Sunday, 30 October 2005

Summer Time - Winter Time 2005

Daylight Saving Time (Summer Time, or BST in the UK) came to an end last night. Don't forget to put your clocks back, if you haven't already done so.

Saturday 29/10/05

Reasonable day to start with. Watched someone clean up after his dog - by throwing the poo over the seawall. Have compiled a Mod scrapbook, but need duplicate copies of the relevant papers to be able to use all the pictures; images are printed on both sides of some pages. Go to Lewis Crofters to start with, to buy 2 new pairs of socks, an insulated cup. It's raining when I leave that treasure trove. Into town for a new pair of shoes from Murdo MacLean's. That shop is full of helpful ladies. I find one pair of shoes that appears to fit, erm - the right shoe does. The left one has gone walkabout. The assistant hunts high and low, engages the help of everybody else, only to find the missing shoe in its original box! Return to Newton after finishing purchases and carry on updating the on-line journal. Manage to squeeze in quite a few piccies about the last few days. Night falls at 5.45 pm - tomorrow that will be at 4.45. Clocks go back tonight. Mrs B (Barbara for insiders) provides me with a very nice meal:
- Parma ham with melon and grapes
- Lasagna
- Chocolate and custard
- Glass of wine
As we both got lottery tickets, we watch Eamonn Holmes' program Jet Set to see the draw. No winnings at all. Yesterday, I made my 200th entry on Metcheck ( The count runs up quickly when the weather is bad or unusual. Last night, the wind dropped rapidly after 9 o'clock. The Met Office website gives nice graphs.
Just after 11, a shower comes past clattering against the window.

Saturday, 29 October 2005

Friday 28/10/05

Bright morning, but with a full southerly gale. The lifeboat goes out at 8.50, powering into some hefty waves beyond Arnish Light. Read that a fishing boat went on fire last Friday between Eigg and Rum.

The crew let off an emergency flare, and a member of the public dialled 999, saying a fishing boat was ablaze. When the ferry Ossian of Staffa (right), on relief duty for normal ferry Lochnevis, arrived, they found the crew in liferafts near the vessel.
The Kalibarri was towed away to Mallaig, after it was ascertained that the fire was out. Here in Stornoway, the Isle of Lewis left port at the unusual time of 9.15, but she keeps heading southeast, instead of going east after rounding Arnish Light. We assume that she is away for refit, and await her replacement with bated breath. It's very rough out there. By midday, the fun gets even better with sharp rainshowers. The ferry's normal sailings have been cancelled due to adverse weather. The Sound of Harris ferry is out as well. Strangley enough, the Isle of Lewis returns at 4.30. When I was at Somerfields, the notice said that fresh produce would be avilable after 5pm. God knows where the ferry had gone to get food - my guess is Skye. Hear that someone was seriously injured early on Monday. The ferry was shifting berths, when a hawser snapped. It lashed out and hit a man. He has now been transferred to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. After supper, I take mrs B to a concert in An Lanntair, where Lewis Women are performing. This is a group of 6 pretty accomplished singers. It's very good, one of them is Anna Murray. They alternate between solo and group singing, with some fantastic images projected on the screen behind the ladies. I sit beside a lady who has done as much walking in her day as I have, so we can swap yarns. Although there is an interval, hardly anyone goes out to the bar. They all prefer to sit and talk. Performance finishes at 10.15. Fortunately it's dry outside and the stars are shining brightly.

Thursday 27/10/05

Very nice morning, but very blustery. We're warned against strong gusts of wind at high levels, up to 70-80 mph. Temperatures could sore to 21C / 70F. Kenny "There you go" MacLeod on Isles FM has a bad cold and complains that there is no milk in the studio to put in his coffee. Well, Stornoway rises to the appeal and he very soon asks people to stop bringing milk! On the subject of windfarms, an advisor states that councils are being brainwashed into building windfarms by the manufacturers. The Scottish Executive has as yet failed to produce guidelines. It could leave the Highlands an industrial wasteland. Does this sound familiar? Like heck it does. Caithness, the far northeast, could end up mirroring sites in Spain and California which sport hundreds of the things. The profits made by companies like Amec and scandalous. Quoting from Radio Scotland, this is very interesting news. Going through pens like a dose of salts; the last pen just ran out again. New lot out of Woolworths later today. At 1.40, mrs B and I go on the bus to Stewart Drive, near the hospital, to go to the War Memorial.

I have visited this conspicuous landmark, above the hospital, twice before; on July 4th and December 31st. Stewart Drive is a steep street, which requires mrs B to take a break or two. At the top, we come out amongst fields, where sheep are grazing quietly. They are very white with beautiful black faces. Next month, the rams will be put amongst them to ensure more lambs next year. At the top, we enjoy the view s around. Stornoway lies at our feet. The pictures above, taken on July 4th, give some idea of the views. The time at just after 2pm, the ferry is blasting away. It normally doesn't do that before departure. Broad Bay is fairly clear, although Point is very hazy. The Arnish hills are laid out in shades of grey, and the hill with Prince Charlie's monument on top stands out. Eitsal and the Barvas Hills are clear. A navy ship (possibly HMS Shoreham) is anchored in Broad Bay.

A helicopter is preparing to land at the airport. The Laxdale estuary is full, so no pedestrian crossing there today. Water is flowing out of the tower of the War Memorial. Built 81 years ago, it has suffered problems with water ingress for decades. Twenty-three plaques commemorate the 1,151 men of the five parishes of Lewis killed in action in WW1 and 2. The majority appear to have fallen in the First War, with the RNR [Royal Naval Reserve] featuring heavily. About 1 out of every 3 RNR men came from Lewis. On Remembrance Sunday, November 13, people will be thronging the walkway up to the tower. The ground beside the paths is sodden, an indication of the recent heavy rainfall. We go downhill to the Lochs Road, then turn right into Willowglen Road opposite the Caberfeidh Hotel. Last week, a watermill was inaugurated further upstream. This mill generates electricity to power the streetlamps along the walkway to Cuddy Point. Once back in town, our ways temporarily divide for shopping. It's warm, 18C.

Wednesday 26/10/05

Cloudy day today. Ferries are back to normal. Went out at 10.30 to buy tickets at An Lanntair for a performance on Friday by Lewis Women. This is a group of folk singers from Lewis. We found out on the net last night that only a handful of seats were left, so I was in there like a shot. Picked up some leaflets at An Lanntair for the Hebridean Celtic Festival 2006

as well as for the Mod 2007 (yep; next year's Mod is in Dunoon) which will take place in Lochaber. Not much info on that yet ( (, but the Dunoon mod is slightly better organised (have a look at

Bought papers at the Baltic bookshop and food at Somerfields. Met Mrs B's sister and husband at the supermarket. Got a lottery ticket, which was not the lucky one. Continue to peruse the journals on AOL nominated for the Vivi awards, which are given to the best blog in a certain category. ( I try to get my head round an FTP client program, but get lost in no time at all. Mrs B's nice suite of seats are suffering problems in the shape of collapsed springs. Sunrise at the moment 8.25, sunset 17.53. We have lost 9 hours of daylight since June. Watch All Creatures Great and Small again. There is one program, called Takeshi's Castle, on Challenge.Typical Japanese game-show, people get very wet, dirty and sometimes hurt. Very funny at times. 

Tuesday 25/10/05

Very nice day today. Ann and Gordon went to have a look at the Western Isles Museum in Francis Street, to leave for the airport at 1pm. The ferry reappeared, late, at lunchtime. The Muirneag also came in in the morning, although it wasn't until 10 o'clock - she normally docks at 7.30 am. Apart from all the excitement with the ferries, not an awful lot has happened. Have gathered up all last week's papers, have bought a scrapbook and some glue. Cut out every snipped about the Mod and stuck that in the scrapbook. A very nice memento of a most enjoyable week. The only negative side to my attendance was the language barrier. Mrs B is very happy with the new computer that her son has given her. New is not strictly correct - it is only a few years old, and is second hand, but still in perfectly good order.

Monday 24/10/05

Today's events are centred on our two ferries:
MV Muirneag
MV Isle of Lewis

Yesterday was sunny, but today it's cloudy and cold. Easterly wind continues, and it causes problems. Good old Muirneag turns up at 9 o'clock, but she goes straight out again. Apparently after hitting no 1 pier. Normally, she'd go at anchor in the Glumag, off Arnish, but she puts right out to sea again. The wind is force 6 to 7, and as the Muirneag has no bow thrusters, she is easily blown away. At midday, we see her sailing NORTH along the eastern horizon, although she did turn east upon leaving at 9. A Navy vessel can be seen pitching and heaving at times listing at an angle of 40° in the choppy seas. The Isle of Lewis ferry is very late getting in and even later leaving for Ullapool at 3.15 - 90 minutes after the advertised time. Because the freight didn't come off the Muirneag, the supermarket shelves are very bare. No rolls for instance. It's a right nuisance for people, particularly because it's a Monday. During the evening, rain adds to the fun, but whatever happens, the Isle of Lewis never showed up again. According to local rumour, the ferry was all set up to go, cars on board and lashed down, when the decision was taken not to sail. So people were left stranded in Ullapool; they couldn't drive anywhere because the cars were lashed down. People were forced to spend the night on board the vessel, which has no overnight facilities. Very awkward for those with young children. No information was given out, as per normal on the Ullapool - Stornoway run. Not even on the website. If you ring the Calmac office here in SY, you get a recorded message to contact Gourock during office hours. Fat lot of use that. Ann and Gordon, the Canadian choristers, returned from South Uist at 6 pm, having left there at 11 am. Went for a walk at 11 pm and found Muirneag tied up, but no Isle of Lewis. Wind dropped away, and it was quite pleasant out there.

Sunday 23/10/05

Oh. The Mod is over. Life is back to normal, I suppose...

We get up late, 10 a.m.. In the afternoon, mrs B and I go out for an amble to Lower Sandwick. Past the Coastguard Station, up to the Battery, down Millar Road and along the foreshore to Sandwick Cemetery. It is a sunny but chilly afternoon, with a strong easterly wind. Visibility is good, you can see Kebock Head, the Shiants and Skye looming up to the south, 40 miles away. Mrs B goes into the cemetery to look at the graves of some people she used to know. Her husband's grave is there; he died in May 1993 of a heart attack. Her mother lies buried at Dalmore, she died in July 1993 at the age of 90. After mrs B has located the grave of an ancestor who died in 1889, aged 56, we leave the graveyard and head up Lower Sandwick to Sandwick proper. Then it's down the road, along the northern perimeter of the cemetery. The sun is sinking lower, with the time at 4.20pm. As we go down Oliver's Brae, we have nice views of Eitsal, the Barvas Hills, Muirneag and the east coast from Kebock Head to Tolsta. Back down Island Road, where mrs B continues her melancholy trip down memory lane. One of the derilict buildings used to be the office of the Harris Tweed mill operated by her husband. She points out all the now-delapidated premises which used to be good mills. Over and out.
Eat my usual microwave meal, after being served food last night.

Friday, 28 October 2005

Royal National Mod 2005 - Saturday 22/10/05

The Mod comes to an end today. The choirs will sing for a final time, all together, in Perceval Square, at 10.30. At the breakfast table, the post-mortem was continuing as to the reasons why the Canadian choir had not succeeded. The Gaelic tutor was staying with us, and she felt particularly down. You can only feel sorry. Once in Perceval Square I had to wait for quite a bit because the pipebands were once again late. They marched the choristers down Cromwell Street and into Perceval Square.
The above image (taken in July) shows the junction of Cromwell Street and Percival Square (to the left). The image below (April 2005) shows the view in the opposite direction, from Percival Square into Cromwell Street.

A Lewis Crofters lorry has been set up with a set of speakers and conductors take turns conducting the massed choirs. At 1.15, I go down to the ferry terminal. Droves of people going on the ferry. They're seen off by the pipeband. The usual melee ensues, but everybody does manage to squeeze on board. With twice 3 hoots on the ship's whistle, the Isle of Lewis sails for Ullapool at 2.15 with a piper playing from the top of the wheelhouse. I walk back with a neighbour from Newton Street. It's a cold afternoon, but dry after an initial light shower at 10.45. Ann and Gordon have left for Kilbride in South Uist, which is where Ann is from. Carmel and John went on the plane to Edinburgh at midday. They read up on the island in the morning, as they knew very little about the history of the place. And history is so important, because it's the very history that has given rise to Gaelic music as we know it. The sun sets at 6pm, which brings Mod 2005 to a close!

Royal National Mod 2005 - Friday 21/10/05

Today is the big day for the choristers staying with us. Victoria Gaelic Choir is participating in 3 events. The first is at 9 o'clock at the Sports Centre. The four, Ann, Gordon, Carmel and John, get up at 6.30 a.m. and have breakfast at 7.30. An hour later, they walk up to the venue, with mrs B and myself following 15 minutes later. The two pieces are sung straight after one another: Mor a'cheannaich and Mura bitha Domhnall. Victoria are on 3rd, after Ceolraidh and Aberdeen. And, I'm sorry to report that it's not good, not half as good as those going before. A bit stunned, mrs B and I walk across to the Nicolson Assembly Hall, for the second event which runs concurrently - a third competition started at nine in the Town Hall. We sit through the first few choirs, but Victoria is 12th on the list, so we return to the Sports Centre for a coffee. Then we have another look at the Gaelic Showcase. Victoria's rendition of Maraiche nan Tonn and their own choice (unknown to me) was once more not impressive. Their marks were lowest for both Gaelic and music. We're just too late at the Sports Centre for the adjucation of their early morning performance. On a lighter note, at the Nicolson, the winning choir was called Atomaig Piseag. This means: Atomic Kitten. Excited choristers spread over the area, but the Victoria choir members are glum. Return to Newton for lunch, then walk back in the middle of a second outbreak of rain this week. At the Nic Assembly hall, the final competition takes place with Victoria. They have to compete against choirs from Largs, Nairn and Aberdeen. Prescribed piece is Miann Cridhe. Victoria do well by my ears, but end up last. Only 10 points (out of 355) behind winners Aberdeen. Chi mi 'n Gearraidh is always a winner. This all finishes at 3 pm, so I wend my way down to the Sports Centre for the last competition. Ten choirs perform, but I only hear the last five. Memorable performance by (I think) Cumbernauld choir, who sing about a train journey from Inverness to Achnasheen, with all the right noises for a steamtrain. The MC for the event cracks a joke about the choir's conductor, who he calls the traindriver. The other man retorts that he prefers to be a conductor (sic). Inverness end up winners, which closes competitions for Mod 2005. Go back to Newton, where mrs B is cooking, when Isles FM announce that five pipebands will be playing in the town at 6 o'clock. We rush out to Cromwell Street, but are kept waiting for 50 minutes. It's packed out in the town centre, but good-humoured. Everybody is nattering to everybody else, which actually comes through very well on my recordings. The pipeband comes down Cromwell Street, but stops at the trafficlights - and not because they're at red. A camera crew appears with a bright light and the presenter of the late night Mod programme on BBC2. This lady is known as Giggles, even though she is 46. She marches out in front of the pipeband. They head down North Beach Street, round the corner into Castle Street and into South Beach Street. Mrs B and I cut across through the pedestrianized part of Cromwell Street and await the passage of the pipeband. Rain starts to fall, but that doesn't faze the crowd. When the pipeband turns into James Street to carry on to the Sports Centre, we go straight ahead into Shell Street and Newton Street. We finish supper there. An empty feeling pervades me - the Mod is over and done with. Although there is plenty of events on in the town, I can't be bothered with any of it. Hear later that the Vatersay Boys were too drunk to play at the County Hotel. The Canadians walk out of the room when the Mod program commences at 11.35. They did attend the final concert at the Sports Centre at 7.30, where it probably sank it that they really were not up to standard, sorry as I am to have to report this. Yesterday, a number of them sat in amongst the crowd in the Nicolson Assembly Hall.

Victoria Gaelic Choir (Guth nan Eilean) at the Tall Ships event on June 25th 2005. Picture taken from their website

The below link is a recording of the songs they sang at the first competition, but not as performed on October 21st; this was recorded on February 22nd, 2005.
Much better.

Picture below is taken just before the 2nd performance, in the Nicolson Assembly Hall.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Thursday 20/10/05

Yesterday was the last day of children's competitions. From now on, it's purely adults. Three major competitions are decided at the Sports Centre: the Gold Medal, the Traditional Final and the Silver Pendant. I am NOT attending those events, as it transpires that you have to pay up separately for each of those. Entry fees are £6 for a whole day's access to competitions, but not to the the evening concert. When I get into the Town Hall, I find out that I only have to pay £3 today. I'm not there on the stroke of 9 a.m., but things are, as per usual, overrunning by about an hour. I catch the last two of the self-accompanied solo singers. Iain Blair, from Renfrewshire, is just about to start his second song. Judging by remarks from the adjudicators, his first song was a stop-start affair. Only 3 competitors out of the 6 listed turned up. Iain A Gordon, Nairn, gave a very nice rendition of Chi mi bheanna mor [I see big mountains], which was performed at the funeral of president Kennedy in 1961, which won him the trophy. Trophies are pretty grandiose affairs: silver cups, shields, batons, quaichs etc. Next up: folk groups. First is Mac Talla, an American formation. A breakdown in communication causes their downfall, and the fiddle doesn't seem to help proceedings either. Pity. Picture below from the Mac Talla website.

Second song is better, but the voice aren't the strongest part of the group. Next group up is Gleusda + 1. Officially, Gleusda has 4 performers, but a 5th has joined them for the occasion. Very good performance with 2 pieces again. First song is accompanied by a tenor recorder flute, a clarsach and a guitar. I don't know the name of the songs unfortunately. Ceol Chluaidh (Clyde Music) gives a good performance as well, with Iain Blair amongst the group members. Last band but certainly not least was a late entry, Rapad. They gave a Capercaillie-style (and level) puirt-a-beul, for which they were awarded very high marks indeed. I did not stay on for the quartets, as my backside was hurting from sitting in uncomfortable chairs. As it's Thursday, I go to the Baltic for the Thursday papers: Stornoway Gazette, Press and Journal, West Highland Free Press, Hebridean. The weather this week has been very good, sunny and dry, although cool. After lunch, I'm about to set off for the Nicolson when it starts to rain. It doesn't amount to very much. It's very busy in the town this week,more people about than usually. Stornoway is festooned with fairy lights and there are little signs to show where all the venues are. Banners enliven the railings around the town. It's suddenly a nice lively place. Head off down Island Road in a light drizzle, which stops by the time I reach the Nicolson. Two coaches are parked up along Smith Avenue, both from the same company. One carries the Glasgow Islay choir, the other the Govan choir. The afternoon session in the Nicolson Assembly hall deals with the Rural choirs. Others sing at the Town Hall. Here, we have 6 choirs, from: Harris, Lochs, Strathaird (Skye), Melvich (Sutherland), Tong and Back. They all sing Eilean an Fhraoich, in praise of the isle of Lewis. In addition, they sing a song of their own choice. After each song, they patiently wait for the adjudicators to make up their mind. It does drag proceedings out, but: it's a competition. Apart from the prize for the best choir, there are separate prizes for best marks in Gaelic, music and best conductor. In the end, Back choir wins. To give its full title: Coisir Ghaidhlig Sgire a'Bhac. Get your tongue round that! Forgot to mention in Monday's entry (October 17th) that there was a very nice exhibition in the Crush Hall in the Nic. It showcased history in Lochs, Ness and Carloway; CDs, T-shirts were on sale. Mrs B gave me a T-shirt for a present. There were also good learning books for Gaelic, published for Gaelic medium education by Storlann. Keep a quiet evening in - it's been a busy day. And my backside hurts. Just as well mrs B has those comfy chairs.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Wednesday 19/10/05

Very early start today (7.50), as I am determined to attend a competition at the Royal British Legion Club at 9 a.m.. Five ladies will each sing a song from Songs of the Hebrides, collected round the turn of the 19th/20th century by Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser and Rev Kenneth MacLeod.

These songs first introduced me to Scots Gaelic. The actual scores contain both Gaelic and English. Although I've since learned that the translations can be a bit shaky, they've stuck. At 9 o'clock sharp, we commence. The ladies are accompanied on the piano, and all is well with no 1, Eilidh Davies, who went on to win. Jackie Cotter, from Edinburgh, was next up and had a breakdown of communication with the accompanist. Result: two stoppages and a ruffled singer. Ann Marie McLean and Pauline McCamley went through their pieces without mishap. Jillain Faith Thomson was absolutely consumed with nerves. A lump in the throat doesn't help either, with the result that Tha mi sgith didn't go to well. What a shame. On that note, it was across to the Town Hall for the lady solo singers.

They all had to sing Ghraidh an tig thu. The usual muddle was taking place, with people not appearing in the order they were billed. Several had withdrawn from competition. Fiona MacKenzie from Dingwall won. A little after 11, the competition was declared closed, and the adjudicators came to a conclusion. Next item on the morning's agenda: precenting.
If you want to hear what that sounds like, follow this link: which I took from It contains an introduction and is 15 minutes long. It also comprises other recordings of precenting from elsewhere within the Christian church.
There were 3 competitors. The first isn't too bad, but has difficulty going over the congregation. A lot of old folk have come in specially to take part in this. The precentors have to line 2 verses of a psalm of their choice. Number 2, Torquil MacLeod, an islander, does very well. Donald Angus Matheson unfortunately had a spot of bother. Torquil MacLeod wins hands down. Next on the agenda: a jaunt to the sports centre where they are singing in duets. Confusion reigns supreme, as there are several people who have not reported to the organisers. I sit in on proceedings until I get bored waiting. Return to Newton, but get picked up by mrs B's eldest son in Island Road. Yep, such a long way to go from there (not). He leaves for Glasgow today, through Tarbert and Skye at 2 pm. At 2.30 I head back into town to jump on the Mod Shuttlebus which is supposed to take me to the Primary School. Well, the lady in the bus station was very unhelpful and just told me to accost any Mod official; it's a Mod bus, nothing to do with the council. No sign of any bus, so I leg it all the way to Jamieson Avenue. Twenty minutes later, I slink into the Assembly Hall to listen to a batch of young girls, all singing whilst playing the clarsach, the Gaelic harp.

Little Josie Duncan from Laxdale carries off the main prize. A woman stands on the stage, like at all events, but she SHOUTS out the announcements for the competitions. We're overrunning by about an hour. Standards are quite high. One competition gets shifted to another room, so we get on with a competition in which only one person has entered. Esme Boone has travelled all the way from Northern Ontario in Canada. Unfortunately, her voice outdid the harp, and her performance did not merit awarding the trophy to her. Ouch. The final session was dedicated to groups of 3 clarsachan or more. The first group, Na h-Uiruisgean [Waterspouts] made a valiant effort, but why the heck they included a fiddle is beyond me. Not a strong performance, but they're yet young. Second was a very creditable performance by the City of Edinburgh Music School, who had 4 harpists out. Finally a group of 14 (yes, fourteen) harpists basically rearranged the hall to be able to fit in. Quite good, an an unusual combination. They won the competition. Return to Newton at 5.15. to help mrs B serve dinner to our 4 Canadians after they return from rehearsal at the Golf Club. This time round they do not stay behind after supper, and I can join mrs B for an evening meal not long afterwards.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Tuesday 18/10/05

Day 2 of the Mod, and mrs B's Canadian guests arrive today. Two couples from the Victoria Gaelic Choir on Vancouver Island will be with us until Saturday. Before they arrive, I head down to the Sports Centre to listen to young precentors. Precenting is a practice in the Free (Presbyterian) Church, where a precentors sings out a psalm a line at a time, and the congregation pitches in. It gives a very peculiar sound. The children have a group of their classmates as 'congregation', whilst the precentor does his or her job. Return to Newton for lunch, and meet Carmel and John, as well as Ann and Gordon. They have choir practice at 5pm and 10am each day. This evening and tomorrow night they will be having dinner at mrs B's. Just before 2, I head into town, to listen to various school choirs in An Lanntair.

The first competition sees choirs from Glasgow, Tarbert [Harris], Back, Lionel and Shawbost competing by singing Bat' an Taillear and Cailleach a'Ghobhainn. The organisational nightmares become apparent whe we're kept waiting for a choir to turn up that has had to sing at a different venue elsewhere in the town. One person sits behind a keyboard on a table, for the sole purpose of giving the starting note. Two adjudicators are seated in front of the stage. One of them judges the Gaelic, the other the music. The adjudicators have got the relevant pieces of musical score in front of them. The choisters are all dressed uniformly. The first competition is won by the Sir E Scott School of Tarbert. The musical adjudicator give us a little speech, telling the audience and participants what he was expecting. The Gaelic adjudicator does likewise. She speaks in Gaelic, but gives the marks out in English at popular request. Maletta MacPhail is known to me after project Timbertown. I should point out that the Mod is all about Gaelic culture. As I neither speak nor understand the language, I have to select those competitions where a knowledge of Gaelic is not top of the list of priorities. I.e. I am focusing on music. I still have considerable problems, but just manage to keep abreast of proceedings. In this competition, North Lanark Choir had to withdraw. Well after the official starting time of 3 pm, the second choral competition of the afternoon commences. Participants here are from schools in Back, Tarbert, Lionel and Barvas. They sing Null do dh'Uibhist and 'S cian bho dh'fhag mi Leodhas. Choirs from Glasgow and North Lanark withdrew. At the adjudication, marks out of a 100 are awarded for Gaelic and for music. The aggregate total determines who wins, and for this competition (C73), it's Lionel. Barbara MacKenzie, one of mrs B's nieces, is delighted. The conductor of the Barvas choir pulled a face as he left the stage, but he was 3rd out of 4. In front of me, a boy of 10 is fidgeting and fiddling with the seats. People move back and forth along the rows between performances. At 4.30, proceedings draw to a close and I return to Newton. Mrs B is getting in a flap to get supper ready for the Canadians, but still manages to pull it all off at 7pm. I act as waiter, serving everything onto and off the table. Although I had my supper at a normal hour, the guests remained at their table until 9.30, and mrs B could not eat until 10.20. A fire is lit in the sitting room, and I entertain our foursome with some Gaelic songs on the keyboard. At times, I feel like a pied piper. Mrs B's granddaughter is drawn to my playing, as is her cousin. The Canadians like it. Ann and Gordon retire for the night fairly early, as they have had a long journey. I'm chatting to John and Carmel for quite some time. Bed at midnight.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Monday 17/10/05

Today sees the start of the main children's competitions. Mrs B's granddaughter is off bright and early to take part in two competitions: singing, at An Lanntair, at 9 a.m.. Mrs B and myself join her at 10.30 in the Old Gym at the Nicolson Institue for a recitation. I know the poem almost as well as the lass. It's about a dog who carries a big bone. When he comes to a river, he looks in and sees another big dog with a bone. he drops his bone and jumps at the other dog. Splash! Afterwards, we wend our way towards the Sports Centre across the road. The Old Gym was a bit delapidated, but the Sports Centre is nice and new.
The big games hall has been filled with hundreds of seats, staging, banners for the Mod and its sponsorts. As well as 4 BBC TV cameras. Before we go in, we meet up with one of mrs B's nephews. Two of his daughters are singing in a duet. We sit beside the windows screening the swimming pool. Then we head into the hall to listen to the duets. I record two of them on my MP3-player. Having done that, we all head back to Newton for lunch. The lassie is disappointed she did not win anything. She had won in the local Glasgow Mod earlier in the year. As compensation, she is allowed to go and stay with her cousins in the family caravan at Reef, Uig. After dinner, I take mrs B up to hear the prize winners' concert in the Sports Centre. As we go out the strains of the pipe band waft on the evening wind, but we can't place it. Turns out they're right outside the sports centre. We go into the packed hall to listen to some remarkable performances by youngsters as young as 5. One little boy goes wildly off key as he has to reach an upper G four times. Some very creditable instrumentalists, such as accordion, melodeon, piano and piper. A 16-year old lad, a cousin of mrs B's, pipes the concert open. He sweeps the board every time he takes part in a competition. One girl of 5 can barely be heard as she goes through her song, but everybody keeps completely quiet. Concert finishes at 9.15. As we head back down Island Road, I have to catch mrs B as she stumbles over an unevenness in the road. No damage done.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Sunday 16/10/05

Another bright, sunny morning. At the breakfast table, we can see a submarine leaving the port. Tell Elaine which churches she can attend. Also advise her that it's possible to walk round to Arnish Lighthouse, a 5 mile walk one-way. Alternatively, it's the Castle Grounds or the Iolaire Monument at Holm. The family with children set off to Uig to join others staying there in a caravan. It's absolutely fabulous weather for the beach and kids. Mrs B and me toddle off for a walk through the Castle Grounds. As she has a degree of visual impairment (only has 50% of the field of vision in each eye, namely the right hand side), she prefers to have someone to her right hand side to aid with balance. Off we go at 2pm, at 2 mph instead of the usual 4 mph. Through a virtually deserted town centre. Have a look at the window displays in the shops, which are full of Mod-related stuff. Carry on over the Bayhead Bridge and left into the Castle Grounds. Cars whizz along the lane, a nuisance. Nice views of the town - you basically walk around it on the far side of the harbour. Have a break at Cuddy Point, until an undesired couple come up. A lot of wildlife in the water; grebes, cormorants, seals. Blackberries are ripe and present in good numbers. We stop at the viewpoint just before the Creed River, to admire the views. Then return the way we came. Take the odd break or two on the way, as you do with an older person. As we pass Somerfields, a woman sags onto the pavement like a sack of potatoes. She is blind drunk, and it's only 4.40pm. Her partner is not much better, but at least he can (sort of) keep to his feet. Elaine also had a nice time round the shore at the coastguard station. Mrs B's son returns at 7.30. His youngest is out for the count and does not reawaken until the next morning. The girl is practising her song and the poem she has to recite in the morning. In the end we all know about The old man whose cows ran off to the glen but do I care? They're not mine. And about the dog who jumped into the water to catch the other dog he saw there with his bone! A very late night ensues.

Royal National Mod 2005 - Saturday 15/10/05

The image at the top of the entry is the logo of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Western Isles Council, the local authority here. Competitions today are instrumental, and I'm not attending these.

Fairly bright day today. Elaine goes off to Callanish at lunchtime. Mrs B's eldest son comes to stay with two of his youngest children, aged 2 and 7. The oldest will be taking part in the children's competitions on Monday. The younger child is a bright spark, very clever for his age. Neither of them are any bother. Go out for a paper in the afternoon, and read it in the grass of Green Island, just off Goat Island. Three boats come down the channel from town, with music playing on board. It's bright, sunny and warm. Not had weather like this for weeks. Have supper with the family present. In the evening I twice venture out to the British Legion club to see Scheihallion. First time round, at 9.15, there was no band. An hour later, the band is present and playing, so I shell out £3. Place fills up with regulars, aged 50-60, who reckon they're that much part of the furniture that they don't have to pay. Don't stay for very long at all. Not impressed with the folk out on the streets. But that's all part of being in a Highland town I suppose. Moon shining brightly.  

Tuesday, 25 October 2005


I have added pictures to an entry of more than 6 months ago - 19th April 2005. On that day I reached the highest point on my Western Isles travels: 697 meters above sealevel. It was the summit of Teileasbhal / Teilasval in Harris. Apologies for the quality of the pictures, they were taken with a disposable camera. Go there using this link:

Friday 14/10/05

Bright and extremely clear weather this morning. The mainland mountains at Applecross stood out as clear as anything, and the summit of the Storr near Portree popped out over the hill west of Arnish Light. Visibilityup to 60 miles. It decreases as the morning wears on; the lenticularis clouds break and by 4pm, Applecross has disappeared. Mrs B is clearing out her house, including a batch of computers that belonged to a failed business of one of her sons. Continue improving my webpages. Later in the evening, an Australian lady arrives for the weekend. At mrs B's request, I take her into town to attend the opening ceremony of the Mod in An Lanntair, the new art gallery that was opened only a fortnight ago. It now has a light installation, prepared by local school children. On arrival at the gallery we can just about squeeze in. A pair of wireless headphones is handed to us, to receive a simultaneous translation of the Gaelic into English. As the Mod is a celebration of the Gaelic culture, it's all in Gaelic. Which I do not understand. Two speeches, one from a Calmac official who says that he's from the company that makes you seasick. The other from Inverness MSP John Farquhar Munro, who tells his audience to take the opportunity to help Gaelic forward - or lose it altogether. Some music in between. Take Elaine for a walk around town, but the presence of the local yobs doesn't exactly boost Stornoway's first impression. There were to be fireworks from the Castle Grounds, but no such thing. Apparently, it was from Goat Island, but I saw nor heard anything at all. Return to mrs B's at 10.30 pm for a drink and a chat. Elaine is in the UK on a work exchange visit for disability work in Glasgow. She does have roots in the UK, in Blackburn, Lancashire, to be precise. Dad was German; mum had 11 siblings and emigrated to Australia in the 1960s under a scheme that promised a £10 passage (those that took it up were known as £10 pommies in Aus). On arrival over there, the people were told to cough up the balance of the actual fare. They were split up and housed in poor temporary accommodation. Bed at midnight.

Monday, 24 October 2005

Royal National Mod 2005

I'm a bit behind with my entries as I have been extremely busy (by my current standards) with the Royal National Mod 2005, which took place in Stornoway between October 14th and 22nd. I'm going to try to insert weblinks in the journal to give readers the opportunity to hear the recordings I made at the competition. Sound quality is relatively poor, as I used an MP3-player with recording capability. But it gives a nice soundpicture. I am spending this afternoon (October 24th) updating the diary which I have not been keeping up-to-date for a week, after which I'll update this journal as well.

Vivi Awards

Thanks to everybody for the congratulations, and congrats to all the other nominees.

Friday, 14 October 2005

Thursday 13/10/05

Bright sunshine at breakfast time, with some scattered cumuli on the horizon. The Torridon mountains are just visible in the distance. Showers are not impossible, and they duly materialise at midday. Could see the upper part of the cumulonimbus looming up about 15 minutes before it let rip. Another one, not as severe, pops along at two o'clock. Just as I go out to buy papers. Somerfields gave me a voucher for a free Bounty bar, so I obtain it from there, thankyou. A bulk carrier is moored alongside the ferry pier, discharging sand. A fleet of lorries goes back and forth to take it away. The carrier arrived at 9 in the morning. Sunset at 6.30, bright but not as spectacular as two days ago. Am still busy with webpages. Hear a horrendous story about someone with suspected appendicitis. Doctor pushes in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, person screams, but does not send her to hospital. I advise her strongly to do so. A waxing moon rises over the bay, just like one and two months ago. Very quiet evening during which nothing stirs. Everybody is gripped by the Sudoku craze. "I've got a 2, a 5 and an 8, where can they go?". Mrs B is trying out her new sewing machine. I am trying out the auto-accompaniments on the keyboard.

Wednesday 12/10/05

Cloudy morning with some rain in mid morning. Gorgeous sunset last night though. Learned that Skye and Northern Ireland had a similar sunset last night.Visibility up to 45 miles. Iffy weather continues through the day, with visibility worsening gradually. Go into town at midday to buy stamps and new pens. I also post five letters. As all those letters are handwritten, I've gone through the gelpens like a dose of salts. Two pens have lasted me a mere 19 days. Fortunately, Woolworths sell them at 69p per 2, which is 4 times cheaper than the Baltic, which go at £1.35 a piece. Mrs B serves me lunch and supper today, both very nice. Continue to upgrade the website ( and its adjacent pages. The extent of the devastation wreaked by last weekend's earthquake in Pakistan is slowly becoming clear. Sunset at 6.35, so the evenings are becoming long and dark.

Tuesday 11/10/05

Sunny morning, just a change. Now it's the turn of the rest of the country to suffer some autumnal weather. Received letters from the homefront as well as more follow-up on HMS Timbertown. This time it's an elderly couple from Islivig, only a mile out of Brenish. Have to get out there later this week. By email comes a most valuable piece of info, which places it all in the proper context. The men who were in the camp deemed it to have been a shame. WShile they were sleeping, their relatives, friends and neighbours fought and died for their country. Nonetheless, the people of Uig (and the island at large) do want to know what happened to their folk who had been interned. We're now 90 years down the line, and it's an integral, undeniable part of the island's history. There is the most glorious sunset, and I'm kickin myself for not having an operational camera. Elsewhere in the UK, rainfall totals in excess of 100 mm causes flooding. It's been a nice sunny day in the Western Isles. Frontal cloud did come across later, but no rain.

Monday 10/10/05

Cold and wet day today, but little wind. Not a lot doing, apart from keeping an eye on the rather depressing news from Pakistan. The response from Pakistanis in the UK is staggering. I receive a postcard from an elderly gentleman in Brenish, in response to a letter I wrote to him regarding proejct Timbertown. Unfortunately, he has not got much to contribute. I'll take up his invite for a visit at my convenience - Brenish is well-nigh impossible to reach by public transport. Later, with the rain continuing, mrs B serves me her spag bol, which is very nice.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Sunday 09/10/05

Today I commence entries in my 6th notebook, at page 722.

The showers continue through the night. At 4 a.m., I look out and see the constellation of Orion in the southeast - a sure sign that we're heading into winter. More continuous rain moves in during the morning, and the wind picks up. We are warned to expect yet another force 9 gale, with gusts up to force 11. In Central America, Hurricane Stan has wreaked havoc because of large amounts of rainfall. This caused mudslides and floods which swept entire villages and towns away. The death toll in the Asian earthquake rises to a staggering 19,000. The images defy description. The Alladale estate in the Highlands wishes to (re)introduce wolves, a controversial proposal. A fence round the relevant area would restrict the animals' freedom to roam, but also the right to roam of people. This is actually a legal right in Scotland, since earlier this year. Wolves left to roam unhindered would cause mayhem amongst livestock and alarm in centres of population. Bad idea in other words. Until 3.30 pm, windspeeds are of force 7 sustained. When the spray starts to fly across the basin again, it's clear we're at gale force 8 once more. Readings at 15.50 quote windspeeds at Benbecula of 46 mph and 39 mph here - force 8. Gusts at Benbecula at 61 mph, force 10, and 51 mph here - force 9. As I browse the map of the Scottish westcoast, I notice Tiree reporting nil mph, which is odd. Particularly if the gust speeds are 40-60 mph. Methinks the equipment has blown down, an opinion shared with a fellow weather amateur down in Falkirk. Fortunately, readings are resumed at 8 pm.

Any further notes will be included in a separate entry, if required.

Saturday 08/10/05

Very sunny start to the day but cloud bubbles up to give a few sharp showers as from the midday mark. Forecast is very poor for tomorrow. Last Friday, I reported the lifeboat and helicopter rushing out to salvage a boat. It turns out that the boat was an old banger that was being taken round to Uig, on the West Side. Three miles outside the harbour, the engine blew up and the crew were left stranded. They left at dusk, 7 pm, which is a silly time to make a 50 mile trip round the island. As I'm writing this, 2.15 pm, the helicopter and lifeboat have once again gone out. Go into town for a paper, envelopes and a new notebook. Notice two Royal Navy vessels at the quay outside Amity House. One is HMS Shoreham, the other I cannot discern the name of. It's busy in the supermarket. Later I share a portion of macaroni cheese with mrs B. I take part in a BBC Test the Nation quiz, about the English language, in which I score 51/70, about average. A massive earthquake has shaken northern Pakistan, leaving thousands dead.

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Friday 07/10/05 - evening

At 6.30pm, mrs B and myself went to An Lanntair, the arts centre, to see the play I was a beautiful day by Iain F MacLeod. On the way there, it's blowing and raining hard, and it's quite a struggle to get into town. Hardly anyone on the streets. Before the play commences, at 8 o'clock, we intend to have supper in the restaurant, which is situated adjacent to the auditorium. We both order monkfish, which is fairly prompt in coming. However, the sweet just does not come, and by 7.50 we really have to start going into the auditorium. So, I cancel the sweets and we head downstairs. Restaurant staff none too happy, because it's of course a slight on their service. Which they themselves admit is slow. Salutory lesson: go there in plenty of time. You have a nice view from the restaurant windows - when it's light. The ferry terminal looks as if they're expecting a boat. The play is billed as 'a deeply moving but hilarious tale of resilience, survival and cartography' (quote from the Traverse Theatre website I am afraid I found it a disjointed and confused story that I'm not even going to try to summarise. Didn't like it, full stop. There was an interval around the 9.15 mark. As the theatre was nearly filled to capacity (which is 239), there was not enough time to buy drinks. The plague of all theatres. The performance ended at 10.15. When we went outside, the wind had almost dropped away, and only a light rain was left. This was in sharp contrast to earlier in the day.

Friday, 7 October 2005

Friday 07/10/05

Sunny start to a very, very windy day. The southerly wind is continuing at force 7 to 8. Yesterday, a fueltanker overturned on the road to Grimshader. Don't think anything was spilt, and its contents were decanted into another tanker once it was righted. Keep monitoring the weatherreports through the day on the internet. Winds varying between 30 and 40 mph, with gusts in excess of 50 mph (force 6 to 8, gusts to force 10). Malin Head tops the league with a force 11 gust, 58 mph. Couple of other news items today. The man who had gone missing in Skye since September 24th has been found at last - unfortunately, dead - at the head of Loch Coruisk. At midday, we suffer a powercut, because the roadworkers out the back cut our powercable. Foam flies around the Newton basin (and against the windows) until 4 o'clock, when the rain starts. Gulls hunker down in sheltered positions, as the wind is too strong for them. At 4.15 the wind decreases with the onset of the rain. The ferries in the Western Isles are disrupted. No ferries between Berneray and Leverburgh, or between Uig and Lochmaddy or Tarbert; the ferry that left SY at 7.15 this morning has remained in Ullapool all day. You need to ring Calmac for that, no info on that in the media at all. A Royal Navy vessel has come into the bay at Arnish for shelter at 3 o'clock.

Further updates will follow in a separate entries.

Thursday 06/10/05

Another overcast day, but dry and breezy. Sun breaks through for a minute. Mrs B professes tiredness and returns to bed after serving me breakfast. I go to the library to check emails and the like. Return to Newton £57 richer, as I've won on the lottery. Take back a wad of 6 papers, full of the Mod as far as the local press is concerned. One story in the Press and Journal leaves me speechless. A youth choir from Glasgow had wanted to participate in the Mod (14-22 October here in SY), but had to pull out as no accommodation was available for them. They have instead left for an event in Canada. Local rumour has it that the Mod will not be held in Stornoway again. Wind increases by nightfall, with spray flying over the causeway. Exhilerating experience to walk across there!

Wednesday 05/10/05

Isles FM starts off the day with a seven minutes' rundown of the local rogues' gallery. It was court day yesterday, with mainly car- and drink-related offences passing by the sheriff. And there's the tarvern at Borve, West Side, wants a 7-day license - not likely. The ferry never sailed at 7.15, due to technical problems. A fishing boat ventures out, but it comes straight back in again. The Isle of Lewis sails at 2.45, an hour past its lunchtime departure time. The grass out on the moors has turned brown again, a sure sign of the onset of winter. Weather continues very windy force 6, but temperature 14C. The lights on the causeway are back on again.

Tuesday 04/10/05

Awake to a cloudy and windy day. We have one other guest in, who goes out early. Roadworks on the road behind the house. I have received the last batch of pictures from the photographers' and go to the library to scan them in. Have to tweak the eclipse pics to be able to clearly see the sun. We have a German lady in, who has come up from Harris. She isn't too happy, apparently. Weathern isn't brilliant, but not that bad. Mrs B. prepares my dinner, baked salmon. Very nice. We polish off a bottle of wine between us - Chateau Migraine. Sun sets at 6.50, which means we've lost nearly 4 hours since June.

Monday, 3 October 2005

Monday 03/10/05 - Solar Eclipse

Annular Solar Eclipse

This morning, we're having an annular solar eclipse. The phenomenon commences at 8.50, and ends at 11.20. Right on cue for maximum obscuration at 10.00, the clouds move away to leave us a clear view of the eclipse. Up here, 45% of the sun is obscured by the moon, in Plymouth it's 65% and in Madride, Spain, 90%. Down in Spain, the moon covers the sun's disk, but leaves a ring of fire around it. Taken a few pics, will have to see how they come out when they're processed. Try to get live pictures from the Internet, but everybody is trying to do that, and I'm not getting through. Sites includes the Institute of Astrophysics at the University of Madrid, a Belgian site showing images from Grimsbergen. Look myself through welding glasses, and take pictures through that. By 11.00 the percentage of obscuration quickly runs down to zero, which is reached at 11.25. The clouds return at that time as well. Next eclipse in March 2006, but not visible from these latitudes.

Sunday 02/10/05

Dreich morning with clouds briefly breaking at noon. We go out in a car to Bostadh, in Great Bernera. Route runs along the Pentland Road. The sheep beside the cattlegrid outside Marybank, which has been there since April 11th, is now sheepsoup. Down to Achamor, with a nice view over the Lochs area. Belt down the A858 to Garynahine, then turn left into the B8011. The sun shines on the houses at Linshader, but the gloom quickly returns. The levels in the Grimersta River are some 30 to 40 cms above what they were in July, and the water crashes over the weirs along the full width of the river. Up the B8059 to Great Bernera. First to the little beach at Tobson. I see a little black face in a cavity under the roadway, after spotting a lithe black form darting in there. Could be a mink, was too small for an otter. On to Bostadh Beach, where it's cool and windy. The tide is well out, but once on the skerries it gets very, very windy. The tide is washing up huge fronds of seaweed, which must have been physically torn from the seabed by the recent gales. The sand is fast encroaching on the Iron Age House, which is locked up. The smell of peatreek indicates that it is still open to the public, probably until the end of October. We head back to SY with some level of anxiety, because the petrol gauge reads empty. Fortunately, there is still enough fuel in the tank to cover the 30 miles to Stornoway, and we make Engebretsen on time. They are the only fuelpump open on a Sunday here. After that, we drive to the Coastguard Station, Lower Sandwick and the Castle Grounds. Mrs B is stunned by the level of devastation wreaked by the January hurricane. Return at 3pm to have a late lunch. Mrs B's son and partner return to Glasgow at 4.30, which leaves an empty house. The afternoon closes dreich, wet and misty. After sunset, at 7 pm, darkness falls quickly. Following the late lunch, I have no appetite for a full meal, so I gladly take up the offer of a cheese toastie from mrs B.

Saturday 01/10/05

Another month over, and autumn is firmly established in the Western Isles. A very cold northwesterly wind blows in showers at regular intervals. They are heavy. Temp 11C this morning. In between the showers, the sun comes out. Breakfast is at 9. And no, getting caught out in those showers is not funny. David and Bessie leave on the ferry at 1.45. There is a rash of showers about, you can see 4 at any given time. Today the Arts Centre is open to the public. In celebration, they let off a large number of blue balloons which come blowing past on the strong wind. Go out to have a look at 2 o'clock. Don't stay for long, because it's too busy. It's fairly impressive for such a small location, but a wee bit on the pokey side. In the evening, we have dinner at the Crown Hotel. Go there at 7.15. Starters consist of a drink, a bowl of soup; main meal venison, salmon or monkfish; cheesecake or sticky toffeepudding after. Another drink afterwards supplements the red and white wine. I give a tinkle on the restaurant piano (badly out of tune), but Canan nan Gaidheal goes down a treat with the rest of the restaurant guests. We return to 26 Newton at 11.05. The town centre is full of yobs, not very nice. Bedtime is 1 a.m..

Friday 30/09/05

A very dark and dreich morning greets us round the breakfast table. The lighthouse at Arnish is on, and there is a heavy drizzle. As per usual, the weather changes round through the day, with sunshine and showers through the afternoon. At lunchtime, mrs B's second son turns up with his new partner. He has come to attend the opening of the new arts centre, An Lanntair (The Lantern), located at the corner of Kenneth Street and Francis Street. It has taken 30 years for Stornoway to get a dedicated arts venue. Before that, it was the old council chamber in the Town Hall. There was a huge outcry when the decision was taken to build An Lanntair in its current position. It deprived SY of a carpark. Aww. The public will be able to view it tomorrow. As we're enjoying a pastabake, the lifeboat races out. When we have a look out of the window, at 7.30, a helicopter is hovering somewhere behind the coastguard station. I can also discern a boat, which seems to vanish. Either it's gone down, or it's the next shower. Mrs B and I walk to the coastguard station to have a look. The failing light makes it difficult to see, but the chopper is out there with its searchlight trained on the area. The scene of the incident appears to be around Holm Point, about 2 miles to the south. At 8.20, after dark, the lifeboat returns with a boat strapped alongside. It's cold outside with a strong southwesterly. Temperature 12C. The evening closes with a convivial evening until about 12.45.

Thursday 29/09/05

Fairly bright morning, but the odd shower does wet things around 10. Head out to see the optometrist about a new prescription for glasses, which is duly forthcoming. Mr Doig is runnign 20 minutes late. Dive into the library and come up with interesting references for the author of the HMS Timbertown website. Next call is the butcher's for some mince, required for my leek, tatties and minceball supper tonight. Mrs B puts a brave face on it, but I don't think it's a raging success. We're having two guests in, a gentleman and his wife. He is the membership secretary for the Merchant Navy Association. An evening has been organised at the British Legion for ex-mariners. Apparently, 12 new members signed up. Upon his return, David tells us quite a few stories. Mrs B can add to that, as her husband was chief engineer on board a merchantman. We all go to bed at 12.45