Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Call for support

Please visit coopsbaby's journal "The Right to Die", as she is now on the 4th anniversary of her husband's death. His passing came after he survived for 20 years in a permanent vegetative state. She fought a two-decade campaign for his right to die, as he had no quality of life. A contentious issue, but I am only mentioning it to paint the picture. All I am asking for is compassion.

End of month

July is nearly over - fifty minutes to go. It has ended in the worst weather we've seen in a while. Strong winds and heavy rain during the afternoon. It has now cleared up a little. August commences with the hurricane season swinging into action.

Tropical storm Chantal is barrelling towards Newfoundland, which can expect severe gales and heavy rain - if that isn't already occurring. Here in the UK, the north (yep, muggins) can expect a swipe from Chantal as the remains of it sweep north past Iceland. I somehow see Friday descending into gales and rain.

Typhoon Usagi (aye, the rabbit with tiger inclinations) is making headway towards Japan, which can expect a hammerblow on Kyushu - sustained winds will exceed 125 mph.

A third tropical system is trying to keep the show on the road over the Pacific - it might pass south of Hawaii early next week, but it may also not survive the night.

Sun and moon

Moonrise over the Coastguard Station 29 July

Firy sunset 28 July

Hurricane update - 31 July

Tropical storm Chantal has formed 330 miles south of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is moving rapidly northeast. It is NOT a threat to the USA. It is expected, however, to impact southeastern Newfoundland (view the latest warning from the Canadian hurricane center here), and will move across the Atlantic as a powerful storm. Chantal will quickly lose characteristics of a tropical system, and turn into an 'ordinary' Atlantic depression.

Typhoon Usagi is likely to make landfall in Kyushu, Japan, on Thursday, with winds of 125 mph.

More detailed updates in my Tropical Cyclones blog.


Nobody noticed, and I didn't either - but I called yesterday Tuesday (entry was headed Tuesday notes), although in fact it was Monday. Have corrected the heading, found the mistake when I went through the comments alerts.

Face from the War Memorial

In recent weeks, I have continued to work on my project "Faces from the War Memorial". I have by no means finished, but would like to present a selection of my findings.

This is Private MURDO  MACKAY

Murdo last lived in Lewis at 2 Achmore,
He was the son of Norman and Catherine Mackay

He served in 1st Battallion, Cameron  Highlanders
Service no: 3/5432
He died on 22 December 1914

He is remembered on the memorial at Le Touret, on panels 41 and 42
His name is mentioned on the Lewis War Memorial, under Lochs on plaque 1

Tuesday notes

Mornin' all, from a very windy Stornoway. It's cloudy, but as yet dry. Next week should see even windier weather, when a former tropical depression turns into a deep Atlantic low to haunt our shores with winds in excess of force 10 on the Beaufort scale.

The body of a woman, found in South Uist, has provisionally identified as that of the missing German tourist Sara Lodhi. Formal confirmation is yet to follow. Police are still investigating what happened to Ms Lodhi, and how she came to be two islands and one stretch of sea away from her accommodation.

Last week, I mentioned that cannabis contributed to psychotic illnesses; well, it was confirmed that smoking one pot cigarette equates to smoking 5 ordinary fags. Anyone need any further proof that cannabis is harmful? Read more here.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Wrong label

Every now and again, I buy microwaveable meals in Somerfields - they heat up in 5 minutes or so and are of good quality. When I first came to Stornoway they had a greater variety of ready meals than at present. One of the discontinued lines was House Special, a mixture of pork, prawns and various vegetables. When I saw it sitting on the shelf this afternoon, I was very happy and bought one.

An hour ago, I put it in the microwave. When I put it on the plate I realised something was wrong. This was not House Special, it was Sweet and Sour. Another favourite of mine, but NOT what it said on the sleeve. So, I duly went back to Somerfields to inform them. I could have asked for my money back, but I like sweet and sour, and I thought it was more important to advise them of this quite serious error.

If you buy a House Special from Somerfields with an expiry date of 3 August, watch out.

Question of distance

Living in a remote area has its drawbacks. The nearest city to Lewis is Inverness, 105 miles as the crow flies. It's nearly 3 hours by ferry and another 55 miles by road, a journey that usually takes about 90 minutes. The Northern Isles of Scotland, Orkney and Shetland, are at an even great disadvantage, as below map shows. The main ferry crossing between Lerwick (Shetland) and Aberdeen on the mainland takes 14 hours. The Orkney ferry takes about 2 hours, but requires a 125 mile road journey to reach Inverness.

Mail order is therefore the order of the day. This is seen by some retailers as an excuse to levy ridiculous charges for carriage, even if they can send it off by Royal Mail if the package weighs less than 25 kg / 55 lb. Some times, you need to query an item, send it back or settle a bill. That's where things get truly ridiculous. I give a reasonable accurate rendition of a few phonecalls, made by residents of Shetland.

Company: "OK, you can send that back to us. In order to make the arrangement, we need to know what your nearest railway station is."
Customer: "My nearest railway station is Bergen, Norway".
Company: <embarassed silence>

Bank: "We'd prefer it if you could pop that into your nearest branch."
Customer: "Oh yeah? Do you realise that when I go to 'my nearest branch', I'm on the ferry for 14 hours there, and 14 hours back?"
Bank: "Oh. Better send it in that prepaid envelope."

Feline news

The tiny kitten found in a car's engine, after the vehicle didn't make its usual purr, has been given a new home. The story, which I mentioned yesterday, attracted 155,000 hits on the BBC website.

The blog on tropical weather on Weatherunderground, by Dr Jeff Masters, is being hosted by his colleague Margie Kieper while the doc himself is out fishing. She immediately went into lolcat mode (right hand cat).

I cannot give an easily understood explanation of the Coriolis force - it is one of the forces that puts the spin on a hurricane. If you're good at physics and maths, have a look here.

Monday notes

Not a bad day, the odd shower and the odd ray of sunshine. It has been bad weather - for the culicoides impunctatus or Highland midge. This is not the same as a mosquito. A mosquito is about 8 mm / 1/3 inch in length; a midge is barely 2 mm or 1/10 inch. I recently published a scale of midge misery, but it has not nudged much above 1. Apparently, the heavy rain in certain parts of Scotland has made it difficult for the blighters to get a blood meal within 7 days, without which they perish. My heart bleeds.

Last night, a 6 metre speedboat with 6 crew aboard was being escorted into Donaghadee in Northern Ireland, after calling 999 and confessing they were lost and were without any navigational aids aboard.

Belfast Coastguard took the call, which was diverted from Liverpool Coastguard and requested the launch of the Donaghadee RNLI lifeboat to search for the boat and its crew.

Judith McNeice, Belfast Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, Watch Officer, says:

The vessel was making its way from Portpatrick to Donaghadee, when the crew realised they were lost, fortunately their mobile telephone had reception and we were able to request them to fire 1 of the 3 white flares they did have aboard. A member of the public reported the flare and the lifeboat was then able to locate the speedboat 5 miles off Copeland Islands.

The boat is now being escorted back to harbour where the Bangor Coastguard Rescue team will meet them.

Whatever type of journey you are planning on water it is essential to be prepared and have the correct navigational and safety equipment aboard, if ever in doubt contact your local Coastguard station for advice.

Hurricane update - 30 July

The Southern Hemisphere is in deepest winter, yet the Indian Ocean briefly spawned a tropical cyclone. It is now dissipating, as the atmospheric conditions are unfavourable.

Across the equator, typhoon Usagi (Japanese for Rabbit) is barrelling northwest towards Japan. There is considerable uncertainty where the system will make landfall - anywhere between Kyoto and Sasebo (western Japan), probably on August 2nd. The Atlantic is trying to cough something up near Bermuda, but it looks rather half-hearted.

Sunday, 29 July 2007

J-land @ 4 - entry 1

I wrote the very first entry on this blog on 8 October 2004. I should hasten to add that when you go back to First entry on this blog, you'll encounter 17 November 2004. I have copied all entries preceding that date to the Northern Trip-The Start blog, which contains my travelling months, August through to November 2004. I have stayed in Lewis ever since.

On 8 October 2004, I had been in the Isle of Skye for a week, after spending one month in Orkney (off the Scottish north coast). I do not have pictures available of that time. Below map shows the area, with some of the places mentioned highlighted in a box.

Once again in the Youth Hostel at Kyleakin. Strange day today. As I was waiting for the usual 10.20 bus to Broadford, I noticed two young people getting into the water of the Kyle. It was a bracingly cool morning. Bright and sunny, but rather nippy. And there were two youngsters getting into the water and going right in! The female appeared to be skinny dipping, oh dear. At Broadford, I proceeded to the Elgol postbus, where the driver was huffing and puffing to get all the mail, the milk, the papers, the everything on board. It wasn't until 11 o'clock that we finally got going. I had meanwhile come to chat to an elderly lady on the bus, who was quite knowledgeable. She lived at Elgol, which I was not going to reach. My destination was the little path just south of Strathaird across to Camasunary. But, that was not for another 75 minutes. The driver complained that he was a Jack of all Trades but master of none. On arrival at Torrin, we dumped mail not just in postboxes, but through open windows, on top of a baby's playpen, in dustbins, disused freezers, and little homemade boxes at the side of the road, marked 1/2 7. Meaning, half of number 7. It was all good fun, and we duly arrived at Strathaird at 12.15. Fifty minutes late. The path to Camasunary was well boggy at first, and stony afterwards. The views are stunning, and I'll add pictures when I get hold of them. I did not go very far, since I would not want to miss the return bus at 5pm. Bla Bheinn (Blaven), Beinn na Cro and the backdrop of Loch Slapin, Loch Eishort, Sleat, Suisnish and the distant mountains on the mainland dominated the backdrop on the ascent. At 1pm I was at the pass, alt. 189m, and my jaw dropped. The massive curve of the Cuillins' main ridge, forestalled by Sgurr na Stri, Camasunary. To the south all the Small Isles were visible, Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna. Just to the right of the Cuillins the Isle of Soay could be seen. And on the horizon the double hump of Barra and the ridge of South Uist. A very sad cairn announced the location where the ashes of a cheif (sic) constable of Inverness-shire had been scattered by his daughter. Hers had been scattered in the same location 5 years later. A fantastic piece of scenery. Hobbling back to the main road, where I had to wait an hour for the bus back to Broadford. Fortunately, a couple from Israel/USA were also waiting, so we passed the time in pleasant chat, although the temperature was dropping like a stone.

Hurricane update - 29 July

Looks like Typhoon Usagi is going to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Only a tropical storm north of Guam at present, this system will balloon into a typhoon with winds of 110 knots / 125 mph by the time it strikes mainland Japan near Kyoto on Friday. A fairly big margin for errors at this stage, but things are not looking good.

Another cyclone might develop in the southern hemisphere, west of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. Quite unusual to have a cyclone in what is the southern hemisphere winter, but if the water is warm enough and the atmospheric conditions sufficiently conducive, it can happen. No land threatened at this stage.

DIY mum

A woman took the term DIY to a new level when she gave birth in the paint aisle of a DIY store in Leicester. Her waters broke in the lady's toilet, and she phoned her husband. He came to pick her up, but ended up delivering a baby daughter in the store without problems. Staff assisted, either at the birth itself or by blocking off aisles to maintain as much dignity as possible for the new mum. Since then, pregnant ladies have visited the store, asking for the delivery suite.

Sunday notes

Weather making threatening noises, with showerclouds around - but no rain. Which is more than can be said for Castlebay in Barra earlier this week, which had a tornado passing through. I cannot link to the video footage, but if you hop over to this section of the BBC, you may get it. It blew some henhouses up the hill, overturned the odd fueltank, but otherwise did not cause major damage or injury.

On the same site, you may find the story of the man whose car started making funny noises. A look under the bonnet revealed a ginger kitten, crawling amidst the innards of the vehicle. He is now in better hands, and may be rehomed later next week.

Japan should be on the lookout for typhoon Usagi. That system is currently 'only' a tropical storm over the northern Marianas islands, but is expected to blow up into a category 3 to 4 typhoon as it veers towards Tokyo. Aye, that city might get an unwelcome visitor, with winds of more than 100 mph. Will keep you posted, it is too far off to make accurate forecasts.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

What type of Fae are you?

What type of Fae are you?

When you take this little quiz, it'll come out with something like the above (depending on your replies), and some HTML. It says "For Livejournal", but it goes in here as well.


With regards to previous entry, I think I should make clear that Vatersay is about 20 miles south of South Uist, separated by the Isle of Barra and a stretch of sea.

Missing tourist

This afternoon, the body of a woman was discovered in the island of South Uist, some 80 miles south of Stornoway. Police are concerned that it could be that of missing German tourist Sara Lodhi, who disappeared on 19 July from her holiday cottage in Vatersay. She was reported missing 6 days later.

Ms Lodhi, aged 30, had been dropped off at her cottage by the landlord, but when he called round the next day, shopping and purse were still in the same place where they had been left the day before.

Enquiries are now being carried out to establish whether the body in Uist is that of Sara Lodhi.

Superfluous information

I just found a comment on one of my YouTube videos. The video shows a drive to a pretty corner of Great Bernera, called Bosta. The commenter took it upon himself to inform me that Bosta has an unpleasant connotation in Portuguese - it apparently equates to the four-letter synonym of excrement. Like I want to know that. The person who wrote that probably didn't bother to watch the video. Needless to say that I deleted the comment.


The flooding in Gloucestershire has now claimed three lives. A father and son were overcome by fumes as they tried to pump floodwaters out of Tewkesbury Rugby Club, using a petrol-fuelled generator. This morning, a body was found near the abbey in Tewkesbury - it is thought that it might be that of a young man who has been missing since the flooding struck the town last weekend.

The emergency is by no means over. Water supplies are being restored, but in certain areas it cannot be drunk, not even after boiling. A smile was brought by the gesture of a German town, badly affected by flooding a few years ago, when they sent a lorryload of bottled water and - apple juice. The county is awaiting the arrival of more heavy rain this evening, which could dump another 30 mm / 1.2 inches of rain. People are being advised to stay indoors, and not to travel if at all avoidable.

Houston, we have a problem

The reports over the last few days, of astronauts going into orbit more than a little the worst for wear, are initially funny. I mean, lines like "Houston we have a problem, the booze has run out" spring to mind. But it is actually deadly serious, and I am not overstating myself.

I read on the BBC website just now that NASA is pervaded by a culture which stifles dissent and prevents people from speaking out on safety concerns. It is possibly this very phenomenon that led to the destruction of the Space Shuttle Columbia over Texas in 2003, as concerns that debris could have caused critical damage to the shuttle's heatshields. It is also blamed for the suppression of important findings in 1986, when fuel leaks were discovered on the Space Shuttle Challenger, which blew up within a minute or two of take-off.

A sordid catalogue of mishaps is quoted in this article, but it beggars belief that such tactics are permitted to affect safety, in an industry where safety should be priority n° 1. However, there is a strange parallel in events here in the islands during 2005 and '06. The Health Board was affected by a similar culture which did not allow dissent, which led to serious financial problems. Dissent was shouted and bullied down. You cannot allow mistakes in healthcare either, but a culture of bullying and suppression of dissent could have contributed to mistakes being made.

Saturday notes

Another dreich day, with low misty clouds. Sun might come out, but it doesn't appear to be anxious to do so.

Two accidents involving aircraft in the States. Gerry already reported on the two news helicopters that collided and crashed in Phoenix, AZ, yesterday evening. All four on board the choppers were killed. It is also reported that two WW II Mustang aircraft clipped wings at an airshow, leaving one of the pilots dead. As far as the Phoenix incident is concerned, the helicopters were trailing a car chase. I have watched a fair few on satellite TV, and this has always been one of my fears, that the posse of choppers would collide.

A northern bottle-nosed whale has swum up the River Orwell near Ipswich, southeast England. In order to prevent the creature suffering, it has now been humanely put down. It is thought that the whale entered the relatively shallow North Sea by mistake, and swam up the river. It was unable to get itself out of the shallow waters, and a decision was made to destroy the whale.

J-land @ 4

On August 21st, J-land will be 4 years old. A reason to celebrate. I recently put out some feelers as to how to commemorate this event, and I am under the distinct impression that a low-key approach is probably the best way to go about things. AOL may come up with a suitable logo - or perhaps one of our many talented taggers could be prevailed upon to do the honours. I for one shall be trawling my rather extensive archives over the next couple of weeks and see if anything is worth rehashing or updating upon. What will you do?


Friday, 27 July 2007

Tracking a cruiseliner

Linda is going on a cruise on August 17th. If you'd like to follow her progress aboard "Vision of the Seas", the only thing you need to do is visit the CruiseCalendar website. Absolutely heaps of info on the Cruiseclues site. This site, finally, plots the position of the vessel on a map - but can be way out of date. Tonight, the last position is of 19 July.

All the cruiseliner-related sites I am linking to above, will work with any cruiseliner.


A report out today states that cannabis could precipitate psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia, even in first-time users. People smoking pot for the first time have a 41% chance of developing this disorder, and the danger persists with continued use. The risks of cannabis have augmented in recent years due to the appearance of varieties (skunk) which contain higher concentrations of active component (commonly referred to as THC).

Cannabis has been downgraded from a class B to a class C category. A psychiatrist speaking on BBC News this lunchtime made the very valid point that young people are probably unaware of the fine distinctions of classes A, B and C. They should be educated as to the risks of smoking the substance, and generally on the dangers of using drugs. I think this should include nicotine and alcohol, as well as cannabis and what is commonly termed "hard drugs", such as heroin and cocaine.

Over in Holland, legal authorities have adopted the pragmatic approach by not prosecuting users who carry a small amount for personal use. They also permit cannabis outlets, euphemistically called coffee shops. Anyone found in possession of more than about an ounce of cannabis WILL be prosecuted. This includes the suppliers of the coffeeshops. The move was initiated some years ago, but still leads to confusion - those visiting Holland are under the misapprehension that cannabis is legal there - it is not. And they also forget that carrying cannabis into the UK, and other countries, is a criminal offense, irrespective of quantity, and could land you a term in prison.


Sentient pets

Yesterday, I referred to the story of Oscar the cat, who was able to perceive when someone was dying, and snuggle up to them. This BBC article gives a fair in-depth account of animals that can perceive the presence of cancer, or the onset of an epileptic seizure.

Friday notes

Weather a bit iffy today, with occasional showers and just now a half-hearted attempt at sunshine. Things are drying up in terms of flooding down in Gloucestershire, and images of boats in the middle of meadows, or draped across a lock, present themselves. The water situation remains dire for 340,000 residents of Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury, who depend on bottled water and bowsers for their supply.

Warnings have gone out regarding the flood waters, which contain all sorts of nasties, varying from excrement to dead animals. Although dilution helps to ameliorate this problem, the sight of little kiddies playing in the floods was horrifying. I once cycled through a flood, and it stank.

Tropics are beginning to liven up a bit - watch out for early next week, when something could form in the Atlantic. The Western Pacific is cooking up a tropical system as I speak - more details over the next few days. Across the blue divide, Dalila is fizzling out over cool ocean waters. A tropical cyclone requires water temperatures of 80F or more, but Dalila is over waters only just above 70F.

A worrying report on the news this lunchtime about diabetes tablets Actos and Avandia, which appear to contribute to heart failure in 2% of users, even in those under 60. A doctor will always appraise risks versus benefits, and if you have heart problems you are unlikely to be prescribed these tablets. If in doubt, always speak to your doctor first.

Sunset 26 July

Yes, it's late - time I went to bed. But not before I share tonight's magnificent sunset.


Over the last two days, mrs B had someone staying who was profoundly deaf. The person concerned could not lipread, and was barely able to speak. So, communication went by means of a pad of post-its and pens. Which drew out a story, as eloquent as if by spoken word. I do not give out details of guests on this blog, for reasons of privacy.

The point I'm making is that a little bit of inventiveness will go far to circumvent a minor obstacle such as deafness. It helps to include people who are otherwise only too easily excluded. I am not belittling the handicap that deafness is. I am merely stating that it need not be a major problem to communicate with people like that.

On that subject, Indigo (the writer of Raven's Lament) highlights the plight of people in Native Indian reservations across the US. She refers to an article that shows that rape and other abuse of native indian people in reservations goes unreported, unprosecuted and unpunished. I have to say that having read AOL blogs for 15 months now, it has opened my eyes further to the underbelly of American society. Hurricane Katrina served to drop my jaw on the floor, once I saw how people in New Orleans were treated.
Don't get me wrong, things aren't that rosey in British society either. And a similar situation exists in Australia, where the Aboriginals are treated as less than human, even now, in the 21st century.

I am bound to say that America's much-loved president and self-proclaimed leader of the free world (George W. Bush) could do worse than clean up his own backyard, before rummaging around in someone else's.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Wanted: Airtraffic Controller

Stornoway Airport has gone through another episode of closure due to the Airtraffic Controller being off sick. It would appear we have two ATCs at the local airport, and when one goes off sick, there is a problem - no back-up, so the place's got to close.

Someone had an idea though. The chappy who was enjoying a day off was believed to have said that he was going fishing at Loch Langavat. So, what better idea than to send the brand new Search & Rescue helicopter out to look for him along the shore of the loch, pick him up and take him back to the airport. Didn't work.

Loch Langavat is rather large. Above image gives some indication of its length, 8 miles. The local discussion, if not outrage, centres around the alleged waste of helicopter time, and what would have happened if there had been a real emergency - the operators stated that this was not the case. The chopper was out on a training mission, and it would not have impinged on reaction times.

Drive round South Lochs

A compilation of some of the images I took during last Sunday's drive round South Lochs. There is something wrong with the sound, so sorry about the ticking noise. Haven't worked out (yet) where that came from.

Keyboard on the webcam

This video shows a few minutes of footage from my webcam, with me tinkling along on the keyboard in the background. Hope you enjoy!

NOTE: It may take up to an hour for the video to show.

Sentient cats

This is Oscar the cat. He lives in a nursing home in the US, and has the habit of curling up next to people - who will commonly die within a few hours of him snuggling up. He does not make many mistakes at all. When relatives come to say their last good-byes, the cat is sometimes removed from the rooms, which leaves him meowing and pacing outside the room in protest. Rather than being psychic, it is likely that a biochemical process associated with the onset of death will attract the cat. Oscar is not friendly with people in other circumstances. When he snuggles up to a patient, nurses are calling relatives to come in; the people themselves are too ill to be aware of Oscar, or his significance. This week's New England Journal of Medicine has the full story - it is available on-line only if you have a paid subscription. Alternatively, nip into a medical library to have a peep.

Last year, Teecee, a cat in Yorkshire, was reported that he would approach his owner closely and stare point-blank into his eyes - whereupon the owner would experience an epileptic seizure. Not as a result of the cat's stare, but as a result of his medical condition. Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain, where electrical impulses are transmitted uncontrollably. Teecee is probably sensitive to increasing electrical activity in the brain of his owner, which is expressed in changes in the magnetic field.

Yahoo Photos closing

Yahoo! is closing its Photos section as of October 18th, 2007. Any photos left on there after that date will be deleted. If you have pictures on that site, you should either download them or transfer them to another photo-site. They prefer Flickr, but that's entirely your choice of course.

Please pass word round.

Thursday notes

Fairly bright morning but with some beefy showers about. Feeling quite muggy out and about. Down in England, the waters in the River Thames appear to be past their highest level, leaving flooding behind in Oxford and other towns and cities downstream. The water in the River Severn is now dropping by a foot (30 cms) a day, and there is hope that the water treatment works at Tewkesbury can now be pumped out and possibly restarted in the near future. 350,000 people remain without a mains water supply.

A German tourist, Sara Lodhi, is missing from her holiday cottage on Vatersay, adjacent to Barra (120 miles south of here). The 30-year old had rented a self-catering cottage. Personal belongings were found in it, although the lady herself has not been seen for a week.

In the same area, a waterspout / tornado caused minor damage on Vatersay and Barra at around 6pm last night. A small funnel was seen strafing across eastern Vatersay then crossing the narrows between the two islands before making landfall around Castlebay. It caused minor damage.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Couple sheds 580 pounds

There is hope for those of you trying to fight the flab: this story on CNN tells the tale of a couple who weighed close on 950 pounds combined. They are now down to 140 lbs for the woman and 220 lbs for the man, who are raising a family.

Going bang in the morning

Read a report that a gas storage depot in Dallas, Texas, went up in flames, or rather explosions, earlier today. The depot held propane and acetylene cylinders. Three people were injured, and there was some damage caused by flying flaming debris. More here, just wanted to share the image.

Cyber bullying

The head mistress of Avoch school near Inverness has called for so-called social networking sites like MySpace, Bebo and YouTube to be closed down. She claims that they are used for cyber bullying by pupils at her and other schools. This does not just affect pupils, but also teachers and other adults. The regional paper describes an image of a teacher, who is shown without his head, with the caption "you're dead".

Bullying is a pernicious problem that is not likely to go away. Whether closing such websites will solve the problem is very debatable, and I do not see it happening. What should be put in place is some stringent monitoring, a complaints system - one of the redeeming features of AOL is that pretty effective feedback and complaints procedure.


The link to Island Blogging in my previous entry, Wednesday notes, did not work - I have now corrected it and it should come up. Sorry about that.

Wednesday notes

After a morning of rain, the sun has come out and it is looking quite nice, if a bit breezy.

I posted the entry regarding the clearances on one of my other blogs, and it elicited a response to the tune of: this is still going on today. Over the past few months, a lady from the Isle of Arran, southwest of Glasgow, was forced to leave the island where her ancestors had lived for 500 years. Even though she had a viable business there, no affordable housing is was available for her, and right now she lives in what sounds like a slum in Fife, eastern Scotland. Read her story on BBC Island Blogging.

Not much doing on the hurricane front - there is a tropical storm about in the Pacific, southwest of Baja California, but that is heading out to sea and not threatening land. The remains of tropical depression Cosme are heading west across the Pacific, having crossed the dateline overnight. It looks unlikely that a new cyclone will form out of that system.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Long-fingered seagull

With thanks to YouTube user videoexclusive and Jeannette (jeanno43) for bringing this footage to my attention.

Feathered shoplifter

A seagull has turned shoplifter and is wandering into a store in Aberdeen to help himself to his favourite snack. The bird has discovered a corner shop which keeps spicy Doritos - the only crisps he eats - close to the front door. Every day he now lies in wait until staff open the door for a breath of fresh air, then pounces and makes off with his food. The seagull, nicknamed Sam by staff and customers, has now become so popular that locals have started paying for his crisps.

Shop assistant Sriaram Nagarajan said: "Everyone is amazed by the seagull. For some reason he only takes that one particular kind of crisps will do for him. But he's got it down to a fine art. He waits until there are no customers around and I'm standing behind the till, then he raids the place."

The bird first swooped on the shop in Aberdeen about two weeks ago. Staff were taken unawares by their first feathered shoplifter. They could only watch in amazement as Sam round out the door with the 55p crisps. Once outside, he gets help from other gulls and pigeons to rip open the packaging. They all feast, then disappear to return the next day for another crack at the shop.

Sriaram added: "At first I didn't believe a seagull was capable of stealing crisps, but I saw it with my own eyes and I was surprised. He is very good at it". Bosses at the shop have now decided to keep the door closed to try to combat Sam. However, customers have taken pity on him and started donating money so he can keep eating Doritos. Sriaram said: "He's becoming a bit of a celebrity. Seagulls are not normally that popular, but Sam is a star because he's so funny."

Quoted from the Press and Journal, 20 July 2007
I can add that the manufacturers of the crisps have announced that they may put an image of the bird on new packaging, or even devise a special flavour in the gull's honour.

Harry Potter VII

No, I am not going to tell what happens in this last book. Finished it about an hour ago, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone else.

Highland Clearances

During the Napoleonic wars, the privately owned estates in northwestern Scotland provided seaweed for the production of gunpowder. Strangely enough, if you dry and burn seaweed you're left with potassium nitrate, a component of explosives. The normal source of nitrate, bird droppings scraped from rocks in South America, was unavailable because the UK was blockaded by French warships. Thousands of people lived in coastal settlements, harvesting kelp. When war ceased in 1815, all those people were without income. The price of kelp had nosedived once demand fell away.

The estate owners were now lumbered with large numbers of people who could not afford the rents, and keeping sheep for wool presented itself as a tidy money spinner, requiring a minimal capital investment for a decent return. So, the people had to go. In some instances, the rents were increased manyfold, giving the landlords a pretext for forced eviction. In other instances, they served whole communities with a notice to quit when the ship came in to transport them to America or Australia. Non-compliance meant the roof would be burned over your head. The island of Rum, cleared in 1826, stands testimony to the effects of that, as does the Eishken Estate in Lewis, which was cleared in 1821. By clearance I do not mean mass murder, but forcible eviction.

The potato famine of 1846/7, which also wreaked havoc in Scotland, prompted many a voluntary emigration. The practice of wanton evictions continued for decades, until the people of Braes in Skye decided to make a stand. In the 1880s, the landowner had sent for the constabulary to enforce an eviction order. The villagers of Braes mounted a spirited defence of their village. When the navy was called in to restore order, questions were asked why the villagers had risen up.

The Napier commission was set up in 1886 to investigate. It produced a document of some 13,000 pages. In its recommendations, tenant rights were suggested that would become enshrined in law. The wanton evictions were over, but clearances continued. I know of people in Lewis who were shunted around, from Uig across Loch Roag to the West Side near Carloway, from Gearrannan to Dalmore, to Dalbeg, to Shawbost, and much further up the West Coast, as far as Borve.

I mentioned the clearance of the area around Helmsdale in Sutherland. They have an extensive webpage on this subject.

Statue for the Clearances - II

Just need to add to the previous post, to make my position clear. In a webpage on the Scottish Executive website (which is riddled with spelling errors), the text on the plinth of the memorial is quoted: The Emigrants

Commemorates the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who, in the face of great adversity, sought freedom, hope and jusice [sic]  beyond these shores. They and their descendants went forth and explored continents, built great countries and cities and gave their enterprise and culture to the world. This is their legacy.

Their voices will echo forever through the empty straths and glens of their homeland.

I just do not believe that the manner in which these people were forced to look for a new life is being ignored. If they made such a great contribution overseas, why weren't they allowed to make a contribution in their homeland??

The First Minister did not say anything about that, which I find astonishing to say the least.

Statue for the Clearances

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, has inaugurated a statue at Helmsdale in northeast Scotland in memory of the people that were cleared from the nearby Strath of Kildonan during the 18th and 19th century.

The project was supported by a Canadian mining millionaire, Dennis Macleod.It is his ambition to erect more such statues at all places where Highland exiles settled across the world. The first outside the UK was put up alongside the Red River in Winnipeg, Canada. Initially, permission had been sought to demolish a statue of the Duke of Sutherland, situated on a hill several miles south of Helmsdale. The Duke is blamed for many of the clearances. This was denied, but the more constructive option of this statue was then supported by Mr Macleod.

Mr Salmond stated that the statue, entitled Exiles, was a tribute to those that remained, as well as to those that had to depart, to share their skills with people overseas.

The district of Sutherland, which encompasses the north and northwest of Scotland, is virtually empty of people nowadays. Only a few communities remain, dotted along its long coastline. Apart from mainland Scotland, thousands were also cleared from islands off the west coast. Skye was particularly cruelly treated, and many were also packed off from the Outer Isles. Here in Stornoway, we have a statue to Sir James Matheson, the only memorial to a drugs baron, overlooking Stornoway harbour. Matheson, who gained much of his wealth through the 19th century opium trade, facilitated the passage overseas of many people who he didn't really want on his estates in Lewis.

Alex Salmond's words grated with me, when I read the BBC report which prompted this post. He is putting a nice gloss on an appalling episode in Scotland's history, and he almost appears to condone the Clearances.

Tuesday notes

Well, have practically finished the new Harry Potter book, after a marathon reading session until nearly 3 am. The day dawned a bit on the cloudy side - much like it has been of late.

The flood situation in southern central England appears to be reaching its peak, with strenuous efforts being made to stop an electricity substation from flooding. If that were to happen, some 250,000 residents would be without power. Insurance companies meanwhile have estimated the total bill for the floods of June and July to top £2 billion, $4 bn.

Flooding in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has left at least 50 dead and thousands homeless. The heavy rainfalls precipitated mudslides, which in turn were facilitated by deforestation.

Generally, it is held that human activity has led to a change in worldwide rainfall patterns. Rainfall in mid-latitude regions, containing countries like the UK and Canada, has increased, whereas India and Africa have become relatively drier. Who said climate change was a figment of the imagination?

Monday, 23 July 2007

Local notes

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. Could be a motto down south. Up here, we had rain overnight, but come the morning it was dry and bright. A cruiseliner is in port, the Black Prince, in for its third visit this summer. She normally docks alongside pier no 1 for the day, whilst its passengers go on trips round the island.

I forgot to mention that the district of South Lochs, which I visited yesterday, is the site for a proposed windfarm. More than 50 turbine towers, each standing 150 m / 500 ft tall, could be built in the moors behind the villages. You have to bear in mind that the highest hill in the populated part of the district is less than 600 feet tall. Needless to say, it would destroy the visual amenity of the area. In Eishken, the adjacent mountainous area, another 50-odd turbines will be built on the summits of the mountains. It will be an industrial eyesore of monumental proportions. A monument to greed.

This is Achnasheen station on the railway between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh. Trains cannot proceed west of this station following five separate landslips between Achnasheen and Strathcarron. Network Rail have warned that it could take 10 days to clear the line and restore normal services. Passengers are being transferred by bus in the meantime.

Monday notes

Flooding in Gloucestershire is continuing to dominate the news in the UK today, with 350,000 people about to lose their mains water supply. A large number are also without electricity, after one substation was swamped overnight. The River Severn is slowly rising to a peak, which will be 1 foot higher than the current level. According to recent reports, water is beginning to seep into Gloucester city centre, which would mean that worse is yet to come.

Mains watersupplies are being replaced by bowser [tanker] and bottled water, with people being urged to flush toilets as little as possible, and when necessary to flush the loo to do so with - floodwater. It will take up to 2 weeks to restore supplies in some areas.

Further east, the River Thames, which rises west of Oxford, is also rising to a peak, and images of flooding are emerging from Oxfordshire and Berkshire. London is also on alert.

Extensive reports and updates on this BBC page.


I have been unable to see to many alerts today, so I'll do my best to get up to date tomorrow. Hope you all enjoy the pictures in previous entry, I've not shown images from that part of Lewis before - simply because I didn't have a camera when I stayed there in 2004/5.

South Lochs - pictures

Leumrabhagh - Lemreway
Orasaigh - Orinsay
Grabhair - Gravir
Marbhig - Marvig
Cabharstadh - Caversta
Gearraidh Bhaird - Garyvard
Cearsiadar - Kershader

Sunday, 22 July 2007

South Lochs

This afternoon, I was taken on a drive around the district of South Lochs. I think only a few people were with this blog when I was ensconsed at the Ravenspoint Centre in Kershader between November 2004 and February 2005. The first entry on this blog features my arrival there on November 16, 2004. I have only been back there once or twice since my departure. It was a trip down memory lane, strange in many ways, as I was there in the depth of winter. More often than not, I'd be walking the roads in darkness back then.

South Lochs is a scenic area, but relatively poor. There are few tourist amenities there, apart from the hostel and shop at Kershader, and the odd B&B such as in Marbhig. I took 200 pictures, so the battery on my camera needs recharging before I can upload this lot.

Hurricane update - 22 July

Tropical depression Cosme is presently making for Johnston Atoll, a speck in the wide Pacific Ocean in the middle of nowhere. Winds won't be more than 30 mph once it gets there, and there remains this questionmark over the longevity of Cosme. However, if she keeps going the way she was, this system will have made a journey across 50 degrees of longitude by then, having started life 8 days ago somewhere on the 127th degree longitude West. Cosme will cross the dateline within the next 3 or 4 days, and into the Western Pacific.

Still on the unusual hurricane season (not seen a hurricane in the Atlantic yet), a tropical system may form in the southern hemisphere: the amber light is on over something near Diego Garcia in the southern Indian Ocean. Am keeping a close eye on that one.


The flooding situation in southwestern England looks to be as bad, if not worse, than what we saw in Yorkshire a few weeks ago. The River Severn is rising and is only 30 cm / 1 foot below the flood defences at Gloucester, at a height not seen since 1947. Tewkesbury, to the north, is largely under water as is a water treatment works there. Supplies to Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury are likely to run out in about 6 hours' time. Five helicopters are deployed over Tewkesbury to rescue people in immediate danger.

Want to see what that all looks like? More here.

Sunday notes

Quiet Sunday, with some chinks in the cloud cover. Have made a start on Harry Potter, after finishing the Children of Hurin by C. Tolkien. Pity the story doesn't extend further, will have to reread the Silmarillion.

Was horrified by the scenes of flooding in southwestern England, a repetition of the devastation in Yorkshire a few weeks ago. Flooding is the second worst thing to happen to one's home, after fire. It's not just the water, it's also the filth. And people affected by flooding are out of their homes for 12 to 18 months, with the drying out, repairs and refurbishments. The mortgages still have to be paid, together with any loans on destroyed property. Horrible.

Don't think I'll be complaining of the rain again - when it returns. At the moment we're having something approximating a drought up here, not had any substantial rain for a couple of weeks. Aye, we're the Costa del Hebrides.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Westside Whirl

Went for a drive round the West Side this afternoon, with a visit to the Trushal Stone, South Shawbost, Dalbeg and the Pentland Road. A flock of sheep delayed our journey through Barvas, and a barking dog did not agree with our presence at the back of Shawbost. Dalbeg was busy, with cars coming and going, geese swanning about the loch and the tide deciding to go out big style: 6 feet in 1 hour. The Pentland Road is a high-level route offering fantastic distance views of the hills of Harris and Uig, as well as closer hills such as Stacaseal [Stacashal], Eitsal and the Barvas Hills. Returned into a sunny Stornoway around the 6pm mark.

Saturday notes - midday

Right, the copy of Harry Potter VII lies next to me, and will be read in due course. Before I read that, I'll finish the Children of Hurin by Christopher Tolkien, in which I have progressed to page 150. Children were walking around town with their nose in the HP book.

Weather here is nice, a good deal nicer than in southern England where they're having wet feet. We can expect rain later this weekend, which will be welcome: it's been very dry of late.

In the wake of the recent diplomatic spat between the UK and Russia, two Russian planes were challenged near UK airspace close to Aberdeen. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the cat and mouse games of the Cold War. Many thanks to Vladimir Putin, I'm bound to say.

Saturday notes - midnight

So, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has just gone on sale in the UK. My bookshop doesn't open until 9 am or so, but elsewhere the HP mania has just reached feverpitch.
As has the flooding situation in southern England, it's the summer from hell down there. Not here, it's sunny although cool. Erm, yes I know it's midnight, so that's clear and dry, with Jupiter shining brightly in the south.

For everybody's info: if you subscribe to an AOL Group, take good note of the email you've had from AOL today. Not only will everything shift to AIM, you'll lose pictures, calendar and much more. This does not affect journals.

If you want to access your journal from outside AOL (like I do all the time), do the following.

- take a note of your journal's URL
- when on the external computer, put the URL into the address bar
- click on Sign In, at the top right of the screen
- log on using your AOL screenname (the one you use for your journal) and password

You can now make entries. Any pictures should still be available for adding on AOL Hometown or external picture storage site (e.g. Photobucket).

You can also check your AOL emails on-line, by going to www.aol.com or www.aol.co.uk (if in the UK), logging on as above and clicking on the email section.

Friday, 20 July 2007

Call for support

I have previously asked people to call round at Mik [alohamik]'s. Just wanted to plant a reminder, as Mik feels he's just sitting by and watching his loved ones suffer the effects of chemotherapy and cancer.

Friday notes - afternoon

Blazing sunshine in the islands today, which saw our visitors reduced to boiled lobsters. I helped mrs B out with a bit of weeding in the front garden. Those of you watching the webcam between 2 and 3pm local time could have glimpsed some of the action. What that picture of a flooded street is all about? Well, just confirmation that once again, we're having the best weather in the country. Yon picture is Maidenhead in Berkshire, affected by a 1 inch an hour cloudburst. More info here.

Went to the shop to get frozen fish for a fish & chips meal: cabinet empty and out of action. That doesn't help, so it'll be a fish-finger meal for supper in a minute or two. I can hear you think, fish again? Yes.

The planet Saturn is having a lot flying around its backdoor. Apart from a collection of rings, it is now known to have 60 (yep, sixty) moons going round in circles. Using the Cassini spacecraft, moon sixty was discovered on May 30th.

No charges in cash for honours inquiry

Scottish National Party MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, who represents the Western Isles constituency, last year lodged a formal complaint with the Metropolitan Police. He alleged that donators to political parties had received peerages (knighthoods and elevations to the House of Lords) in exchange for money. That is an offence under a 1925 Act of Parliament.

6,300 documents, three interviews with formerr prime minister Tony Blair and several arrests (including Labour Party fundraiser Lord Levy) later, the Crown Prosecution Service have concluded that there is no case to answer, and that no charges will be brought.

Questions are already being asked whether this was all really necessary, saying that the reputation of politics and the police had been brought down. Our MP is sizzling that the CPS is not going to prosecute anyone. I think it's wound-licking time for all concerned. This has done nobody any favours. The public tends to observe that "where there's smoke, there's fire".

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Hurricane update - 20 July

Tropical depression Cosme is approaching Hawaii, and although it does not carry very strong winds, the local weather service have issued a number of watches and warnings for the next 24 hours. Cosme is expected to drift west, and over the dateline early next week.

There is no cause for grave concern, although rainfalls of 5 to 10 inches could bring on flash floods. Winds will be at a maximum of 30 knots (that's force 7 on the Beaufort scale), with higher gusts on the mountainous terrain. Detailed advisories are accessible on this link.

If you have friends or relatives in Hawaii, please make them aware.

Friday notes

Brilliant sunny morning, and feeling warm in the sun - although the mercury is barely cresting 60F at the moment. Read a story in the local paper that spray painting of fishing boats on Goat Island, across the water from me, has left 15 cars parked at the adjacent fish processing plant, covered in a thin mist of marine paint. That ain't nice stuff, and one driver had to replace their windscreen. The company operating the slipway has offered to pay for any repairs, necessitated by the paint jobs.

The local NHS board was in the news for all the wrong reasons during 2006, and I have reported on this repeatedly. The top management was sacked a year ago, but their actions continue to reverberate. An accountant's report was leaked by regional paper West Highland Free Press, showing that expenses could not be accounted for and that the hospital's Endowment Fund was allegedly used in inappropriate fashion. The current board have stated that they are now fully complying with normal accountancy practice.

Went out for a nice meal last night at the Crown Hotel in the town centre. From there, you have a nice view over the harbour. Three seals and hundreds of gulls were vying for scraps of fish off a boat, canoeists were going through their motions. Once that palled, the plates were full of local fish delights. Excellent.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Call for support

I was asked to muster support for J-lander dying4happiness. Her aunt passed away a few days ago, shortly after her 55th birthday. It comes hard on the heels of four previous funerals in the recent past, and it looks as if support would be much appreciated.

Looking back

Another story from the 1950s or 60s. This time, a hooded and cloaked stranger wandered the streets of a village in Lewis, looking for lodgings for the night. He went round, knocking on doors, but everybody turned this insidious stranger away. Until the local shopkeeper took pity and put him up for the night. He departed early the next morning.
Later, the shop was buzzing, even more so than usual. Everybody was quizzing the shopkeeper - who was this man, where did he come from, where was he going, what was his name. The shopkeeper got increasingly disgusted by her neighbours. They had all turned him away, squandering (in her mind) the chance to find out for themselves. So, she decided to play a little trick. She went into the house behind the shop, and after a minute or two returned flashing a small piece of paper.
"Look!" she exclaimed. "This is what he gave me to pay for his night's stay!" The villagers crowded round the counter and saw a cheque, made out to the shopkeeper, for a handsome amount. In those days, cheques were scarce and only those better off had a chequebook. Hardly anyone in the village had a chequebook. And they therefore failed to recognise that their shopkeeper had written a cheque to herself.

Harry Potter

In two days' time, sales will commence of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the 7th and final instalment in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. A few days ago, I pointed to a debate about the decline in reading. HP is credited with prompting a revival in reading amongst youngsters, although I have started to place critical footnotes under the series.

The storyline follows broadly the same template in each of the six books, the characters do not show all that much development, and it is only the gripping storytelling by J.K. Rowling that has managed to keep hold of my interest. To my own disgrace, I have read hardly any books in recent times - my latest acquisition (The Children of Hurin by Christopher Tolkien) lies unread from page 70 onwards. Not because it's a poor book (it's very good), but because I just don't seem to get round to it. And I haven't got a hectic lifestyle.

Well, we'll see the usual hectic scenes at midnight on Friday/Saturday with people buying the new book at outlets the world over. Here in Stornoway, sales won't commence until the shops open around the 9 am mark.

Thursday notes

Sunny afternoon in the islands after early low cloud burned off. Weather here should remain decent over the next few days, so no complaints this end.

A boat with 50 African migrants on board is feared lost off the Canary Islands. These Spanish outposts have become a staging posts for African people fleeing grinding poverty in their homelands. They brave the waters of the Atlantic in flimsy boats, and uncounted numbers will have been lost over the past few months and years. In 2006, 30,000 arrived in the Canaries from nearby Africa. Across in the Mediterranean, the small Italian island of Lampedusa is playing host to 900 migrants, in a camp that only has capacity for 190.

News bulletins continue to feature horror stories about this exodus, but no attempt appears to be made to address the root cause that prompts these desparate people to chance their lives on the ocean waves.

Below map (courtesy BBC) shows key migration routes from Africa to Europe.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Medal for bravery

This medal, currently on display at the maritime exhibition in Stornoway Town Hall, was awarded by the Scottish Humane Society to John Finlay Macleod of Port of Ness in Lewis for his efforts in the early hours of New Year's Day 1919.

His Majesty's Yacht Iolaire had run aground at the Beasts of Holm. Lifeboats were swamped the moment they were lowered into the water, and the sailors left on board Iolaire faced the worst of consequences. John managed to bring a hawser ashore, which assisted 75 of his comrades to reach safety. For 205, all rescue came too late. The bodies of 60 were never recovered.

The inscription reads:

Lloyds Silver Medal
Royal Humane Society Medal
Presented to Seaman John Finlay Macleod RNR
HMY Iolaire with some 280 abord - mostly Naval Ratings - struck rocks near the entrance to Stornoway Harbour around 1 am on January 1st 1919.
Seaman Macleod swam ashore with a rope line which enable 40 lives to be saved. Tragically, over 200 others were lost.


Had another addition to my Recipe Book journal:

Ceann Cropaig


1 medium / large cod
Cod is not easily available these days; 2 small haddocks or ling will do as well
liver of the same fish, chopped finely
enough fine oatmeal to make a binding mixture
rough salt to taste  

Required utensils
one large pan
a pudding bowl
grease proof paper / aluminium foil

Clean the head of the cod
Stuff the mixture of liver, oatmeal and rough salt into the head.
Sprinkle with flour or dry oatmeal to seal
Cover with grease-proof paper and tie with cotton or string
Place the remainder of the fish in a large pan and add water until it just covers the fish. Bring the water to the boil
When boiling point is reached, place the prepared head in the pan. The water should come halfway up the head
Reduce heat and simmer gently for 20 or 30 minutes depending on the size of the fish
Any surplus of the liver/oatmeal mixture can be placed in a pudding bowl in the water alongside the boiling fish and head, allowing water to come halfway up the side of the bowl  

Local variations
Finely chopped onions are added to the liver/oatmeal mixture in some districts  


The Scottish Highlands and Islands are prone to midge infestations during the summer months. The severity of the midgey problem is set out along this sliding scale:
    0 - No midges

    1 - A few midges visible

    2 - Midges occasionally alight on uncovered skin, some biting

    3 - Frequent landings and some discomfort due to biting

    4 - Midges cannot be repelled by hand alone, protection necessary. Serious discomfort if you stay in one place

    5 - Midges begin to mass on skin and clothing; ointments may become ineffectual

    6 - Midges visible in clouds, clothes seething; hair, eyes, ears and nose clogged and midges inhaled with each breath; acute discomfort

    7 - Black clouds of massed midges causing serious injury, impossible to remain outside

    8 - Dense, black clouds of enraged midges capable of breaking windows, attacks may be fatal

Lolcat builder

Want to make your own lolcat? Go here.

Hurricane update - 18 July

Tropical storm Cosme is heading for Hawaii, where it will arrive on Friday (local time) with increased winds and heavy rains. Cosme is NOT expected to have hurricane force winds. Sea temperatures and atmospheric conditions will not allow intensification to that extent. Local residents and anyone concerned should monitor the Central Pacific Hurricane Center's advisories, which will be commenced tomorrow.

Wednesday notes

Calm if cool morning in the islands. It's cloudy, but the sun is just trying to peep out. Two French fishing boats have been and gone, changing crews within the usual 75 minutes. In this port, you get a discount of 25% in your harbour dues if you leave within 24 hours. The fishing crews are flown in from Brittany on a charter plane, and the relieved crews flown back on the same aircraft. Quite a nifty operation, which they've been continuing for 18 months now. On the previous occasion, one of the boats collided with Goat Island.

A plane has crashed in Brazil, at the airport of Sao Paulo. All people on the plane were killed, as were a number of people on the ground. The plane apparently went off the runway, down an embankment, across a busy road and slammed into a fueldepot. The ensuing fire burnt at 1,000C (1,800F), meaning nobody on the plane stood a chance.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Helicopter take-off

Shows the new helicopter taking off from the Coastguard Station and fly around the Basin before disappearing towards the airport.


A train derailment near the Ukranian city of Lviv (formerly Lemberg) has led to a fire and the unleashing of a huge toxic cloud. The train was carrying yellow phosporus from Kazakhstan to Poland when it derailed. An area of 90 square kilometres (35 square miles) is in danger. When phosphorus burns, it forms phosphoric acid, which is extremely caustic, especially when it comes into contact with water. As any chemistry student knows, yellow phosphorus will spontaneously ignite on exposure to air. Covering it with water makes it safe. It is used in the manufacture of fertiliser and explosives.

Want to know how nasty this stuff is? Read more here.
Phosphorus is the component of many naturally occurring compounds, read more here

Looking back

Just telling a few local stories over the next couple of days.

January 1962
A young couple decided to set up house in the village of Marbhig, some 12 miles south of Stornoway as the crow flies, and the boat sails. By road, the distance is closer to 30 miles. The newly weds had loaded up a boat, the Maimee, with their possessions and were going to flit to Marbhig with the aid of an uncle. On the day that they were going to move to the village, the weather was atrocious. Not a boat had left port that January day on account of a howling gale. The Maimee did set sail. Then, as now, any boat leaving Stornoway passes Goat Island and then Battery Point, before heading across the entrance to Sandwick Bay and finally out to see beyond Holm Point. The Maimee never got that far. Barely a mile out of town, her engine failed. She was driven onto the shallows of the Skerryvore, a well-known reef at the western entrance to Sandwick Bay. The boat was stuck fast, with the tide rising and galeforce winds battering the vessel. Her engine would not restart.

Residents of Lower Sandwick, on the other side of the bay, noticed flames leaping from the direction of Battery Point. Burning rags is a distress signal, if radio or flares do not work. It was not possible to approach the Maimee, as the waters were too shallow. Also, the high winds and waves made it too hazardous. The young woman was stuck in the wheelhouse and could be heard screeching frantically for help as the waters rose around her. An eerie sound, that would haunt people in Lower Sandwick for a long time. Finally, the tide had come up high enough for a rescue to be effected.

Fast forward 18 hours.

A beautiful January afternoon. Not a breath of wind, and not a cloud in the sky. Who would have thought the previous night was so atrocious. Local people can be seen walking on the Skerryvore, out towards the wreck of a boat that is stuck fast. It is the Maimee. Others can be seen on the shore at Sandwick. One plunges into the waters and returns with the body of a man. Frantic efforts are being made to revive him, but to no avail. It is the uncle.

Hurricane update - 17 July

Tropical storm Cosme, downgraded from hurricane status overnight, is moving west across the Eastern Pacific and will cross the 140th degree longitude tonight to cross into the Central Pacific Area of Responsibility. Cosme will weaken, and is likely to be a marginal tropical storm when it passes the Big Island in Hawaii over the weekend. A tropical weathersystem however does usually bring torrential rainfalls. An early warning therefore. Developments could yet wipe the storm off the weathermap altogether before it reaches HI.


Four Russian diplomats are due to be expelled from London amongst the continuing row over the radio-active poisoning of Russian refugee Alexandr Litvinyenko last December. He fell ill and died after ingesting polonium-210, a radio-active isotope that was slipped into a drink or food. Traces of the material were found in several locations across London.

The British government has asked its counterparts in Moscow to expel a suspect, Andrej Lugovoy. This has been declined by the Kremlin. For its perceived non-cooperation, the Russian government is now losing 4 intelligence officials from the London Embassy.

Under existing treaties, the Russian government was not obliged to expel Mr Lugovoy. In reverse, the Russian government has issued several similar requests in the recent past, none of which were honoured by London.

The situation is, as per normal, not a simple black-and-white picture. It should be viewed in a much larger context of changing balances of power in the world as a whole. Russia fell from its position as a global superpower after the fall of communism in the 1990s. Under hardliner Vladimir Putin, a former KGB official, the country is flexing its muscles on the international stage. Eastern Europe and other nations on Russia's periphery felt the effects of that over the winter with a hike in gas prices, or a dimunition in supplies. Russia also has leverage in the Balkans, where the question of independence for the Kosovo region in Serbia remains a brittle issue. Moscow also has influence in Tehran, which could help to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.

However, the British government wanted to put across the message that poisoning and killing dissidents in its territory, using radio-active materials, is not acceptable. Obviously, radio-active isotopes are indiscriminate agents and could imperil the lives of anyone in their vicinity.

The expulsion of 4 Russian diplomats is likely to be followed by a similar response from Moscow. Whether that will solve this particular spat remains to be seen. As I said above, Russia is asserting itself and this has the potential for some nasty repercussions on the international stage.

Reading or watching

Was just reading an entry by Pennie (A Pennie's Worth). Pennie was seriously ill earlier this year. She has now written about her experiences in hospital. One day, she asked the nurse for a book to read. "If you're bored, can't you watch TV?" There was this steady procession of people who came into her room and asked her if she wanted to watch the TV. No, she preferred to read. Basically, the general reaction was that someone who wanted to read rather than watch TV was worthy of viewing. Ambulancemen came to have a look at the woman who wanted to read a book. A wardclark deposited a carrier full of old magazines and books by her bedside.

Isn't that SAD. Over the past year, my viewing habits have shrunk to near zero, restricting myself to the news bulletins. Satellite TV offers more than 500 channels, the majority of which can be classified as garbage. I think you can learn more from reading a book than from watching TV in many instances. Currently, British TV (Channel 4) is once again into Big Brother, and I'm successfully staying away from it. When it is mentioned in a newspaper, I don't know who they're talking about.

Anybody else got any thoughts? Read Pennie's entry, and leave a comment either there or here, or write an entry in your own journal.

Coastguard Helicopter

At around 10.30 this morning, a helicopter flew low over the town and landed outside the Coastguard Station. Needless to say, the town and his wife came out to look at all the excitement. Helicopter Mike Uniform is due to take over from its old predecessor in September. I went down to have a look myself and had a word with the crew. They are finishing their training, and the Stornoway crews will also be trained for using the new aircraft. This costs a mere £16 million.

According to BBC News, it is due to be showcased at the Stornoway Airport today, and at Sumburgh Airport in Shetland tomorrow. The helicopter crew said they'd fly the few miles to the airport at 2pm.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Hurricane update 16 July

The first hurricane of the East Pacific season has formed, nearly 2,000 miles from land. Don't think it's not posing a hazard: although only a category 1 hurricane, and only barely so, Cosme is forecast to reach Hawaii this weekend as a minor tropical storm.

Call for support III

Jimmy (Stupid Too) asked us to keep his friend Kendra in thought, who has been presented with a diagnosis of cancer. This is in fact mentioned on another journal, Emily's Purple Pages. Kendra is to undergo emergency surgery in Oklahoma on Wednesday. Please drop a line at Jimmy's and / or Emily's.

Project 2996 - Norberto Hernandez

Ten months ago, six thousand bloggers set about the task of writing tributes to the 2,996 people known to have died in the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York on 11 September 2001. It was referred to as project 2996. This year, there will not be a coordinated effort, but anyone who wants to write a tribute is welcome to do so.

My tribute was for Norberto Hernandez, and I got a late reply to it this evening, which I'd like to share as it comes from his close family.

This was extremely well done.  Norberto Hernandez was my uncle, as he was my mother's brother.  It is so kind of you to post a tribute to him, and take away from his reference as the 'falling man'.  References to him as that made us as the family feel absolutely helpless, angry, hurt, and distressed.  We miss Nico everyday that passes.  Our family has never been the same.  As you mentioned in your tribute, we also lost Claribel... who was a doll.  The only comfort I have is that both Nico and Claribel are in a better place, free of pain and suffering, and are our Angels, looking down on us, and are our guiding lights.  Not a day goes by that I don't think about them.  Once again, thank you for this.  It was beautiful.

- Anjoli Khatri (21)
#17 Comment from angel4860 - 16/07/07 22:19

Warped sunset

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Another dumpr.net trick - turning a sunset image into a globe...


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This wee house can be found in the village of Brue, on the West Side. Took a picture of it during my last foray there in May. Transformed it into a pencil-sketch using www.dumpr.net.