Advice on seal strandings

COASTGUARD ADVISE ON SEAL STRANDINGS

Following recent seal strandings in the Yarmouth area which resulted in multiple 999 calls from well meaning members of the public, the Coastguard are advising on how best to deal with mammals.

If you find a live seal, watch it FROM A DISTANCE. Do not approach the animal.

Seals regularly haul out on our coasts - it is part of their normal behaviour. Therefore, finding a seal on the beach does not mean there is necessarily a problem. A healthy seal should be left well alone.

However, if there is a problem, there are a number of things coastal visitors may wish to know first:

• Abandoned? If you see a seal with a white, long-haired coat in the winter, or you see a small seal (less than 3 feet in length) alone between June and August, then it is probably still suckling from its mother. Check the sea regularly for any sign of an adult seal.

• Thin? Signs of malnutrition include visible neck and perhaps a rather baggy, wrinkled skin.

• Sick? Signs of ill health include : coughing, sneezing or noisy, rapid breathing and possibly thick mucus coming from the nose, wounds or swellings, particularly on the flippers, and possibly favouring one flipper when moving (although remember that healthy seals will often lie and hunch along on their sides) cloudy eyes, or thick mucus around them, or possibly one eye kept closed most of the time, a seal showing little response to any disturbance going on around it (although remember they could be soundly asleep)

For any member of the public who may see a seal which appears to be abandoned (if mother does not return within 24 hours), thin or ill, rather than call the emergency services, please ring (for advice and assistance)

• BDMLR hotline : 01825 765546.
• RSPCA hotline : 0870 5555999

You will receive further advice over the phone. If there is a problem with the animal, there are some important things you can do to help:

1. Provide information. Give thehotline an accurate description of the seal, its exact location (including position on the beach), how long the seal has been observed and any signs of injury. If at all possible, stay on the beach to guide the rescue team to the animal. This can save valuable and perhaps critical time. If you have a mobile, give the number to the hotline.

2. Control disturbance. Stop other people and their animals from approaching the seal, because - if it is a seal pup that is still suckling, then approaching the pup could threaten the mother-pup bond and the pup may be abandoned. Seals will react if approached too closely and are capable of inflicting a nasty bite - even the smallest pup can cause serious injury and this is even more of a risk with adults.

3. Prevent small seals from being disturbed and forced into the sea. Stand between a pup and the sea and, if necessary, use a board or similar object to restrain it. Under no circumstances, attempt this with adult seals, as you could leave yourself open to injury. You should avoid handling a seal pup at all costs, for the same reason. Under no circumstances allow anybody to push the seal back in the sea. A pup still suckling is a poor swimmer and an older animal may be hauled out for good reason

Morning after pill

The morning after pill is given to women within 24 hours of unprotected intercourse. One pill is taken immediately, the second exactly 12 hours later. If conception has taken place, the pill will prevent the fertilised egg from nestling in the lining of the womb. The pill has some serious side-effects. Because it's a high dose of the female hormone progesterone, it causes nausea and vomiting. It also disrupts the menstrual cycle.

A number of considerations come into play when this pill is given over-the-counter. In the UK, it is only handed out from pharmacies. You can't buy it in a supermarket. The pharmacist is trained to ascertain whether it is appropriate for the woman asking for the pill to have it in the first place. I am unfamiliar with the US regulations.

As the pill is intended to stop the fertilised egg from developing further, it is argued that you are terminating a pregnancy, even if it's less than 24 hours old. There are people who are opposed to abortion, at any stage of pregnancy and who are therefore unhappy to see the availability of this pill widened.

Others will make the point that it will be seen as an excuse for having unprotected sex, not wearing a condom, not go on the anti-conceptive pill or use another method of contraception. Apart from the fact that this is an emergency measure, it also does nothing to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease.

I am broadly in favour of having the pill available without a prescription, using the regime that has been in place in the UK for a few years now. Accidents happen, worse than that, so does rape. Over and above that, it is argued that it should not be given to children. In the UK, there is a large problem with teenage pregnancies (under 16), and education should also be improved. There is a long way to go with this yet.

Salutary warning?

THE young daughter of a Californian woman embroiled in an internet love scandal wants her "mommy" to come home. Karen Anderson, 30, left her two-year-old toddler Amanda in the US a month ago to move to Perth and live with her schoolboy lover James Barry, 16. They met on the web. Friends and family of Ms Anderson said the romance was bizarre and she should put her young daughter first and return to the US. Laura Hinkle, a close friend of Ms Anderson's for a decade, was disgusted that her friend had pursued the WA teen and left her daughter. Ms Hinkle, who has two young sons, said she loved Ms Anderson dearly but could not condone her actions. "I would like to plead with Karen to just come home - be with your daughter,'' Ms Hinkle, 30, said. "No person could ever love you the way your child does. Amanda knows that her mommy is gone and she misses Karen desperately and wants her to come home. "I love Karen to death . . . she has a great heart, but there has got to be something wrong with her to do this.'' Ms Hinkle, whose emails begging Ms Anderson to return to her child have gone answered, said she is also concerned about James's welfare. She said her friend was stripping him of his "teenage innocence''. "This whole `love' thing with James will pass and, for his parents' sake, she needs to be the adult and let this go, before his youth is completely gone,'' she said. "She has been around the block way too many times and he hasn't even made it halfway yet. "I don't care how `in love' he thinks he is, he's only 16. She is taking this boy's youth away from him. "If some 30-year-old woman wanted to be with my little boy, I would be out for blood. I really feel for his mother.'' Friends of Ms Anderson, who worked as a dancer before she became pregnant and who was seven years younger than James's mother Sue, confirmed that her relationship with James was not her first internet love affair. She had a relationship with a man in Las Vegas who she had met on the web, but later dumped. Ms Anderson, who last week told The Sunday Times she was planning to marry James, is still legally married to Colin Anderson, the father of Amanda. The couple married when she was 21, but separated about two years ago. Mr Anderson has been caring for their daughter since Ms Anderson left for Australia four weeks ago. A family member said Mr Anderson, 37, did not want to comment on the affair because he did not want to anger his estranged wife or lose his beloved daughter. On his MySpace website, Mr Anderson said his daughter was his "pride and joy''. Ms Anderson plans to leave Australia at the end of October if she cannot get a working visa. In the meantime, she would miss her daughter's third birthday in two weeks' time. Ms Anderson has applied for a working visa so she can stay with her young lover and work as a hairdresser in WA. If it is not granted, she would have to leave the country before her holiday visa expires on October 30. One of Ms Anderson's relatives, who did not want to be named, said the family was worried about her plans to bring Amanda to Australia permanently. "This really is a no-win situation for all parties, except Karen. It is selfish and not the actions of a mature mother,'' he said. "We don't want to see Amanda move all the way across the world, based on a relationship that is five months old and is probably going to implode. "I see young James as a typical teenager - horny and wanting to know what it's like to play grown-up. "It's a lot different when you're taking care of a child that isn't yours, knowing that the person you are with has had numerous relationships and you've had just the one and that's all you're ever going to have. "I would compare Karen to a drug. James is experimenting and, hopefully, he won't like what happens after the high wears off.'' He said the internet had taken control of Ms Anderson's life over the past year. "She would be playing stupid games all through the night and then sleep all day. Where does a child fit into this?,'' he said. "We just hope that this has a good resolution.'' And what do I find on the Australian news web page featuring this sad story?
Yes, you're seeing that correctly. An advertisement for on-line dating. Eughhh.

Twitchers

Betty, in her journal My Day My Interests describes the frantic interest that can be generated by a rare bird; in her case, a Western Reef Heron over in New Hampshire. The majority of people that come after rare birds are referred to as twitchers in the UK. Here in the Western Isles, we are right on the migratory routes for birds travelling south in autumn out of Iceland and Greenland towards Africa, and in reverse direction in spring.

We also have birds that get blown across the Atlantic in the stormy season, autumn and winter. If it's really unusual, we get them by the planeload. I am serious: groups of amateur or professional ornithologists charter a plane between themselves, drop everything even if it's 4 in the morning, to hare off to a distant corner of the land to see that particular bird.

Now, I did mention the word ornithologist. This is someone that knows all there is to know about birds. Twitchers are, with all respect, people who want to tick off a list of "must have seen" birds and are prepared to go to the length described above.


Earlier in the year, though, bird watching took a rather more tragic turn with the discovery of avian flu in Western Europe. Have not heard much more about it since the spring, but back in March a swan was found dead in a harbour in Eastern Scotland. A government spokesman described what happened to the unfortunate creature as follows:

"This swan was flying across the North Sea when it began to feel crap. As it neared the Scottish coast it was feeling worse and worse, and when it finally reached Scotland it died pretty soon afterwards."

Right. We were concerned about bird flu, because it could mutate into a virus that is contagious to humans. Therefore, if you start to feel crap, consult a doctor immediately, as you may be about to die. OK, I'm having a laugh here. It is hardly scientific to describe symptoms as above. Fortunately, that panic seems to have died down, and I have not heard anything about birdflu for months now.

Tolerance

I think I have blogged about this subject before, earlier in the year. I feel very strongly about tolerance in society, particularly towards what is referred to ethnic minorities.

I should start to say that I abhor discrimination of any kind. Both negative and positive discrimination. Negative discrimination means that people are deprived of certain rights or things because of the colour of their skin, their culture, their ethnic provenance, sexuality, you name it. Positive discrimination means that people are given preferential treatment precisely because of a characteristic.

We all came into the world with nothing, and we're all going to leave it with nothing. Underneath the skin, we're all the same, more or less. It is therefore unacceptable to discriminate. If people are to be judged, it should be on merit. Not on the colour of their skin. Their sexuality. The fact that they are from any certain country - or not.
I feel so strongly about this, because of what happened in the 1930s and early 1940s in Europe. Six million people were killed because they professed to be Jews. Initially, their lives were made impossible, then they were segregated into ghettos and finally carted off to concentration camps to be murdered on an industrial scale.

In recent years, large numbers of people have migrated to Western Europe and other so-called western countries, in search of affluence. Others came because their life was not safe in their home country. Since 2004, thousands of people have come to the UK from (e.g.) Poland to work. 97% of those people hold down a full time job.
Complaints are often heard that those people are taken jobs from indigenous people. I have seen at first hand a situation that the jobs were not applied for by local people, and that Eastern European workers had to be drafted in to do the job. I do think there is a problem if people come to Europe just to syphon off benefits and not work.

Since the horrendous events of 9/11, which we will be commemorating in 15 days' time, a backlash against people of the Muslim faith has occurred. A few weeks ago, a major security scare in the UK led to a strong tightening of security at airports. People were picked out for extra checks, purely on account of the fact that they looked Middle Eastern. The word "profiling" was introduced, to indicate that only certain suspect segments of society would be targeted for extra checks. Methinks that any terrorist organisation who grows wise to the criteria, will look for its recruits outside any such groups, although that might be a little complicated. However, the events of 9/11 and 7/7 have shown that it only takes a handful of brainwashed idiots to commit mass murder.

Tolerance to all sections of society is particularly important at a time like this, when one group is being singled out. This could have precisely the opposite effect of driving those groups into the arms of terrorists. It should be about dialogue, mutual engagement and respect, listening to and addressing problems that exist. Only in such an environment can extremists be defeated.

Concerns are being voiced that expressions of national pride are being suppressed, for fear of offending those that come from other faiths and cultures. Those concerns are being used to alienate minorities, implicitly accusing them of diluting national symbols.
Anyone who has had a glance at biology knows that inbreeding leads to a weakening of a species and of a society. An infusion of other cultures leads to a broadening of minds - as long as those minds are open to embrace something else.

Outdoor casualties - August 2006

The Coastguard helicopter based at Stornoway was put through its paces this weekend, with two rescue missions on the one day. First, a lady had to be airlifted from the Quiraing in northern Skye [50 miles south of Stornoway] after she had fallen 100 ft / 30 m and had sustained severe head injuries. The Quiraing is a series of large rockformations, formed by a layer of hard rock sliding off a softer layer further down. Over many thousands of years, this has left a crazy landscape of pinnacles of rock, which are a rock scrambler's or climber's paradise. You can also traverse it on foot, which I've done myself in October 2004. You need sure footing and a good deal of caution. This accident happened in a formation called The Prison (the derivation of the name is unknown), infamous for just this sort of accidents. The casualty was transferred to hospital in Broadford, 40 miles to the south.

Below picture shows The Prison - it is copyright Steven Russell

The second incident involved an elderly walker in the Lochaber district of mainland Scotland. He was travelling on foot from Lochailort towards Arisaig on the coast when he became unwell. The helicopter also airlifted him to hospital in Broadford, Isle of Skye, which is geographically speaking closest to the site of the incident.

Toilet papering

I read in Linda's blog about the tradition of toilet-papering a house in the States. That's relatively harmless, but of course as she points out, on a rainy day it can turn into a sodden mess.

I can tell that in continental Europe, anyone getting married is fair game too. Filling the nuptual bedroom with balloons is a nice one. Another one does cause quite a mess.

It involves placing a can of shaving foam in the freezer at -18C / 0 F overnight. For the ladies, shaving foam comes as a liquid under high pressure in a canister. The next morning, the happy couple toddle off to church. Meanwhile, the evil culprit peels the can off the cylinder of frozen foam and places said cylinder in the middle of the bedroom. By the time the wedding and the reception are over, it'll be well after midnight. The shaving foam will have filled the bedroom wall-to-wall with foam after it expands upon thawing.

I do not accept responsibility for the consequences of people following this information. Not all types of shaving foam are suitable, and serious injury and damage can result from puncturing an aerosol can.

Bank charges

To quote that infamous sign outside a farmer's field: "Access to this field is free, but the bull charges". And so do banks in the UK. One bank, I believe it's the Royal Bank of Scotland, charges for the following, to name but a few:

- depositing money into your account
- withdrawing money from your account
- writing cheques

I think it's a damned disgrace that people have to pay to handle their own money. The worst of it are the cash machines that charge you £1.50 just to make a withdrawal. Most ATMs in the UK do not levy this charge, but a substantial number do. A report earlier this week suggested that quite a few of these charging cashpoints are located in areas of economic deprivation. One Scottish bank has offered to install free cashpoints in such areas.

Irrespective of their location, I think ATMs should not charge to withdraw money from them. It's OUR hard-earned cash, and the banks make more than enough of a profit that they can afford to run charge-free ATMs in all locations.

Iolaire disaster 1919


Yesterday, I mentioned the correspondence in Scottish newspapers surrounding the sinking of HMY [His Majesty's Yacht] Iolaire in 1919. The image above shows the immediate aftermath of the disaster. At daybreak, at 9 am on New Year's Day 1919, one man was found hanging in the rigging of the mast. Seven others had been with him, but were unable to hang on and had fallen down, and had drowned. It is impossible to imagine the depth of grief that the loss of 200 young men brought to Lewis. Today, I was sent a transcript of an article from the Glasgow Herald of January 4th, 1919:

An old man sobbing into his handkerchief with a stalwart son in khaki sitting on the cart beside him, the remains of another son in the coffin behind --- that was one of the sights seen today as one of the funeral parties emerged from the barrack gate. Another, an elderly woman, well dressed, comes staggering down the roadway and bursts into a paralysis of grief as she tells the sympathisers at the gate that her boy is in the mortuary. Strong men weeping and women wailing or wandering around with blanched, tear stained faces are to be seen in almost every street and there are groups of them at the improvised mortuary

The islanders found it impossible to speak about the disaster. It was locked away in a cupboard. The last survivor died in 1992. A list of names, of survivors and casualties, was compiled by the Stornoway Historical Society, and can be accessed from this link. The following was the resulting feedback:

(1) A gentleman emailed me from southwest Scotland, saying: "I knew nothing of the Iolaire Disaster [...]. Very moving but tragic that more people don't know more about a large group of young men taken in such tragic circumstances. To have survived a war and then die within sight of home is beyond belief." Others expressed similar sadness.

(2) One lady contacted me from Ontario, Canada. Her ancestors came from Marvig (South Lochs). She gave me permission to reproduce their story.
"My grampa's younger brother, Donald MacLeod (7 Marbhig, then Stornoway),
died coming into harbour on the Iolaire. From the memorial in South Lochs I think two of my greatgrandparents' brothers were killed in the war, as well as losing Donald. My grandfather Alasdair was forbidden from fishing anymore for fear he'd drown too, after his family's losses. A torment for him, as he loved the sea and fishing. He drove for Lord Leverhulme then went to the shipyards in Glasgow to make some money. Her returned to Stornoway for a short time then came to Canada on one of the two ships
for which there were no passenger lists. Settled in our praries for a time (no water at all) then went west to Vancouver Island for the remainder of his lifetime... built himself a little boat and enjoyed it to the end in 1980. So fortunate I visited Stornoway last summer and saw for myself why Alaisdair chose Nanaimo...it looked so like Stornoway...
His mother I think suffered too much heartbreak for it all and was a lost soul in the sanatorium for the rest of her life. And oddly, when I've written lyrics all through my life they have been laden with images of water, and the sea...long before I knew of this event in my family's history. Funny how these things can follow you. I'd not be at all if it weren't for the Iolaire disaster...a ponderous thought, that."

(3) One correspondent mentioned that her ancestors came from Harris, but wondered whether any had been on the Iolaire.

(4) Another reaction bears out the extreme distress that the Iolaire Disaster caused within the islands: "I only found that my grandfather's first cousin [...] was lost on the Iolaire when I looked up his death certificate. The family had never mentioned or talked of him. I go to Harris and will post a photo of his headstone after my next visit. I only learned of how he died after my last trip to the island."


I very recently received this link, which carries more stories.

The Iolaire Disaster is little known outside the Hebrides, although its death toll exceeds that of the disaster with the Herald of Free Enterprise outside Zeebrugge in 1986. Another shipwreck, dating back to 1904, took place at Rockall. The Norge, on its way from Norway to America, foundered on this island, 225 miles west of Scotland. Hundreds perished; 9 are buried at Stornoway.

As long standing readers know, during my stay in Lewis, I have taken on board some aspects of the island's history. In the early hours of New Year's Day 1919, a boat, carrying 300 islanders returning from the First World War, was on its way from Kyle of Lochalsh to Stornoway. On the approach to Stornoway, it struck rocks on the Beasts of Holm, a small reef. 205 drowned, 75 survived. The exact circumstances of the grounding have never been cleared up. The naval reservists on board could, to a man, have taken the boat, called the Iolaire into port. An inquiry was launched, but no conclusions were drawn.

Earlier this year, I was given a list of names, and I gathered pictures of the men who died and of the survivors. One of my sources, a man from Aberdeen, is scathing (putting it mildly) about the attitude of the British authorities towards their conscripts, and towards those who perished on the Iolaire. I think it is understandable, if I give you these two quotes.

Prior to the inquiry, a number of national papers had an accusation to the effect that "the men drowned because they were Gaelic speakers who could not understand orders given in English". This false allegation was quickly dropped before the inquiry proper started. It was pointed out that many had been at sea for years, and non-commissioned officers &c during the war. The allegation infuriated many of the islanders and their shipmates who had served at sea. This letter was printed in the Glasgow Herald, a major Scottish newspaper, on 11 January 1919,

Sir,
I should like to take exception to a remark made in the account given by a correspondent, of the above sad disaster in the "Herald" of the 6 inst. He says that probably a great deal of confusion was caused by the fact that orders were given in English at the critical moment instead of in Gaelic, which the men would have understood better. I am well acquainted with the people of Lewis in general, and have sailed with their seamen for a long number of years, and never yet met a Lewisman that could not speak and understand English equally as well as Gaelic. In the majority of cases, when away for long periods, as sailors are, they never speak anything but English. So I do not think it would make any difference at all whether orders were given in Gaelic or English. It seems apparent that the ship's boats could not withstand the storm and heavy sea which was raging at the time, and it was a case of "every man for himself." By the accounts given the Arnish Light was quite visible for a long distance out at sea, which was a sufficient guide for bringing the vessel into Stornoway Harbour, combined with the Beacon Light. If, on the other hand, the lights were obscured for any length of time, why was the vessel not slowed or stopped and navigated with caution when such a number of precious lives were involved? I am almost certain that the majority of these poor seamen, who were natives of Lewis, were quite capable of taking the vessel into the harbour had they been in a position to do so., and I am pleased that the Lewis people are demanding a public inquiry which I hope, will help to clear up the mist. - ---- I am, etc.. ONE WELL ACQUAINTED WITH THE COAST.

Sentient being

This story from BBC South Yorkshire tells the tale of Tee Cee, the cat who can sense that his master is about to have an epileptic fit. He sits close to him and stares him intently in the face, then goes to his master's wife to raise the alert. Tee Cee will then not leave his master's side until he has regained full consciousness.



Tee Cee, pictured above, has been nominated for Cat of the Year [2006]. He was dumped in a river as a kitten 10 years ago, but was rescued.

Internet gambler loses £158k in 50 minutes

WHAT???!!!

You read it correctly. A 25 year old Internet gambler from Aberdeen [Scotland] went on line in the early hours of April 3, this year. Using his dad's 13 credit cards (who the heck has 13 CC's?) he initially won £90,000. His luck ran out though, and he start to run into deficit. One credit card after another was used to its credit limit, until proceedings stopped at just over £68,000. Taking the aggregate with the initial winnings, total losses ran up to £158,000. As I said, the young man used his father's credit cards. The £68K would have to be paid, unless the transactions were reported to police as fraudulent. The gambler tried to take his own life, but fortunately failed. He stood trial earlier this week; sentence was deferred for 4 weeks for reports.

I know very little about gambling on-line, or gambling generally. I just fell off my chair when I read this story in a Scottish newspaper. As the judge at the trial said, this scourge of the 21st century, Internet gambling, needs to be addressed. It only took 50 minutes for this chap to lose £68k. People who would not normally go into a casino have no impediments in place for going into an on-line casino. There are regular adverts for an on-line casino on satellite TV in this country.

Vulnerable

There are a number of blogs that I follow here on AOL, and some others that used to be on here until AOL USA decided to add banner ads to its journals. One of them is Judith Heartsong's blog on Blogger, which carried a frighteningly open and outspoken entry yesterday. Everybody has "issues" (I hate that word), but that was a painful read.

In a way (and I use that expression in the widest possible context), it reminded me of a gentleman of my acquaintance who grew up in the Germany of the 1940s. His father, an industrial chemist, was sent to hard labour, cutting peats for his involvement in the production of some of the lethal substances used in the gas chambers. A long fall down from the relative affluence of the prewar and war-years. My acquaintance built himself a life, marrying into a shipbuilding family, who had done well in the war years, and did not have a price to pay after 1945, unlike his dad. Even though the German Kriegsmarine had also inflicted untold suffering. The resentment at losing privileges lingered and festered, reflecting it onto his in-laws. When his son died in his mid-thirties, at the threshold of becoming a surgeon, my acquaintance went to pieces. He felt he could not relate to his wife in his grief, and entered into an affair with another woman. With the tacit approval of his spouse. The man, now in his 70s, is living life in top gear, running up and down stairs, maintaining some unusual hobbies and travelling the world for them. The occult features, which is something that is outside my remit. As does alternative medicine. It is a way of coping with what happened in the past, but it actually does not solve anything. He tried to speak to me about his grief, but so much has gone wrong there that there is very little I can do. I can only listen.

Hapless drunk

A man had had one too much to drink and managed to drive his van off the A830 road between Mallaig and Fort William, in the West Highlands. The driver knocked on the door of the nearest house, a B&B. When the proprietor opened the door, the van driver said: "Listen, can you give me a lift? I've had too much to drink, and I've crashed my van. Please don't tell the bobbies, OK?" The man at the B&B said he couldn't take him in his car until he had dressed properly, so he asked the driver to wait. The proprietor went upstairs and changed into his full police uniform. He then proceeded to charge the driver, put handcuffs on him and placed him in the back of his police car, which had been hidden in the darkness beside the house. After a while, police from Fort William, 40 miles away, came and took the drunk away. The van meanwhile had been reported by motorists as blocking the A830 with lights blazing and keys still in the ignition. The hapless drunk was fined £500 and banned from driving for 18 months.

Small Isles

In 1992, I was leaving Eigg after my 4th visit there (I was to return there quite a few times until 2004). At the time the transfer between island and ferry was not effected by the ferry docking at the pier - no, you had to jump into a wee flitboat, which would chug-chug out to the larger ferry (at the time it was the Lochmor) and then a precarious step between the two boats would see you on board for the onward journey to the mainland or wherever.

That cloudy Monday afternoon saw me as sole passenger on board the Ulva when the engine cut. The two men crew looked at each other, tried to restart the engine, fiddled about and finally realised the diesel had run out. Cursing the man who had used the boat the day before, they went on the VHF radio. You have to realise that the VHF transmissions reach for several dozen miles. "Lochmor, Lochmor, this is the Eigg ferry. We have run out of diesel, can you come alongside us please". This must have been met with gales of laughter up and down the west coast, and the leers from the Lochmor crew spoke volumes. The ferryboat ended up on the wrong side of the big ferry, so I was left an unholy scramble to get on board. But not before the engineer had said to the ferryboat crew: "Now, now. Let's discuss TERMS for this diesel!"

The other story is not hilarious at all, it is quite sad.
It relates to the Isle of Muck, 3 miles south of Eigg. I first visited Muck in 1995, during a blazing hot summer. Like at Eigg, you had to reach Muck by ferryboat. The tides at Muck are even dodgier than at Eigg. So, when it came to departure time, I found myself in Port Mor [the harbour bay] at low tide. The ferryboat crew came down to the pier and told me to take my shoes and socks off and wade into the sea. I waded into the sea to the rowing boat, jumped in, this was rowed to the ferryboat, and the ferryboat went to meet the Lochmor. The master of the ferryboat, Brian Walters, was about 15 minutes early, so he threw a line with hooks into the sea to catch some mackerel. He caught none. Eight years later, news came through that Brian's fishing boat was seen going round in circles in the sea between Eigg and Muck. At nightfall that quiet September evening, the lifeboat went to investigate. Nobody was found on board. Brian was known to have gone out in her, on his own. An accident must have happened and he had gone over the side. He was never found.

Canna is an island in the Inner Hebrides. Have a look at the pictures on Cannablog on the BBC's Island Blogging project.

John Lorne Campbell, and his wife of many years, Margaret Faye Shaw, bought the island in 1938. In the twenties, Margaret came across from the USA on a cycling holiday through the island of South Uist, 30 miles to the west across the Sea of the Hebrides. She fell in love with the place and stayed on. When she met her husband to be John, they went on to establish a huge library of Gaelic literature and music, which is still in Canna House.

John Lorne Campbell died in 1996 in Italy. He was buried there, but as is customary in Italy, after 10 years his coffin would be transferred to a communal grave. This was not deemed appropriate by the National Trust for Scotland, who were gifted the island of Canna alongside with the library on JLC's death. They arranged for his remains to be transferred back to Canna yesterday, June 21st. Unfortunately, a summer gale prevented the ferry from sailing.

Margaret Faye Shaw lived to be 101, and she carried on living at Canna House until her death in 2004. She was buried in South Uist, amongst the people she had come to love.

As you can read from the entries in Cannablog, things in the Small Isles are always a bit quirky. In October last year, something happened that can only happen there - read on.

(from the Arnish Lighthouse blog)
The Isle of Canna has been suffering from an infestation of rats. Nobody likes them, and apart from being an outright nuisance, they are a threat to ground nesting birds in the island. Unfortunately, the National Trust for Scotland, who are looking after Canna, could not just dose the island with warfarin (rat poison). Because Canna is home to a unique species of mouse, which is slightly larger than your average mouse. Last autumn, a team from Edinburgh University spent some time on the island setting traps to capture the mice live and take them to Edinburgh for safekeeping. Whilst the mice were away, it wasn't the cats that were dancing, and certainly not the rats. They were going to be treated to a dose of poison. So, the dapper ship MV Spanish John II was chartered to transport canisters of rat poison to Canna, one day in October this year. As she was chugging round the Isle of Rum, a call came on the VHF radio. An American warship, on manoeuvres in the area, was warning a vessel on its portside to move away, as it was in its safety zone. The skipper of the Spanish John didn't take notice, because he was on the starboard side of the American vessel. However, he was the only one there. The warnings were repeated six times, with increasing urgency. The master of the Spanish John now began to panic, and he tried shouting at the USS Klakring, to no avail. Another message came through on the VHF, ordering the black vessel with the white superstructure to pull away. The Spanish John hasn't got a white superstructure, but the white drums with poison could be misinterpreted as such. Then another four verbal warnings came to the Spanish John to pull away, or else the Klakring would open fire. The skipper did pull away, but not sufficiently. Four loud bangs, followed by four red glowing dots moving at speed from the Klakring would indicate that four rounds had been fired. The Spanish John was not hit, and a Navy spokesman insisted that the American vessel was not authorised to fire live weapons. The manoeuvres had been widely broadcast and advertised, but may not have got through to the crew of the Spanish John. The latter vessel continued on its innocent passage to Canna, where the rats are currently being exterminated.
As soon as they're all gone, the mice will be returned. Let's hope there are no more manoeuvres in the Sea of the Hebrides for a little while.

Further information on the vessels involved (thanks to Sunday Mail):
THE Spanish John II was built in 2003 by Nobles of Girvan.
The ship - powered by twin 230hp Daewoo engines - is 18metres long by 6.5metres wide and carries a deck cargo of 40 tons. Its main use is as a cargo vessel and it transports vehicles, plants and livestock which are essential supplies in the Inner Hebrides and Knoydart. Fuel cargo is a speciality of the boat, which can carry 26,000 litres of diesel in tanks below deck. One of the strangest tasks the crew has undertaken was transporting an alligator to the isle of Rhum

USS Klakring is a guided missile frigate which escorts and protects carrier battle groups, amphibious landing groups and convoys. The 4100-tonne ship was commissioned in August 20, 1983, and built in Maine. It is 138 metres long and can travel at up to 28 knots and is capable of carrying two Sea Hawk aircraft. It is also fitted with two triple mount torpedo tubes and a rapid firing gun. It would normally house a crew of around 215 men. It is named after war hero Admiral Thomas B Klakring, who sunk eight Japanese ships during the Pacific war. He was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars

Tortoise dies at 175

This story caught my attention on BBC On-line this afternoon. A giant tortoise, named Harriet, has died in a zoo in Australia at the age of 175. The Galapagos giant tortoise is thought to have been taken there by Charles Darwin in 1835, on his epic voyage on board HMS Beagle. The age of the creature was determined by DNA profiling. Harriet died of heart failure following a short illness.

Blackhouses

Until the 1950s, the majority of people in the Western Isles lived in a blackhouse. Picture 1 shows the outline on the ground, this being a ruin in the hamlet of Borrowston, near Carloway. The left-hand section would have been the living area. It's not very clear on the pic, but the exterior walls consist of two walls, joined together with clay. thickness, built of stones collected from the surrounding area. A thatched roof would cover it, with the roofbeams sloping down to the area between the two walls. Grass will grow there as well. Any rain drains away over the clay. The original blackhouse has no chimney, and the fireplace is actually a hole in the ground in the middle of the living area. Peats sit there, burning and glowing white-hot. It was the horror of any mother to think that a small child might fall into the fire - which did happen. The smoke simply rises up and dissipates through the thatch. If you visit the Arnol Blackhouse Museum at Arnol, you'll get an appreciation of what living conditions were like. The living area would have a "sitting room", with sleeping quarters at the very rear of the house. As you may be able to discern on the above picture, houses were often built on a slope. At the bottom of the blackhouse, on the other side of the entrance door, the animals would be housed. Any effluent would drain away through a hole in the exterior wall. The second section would act as a byre, storage area &c. From the 1920s onwards, the blackhouses [tighean dubh] were gradually replaced with houses of more common design. Translating the Gaelic [tighean geal] would yield "white houses". The Arnol Blackhouse faces a tigh geal across the road, dating back to 1924. It is afflicted with damp, its walls being made of rough-cast cement.

About six miles west of Arnol, a whole village of blackhouses has been restored. They do have chimneys, as was more customary in the 20th century, and look a lot brighter on the inside than does the Arnol blackhouse. Again, you'll find sleeping quarters at the top of the house, and a byre at the bottom.

Whoever you speak to in Lewis, they are glad to be out of blackhouses. Filthy, uncomfortable and dangerous. Out of date, in other words.

Blackhouses were common in the Outer Hebrides until the 19th century and were lived in as recently as the 1970s. A blackhouse was usually a long narrow building, sometimes parallel with other buildings and sharing a wall. The walls had an inner and outer layer of un-mortared stones with the gap between them filled with peat and earth. The roof was a wooden frame which rested on the inner wall, covered with layers of heather turfs and then thatched and held down with a net weighted with stones. The roof, traditionally, had no chimney. Animals lived under the same roof as humans and grain was also stored and processed in the same building.

There are a number of reasons for the name 'blackhouse'. With no windows or chimneys the smoke from the peat fire blackened everything and 'outsiders' called them black houses because of this. Another reason is that the name comes from a mis-hearing of the Gaelic. In Gaelic for thatch is 'Tughadh' while black is 'dubh'. Said quickly these two words could sound very similar and so the proper 'thatched house' could easily become 'black house'. The most frequently-quoted reason for the name is that it comes from the introduction of modern houses to the islands. These houses were coated with lime wash and were white, hence the terms 'whitehouse' and 'blackhouse'.

Television

Adding to my earlier rant about commercials, I do not hold much of the satellite TV services being relayed by Sky. It's either Repeat Hell of the series of yesteryear, time and time and time and time again. I think they have restarted All Creatures Great and Small for the 10th time over. Which has killed off the stories of James Herriot for me. There is a limit to the number of police chases you can imbibe, particularly with the acerbic tones of Retired Sheriff John Bunnell who is forever castigating those on the rang saat of da laaaw. I get bored by randy tv (we all know about it and we all do it basically the same way, thanks), am not interested in sports (tonight's football was a complete turn-off, 16 yellow cards and 4 players sent off). It's just as well it isn't me paying the Sky bill, because it's a waste of money. I am, even the BBC channels do not have a lot to offer. Did I mention Big Brother yet? It is a Dutch Disgrace, which should have been kept off our screens this year. I have made a point of not watching, and the reports permeating beyond the screen made me shrink back in horror. What is the idea, trying to force people into a complete nervous breakdown? It's sensationalist TV, and in spite of its popularity should be axed.

I have access to Sky Television, with upwards of 500 channels. And every 10 to 15 minutes your program will be interrupted by a commercial break. Now, one or two ads are nice, and actually enjoyable. The vast majority are (deliberately) annoying, stupid or sometimes offensive. Afternoon TV is interspersed with endless ads for loan companies. Would you imagine the amount of misery people are in because of debt? I recently learned of a chap who had 13 credit cards. Not to mention store cards, loyalty cards and what have you. Plugging one hole with another, extortionate interest rates (30, 40 even 50%) and with a financial commitment of 25 years or what have you. In the UK, we have a group of channels who all seem to be sponsored by an on-line casino. Again, there is a huge problem in this country with gambling addicts, yet these ads carry on unrelentingly. But then, look at the length of time it took to get tobacco advertisements off radio, TV, newspapers and finally Formula 1 motor racing. Ads for alcohol products seems to have slipped the lead of "we support responsible drinking". Well, I know that each consumer has their own responsibility with regards their alcohol habits, and driving (or preferably not, afterwards). Doesn't mean we have to continue to plug them, does it. For a start, it gives a very bad example to young folk. Nonetheless, what really makes me howl with laughter are those advertisements which says that a product is NEW and/or IMPROVED. So, you have a new type of washing powder. What you've been using for years is now suddenly a waste of money and totally useless, is it? Come off it. Right, back to Sky Television. Less than 10 channels do not carry ads, all BBC offspring. But whether these are actually worth my £120 annual license fee? I don't think so.

Ragwort

This is a plant, officially classified as an "injurious weed" by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs in the UK as an injurious weed. Ragwort is poisonous to horses, ponies, donkeys and other livestock, and causes liver damage, which can have potentially fatal consequences. Under the Weeds Act 1959, the Secretary of State may serve an enforcement notice on the occupier of land on which injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of injurious weeds.
Defra have published a
webpage, giving information.

This does not just applies to land on which animals are actually grazing - it applies anywhere. Ragwort grows up to several feet tall, flowers with pretty yellow flowers, and releases its seeds in puffballs that float on the wind, and can be carried for miles.

If you want to know what it looks like, Defra have published an information leaflet which gives an accurate description. Note: this is a PDF-file, for which you require Acrobat Reader on your computer; if you haven't got the Reader, you can download a free copy off the Acrobat website.

Ragwort should be eliminated where found, ideally at this time of the year, before the plants start to flower. They should be pulled out, root and all, and destroyed by burning. It is a very pretty plant - but lethal to lifestock. If you find it in your garden, get rid of it. Remember, if you don't, there are circumstance where you could conceivably be forced by law to do so.

Beach safety

I didn't tell about the two young girls who got blown out to sea a few weeks ago. Their dad had put them in an inflatable dinghy on a beach here in Lewis. A strong off-shore breeze combined with the run of the tide quickly blew them away from the beach. Dad swam after them, shouting frantically to them to row, using the paddles. They sat like stones. Another man on the beach jumped in the water too and swam close, calmly telling them to row towards him. He managed to tow the dinghy back to the beach, as their dad could not manage.

Only goes to show: be very careful with inflatables on beaches, particularly with offshore breezes. You cannot judge the state of the tides, or the strenghts of currents.

Skye Serpentarium

News came through that a breeding unit at the Skye Serpentarium in Broadford, Isle of Skye, was hit by fire last night. An electrical socket is thought to have shorted, starting the blaze. Although the owners of the Serpentarium rushed in to try to save as many snakes and amphibians as possible, thick black smoke made this virtually impossible.

The breeding unit was separate from the main Serpentarium building, and was used for housing 600 unwanted creatures and some rare species. After the fire brigade put the fire out, they brought out the dead snakes and tortoises, some of whom had been in the owners' possession for 20 years. The main Serpentarium remains open for visitors.

Windturbines

The Isle of Lewis is due a windfarm development. 190 windturbines, each standing 450 ft / 135 m tall, are due to be built over a 40 mile stretch of land, within a few miles of habitation. Although objections were raised by about 4500 people, these were swept aside by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the local council, as their priority was the economic benefits. A fierce debate has raged in Lewis for the past 2 years, sometimes bordering on the NIMBY. I am not opposed to wind energy perse; I am not happy to have monsters that size hopping around. Why didn't they put more time into developing wave power? The same Arnish Yard is also making units for wavepower; for export to Portugal. Tidal energy is being harnessed at the Isle of Islay, further south. This is a very political entry, but I think the eggs are all in one basket. And somebody has said that nuclear energy is an acceptable alternative. Nope. We have not sorted out the waste problem, have we? Every month, radio-active particles are discovered on a beach near Dounreay, on the far north Scottish coast, close to a nuclear power station.

Don't drink and drown

News came out from the other side of the UK that a young woman drowned in the sea at Folkestone. She had been drinking with friends on the seaside, then went into the water. Emergency services were called out when she was seen in difficulty in the sea, but a sea and air search failed to locate her. The body of the young woman was later recovered from the water. With the forecast hot weather this weekend (temperatures forecast to be above 30C / 90 F), the Coastguard want to urgently stress

DON'T DRINK AND DROWN

Drinking alcohol and then participating in sailing, swimming, or any other waterborne activities can be a recipe for disaster. Excessive alcohol impairs judgment and reaction times which can lead to tragic and, in this case, fatal accidents. Our message is please dont drink and drown.

Temperature warnings

40 degrees- Californians shiver uncontrollably. People in Scotland sunbathe.

35 degrees- Italian cars won't start. People in Scotland drive with the windows down.

20 degrees- Floridians wear coats, gloves, and wool hats. People in Scotland throw on a T-shirt.

15 degrees- Californians begin to evacuate the state. People in Scotland go swimming.

Zero degrees- New York landlords finally turn up the heat. People in Scotland have the last bbq before it gets cold.

20 degrees below zero- Californians fly away to Mexico. People in Scotland think about a light jacket.

80 degrees below zero- Polar bears begin to evacuate the Arctic Scottish Boy Scouts postpone "Winter Survival" classes until it gets cold enough.

100 degrees below zero- Santa Claus abandons the North Pole. People in Scotland throw on their Big jumpers.

173 degrees below zero- Ethyl alcohol freezes.. People in Scotland get frustrated when they can't thaw their kegs.

460 degrees below zero- ALL atomic motion stops. People in Scotland start saying "chilly, you cald an aw?"

500 degrees below zero- Hell freezes over. Scottish people think about supporting England in World Cup!!!!

6 6 6

06/06/06 (6 June 2006), comes very close to 666, the Number of the Beast, more concisely: the Devil. I'm supposed not to be superstitious, so I'll touch wood, cross fingers, avoid walking under ladders, do not go near houses that have black cats in them (had one myself for 15 years, poor old Tom) and throw salt over the requisite shoulder if I spill some.

Visit Hebrides

One of the things that keep me occupied during the day, apart from looking out of the window at either the weather or passing ships, is going on the messageboard on the above website, www.visithebrides.com. The messageboard is there to help those that wish to visit the Outer Hebrides. I think I know the place well enough to help prospective visitors out with queries about camping, accommodation, sights to see and routes to travel. One person sent me an email today (Monday 5th) to thank me for my efforts.

Hi there,
Just wanted to thank you for the useful info&insights you gave via your weblog and the VisitHebrides site about Stornoway and The Islands.

I have been checking in for quite a few months since I first decided to go out there on my bike, which was when via the Hebs site you sent the link to your weblog. I persuaded a pal to join me on the strength of what I knew - which is what I knew from you mostly - and we had a great cycling holiday, going from Vatesay - our fave place as it turned out (or was that Berneray?), up to Lewis between 21-30 May.

We found your info to be reliable and it helped shape a very memorable trip.We arrived in Stornoway knackered on Sunday last week after cycling 45 miles over the dreaded Clisham from Luskentyre. Encountered hail and snow up on top of there as we huddled together and ate noodles from our stove,in a bus stop in the mountains above Harris listening to Radio 4! Its the most inspiring and funniest holiday we ever had - either of us. Stayed in The Royal Hotel in Stornoway on Sunday night last week as the Stornoway hostels in the Rough Guide we had seemed shut down.Needed night under bricks,not canvas! Cost more than the the rest of trips' accommodation put together, but fantastic to have a shower and be in a real bed with real TV and lights! In all, including the Inverness-Ullapool stretch we did 265 miles. Amazing for 2 amateurs who just cycle to work&back in Liverpool.Made me laugh to think you were somewhere nearby as we sat in an icy wind on the quay,waiting to get on the ferry to Ullapoollast Tuesday morn by Somerfield..!

Many, many thanks and here's to you fullfilling your own goals as you have helped us fullfil ours on our trip to the Outer Hebs which will hopefully be the first of many.

Regards

Ach, makes it all worthwhile, doesn't it :-)

Missing at sea - June 2006

2 June 2006
Reports came in this morning that the fishing vessel The Brothers, registered at Banff (eastcoast), but operating out of Gairloch, was overdue. She had left the west coast harbour of Gairloch at 2 am on Thursday to fish for prawns. Her return had been anticipated for late Thursday evening, but the alarm was raised when The Brothers did not return. Coastguard, five fishing vessels and a lifeboat are scouring a huge area of sea between Kyle of Lochalsh and Cape Wrath in the east and the Western Isles and Skye to the west. An oil slick and wreckage were found at Gairloch, but are not though to be related to the incident.

Unfortunately, the fishing industry is the least safe industry to work in. In the 18 months that I've been in Lewis, several fishermen have gone overboard, and were never recovered from the sea. They usually wear oilskins, which will quickly weigh you down. The seawater temperature of the Atlantic varies between 9 and 14C (48 and 57 F), which gives you a survival span of 45 minutes. Other men have suffered injury and have had to be airlifted off their boats, up to 200 miles west of Lewis.

The search for the fishing vessel The Brothers was called off at 6pm tonight (June 2nd), when the weather closed in. Realistically speaking, there is no chance for the men to be found alive, unless they managed to gain the shoreline. Will update tomorrow, Saturday. View this report on BBC Online

3 June 2006
The search for the missing fishermen was resumed early this morning (Saturday). At 5pm this afternoon, it was announced that the wreck of their boat, FV The Brothers, had been located in the water near Eilean Trodday, just north of Skye. Unfortunately, there has been no sign of the two crewmen. One of them was due to attend his grandmother's funeral yesterday.

5 June 2006
Police divers searching the wreck of FV Brothers have found no trace of either crewman in it. Local info in Stornoway suggests the boat was damaged, and the escape hatches were open. The strong tidal currents in the Minch account for the liferings to be 35 miles away from the wreck, and may well have carried both men away as well. Hope has all but been abandoned to find them alive.

22 June 2006
Early this month, I reported the sinking of the fishing-boat Brothers, which had left the small harbour of Gairloch on 1 June, never to return. Her wreck was found at Eilean Trodday, north of Skye. The two crewmen went missing, but the body of one of them, 40-year old David Davidson, was found washed up today at Mellon Udridge, in Gruinard Bay, some distance to the northeast. The other man, 39-year old Neil Sutherland, remains missing.

Details courtesy BBC Online.


Isle of Rum and Kinloch Castle

Kinloch Castle is what's known as a folly. It was built in 1897 by George Bullough, an industrialist from Accrington, Lancashire (England). He had money to burn, and no expenses were spared in the construction of this red sandstone pile. It's not just the grand scale of the castle, it's the interior that take your breath away. It was designed to so in George Bullough's day, and still does. The bathroom had 14 different showers and douches, the bedrooms were laid out in the best finery money could buy. The ballroom has a grandpiano from 1902, which I played myself in October 2004. The piano stands on a tiger skin. It is surrounded by a gruesome sculpture of a monkey eagle, Japanese vases standing 8 feet tall. An orchestrion, which can play a number of musical instruments mechanically, is installed. It's one of 6 remaining in the world, and the only one that'll still play. Until World War 1, there was a heated conservatory which housed an alligator, seaturtles and tropical birds. A hydroelectric plant (still in use) provided the power required. After the Great War, the conservatories fell into decay. The alligator was shot, the turtles released into the sea and the wee birds died of cold. The last descendant of the Bulloughs, Lady Monica, died in 1957, aged 97. She followed her husband the 8 miles to the family mausoleum at Harris, on the southwestern face of Rum. Over the shoulder of Fionchra, past Salisbury's disastrous dam. It's a rough track, which takes 3 hours to walk and 3 hours to drive. Efforts to improve the road fail, precisely because of its calamitous state. These days, the castle is plagued by damp and rot. The former servants quarters are in use as a hostel or hotel. As I indicated, I visited Rum in October 2004 (see the relevant entry in the Lewislines 2004 journal). I'm sad when I think of Rum. None of its indigenous residents remain, they were all forcibly removed in 1826, and Rum has since been the domain of red deer. After 1957, SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) took over, and Kilmory Glen (on the northern side of the island) became the focus for behavioural studies of the deer. Thirty people, all SNHor castle employees, live on the island. Plans are afoot to boost this number to 80, unrelated to SNH.

Rowan Trees

The rowan is said to have magical properties. In these islands, when a new house was built, a rowan was planted beside it to ward off evil spirits. The rowan was said to be wise, and was privy to everything that happened in the house. It celebrated the births and the marriages that took place, and mourned those that passed away in the house.

In the 19th century, thousands of people were evicted from their land. Others left of their own volition, seeing no future in the West of Scotland. The house would remain, and slowly fall into ruin. The rowan tree would remain, and mourn the disappearance of its inhabitants. It would recount the happiness and the sadness. And forever sigh in the wind, hoping for the people to return.

Robert Burns wrote a poem about the Rowan Tree:

The Rowan Tree.

Oh! Rowan Tree Oh! Rowan Tree!
Thou'lt aye be dear to me,
Entwined thou art wi mony ties,
O' hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o' spring,
Thy flow'rs the simmer's pride;
There was nae sic a bonny tree
In a' the countrieside
Oh! Rowan tree!
How fair wert thou in simmer time,

Wi' a' thy clusters white
How rich and gay thy autumn dress,
Wi' berries red and bright.
On thy fair stem were many names,
Which now nae mair I see,
But they're engraven on my heart.
Forgot they ne'er can be!
Oh! Rowan tree!
We sat aneath thy spreading shade,

The bairnies round thee ran,
They pu'd thy bonny berries red,
And necklaces they strang.
My Mother! Oh, I see her still,
She smil'd oor sports to see,
Wi' little Jeanie on her lap,
And Jamie at her knee!
Oh! Rowan tree!
Oh! there arose my Father's pray'r,

In holy evening's calm,
How sweet was then my Mither's voice,
In the Martyr's psalm;
Now a' are gane! we meet nae mair
Aneath the Rowan Tree;
But hallowed thoughts around thee twine
O' hame and infancy.
Oh! Rowan tree!

Kristallnacht

The title of this entry is in German, and it means Crystal Night. It is one of the horrible euphemism of the 20th century. The more common translation is Night of Broken Glass, but I thought I'd translate the German directly, to make its impact more severe.

The 9th November 1938 is the date associated with a night of rampage, wanton destruction and harassment of the worst degree of Jewish people in the Germany of Adolf Hitler. After becoming Reichs Kanzler in 1933, Hitler rapidly put into action a program of ostracising and later mass murdering the Jewish population of Germany and the countries his regime occupied during World War II. Six million were to die. The Kristallnacht pogrom was the start of this horror. Windows were smashed, shops looted that were owned by Jews (made easily distinguishable by the word "Jude" [Jew in German] daubed on their windows. Synagogues were ransacked and set alight.

The background to the events of November 9th, 1938 can be found on this page. Allied to that was a burning of books that ran contrary to the Nazi doctrine, and as it's Banned Books Week, (with thanks to Souternmush) thought it appropriate to tell the tale of the Crystal Night.

The image below shows a synagogue in Munich after the pogrom.


I fight intolerance where I can

The Good Housewife Guide 1955

I'm going to cause a huge ruckus with this entry. I do want to make it clear that I do not agree with the recommendations in this piece, which I copied from the Housekeeping Monthly of 13 May 1955. Read it? Nineteen fifty-five.

1 Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.

2 Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people.

3 Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it.

4 Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives.

5 Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper etc and then run a dustcloth over the tables.

6 Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction.

7 Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and if necessary change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimise all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer and vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet.

8 Be happy to see him.

9 Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him.

10 Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember, this topics of conversation are more important than yours.

11 Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late, goes out to dinner or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax.

12 Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquillity where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit.

13 Don't greet him with complaints and problems.

14 Don't complain if he's home late for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day.

15 Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him.

16 Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing, and pleasant voice.

17 Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember, he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him.

18 A good wife always knows her place.

Lebanon crisis August 2006

Right, so the guns have stopped firing, the rockets are no longer flying and the bombs are no longer dropping around Lebanon. Good news for the civilian population of Lebanon, who were the victims in this farce. What good did it all do? Nothing at all.

According to some accounts, this assault was planned a long time ago. Armaments were being shipped to Israel, via UK airports, even as the bombardment had already commenced. The idea, presumably, was to silence Hezbollah. That has failed. Even if part of the infrastructure of that organisation has been destroyed or disabled, they'll be back on full force in no time at all. Thanks to their backers in Syria and Iran.

I think a valid point was made earlier today by a BBC observer on the News 24 channel. One key player in the Middle East, Syria, is ignored in all of this. Now, in my book, as long as people are talking, at least they're not as willing to start fighting. But my impression of the current US administration is that they are not interested in talking. The invasion of Iraq is one good example. Just go in with the big guns, and don't think of the consequences, or what to do when the baddie has been kicked out. And this campaign in Lebanon is a taste of the same medicine.

Methinks the US government is staggeringly insensitive in dealing with the Middle East. I do not understand, or even claim to understand, the Islamic way of thinking. You're talking a wholly different culture here. One of the few things I do appreciate is that people in that area of the world understand subtlety. Fine-tuned negotiation, mutual respect based on trust and understanding. You get a heck of a lot further with that than with a load of bombs.

For all those who are slamming Islam, as it is being abused as an excuse for all sorts of atrocities, including 9/11: provision is being made in their Scriptures for Christianity and Judaism. These religions are treated with the deepest respect. Why? Because they share Abraham [Ibrahim in Arabic] as a common forefather.

Although I naturally empathise with Israel (their residents are more akin to Europeans than their surrounding Arab neighbours), I will say that the establishment of the Jewish State in 1948 was catastrophically mishandled. Don't forget that people were kicked off their land for Jews to take over. I need to read up again on what happened around that time, but suffice to say that if people had just knocked on the door and said "we want to come and live here", I feel quite sure that they would have been welcomed. There was a protectorate called Palestine in that area, managed by the British. As per normal, the Brits took their hands off the area and left it to its own devices.

That's all water under the bridge. We currently have an uneasy ceasefire in the Levant, and long may it last. I would just like to suggest to George W. Bush to abandon his bombing methodology in dealing with people he doesn't like. It's been shown not to be working. Now is the time to start talking again. I hope we see some courage from the White House. Courage from President Bush to talk to people like the Iranians and the Syrians. No, I don't like them either, I've said as much in my entry on the Iranian President's blog. But talking is better than bombing.

Security scare August 2006

Well, I suppose I'd better dedicate a few lines to this subject. Unavoidable after today's [10 August 2006] massive disruption to flights in and out of the UK, after a plot was foiled to blow up ten trans-Atlantic flights between the UK and the US.

Well done to whoever did that.

There is a heck of a lot of finger pointing going on at the moment as to whose fault it is. As I reported a few days ago, I had received some very negative feedback to a remembrance of the 9/11 victims. There seems to be this strand of opinion in the ascendancy that it's all America's fault. Don't think that is quite fair. Some say it's the fault of the Muslims. Not right either. I mean, President Bush coming out with Islamic Fascists as the root cause of the current evil is very unsophisticated to say the least.

In my opinion, as I've said before, terrorism has no face. It uses religion or previous historical strift as a front. But at the end of the day, there is no excuse. You're talking mass murder, premeditated mass murder. The excuse thrown up is that America is sponsoring Israel, which is bombing Lebanon (bad decision, that's exactly what those Hezbollah cranks wanted). Lebanon wasn't strong enough to shut Hezbollah up, which in turn is actually a front organisation for Syria and Iran. So by way of thanks, the country is now being smashed to smithereens. That really will be the road to peace, not.

So, because America backs Israel, Americans deserve to die, irrespective of who they are. And because Britain backs the USA, they are also legitimate targets - this all from the perspective of the terrorist. Again, religion is used as a pretext. But there is no justification.

I'm fed up with people saying it's Bush and Blair's fault. It's not, not wholly. The stupidity of both leaders is proverbial, in dealing with matters Middle Eastern. But things are being stage-managed from both sides. Why don't we hear about "it's all Abedinajad's fault" or "Assad's fault" or any of those terrorist leaders? Huh?

I've had enough of that bunch of idiots in the Mid East.

On the anniversary of 7/7

Those that exploded the bombs on the London Underground system in July 2005 claimed to be acting under a religious imperative. I don't believe that. There is no justification for premeditated mass murder. There is also a lot of talk about action against infidels, those that do not belong to the Muslim faith. Again, an empty statement. Provision is made in the Koran for those outside Islam, and they are even mentioned, such as Christians and Jews. After all, the Christian faith shares Abraham with Islam as a common forefather. The Muslim faith holds other faiths in deep respect, and the Koran specifically exempts them from its provisions. Their justifications, again, are empty and meaningless, born of a blind and unseeing hatred, instilled in them by others.

In the aftermath of this atrocity as well as the bombing of the two towers of the World Trade Center, New York, on 11 September 2001, a backlash was seen against those faithful to Islam in general society. I am not talking about government-led actions. On the internet, such as in on-line communities like AOL, so-called jokey emails circulated, ridiculing aspects of the Muslim faith. That too is wrong. The actions of a number of people, pretending to act in accordance with and on behalf of a faith in a manner as seen on 9/11 and 7/7 should not be reflected on a community, sized in excess of 1,000 million. As I outlined above, theirs are not religious acts. They are acts of barbarity, devoid of any religious justification.

A religion, in my personal perspective, is a way of coping with the major questions and challenges of life. It provides a means of answering the questions posed to mankind for thousands of years. Writings, such as contained in the Bible and the Koran, were meant to provide a foundation to daily life, supply a moral framework to society and lay the groundworks for a legal code. Each religion is different, as it has adapted to the differing environment in which their followers have lived and developed.

It is time, I think, for all concerned, irrespective of their religious allegiance, to step back from the rhetoric and the populistic utterances. Step back, to see what is wrong in society, not just in the one country, but on the largest possible scale. We live in one world now. After I press SAVE, this entry can be read by anybody with a computer and an Internet connection within seconds - from anywhere on the planet. Early in the 20th century, news took hours or days to go around the world. Now, it's a matter of seconds. The events in London do not just impact on just that city, or the United Kingdom, or Europe. They had an impact worldwide.

The so-called extremists need to be isolated and cut off from the support bases which supply them with cannon-fodder. They need to be deprived of justification for their actions. The decent folk of the world need to stand together, talk together and sort this festering problem out.

Middle East - 15 July 2006

Right, we're back to square one in the Middle East. They are banging each other's heads in again. The usual complicated mess of provocation, retaliation, over-reaction, unholy alliances and history going back to the Ark is going to make it quite difficult if not impossible to return to some sort of semi-peaceful status quo.

I am quite frankly so fed up with that bunch of idiots on both sides of that conflict. I have about had it with outside supporters of either side who only serve to exacerbate an already highly inflammable situation. Mind you, if it wasn't for the fact that this is an oil rich region, nobody would mind. But as we have an oil-based economy, people do mind.

I would like to draw a parallel to the situation in the adjacent African continent, where genocide is a common everyday occurrence in various countries and regions. We have a place called Zimbabwe, where the sitting president destroys his own country for the sole sake of hanging on to power. Does anyone intervene there? Nope. Nothing to be gained there.

The world can be a lovely place, and the vast majority of people quite decent folk who just want a peaceful, fulfilling life. Pity that a tiny minority sees fit to spoil it all.

Bank charges

To quote that infamous sign outside a farmer's field: "Access to this field is free, but the bull charges". And so do banks in the UK. One bank, I believe it's the Royal Bank of Scotland, charges for the following, to name but a few:

- depositing money into your account
- withdrawing money from your account
- writing cheques

I think it's a damned disgrace that people have to pay to handle their own money. The worst of it are the cash machines that charge you £1.50 just to make a withdrawal. Most ATMs in the UK do not levy this charge, but a substantial number do. A report earlier this week suggested that quite a few of these charging cashpoints are located in areas of economic deprivation. One Scottish bank has offered to install free cashpoints in such areas.

Irrespective of their location, I think ATMs should not charge to withdraw money from them. It's OUR hard-earned cash, and the banks make more than enough of a profit that they can afford to run charge-free ATMs in all locations.

Kinloch Resort

Years ago, when Kinloch Resort was a small but thriving community, someone sent for a carpenter. He had to come over the hills from Harris, and brought all his own timber. After the job was finished, he was going to leave any timber left over in the village, but the villagers told him to take it back with him. So, the carpenter loaded the timber onto his horse and started the trek up into the hills. After a while, he heard a strange tapping noise. As if a hammer was striking wood. Tap, tap, tap. The man turned round, but nothing could be seen. The wind was sighing through the moorland grass and the river gurgled in its bed. He shrugged and continued the climb. The tapping sound returned. Tap, tap, tap. He whirled round, expecting the children from the village to be scarpering downhill, back to Kinloch Resort. Nothing. At length, the tapping sounds ceased, and the carpenter returned to his home. He found his wife seriously ill, and although he tended to her immediately, she died that same night. The next day, the carpenter gathered up the wood he had brought back from Kinloch Resort and started to build the coffin for his wife. Tap, tap, tap, his hammer went. A shiver ran down his spine, as the sound was awfully familiar. Tap, tap, tap. The same noise that had echoed across the empty moorlands above Kinloch Resort. As if to say - you'll be hearing this sound very shortly. When you're building your wife's coffin.

Rowan Trees

The rowan is said to have magical properties. In these islands, when a new house was built, a rowan was planted beside it to ward off evil spirits. The rowan was said to be wise, and was privy to everything that happened in the house. It celebrated the births and the marriages that took place, and mourned those that passed away in the house.

In the 19th century, thousands of people were evicted from their land. Others left of their own volition, seeing no future in the West of Scotland. The house would remain, and slowly fall into ruin. The rowan tree would remain, and mourn the disappearance of its inhabitants. It would recount the happiness and the sadness. And forever sigh in the wind, hoping for the people to return.

Robert Burns wrote a poem about the Rowan Tree:

The Rowan Tree.

Oh! Rowan Tree Oh! Rowan Tree!
Thou'lt aye be dear to me,
Entwined thou art wi mony ties,
O' hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o' spring,
Thy flow'rs the simmer's pride;
There was nae sic a bonny tree
In a' the countrieside
Oh! Rowan tree!
How fair wert thou in simmer time,

Wi' a' thy clusters white
How rich and gay thy autumn dress,
Wi' berries red and bright.
On thy fair stem were many names,
Which now nae mair I see,
But they're engraven on my heart.
Forgot they ne'er can be!
Oh! Rowan tree!
We sat aneath thy spreading shade,

The bairnies round thee ran,
They pu'd thy bonny berries red,
And necklaces they strang.
My Mother! Oh, I see her still,
She smil'd oor sports to see,
Wi' little Jeanie on her lap,
And Jamie at her knee!
Oh! Rowan tree!
Oh! there arose my Father's pray'r,

In holy evening's calm,
How sweet was then my Mither's voice,
In the Martyr's psalm;
Now a' are gane! we meet nae mair
Aneath the Rowan Tree;
But hallowed thoughts around thee twine
O' hame and infancy.
Oh! Rowan tree!

Isle of Rum and Kinloch Castle

Kinloch Castle is what's known as a folly. It was built in 1897 by George Bullough, an industrialist from Accrington, Lancashire (England). He had money to burn, and no expenses were spared in the construction of this red sandstone pile. It's not just the grand scale of the castle, it's the interior that take your breath away. It was designed to so in George Bullough's day, and still does. The bathroom had 14 different showers and douches, the bedrooms were laid out in the best finery money could buy. The ballroom has a grandpiano from 1902, which I played myself in October 2004. The piano stands on a tiger skin. It is surrounded by a gruesome sculpture of a monkey eagle, Japanese vases standing 8 feet tall. An orchestrion, which can play a number of musical instruments mechanically, is installed. It's one of 6 remaining in the world, and the only one that'll still play. Until World War 1, there was a heated conservatory which housed an alligator, seaturtles and tropical birds. A hydroelectric plant (still in use) provided the power required. After the Great War, the conservatories fell into decay. The alligator was shot, the turtles released into the sea and the wee birds died of cold. The last descendant of the Bulloughs, Lady Monica, died in 1957, aged 97. She followed her husband the 8 miles to the family mausoleum at Harris, on the southwestern face of Rum. Over the shoulder of Fionchra, past Salisbury's disastrous dam. It's a rough track, which takes 3 hours to walk and 3 hours to drive. Efforts to improve the road fail, precisely because of its calamitous state. These days, the castle is plagued by damp and rot. The former servants quarters are in use as a hostel or hotel. As I indicated, I visited Rum in October 2004 (see the relevant entry in the Northern Trip - The Start journal). I'm sad when I think of Rum. None of its indigenous residents remain, they were all forcibly removed in 1826, and Rum has since been the domain of red deer. After 1957, SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) took over, and Kilmory Glen (on the northern side of the island) became the focus for behavioural studies of the deer. Thirty people, all SNHor castle employees, live on the island. Plans are afoot to boost this number to 80, unrelated to SNH.

Intelligent cat

This story from BBC South Yorkshire tells the tale of Tee Cee, the cat who can sense that his master is about to have an epileptic fit. He sits close to him and stares him intently in the face, then goes to his master's wife to raise the alert. Tee Cee will then not leave his master's side until he has regained full consciousness.



Tee Cee, pictured above, has been nominated for Cat of the Year. He was dumped in a river as a kitten 10 years ago, but was rescued.

Internet gambler loses £158,000 in 50 minutes

WHAT???!!!

You read it correctly. A 25 year old Internet gambler from Aberdeen [Scotland] went on line in the early hours of April 3, this year. Using his dad's 13 credit cards (who the heck has 13 CC's?) he initially won £90,000. His luck ran out though, and he start to run into deficit. One credit card after another was used to its credit limit, until proceedings stopped at just over £68,000. Taking the aggregate with the initial winnings, total losses ran up to £158,000. As I said, the young man used his father's credit cards. The £68K would have to be paid, unless the transactions were reported to police as fraudulent. The gambler tried to take his own life, but fortunately failed. He stood trial earlier this week; sentence was deferred for 4 weeks for reports.

I know very little about gambling on-line, or gambling generally. I just fell off my chair when I read this story in a Scottish newspaper. As the judge at the trial said, this scourge of the 21st century, Internet gambling, needs to be addressed. It only took 50 minutes for this chap to lose £68k. People who would not normally go into a casino have no impediments in place for going into an on-line casino. There are regular adverts for an on-line casino on satellite TV in this country.

No Eitsal no signal


That is about the level of service I am getting on my Virgin Mobile phone. The obvious reply to this complaint would be to change to a different provider. But I just want to demonstrate what mobile phone companies are like when there is not a lot of money to be made.

When I first came to Lewis in November 2004, I stayed in the small village of Kershader, South Lochs. From my position overlooking Loch Erisort, I just about did not have a signal. If I did get signal, it rarely lasted for longer than 15 seconds. To the despair of those who tried to get hold of me. Only SMS messages worked. I'll never forget the evening in early February 2005, when I needed to call someone, and had to make notes. Off I went to the phonebox. I could here the person on the other end of the line perfectly, but they could hardly hear me. I had to ring off and call back - from the mobile. I had to trudge up the hill towards Garyvard. At the highest point stands a stile, for stepping over a fence. I sat down, in a cold breeze, with a notepad, pen, torch (this was 9.45 pm) and the mobile pressed to my ear, as the wind made a lot of noise that night. For about 15 minutes, I conducted an interview out in the open air, with cars roaring past. At that location, I had a perfect view of the hill of Eitsal, pictured above, where the main transmitters are located.
Shortly after that, I relocated to Stornoway, where transmitters are positioned in the town, so no problems there. I started to make trips all over the island, and found that there was no signal anywhere on the west side, east of Carloway. Great Bernera and to a lesser extent Uig do have some coverage.
The funny thing is that other operators do have a fairly extensive network of transmitters. Closest to Kershader, there is a small relay mast at Laxay, across Loch Erisort, which carries other providers. Why can't companies talk to each other and share transmitters? Huh?

Hapless drunk

A man had had one too much to drink and managed to drive his van off the A830 road between Mallaig and Fort William, in the West Highlands. The driver knocked on the door of the nearest house, a B&B. When the proprietor opened the door, the van driver said: "Listen, can you give me a lift? I've had too much to drink, and I've crashed my van. Please don't tell the bobbies, OK?" The man at the B&B said he couldn't take him in his car until he had dressed properly, so he asked the driver to wait. The proprietor went upstairs and changed into his full police uniform. He then proceeded to charge the driver, put handcuffs on him and placed him in the back of his police car, which had been hidden in the darkness beside the house. After a while, police from Fort William, 40 miles away, came and took the drunk away. The van meanwhile had been reported by motorists as blocking the A830 with lights blazing and keys still in the ignition. The hapless drunk was fined £500 and banned from driving for 18 months.

Canna mice


Canna is an island in the Inner Hebrides. Have a look at the pictures on Cannablog on the BBC's Island Blogging project.

John Lorne Campbell, and his wife of many years, Margaret Faye Shaw, bought the island in 1938. In the twenties, Margaret came across from the USA on a cycling holiday through the island of South Uist, 30 miles to the west across the Sea of the Hebrides. She fell in love with the place and stayed on. When she met her husband to be John, they went on to establish a huge library of Gaelic literature and music, which is still in Canna House.

John Lorne Campbell died in 1996 in Italy. He was buried there, but as is customary in Italy, after 10 years his coffin would be transferred to a communal grave. This was not deemed appropriate by the National Trust for Scotland, who were gifted the island of Canna alongside with the library on JLC's death. They arranged for his remains to be transferred back to Canna yesterday, June 21st. Unfortunately, a summer gale prevented the ferry from sailing.

Margaret Faye Shaw lived to be 101, and she carried on living at Canna House until her death in 2004. She was buried in South Uist, amongst the people she had come to love.

As you can read from the entries in Cannablog, things in the Small Isles are always a bit quirky. In October last year, something happened that can only happen there - read on.

(from the Arnish Lighthouse blog)
The Isle of Canna has been suffering from an infestation of rats. Nobody likes them, and apart from being an outright nuisance, they are a threat to ground nesting birds in the island. Unfortunately, the National Trust for Scotland, who are looking after Canna, could not just dose the island with warfarin (rat poison). Because Canna is home to a unique species of mouse, which is slightly larger than your average mouse. Last autumn, a team from Edinburgh University spent some time on the island setting traps to capture the mice live and take them to Edinburgh for safekeeping. Whilst the mice were away, it wasn't the cats that were dancing, and certainly not the rats. They were going to be treated to a dose of poison. So, the dapper ship MV Spanish John II was chartered to transport canisters of rat poison to Canna, one day in October this year. As she was chugging round the Isle of Rum, a call came on the VHF radio. An American warship, on manoeuvres in the area, was warning a vessel on its portside to move away, as it was in its safety zone. The skipper of the Spanish John didn't take notice, because he was on the starboard side of the American vessel. However, he was the only one there. The warnings were repeated six times, with increasing urgency. The master of the Spanish John now began to panic, and he tried shouting at the USS Klakring, to no avail. Another message came through on the VHF, ordering the black vessel with the white superstructure to pull away. The Spanish John hasn't got a white superstructure, but the white drums with poison could be misinterpreted as such. Then another four verbal warnings came to the Spanish John to pull away, or else the Klakring would open fire. The skipper did pull away, but not sufficiently. Four loud bangs, followed by four red glowing dots moving at speed from the Klakring would indicate that four rounds had been fired. The Spanish John was not hit, and a Navy spokesman insisted that the American vessel was not authorised to fire live weapons. The manoeuvres had been widely broadcast and advertised, but may not have got through to the crew of the Spanish John. The latter vessel continued on its innocent passage to Canna, where the rats are currently being exterminated.
As soon as they're all gone, the mice will be returned. Let's hope there are no more manoeuvres in the Sea of the Hebrides for a little while.

Further information on the vessels involved (thanks to Sunday Mail):
THE Spanish John II was built in 2003 by Nobles of Girvan.
The ship - powered by twin 230hp Daewoo engines - is 18metres long by 6.5metres wide and carries a deck cargo of 40 tons. Its main use is as a cargo vessel and it transports vehicles, plants and livestock which are essential supplies in the Inner Hebrides and Knoydart. Fuel cargo is a speciality of the boat, which can carry 26,000 litres of diesel in tanks below deck. One of the strangest tasks the crew has undertaken was transporting an alligator to the isle of Rhum

USS Klakring is a guided missile frigate which escorts and protects carrier battle groups, amphibious landing groups and convoys. The 4100-tonne ship was commissioned in August 20, 1983, and built in Maine. It is 138 metres long and can travel at up to 28 knots and is capable of carrying two Sea Hawk aircraft. It is also fitted with two triple mount torpedo tubes and a rapid firing gun. It would normally house a crew of around 215 men. It is named after war hero Admiral Thomas B Klakring, who sunk eight Japanese ships during the Pacific war. He was awarded the Navy Cross with two gold stars