Wednesday 31/05/06

Nice morning, fairly sunny, but with a veil of high cloud moving across. Rain is expected for later today. The Swiss guests go off on the early ferry. The Dutch ones are heading out to Callanish for the morning, before leaving on the lunchtime boat. The gentleman used to work for the same shipping company that mrs B's late husband used to work on in the 1950s. At 11 a.m., a group of 4 Canadians come in, who have come to seek out long-lost relatives in North Tolsta. As in, go to the Post Office and ask around. Directed them towards the right roads and generally a nice chat was had by all. As the Dutch folks had left their luggage in the bus station, they are not coming back to Newton, so I meet them as they come off the Callanish bus at 12.15. It's windy and cold outside. The sun slowly disappears behind the veil of cloud, which presages the arrival of a weatherfront from the Atlantic. Rain is expected before 6pm. I go out to post a delayed letter at the Sandwick Road postal depot. Rain arrives at 4.30. Read that the ferry on the Armadale - Mallaig route is out of action. As a result, the Small Isles ferry has to take over, before and after its scheduled runs to Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna. She cannot carry coaches. The Canadians return at 10.30 pm, having traced their relatives in Tolsta and Stornoway. In order to celebrate, some Canadian whisky is brought out. A good time was had by all, until after midnight.

Monday 01/05/06

May Day Bank Holiday

Today I'm doing a Video Extravaganza through the webcam. A different video every hour on the hour. Day starts horrible and wet, pouring with rain. This moves away by 2.30, to be replaced by cumulus clouds. Not very warm, only 9C. In the south of England, temperatures are expected to reach 24 C by the end of the week. Isles FM blandly denies that there is any local news today. Read yesterday's entry. The afternoon ends breezy but sunny. Pictures on the Lighthouse Blog fail to show, don't know why. Get papers and shopping in after 6pm. The Local History File on Isles FM mentions mrs B and her relatives by name.

Sunday 30/04/06

I'm out of bed after everybody else has left for the day, or for their next destination as in the case of the Canadians. Forgot to mention that bird flu has surfaced in Norfolk. Several farms have an infection with the H7N3 strain, a less pathogenic form of the disease. BBC Countryfile has started a photographic competition related to the weather, which will last until September 8th. Have a look on Open to UK residents, max 4 pics per entry. Weather today is singularly uninspiring and it gets worse. By the end of the afternoon, it comes on to rain. This morning the lifeboat went out, heading south. The helicopter followed not long after. It turned out that a support boat had reported 3 divers missing, who had gone drift diving, whatever that be. The three turned up before the rescue services did. Mrs B cooks the Greek lamb dish, which turns out quite magnificently, have a look in the gallery. People drive past on their way to church, the ladies adorned with their hats.

Saturday 29/04/06

After a late start, we watch the clouds breaking gradually. I help mrs B by digging a little bit in the back garden, but this is such a huge job actually, that a small excavator might be more use. The wheelbarrow I used yesterday collapsed because of rust, and I nearly collapse myself. Make a foray into town for papers and stationery. On my return, mrs B's sister and her husband turn up for a visit. I head out to take pictures of the boats on Goat Island. The Cuma is still on the slip, without a propellor. Other people are getting their boats ready for the summer. Find big patches of lichens on the causeway seawall. Two sets of guests turn up: a couple who are here for the weekend for a family reunion. Later, two Canadian ladies roll up from the ferry. They are on a whistlestop tour of Europe. Mrs B has lasagna for supper.

Friday 28/04/06

Cloudy but dry morning. All guests are leaving today. The Dutch couple went to Harris, the lady to Ullapool on the 1.45 ferry. The tide dips to another low at 2.30, leaving the bottom of the basin exposed. Two boys try to cross the outflow on their bicycles, but get stuck. They have to hurry to disengage from the quicksand. I head out to the shops for a few bits and pieces. The weather is overcast and very boring. The vessel which has been loading the Pelamis units has departed overnight. Yesterday, the Stornoway Gazette carried a sample letter of objection to the windfarms. We'll have to await the decision of the Scottish Executive on this.


I referred in an earlier entry to the Lewis Windfarms.

This is extremely controversial in the island. I have written extensively on it in my Lighthouse Blog (see linklist), and not hidden my disgust at the prospect of 190 turbines, each standing 135 metres / 450 feet tall in the middle of the most beautiful wilderness areas of Scotland. There are two windfarms proposed for Lewis, one in the north, stretching 60 km / 40 miles from Ness to Stornoway via Bragar; the other in Eishken, a depopulated district in the southeast, on hills overlooking Loch Seaforth.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local council, approved the planning applications for both windfarms last June. This gave rise to a huge storm in Lewis, with councillors being called to account in acrimonious meetings in the various village halls. A ballot was taken in Ness, Airidhantuim [pronounce: Aree an Hime], Laxdale and Kinloch. 50 to 90% of respondents declared their opposition. The application is currently in front of the Scottish Executive.

In order to take the power off the island, a large subsea cable needs to be laid from Arnish to Ullapool. From Ullapool, 200 ft high pylons will be marching 180 miles south to Denny near Falkirk. This is all deeply resented by people in the Scottish Highlands.

The Lewis windfarm was, as I say, approved in the face of 4000 objections. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has stated that the turbines will slaughter the resident population of eagles. The continual flicker of the blades, the illumination of the towers at nighttime (compulsory for any tall structure), the disturbance of the 20 ft layer of peat and destruction of habitat by the construction effort.

The Comhairle has hailed it as a major boost to the island's economy. It now looks likely that the turbines will be fabricated at the Arnish Yard (often featured in my pictures),which will create jobs for 3 to 4 years. Last time they recruited for Arnish, they had to draft people from outside the UK in as nobody could be bothered with short term contracts. The lease of the land on which the towers stand, as well as a cut in the proceeds of the electricity have switched the poundsigns on in the eyes of those who wield power. They have ignored those who have to live with the bl**dy things.

Another argument against is that new technologies, such as wave and tidal power, have been developed to such an extent that Portugal has recently taken delivery of several units of wavepower generators. These are basically interlinked tubes that float on the surface of the sea. The movement of the water is translated into power. The tubes do not have the major environmental impact that the turbines have. This has been pointedly ignored by Downing Street and Holyrood (British and Scottish governments). They want nuclear energy, for goodness sakes. And the waste issue will be dealt with by chucking it into a deep hole in the ground, probably on either Fuday or Sandray, both islands near Barra. In recent times, I've stopped believing what I hear.

Anyway, the Executive will take a decision this summer, and then we shall see what we shall see. Follow the story through the Lighthouse Blog.

Thursday 27/04/06

Nice morning, fairly sunny and dry. Mrs B's nephew takes her and myself out for a spin at midday. First we go to the Lewis Crofters shop down Island Road, for spuds and compost. The fishmongers have not had any fish in, probably due to adverse weather. Next we head out to Aird Tong for a spot of housesitting, read: plant watering. The plants are in a sorry state as they had been forgotten. The house is in a very attractive location, overlooking Coll Beach, Muirneag, Broad Bay and Point. A large number of new properties have been built in that village on croftland. Whether the crofts are being used as such is actually a bone of contention. Liked Aird Tong, not been there before. We also went to the top of the road at Newmarket. A diversion up Laxdale Lane and Guershader brings us back to town. We're finally taken to the Woodlands' Centre for lunch, which knows how to serve a BLT baguette, in sharp contrast to An Lanntair. On return, the tide has turned so low (only +0.4m) that the old stepping stones across the Inner Harbour are exposed. The Thursday papers are very interesting. The windfarm project in North Lewis has been reduced to 190 turbines, from 234 initially. Big deal. Another Western Isles news item relates to the dumping of nuclear waste, which may take place on Fuday and Sandray, either side of Barra. The evening closes nice and sunny.

Wednesday 26/04/06

Yesterday's Swiss guests leave after breakfast. Weather continues to improve. Head into town to check on the Iolaire list in the library, which has not attracted further comments. The tides are quite large this week, with a high tide of 5.0 m and low tide of 0.5 m. New moon by tomorrow explains those. By evening, two Dutch guests arrive, who had spent 1½ hours traipsing town for a place to stay. I talk their head off with suggestions for things to do here as well as in their next ports of call, Harris and Skye. The tree that was washed up in the Basin has disappeared. The Isle of Arran sails for Ullapool at 6pm.

Tuesday 25/04/06

Still a windy morning, and over reakfast a severe rain and hailshower clatters down. Mrs B goes out shopping at 11.45, while I try to get a better view of the boat at Arnish, which now has a loading crane up. Unfortunately, even from the Goat Island causeway I am unable to decipher its name. It would appear that it's loading some more Pelamis units. Although the weather is slightly less inclement, any showers remain very heavy. Reactions to yesterday's parliamentary committee meeting focus on the possible destructive effect of intended measures on the crofting way of life. Venture out in late afternoon for shopping, as the weather improves slightly.

Monday 24/04/06

After a late start, I prepare to head off to the Scottish Parliament's Committee meeting at the Western Isles Council buildings on Sandwick Road. At 1.30, just before I leave, the Isle of Arran and the Isle of Lewis can be seen heading into port, struggling with the very windy conditions. When I arrive at the Council Chamber, my bag is checked by security. I am handed some papers, some of which I already have, and a ticket. The four panels I described yesterday will be quizzed by members of the ERDC. Amongst the members of said committee is local MSP Alistair Morrison. The first panel, crofters et al, focuses on regulation or not. The second panel gets technical on the legal issues surrounding the Pairc Trust. After a teabreak, an open session ensues where 7 members of the public, amongst them 3 local councillors, address the committee. Angus McCormack, Plasterfield councillor, went into chapter and verse. The third panel focused on housing; the fourth on developments, such as the windfarms. The man from Lewis Windpower, which proposes to build 209 windturbines in North Lewis, was quizzed harshly. Windfarms appear to be going out of vogue of late. When the meeting closes, at 5.20, the weather has turned very nasty. It's raining and blowing hard. The Met Office hasn't got a galewarning outstanding, so I email them. No reply. ITV carries a report from the meeting I attended earlier. The gale continues to blow all evening, gusting up to force 10. The ferry is an hour late, arriving at 9pm. The weatherstation at Eoropie reports gusts of 57 knots / force 11, Stornoway goes up to 52 knots, force 10. A boat lies moored over at Arnish, but I cannot make out its name or its business. Possibly delivering steel plates. Visibility is severely restricted, spray flies over the causeway and it's quite nasty outside. As the evening progresses, the wind appears to die down a little.

Sunday 23/04/06

It's a nice bright morning, which stays sunny in spite of cloud bubbling up as temperatures rise. It's the usual quiet Sunday. A man comes to stay with an Italian companion; they head off to Tolsta for the afternoon. Down in London, the Marathon is underway in drizzly conditions. Spend the afternoon getting up to speed with the Crofting Reform Bill. Tomorrow, a meeting by the Environment and Rural Development Committee of the Scottish Parliament will take place in Stornoway. I download and print a 40 page PDF with submissions from about 14 representatives from crofting, housing, local government and development agencies as well as landowners. It's a complex and wide-ranging issue. A croft is a small scale agricultural unit (5 acres) which is commonly let to a crofter by a landowner for a low fee, about £18 per annum. I'm not omitting any zeroes. At the moment, crofters can buy their own crofts at the rate of 15 times the annual rent. A croft does not automatically include a house. Grants are available of about £22k, which helps a little towards the £80k cost of building a house. There is currently an open market in crofts, which has led to spiralling prices, putting crofts beyond the means of young folk in the island. Problems have also arisen on a larger scale with the Community Right-to-Buy, enshrined in the 2003 Land Reform Act (Scotland). The people on an estate are able to buy the land from its owner, against the wishes of said owner. So far, the only real hostile take-over is taking place in the Pairc District, South Lochs. And the current owner does not want to cooperate with the take-over at all, putting ownership of the land in the hands of a subsidiary company (effectively the same people) and creating a legal morass. The Scottish Executive have, as per normal, been hovering around this hot pie for ages. The reason why landowner Barry Lomas doesn't want to sell is that he stands to earn millions from a proposed windfarm on his land.

Mrs B serves me dinner at 7pm, chilli con carne, very spicy. The Cuma is still on the slipway, some 7 weeks after it went up.

Saturday 22/04/06

An absolutely horrendous start to the day, with a howling gale and pouring rain. Over at Eoropie, winds gust up to 50 knots / force 10. The airport is up to 43 knots, force 9. Elsewhere in the country, temperatures rise to 18C. Here in Lewis, the mercury stalls at +9. Go to Somerfields, which is chockablock with folk in waterproofs, none of whom are really happy to go out again. Just after my return, an absolute downpour signals the passage of the front. The wind veers from South to Southwest and decreases to force 5 or 6. At around 5.30, the sun starts to come out and the evening is quite nice. A 2nd tube has turned up outside the Arnish Yard. The wind drops away as the sun sets just before 9. Watch a bit of TV with mrs B after supper.

Friday 21/04/06

Nice sunny start to the day, but cloud increases gradually. Just before 3pm, a few drops of rain fall. An oilrig is towed down the Minch, and the extremely good visibility shows a number of boats in the far distance. HM the Q is 80 today, and she is rumoured to contemplate coming up here in June on board the Hebridean Princess. Ordinary mortals pay £2,500 to £5,000 a trip on this small cruiseliner, which can take up to 49 passengers. Although it threatens rain, it stays dry. Visibility remains great, and I can see the Storr, on Skye, 50 miles away. The mainland hills stand out in all their snowcapped glory. Go down to Sandwick Bay for a good look at Skye at 8pm. On my return, Mrs B's granddaughter has come round with a young friend. Mrs B served me supper tonight, in the shape of a chicken and peppers dish from the butchers. As we go to bed, by midnight, the wind gets up.

Thursday 20/04/06

A late start as per usual. The morning is cloudy, and by midday the showers are popping up. The birds in the garden are busy with nests, the blackbird sings merrily every evening at nightfall. The peanut feeder is no longer required, as there are plenty of worms in the soil. Next week there will be a meeting here to discuss the future of crofting in the islands. A Gaelic language group meets in An Lanntair every Wednesday, for beginners as well as for more advanced speakers. At 4pm, I head into town to pick up the Thursday papers, which are a good read this week. Eorpa (BBC2 Scotland, 7.30pm) focuses on the problems around renewable energy in the Western Isles. A move is discernable away from large-scale windfarms and towards smaller, local schemes. Not just wind energy, but also heat from the soil (as they are using over in the Blackhouse Museum in Gearrannan), solar energy (Sports Centre Harris, streetlights in Cromor and Ranish), tidal- and wavepower. Only goes to show what strength popular opinion can wield. A comparison is made with Sweden, where progress in this field is stymied by red tape and conglomerates obstructing competition. Sunset 8.50, but it's still light in the north at 10.15.

Wednesday 19/04/06

Am awake at 5.50 a.m., to see a very low moon, barely 2 degrees above the southern horizon. Later on, it starts as a nice sunny day. Mrs B's granddaughter is here for the day, as she is off with tooth trouble. I'm willing target for a game which has something to do with the Simpsons (Matt Groenigs creations). During the afternoon, Mrs B's sister calls in for a chat. A downpour follows at 4.30. I pop down the road to Somerfields for papers and the lottery (no luck, thanks). It drips, but the threat over the western horizon fails to substantiate. Visibility is very good today, can see the snowcapped hills south of Ullapool. This afternoon, the Isle of Arran takes several lorryloads of scrapped cars over to the mainland. When the ferry comes in, very early at 7.40, it is closely followed by the Coastguard chopper. A man dangles below on a line. The winchman is hauled in when the ferry reaches Goat Island. Probably an exercise. The Border Heather, our tanker, comes in for anothervisit. Our two guests went round Harris today, to Leverburgh along the west coast and back up the east coast. BBC Online reports that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is to reopen the debate on the two Lewis windfarms. The webpage misspells Beinn Mhor (calling it Beinn Vor, as that is the pronounciation) and places Eishken in North Harris, where it is actually in southeast Lewis. The evening closes peacefully, with sunset at 8.50. The two guests will be leaving on the 7.15 ferry.

Tuesday 18/04/06

The Isle of Arran returned at 1.10 a.m. from Ullapool. In the daytime, the weather is fairly decent, with distant showers and good periods of sunshine. Mrs B's brother-in-law as well as her nephew call in for a visit in the morning. Two visitors arrive from Ullapool at 1.30, having been rained out of the place over the last few days. They take themselves off for a bustrip to Callanish as well as Ness. In town, I visit Grinneas nan Eilean again for the purpose of taking a few pics. I then go on a walk round the Castle Grounds. I look round Lews Castle, and find a cannon. It's very boggy and wet. They are working hard to clear fallen trees, still lying around after the hurricane of January 2005. Some fencing is being erected around Lady Matheson's memorial, which was recently done up. I then make my way down to Cuddy Point. Go up the hill for a brief loopwalk, then return to the town centre. Mrs B serves me her pasta bake, which I like a lot. By 10pm, we call in on her brother-in-law.

Monday 17/04/06 - Easter Monday

Today, I'm transmitting the wee video I took at the opening of Grinneas nan Eilean via the webcam. Only problem is that Camstreams have technical difficulties, which thwart my showings at 16.00 and 21.00. The 11.00 one went ok. Breakfast was a smashing experience. Just as I rose from the table, the chair I was sitting on fell backwards, through the glass window of a cupboard. One pane broke, showering the cups and glasses inside with splinters. I hoover the floor, and mrs B washes all the cups and glasses. Splinters of glass turn up in the washing-up bowl. Oh dear. Today starts sunny, but some decidedly beefy showers bubble up after midday, a few carry hail. It's quite cold outside, only 7C. Go to Somerfields at 4.30 for a few bits and pieces. The Isle of Arran sails for Ullapool at 5.30, which is a different time from Muirneag, which usually sails around midnight. We'll await her return. Tonight, it's me cooking supper, which we enjoy over a nice fire.

Sunday 16/04/06 - Easter Sunday

Very late start. Mrs B and I exchange Easter Eggs. Changeable weather with occasional showers, which are accompanied by squalls. Nice sunny intervals in between. It's a very quiet afternoon, which I spend updating the written journal. Write a few pieces on the Lighthouse blog. Mrs B serves me a very nice Easter roast, with a succulent steak with onions, vegetables and potatoes. Otherwise, not much doing.

Saturday 15/04/06

Weather appears to be in a routine of sunny mornings, followed by showers later in the day. Go to the shops during the afternoon with mrs B, for the weekend shopping. It's pretty busy in Somerfields, in anticipation of Easter. I think the supermarket will be open on Monday, but am not sure. At 5pm, I accompany mrs B to An Lanntair for the opening of an exhibition of local artworks, Grinnean nan Eilean (The Beauty of the Isles). It was open to members of An Lanntair only; I was invited by mrs B, a member herself. The main body is paintings, which are nearly all for sale. Prices vary between £23 and £3900. Some of it is good - others I struggle to recognise the object. In the foyer, photographs are hung. Other forms of art include a 4 foot cup & saucer (see entry for 18 April) made out of papier maché; the paper consisting of ordering slips from the restaurant. The chairman and the former chairman hold a speech. A gull strides over the skylight overhead as they blah blah. Standing about is not my favourite passtime. At 6.30, a fingerbuffet opens. The Woodlands Band strikes up at 7, but nobody sees fit to applaud. Stuck-up bunch. Watch the ferry arrive at 8. Leave for Newton at 8.30. Half an hour later, at dusk, Muirneag departs for her refit. The Isle of Arran is waiting outside the harbour to take over from her. The pictures in the gallery are not terribly good; it's nearly dark, and the lengthy exposure times resulted in a degree of blurring.

Life and death in J-land

Strange how you can get involved with those who keep journals, like I do myself. I have previously asked to support those who had lost a loved one.

One of the journallers on AOL passed away over the Easter weekend, after a 9 month battle with cancer. I first came across the journal at the time of the VIVI awards, in November 2005. I have not kept up with it since, but a chance referral by sugar056 brought me the news. I did not know Pam, either through AOL contacts or otherwise, but it is always sad to see someone go, particularly after a valiantly fought battle with cancer. Her journal is still there, and well over 100 have left their messages.

[update 8 January 2007: 259 comments]

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Friday 14/04/06

Dawn breaks at 5.30 a.m. at the moment. Nice sunny morning until about 11 am., when a shower slowly moves east over Arnish. Another cumulus is seen raining out over the town. It nonetheless stays on the whole sunny, and 9C is not bad. The Galson estate in North Lewis looks set to be the subject of a successful community buy-out bid. The Galson Trust has secured funding totalling £627k, which means puts it in a good position to buy the estate land against the owner's wishes. This is possible under Scottish legislation. To acquire all this funding, the Trust has had to put together a cast-iron business plan. The Park Trust, in Southeast Lewis, has got problems doing so. Its primary source of income has been reduced, following a decision of adjacent landowner Nick Oppenheimer to reduce the proposed number of windturbines on the Eishken Estate from 133 to 53. The Park Trust has a proportional share in those turbines, under the Muaitheabhal [Muyaval] Trust structure. A glorious evening draws to a close at sunset at 8.36. The ferry came in, very busy indeed. I go out with mrs B to Engebret's shop up the road at 10pm. It's still a little light by that time. In a month's time, it will be light after midnight.

Thursday 13/04/06

Started Book VIII of handwritten diary notes

Last night's gale has blown itself out, but it rains hard in the morning. The sun finally came out around 11 a.m.m, cheering it all up outside. Marvel at mrs B's yucca, which has grown to 10 ft / 3 m in height. She continues her springclean of the kitchen and diningroom. Last night, she took delivery of a box of new china, which I inaugurate at breakfast. Over at Arnish, another red pipe has turned up. After mrs B goes to town, I stay behind for a bit to watch the news. Apparently, Eorpa, the Gaelic language news program on BBC2 Scotland at 7.30pm, will feature the problems at the Health Board in the Western Isles. Board chairman David Currie goes on Radio Scotland to deny any problems. I go into town myself to buy a pair of trousers, a new purse and the Thursday papers. A shower passes at 4.25, but the worst of the rain stays to the south of Stornoway. Three very interesting programs on the Gaelic service on BBC2 in the evening. The first looks back at the 1980s, showing Stornoway in the era of oilrigs at Arnish and the NATO base at the airport. The second, Tir is Teanga, explains the names of hills, lochs and country in Assynt, north of Ullapool. Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Quinag are the hills climbed. Sutherland was the Southern Land of the Vikings. The old Gaelic name is Cataibh, Land of the Wild Cats. It now only survives in the district of Caithness, the far northeast. Eorpa devotes 20 minutes to Health Board problems. Last month, staff passed a motion of no-confidence in the Board management, and the unions are threatening a work-to-rule. Nurses were not prepared to speak on the program unless rendered unrecognisable. There is an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation, one person had the police sent to their home after complaining to a senior manager about proposed changes to the health service. By midnight I happen to glance at the webcam and see the moon rising low over the Coastguard station. I manage a few pics, see gallery above. Was sent a load of stuff by John Kirriemuir of Berneray (North Uist) about a nutcase who goes out of his way to destroy tourism in his island.

Wednesday 12/04/06

The morning is very wet. After lunch, the rain stops, but the wind increases. The paper is full of Calmac's woes. Passengers criticise the captain of the Isle of Lewis for sailing last Saturday. Three people were injured on the evening crossing, when the ship was hit by a big wave 12 miles east of Stornoway. Calmac have defended their captain, saying it was blowing northwesterly force 6 on sailing, but it increased to galeforce during the crossing. Further south, there will be an airservice between Oban and the islands of Coll, Tiree and Colonsay. Closer to home, the pavements on Newton Street are being improved. Went into town to update the Iolaire list in the library and get some shopping in. Mrs B is giving the kitchen a springclean. Find a webcam at Eoropie, which shows some spectacular seas from the wee tearoom opposite the playpark. My webcam is giving unreliable service as Camstreams (provider) has trouble with its servers. During the evening, some showers pass through, which leave some spectacular rainbows. The wind gusts to 40 knots, force 9. Ferry comes in on time though.

Tuesday 11/04/06

Bright start, followed by showers from midday. Mrs B's nephew calls in to take her shopping to the two main supermarkets in town. I give them my Somerfields voucher which gives £8 off if you spend more than £50. Recently, the Gazette carried a coupon which gave £4 off for every £40 spent. Piles of Gazettes would be strategically positioned by the checkout. For just 60p people would buy a copy, tear out the coupon and get £4 off every £40 - so £12 off for £120! The Happy River ship has now relocated to Broad Bay. Mrs B returns from shopping at 3pm. Her sister comes to visit a little later. Showers continue at lengthy intervals. There is some sunshine in between, and it's not very cold outside, 8C.

Monday 10/04/06

Again, not a bad start to the day in terms of weather, but it's not set to last. The big ship reappears off Holm, and I receive an email back from its company. The vessel is called Happy River, and it's en route from Wilhelmshaven in Germany to Fjardaal in Iceland. It carries 5 modules, each 26 metres high, destined for a new aluminium plant at Reydharfjordhur in eastern Iceland. Each module weighs 300 tonnes. Because of adverse weather conditions in the north Atlantic and its sheer bulk it cannot make the crossing just yet. The forecast is unfavourable, so she'll be here for a while yet. The ship is equipped with 2 cranes, each capable of lifting 400 tonnes. I duly relay to Isles FM and the Stornoway Gazette, with my own picture of the vessel, see entry for 8 April. Fjardaal (Icelandic for aluminium valley) is a project at Reydharfjordhur, of which a map is included in the picture gallery. Isles FM relay my info in their early evening news bulletin. Here in Stornoway, it's bitterly cold in the strong wind. It's pouring with rain and blowing a gale by the end of the afternoon. Heard that a freak wave nearly capsized the Isle of Lewis ferry last Saturday. Three people were hurt, and a motorcycle on the vehicle deck damaged. An ambulance awaited the vessel's arrival at Stornoway to tend to the injured, none seriously.

Sunday 09/04/06

At 7.15, a snow shower falls, but when I rise rather later, the sun shines. Some showers hover within sight, but none fall here as yet. The very first ferry ever to sail to Harris on a Sunday arrives in the rain at Leverburgh at 10.10. Nobody is at the pier to protest at the arrival of the Loch Portain [pronounce: Porshten], as they are all in church for the communions. Only some tape, a policeman and a placard saying "Keep the Sabbath Holy" are in attendance. Some 20 passengers, one a Berneray resident along for the historic ride, are travelling this morning. One other person was going up to Stornoway to visit a relative in hospital. Although no protest is being held today, the local councillor, Morag Munro, has said that there are 6 more days in the week in which to protest. Calmac deny they are going to start on the Ullapool to Stornoway run on Sundays. The item features on the national bulletins of BBC News, where the journalist in question pronounces Uist as Yooweesht, contrary to the normal Yoowist. As it's a nice afternoon, I head off for a walk up Smith Avenue, down Springfield Road to Anderson Road. I turned left into Anderson Road, but found myself heading west, towards the hospital. I want to go east, so turn 180 degrees. Came back down Moss End and Seaforth Road, cutting through Newton via Bells Road and Inaclete Road. Mrs B serves me supper. A distant ship sits below the horizon, only its superstructure is visible. Not a lot on TV. We get satellite TV (Sky), which gives 500 channels. Some of them only through supplementary subscription (sport, films, s*x), i.e. not. All those channels, and nothing worth viewing. At the end of the day, I prefer radio.

Saturday 08/04/06

At midnight, the ship that is taking the sections of piping away from Arnish leaves. At 1 a.m., a ship is seen at anchor behind the Coastguard Station. It is quite large. In the morning, it's still there. As the day wears on, I can make out it belongs to the Big Lift Shipping Co., which is capable of lifting loads up to 1100 tons on board. The weather is not as windy as yesterday, but still cold. Showers remain wintery, hail, sleet, snow. After lunch, I join mrs B and her son in a trip to town. She has to drop something off at An Lanntair. I go into the library to doublecheck the Iolaire list, where someone did leave a comment about one of the pictures. Oh. Return via the Baltic Bookshop, where I buy an A4-sized notepad with a glaringly orange cover. At 4.30, I go across to the Coastguard Station to take a closer look at the ship, but it's several miles away. She is likely to be sheltering from the conditions. The high load makes her susceptible to the high winds we're having at the moment.

Friday 07/04/06

Spend a torrid night with a crashing headache. Awake to say good-bye to the ladies, who are leaving for home today. I was to have gone to the Donald MacLeod Memorial Piping competition up at the Caberfeidh Hotel, but piping is liable to worsen a headache, so I abandon the idea. That paracetamol helps to sort the problem out though. A French fishingboat comes into port for a crew change, and leaves within 2 hours of arrival. At 1145, a heavy hailshower leaves a thick layer of ice, which takes some time to melt away. The Highland News at 12.54 reports that 2 geese were found dead in Lewis and the Uists, one was unwell, all with suspected birdflu. This comes in the wake of the confirmation that a swan found dead in Fife (Eastern Scotland) was carrying the deadly form of the avian flu virus H5N1. The wintery showers get worse as the afternoon progresses, steadily turning more to snow. Temperatures fall gradually towards freezing, and after 6pm it's snow only. It's quite heavy and settles. At sunset, 8.20, it leaves a nice picture of the Castle Grounds.

Thursday 06/04/06

A truly wild day, with wintry showers of all shapes, forms and sizes coming along at regular intervals - every few minutes. Some contain hail, snow; others are very heavy rainshowers. Gusts in one downpour reach 56 knots, force 11. Fantastic cloudshapes, but very unpleasant to be out and about in. There was an emergency at the airport, when a plane was hit by lightning. It landed safely. At 3pm, a ship comes in to collect more wavepower units from the Arnish Yards. Due to its high structures, it is very susceptible to the severe squalls that accompany the showers, so it veers left only once it's abreast of Goat Island - well past the Glumag. The Health Board saga plumbs new depths, with the Finance Director now being awarded £25,000 for relocation expenses. This includes the tax liability is incurred for any compensation exceeding £8,000. Who has awarded that to her? And she has also managed to extract £77,200 for building a house and setting up a B&B in the island. My entry on the Lighthouse Blog spits venom, but I have to be careful not to use a 5-letter F-word. This evening, I prepare dinner for mrs B: leeks, potatoes and meatballs.

Wednesday 05/04/06

The day starts wet and stays wet. Have a chat with Sharon and Frances, who intend to visit Tolsta and Callanish today. Not the best of weather for it, but you can't help the weather. Before coming to Lewis, they had been to Mull. Some ferry news today: The Isle of Arran, which was moored here, has had to leave for home waters to replace the Caledonian Isles which has been affected by a winter vomiting virus. The Lochnevis, which serves the Small Isles, is out of commission after hitting rocks at Mallaig harbour. Like you do. The ladies return at 8 to have a nice hot bath. They had left a bottle of milk outside their bedroom window. Good replacement for a fridge, outside temperatures only 6C. Reworked the website, and received a nice compliment for my Iolaire work.

Tuesday 04/04/06

The timetables for the new Sunday sailings across the Sound of Harris are published today - there will be three sailings each Sunday, as of April 9th. The list of names related to the Iolaire Disaster is placed in the Western Isles Museum this afternoon. Earlier in the morning, there was a thin layer of snow on the ground. The two ladies who came yesterday are frequent visitors to the island, and have walked far and wide. However, not in the moors. They have gone south of Breanais (Uig) and places in Harris. Weather today is much like yesterday, sunny and cold, with a hailshower at lunchtime. Mrs B's son comes in to spraypaint the boilerhouse, in preparation for the new washing machine. The two ladies return, who have gone as far as Rodel. I read that Isles FM has had to apologise on air, after a presenter was heard alluding to the fact that Pakistan Disease is incurable. The person in question was suffering from a cold, which had garbled his pronounciation of Parkinson's Disease. I'll never forget the lady who was having electrocution lessons.

Monday 03/04/06

Nice sunny morning, but snow has fallen overnight on the tops of the Arnish hills, above 50m. Skye also had snow, according to a report on Metcheck. The weather goes right down the pan at lunchtime, with a hailshower, followed by a prolongued shower of sleet, snow and rain. Once it moves away, after 2, great cloudscapes remain. Went into town to buy another display folder, in which a copy of the Iolaire names will be placed for the Western Isles Museum. Mrs B expects her new washing machine tomorrow, so the boiler house (in which it resides) is given the once over. Three guests expected tonight: one is the chap who stayed here last week. He teaches flooring at the Castle College. The others are two ladies who are expected off the 8pm ferry.

The Dating Extravaganza did draw a genuine visitor, a poor soul had come all the way from Iowa, in search of a lonely heart. Oh my god. Whether this was actually true or not cannot be verified. He was advised to read Arnish Lighthouse blog (very informative) and have a look round the place now that he was here at any rate. A Dutch lassie couldn't make head nor tail of the whole spoof, but she was quickly put in the picture by Calumannabel.

Sunday 02/04/06

Quiet Sunday morning, sun shining between medium level clouds. Still cold.

Interesting program on BBC1's Countryfile, about the Falklands. Very like the islands of the Hebrides. Interesting collection of wrecks in the harbour at Port Stanley, mainly of ships who limped there after a rough rounding of Cape Horn, 400 km to the southwest. Until 1970, the wreck of SS Great Britain was there as well, until it was lifted and transferred to Bristol. Others are gradually decaying.

Here in the Hebrides, the weather looks set to remain cold this week. Wintry showers and 6C. Sunday turns into a brilliantly sunny afternoon, once the clouds disappear. At 5pm, I head off for a walk round the town, where nothing stirs. Go up Kenneth Street, down Francis Street and Cromwell Street. The Feis nan Coisir [Choirs Fair] banner still flutters off the Town Hall. Across South Beach Street, which lies deserted. The wee beach between piers no 1 and 2 has run dry. Go up no 1 pier to take a close up look at MV Muirneag. She looks well battered, and is due to go for refit. The MV Isle of Arran lies tied up on the quayside behind her. Can just make out Goat Island from pier no 1, but the MV Isle of Lewis ferry is rather in the way. Walk round to North Beach, where I find Lazy Corner full of boats. Head back to Newton, where mrs B will be preparing me supper tonight. Planet Earth on BBC1 is stunning, but not due back until the autumn.

Saturday 01/04/06

April Foolsday today. The Dell Fank Dating Extravaganza [see Arnish Lighthouse blog] ostensibly takes place today. A picture emerges showing a Galson bus with the wording "Dell Fank Dating Extravaganza Express Coach" on its back. Oh dear.

It's a dreich morning, but clouds break around lunchtime and the sun comes out. Mrs B goes into town to buy a new washing machine, which broke down a few days ago. New one expected on Tuesday. A good lunch is had by all with rolls, cheese, salad. I print off the whole 30 page list of victims and survivors of the Iolaire disaster. I get a display book from the Baltic Bookshop and present it to the Library for keeps. A comprehensive list has never been published before. I have written to the Gazette and the West Highland Free Press to advise readers of the list's presence in the library. The evening is nice but cold, perfectly windless. Go out for a late walk at 9.30, by which time the merest of light remains in the west, 80 minutes after sunset. This is at 8.07 pm today; sunrise at 6.54 am. Go down Seaview Terrace, where I spy a cat, see picture. Cut through to Campbell's Service Station in the backstreets, where mrs B starts on a tour of the derelict industrial areas of Newton. Although some of it is still in use, the majority is now unused. The landowner, a Harris Tweed manufacturer, acquired the properties in order to prevent anyone setting up business in competition with him. We go right down Bells Road as far as James Street, then back along Inaclete Road to Island Road.

Friday 31/03/06

Nasty wet day, very cold and unpleasant. Head out to town at 1130 to scan in a few cartoons about the Sunday sailings issue. Tickets for today's Feis nan Coisir [Choir Fair] have sold out - I think I left it too late. The day continues quite cold. Mrs B has to take it easy through the afternoon, so I do likewise. The G.O. Sars has finally departed. According to radio reports, a fishing boat is in trouble 200 miles to the west of Lewis, taking in water. A helicopter flies in from Benbecula to drop off a pump, but because of the distance it only had 25 minutes to do so.

Thursday 30/03/06

A bright morning, but with a layer of high-level cloud. The Barbara has left, but the G.O. Sars is as yet moored alongside pier no 3. I am not at all sure whether the Health Board meeting today is going ahead. It was announced as such in the Gazette last week, but equally announced as cancelled in the P&J, to allow the current problems to be sorted out with the unions. Caledonian MacBrayne's have decided to start Sunday sailings between Berneray and Harris as from April 9th.

This leads to a South Harris councillor spitting fire on the radio. Apparently, 2 out of every 3 adults in her ward had voted against Sunday sailings. Morag Munro had just presented her petition to CalMac when the company decided for Sunday sailings. Listening to Isles FM, it would appear that the majority of people phoning to express their opinion are opposed. Nonetheless, the benefits lie with the people of the Uists, who can now visit relatives in hospital at Stornoway over the weekend. And any school events in either Stornoway or Lionacleit [Benbecula High School] can now take place over the weekend, with competitors home in time for school or work on Monday. The Lord's Day Observance Society is bitterly opposed, stating that a culture stands to be lost. Unfortunately, there are already Sunday sailings from Uist to Skye, from within the Western Isles area, so it would be inconsistent not to institute the Sound of Harris ferry on Sundays. There is a fierce debate in the wake of this announcement. I go to Somerfields in the afternoon to buy the Thursday papers. The local NHS announces it intends to tackle a £3m deficit through a vacancy stop. Meanwhile, the consultants at the hospital have demanded that the practice of discharging patients by the manager (who is not a doctor but a nurse) is to stop. At 7pm, mrs B and myself go up the road to the Nicolson Institute to attend a Kaleidoscope Concert. Pupils perform music varying from hard rock to Chopin, jazz to Haydn, big band to ceilidh band. The Scottish junior piping champion starts proceedings. Never heard anything like it. Although only 150 attended, it was well supported. It finished an hour late at 10.30 pm.

Wednesday 29/03/06

The day starts with a clear sunny morning, as I watch the ferry leave port at 7.25. Later in the day, a sleet / hail / snow shower (or two) passes. There is a total solar eclipse, of which I take images from TV, computer and through welding goggle glass. Over at Arnish, the Danish vessel Barbara is delivering 900 tons of steel plates for wind turbines, destined for Holland. The eclipse is one of the best seen for years. Here in Stornoway, occasional showers do no more than provide pretty pictures of anvil clouds. At 4.30, I go for a walk to Battery Point, behind the Coastguard Station and to Somerfields along Bells Road. A hailshower passes in the distance, leaving a rainbow behind. I provide mrs B in the evening.

Solar Eclipse

Today, a total solar eclipse is visible in a track from Brazil to Togo (West Africa), then northeast to Libya, Turkey, Russia and ending on the Mongolian border at sunset. Here in Stornoway, the maximum percentage of the sun that is obscured is 15%. In the southern UK it's 25%, at 11.30. A live feed from southern central Turkey is available on the internet, from which I take a number of pictures. I join it the moment it starts at 10.30, as these links tend to reach capacity pretty quickly. Maximum in Turkey is reached at 11.55 BST and lasts for just under 4 minutes.

Tuesday 28/03/06

Today, the Council staff are all on strike - which is UK-wide industrial action. There are no buses from Point or Tolsta to Stornoway. No refuse collections, offices and libraries closed. The Town Hall and some schools are shut as well. The elections to the Stornoway Trust have to be transferred from the Town Hall to the Estate Office in Percival Square. The 10 trustees represent the residents of the parish of Stornoway. This stretches from Arnish to Tolsta and from Point to the moors. The parishioners of Stornoway were the only ones to accept the gift of the lands of their parish from Lord Leverhulme. He sold the island in the 1920s, and gave the islanders the rights of refusal. Bar Stornoway, all three Lewis island parishes exercises said right. Barvas, Uig and Lochs fell under private ownership, to their disadvantage. The day starts fairly bright, with the odd spot of rain. The MV Isle of Arran will take over from the Muirneag when that boat goes for its refit. The road outside is being tarred this morning. Only to be churned up again by the lorries. Just after 3pm, the Norwegian marine research vessel G.O. Sars turns up for a crew change. This boat monitors the amounts of different species of fish. I take pictures of her as I go to Somerfields. Sunset at 8pm, it's a nice evening.

Sunday 26/03/06

Today starts fairly bright, but is isn't long before the rain pushes in. It soon turns into a misty affair with a steady drizzle. I start the Orange theme with carrot and ginger soup and a roll. Later in the afternoon, one of mrs B's sons calls in with members of his family to celebrate Mothering Sunday. A couple of glasses of wine help proceedings along, up to a point. Dinner is also Orange, but the picture didn't do it justice. Carrots, potatoes, onions and beef burgers. Sweet consists of orange jelly with mandarin oranges. Goes down well with mrs B. Am also still working on an illustrated list of Iolaire victims.

Monday 27/03/06

Drizzle continues unabated as the day opens. The Muirneag comes in at 11 a.m., some 4 hours late. The radio reports the usual litany of misdeeds. Watched a program on BBC1 last night about the funding crisis that's hitting the NHS nationally. It would serve to explain some of the financial problems besetting the NHS Western Isles, £3m shortfall. The feedback from viewers on the issue quickly flooded in after the program finished. Today's weather includes a cold northeasterly wind. Contrasts sharply with a temperature of about 18C further south in East Anglia. Visibility is poor, can only just make out the Arnish hills across the water. The wind falls away as the day goes on, but the rain continues. Go to Somerfields at 6 for shopping. At 7.40, I head into town to attend a meeting of the Stornoway Historical Society. I introduce myself to the Treasurer, who quickly puts me on to the Secretary, with whom I've been corresponding by email. The Chairperson invites me to speak for a few minutes after a 1 hour presentation by the Royal Commission on Historical and Ancient Monuments Scotland. They record the above sites from past and prsent. After a short break, I do my little talk about the work on the list of Iolaire victims. The Secretary's grandfather died in the disaster. An appeal is issued for information, pictures etc. I'll leave a copy in the library and will send a letter to the Gazette next week. The meeting finishes at 10 pm.

No Smoking

Since 6 a.m. this morning, March 26th, all smoking in public places in Scotland is BANNED. This includes restaurants, clubs, pubs, bars as well as offices. Please take heed.

Follow the link to this site by the Scottish Executive for more info.


Last night, the clocks went forward an hour. We're now on British Summer Time, BST.

Saturday 25/03/06

Overnight, mrs B and I were kept awake by the intermittent beep of a smoke detector with a flat battery. No, there was no fire. We turned off the power, removed the battery and went back to bed. At 9.15, I went into town to buy a new battery. Expensive things, they're £3.65 each. Once the heating is back on, the house rapidly becomes comfortable again. The ferry was 2 hours late leaving Stornoway this morning, and does not catch up through the day. She's back at 3.15, and leaves at 3.55. Still two hours behind schedule. Not warm today, just 6C. Went to the supermarket, which was empty of bread and milk. Prepared the meal for mrs B and myself, which consisted of a spicy chilli con carne. Forgot to mention the roadworks in Newton Street. The surface has been dug up and replaced by a new layer of tar - only to be churned up by lorries going from Island Road into Newton Street. Why they can't go along Sandwick Road, the main road into town, nobody knows.

Friday 24/03/06

Very hazy morning due to a lot of high-level clouds. Suggested to mrs B we go to Ness to visit the place at 10 Callicvol (Port Nis), but family problems put paid to that idea. Shame though, as it's turning into a fairly sunny afternoon. In contrast to recent days, the ferry is now on time, coming in at 1.15. Earlier this week, it was about 20 minutes early. The lifeboat went out yesterday to assist in a fire on board a fishing boat. The Coastguard are kept busy at the moment. Hop down to Somerfields for some bits and pieces. Write another piece on the Lighthouse blog relating to the failing industries in Lewis. On the subject of the NHS saga, I don't understand why the local MSP is not putting pressure on the Minister for Health to be more pro-active. On the contrary, Alistair Morrison is taking pressure OFF, rather than standing up for his constituents.

Thursday 23/03/06

Helen and Peter leave for Inverness on the 7.15 ferry. Tomorrow, they aim to visit Peter's ancestral village of Arday in Sutherland, having visited Helen's ancestral village in Skye. Mrs B and I rise rather later, at 10.30, with the after effects of too much wine still very much in evidence. The snow is still lying in the backyard and on the higher reaches of the Arnish hills (upwards of 50 m), but melts during the day. The morning starts grey, but brightens up nicely through the afternoon. On BBC Island Blogging, the spoof dating extravaganza at Dell Fank gathers momentum - it's due on April 1st. By late morning, the unfamiliar outline of the Isle of Arran pulls into port, apparently on its way through from refit at Aberdeen. It's not clear what it's doing in Stornoway. The Isle of Lewis is running as per timetable, if not 20 minutes early. After lunch, I go into town for a snapping spree of boats. The Hordafur has been rusting away at no 2 pier for nearly 2 years now. The pilot boat and a very delapidated fishing vessel are dwarfed by the Muirneag on no 1 pier. I find a cargovessel, Ronez, moored along the King Edward wharf, as well as the Isle of Arran. Find Lazy Corner empty, all the boats will be out to catch up with lost time due to bad weather. Buy food in the little Coop up Cromwell Street, as well as papers in two shops. It's a pleassantly sunny afternoon, with a temperature of 6C and little wind. Read in the Press and Journal that the snow caused a lot of disruption to schools yesterday. In Harris, the buses could not take pupils home from the secondary school in Tarbert (the Sir E Scott school), so the local hotel had to provide food for the youngsters while they waited for transport home. The road over the Clisham foothills was closed, and buses were stranded in drifts. Fortunately, no passengers were on board. The stowaway I mentioned last Friday should have been removed from Lewis yesterday. And the infamous Morsgail estate in West Lewis has changed hands. Its previous owner conducted an alleged campaign of harassment against a tenant crofter to force him off the land - unsuccessfully. See my entry of March 9, 2005. Keep a quiet evening.

Wednesday 22/03/06

Overnight lowest temperature was -4C in Stornoway. The snow has melted after daybreak, but flurries continue to fall, and it's getting worse as the day progresses. The forecast mentions drifting, blizzards and accumulations up to 7-12 cms (3-5 inches) deep. The easterly wind is bitterly cold as I venture out for shopping in the afternoon. The ferry is in on time, in spite of the conditions. The snow starts to settle after 2pm and it sticks to any surface exposed to the wind. Down in Skye, there is trouble on the roads. Visibility becomes so poor that I can barely see the causeway and the Coastguard Station, which are just 200 yards away. Daytime temperatures: 0C. Today is Helen's 56th birthday, and mrs B lays on a party with cake and wine. As night falls, the snow begins to relent. The lights at the Arnish Yard loom up ot of the gloom. The snow stops after nightfall. The atmosphere inside is rather warmer, and Peter plays the pipes. Leaves my ears ringing. He's good though. Mrs B's brother-in-law is invited along for the evening, which is a pleasant diversion for him. I have nice chats with Helen amongst others. We all stagger off to bed at midnight. There is much milder weather on its way in to southwestern England, but 600 miles further north, it's wintry.

Tuesday 21/03/06

Awake to the sight of snowshowers with temperatures barely above freezing. In Lerwick, the mercury is stuck at -4C. Although it's now spring, the weather has turned firmly wintery. The Kiwis are staying until Thursday morning, but were getting worried about getting stuck under the Clisham. No such concerns were called for, the road was clear and open by all accounts. They were made very welcome by local folk. Up here in Stornoway the wintery theme continued, in spite of this being the first day of spring. It's quite a contrast to a month ago, when the flowers were all out - look back to 25 February. I am once again being spoiled by mrs B who very kindly provides dinner for me. After nightfall, the snow settles and by midnight it gives quite a nice image.

Monday 20/03/06

Rather colder than yesterday, with temperatures of just 5C. Occasional glimpses of the sun. Health Board saga continues apace, with the Health Minister once again declining to become involved. Sounds as if he's in league with the management, quite a deliberate wrecking exercise, over the heads of patients. Write quite an acerbic piece about it on the Lighthouse blog. Weather remains changeable. We have two guests in from New Zealand, who came up from Harris and reported sleet under the Clisham. They are in the country to look around ancestral home villages. Tomorrow, Helen and Peter will be going round Harris, and Ness the day after. The lifeboat goes out in the morning; the man who had gone overboard off Shetland on Saturday has not been traced. Apparently, his dad was lost in the same area and in the same fashion 27 years ago.

Sunday 19/03/06

Forecast was well out for this morning. Awoke to fog over the hills, followed by rain at 9 or 10. The sun comes out by 11. At 8, a large fishing boat came into port. She ties up at no 3 pier, opposite the ferry. Very nice cloudscapes behind the frontal passage. Lifeboat canters out at 1130;. It's a mainly sunny afternoon, but with occasional bursts of drizzle. Although it's Sunday, boats go in and out, including a yacht. Sunset just after 6.30, after a chickendinner with mrs B. Day was mild outside, with temperatures of about 9C. Darkness after 7pm. Next week BST (British Summer Time) will be on. Another 3 hours will be gained on the sunset side from then on.

Saturday 18/03/06

The boat carrying the wavepower units has left for Portugal. It's another bright day. The ferry is very early, coming in at 12.55. In the afternoon, I watch a rugby match. Now, I'm not a rugby fan and know very little about the game. Although it's very physical, it seems to be better regulated and the players work with the referee (and vice versa) to keep the game within the rule. Works better than in football. The referee carries a small microphone, which allows viewers to hear what he shouts. England loses to Ireland 24-28. Late in the evening, a fisherman is reported overboard 75 miles southeast of Sumburgh, Shetland.

Friday 17/03/06

Another sunny if cold day. By the end of the morning, I notice a large ship at anchor behind the lighthouse. I cannot see much of it, as I look into the bright sun. Radio Scotland informs us that it's the Russian bulkcarrier Alexandr Newski, bound for Murmansk. Last night, they were off the Mull of Kintyre, northbound from Newport (Wales) when they discovered a stow-away on board. The captain immediately contacted the Coastguard, who put them in touch with police. They advised him to put him ashore at Stornoway. The harbour here cannot accommodate vessels of this size (20,000 tonnes), so she's anchored off Arnish. At 2.30, I amble down to the Coastguard Station to view proceedings. A coastguard cutter is heading for the ship to take the stowaway off. I later learn he was barefooted and jacketless. He was put ashore behind Amity House, in the presence of police and coastguard officials.
Meetings have been taking place today between health unions and staff regarding the management crisis in NHS Western Isles. Staff have passed a motion of no-confidence in the Chairman, Chief Executive as well as the Medical Director. The unions are taking this to the Scottish Executive, with the recommendation that the aforementioned officials be removed. The other guest with Mrs B has been out cycling today, the 40 miles to Callanish, Carloway and back via the Pentland Road.

Thursday 16/03/06

Very nice sunny morning, hardly a cloud in the sky. Isles FM reports a sheep loose in the town. Might be going to Woollies for a shop. Typical. Barometer very high, reading 1040 mbar, but high pressure system is in transit to Greenland. More cold weather next week, sigh. Just after midday, I head off on the bus to Tolsta to picture more headstones of Iolaire victims in the graveyard. The bus is full of shoppers, who get off at various points along the way. I alight outside the church in North Tolsta and amble down the road to the cemetery, which is situated near the beach. I find the 9 headstones within half an hour, which leaves me with 75 minutes to spare until the bus goes back to Stornoway. I walk down the Traigh Mhor / Long Beach towards its northern end. Nobody around, except for a few seagulls. Head up the road at the end, and myself followed by some sheep. Bus comes at 2.30 to take me back to town. Two young mums with toddlers in prams get in along the way. Nice evening, good sunset. The Pelamis wavepower thing is still being loaded over at Arnish. I receive a guest on behalf of mrs B while she's away to town. Nice moonlit night.

Wednesday 15/03/06

Hear that the boat at Arnish draws 15 ft of water. Very important news on Isles FM, innit. Nice sunny weather, but with dark clouds to the north. Forecast suggests another northerly blast by Sunday. Barometer is rising steadily. Hear that 6 men who took part in a drugs trial suffered an extreme reaction and are now in the Intensive Care Unit of Northwick Park Hospital, London, with multi-organ failure - a life-threatening condition. Cloud takes over after lunch, rendering it a very boring afternoon. Until 5pm, that is. The lifeboat returns with a fishingboat in tow, which suffered mechanical failure and is slewing from side to side. By the time the two reach the Glumag, the lifeboat ties the other boat alongside and slowly brings her in. We have a new guest in today, who will be here for 5 days. Mrs B's nephew plus his wife call round for a visit at suppertime. Watch The Apprentice on BBC2, what a load of rubbish. It's a program in which a wealthy industrialist, Sir Alan Sugar, selects a candidate who he will take on as apprentice from a group of 12. Over the course of 12 weeks, candidates are fired one by one as they are found to be wanting in management skills. The lot that are on the program this run are all pretty awful, which is acknowledge by Sir Allan.

Tuesday 14/03/06

Morning dawns overcast but quiet. The wind dropped away overnight. Mrs B's other guests had their breakfasts quite early, but I'm rather later. Some quite hilarious emails, and the story of the Navy ship disputing passage with a lighthouse being used in an ad for navigational equipment. The file is too large to upload, else I'd put it on the Web. After a nice lunch, Mrs B's nephew takes her and myself over to the Arnish Yard. Since this morning, a large ship lies docked there, ready to take three wave generators (for electricity) to Portugal. She came to the area yesterday, but had to seek shelter in Broad Bay due to the gale. The transportation of the wave generators was mentioned on the early morning bulletin of Radio Scotland's Highland News. From Charlie's Monument, the views are spectacular. It's a clear day, and the departure of the ferry is a complete contrast to yesterday's. Return to town at 2.30, and everyone piles into Somerfields for shopping. There, two lorry loads of goods are being unloaded. On Monday, the Muirneag did not sail, and the lorries were unable to get up the A9 from Perth due to snow. Temperature here at 9C. This contrasts sharply with the 3C in the east of the country. I forgot to air the video of yesterday's conditions on time. One of the local councillors was blogging on Blogspot, but he pulled his blog. Pity. I reckon he doesn't want to blot his copybook as he wishes to stand for MSP next year.

Page 1,000

I have reached

Page 1000

in the written diary. I started handwriting the diary in January 2005, when the computers in Stornoway library were off-line for weeks. I have since transcribed the diaries onto this weblog.

Monday 13/03/06

Day dawns wet and windy. It's blowing a force 8 gale, but Lerwick reports a full storm, force 10 to 11. Many ferries are cancelled today, such as Barra - Eriskay, Kennacraig - Islay, Gigha, Ardnamurchan, Uist - Harris and the Oban - Castlebay run is delayed. Milosevic is reported to have taken the wrong drugs, which might have counter-acted his heart tablets. Or he was taken them NOT as prescribed. There have been more heavy snowfalls elsewhere in the country, once again causing disruption. Rain stops at 1.30, but the wind does not drop. Sustained force 6-7, gusting to force 9 all day. Ferry is 50 minutes late coming in at 2.05, and leaves more than an hour late at 3pm. It held well to the south, due to the severe southerly gale. The coastguard tug follows it in a little later. After lunch, I head for the coastguard station to watch the ferry leave for Ullapool. Quite interesting, as it's so windy. I tape the vessel sailing past. I then go to Somerfields for my shopping - it's very cold outside. Mrs B is very busy with guests this week, the season appears to have started. At 5pm, she fell down the stairs, leaving her shaken and with a small gash in the back of the head. Cold, wet cloths do the trick of stemming the flow of blood.

Sunday 12/03/06

Overnight, the gale subsides. Further south and east, there are heavy falls of snow. Glasgow reports up to 8 inches / 20 cm. This results in massive disruption. Airports closed, trains stopped and 3000 clubbers housed overnight in a busstation, a nightclub and a hotel. Winds here force 6 to 8, Northern Isles report force 8 to 10. There are small riders in the Basin, and the odd whirl of spindrift. Mrs B provides me a pork dinner. The Planet Earth program at 9 pm shows some more stunning images. As the weather is wet, windy and cold, I do not show my face out of doors.

Saturday 11/03/06

Mrs B's second son leaves on the ferry this afternoon, and I join him and his mother to walk to the ferry terminal, 5 minutes' walk away. There is a very cold easterly wind blowing today. The forecast is way out, as a gale blows up in the evening. It is gusting force 11 in Tiree and Benbecula. Elsewhere, snow is causing excitement on the bulletinboards. Get the Free Press, which was late in arriving this week. It's not busy in the supermarket. In late evening, it's absolutely pouring down with sleet and rain. Manage to record some of it on video, but the webcam won't play it. Temperature drops away to +2C.

Friday 10/03/06

When morning comes, our guest has not returned. We continue to fear the worst, until we are advised that he was located safe and well. It would appear he spent the night out in the open, but knocked on a friend's door at 8 am. His disappearance was reported on Isles FM, BBC Radio Scotland's Highland News as well as in the Press and Journal. Police come to collect his belongings later on. He was very down, and may have tried to take his own life. Coastguard vehicles were seen speeding around the town, and the lifeboat went out. This was due to an alert at the airport, where a plane had radio'd in to report engine trouble. Police closed the A866 Braighe road, but it landed safely. Trade unions are having a severe row with the Health Board, threatening action now that the management has not met its 14 day deadline. And today as well, the World Sudoku Championships are taking place in Lucca, Italy. The weather darkens in the afternoon, and drizzle sets in at 4.40. Supper, two hours later, includes lasagna and an apple pie. Finish just in time for the 7pm showing of one of my videos.

Thursday 09/03/06

Today the funeral will take place of the carbon monoxide poisoning victim, a relative of mrs B. The morning conversation centres inevitably around funerals and the Lewis rituals. Apparently, after the church service is over, the menfolk line up in two parallel lines and lift the coffin in a succession towards the cemetery. This is Sandwick Cmy, about a mile and a half outside Stornoway. Mrs B and her son leave at 12.50, I go to Eye Cemetery on a different mission at 1.18. After waiting at the airport for a few minutes, the bus arrives at Mealabost road end at 1.38. I walk down the northern side of the Braighe to Aignish. The weather changes gradually as time wears on - the sun goes behind high and medium level cloud and the wind picks up. The old cemetery at Aoidh Church has no Iolaire graves. The new Eye Cemetery has a lot - I find 15. I nearly sink into somebody's grave - aaagh! I walk back to Mealabost, where the bus leaves at 3.20. It passes Sandwickhill Primary School, where all the youngsters board who are bound for Lower Sandwick, Plasterfield and Newton. I video part of the journey. Call into Somerfields on the way back for the Thursday papers. Mrs B and her son return not much later than myself. Apparently, the youngest son of the victim nearly collapsed into the grave, poor thing. Since yesterday, we have a guest staying with us. He has had problems in his private life, but I have a nice enough chat with him. After supper, mrs B has occasion to go into his room, and what is found there (which I'm not quoting on a public blog) causes her to ring the police. He does not return all night, and apparently the police had been looking for him since 5pm. The guest left here at 10pm. We fear the worst as we retire for some sleep at 3.30 a.m.

Update: The guest who was reported missing turned up safe and well the next day at a friend's house. As I mentioned, I cannot go into details.

Wednesday 08/03/06

NOTE: I promised an entry about the meeting re. NHS Western Isles last Monday, 6th March. I take the liberty of pointing to the Lighthouse Blog, where I've written what I want to write about it, in an entry entitled "Meeting".

This morning dawns foggy, but with a cloudbase at 50 m. After 10 o'clock, the cloud drifts east and lifts. It leaves a bright morning, with nice clearances but little sun. Hear final confirmation that last week's death up the road was due to carbon monoxide poisoning. On the morning in question, there had been a cold night with heavy snow. When the boiler came on, the fumes rose up the chimney, but cooled down rapidly. An atmospheric inversion (cold air at the bottom, warmer air higher up) stopped the smoke rising and it sank down again. It deprived the boiler of oxygen, causing it to form carbon monoxide, as opposed to the normal carbon dioxide, which is not nearly as toxic. The inversion is attributable to the geographical location of Newton. It is surrounded, at about a mile's distance, by low hills, about 50 m /170 ft in height. Cold air will sink down into the harbour basin, and it will be capped by warmer air. The family dog died first. When the victim came to see to it, she opened the door to the boilerhouse and was overcome by the fumes. When the sons came downstairs, the concentration had been reduced through dilution although one developed severe headache and nausea. It could have been even worse.

After lunch, I head across to the Iolaire Monument at Holm. The weather turns wet as I pass through Lower Sandwick and Stoneyfields Farm, but the rain stops when I reach the top of the path to the monument. I video the 8 minutes it takes me to walk to the monument on the shore. I return to Sandwick, and spend 40 minutes in the cemetery, looking for more headstones for Iolaire victims. Eight of these are dedicated to unknown sailors. A couple are located in the old cemetery, but they're easier to spot due to the brilliant sunshine. Return to Newton at 5pm.

Tuesday 07/03/06

Awake to a green scene - the snow is practically gone. The snowman is reduced to a small lump of snow with a scarf around it. The boat that does cruises out of Miavaig, Uig, is on the Goat Island slipway. At 1 pm we go into town for lunch at An Lanntair. Service slow, food mediocre. Had a BLT "sandwich", which was bacon fried to a crisp on toast. For goodness' sakes! View very nice, but this is the second time it's been below standard, they're off my list. A cargoship is discharging a load of road salt. They have to drive to the ferry terminal to be weighed, as the weighbridge by no 2 pier is not working properly. At 2.30 we go into town for some shopping. Once that is complete we head up Francis Street to the Western Isles Museum, where an exhibition on St Kilda is set up. This small archipelago was evacuated in August 1930. There is also a focus on present-day workers on the islands. Dinner supplied by mrs B.

Monday 06/03/06

There will be another protest meeting against the management of NHS Western Isles. The Board Chairman has dismissed the meeting out of hand, so it's effectively a wasted effort. Heard that the RAF helicopter abandoned last week on Cairn Gorm is still there. A whale washed ashore at Scarista beach over the weekend. It's 48 feet long / 14 metres. The Council have chartered a lowloader to take the 30 ton monster to the dump at Bennadrove, just outside the town. Initially, they were going to blow it up. After lunch, mrs B's nephew drives us all into town. I buy a new battery for my watch, as well as a CD with music related to St Kilda. Then I walk to Sandwick Cemetery to trace the headstones for Iolaire victims. There is about 4 inches / 10 cms of snow on the ground. The cemetery is very large. I find 10 graves, 4 are marked with names, 6 others are Sailors of the Great War, HMY Iolaire, Known unto God. That always makes me very, very sad. Webcam viewers from Algeria, and someone at Eurocontrol, Brussels. They found viewing Stornoway more interesting and important than their job of air traffic control. It's a miracle nothing went wrong today. Mrs B's brother-in-law calls in, still stunned by the death of his daughter-in-law. The formal cause of death is yet to be identified. In the evening, I head for the Town Hall to attend the Health Board meeting. I video the first 25 minutes, then log the remainder of the 2 hour meeting. On return, a warm fire awaits me and an interesting political discussion.

Sunday 05/03/06

Bright morning, but a few snow showers about. A thaw seems likely by Tuesday, with temperatures set to exceed 10C in the south of the country. This morning, we're stuck at 4C. The rise in temps will be accompanied by more snow and sleet, before turning back to snow. Strange webcam locations include Kuwait, Syria and Korea as well as Lebanon. A viewer on a South Texas ranch, west of Harlingen, returns. Some heavy snow showers pass through, but the temperature between 3 and 4pm is too high for the snow to settle. Lunch, at a late hour, consists of olives, beetroot, lettuce, melon, parma ham, garlic bread and cheese. The heavy snow is succeeded by a spell of bright sunshine. Go out for a short stroll to the Coastguard Station, but the snow showers return quickly. Supper consists of spaghetti bolognesse, much along the lines of the lunch. Watch Planet Earth, a very good documentary on BBC1.

Saturday 04/03/06

Once again, a little snow has fallen in the night. The snowman has lost his hat - conjecture as to the cause. The sun is very warm, and he looks like he's melting. Snowshowers carry on through the morning. The ferry is well on time at 1.05. Overnight low was -2C. Lunch, at around 3.45, consists of soup and garlic bread. There are rumours about the death of the lady up the road, but their source is a bit doubtful.

Friday 03/03/06

About 10 cms / 4 inches of snow fell overnight, leaving a winter wonderland. The morning Highland News bulletin at 7.50 is taken up with a rundown of closed schools. Mrs B's niece calls in during the morning, as she is looking after the children of the lady who suddenly died yesterday. It's a nice sunny morning, with the odd snow shower. At lunchtime, I regress about 30 years to make a snowman. HOW OLD AM I??? Stornoway was shaken by a violent thunderstorm last night. Mrs B was out in it, and it scared her badly. Her 2nd son comes home for a week's visit at around 6pm. The plane was pretty much on time, although there has been disruption to flights all day in Scotland due to snow. Webcam viewers from Romania, Russia and the Orkney Isle of Sanday. Occasional snow showers. The Gazette publishes an article on a boating disaster off Brenish, with an erroneous illustration of Molinginish. The beach in question is called Mol Linnis, the end of the Uig road in Mealista.

Thursday 02/03/06

Nice bright morning, after a light fall of snow. News comes through that one of Mrs B's relatives has died suddenly earlier this morning. The lady concerned was only in her 50s, and was found by her teenage children. Her husband is out in the States, and obviously is flying straight home. In the afternoon, I go for a walk round the Castle Grounds. First to the Bayhead Bridge, then out to the Golf Club. After that, the path is blocked, so I cut across to the Watermill. I take a few snaps and videos of the wheel in operation. Continue my walk to the bridge where the millrace branches off the Willowglen burn. After finding the path stops under a high wall, I retrace my steps and continue across the golf course to the Marybank gate. From there, I walk back to town along the Castle and down some very icy steps to Bayhead. The Stornoway Gazette did not arrive today, although it's Thursday. When I leave Somerfields, I notice that the tide is very low, so I venture into the Newton Basin. I go as far as the outflow, but this cannot be crossed; too deep. Am about 5 metres below streetlevel. Return to mrs B's along the floor of the basin, which is covered in shells, seaweed, rocks and rubbish. A heavy hailshower overtakes me as I clamber out of the basin. Stones measure up to 1 cm, and I take a fair few inside on my coat. Hear a story of a group of people who were due to fly to Benbecula yesterday. On approach to the airport there, the pilot suddenly aborted the landing and turned back to Stornoway. The runway was a sheet of ice, and there was no chance to clear that up quickly. A very rough flight back followed, during which chunks of ice whacked the outside of the plane as they flew off the propellors. During the evening, the snow starts again.

Wednesday 01/03/06

Calendar check: 1st of March - first day of spring? Hardly. Winter is still firmly in control. More than 300 schools are closed across north and east Scotland. The RAF helicopter which had been abandoned on the summit of Cairn Gorm is still there, two days later. The A830 Fort William to Mallaig road is not advisable for travelling on, and conditions in the north of Scotland are generally pretty awful. The overnight Sleeper train from London to Aberdeen was stuck in a snowdrift, 5 feet deep, for 5 hours. Stornoway gets peppered by frequent, heavy but short snow showers. Temperatures remain just above zero. A good layer of snow remains on the ground, about 2 inches deep. Only now is the council out gritting pavements. The sun is very warm, and any snow exposed to its rays melts. Ferry left an hour late, at 2.45. Go out into town at 3.30, and make my way through a sea of slush. The papers only arrive at 4pm, as opposed to the usual time of 10 am. The Press and Journal, my usual rag, isn't expected until 6 pm. Walk down Point Street to Amity House, then round to North Beach. Notice a yellow flare going up over the town, but haven't got the phonenumber for the Coastguard. A heavy snowshower blows by as I make my way back to Newton. Notice a fair few boats out on the horizon. Conditions do appear to be more benign today than yesterday. Overnight lows tonight -8 to -12. Cold spell is expected to last at least into the weekend. Supper is chicken curry, courtesy mrs B, neither of us hit the jackpot on the lottery. A large ship is slowly moving behind Arnish Point at 11pm, but it disappears from sight during a snow shower.

Tuesday 28/02/06

A very wintery scene presents itself at daybreak. About 2 to 5 cms of snow, a fair amount over the Arnish hills and in the backyard. The picture gallery shows what could be seen outside through the day. As the morning progresses, very heavy snow showers come through. Snow does not settle, but visibility is at times restricted to Goat Island, only ¼ mile distant across the Basin. The ferry is very late, arriving at 2.30 pm, and its second sailing of the day is cancelled. Muirneag never left for Ullapool last night. Strong winds today, force 6-7, with gusts up to force 9. Severe disruption in the Highlands and Northern Isles due to snow and ice with hundreds of schools closed. Webcam attracts about 120 visitors by 2.40pm. Have extensively publicised it on Metcheck, and everybody wants to watch falling snow. Heaven knows why. Snow penetrates further south in the UK. It's very cold outside, only 1C / 34F. The ferry from Stromness to Scrabster is cancelled. Continue to try out the new camera, which has a camcorder function on it. Odd visitors to the webcam come from South Africa, Egypt and Vietnam. The snowshowers continue unabated after dark. Total number of viewers on webcam 215 today.

Monday 27/02/06

After a night of pouring rain, things clear up by 11 am. Muirneag is late coming in at 9.30. Two French fishing boats come in for a crewchange. The brightness is soon replaced by heavy showers. In Islay, a distillery has produced a whisky with 93% alcohol. The showers turn wintry as the afternoon progresses. Go out at 4pm to purchase a plug adapter for recharging. And to collect my winnings from the National Lottery. Snowfall commences around 5pm, with frequent showers. My announcement on Metcheck that it snows on the webcam brings 80 visitors in. Supper - more of last night's lasagna. Visitor numbers to the webcam eventually reach 229 by midnight, just over 100 more than the previous daily record.

Sunday 26/02/06

Late start today (oh well, it's a Lewis Sunday). There is a ferocious and too personal debate on the VisitHebrides site about Sabbath Observance [note: this debate has now been removed due to complaints]. On another board, I was invited with my heathen friends to man the ferries, buses and shops. Just for inviting debate, dear me. Warnings in the forecast for up to 30 cm of snow. Very quiet day, also in terms of weather. Variable amounts of cloud, some sun and a little wind. In the evening, the Closing Ceremony for the Winter Olympics is screened from Turin, Italy. The next games will be at Vancouver, Canada, in 2010.

Saturday 25/02/06

Occasional sunshine this morning, after a late 11.30 start. Bird flu fright continues to grow with French turkeys now dying of the infamous H5N1 strain. Discover that the Arnish Lighthouse blog was included in the BBC Ticker on its website. At 2.40, I join mrs B on the bus for a brief visit to her sister elsewhere in Stornoway to celebrate that lady's 78th birthday. She is a dapper lady of frail health, and everybody is more than pleased she has reached 78. Her husband runs us back to Lewis Crofters for a stone (6.35 kg) of potatoes. Nearly got locked in as we forgot the time, looking at all sorts of bits and pieces in there, a lot of outdoor gear. Mrs B serves supper tonight - and I win a tenner on the lottery. Grey weather, with a bitter northeast wind.

Friday 24/02/06

It's a drizzly sort of day today, with not a lot happening. Try to print out the Iolaire lists which I received from the Stornoway Historical Society, but the fonts are illegibly small. Notice a worldwide spread of viewers to the webcam. Receive an email from the lady I partnered up with in Orkney in September 2004. She is now in Kenya, which she is leaving shortly because of food shortages.

Thursday 23/02/06

Viewers on the webcam overnight include someone from the Faroes, at 2.30 a.m., as well as Thailand. At 10 a.m., I go to the Caladh Inn (formerly Seaforth Hotel), on James Street, for a public meeting by the local health board. I am welcomed in the Garry Room by controversial Chief Executive, Dick Manson, who pulls up a chair for me. I am issued with a wad of papers for the meeting. Items on the agenda include the impending flu pandemic and the Western Isles response to it, waiting times and delayed discharges at the local hospital, dental services (W.I. doing better than average), community health and social care partnerships (26 page document), Chief Exec's report (60 pages). The Finance Director announces proudly that the deficit for the current financial year stands at a projected £2.5m, 500k down on last month's projection. The service redesign update elicits expressions of concern about staff involvement, or more correctly, staff withdrawal from the whole process. Although two boardmembers express concern, one senior board member denies any problem at all. The annual report on public health is curtly curtailed by Board Chairman David Currie. Proceedings close at 12.30 - a private meeting will follow. I return to mrs B's after doing my shopping at Somerfields. No Free Press today. It's a cloudy and chilly day. Receive an email from Malcolm MacDonald with a full list of those involved in the Iolaire disaster of 1919. Work the list of links to pictures into the pages and put it on the Internet. Publish another video over the webcam, which attracts 7 viewers at 13.30.

Wednesday 22/02/06

Very cold start to the day, with a touch of frost (0 C), frozen puddles and rime on grass. In the afternoon, I accompany mrs B part of the way to a party that she has been invited to at her sister-in-law's. I go with her as far as Island Road and Smith Avenue, but one of her relatives picks her up at the buspark. I carry on up the road to Leverhulme Drive and Westview Terrace. Cross over Percival Road to Sand Street, to gain the Cockle Ebb, the estuary and mudflats of the Laxdale River. I turn right at the bottom and follow the soggy coastline to Steinish. It's very flat, lots of gulls about as well as cockles. Sun shines brightly, and the wind is light, easterly. Temp about 7C. Run into a spot of bother on the approach to Steinish, as deep water bars my progress. I have to wade through two tributaries, one 50 cm, the other 10 cm deep. Water is cold, but bearable. Sun is nice and warm, and at 3.55, an hour after starting out, I sit down just outside Steinish to sun myself. Walk up past a house where a little dog is yapping at me. I proceed towards the perimeter fence for the airport (all of 4 feet high). Go up a farmtrack, where the farmer is spreading muck in an adjacent field. Eugh. Wind is blowing the other way. His farm is surrounded by seas of mud. I walk down the road to North Street, Sandwick, enjoying the views out to the mainland, with snowcapped mountains. The Harris Hills are lost in the glare of the low sun. I cross into Lower Sandwick and walk past the cemetery into Newton. Great views of Skye, the Shiants and Kebock Head. Return to Newton at 5pm. Have to scout around for a lottery ticket, as the machine in Somerfields is out of commission. Mrs B returns at 6.30, and she cooks dinner for me. A spot of tellywatching closes the evening.

Tuesday 21/02/06

Fairly sunny morning with changeable cloud. Cool, as I wash the windows. I take a lot of pics through the windows, and one of yesterday's crop was fuzzy because of the salt on the glass. Today, I'm showing another online video, this time the Tolsta to Ness and Dell walk. Lasts about 4 minutes, and comes out well. Unfortunately, Camstreams cut off the last few frames. This is due to the delay in transmission, of about 30 secs. But as soon as the link goes off-line, so does the showing on the website. I tried to make a third video, but the result crashed the computer. Doesn't happen that often. Mrs B buys me my paper, and I already had food in for today. So, I only show my nose outside for the purpose of washing the windows.

Monday 20/02/06

Before breakfast, a shower wets the pavement. Two dunlin run along the top of the seawall. Afterwards, it's bright and sunny, but with a regular build-up of cumulus clouds. None reach the shower stage over the town. The Isle of Lewis ferry is back on its normal run, and comes in on time at 1.15. Today, I'm doing the video through the webcam link. At 11 a.m, I'm a few minutes late after I cannot find the file on the computer. At 3 and 7 pm, everything goes fine. One person even asks for a rerun. At 3pm, 3 people are watching. One from Glasgow, one from London and another from Leeds - all UK. Viewers internationally, not to the clip, but to the webcam generally come in from Russia, Hong Kong and Switzerland. Mrs B cleans out the front garden, and is plain to see on the webcam LOL. She pots some daffs in anticipation of spring. At 5pm, a rainshower moves across, giving a very nice rainbow and spectacular sunset colours. Temperatures a very acceptable 8C. Watch some more of the Winter Olympics, whilst enjoying a Berserker. That's 7% v/v alcohol ale, very heady indeed.

Sunday 19/02/06

Sunny start to the day, but cloud bubbles up in the early afternoon. Nithing untoward, initially. Yesterday, the Isle of Lewis returned from its refit, so at 3pm, the Clansman sails south to its homeport of Oban. I go for a short stroll along the shoreline from the Coastguard Station to the bottom of Millar Road. It involves a lot of clambering over rocks, and takes much longer than the normal road route. The weather produces some nice cumuli, and even a brief shower over Arnish at 5pm. I do not have the camera at my personal disposal (I've been given the loan of it by mrs B son, who needs it today). Mrs B serves me a Sunday roast with a sticky toffee pudding after. I manage to convert my pics into a movie, which will be shown on the webcam in the course of tomorrow.

Saturday 18/02/06

Brilliantly sunny day, not too cold. After lunch, mrs B and myself go for a walk in the Castle Grounds. Island Blogging wants to see spring pictures, so my mission is to take spring-related images. It starts at Somerfields, where a crocus and a lily poke through the rubbish by the roadside. It's pretty busy in the town. We walk up Kenneth Street, past the Free Church and the Masonic Lodge to Bayhead. Cross the bridge and go into the Woodlands Centre for a cup of soup and a roll. We arrive at 1.45pm, but service is so slow. It takes them 15 minutes to serve 4 people. Lots of wee kids about, a dad talking to his wife on the upper level asks: "Is she being awful? Is she being dreadful?" Resume the walk at 2.20pm and go up the path through the Shoeburn Glen. See a bluetit, lots of small purple flowers and white ones as well. Come out under Lews Castle and cut through to Lews Castle College. From there, a path leads on to Strawberry Hill. This path is very mddy, and just leads past the hill, not over it. Once at the far side, the main trails from Marybank lead us neatly back to Lady Matheson's Memorial above Cuddy Point. See a bunch of snowdrops, ferns, budding horse chestnuts. Return to town along Cromwell Street, to do some shopping. Notice that visibility is excellent, allowing plain views of the mainland hills. Sun sets at 5.40. Supper provided by mrs B, lottery wins us nothing.

Friday 17/02/06

This was one of those days where I kept very quiet. It was a nice sunny day, bit on the cool side. One or two light showers pass through, otherwise quite acceptable. The Free Press has arrived in Somerfields. Also had a look in the Basin, but the tide was coming in fast at 4pm. The ground is very soft in there, but what do you expect in a tidal area. Found an article which gave an eye-witness account of the Iolaire disaster. The moon rose just before midnight, see picture.

Thursday 16/02/06

Nice if blustery morning. During breakfast, waves can be seen crashing over the Goat Island causeway, but as the tide goes down, this ceases. The tide was very high this morning. The strong southerly winds are blowing at force 6, gusting force 8, ease as the day progresses. The 7C feel cold in the wind. The sun is very warm. Go into town after lunch to buy a replacement printer cartridge, which I have exhausted personally. Go to Somerfields to buy food for a meal for mrs B and myself: carrots, potatoes, onions and minced meat balls. On the way back, I can see the snowcapped mountains on the mainland and even manage to take a picture of An Teallach. Sunset by about 5.20. The days are lengthening rapidly now. No West Highland Free Press in Somerfields, didn't come up from Skye apparently. Still a nice day, only one or two showers. Further south, there is hail, thunder and lightning. Barometer still low, 967 mbar. The centre of the depression is a few hundred miles out in the Atlantic. After dinner, we watch Seaside Rescue on BBC1, always an interesting program.

Wednesday 15/02/06

The gale has blown itself out by morning, but the barometer has gone through the floor. It remains gloomy and very wet. Pressure readings slide down from 973 to 968 mbar as the day progresses. Although sustained winds are only a moderate force 4, gusts exceed 30 knots, force 7. Several heavy showers pass through, but the cloudscape remains interesting. Have a problem trying to broadcast a short video through Camstreams. Initially it would appear the bitrate, 864 kbps, is too high, but even a 48 kbps version cannot be transmitted. The Winter Olympics provide entertainment through the evening. I make 2 more films, one featuring the Tolsta to Ness and Dell walk, the other Carloway to Bragar. I only have a limited collection of background music. Discover that a Brazilian website has hijacked my webcam stream, but an email dissuades them from further such actions.

Monday 13/02/06

Another dreich start to the day, but the rain stops at 11 a.m.. Isles FM reports more foul play in the NHS Health Board saga, where a letter from councillors to Health Minister Andy Kerr is leaked back to the council, with the question: "Who did this?" Nobody is prepared to own up. On the buspark at Smith Avenue, a pedestrian was run down by a cardriver. A man has fallen into the Inner Harbour yesterday morning, but was fished out by local fishermen. A youth was apprehended in possession of controlled substances. Four French fishingboats from Lorient come into port at 10.30 for a crew change. At midday, a taxi arrives to take mrs B and myself to An Lanntair for the official opening by Scotland's First Minister, Jack McConnell. As we arrive, a lot of well-dressed folk go in as well. I recognise a few local councillors. Mrs B introduced me to some of her friends and relations. One of them was familiar with my work on HMS Timbertown. Another had a brother working near Nijmegen, Holland. There is also the development officer for CnES. Proceedings are due to start at 12.30, but as we sit down the film about the scenic side of the islands continues to roll, until 12.40. There are 4 speakers on the podium: Angus McCormack, who conducts proceedings; Alex MacDonald (council convener, speaking in Gaelic); Jim Tough (arts director for Scottish Arts Council) and Jack McConnell. The gist of all the speeches is that this is a good day for Lewis, a good day for Gaelic and for culture. The Gaelic Act came into force today as well, which cements Gaelic's status as a main language in Scotland. There is currently a debate about Gaelic medium education (basically: teaching kids using Gaelic). Mr McConnell also announces that islanders may see 40% off their airfares to the mainland as of this summer. You pay more for travelling to Stornoway from Glasgow than you do for going to New York. The First Minister does not touch on the vexed question of the Health Board. I take some pictures, as does the assembled press corps. After the speeches, we see a speeded-up film made of time-lapse images of the construction of the new arts centre. Most remarkable was seeing the tide rising and falling in a matter of seconds. Anna Murray and Christine Primrose, of Lewis Women, close proceedings with some Gaelic songs. We are now invited to the buffet. After a considerable delay, we finally reach the salads by 2.15. Jack McConnell has left by now. Once lunch was consumed, we had a look round an exhibition of furniture and clever woodcarvings by the late Tim Stead. One of his pieces was a chair, specially made for the Pope's visit to Scotland in 1982. At 3.30, we returned to Newton via the butcher's for eggs. Last week, one of the boxes of eggs sported an expiry date of 30 February 2006. Like you do. These are freerange eggs from Shawbost, West Side. They go like hotcakes. Supper consists of a cheese sandwich, with a jelly after. Try my hand at animating a picture, but find I've got a lot to learn. Mrs B's son calls in with one of his boys and his mates in tow. The BBC News mentions two serious medical errors. One involved a GP injecting a baby of 7 weeks with the MMR vaccine - this jab is normally given at 12 months. The other, worse, occurred in a Glasgow hospital. A lady was given medication, prescribed for the previous occupant of the bed. She died. How COULD that happen.
Tomorrow's weather will be ditto today.

Sunday 12/02/06

A very dreich and wet day, not a lot of wind, force 4. Breakfast nice and late, 11.30. After catching up with the Internet, we sit down to watch the Winter Olympics. Pretty impressive events, such as snowboarding, skiing and ice skating. Am pleased to see the Dutch longtrack skaters doing well. The rain moves away after 1pm, leaving a misty but bright afternoon. It's not cold, 10C. Sunset at 5.10, see pic above. Mrs B prepares a Sunday roast for her and myself, with a jelly afterwards.

Saturday 11/02/06

The rain subsides by daybreak, but the wind only slowly drops. The Met Office reports windspeeds of 27 knots sustained at 9 am, which goes down to 22 kts at 1pm. Gusts are up to 37 knots, which is galeforce. It's very busy with ships going in and out. In spite of the weather, Muirneag shows up at 9.30. The lifeboat dashes out at 10.10, preceded by a tugboat. The lifeboat encounters heavy seas at the Arnish Point bar, and is covered by waves. Next, a French fishing boat, the Jack Abri II from Lorient calls in for a crew change. She arrives at 10.30 and leaves at 12.15. The new crew will have been flown in on a chartered flight, and the relieved one will return to France on the same plane. This saves the boat the 1500 mile return trip to Lorient. A fast crew change, within 24 hours, also brings a 25% reduction in harbour dues. Stornoway Port Authority encourages shipping companies to use this facility, in view of the proximity of the airport (4 miles away). The gastanker Sigas Champion leaves at 11.15, again aided by a pilot. Took the mickey out of the Small Isles folk, not half helped by Westword. Muck recommends crushing plastic by running the tractor over it, Canna didn't have a boat for a week, so the residents were staving off urges of cannibalism and Eigg spent its days watching whales in the bay.
Later on, an occasional light shower drifts by, but nothing too serious. The wind decreases slowly. Northern England reports snow. The ferry is its usual 20 minutes late coming in and leaving. Still the Clansman. Notice the webcam being viewed from Montevideo, Uruguay; Tenerife, Canary Islands and Northern Norway. The Uruguayan viewer is placed in the Avenue General Flores, which leads NNE from the Aguanda in Montevideo. The Tenerife viewer is on the northern side of the island, between Puerto dela Cruz and Los Realijos. Ostensibly in the middle of a vineyard! The Norwegian visitor has been before, and is resident in the town of Budejju, 775 km north of Oslo. Go to Somerfields for papers and a copy of the Scots Magazine. This contains a letter from Donald MacLeod of Aberdeen, about the Iolaire Disaster. I cook spaghetti bolognese for Mrs B. Later on, I point the webcam inside. Position it on a small lamp, high up on a wall and direct it at the fire and the keyboard. Only 3 people actually see it. I reposition the camera to its normal position by 11.15.