awash with with people wanting to know to the nearest minute when their snow is going to start. And fill 75 posts with irrelevant chitchat. I therefore post a request to please stick to reporting, and discussion to be moved to the Forum. At 1.30pm, we go out in the car to Ness. Fortunately, nothing happens along the way, and we duly arrive in the area at 2.20. Drive to Port of Ness, then through Five Penny to Eoropie. Mrs B wants to have a look at the house of a friend, who used to live there. Then we walk to the beach. People are fishing. There is a magnificent swell, with rollers of about 7 ft high. It's cold though, the thin wind making it less pleasant. Next port of call is Port Skigersta, where I have not been before. As we are there, the sun sets in a blaze of orange. We head back to Stornoway along the Cross Skigersta Road. Speeddevils fly past us on the A857, people just don't learn, do they. In the supermarket, lots of stuff is marked down. Cranberries for 12p, instead of the usual £1.99. No papers left. A few strange stories from the general news. A group of youths went to the house of another youngster, to have a word. When his dad says he wasn't there, they set about trashing the family car. More humourously, a man had falled asleep at the Rangers Supporters Club, which contains a bar. He was not noticed by barstaff as they locked up, but he awoke at 5.25 a.m. He rang police to ask them to help out in his predicament, saying he was at the Sea Angling Club. The police got the manager of that place out of his bed, but nobody was found. The man was still locked inside the Rangers Club rang police again, sheepishly admitting that he was there, not at the SAC.

Tuesday, 27 December 2005

Monday 26/12/05 - Boxing Day

Brilliantly sunny morning, with the sun rising in a blaze of orange at 9.15. The mainland hills and Skye are visible over Arnish. Breakfast taken late, at around 10.30. We decide to head out to Ness, and we duly head down the A857 at 12.30. We're packed up with hot water, teabags, Lucozade and pastries. There is some traffic on the Barvas road, but as we near the village, the way ahead is blocked. Fire engines and an ambulance are parked on both carriageways. A car is sitting in the moorland beside the road, and after a while, firemen drape a tarpaulin over it. This indicates a fatality. (The BBC later reports on this accident - click here). The car is turned back, and we head for Carloway via the Pentland Road. A shortcut is taken from Laxdale to Marybank. Once there, the level of traffic is up on normal. Word will have gone round about the blocked road. Fantastic views in between drivers who don't pay attention to traffic. One of them fails to pull into a passing place, which forces us to back up a long distance. Great views over to the hills of Harris and Uig. At Carloway, we turn right to go to Dalmore beach. A slightly chilly snack on a picnic bench. Some hardy souls are out windsurfing. When they leave the water, they say they're actually sweating. The door to the gents' toilet cannot be locked. I hold the door whilst completing business, but when another gent goes in, the inevitable happens. A lady pulls up with a bucket and cleaning things, and opens the door. Oh oh. We drive nextdoors to Dalbeg to enjoy the beach and the surf, which spectacularly crashes in. The sun sets in a blaze of colour, which is even better on the way back to Carloway. Someone smashed into the busshelter at Dalbeg, which is a concrete edifice, and knocked one of the four wings off. We call into Callanish at 3.50 pm to watch the dusk creeping in over the ancient monument. The visitor centre is closed. In the winter, it only opens on Wednesdays through to Saturdays. At the stones, someone is pontificating to a group of Russian visitors. We return to Stornoway in the gathering gloom. A few fools decide to drive right on our tail, keeping no distance worthy of the mention. Signs at Garynahine and Leurbost advise drivers that the Barvas Moor road is closed. Boxing Day dinner consists of pasta, boscaiola, olives, bread, sundried tomatoes, peppers and much more. Very filling. Had fizzy red win alongside. Manage to draw out supper until 11pm, with tales of people of our acquaintance. Close the evening with coffee and chocolate licqueurs. Bed at 1.30 a.m.. Again.

Sunday 25/12/05 - Christmas Day (2)

After returning from Arnish, we call in to mrs B's sister's house in the town for a flying visit. Visibility quite reasonable today, saw a hazy outline of Skye and the mainland. Eilean Mhuire, the easternmost of the Shiants, could just be discerned off Kebock Head. Dinner is magnificent, with turkey breast, cranberry sauce, potatoes, vegetables and wine. Lit up by candles, it fills us up very well. The sweet is an icecream pavlova. At 9.30, we head down the road to one of mrs B's other sons for a Christmas ceilidh. We end up watching familie films from the 1960s, which show quite a few people who are no longer alive, and it all gets a little emotional.

Sunday 25/12/05 - Christmas Day (1)

Breakfast and presents at 11 o'clock, accompanied by a mixture of Spanish champagne and orange juice. I receive a jumper, socks and a diary. By 1.30 pm, we head out to Arnish to walk to the lighthouse. Today is overcast but perfectly windless, temperature about 7C. The boats shimmer in their own reflections. Over at Arnish, we walk along a rough track, which skirts the perimeter fence of the Fabrication Yard. There are huge pipes lying about, segments for windturbines. Should the Lewis Windfarm ever be built, then the turbines are to be built here. At the moment, they are building towers for a windfarm off the Caithness coast. When the Arnish Yard was built in 1975, an existing cottage was torched, and the hill it stood on bulldozed out of existence. You can still see where the hill used to be. There was also once a huge slipway, used to launch an oil platform, but that was landscaped out. Some Lewis ponies roam the area, they are small and quite friendly. On arrival at the lighthouse, you need to manoeuver around the keeper's cottage, through a mire of horse dung and mud. A small memorial stands on the hillside, a little distance to the south. It was erected in memory of a fisherman who drowned there on December 19th, last year. It would appear that after leaving port, the crew of his boat were all down below, with the vessel going on autopilot. This went wrong, and the boat went on the rocks. Two crewmen escaped, the skipper drowned. The memorial had a bunch of flowers sitting next to it, left from the first anniversary commemoration.

Sunday, 25 December 2005

Saturday 24/12/05 - Christmas Eve

Start the day by going into Somerfields to buy the necessary for tonight's meal. It's total mayhem in that store, everybody making last-minute purchases. The weather today is not very warm but nice and sunny. A nice bunch of flowers, carnations and amaryllii, is delivered for me at midday. After lunch, prawn cocktail, we head by car to Latta's Mill at Willowglen. The wheel is turning, which means that the waterlevel in the milllake is about 25 cm / 10 inches down on normal. The mill is generating power, for the lights in the visitor centre. After dark, it will provide electricity for the lights all the way to Cuddy Point. We walk out along the millrace, and now the bridge across the burn is in place. Near the mill, the burn is 10 metres lower. After this, we call into the Coop for some additional shopping. I provide supper, consisting of leaks, spuds and meatballs. Sweet is cranberry sauce, freshly made out of cranberries, served with custard. As it's Christmas Eve, the thought turns to a church service. Enquiries reveal that there are two services on - one at St Columba's, in Lewis Street, one at the Town Hall. I decide on the first, and at 11 pm I set out with mrs B and her daughter-in-law. She leaves the family dog behind, a big black goofy labrador. Shortly after arriving at church, the service commences with a few carols. It's the usual culprits, which also applies to the readings from the Scriptures: Gospel according to St Luke, chapter 2. One lady sings a very creditable rendition of Ave Maria. As we sing another carol, the lights are switched off one by one, until we end up finishing the carol in darkness. The minister invites everybody to wish each other Happy Christmas, once the lights are back on. That applies not just to those sitting beside you, but also those behind and in front. Kisses and handshakes flying around. After the last carol, we file out which takes a bit of time because some of the ladies want to kiss the minister. We return to Newton on foot. At the corner of Island Road and Ferry Road, a car with boyracers comes screaming round the corner, barely missing a wall in the process. The dog is happy to be reunited with its owner, whose husband turns up a little later with the family cat in tow. This animal joins the dog on walks, all the way to Goat Island.

Friday 23/12/05

Nice sunny morning with the odd shower passing in the distance. Isles FM has Joe the Fish on until 10 o'clock, after which they go on to automatic. Have all sorts of problems with internet which I won't bore you with. Nip into Somerfields to get the remainder of the week's papers. We take a drive out to Gress at 2.30 to look round that village. The district is overlooked by Beinn Barabhais, which I climbed in August. As the sun sinks over the village of Back, the sun sets the houses off against the white sky. After a drive through Gress, we cross the bridge and explore Back Lighthill, where all sorts of trails lead off into the moorland. We return to Stornoway after sunset at 4pm. Mrs B makes our supper tonight. The driver was her 2nd son.

Friday, 23 December 2005

Thursday 22/12/05

Very dark morning, pouring with rain and strong winds. Lighthouse is on all day, visibility very poor. Help mrs B put up the Christmas lights in the porch. They are stars in the shape of ice crystals, i.e. they get very easily entangled. Two bad road accidents in the area, one on Tiree and the other on the A82 Ft William to Inverness road claim two lives. The Gazette is full of reports on the crisis in the NHS Western Isles, with the Chief Executive threatening apres moi le deluge, in other words, if I have to go, NHS WI will go down with me. Some idiot sent a letter in to the Gazette, stating that the Third Reich was a nest of pussycats in comparison to Western Isles Council. This was ostensibly with reference to the windfarm issue. I disagree with the Comhairle on that (and many other issues), but that comparison is not called for. The rain stops during the evening.

Thursday, 22 December 2005

Wednesday 21/12/05 - afternoon


Found an image of the stranded tanker I mentioned in the first entry for this day. And there is this ludicrous story of the cats' home in Dundee that was invaded by mice. Have a laugh on the BBC site, which includes a videoclip. The mice of course never went into the cats' cages. Went into town at 2pm, and bought an interesting book from 1960 about William Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, the owner of Lewis and Harris between 1918 and 1925. Also cashed in the Coop dividend voucher, all of £2. Last night, guests had been expected to arrive, but they went to the wrong B&B. They were up from Benbecula to visit relatives, but the list of B&Bs they had received from the hospital gave the wrong address with Mrs B's phonenumber. So they turned up at another B&B, which of course wasn't expecting them. To add insult to injury, although the other place did take them in, they were searched twice by police, because a mobile phone had been reported missing at that establishment, from the very room that family were in. When I walked back from town, I noticed a long line of vehicles waiting to board the ferry. This was at 2.45, and I thought they'd either missed the ferry or the boat was late. It was late, as it came round Holm Point just as I walked up Newton Street. One of the lorries contained a reindeer troup from Rossshire, who had taken part in a Xmas party at the Newton and Sandwick Community Centre last night. Showers continue on and off all afternoon. Have a nice and lazy evening.

Wednesday, 21 December 2005

Wednesday - 21/12/05 Winter Solstice

I am starting with this lovely image of the Skye Bridge, because its area features in the grounding of MV Blackfriars at Kyle of Lochalsh, a mile east of the bridge. More of that in a second. Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Sunrise at 9.15, sunset at 15.35. It's a nice sunny day, but colder than the 10C it was yesterday. At 9 a.m., SYY reports 6C. Rain- and hailshowers come clattering by at regular intervals, but they don't deter the birds from bathing in the resulting puddles. Starlings, finches, sparrows and thrushes all continue to spatter in the middle of all the hailstones. Mrs B goes out at 10.45 for a nativitiy play in the High Church. It is reported that the oil tanker MV Blackfriars ran aground at Kyle of Lochalsh at 9.20 pm last night. She was running in ballast, heading for Pembroke, South Wales. Conditions were said to be windy, southwesterly wind force 6 to 7.. This morning, the tanker manages to refloat under her own power at high tide, at 10 a.m.. She is presently tied up at Kyle for an inspection. The vessel, which measures 1,570 tons, is not thought to have spilt any of her 13 tons of fuel oil. Blackfriars hit rocks before, in 1999, in Wales. The map below shows the area around Kyle where the tanker went aground. I hope the seals on Eileanan Dubha didn't get too bad a fright. Last time I was there, in October 2004, the place was heaving with seals.

Map reproduced with kind permission of the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, copyright 2005.

Tuesday 20/12/05 - afternoon & evening

Still on the subject of gay marriages (and marriages are always gay affairs, aren't they, irrespective of the genders involved), Western Isles Council reports receiving abusive emails, phonecalls etcetera. Enough of that.

Hear a different slant on a piece of island history. Lord Leverhulme abandoned his plans for industries in Lewis in the 1920s because of opposition from local crofters. They were against BECAUSE the traders in Stornoway were opposed. Leverhulme represented a multinational company, which they perceived as a threat against their vested interests. The merchants told the crofters, who were dependant on them, that Leverhulme was going to oust them from their land. A very cunning approach, because only 35 years before there had been bitter struggles in the island and beyond (more specifically the Battle of the Braes, in Skye in 1885; the mass trespass in Eishken in 1887 and the uprising at Aignish in 1888) to gain more rights for crofting tenants. I have recorded this also in an entry on my Arnish Lighthouse blog. Mrs B goes out for dinner which is a roaring success as far as company is concerned and a roaring disaster foodwise. I had my usual microwaveable dish. The weather deteriorates through the evening, with the wind getting up to gale force and the rain lashing down. A lady on the VisitHebrides bulletin board says she'll be in Lewis for a week in January. Plenty to do for adults, but what is there for kids aged 2 and 4. Precious little, but I advise her that Eoropie beach is very nice, and it has a play area nearby. Indoors, there is the pool and play area at the Sports Centre.

Tuesday, 20 December 2005

Tuesday 20/12/05 - morning

Bit of a wet morning to start with, but this clears up by sunrise. Muirneag was in on time this morning, as the lorries were rolling past at 8.45. There is a big row about same-sex marriages. Registrars in the Western Isles are not prepared to conduct the ceremonies - but they will register the marriages, which is a legal obligation. Gay rights movement up in arms, threatening with the European Court etc. As I said, there is no legal obligation for the registrars to conduct a ceremony. Very nasty comments on the VisitHebrides bulletin board. I feel that if two people want to get married, that's fine, even if they're of the same sex. Conversely, if the registrar has got misgivings about conducting a ceremony for people of the same gender, that should be respected. Talk of bigotry &c does not help and is inflammatory.

Monday 19/12/05

Bright morning following overnight rain, albeit cloudy. I told one person who was interested in the webcam to check it out after 9.10 GMT, and they're duly there, admiring the sunrise and the arrival of MV Muirneag into port. Rainshowers follow later in the afternoon. Go into town at 1 o'clock, when it's heaving with schoolkids. Christmas cards have virtually sold out, except for some horrible ones. Receive some feedback on my Geograph & History series on the BBC Blog. The trucker is repairing his vehicle, which gives rise to some strange images on his webcam. My webcam attracted several hundred viewers over the weekend, but the interest seems to be waning now that everybody is back at work. A bad powerdip switches off the computer at around midnight.

Monday, 19 December 2005

Sunday 18/12/05

Today dawned windy and very wet. It keeps raining steadily until about 2pm. The wind is also very strong, gusting up to 45 knots (force 9) by 1pm. Have a lazy start to the day, breakfast at 9.30. Mrs B's granddaughter calls in to borrow a scarf for use in a nativity play in church. By 2pm, the rain moves away east, and the sun comes out. Incredible, bearing in mind the downpour we had earlier on. I'm following a US truck driver who has a webcam in his cab. One thing that strikes me about the landscape I see: it's flat and boring. He has to stop late in the morning (his time) because black ice turns the Interstate 40 in New Mexico into a skating rink. Temperature -4C there, +9 here. It's a very quiet day. My dinner is curly kale with spuds and a steak. Mrs B is having beans with a pork steak. She writes Christmas cards. I get complaints that the webcam doesn't show anything at night. Well, what DO you expect? Find one person who accesses my website through a Google search. This is a Swedish user, who is looking for something else, but "red light webcam" produces my cam in 2nd place. Because I describe how you can see the blinking red light of the beacon (have a look after 1600 GMT). I'm sure he wanted something else ...

Sunday, 18 December 2005

Saturday 17/12/05

Bright but cold morning, with a thin layer of snow on the walls. The webcam was not transmitting overnight, due to a software problem. A couple of snowshowers pass by which show up very nicely. The young lady from yesterday has now been joined by her boyfriend. They intend to stay in the hostel on Berneray (North Uist). They leave at 10.30. Muirneag comes in very late, at 10.50. Discover a list of ships that have been held in detention at various UK ports last months. Reasons were technical deficiencies (see previous entry). The showers cease around lunchtime. The sun sets in a blaze of colours at 3.34. We're nearly at the nadir of the year, as sunset is now at 9.10 a.m.. Go to Somerfields, which is awash with Christmas shoppers. Unfortunately, the amount of booze going out is as great as ever. Have a hoot of a time reading the very tongue-in-cheek entries on the Lewis Islandblog. More serious reactions to my account of the problems in NHS Western Isles. Spend the evening in amicable chat with mrs B.

Saturday, 17 December 2005

Ships in detention

The British Maritime and Coastguard Agency MCA publishes a monthly list of ships that were detained following inspections in UK ports. You get some horror stories there. November's list of 10 detentions is as below. For the full report, click on this link



Date & Place of detention: 03/11/2005, Falmouth
Vessel Name: GALINA (General Cargo) 257 GT
IMO No: 7630385
Flag: Georgia
Company: A. M. Yagur
Classification Society: INCLAMAR
Summary: Still under detention at the end of November. 7 recorded deficiencies (4 detainable). Detained for auxiliary engines and associated systems being in variously unsafe, defective and unreliable; other machinery and electrical devices and systems being similarly unreliable or unsafe; health, hygene and sanitary conditions a risk to crew; loose floor plates and other accident hazards on board.

Date & Place of detention: 10/11/05, Newport
Vessel Name: AGIOS NECTARIOS (Bulk Carrier) 14331 GT
IMO No: 8109929
Flag: Panama
Company: Pitousa Shipping
Classification Society: Germanischer Lloyd - GL
Summary: Detained for 5 days in total. 32 recorded deficiencies (6 detainable). Detained for substandard port & starboard lifeboat launching appliances, deficient lifejackets, substandard fire drill and three major ISM non-conformities.

Date & Place of detention: 14/11/05, Newport
Vessel Name: NEW WAVE (Bulk Carrier) 23207 GT
IMO No: 8307222
Flag: Panama
Company: Transmar Shipping Co.
Classification Society: American Bueau of Shipping - ABS
Summary: Detained for 4 days in total. 10 recorded deficiencies (1 detainable). Detained for ISM non-compliance (fire drill and abandon ship drill).

Date & Place of detention: 17/11/05, Grimsby
Vessel Name: VIDYAEVO (General Cargo) 671 GT
IMO No: 7427128
Flag: Russia
Company: Cfzarya
Classification Society: Russian Maritime Register of Shipping - RMRS
Summary: Detained for 2 days in total. 1 recorded deficiency (detainable). Detained for inoperative satellite EPIRB

Date & Place of detention: 22/11/05, Newport
Vessel Name: MV JUMBO (Other Cargo) 1998 GT
IMO No: 8518297
Flag: Bahamas
Company: Wilson Ship Management
Classification Society: Lloyds Register - LR
Summary: Detained for 4 days in total. 23 recorded deficiencies (7 detainable). Detained for emergency preparedness, resource & personnel, master & responsible authority and safety & environmental policy not being in accordance with the Safety Management System, fire drill showing lack of control, as well as the VHF and MF/HF radio installations not being as required.

Date & Place of detention: 30/11/2005 – Portsmouth
Vessel Name: BUZZARD BAY (Refrigerated Cargo) 10381 GT

IMO No: 9016662
Flag: Netherlands Antilles
Company: Seatrade Groningen BV
Classification Society: American Bueau of Shipping - ABS
Summary: Released on 01/12/2005. 25 recorded deficiencies, 1 detainable. Detained for ISM related deficiencies (maintenance of the ship and equipment).


Date & Place of detention: 31/10/2005 - Ipswich
Vessel Name: GRENLAND (General Cargo) 1900 GT
IMO No: 7015286
Flag: Dominica
Company: SA Shipping Ltd. Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
Classification Society: Polski Rejestr Statkow
Summary: Released on 03/11/05. 10 Recorded deficiencies (2 detainable). Reserve source of energy for GMDSS radio equipment deficient. Some charts not corrected and up to date.

Date & Place of detention: 08/08/2003 – Tyne
Vessel Name: GLORIA (General Cargo) 657 GT
IMO No: 6523107
Flag: Estonia
Company: Timant Ltd, Tallinn, Estonia
Classification Society: None
Summary: Still under detention at the end of October. 57 deficiencies recorded prior to inspection being suspended. Vessel unsafe due to condition of ship’s hull structure, deck transverse beams holed with corrosion, numerous side frames distorted due to operational damage, vessel fails to meet the stability requirements for a vessel loading bulk grain, evidence of insect infestation in cargo hold.

Date & Place of detention: 26/10/05, Aberdeen
Vessel Name: ROSITA (General Cargo) 2316 GT
IMO No: 7605873
Flag: Antigua & Barbuda
Company: Lubeca Marine GMBH
Classification Society: Germanischer Lloyd - GL
Summary: Detained for 9 days in total, released on 03/11/05. 9 recorded deficiencies (4 detainable). Detained for poorly maintained cargo lashing equipment (not as required in securing manual), no record of testing of lashing or lifting equipment, document of compliance for dangerous goods not available, fire doors tied open.

Date & Place of detention: 05/09/2000 – Lowestoft
Vessel Name: OLIVER FELIX (Tug) 144 GT
IMO No: 5281128
Flag: Honduras
Company: General Maritime Ltd, London
Classification Society: International Naval Surveys Bureau - INSB
Summary: Allowed to sail to Southampton for scrapping and re-detained on arrival, (27/02/03). 50 recorded deficiencies. Magnetic Compass deviation card missing, daylight signals missing, excess oil in engine room constituting a fire hazard, ship’s certificates expired. Ship still under detention but now sold on and undergoing refurbishment.

Friday 16/12/05

A different start to the day - bright and sunny. It's bitterly cold, only 2C. Shetland and the east coast of Scotland are having heavy snowshowers. We get some flurries at 10.15. We have a guest in, a young lady who is in for business. She visited the McKenzie Harris Tweed Mill at Oliver's Brae  yesterday, and will be joined by her boyfriend tonight. I filled her in on a few pieces of island history. Missed the brightest and highest full moon in 18 years last night because it was cloudy. Today it's very cold outside with a bitter wind. The odd sleet shower comes by. Continue to have a look at the webcam, which attracts a lot of interest. Several hundred people come to have a look, even after nightfall. You only see the streetlights and the lights in the Coastguard Station then. Get in touch with some acquaintances on Eigg, whom I update on state of affairs my end. Close the evening with a dram with mrs B.

Friday, 16 December 2005

Thursday 15/12/05

Notice that a lot of people come to see my webcam, and therefore an increase in traffic to my webpages on AOL Hometown as well. Drizzle commences at lunchtime, and visibility gets very poor. It rains very heavily at 4 pm, but the rain subsides later that evening. The weekly papers demonstrate the concerns raised as a result of the fire in Hertfordshire. There are investigations afoot to relocate the depot to Arnish, not just the oiltanks at James Street, but also the gasholder near Seaforth Road, which apparently stymies further development in that area. The rows about the Western Isles Health Board continue apace in the columns of the Gazette and the Free Press. This weeks ding-dong concerns the retirement of one of psychiatrists as of December 6th. No replacement has been found for him as yet, although he announced his intended retirement and associated resignation as early as July. The Board defends its lack of action by stating that an intention to retire does not constitute a formal letter of resignation. Eh? The bullying and harassment claims continue as well, with one of the medical directors threatening that further such complaints could lead to the abolition of NHS Western Isles. If that isn't bullying, then I don't know what is. By midnight, I find that 25 people have visited my webpages, most of it a spin-off of the webcam.

Thursday, 15 December 2005


The URL for my webcam is
I have a dedicated webpage for it, which explains what can be seen. Our ferry can be seen at around 7.15, 13.15 and 13.45 and 20.00; all times GMT. Viewers in the USA will have to subtract 5 to 8 hours, depending on their timezone. Sorry; it's not terribly exciting.

Wednesday 14/12/05

After another dark start (what do you expect, it's mid December), I head into town for a few items of shopping. First of all, I go to Delansa for a webcam. It's a minute thing, 3 x 1 x 1 cm, with a clip for attaching to anything. Only £13. I have to go back for an extension cable, but it works fine. It's a grey and overcast day, but dry and quite mild. Work my way round Somerfields, also for a few items for mrs B. I spend the afternoon looking for a website to take the stream from the webcam and sorting out a few initial gremlins. Post on blogs about the oil depot at the corner of James Street and Shell Street (Island Blog and the Visit Hebrides discussion board). This in relation to the incident in Hertfordshire. Keep the webcam running through the hours of darkness. It shows the CG station, the beacon and Arnish Lighthouse. Not to mention the flow of traffic along the road. Discover other people's webcams, which gives a strange sensation. You're looking into people's rooms, see places where you never expect to go. In the UK, Germany, Mexico (ahem) and USA.

Tuesday 13/12/05

Another dark and dreich morning, with drizzle sweeping across the town. Reports of crass lapses in safety in the oil depot on fire in Hemel Hampstead. Devastating images of the destruction in the adjacent industrial estate. One building was only taken into use 2 months ago. Three of the 20 tanks that were originally on fire remain ablaze, which are the toughest ones to tackle. The Coastguard tug and the SFPA boat come into port at 9 a.m.. The afternoon stays misty. Ferry leaves on time at 1.45. Calmac publishes the result of the inquiry into the voyage of MV Muirneag on 11 November, which took 16 hours, caused a lot of damage and gave the passengers the scare of their lives. Calmac says there is no case to answer. It was a commendation for the professionalism of master and crew that the boat managed to reach Stornoway in the first place. There was another meeting about the NHS reforms this evening, but it was a rerun of December 1st. Did not attend. Mrs B provides dinner tonight, pork chops with tatatouille and rice. At 5pm, the Border Heather comes in, so that's all the regular boats in and out today. Received the book I ordered, containing old pictures from the Isle of Eigg.

Monday 12/12/05

The usual rundown of misdeeds greets us on Isles FM at the start of thee day. Reasonable weather today, albeit with a very dark start. Sunrise is not until well after 9, so no surprises there. Continuing coverage of the fire in Herts, where they are congregating all the necessary stuff for putting out those fires. They need to spray 32,000 litres (8,000 gallons) of water a minute, with foam added in. Mention is made of the incident with Spanish John II off the isle of Rum, which is resulting in an official inquiry. Another regular guest turns up at 5pm, but it'll be his last visit for the year. Mrs B finally locates the lights for the Christmas tree. 120 of them are wrapped around the tree.

Sunday 11/12/05

Very dreich conditions this morning, with drizzle obscuring the Arnish hills. It's barely light at 10 a.m.. There is news of a very serious explosion at an oil depot in Hertfordshire. The sound of it could be heard 200 miles away in Holland and France. The plume of smoke stretches for miles across southern England. The explosion caused a lot of damage in the surrounding area. Stornoway on Sunday is as quiet as ever, with only the birds making noises. Two workmen are staying over the weekend, before heading into Uist on Monday. One of them originates from Barra. They put in floor insulation. Late at night I go out to watch the stars. At the moment 3 major planets are visible: Venus at dusk, Mars high in the early evening sky (constellation Aries) and Saturn later in the evening in Cancer.

Tuesday, 13 December 2005

Satellite view of the Long Island

Lewis and Harris from space (courtesy Google Earth)

Monday, 12 December 2005

Saturday 10/12/05

Fairly bright and blustery day. Wind from the west, force 6 with the odd shower. Pretty mild. Fill up one of the birdfeeders, which had been emptied after it overturned under the weight of a starling. At one time, 8 sparrows, 8 starlings, a robin and a thrush are scurrying on and under the feeders. Secure the feeder to the tree with some garden twine, to prevent it tipping over again - unsuccessfully. Watch crows over the seawall, picking up a shell and dropping it down from a height. They eat the contents once the shell cracks. Mailvan goes round to the Coastguard station and Goat Island at 10.45. Weather deteriorates to drizzle as the afternoon progresses, but nothing too heavy. Heard that the west and north of the island were cut off for several hours following two accidents. The first involved a lorry going off the road on the A857 Stornoway to Barvas road. This closed the road, which meant that people had to drive an additional 40 miles through Callanish to reach Barvas. When another accident occurred, now at Carloway (6 miles north of Callanish), the north and west of Lewis were cut off completely. Dinner consists of microwave food, which I eat in the company of mrs B and her granddaughter.

Overactive navy - Update (12/12/05)

Chance had it that an update on the story of the American warship firing on an innocent cargoboat was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland early today. An official inquiry is to be held, as the American frigate involved was NOT authorised to use live rounds. It would appear that the skipper of Spanish John II reported the incident to the Coastguard, which launched the inquiry. It's an international incident, which could have some repercussions. I'll keep updating.

Saturday, 10 December 2005

Overactive navy?

I've taken the liberty of copying this news story from "Westword", the community newspaper for Mallaig and the Small Isles as it so completely absurd and ridiculous.

Spanish John in Battleship Drama
A local cargo vessel, the 18 metre landing craft Spanish John II was caught up in a frightening incident with a large battleship in the Minch recently. "I got the fright of my life" said the Spanish John skipper Greig Milligan. "I had no warning of a naval exercise taking place but when the shells were fired, just for a second or two the thought went through my head I hope they aren't firing at me. It was a bit scary".
Friday 28th October had started off quietly enough and although not the best of days weatherwise Greig decided to head for Canna. On board the Spanish John was 40 tonnes of rat poison for the New Zealand team of rodent experts who are ridding the island of rat infestation.
Although hearing some extra activity on the ships VHF Radio Greig left Mallaig Harbour and set course for Canna. Two hours out from Mallaig the silence in the wheelhouse of the Spanish John was broken by an American voice coming over the VHF and that's when Greig noticed the huge battleship in the distance. "Vessel approaching battleship, crossing my starboard side, please pull away now - you are entering my safety zone" was the message which was repeated and repeated with the R.O.'s voice getting more and more high pitched. Greig wasn't too bothered at this point as he was on the port side of the navy ship, none the less he altered course slightly just in case.
The Radio messages kept coming and as Greig could not see any other vessel in the vicinity he began to wonder if it was the Spanish John that the warship was trying to warn off. "Power vessel with black hull and white superstructure approaching on starboard side, please pull away now". This was repeated a further six times with increasing urgency.
Greig was beginning to get very concerned and tried unsuccessfully to contact the warship. The Spanish John has a dark blue hull and the drums of poison on board could explain the white superstructure. Again Greig altered course although still remaining on the port side of the warship.
"Vessel on starboard side, vessel on starboard side you are entering my safety zone - I'll have to defend myself". The Radio Operators tone became more and more agitated, Greig got more and more concerned. Then it came "I'll have to defend myself - I'm opening fire" "I'll have to defend myself - I'm opening fire". Then they came. "Four shells were fired. Two white, two red " said Greig. I did get a fright and being caught up in the increasing tension of the incident heightened the emotions. My brain was in overdrive I just wondered what the hell was going on".
That was the end of the incident, no more histrionics on the VHF by the battleship Radio Operator, no more contact with any other vessel and as the rats on Canna will have found out to their cost the Spanish John safely delivered its load to Canna!

Friday 09/12/05

Dark morning, lights had to be on until 10 o'clock. It's cloudy with a steady drizzle on a fair old breeze. Quite mild, temperature is reported at 11C. Muirneag is nice and late (9 a.m.). Mrs B's sister has had to go into hospital, which is bad news. Her family have not had very good experiences there. Explore the phenomenon of Google Earth, which is fascinating. Go out for a bit of shopping at 3 pm, by which time darkness is falling. Mrs B serves a pasta-bake, very good. Two of her grandchildren are in for the evening, so we play a game of roulette. Sky Television (the satellite TV provider) has a channel which shows 24/7 roulette. People are given 3 minutes to ring in with their bets, which amount to £1,100. Winnings are announced immediately afterwards, and mount up to just over £1,100.

Thursday 08/12/05

Awoke 20 minutes late for breakfast this morning. It's a nice morning after overnight rain. The birds are still at the feeder. The weekly papers are full of last week's meetings about NHS Western Isles. They stated that the Health Board got a clobbering from public and staff. Another meeting is to be organised on Tuesday 13 December, to give everyone the chance to hear the presentation. BBC Island Blogging is going well, now that islanders from Orkney and Shetland are starting to contribute. The island of Unst, the farthest north in Shetland, is well represented by its schoolteachers, Fair Isle is there, as is Sanday in Orkney. The Western Isles blogs are, well, represented by yours truly, as well as by Back of Beyond. Argyll blogs focus on events in the island of Coll. Westword mentions that their local freight boat, Spanish John II, nearly got blown out of the water by an American warship. She stood in too close for the naval ship's comfort, so they opened fire with 4 live shells. They fortunately missed, so the rat extermination program on Canna can still go ahead.

Thursday, 8 December 2005

Wednesday 07/12/05

Another nice, sunny morning, with clouds increasing gradually. There is quite a strong easterly wind going. I hang up a few birdfeeders in the trees behind the house I'm staying in. Starlings, sparrows, blackbirds, finches, thrushes, robins - all flock in. They only take a minute or two to figure out how to get to the peanuts and seeds. Isles FM are on automatic all morning, because nobody has turned up to present the breakfast show Duisg (7.30 till 10) or its subsequent program until 11. Mrs B's grandchildren turn up for lunch, which fills the kitchen up. I complete typing up the first part of this weblog, which spans the dates August 11 to October 7, 2004. It is known as Northern Trip - The Start. By lunchtime, it has turned overcast. In the evening, I assist mrs B in getting the Xmas decorations down from the attic. In amongst the stuff of years lies a corroded old barometer, which is not working. A few bits and pieces are missing from its mechanism.

Tuesday 06/12/05

Glorious sunrise at 8.57 this morning. Sunset this afternoon at 3.38 pm. A shuttlebus service is to be introduced this coming Saturday in Stornoway. It runs from the Council Offices in Sandwick Road round to Scotland Street, Cromwell Street, North- and South Beach Street to An Lanntair. Huge distances, aren't they. Everyone, you see, comes into town in their cars. There is insufficient parking space in the town. But people seem to be incapable of walking these days. Sun appears from behind the powerstation at 9.15. Cloud looks suspicious, and I hear that a shower passed over Back and Point at 11 o'clock. Mrs B's relatives come for coffee. After lunch, I head into town to buy a CD by Donnie Munro, a former Runrig bandmember. Not bad at all. It's pretty busy in the town, but I have nothing else to do there, apart from getting myself a meal. Which was not needed because a supper was prepared for me. It consisted of haddock in parsley sauce, with boiled potatoes. The evening concludes in a musical fashion.

Tuesday, 6 December 2005

Sky at night

It's winter now and the famous constellations of the winter sky are coming out in full glory. The picture above shows the outline of the constellation of Orion, my favourite in the night sky. As you may be aware, many of the constellations are related to Greek mythology, and Orion is no exception.  There are  various legends and myths around this figure, this link gives but one of them. Basically, you see Orion the Hunter, with a sword (containing the famous Orion nebula, M42 (Messier object 42)), a club raised above his head and a shield raised to his right. If you extend Orion's belt down to the left, you'll come across the Dog Star, Sirius, the brightest fixed star in the sky. Its magnitude is -1.4. Magnitude is an inverse logarithmic scale, i.e. the brighter the star, the lower the value. The planet Venus, currently visible in the early evening sky, has a magnitude of -4, the full moon is -14 and the sun is -28. The weakest stars visible to the naked eye have magnitude +5; the planet Pluto is +14 and can only be seen with a strong telescope.
Extending up to the left from Sirius you come across Procyon, the Little Dog Star and Castor and Pollux, the Gemini or Twin Stars.
To the right of Orion rears Taurus, the Bull, with Aldebaran as its bloodshot eye. This image is currently augmented by the presence of another bright red object, the planet Mars. A fuzzy cluster of stars between Orion and Taurus resolves with a pair of binoculars into a group of 7, which is known as the Pleiades.
The legend around Orion dictates that he will never be in the sky at the same time as his slayer, Scorpio. When he rises, Scorpio sets; and vice-versa.

Take a coat, but above all: enjoy.

Monday 05/12/05

Nice sunny day with a lot of lenticularis clouds in the sky. Temperature a very acceptable 9C. Go into town just after 10 to put a film in for processing which will be ready at 2pm. Having thought about the problems with the NHS, I'm not so much concerned about the alleged bullying as about the proposed service cuts. Mr Manson's presentation, supplemented by Mr Sim, states that the same jobs will have to be done by fewer people. Those that lack the necessary skills will be trained for them. An example is operating theatres at night. Untrained staff are to open them out of hours, and then prepare for any op. Operations are apparently to be carried out with a surgeon, an anaesthesist and no qualified nursing staff present. If morale is low, communication between staff and management broken down and a general atmosphere of mistrust present, you're looking at a recipe for disaster. Went into town at 3pm to collect pictures, results acceptable. The BBC weblog attracts some attention, even get a comment from a lady in British Columbia,  Canada. This in response to my summary of problems in the local NHS.

Monday, 5 December 2005


This year has been very bad in terms of tropical hurricanes in the Atlantic. The American NHC Nationa Hurricane Centre normally names storms sequentially with the alphabet. Leaving out names starting with awkward letters like Q and X, they have room for 21 storms, quite adequate. Not in 2005. After hurricanes like Katrina, Rita and Stan the Atlantic was still in spawning mood. The NHC had to resort to its backup system: the Greek alphabet. To date, we have progressed to hurricane Epsilon, which has been trundling around in mid-Atlantic, 2000 km southwest of the Azores, with sustained windspeeds of 120 kph. Although officially, the hurricane season is over, the Atlantic flatly ignores that and comes up with Epsilon on December 1st. Below image (copyright NHC/NOAA) shows its position at 4 a.m. EST (0900 GMT) on 5 December 2005. It's projected to shift southwest, and lose its intensity.

Sunday 04/12/05

Brilliantly sunny morning, where some clouds slowly move across. A large cargoship passes along the horizon. Some traffic in the streets. Will admit to gross idleness through the afternoon, browsing through some on-line journals. Evening meal was a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes with broccoli, peas, cauliflower and gravy. Ice cream closed proceedings. Very good.

Sunday, 4 December 2005

Saturday 03/12/05

Brilliantly sunny morning, hardly a cloud in the sky. Not cold either. Better than elsewhere in the UK, where strong winds rule. Found that the cargoship Celtic Spirit, that I mentioned yesterday, has been detained before. On 25th November 2003, she was stopped at Le Lègue Saint Brieuc (Brittany, France) for 3 deficiencies in machinery and safety in general. She measures 2,978 tonnes and is registered in the Bahamas. The boat is operated by the Willie Group, a Cardiff-based shipping company which specialises in transportation of timber, initially as pit-props (coalmines). On the company's website, Celtic Spirit is quoted as being delayed due to bad weather. Aye, that would fit. She was due in at Warren Point, Northern Ireland, on December 1st. After dark, at 5pm, I went into town to photograph the Christmas illuminations. Otherwise not a lot doing tonight. Mrs B's logs are very wet, but she's experienced in lighting fires (in her fireplace) so that poses few problems.

Friday, 2 December 2005

Friday 02/12/05

Cloudy morning, with rain setting in at 1pm. The English Channel is suffering force 10 storms, with the barometer down to 965 mbar. Up here, 600 miles away it's 985 mbar. At the eastern end of the Channel, pressure is ALSO 985 mbar, but that's a distance of only 200 miles. Result: strong winds. The paper reports on last night's meeting regarding health service reform and says it was heated at times. It also refers to the showing of Rocket Post. The timberboat I mentioned a few days ago, the Celtic Spirit, was on its way from Estonia to Northern Ireland when her cargo shifted and she developed a 10° list. This was reported to the Coastguard, who ordered her to put into Stornoway to restow her cargo. This was still in progress last night, but this morning I found that the ship had left. Have commenced another weblog, this time on the Island Blogging site of BBC Scotland. I'm writing the Arnish Lighthouse Blog under the Western Isles, specifically Lewis. I am using the name "Arnish Lighthouse" because this lighthouse stands at the entrance to Stornoway Harbour and oversees everything that comes and goes into port. It also looks out over town and island. The Polish workers at the Arnish Yard are to be laid off this week, because the contract for the construction of wave generators for Portugal has been completed. No further contracts are on the book, but this one kept 110 people in a job since August. Forgot to mention that the Christmas lights were officially lit last night in a festive celebration. Stalls were set out in Francis Street. Heard that once more, the Scottish Executive doesn't know. It cannot tell us how many people are on methadone in Scotland, and how successful that is in weaning drug addicts off heroin. It's not the first time that I've heard "dunno" from them on a health-related issue. Cloud breaks in the evening.

Thursday 01/12/05

Quiet morning with the well-boat coming off the Goat Island slipway. Muirneag came in in good time. It's the SFPA boat which is coming to visit. A man goes out into the basin at low tide to pick winkles. Head into town for a big wad of papers, which bring more tales of scandal for the local health service. Two things are taking place at the same time: the Xmas lights will be switched on at 7.30, and a meeting is convened by WIHB to explain their future policies. I get a lift to the Caberfeidh Hotel. Am redirected to the Mermaid Lounge, round the side, which is packed out. WIHB Chief Executive, Mr Dick Manson, gives a presentation for the future direction that the NHS in these islands will take. It boils down to the same workload to be done by fewer people, less qualified and away from the hospital. It sounded so nice and well thought through, until the jarring interludes came, provided courtesy of local councillors, representatives from the nursing staff and the Western Isles MP. The nurses alleged that the Health Board ran a rule of fear, Stalinism, corrupt and devoid of any decency. The MP queried the lack of morale and the excessive costs of locums. The councillors demanded to know why vacancies were left unfilled for a long time. I have to report that the Chief Executive, although well aware of the malcontent in his ranks, never spoke up on the subject. He did not even acknowledge that there was a problem, and left it to his lieutenants to answer all the nasty questions. My pen ran out after 70 minutes, but I managed to engrave notes into my notebook, oh dear. Left at 8pm to go to An Lanntair to see the film Rocket Post. This is a very pleasant filming of the failed efforts by German rocket scientist Gerhard Zucher to establish a viable postal link between Scarp and Harris by rocket. The rocket he used exploded

scattering all the mail over the beach. The story was well written, filmed with the fantastic backdrop of the North Harris mountains, well known to yours truly. Great!

Public meeting - 01/12/05

Western Isles NHS Reform
Presentation by Western Isles NHS Board
Location: Caberfeidh Hotel, Stornoway
Date: 1 December 2005, 18:00 hours
Chair: Mr Dick Manson, Chief Executive WIHB
Attendance: 150

Notes taken by myself in a private capacity

Presentation is fronted by:
Dick Manson, Chief Executive
Dr John Smith, medical director
Prof Andrew Sim, professor of Rural and Remote Medicine UHI
Cathy Carnell, general manager hospital services
Michael Cook
director of nursing
(apologies: could not take down everybody's details)

Dick Manson started by giving a 30 minutes' presentation (promised as 15 mins), outlining first of all the challenges facing the NHS in the Western Isles
- ageing population
- an increase in chronic disease
- an increase in emergency admissions, a quarter of which are aged 65 or over
- EU working time directive
- shortage of clinical staff (generally in Scotland)
- advances in medical science, difficult to keep up with
- expectations from the public

The NHS is there to meet health needs.

The Western Isles has a unique demographic profile.
Total population: 26,500
The life expectancy for men is the 3rd worst in Scotland, 72 years of age.
The life expectancy for women is the 3rd best in Scotland, 80 years of age.
Avoidable illness is too prevalent
Population in the Western Isles consists of a high percentage of elderly people, higher than anywhere else. 1 out of 5 people is aged 65 or over
The number of young people is decreasing, although their rate of academic achievement is better than elsewhere in Scotland
Birth rates are falling; expecting to go down from 220 last year to 150 in 2010
Crimerate is lower than average
Incomes are 14% lower than average for Scotland
House prices are lower
Unemployment rates are higher
The rates of alcohol-related admissions is much higher
There are higher numbers of people suffering from heart conditions and depression

The NHS is very well used.
Every day, the hospitals have 150 inpatients
20 attend A&E
18 patients are admitted or discharged
320 people see their GP
1380 prescriptions a day are dispensed

16 consultants
11 doctors-in-training
35 general practitioners
3 GP registrars [in training]
This represents an unrivalled clinical resource
There are 229 hospital beds (spread out over the 3 sites Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra), 30% of which are unused

Service redesign
This has been imposed by government, and should be from bottom up
More than 100 people have been involved, NHS staff as well as patients
It should provide a sustainable model for the next 10 years

There were a number of redesign groups

1 Primary Care Out-of-hours
There will be a move from GP's on-call to emergency care teams. These consist of nurses, paramedics and a GP

2 Surgery
Four surgeons are to provide core-services for all types of surgery, including orthopaedics, general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology

3 General medicine
Will be moving to a multidisciplinary approach (doctors, nurses, allied health professions [physiotherapists, pharmacy &c]. There will be 4 consultant physicians, which should be enough to provide a 24/7 service

4 Maternity (Cathy Gillies)
This service is to be retained locally. It is to be midwife-led, with support by a consultant obstetrician and a surgeon. There will be a rota for a safe service. Training of midwives has already started, with telemedicine (for backup) and a consultant paediatrician

5 Paediatrics (Chris Langley)
Paediatric care to be provided by GPs, consultant physicians and a consultant paediatrics for support. Training to start next week

6 Public health (Lucy MacLeod)
Is to tighten its links with the local authority and other agency. Training has commenced for national accreditation

7 Psychiatry (Dr Caulcott)
Service to be retained here. The skills of existing professional is to be enhanced.
Care will be CPN [community psychiatric nurse] led; with GPs in the Uists

8 Medical trainees (Dr Dickie)
Western Isles Hospital will continue to be a training centre, and the aim is to maintain skills in this hospital’s environment.

9 Renal services (Phil Tilley)
A renal dialysis centre is to be established at WIH; a lead-nurse has been appointed

10 Radiology (Malcolm McNinch)
A radiologist is available 3 days out of every 7
The service will be radiographer (sic) led, i.e. by the people that take the images. They will be sent by telemedicine (electronically) to a consultant radiologist at a mainland centre. Training has commenced

Core services
General medicine
Surgery & orthopaedics
Maternity & paediatrics

There will be 8 permanent consultants, and 9 on long-term locum contracts. The aim is to minimise locums, because they are unfamiliar with local working practices.
Long term locums are paid a normal rate; short-term locums are paid an hourly rate, determined by an agency which can charge up to £70 an hour. If someone is working or on-call 24/7, then this works out as £11,800 per week, as reported in the media.  

Visiting consultants in other specialities (ophthalmology, rheumatology &c) will offer support.

Key Themes
Break down barriers between primary and secondary care
Establish a multi-disciplinary approach
Develop [new] roles for nurses, allied health professionals (AHP) and doctors
Education and training
Remote and rural healthcare: models were developed for the big cities, not for an area like the Western Isles or generally the north of Scotland

Implementation groups will consist of clinical staff, nurses, AHP, support staff and members of the public. A timetable was giving for the implementation

Redesign groups: for Uist & Barra hospital (led by Mr Manson) to optimise utilisation of resources at the Benbecula hospital

The aim is to establish a safe, sustainable service, backed by (mainland) centres of expertise, leading the way in remote / rural healthcare. The care will be as local as possible, and as specialised as necessary.

This was the end of Mr Manson's presentation. The remainder of the meeting, between 6.40 and 8.00 pm, was taken up with a question and answer session. Some of the answers to questions have been worked into the words of Mr Manson, for the sake of clarity.  

Cllr for Bayble (Point) asked questions about the redesign of the structure of the Health Board and the provision of psychiatric care, now that the two psychiatrists are retiring

Mr Cook replied that there would be wider training for staff. A meeting with CPNs and medical staff for short term solutions would be sought. Dr Caulcott is going on holidays for 6 months from December 5th, for which a locum would be required. An advertisement for a permanent position would be placed.

Mr Manson replied that the Health Board review would be carried out in the longer term, but current focus would be on frontline services, in cooperation with CnES.

The Cllr remarked that provisions should have been made for the vacancy, which should have been advertised a long time ago. The review appears to be a top-down exercise.

Mr Manson replied that the overheads for WIHB are the lowest in the 6 Health Boards in the north of Scotland (Orkney, Shetland, Highland, Grampian, Tayside and W. Isles).

One other councillor asked about travel expenses
Mr Manson replied that the vast majority of these are on actual health board business, to enhance services.

A service user for psychiatric care expressed concern about the continuity of care in community, and in-patient beds. The waiting time for specialist care was too long. Locums don't cut it, you need regular staff. Oh, Mr Manson, your bodylanguage is wrong. You're condescending (!)

Mr Manson apologised for the last impression.
Dr Michie noted that a number of beds might be retained for emergencies, but this depended on the outcome of the service review.
The user remarked that if care is dispersed to GPs, expertise might be lost
Dr Michie conceded that resources are problematic

One member of the audience read out a statement to Mr Manson, on behalf of a large majority of the nurses.

The nurses are fed up, demoralised and intimidated. A rule of Stalinism is alleged, a reign of fear. Complaints are not made because of fear. Proposed ward closures bring shame on the health board. It is a corrupt regime, devoid of any decency. If grievances are uttered, disciplinary action is taken against the relevant members of staff. Changes are always top down. The working groups consist of management level staff, who impose their own ideas after slapping down workers’ ideas.

Dr John Smith replied to this.
Changes are being implemented from the roots upwards, in order that it’s the workers’ project. There is a movement of care to the primary sector. WIHB is engaging with staff to implement changes.

Professor Sim expanded on some of the themes, touched upon by Mr Manson.

Care is to be offered primarily by trained staff, and skills are to be taken over by other health professionals, which is UK policy. The junior doctor, apart from looking after patients on a day-to-day basis, will focus on their training.

There is a change in surgical practice. The hospital stay after an operation is much shorter. After (e.g.) a gall-bladder operation, a patient can normally expect to go home after 2 days, was 2 weeks. Because of this, the surgical wards will change into one 7-day ward (including paediatrics) and one 5-day (a week) ward.

Medicine will focus on care at home rather than in the hospital because many of the beds on the medical wards lie unused. These unused beds are to be closed.

Obstetrics and orthopaedics: general surgeons will be trained to do work in these fields.

The aim is to provide a safe service, performed by professionals who are properly trained for everything they’re required to do.  Transfers to mainland hospitals are to be reduced to the absolute minimum.

A renal and a stroke unit are to be established, using the beds no longer in use on the medical wards. The lead nurse for renal care has been appointed, but will not be in post until February 2006.

There will be no redundancies, but temporary contracts will NOT be extended.
Focus will be on staff retraining and to enrich nursing skill mix. Nurses will be redeployed, to community care. Staff have had a similar presentation in the weeks leading up to today.

Uist & Barra Hospital (Balivanich, Benbecula) is only 4 years old, and has state-of-the-art equipment. Unfortunately, it does not have the facilities to provide the necessary aftercare.

Angus MacNeil, Western Isles MP expressed his concerns about staff morale and wanted an explanation about soaring locum costs.
It was explained that only 4 locums in the last year had been paid the massive £11,800 a week rate. When you’re on-call, you are not actually working – you’re available for work.

Rocket Post

Went to see "Rocket Post" on 1st December (see weblog entry), but a trailer can be seen on the net. Between December 5th and 24th, the movie is showing at a filmfestival in Perth, Australia. A trailer can be seen from the webpage quoted below, but does require a fast broadband connection (even then, it may stall at regular intervals - give it time to run).
The clip will probably be removed after December 24th, 2005.

Thursday, 1 December 2005

Public meeting - 30/11/05

Public meeting - 30th November 2005, 19.30 hours
Subject: NHS Western Isles, Service Reform
Location: Stornoway, Town Hall
Attending: 1,000
Purpose: To give the public and staff a voice regarding service reforms
Chair: Cllr Angus Graham (CnES, Gress)

These notes were taken by myself in a private capacity.
Similar points were made by several speakers, which have been grouped together for the purpose of legibility.
On December 1st, Western Isles Health Board are holding a meeting on this matter.
Any comments on matters mentioned welcome

There is an atmosphere of intimidation within Western Isles Health Board (WIHB), as a result of which people do not feel free to speak out. Staff was not permitted to speak out as they were threatened with disciplinary measures if they did. WIHB does not consult the public whom it serves, although public frustration at the lack of consultation is in evidence. The workings of the WIHB are not fully understood. The large turnout this evening demonstrates that WIHB has failed to convince the public of its reforms. WIHB is not accountable to the public, it's a quango (quasi non-governmental organisation), which does not answer to anyone. Local councillors sought a meeting with WIHB to clarify matters on October 25th, but a meeting could not be arranged until December 14th. Consultation was not offered, and questions were not properly answered, or intemperately so. WIHB gave a report of its reforms as an exclusive to local paper Stornoway Gazette only. Professor Sim, head of WIHB, has since written to local councillors to explain.

One of the reforms would be that at night, theatres would be covered by on-call nursing staff. These are not experienced in theatres. It is insufficient and impractical.

Another problem is that the WIHB Chief Executive, Mr Dick Manson, lives on the mainland but commutes to Lewis every weekend by plane, at the tax payers' expense. By virtue of this arrangement he does not contribute in a real sense to the island's economy. Tomorrow evening (December 1st), Mr Manson will explain his plans at the Caberfeidh Hotel in Stornoway at the same time that the ceremony takes place to switch on the Christmas lights. In other words, he shows no interest or commitment to the islands.

Questions that have been asked include:
- where is the recovery plan [there is a 1.5 million pound shortfall in WIHB accounts]
- administrative staff numbers have doubled in recent times, but why should frontline staff face cuts?
- where are the costings for the redesign?
- WIHB cannot vouch for quality of services
- why does WIHB not engage more openly with the public
- why does WIHB say that there are no problems, if 6 formal grievance procedures have been lodged against high-ranking officials within its organisation?

The Western Isles Hospital, and before it, the Lewis Hospital, was a community effort, operated by staff from the local community. Everyone was and still is proud of it.
These changes are affecting staff morale. A listening organisation works better, but no explanations have been forthcoming. Where does the deficit come from, for instance.
If staff is involved with changes, they will be able to offer solutions. Work with staff, with unions. If staff cannot speak to management, credibility will suffer. WIHB staff are talking to local councillors.
Why do student-nurses have to wait for 3 months to have their travel expenses reimbursed. Does the chief executive, Mr Manson, have to wait for 3 months?? Subsistence payments for Mr Manson are a tax dodge. A reduction in travel expenses would help.

Local councillors have found contact with WIHB very frustrating. Staff is urged to express their concerns freely.

It is very sad that this meeting has had to be called in the first place, that the WIHB could not be bothered to speak to its own staff. Why more administrative staff, why not more nurses? There is no formal representation from WIHB present (although Prof. Sim is here in a private capacity). WIHB officials have ridiculed Cllr Graham, saying “Ach, it’s Angus Graham, making a fool of himself, again”. Minutes from a private WIHB meeting have been passed to Cllr Graham. There is a representation on WIHB from CnES (one councillor). Council is underrepresented on WIHB. The way people are elected onto the Board is to be addressed.

The risk is that WIHB be abolished, as happened with Argyll & Clyde Health Board earlier this year. A public meeting was sought between CnES and WIHB, which has not yet been organised. If the outcome of consultation is unsatisfactory, CnES will take this matter to the Scottish Executive.

Councillors from West Harris, North Uist and North Lochs also spoke up to express concerns and delight at numbers present.

Western Isles Kidney Foundation
A renal unit has been discussed for 4 years, since February 2002. At present, dialysis patients are travelling back and forth to  the mainland, staying there for a week and returning to the islands over the weekend.
The redesign structure for the NHS, as set up by the Scottish Executive, has proved to be a farce. It has been blanked out by Dick Manson. Minute taking has been blocked and people intimidated. Scottish Executive does not want to know.

Mental Health
Vulnerable people are going to be left in the lurch if there is no resident psychiatrist. WIHB is run by accountants and penpushers. Psychiatric care is at risk, because the current psychiatrist will be leaving shortly. The vacancy was not advertised for 5 months.

Contracts: short term contracts are not to be extended.

Royal College of Nursing: Union rep told staff they’d be victimised if they spoke up.
Patients are discharged too soon, and the readmission rates are going up. RCN representative present states that people have been advised to be circumspect in their statements. Concerns, fear and apprehension have been expressed – nobody was consulted over proposed changes. There is a lack of accountability, and no minutes were taken of meetings. Collective responsibility means that you don’t rock the boat and tow the line. Decisions are imposed from the top down.

Ward closures mean that relatives will need to go to the mainland to visit patients in hospital there. No heed is being paid to the consequences of the reductions. There are social consequences for people going to the mainland, as well as financial. Airfares paid out have doubled. How do families cope with the absence of a parent. The Western Isles has a service economy. Since one surgeon left, 500 extra operations have been carried out on the mainland.

One GP does not believe in preventative medicine – you just leave the elderly and infirm to die. No names given here.

A midwife says she is not intimidated. She is very concerned over the night time cover. No theatre staff will be present at night in the future, although the on-call staff have no theatre experience. Paediatrics has no cover at night or at weekends; GP’s will cover.

If a locum consultant costs £800,000 per annum, this makes a pretty decent inroad into the deficit.


Wednesday 30/11/05

Yesterday was cold, but it's a lot milder today. There was overnight rain, which clears away during the morning. The sun breaks through by late morning. A trailer load of logs is delivered to mrs B's backyard. Go out for papers at 3 pm, extending the walk to Amity House. There I find the Jotun Arctic tied up. Only the dogs are on baord. The windows of the boat were smashed in during an Atlantic storm. No sign of the crew, they may be entertained locally. This evening, there will be a public meeting at the Town Hall. The NHS Board is proposing reductions in services at the hospital, because they're £1.5 million in the red. The meeting was called because huge expenses bills are being paid to Health Board Executives who commute to and from the island every weekend by plane. Locum costs are also mushrooming - £11,000 per man per week. Mounts up, doesn't it. The Health Board stands accused of bullying and intimidation. Not very pretty picture. Darkness falls at 3.45. The meeting, attended by about 1,000 people (Stornoway's population is about 8,000) was chaired by a local councillor. It was intended to give a voice to people who were too scared to speak out internally. And it was a damning indictment of the Health Board management, I'm sorry to report.

Tuesday 29/11/05

Quiet and peaceful this morning. Muirneag sailed last night with a fair few lorries, but returned empty. A Norwegian yacht was expected in, which had sailed through the North West Passage (around Northern Canada) over the last two years. Weather is cloudy but with some clearances. Still chilly, only +2C at 10 a.m.. See some nice webcam images of snow covered Skye. After lunch, I take mrs B for a walk from the Iolaire Monument back to Newton, 2¼ miles / 3.8 km. It's a high point with very nice views. The Clisham range peeps over the Arnish hills, all in white. Skye is not properly visible, due to showerclouds. A shower passes over the mainland hills, leaving them whiter than before. The ferry can be seen heading for Loch Broom, to the north of Ruadh Reidh. In the bay south of the Braighe, a cargoship is lying with quite a serious list. Didn't bring the binoculars with me, but can make out that the coastguard tug is in attendance. Mrs B has not previously visited the monument. As we make our way down, a yacht with a Norwegian flag sails past, heading into port. I learn that this is the Jotun Arctic, which I referred to earlier. The cargoship slowly manoeuvres around Holm Point, where it takes a pilot on board. We make our way through the bogs and briar to Stoneyfield Farm. A novel experience for mrs B, and at times a helping hand is required. She manages the gates, has qualms about the banks of seaweed and the gravel, but all is well once we reach the road at Lower Sandwick. She points out which people live in which house. She used to live in this village until 1972. We return to Newton at 4pm. The timberboat, still listing, has now manoeuvred alongside the ferrypier. In the evening, mrs B's sister calls in as she is leaving for Tyneside tomorrow.


Would you like to see your cat's fur round the shoulders of a model? Would you like to see the fur of your dog being turned into a fur coat? It takes 70 cat skins to make one coat. Four Alsatians' furs go into a coat.

Let's put a stop to this barbaric fashion.
Contact Paul McCartney or his wife Heather Mills McCartney. They are fronting the campaign.

Monday 28/11/05

Today dawns cold with some snow showers passing through. They leave a thin layer of snow on the ground, which stays. Outside temperature does not feel desperately cold, although it can't be much above freezing. Sun peeps through the shower clouds. Things clear up as the morning progresses. By 11.30 we have a rain shower, as shown by the rainbow. MV Muirneag sails into port at that time, 4 hours later than normal. Empty by the look of her. Cannot see it very well against the low sun. As the afternoon progresses, the showers virtually disappear. Skye has had a good helping of snow, 3 inches. Night falls at 4 pm, after which not a lot else happens. Watch a heart rending report about the way cats are being treated in China. Their fur is used for making furcoats! Paul McCartney is all up in arms about it. I say: stop wearing fur!
Click here for BBC report

Monday, 28 November 2005

Sunday 27/11/05

Awake to a bright but cloudy day. Breakfast at 10, during which I see a large flock of birds hovering over an area of the sea beyond the beacon. It's likely to be a whale. The odd shower pushes through, but it's only light and doesn't help to wash the salt off the windows. Recent high winds have left a nice layer of salt. And after all the bother of washing them 9 days ago! The ferry left this morning at 7.30, unusual on a Sunday. It had to make up for missing quite a few sailings earlier in the week. Spend the day in idle sloth, going through a few Sudoku puzzles and watching telly. Sunset at 3.45. I cook supper for mrs B and her sister, both recovered from their aquavitae experience last night. Bed just after I finished this entry

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Saturday 26/11/05

The heavy hailshowers continue through the night, with the wind decreasing gradually. At 6 a.m., it appears to increase again. The ferry sails at 10 a.m. on its only sailing of the day. The Small Isles ferry was delayed because the A830, Fort William to Mallaig road, was blocked at Arisaig. Everyone had to transfer to the train to reach Mallaig. Went out to buy a ticket for a film performance next Thursday, 1 December; it's a local production called Rocket Post. It's about the failed experiment in 1934 to transfer mail from Scarp to mainland Harris by rocket. The rocket exploded, scattering all the mail over the beach and burning some of it. Tickets for this evening's showing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire were NOT available until at the door. In Somerfields there is not a lot of fresh fruits, and no vegetables. Fairly busy in there nonetheless. Buy a new book with 400 Sudoku puzzles by Carol Vorderman, which should keep me happy. The 500 travellers that were stranded on the A30 in Cornwall are beginning to make their way home. A train derailed on a landslip at Moy, south of Inverness. The carriage remained upright, and 9 passengers were injured, none seriously. After an early supper, I proceed to the Town Hall at 6.30 for Harry Potter. Film was better than I had expected, it kept close to the storyline or what they could show of it. Although boisterous at the start, the teenagers present were very subdued at the end, by 9.20. There were one or two young children present, accompanied by mum and/or dad, as this is a 12A rated movie. As I said, very good but pretty graphic. Return to Newton to find mrs B and her sister partaking in some uisge beatha whilst waiting for a Xmas cake to cook in the oven at 100C. Small wonder it takes about 4 hours.

Friday 25/11/05

Very unpleasant weather today. We have a northerly gale, which is gusting in excess of 55 knots or force 11. Elsewhere the wind is even stronger, like at Malin Head, Kirkwall and Lerwick. The strongest gust, 69 knots, was observed at Kirkwall. Snow is a big problem throughout Scotland, although not here. Temperature is 5C, which is too high to allow snow to accumulate. We have a train of hail and snow showers which come barrelling through. Ferry is cancelled for today, and along much of the West Coast, services have been disrupted. The wind isn't that much of a problem, apart from causing a few powercuts in some parts of Scotland. I don't show my face out of doors, but keep abreast of events. Snow becomes a big issue elsewhere. It causes a traffic infarct in Holland, with tailbacks in excess of 900 km or 560 miles. Here in the UK, 500 motorists are stranded on Bodmin Moor when lorries on the A30 Penzance to Exeter road fail to negotiate a steep incline, blocking the path of following traffic. Here in Stornoway, people are panic-buying because there are no ferries.

Thursday 24/11/05 - Thanksgiving (II)

Received some nice info from the North Lochs Historical Society. Climbers were lost on Ben MacDui, Cairngorms, in today's blizzards, but were found safe and well if cold. Many schools are closed, Skye Bridge is shut for high-sided vehicles. Big problems with snow and ice, on one section of road vehicles could not gain traction. By 5pm, the freight from the ferry has been unloaded into the supermarket. After dark, snow showers intensify. Gusts up to 56 knots (64 mph) are reported. This is the only place in the UK where Thanksgiving is being held on the last Thursday in November. Heavy snow- and hailshowers leave a fair accumulation out the back. Very cold, barely above freezing. Met Office reports not coming through from Stornoway, so have to get info from Spaghetti bolognese from mrs B, with wine.