Monday, 31 March 2008

Diary of pictures

I have decided to link to my FlickR account for my pictures, rather than upload them twice. For this month, nearly over now, you can go to these links:


Sandwick amble - pictures

You can view the pictures of this afternoon's walk on this link.

Sandwick amble

This afternoon is bright with some sunny spells, but with a cool wind and the odd drop of rain. Nonetheless, I ventured out for the 20 minute walk to the cemetery at Sandwick, for the purpose of photographing the World War II gravestones there. Located about 20, which is not far off the listed total of 24. Another 60-odd are scattered in the 14 other graveyards across the island. A large number are RAF personnel, with another large segment made up of Merchant Navy men.

AOL Pictures is not playing ball this afternoon. I'll place the pictures in a separate entry, through my Flickr account.

Monday 31 March

Good morning from a fairly bright and quiet Stornoway, although you wouldn't think so judging by this morning's rogues' gallery on the local radio. A fair few were collared by the police over the weekend for being drunk and disorderly.

I am sitting here quietly fuming at Internet Explorer and its many security holes. I've used the product for precisely two days and I've already got a virus problem. I already found it slows down the computer, so I just might kick it into the long grass for good. I'm also very pleased that Microsoft are rattled by people like Google who seek to challenge their hegemony. I'll never forget the roasting Bill Gates got from an automobile tycoon who said:
"Would you find it acceptable to be driving a car with the following characteristic (among others)? When you want to make a right turn, the vehicle stalls and you have to reinstall the engine".

The search has resumed this morning for the 5 victims of yesterday's plane crash at Farnborough, Kent. The incident destroyed a house, but did not claim casualties on the ground. Among the victims are two prominent figures from the world of motorsport.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The A9

This is the arterial route through the Scottish Highlands, linking Inverness to Perth over a 110 miles. Perth, at the southern end of the Highlands is 60 miles from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. The A9 is an accident blackspot across its entire length for a variety of reasons. First of all, it is mainly single carriageway, with some stretches of dual carriageway. These occur where the road circles the few towns and villages along its length. Many people overtake all slower vehicles on these stretches, but when they hit the single carriageway sections, still try to overtake. Dangerously so.

The second reason is monotony. North of Pitlochry, there are dozens of miles of empty moorland, with hardly a tree to break the line of sight.
The third is speed. Several people have been clocked doing well in excess of 120 mph.

Every week, accidents happen, and frequently with fatal results. Sometimes the cause is not known, like in the case of a solicitor who collided with a bus last summer, for no apparent reason.

The road should be dual carriageway all the way from Perth to Inverness. It costs quite a bit of money to make this happen. However, it looks very unlikely in the short term.


Just after 2.30pm this afternoon, an executive jet crashed into a housing estate in Orpington, Kent. The plane had just taken off from nearby Biggin Hill airfield, when the pilot experienced severe engine vibration. He declared a mayday and was given clearance to return to the aerodrome. Before he reached there, his plane dropped out of the sky and onto two houses in the district of Farnborough. Please note this is NOT the Farnborough where the airshows are held.

One house was completely destroyed by fire, and another suffered 20% fire damage. The occupants of the destroyed property were away on holiday. The plane carried 5 people, 2 pilots and 3 passengers, apparently bound for France. They are at present unaccounted for, but most likely did not survive the crash. Two people on the ground were taken to hospital for shock.

Sunday 30 March

Summertime came in some 40 minutes after my last posting. In other words, sunset at 8pm tonight - yay! It's a quiet day here in Stornoway, with a bit of a breeze and occasional glimpses of the sun. The wind should increase later today.

In Zimbabwe, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has started to claim victory, although only about a third of votes have been counted across the country. A note of caution is in order at this point, as these victory claims are based on votes counted in cities. Mugabe has a lot of support in the countryside (through whichever means), so it's better not to sell the hide before the bear has been shot.

Close of day

I realise that I only made one entry on Saturday (it's now formally Sunday), as there were a handful of things to attend to. So, here I am, in the last hour of wintertime. Clocks go forward an hour in 45 minutes from now in the UK and Europe.

Earlier this evening, between 8 and 9pm, I observed Earth Hour. Should have mentioned it on here, but if anyone has used Google through Saturday, they will have noticed the black page. So, out went the lights and most electrical appliances, and on came all the candles.

Well, the time being what it is, I'll browse through my alerts, but will not be able to attend to the majority of them until tomorrow, for which my apologies.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Saturday 29 March

Bit of a wild day today, with strong winds and frequent wintry showers. Yep, there was hail and snow in amongst that lot earlier this morning. The showers will fade to give way to a spell of rain tonight.

Although the weather doesn't let on, I can notice that spring is here - in at least one way. During the winter time, when I do this update (usually around 11 am), I have to draw the curtain in this room, as the sun shines on the monitor until about midday. The sun has now risen so high in the sky that I no longer need to do that.

Zimbabwe is electing a president today, with the result expected by Monday. If any candidate polls more than 50%, he is the winner. Otherwise, there will be a run-off in 3 weeks' time. I have made my position clear.

Friday, 28 March 2008


Amidst an inflation percentage of a staggering 100,000% (or more), 80% unemployment and one out of every three residents having fled its territory, Zimbabwe is holding presidential elections this weekend. Robert Mugabe, self-styled dictator and liberator-hero of the first hour, is seeking re-election at the age of 84. He faces a challenge from two opposing candidates. Allegations of planned vote-rigging, disenfranchisement of voters through lack of voting booths threaten to make this election anything but fair. But what do you expect from a man who will stop at nothing to stay in power?

Question for George W. Bush. Here is a dictator in flagrant defiance of human rights, democracy and freedom. He has deliberately wrecked his country's economy - Zimbabwe used to be a prosperous place - and has his opponents beaten if not worse. So what's the difference between Iraq, where a huge invasion could be mounted in 2003 to oust a monstrous dictator, and this corner of Africa? Why not send the troops there, Mr Bush?

Internet Explorer 7

Twice before, I have tried Internet Explorer version 7, with very unsatisfactory results. Sometimes it's better not to put on a higher version straightaway because not all bugs will have been ironed out. So, I waited until today - and the experience is (so far) OK. I'll give it a whirl. I do miss the Firefox bookmarks, which is why I'll probably stick to that as my main browser.

Friday 28 March

Overcast and wet this morning, after a night with some high winds. Nothing too dramatic though. Bit of a transition since yesterday.

Although I did not hear it myself, a newsreader on BBC Radio 4 had a fit of the giggles during the Today programme, broadcast between 6 and 9 am. It happened after she had read an item on the oldest recording of the human voice, dating back to 1860, which a studio worker remarked sounded like a bee buzzing in a bottle. Newsreader Charlotte Green had an uncontrollable fit of the giggles while she tried to read the next item.

Yesterday, Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport was opened for business - only to descend into chaos. Planes left without their passengers' baggage on board, check-in was a mess - and all that after £4.3 bn was shelled out for this BA-only edifice. Today is apparently no better.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Afternoon amble

As promised, the pictures of my walk this afternoon.


I wrote an entry about this movie earlier this evening, but deleted it as I had not watched the film on LiveLeak. More than 1 million people have watched it already, apparently. I am not linking - you can find it yourself. It is a major news item this evening, which is why I am  reluctantly writing about it.

Fitna is made by Dutch MP Geert Wilders, who professes to be concerned about the encroaching 'dangers' of Islam. His movie, designed by the look of it to be shocking, is his view on the challenges faced by Dutch society in particular (and Western society in general) as a result of rising numbers of people who are faithful to Islam.

Mr Wilders, who has been warned about his film, has police protection in Holland. Fitna portrays Islam as a hateful and intolerant faith, backed up by a few quotes from the Quran, the Muslim holy book. Atrocities such as 9/11, the bomb attacks on public transport systems in Madrid and London and the beheadings of Western hostages are paraded in gruesome detail.

In the latter part of the film, its maker continues the alarmist tone by suggesting a tide of Islam is about to wash over Europe and Holland in particular, and using horrendous imagery to paint the future, faced by Holland once the country is under Islamic rule which Mr Wilders appears to see as an almost unavoidable doom.

This is a piece of work we can do without. Everybody is entitled to his opinion, as is Mr Wilders.

In the aftermath of 9/11 and other atrocities, a lot of work has been done from both sides of this argument to ensure mutual respect and understanding. Radical imams (preachers) are being rooted out, and efforts are continuing to ensure that extremists do not gain a major foothold anywhere in Western Europe. The war in Iraq has worked beautifully in favour of Muslim extremists, acting as a rallying point for all sorts of hotheads to come and do their dirty work. The situation in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is as far from a resolution as ever, and will be a festering sore for decades to come.

However, it is my perception that the situation is very gradually improving.

I hope Muslims the world over will see the movie Fitna for what it is. Not worth the 16 minutes 48 seconds it took me to watch it, after the ages it took to buffer on LiveLeak. Not worth getting all hot and bothered about. From neither side.

Sunny and warm...

Out of the wind and in the sun, it certainly did feel warm this afternoon. This in spite of the rather meagre 7C / 45F on the thermometer. I took advantage of the beautiful weather to update photographs on one of the four marked walks that I have posted on the Walkingworld website. My pictures for the 4 mile walk to the Iolaire Memorial, just down the coast, are nearly 3 years old, and decidedly dated. Whilst on my way round, I noticed plenty of fat sheep but no lambs. Yet. It was very very muddy along the way, but I come prepared for that.

I was going to share pictures, but AOL isn't playing ball this evening.

Thursday 27 March

A bright and sunny morning, after an overnight frost. We went down to -2C / 28F, but are presently hugging 7C / 45F. The satellite picture shows an approaching low pressure system, which will bring rain and gales in the night.

EU and NATO forces have raided homes belonging to former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in the Bosnian town of Pale. Karadzic, with his military commander Radko Mladic, are indicted by the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague on charges of genocide and have been in hiding since the Bosnian war ended. Amongst other events, Mladic organised the massacre of 7,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in 1995.

Dr Andrew Wakefield is in front of the General Medical Council, accused of serious professional misconduct. It was his allegedly flawed research that instilled a lack of confidence in the MMR (Measles, Mumps & Rubella) vaccine. He is defending his research methods. The claims against MMR, such as a link with autism, have since been discounted. Dr Wakefield's research led to a fall in the uptake in the vaccine, which in turn increased the prevalence of the three diseases. All of them are relatively mild, but can potentially carry serious complications.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

No Sunday sailings - yet

The Board of Caledonian MacBrayne, our ferry operator, have deferred a decision on seven day a week sailings on the Stornoway - Ullapool route until preparations for the Road Equivalent Tarriff have been completed. This is due to come into force in October, and will slash prices on the ferries to the Western Isles. It means changes in the operating routine of the company, and it looks unlikely that a Sunday sailing will be introduced for summer. Petitions with signatures for (1,300) and against (4,000) Sunday sailing were put in front of the Board for today's meeting. A large number of islanders are opposed to Sunday sailings on religious grounds. Others are in favour in order to have more freedom of movement, particularly for those that work away from Lewis and want to come home for the weekend, which (at present) is not feasible.

Missing - found

A few days ago, a skeleton was found in a tent near the Argyll village of Bridge of Orchy, some 65 miles north of Glasgow. The discovery was made by forestry workers who were clearing a trail through a plantation at Auch. After a trawl through the missing persons archive the identity of the man was confirmed today. Nicholas Randall was aged 31 when he went missing in April 2005. His car was found in Glen Nevis, 40 miles to the north, a few days after he was reported missing.

Wednesday 26 March

Brilliantly sunny day here in Stornoway, although it's not warm. One visitor came this morning, to drop off luggage and take off on the service bus round the West Side - to sites like Callanish and the Blackhouse Village near Carloway. Tourist season commenced last week.

When you're on the beach, you're bound to encounter plastic litter. It may seem innocuous, but it is not. A BBC-report from the Central Pacific island of Midway describes the graphic and gruesome consequences on wildlife. Albatrosses for instance feed on squid. Plastic looks like squid, so they gorge themselves on plastic - and starve to death. By the dozen. Think before you throw.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008


Just a reminder about the J-land group: the link is in my sidebar

Jland Group

and if you're not a member yet, you may join from that page.
Only members can email the group or post on the message board.


Local history

Delved into some interesting local history this afternoon. I was asked for photographs of Kildun Farm, which was located on the Arnish Peninsula, onto which I look out. So, off I went to the library, where the staff were most helpful. They dug out an old magazine from 1975, which contained a picture from two decades previous, showing Kildonan Cottage.

I am not able to return to Arnish today to take that picture again. Kildonan Cottage was burned to the ground in the 1970s. The hill from which the photo was taken was razed, to make way for this:

A 2006 view shows the changes in the area


Chinese whispers, whatever you want to call it. Remember my entry Local notes from yesterday, where I mentioned that an event, showcasing local musical talent, suffered a near-zero attendance on account of an alleged cancellation by local radiostation Isles FM? Well, they deny cancelling it. The organisers of the festival, who initially accused the station of broadcasting a false cancellation, now say it is down to local rumour. Oh dear. Looks like I have to be a tad cautious with my sources of local news! But then, I'm in good company. Regional rag the Press & Journal also ran the story.

Baby boom

Want to stop the incessant flow of new additions to the family? Condoms forever bursting, pills never taken? Well, help is at hand. Read more here.

Tuesday 25 March

A deceptively nice morning, but bitterly cold. Snow and ice linger in sheltered spots, and once you get into the sights of the northerly breeze it is very cold. Temperature 4C. Rain should move across from the west in the next day or so, bringing less cold weather. March is the start of spring, but the weather has been far from springlike.

Many thanks for the compliments for my pic of St Moluag's Chapel. It is possible to go inside, although you need to knock on someone's door to get the key. When I was there, I just peered through a window to take a picture like below. If you'd like to read up, please follow this link. The Chapel is still in use, I believe around Christmas Eve.

Reports are coming in of a pile-up on the Austrian A1 motorway, between Salzburg and Vienna. More than 100 vehicles are said to be involved in the smash, which is initially blamed on heavy snowfall. Austrian broadcaster ORF mentions that several ambulances and helicopters are on the scene, and that there is one fatality and several serious injuries.

Monday, 24 March 2008

J-land photoshoot #131

Noticed I did not participate in editions 129 and 130, but I can submit something in Krissy's photoshoot, subject Sacred. One very old chapel in the Ness area of Lewis, dedicated to St Moluag, an acolyte of St Columba. This firebrand priest is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland. A very readable account is given by Nigel Tarrant, who takes a little bit of poetic license. Anyway, here is the pic of the chapel, which I took on 27 April 2007.

Local notes

Local radio station Isles FM mistakenly announced that a music festival in Stornoway Town Hall was cancelled on Friday night. It was not, but still, only a handful of people turned up. The organisers later found out everybody stayed away after they heard of the cancellation on the radio. Isles FM plugged the Saturday event, which did see a decent turn-out.

Western Isles Council last week proposed to build their own windfarm in Lewis, if the current proposal gets rejected by the Scottish Government. A decision is likely in the next few weeks. Rejection looks on the cards, on account of environmental designation. The Council wants to build a windfarm in exactly the same location - with exactly the same designations. Which means, that that proposal too will be turned down.

125 years ago - background

The Napier Commission was set up by Queen Victoria in March 1883, following civil unrest in the Isle of Skye, specifically the Braes area. Police were called in to enforce an eviction, and had to withdraw, bloodied. This raised the attention of the government in London, who were wondering why the people in the Highlands and Islands were so disobedient.

I have so far gone through nearly 7,000 of the 40,000 questions, and I copy the snippets into this blog precisely to highlight the atrocities that went on in those days. The main problem was lack of security of tenure, summary evictions and wilful non-cooperation. The Napier Commission issued a report early in 1884, having spent 7 months gathering evidence from Tiree to Shetland, from Lewis to Edinburgh. Legislation was introduced in 1886 to safeguard the interests of crofters.

In 1990s, a family of 5 in the Isle of Eigg were told to leave their estate-owned house within weeks - just before Christmas. An uproar ensued against the laird, Keith Schellenberg. Whether the torching of his 1920s Rolls Royce had anything to do with the threatened eviction is unclear. Other people in the island were complaining of lack of security of tenure, the threat of summary eviction and wilful non-cooperation. Ring a bell? The problem was that this was estate land, not crofting land. A legal nicety. Since then, the community in Eigg have acquired their own island and legislation has been introduced allowing communities to buy their land off their landlord - against his wishes if need be.

Easter Monday 2008

Greetings from a decidedly chilly Stornoway, where the sun is out - after a morning of snow showers. Nothing settling, but it's very wintry. Thermometer has not been above 2C for a day.

The hurricane warning I put out last night has been cancelled, because the tropical cyclone concerned has been pulled apart. Winds at different levels in the atmosphere were blowing at different speeds and directions, meaning Lola is no longer there. Its remains may still head south, but pose little threat to Mauritius or La Reunion. Another cyclone is being born east of the Cocos Islands, northwest of Australia. Atmospheric conditions there are perfect, but its future course is not certain. The Australian authorities take it south, the other forecasters push it west - towards the Cocos Islands.

Tension in South America is once again heading towards boiling point. A few weeks ago, Ecuador and Venezuela were eye-balling Colombia over a raid by Colombian troops into Ecuadoran territory whilst raiding a rebel encampment. It has now been confirmed that an Ecuadoran national lost his life in the raid. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has threatened diplomatic tension if that would occur.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Hurricane update - 23 March

Hurricanes occur year round, and I'm now flagging up tropical storm Lola which is wrong-footing everybody in the southwestern Indian Ocean. There is a totally incorrect warning for Madagascar, which states that the storm would impact that island within 48 hours of Saturday. Not so.

Lola will be doing the dirty on the Mascaregnes, Mauritius and La Reunion. The storm is currently heading west along the 16th parallel south, which (if unchanged) would take it across northern Madagascar. However, the storm will travel south and gain strength. From 40 knots at the moment to 60 knots on Tuesday - and by that time it won't be over the islands yet.

Meteorology is an inexact science, and even more so when it comes to predicting hurricanes.

Know anyone in Mauritius or La Reunion? Please give them a heads-up.

125 years ago - paragraph 6343

Continuing my trawl through the Napier Commission's report, I came across this account from an islander of Soay, just south of the Isle of Skye.

6343. There is a story about a number of people having been kidnapped, or induced to remove from Soay and other places in Minginish long ago ?—I know it well.
6344. How long ago was it ?—It is seventy years ago since my grandfather went, and it was before that.
6345. There were a lot induced to emigrate to Canada ?—They took them away in spite of themselves.
6346. And they were not taken to Canada ?—No, it was to Charlestown, where they were sold for slaves. He left them poor enough and robbed the clothes off their backs, before they came back to the same farm again.
6347. Who did that ?—Old Kenneth M'Askill.
6348. Of the farm of Rhu Dunan ?—Yes. we heard news from people who went to America. Many of them say they would rather be home in their native place yet, if they were the way they were before.

125 years ago - paragraph 5878

The Napier Commission, still in the Isle of Skye, is continuing to hear of cruelty, and not just to people.

Friday 18 May 1883, Bracadale.
5878. What was the arrangement you spoke about with regard to the sheep pasturing on your crofts in winter. Was that by a special arrangement and included in the rent you paid for the croft1?—No it was no part of the agreement. But when Dr M'Lean would find our sheep in the fank, the owner of any sheep who was not prepared to pay half a crown on the spot for it would have the ears of his sheep cut close to its skull at once.
5923. You spoke about cutting the ears of sheep. I understood you to say that if the crofters kept the sheep and did not pay 2s. 6d., then the ears of the sheep were cut off. Did you ever see the ears of a sheep cut off ?—Yes, I did see that in Dr M'Lean's fank at Talisker. I never saw it before or since.
5924. Was that a punishment of Dr M'Lean's invention, or is it the custom in this country ?—I never saw it with anybody but himself.
5925. Had you any name for that mode of marking sheep ?—No, we had no particular name.
5926. Did you ever hear it called the thief's mark?—Yes, I heard it called the thief's mark.

Easter Sunday 2008

Happy Easter to everybody. I'm typing this, looking at a chocolate Easter bunny, with a bell round its neck. Weather here remains cold, with occasional sleet, hail or snow showers. It is nothing compared to the mayhem, currently experienced in northern England, with 4 inches of snow, closed roads and people trapped in drifts on that infamous snow blackspot, the A66. The snow will spread south along the English east coast.

Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, is being searched this morning for a man, seen acting in a confused manner on the path to the 4,406 feet summit. A rucksack, possibly his, was found. I hope the man is found safe and well - it's no weather for mountaineering unless you're properly prepared.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Warning sign

Earlier this month, as I showed on the blog, I went to Ness, where I found this roadsign. Nobody noticed it in the picture gallery, so I thought I'd blow it up.

Misplaced patient

The very sick man, who was dropped off on the wrong island, was taken home late yesterday afternoon by helicopter. It appears the pilot got himself confused because although the patient was going to Barra - he had understood his orders to be that he should taken him to the Uist & Barra hospital at Balivanich, on Benbecula. The man's medical condition meant he could not be taken home by road and ferry, which is the normal route from Benbecula to Barra.

Evening notes

Weather not as bad as could have been, although it has been wreaking havoc across the country. The lifeboat at Dunbar, east of Edinburgh, broke loose from its moorings and ended up washed onto rocks. It was later put back into water for assessment of any damage. Meanwhile, a fishing boat hailing from Ullapool found itself on the rocks on Friday night - they were also successfully refloated, if with quite a bit of damage.

Unrelated to the weather, apparently, was an accident just west of Fort William, where a car plunged into the Caledonian Canal at Banavie at 3.30 am this morning. Two people were found dead inside the car, once it was raised from the bottom of the canal.

South Africa is suffering a power crisis, but its neighbour Mozambique is coming to its aid. A hydro-electric scheme, involving a huge dam, is being upgraded, allowing increased exports of electricity to South Africa. Power shortages there are blamed on past lack of investment.

Saturday 22 March

A much better day than yesterday, with far less wind and (as yet) no rain or snow. We are due sleet and snow overnight, and temperatures will not exceed 6C today. The weather in northern England is reported to be atrocious, with high winds and heavy snow. The A66 route across the Pennines, between Scotch Corner and Penrith, is closed because of snow drifts. High waves swamped cars on the promenade at Redcar, east of Middlesbrough. Keep safe if you're down that way.

The far west of China was rocked by a 7.2 magnitude earthquake overnight. No reports of casualties of damage YET; the region is remote, wedged between Mongolia and Tadjikistan.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday

Today being Good Friday is a good occasion to bring up the recording I dug out for last year's Easter. The Matthaeus Passion by Bach is quint-essentially Easter. I recommend the recording of the final two chorals. Officially, you are not supposed to clap after a performance of this piece, which is after all related to the death of Christ.

If you have three hours to spare, here is the whole performance.

Sunny day?

Well, in between the hailshowers it looks nice. Went out to the shop earlier on, and was glad to accept a lift back. It's only a 5 minute walk, but not very nice in weather like this.

Although the sun may be shining, it is most definitely not doing so for a poor man from Barra. He went into hospital in Glasgow for radiotherapy, and was due to be flown home by helicopter. His condition is too poorly for him to travel by ferry and road. This morning, the helicopter landed on the wrong island, offloaded him, and took off again. The patient was taken to the Uist & Barra hospital in Balivanich, a few miles away - but 40 miles from home. He was due to have gone to St Brendan's Hospital in Castlebay, the main town in Barra. Weather conditions are too severe for the helicopter to come back, so he will have to stay in Balivanich for the time being.

Friday 21 March

A superficially nice day, until you put your nose outside the door. A very cold northerly wind blows in occasional wintry showers, although not as heavy as last night. No ferry at all tonight; anyone wanting to leave or reach the island today has to travel through Harris and take a ferry to Uig in Skye.

A patient in hospital in Glasgow has been diagnosed with multiple-resistent tuberculosis. He arrived in the UK from Somalia, and was found to be suffering from the disease. This form of TB can only be treated with a cocktail of drugs, but the public are not at risk.
Generally, resistance to antibiotics has spiralled since their inception in the 1940s. It is a natural selection process, where bacteria who happen to have a genetic modification that allows them to survive antibiotics will proliferate. They are even capable of passing on the genetic information. Overuse of antibiotics (like for virus infections such as the common cold) has worsened the problem. TB is singularly difficult to treat, because the bug concerned has a chemical barrier around itself. For those versed in chemistry, its fatty acids run a length of 80 carbon atoms.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Very springlike

Right, this is the first day of spring, and this is the view at 11pm this evening. Quite a heavy hail and snow shower. Far worse to come tomorrow, with a great deal of uncertainty over our ferry service.

125 years ago - paragraph 4191

Many more pages to go, but this was one of the most harrowing chapters I have come across as yet. It tells the story of the inhumanity visited upon the people on the western side of the Isle of Skye in the course of clearances.

4191. How many altogether were removed by Mr Gibbons?—Seventeen. He placed these families as close together as the sea would allow him; and we have but very little land, and it will not support us ; and some of those he took from Minginish were placed upon peat soil, which had never previously been cultivated. When he packed the people in that way Ebost tack was then free, and he thought that was a better bargain, and gave up Feorlick. Then Major M'Kinnon succeeded him. He was not very severe on the people. They were paying rent in work, but he removed some of the people,—Malcolm Stewart and Murdo Macdonald ; these had not a place on earth on which they could put a foot. I myself saw them living under a sail spread on three poles under high-water mark. He warned off Donald Campbell for giving shelter to a poor man who had not a place to live in. I saw the officer coming to his house and breaking into it; and he went in with a pad of water and extinguished the fire, and a great steam arose in the house; and what with the noise of the fire extinguishing and the denseness of the steam, his wife went out of her senses. We were then advised that if we would tow her after a boat in the sea, she would get better; and we took her out, and she would not sink deeper than up to her breast. I myself was two years in an asylum in Glasgow. I was a keeper there, and I never saw one that was so mad as her. Now Major M'Kinnon went to Edinburgh, and it was said he was brained there. He was succeeded by Mr John Scobie, who came to Harlosh, where I live. He told us freely that M'Leod of Dunvegan had  overgiven to him, that he might do what he liked with us, and he said it was God who sent him there. He came and took a view of Harlosh, as the spies did who went to spy out the land of Canaan. There is a place there called Ardmore Point—a peninsula in Harlosh He thought that would make a splendid park for tups, and he thought that whatever became of the people, he would have such a park there, and he removed four of them, and said he would make them as comfortable up at Balmore as they were before. He said that he had told M'Leod about it, and that he had promised M'Leod he would make them as comfortable as they were before. The four people went up to see where they were to be located. There was a piece of mossy ground there, which had never been cultivated, and was in its primeval state, and when the people saw the place they would not go into it. John Campbell was one of them, John Macdonald was another, and they said they would trust to the providence of God; and if God should support them, they would go to Australia.

Easter Icon

Maundy Thursday

Today is the first day of the Easter weekend, it being Maundy Thursday. On this day, Christ called on his disciples to love each other, before washing their feet. Several centuries later, English monarchs would hand out Maundy alms on this day, the number of purses representing the monarch's age. This year, 82 purses to men and 82 to women. Each purse contains 82 pence, legal tender but specially minted for this day, so very rare. I once knew a man who received a purse of Maundy money.

Queen Elizabeth is in Northern Ireland for a three-day visit, and is attending Maundy Thursday service in St Patrick's Cathedral in Armagh. Read more here.

Thursday 20 March

The first day of spring, but the weatherforecast predicts a return to winter. Today started bright and sunny, but with a strong northwesterly wind making it feel cold. Overnight, snowshowers will start to fall. Any lying snow will melt in the daytime, but will accumulate overnight.

A worker with toothache brought the Portree lifeboat in action overnight. He had been working on the island of Rona, just north of Raasay, when he developed severe toothache. The normal ferry could not manage in the bad weather, but the Portree lifeboat were happy to oblige, and took the man to the dentist.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008


Sunset was some 10 minutes ago (as I start this post, at 6.45pm), and cloud has increased through the afternoon. Spits and spots of rain herald the advent of more of the wet stuff. Went for an amble about town this afternoon, and took the pics above. Regular readers may be familiar with some of the sights shown in them.

The parents of Madeleine McCann were awarded £550,000 in a libel case against two tabloid newspapers. These had alleged that they were responsible for Madeleine's death. The money was deposited in the Find Madeleine fund, and a front page apology printed. Since Madeleine went missing, nearly 11 months ago, her parents and a man named Robert Murat have been declared formal suspects by the Portuguese judiciary. Those are the only substantive developments. No trace of the 4-year old has been found since. I am sick of the tabloid press making up stories, and I restrict myself to skimming their headlines as pass by the newspaper stand in the shop.

Would you have confidence in a paper talking about "Macca" when referring to Sir Paul McCartney? His divorce settlement is another total non-story, except it showed his wife off in her true colours, by pouring a jug of water over her ex-husband's lawyer's head.

Wednesday 19 March

Fairly bright day, much the same as of late. We are warned against a wet and windy night to come, but that should clear away by morning. Yes, things are beginning to turn green, the grass shows signs of beginning to grow - otherwise, not very springlike. The birdfeeders will stay out until the leaves begin to grow.

A sure sign that the winter is drawing to a close is the change in the public transport timetables. Local buses and the regional ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne all switch over on Friday 21 March, to a schedule with more services. In July and August, we even get three ferry sailings a day, as opposed to the two a day at other times. The first sailing is at 6.15 am, with others at 12.40 and 7pm; the ferry returns at 12.45 am (yep, after midnight).

Another sign is the arrival of the first set of tourists this season - after all, it is the Easter weekend coming up, which is normally when the season starts. In my first year, I remember travelling down the Harris road on a service bus at 10.30 am, when a perspired-looking cyclist came pedalling in the opposite direction, still some 22 miles short of Stornoway.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

125 years ago

I continue to make my way through the many pages of the Napier Report of 1883, into the conditions of the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Paragraph 3596 gives a good example as to why the Napier Commission was brought into being, as many of the factors (proprietor's representatives) abused their position for their own gain - I think you could describe that as nepotism, as graphically described below.

15 May 1883
Statements prepared by the Tenants of Edinbane. Our lots are from 6 to 8 acres of arable land. There are about 20 half lots from subdivision. A large piece of the hill has been taken from us called Ben Dhu, and no compensation, given. Several of our lots have been taken down by 1 acre, and no reduction of rents. The proprietor has never done anything for the land. The houses are built and maintained by ourselves. On removal we get compensation for the roof only. We think our rents too high, when so much land has been taken from us, and the rent in many cases raised. They were last raised to give the factor Mr Robertson votes. We are not in arrears. Seven days' work is claimed by Mr Robertson from each lot, and 2s. is taken from us for every day we miss. He likes us to give him the first offer of stock, but he does not fix the prices. A lot is allowed four cows and twenty-four sheep. Four cows are too many for the pasture. The profits from sheep go direct to Mr Robertson for rent. We never touch a penny of the money. The money from our sheep for the rent, instead of being put in the bank for us until Martinmas -when it is due, is kept by Mr Robertson for his own use, and we get no interest from him for it. We cannot utilise fishing for the want of proper boats, &c. Fishing should be distinct from crofting. There were plenty of evictions in Grishornish and Coshletter before the time of the late Mr M'Leod. Many of us have seen the law officers come and strip the roofs in Edinbane, and pour water down on the fires. The people evicted mostly emigrated. They got no compensation. The land is now largely in the hands of Mr Robertson, the factor. We would migrate, not emigrate. No Gaelic is taught at our schooL We would like our children taught to read the Gaelic Bible. The school rates are a shilling. Fees for standard IILIs. 6d. There are eight paupers on the estate; most of these on Ben-Dhu have come from other places. Several cottars have been removed by the late Mr M'Leod and by Mr Robertson from Grishornish and Coshletter and put upon us. The poor-rates are 8d. Mr Robertson, the factor, has the lands once belonging to us of Kerrol and Ben-Dhu in his own hands. We received no reduction when these lands were taken from us. Mr Robertson keeps a meal-store, and we nearly all deal with him. We are this year already very deep in his books for meal. When Mr Robertson put the money on to our rents, for votes for himself as he said, he promised to make it good to us, but he has never done so, although we protest every year. We can give many other instances of oppression. One man took in a lodger against Mr Robertson's wish. He was fined a £1, and had to pay the £1 for five or six years, and was only pardoned last Martinmas. Another man for selling a stack of corn off the farm, although he had offered it to Mr Robertson several times, and was in sore need of ready money, was punished by having his rent raised from £3, 8s. 5d. to £4, which he still pays. The year before last two men quarreled about the march of their crofts. Mr Robertson ended the quarrel by fining the man with the largest croft 10s. a year on to his rent, and no corresponding reduction to the man with the small croft. In November last the factor put 7s. on to a half lot, with the reason stated, " I want to make a gentleman of you, and give you a vote." Mr Robertson has two shares of sheep in the hill, and although we complained, he will not pay for the grazing, and he refuses to let our sheep go over the lands of Kerrol, which is our right in winter, and makes us twice a year build up the dyke that keeps our own sheep out of our own grazings. We have to submit to such things as these, for fear of being evicted. Reforms wanted. More land and fixity of tenure. We cannot improve our lands at present as they will not support our families while we are improving them; but if we had enough of land to keep us on it the whole year round, and if we were made secure against fines and evictions from petty spite of the factor or other causes, we would improve it, and there would be no more heard of destitution in hard years like this. When the credit which this bad year drove us into is settled for, there will not be much of our stock left to us we think.


As I have remarked a few times in this blog, it has been proposed to build a huge windfarm on Lewis. The planning application is expected to be decided upon within weeks.

Yesterday, an Energy Conference was held in Stornoway, and the Energy Minister for Scotland said the Western Isles had excellent potential for renewable energy. Wind, tides, waves, solar, you name it. Sources which should be harnessed to the benefit of the community.

Our council is so determined to build a windfarm, come hell or high water, that they have already proposed an alternative, should the current proposal be turned down. More of the same, but now in the part-ownership of the community. One quote sent my head reeling:
Generation on this scale will provide the additional benefit of being able to fund environmental management work that will enhance the sustainability of a wide range of habitats and support jobs for their interpretation.

The Energy minister announced at the end of January that he was "minded to reject" the current proposal, as it flies in the face of several European Union Habitat directives, related to protected species and habitats. If the current proposal is finally rejected, then so will the revamped proposal.

Army Cadets

Fourteen-year old Kaylee MacIntosh from Fyvie, Aberdeenshire, joined the Army Cadets with the aim of becoming a soldier. Her ambitions were not to be fulfilled, as she drowned whilst out on exercise with the Army Cadets in the Outer Hebrides last August.

On August 3rd, 2007, the weather was very poor, with an unseasonable force 7 wind lashing the Western Isles. The sea was whipped up by the strong winds, and local seamen stayed ashore that day. Nonetheless, three rigid-inflatable boats set out from South Uist into Loch Carnan, a sealoch on the island's east coast. One boat overturned.

A head-count was held, but a mistake was made, meaning it took about 45 minutes for someone to realise that Kaylee was missing. The emergency services searched for her, to find her underneath the upturned boat. Kaylee was flown to hospital in Stornoway, 60 miles away, but declared dead on arrival.

Today, the Marine Accidents Investigation Branch published a detailed report, (PDF file) which lists a catalogue of errors. The girl's parents may seek a prosecution, but that decision lies with the Procurator Fiscal in Stornoway. Mr and Mrs Macintosh feel that the Army has failed in its duty of care towards their daughter.

Tuesday 18 March

Another quite reasonable day, with the sun peeking through the clouds. Locally, we are still awaiting a decision on the North Lewis Windfarm, which would see 181 turbines, each standing 450 ft tall, marching 40 miles from Stornoway to Port of Ness via Bragar. The Energy Minister was in town yesterday, proclaiming the Western Isles should harness ALL forms of renewable energy. Some interpret this as a favourable hint towards the big project, other read it as its death knell.

Belgium has finally got itself a government, 9 months after general elections. It is a coalition of both Flemish- and French-speaking parties, from across the political spectrum. The language issue is not straddled by any political party, and the issue threatened to split the country in two. An intervention by King Albert II forestalled that. Thirty years ago, pitched battles were fought on the streets of the disputed district of Fourons-le-Comte / 's Gravenvoeren, south of the Dutch city of Maastricht, which threatened to spill across the Dutch border.
As the two names indicate, both language groups lay claim to it. Asking directions in Wallonia whilst speaking Flemish (note) will earn you a terse "comment?" (what?). People from the Netherlands, whose accent is different from the Flemish may get a response in their own language.

A man has appeared in court, charged with the abduction and illegal imprisonment of 9-year old Shannon Matthews. He was remanded in custody for another appearance at a later date. Shannon herself remains in the care of social services pending the conclusion of police inquiries.

Monday, 17 March 2008

War in Iraq

The war in Eye-rack is approaching its 5th anniversary. I'm feeling decidedly ambiguous about the whole project. I'll just give my take on it.

Saddam Hussein was America's own son of a b****. Following the Islamic revolution in Iraq's eastern neighbour Persia / Iran in 1979, the USA wanted an ally to prevent the spread of radical Islam across the Middle East. So they pumped Iraq's small-town dictator Saddam Hussein full of arms, and he fought a bloody war against Iran, which neither side won. In 1988, the war drew to a close, and Saddam Hussein decided to wage war on his own people, using nerve gas against the village of Halabja in the north of his country. During the 1980s, Mr Hussein had nuclear ambitions, but that was knocked out in an audicious airstrike by the Israeli airforce in 1981.

In August 1990, Saddam Hussein became a naughty boy by invading Kuweit, which Iraq regards as its 19th province. His troops overran the province in days, but after US forces amassed in Saudi Arabia and surrounding areas, the Iraqis were routed in short order some 7 months later. The road to Baghdad lay open, and American forces were 100 miles from the capital. They were ordered to halt their progress, at the behest of other Arab leaders. A decision which I personally reckon to have been a severe mistake.

In the following 12 years, Saddam Hussein continued to be a pain in the backside, but he was in a military stranglehold, and not an immediate threat to anybody's interests. Although he had used surface-to-surface Scud missiles during the 1990/1 war, the threat of chemical or biological weapons was never carried through. In fact, it is thought that in a flash of realism, Saddam has probably destroyed what stockpiles of nasties he held as his position became ever more restricted.

However, George W. Bush was now on the throne in the White House, and he got it in his head that he wanted to finish the jobthat his daddy had failed to complete in 1991. Furthermore, he blamed Saddam Hussein for complicity in 9/11, even though there was no evidence to support that accusation.

In 2003, the decision was taken to effect a regime change in Iraq, oust Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi people would warmly embrace their liberators, the American and British armies. The reason given was that Saddam held chemical, biological or nuclear weapons - without a shred of credible evidence. Afraid that UN inspection teams would back that up, troops were amassed and sent into Iraq on 19 March 2003.

Saddam Hussein was deposed within a month, and he hid in a hole in the ground, from which he was extracted in December 2003. Having stood trial, he was convicted of genocide and sentenced to death. His hanging, though deserved, was bereft of any dignity as the condemned man was taunted to his dying moment, and nearly decapitated in the process. Some would say he didn't deserve any dignity. It shows, in my book, greatness of character to grant dignity - if only to show the guilty party off as the real villain.

Having kicked Saddam out on April 9th, 2003, president Bush didn't have a proper plan beyond that. He showed a complete lack of insight into Middle Eastern politics of recent and more distant years, being totally unaware that many in the Middle East regard America as their arch enemy for their support for Israel, which (through its foundation in 1948) has usurped Arab lands and suppressed the Palestinians. If Mr Bush had shown insight - well, that's an empty line of reasoning. He rarely has in international politics.

So, the presence of American troops in an Arab state was a convenient rallying call for Al-Qa'eda, which sought to fill a power vacuum through an insurgency. Meanwhile, an Iraqi government was installed which was, if anything, weak. Fortunately, the Iraqis are getting fed up with all the Islamic hot-heads coming into their country, stirring up trouble that they don't want. Things are slowly, very slowly, improving. Suicide bombers still do their deadly work, and battles are still being fought in Iraq.

British and American forces will be in Iraq for years to come, to sort out the mess that their governments created. Mr Blair has left office in the UK, and Mr Brown will not be taking any really major foreign policy decisions before the next General Election in 2009. Mr Bush will be leaving the White House in January of that year. Their legacy will be slightly different from the one they may have had in mind upon ascending to office in 1997 and 2000 respectively.

The War in Iraq.

Evening notes

We didn't have a white Christmas, but we just might get a white Easter. The long-range forecast mentions temperatures of 4C on Easter Sunday. Great.

The mystery of famous French author Antoine de St Exupery, who disappeared whilst flying a mission during World War II, has apparently been solved. A former German fighter ace has come forward, admitting that he shot down St Exupery. He is famous for the story of The Little Prince, who lives on an asteroid.

The Princess Diana inquest has heard one more rumour that I don't care to hear about. Paul Burrell, former butler to the Princess, says he removed a blood-stained ring from Diana's finger after her death. Burrell himself has refused to give further evidence to the inquest. Want to know more? Read here.

Monday 17 March

Happy St Patrick's Day to the Irish or those of Irish descent. Here in Scotland, our national day is November 30th. The weather today is quite acceptable, fairly bright with some chinks in the clouds. The webcam shows that quite well.

The US has now got its own Northern Rock - it's called Bear Stearns. This bank was taken over for a fraction of its recent value by competitor JP Morgan on the back of the mortgage crisis. I specifically omit the word "sub-prime", because in a recent commentary, I heard that the problems with defaults on payments were spreading into the normal mortgage market.

Plugging one hole with another does not work in the long run. When you run out of holes, you're in one hell of a hole. And if you keep digging, it just gets worse. I'm not being even half funny saying this. It is what lies at the bottom of this debacle.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

New Journal

Jan highlighted a new journal, and I feel it deserves a further relay. Pop along to Helen's World. Helen was badly burned at age 2, and has grown up to enjoy life very much - in the face of adversity.


It seems to be introspection time in J-land, as I have come across three people who are opening up about matters in life that trouble them deeply. One writes a private journal, but Gina and Regina are public journalers. Neither entry is easy reading. I have highlighted both journals in Call for Support.

Palm Sunday

It's Easter next week, so an Easter greeting has found its way into my sidebar. Found a handful of other things, which I'll pop in here as the week goes on.

12 March 1938

The year 1938 was one of the black years of the 1930s, but as nothing in comparison to the following decade. On 12 March 1938, Nazi forces marched from Germany into Austria without opposition. It heralded the amalgamation of Austria into Germany, referred to historically as the Anschluss (the joining). Once more, a violation of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, went unpunished. Austria ceased to exist as a fully independent nation until 1955.

Later in 1938, on September 30th, Neville Chamberlain went to a summit meeting with Adolf Hitler at Munich, (in)famously returning to Great Britain "peace for our time".

Six weeks later, on November 9th, the infamous Kristallnacht saw Jewish property across Germany being vandalised and destroyed, and Jews molested and killed in an orchestrated campaign of terror.

The Sudetenland area of Czecho-Slovakia was invaded early in 1939 by Nazi forces, to continue Hitler's campaign to join all German speaking territories to the Fatherland. The British government stood by, swallowing the German excuse that it was defending a German minority.

The Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939 finally did evoke a response from the British Government, in the shape of a declaration of war. World War II had begun.

I occasionally highlight key dates from World War II and preceding years, lest we forget the atrocities that occurred between 1933 and 1945.

125 years ago

Join the army in the Crimean war, mid 19th century. What did you get? Well, paragraph 1123 from the Napier Commission inquiry into the conditions of the poor of the Highlands and Islands gives a flavour:

But when you were in [the army]?—Well, for one time I had two years and four months without ever stripping or going to bed. From the time I left Portsmouth till I returned, I never stripped. I was in clothes all the time, and it was hard enough work for all I got.

Shannon Matthews

The police have asked for extra time to interrogate Shannon's uncle, aged 39, who is being held on suspicion of abduction. The usual recriminations are flying today, which state that "if the police had done this, and if the police had done that, she would have been found faster". The police refute those suggestions. I have not found reliable corroboration for the allegation that Shannon was abused by her stepfather's uncle. This will undoubtedly surface if and when the police decide to charge the man - or not.

In recent days, reception on Sky TV (satellite) has deteriorated somewhat (the dish is rusting), and it's affecting BBC News 24 :-(. As a result, I've reverted to watching Sky News, which is not half as cautious as the BBC in its reporting.

Sunday 16 March

Fairly bright day, with some sunny intervals, much like yesterday. Tonight, we can expect a frost. Over on the mainland, the mercury will plummet to -7C / 20F.

Organise a party and get your house trashed. Particularly when BBC Radio 1 (the popular music channel) gives it a "shout". A girl had organised a fancy-dress party at Bovey Tracey, Devon, for 100 invited guests, to celebrate her 18th. Someone had passed on the information to the BBC, which broadcast the event - resulting in a throng of 400 uninvited guests, who proceeded to rampage through the property. The girl's parents blame the BBC and have declared they are considering their options. Methinks the BBC should stop advertising private parties, or at least check them out before broadcasting. It is well known that "home alone" parties by teenagers tend to get out of hand, and it doesn't need the tender ministrations of the country's public service broadcaster to add to that.

A crane has collapsed in New York, crushing an apartment block in its path. Four have died, dozens are injured, and the emergency services are still scouring the wreckage for survivors.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

125 years ago

On 8 May 1883, Lord Napier visited the Isle of Skye and other areas in the Highlands and Islands. He had been charged by Queen Victoria to investigate the grievances of crofters and cottars against the prevailing system of land ownership, security of tenure (or lack thereof) and living conditions. I have a transcript of the report, and it makes for deeply depressing reading. However, if anyone wants to understand the recent history of the north of Scotland, this is compulsory reading.

I copy the first 21 paragraphs, which gives a flavour of society in those days.
For reference: the man interviewed, Angus Stewart, lives in an area called the Braes, 8 miles southeast of Skye's main town, Portree. When the landowner found that the local cottars were not paying the rent, he sent in the constabulary. The police were met with a fully fledged riot, and retreated bloodied to Portree. A Royal Navy ship was sent to the area, by which time the uprising had come to the attention of the authorities in London.

1. -The Chairman.—Would you have the goodness to state what is your occupation ?—A crofter.

2. Have you also been engaged in fishing ?—Yes.

3. Were you born here, at the Braes?—Born at the Braes.

4. Have you lived here all your life?—Not all my life. I have been away, but not very far off.

5. From time to time?—From time to time.

6. But you are thoroughly acquainted with the feelings and interests of the people here?—Yes.

7. Have you been freely elected by the people to be their delegate!— Yes.

8. Now, will you have the goodness to state to me what are the hardships or grievances of which the people complain who have elected you ?— Yes; but it is in Gaelic that I prefer to speak.

9. You desire to be examined in Gaelic?—Yes. [From this point the examination of the witness and of subsequent witnesses in Skye was conducted through Mr Dugald McLachlan, sheriff-clerk depute, as interpreter.]

10. Then you wit! have the goodness to state what are the hardships and grievances, if any, of which the people whom you represent at this place complain?—I would wish that I should have an opportunity of saying a few words before I tell that, and that is that I should have the assurance that I will not be evicted from my holding by the landlord or factor, as I have seen done already. I would not have a fire in my house at Whitsunday I want the assurance that I will not be evicted, for I cannot bear evidence to the distress of my people without bearing evidence to the oppression and high-handedness of the landlord and his factor.

11. Have you anything more to add to your preparatory statement?— No.

12. It is impossible for the Commission to give you any absolute security of the kind which you desire. The Commission cannot interfere between you and your landlord, or between you and the law, but we trust that no act of oppression or severity would ever be exercised towards you or any one else by the landlord in consequence of your courage and goodness in telling the absolute truth.

Mr ALEXANDER MACDONALD, Factor for Lord Macdonald—examined.

13.  The Chairman.—You are at liberty to speak if you desire to make Macdonald, any observations?—In the first place, I may say that I am surprised at this man's statement, because he is not one of our crofters at all. He is a crofter's son; he is not a crofter. That is the first thing. In the next place, I do not think that he has any reason whatever, or that any person has any reason whatever, if he tells the truth, and nothing but the truth, to fear anything. In fact, we consider it rather insulting to us to insinuate anything of the sort. We despise to do anything of the sort. We expect and trust that the men will tell the truth and nothing but the truth, and the whole truth.

14. There is something rather ambiguous in the statement which you have made. Am I to understand that you publicly state that no proceeding will be taken against any tenant or inhabitant of this place in consequence of what they state before the Commission on this occasion?—I believe not.

15. You say you believe not, but do you engage that no proceedings will be taken?—That is all I can state: on my own property certainly there will not be, and, I believe, on no property. In fact, such an idea never entered our heads; but we expect the people will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

16. Mr Cameron.—Would you engage on behalf of the proprietors for whom you act; for all properties with which you are connected?—Most certainly; but this I would say, if we hear any man making a grossly false statement against us, which we can prove to be false, I do not think that in human nature it would be found we should like to continue that man as our tenant. If there is any statement which is made by a man thinking and believing it to be true, even though we ourselves differ from it, we would never dream of using any power that we have, but if the man tells a parcel of unfounded lies—which I do not believe any man here or elsewhere in Skye will do until I hear it—that is a different matter altogether. So far as we are concerned the people have full liberty to tell everything they have to say, without any fear.

17. The Chairman.—If you are able to do so I would rather that you availed yourself of this occasion to make a distinct declaration that whatever the people say no proceeding will ever be taken against them on that account,—that on this particular occasion whatever they may say, however mistaken you may think them, however erroneous or false, no proceeding will be attempted?—These are my own personal feelings, and certainly so far as the properties for which I am factor are concerned they will never know or hear anything about it—so far as I, as factor, am concerned.

18. Then I am authorised by you to assure this gentleman before me that nothing will ever be done to his prejudice on this occasion?—I expect that he will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and so far as I am concerned as factor, I will visit in no way anything upon him, and I believe Lord Macdonald will do nothing.

19. Mr Cameron.—You have heard what this witness has said, that except under certain conditions he refuses to give us evidence. We have been appointed by the Queen to investigate this subject thoroughly, and it is impossible that we can do so unless we get proper evidence from witnesses such as Mr Angus Stewart. Now, I am sure you would not Macdonald, wish that the evidence should fail to be recorded from any disinclination on your part to give the assurance which has been asked by the chairman — I give him the fullest assurance.

20. And I think all we wish was contained in the observation which I formerly made, namely, that so far as concerns the estates under your management nothing shall happen to any witness in consequence of any statement which he may make, whether you consider it truthful or not, before this Commission. If you give that assurance we may at once proceed ?—Certainly we expect the man to tell the truth.

21. The Chairman.—But let us come to a point on this matter. Will you state yes or no in reply to my question,—will you authorise me to state absolutely to this man that nothing will ever be done prejudicial to his interest or that of his family in consequence of anything he may say on this occasion ?—I believe I am quite at liberty to say so. I believe I am perfectly at liberty to say so, and from the first I could have said so.

Evening notes

As we move towards sunset, the news continues to be dominated by young Shannon Matthews, found, after being missing for 24 days, in Dewsbury. A picture is emerging of complicated family ties. Police are interviewing the young girl to piece together a sequence of events since February 19th.

In Albania, an armaments depot has exploded, leaving widespread devastation, death and injury behind. The Albanian army was disposing of old ammunitions, some dating back to the 1940s, when the blast occurred. This report on the BBC website has actual footage of the detonations as they happened.

I have spent the afternoon uploading images of ships, which have visited Stornoway over the past 6 months, to the shipspotting website. So far, I have put 85 pictures up. In comparison with other ports on the Scottish west coast, Stornoway cannot be described as bustling, making the appearance of strange boats quite an occasion. There is a meeting of shipspotters in Rotterdam next month, with an inevitable session of 4 hours on the water's edge, spotting ships.

I hope any J-landers in Atlanta, GA, were not affected by the storm last night which has left the city centre severely damaged. It appears to have been tornado-like in nature.

Talking of storms, I have no tropical cyclones whatsoever to report upon. The season in the southern oceans is moving towards its closure - which means the Northern Hemisphere hurricane season is nigh. Two months from now, in fact. Be prepared.

Saturday 15 March

A nice bright morning, with good sunny intervals between the clouds. There is a northeasterly wind, which will gain in strength through the day. In other words, it's cold outside.

Did you know toasters are banned in Cuba? Quite a few electronic items will be un-banned in the near future. The problem lies in limited power supplies.

Young Shannon Matthews is safe in police care, but both she and her abductor will be questioned extensively over events of the past 24 days. Neighbours in her area of Dewsbury celebrated her freedom with fireworks last night.

Friday, 14 March 2008


As I mentioned in my previous post, 9-year old Shannon Matthews has been found alive and well. She was found, hidden in the base of a divan bed, in a house in Batley Carr, Dewsbury, earlier today. A man, aged 39, has been arrested on suspicion of abduction. The girl is currently in the care of West Yorkshire Police.

If you keep checking this link, it will carry further updates as they appear.

Shannon Matthews

Unconfirmed reports suggest that this 9-year old from Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, has been found in Batley, near Leeds, 4 miles from her home. She went missing on February 19th. No further details at this stage.


On 12 March 1941, the SS Politician was making her way from the United Kingdom to America, but was hopelessly lost in fog around the Hebrides. Although the captain thought he was near Skerryvore, he was in fact a good few miles further west, and heading into the narrow channel between the isles of South Uist and Eriskay. With a grinding crunch, the boat ran aground on a reef, just off Eriskay.

The Politician's crew decided she was not going to come off in a hurry, either refloated or sinking, so they rowed ashore at Eriskay and alerted the authorities. The islanders were alerted in the process and they went over to have a look around the wreck. Its cargo consisted of cases of Jamaican banknotes, several grand pianos, bathroom suites and... many thousands of cases of all kinds of whisky.

The story has become legendary, with the islanders helping themselves to unimaginable quantities of uisge bheatha [water of life] and having a high old time. Compton Mackenzie immortalised the story in his book Whisky Galore, changing a few names along the way. Apart from the whisky, the bathroom suites also found a good home. One set is reportedly still sitting outside a house in Eriskay, in daily use.

After a couple of days, the authorities intervened and retrieved part of the cargo. Several islanders were prosecuted for illegally retrieving goods off a wrecked ship. Bottles of 'polly' still turn up every now and again, If they have  been in the sea, the spirits will have become undrinkable. But it's a nice story.

Friday 14 March

The pictures buttons are back in normal working order, thanks Vish.

A nice sunny morning - with pretty beefy showers, some with hail. After they fade away later today, a cold night will precede the same conditions on Saturday.

Thirteen months ago, a man of 18 was picking up his friends to go to Inverness one morning, when he approached a level crossing near Invergordon, north of the Highland capital. A train was approaching, but rather than slow down to a stop, he sped up, in an apparent attempt to beat the train to the level crossing. The train won, by 13 metres. He smashed into the undercarriage at speed, killing two of his friends in the process and sustaining serious injury himself. At trial in Edinburgh yesterday, it appeared the man in the dock had been clocked at 108 mph on the nearby A9 road, just two days after he passed his test in December 2006.

Drivers aged between 18 and 24 are most likely to suffer an accident behind the wheel. Nobody is invincible, and in the car vs train stakes, the train always wins.

Thursday, 13 March 2008


Vish, one of the journalseditors, has told me that the problems with the greyed-out graphics buttons are restricted to the UK only. It is being looked into and will be resolved ASAP. It looks something like this - oh, and I had to manually upload the picture, and manually insert the <img src tag.

Learning about weather

As you know, I'm strongly interested in the weather, and I've discovered a very useful website for learning about the weather. It is part of the American National Weather Service, called Jetstream. Have a browse, if you'd like to learn more. At the end of each topic, there is the option of taking a short test, which will give you a certificate.

Evening notes

The death of Greater Manchester police chief Michael Todd remains shrouded in mystery. He was found to be over the drink drive limit, a fact corroborated by the find of a half-empty bottle of spirits by his side. A number of 'disturbing' text messages had been sent in the hours leading up to the find of his dead body. Whatever problems had contributed to Mr Todd's apparent suicide appear to have been wholly of a personal nature.

The lifeboat crew at Barra, 120 miles south of Stornoway, have been honoured with the issue of a series of stamps. The crew, consisting of 26 volunteers and 2 full-time staff, were joined for the occasion by the Stornoway-based Coastguard helicopter. Barra Lifeboat station opened in 1931 and has saved more than 400 lives since.

I have viewed the evidence given yesterday at an inquiry into financial and managerial failure at the Western Isles Health Board between 2003 and 2006. It appears that the Board has one Chief Executive out on secondment, never to return; another suspended on full pay (and has been for more than 6 months) and a third, acting CEO. Although the Board only pays the salary of one (the other two are funded by NHS Scotland) it beggars the belief that a cash-strapped health authority is costing the taxpayer the wages of three CEOs.

Thursday 13 March

A nicer day than yesterday, with some sunshine between the clouds. Showers are forecast, and winds will increase through the day. Last night, I was taking part in a "ceilidh" (a social event) with plenty of food and drink, as is customary here.

AOL Time Warner is reported to have acquired the social networking site Bebo, at a time when Time Warner is contemplating splitting off its AOL arm. It does send me wondering whether all this uncertainty contributes to the deterioration in service that many people have been complaining about.

Oh, I still haven't got my greyed-out buttons back to normal.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Last French veteran of WW1 dies

Lazare Ponticelli has died at the age of 110. He was the last surviving French veteran of World War I. He was born in northern Italy in December 1897, but went to Paris to work. In 1914, at the age of 16, he lied about his true age and joined the French legion. He adopted France as his homeland in 1921.

Only a few veterans remain alive, one of the Briton Henry Allingham, aged 111.

Pictures 12 March

Pending the resumption of normal picture service on AOL (have emailed the journalseditor), you can view today's pictures here.

Windy and cold

In common with the rest of the country, we have a westerly wind force 7 going,. This morning, went out to Garry (15 miles north of Stornoway), but there were frequent hail and rainshowers, propelled on that very cold wind.

I'll be catching up with alerts hopefully later today, but more likely tomorrow. I did take pictures on the wee outing, but am unable to put them on the journal, as the photo-buttons are greyed out and not working.