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


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

Small Isles

The Small Isles - see the map above. Canna had that funny story about the ratters, I have some funny but also tragic stories from other islands in the group. More than enough, actually, to fill an entire blog with. But as I consider myself to be under an Outer Hebrides remit I'll restrict myself.

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.


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. 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.

Why was a blackhouse called a blackhouse. Just quoting from this article on the Am Baile [The Village] website:

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'.

Commercial breaks

I am going to have a rant here.


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.

End of rant.


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.

Right, that was another rant. Sorry. It's now 10.55 pm, still very light up here on a cloudless night. It will not get dark tonight, and by 3.15 am, the light will start to return again. Today's diary entry will follow.

Football - 26/06/06

Never thought I'd end up blogging about the WC football on in Germany at the moment. The abbreviation WC is entirely appropriate.

The only team representing the United Kingdom at the championships is England. Scotland, Wales nor Northern Ireland qualified. I am just plain appalled at the stupid and bl**dy minded attitude that pervades this country at the moment. Last week, a boy of 7 and a disabled man were severely beaten for wearing an England strip on the streets of Scotland. Last night, England flags were torn down from a house in Aberdeen (Scotland) and burned. Questions are being asked of Scots people if they support England. It is such an inflammatory attitude, which has already led to violence. England represents the UK, I would think. So, I would say it is only normal that people north of the border may want to wear an England strip, have an English flag on their cars or just show support for the team. It is everybody's prerogative, obviously, to support or NOT, as the case may be.

Generally, over the years, I have grown to dislike football. I am just heartily fed up with being bombarded with one footballer's broken metatarsal, or the endless litany of excuses why the match was lost. I enjoy a good match - but I think the modern day football player is a grossly overpaid pansy.

I mentioned in yesterday's diary entry that the Portugal - Holland match was not so much notable for its 1-0 scoreline rather than the shower of yellow and red cards - 16 yellow and 4 reds. Not much of a match, and I'm determined to see nor hear anymore from the tournament. Eugh.

Ragwort - 26/06/06

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.