Wednesday 23 December 2015

Jon (now John) Sergeant

Many many moons ago in a previous incarnation when I was a young officer in the department of the Town Clerk of Liverpool (for those who live outside Britain or are younger than about 50, that was the legal and administrative department of local government) I was at a luncheon sitting next to a young (and ferociously bright) Jon (now John) Sergeant who was a reporter with the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. It was an inspection of some of the Corporations assets.

The other day I came across his book 'Give Me Ten Seconds' published in 2001 which I read some years ago. Coincidentally I also came across a photograph taken after the luncheon when the Liverpool Corporation bus which was taking everyone on the inspection broke down.

So the ferociously bright Oxford PPE graduate witnessed some of those who would become Liverpool's great and good (and me) push starting a Leyland Atlantean double decker bus.

Monday 14 December 2015

A Sunny December Day

It's been a terrible summer and autumn and I don't think here on Lewis we have had a period of 24 hours without rain since April. I may be wrong but not very! Today was different. The sun shone out of a clear blue sky and despite that it was a relatively balmy 6℃. When you get days like this on Lewis the light is truly fantastic and changes by the hour. So the mountains of Canisp (left) and Suilven on the Scottish mainland looked entirely different in the morning:  

and the afternoon:

and there's snow on them there hills:

The hills of Harris from the road over the moor from my house to the main road:

Even the wind-farm over the Stornoway outlying townships look spectacular:

Thursday 10 December 2015

My Dear Old Crombie

I've got a pal,
A reg'lar over coater.
She's a dear good old gal
I'll tell yer all about 'er.
It's many years since fust we met.
'Er wool was then as black as jet.
It's greyer now, but she don't fret.
Not my old Crombie.

We've been together now for fifty years,
An' it don't seem a day too much
There ain't an overcoat in the shop
As I'd swap for my dear old Crombie

Okay. With lots and lots of apologies to Albert Chevalier.  I've never been any good at poetry but if anyone can replace 'too much' with summat that rhymes with 'Crombie' please feel free.

I bought her 50 years ago in George Henry Lee's in Liverpool (part of the John Lewis Partnership) and she's stood me in good stead for formal occasions since she went into business retirement when I left Liverpool in 1973. Now, as she did a few days ago, she comes out for funerals on cold days. That morning she got yet another complete soaking in a Lewis storm. But she'll be back.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

One of The Good Guys

I can't imagine that anyone ever heard him say anything bad about anyone - not carelessly or maliciously anyway. 

We knew each other for 35 years. We worked together. Our families socialised. Our sons were of an age. Then we went our separate ways socially and I retired so we saw less of each other. One of the Sad Things that happens in life.

As a colleague I can think of none who commanded greater respect for his ability and the way he treated people. As a human being he really was one of the Good Guys: a man about whom I can find not a single thing to say that isn't complimentary. I doubt anyone can.

Last Wednesday we sat at the same table and had lunch. Today at the time we were sitting down a week previously we walked out of the church from his memorial service.

As we carried the coffin down the street (a Lewis tradition) the gale blew and the rain fell in torrents. No one could see my tears.

George, if I will miss you that much I cannot even start to imagine how much your wife Helen, and your children will miss you. You are one person I will never forget. Your family is in my thoughts.

Monday 7 December 2015

Chosen Specially For Me

I subscribe to Amazon Prime because it offers expedited delivery and a number of other benefits. However, and perhaps it's just my imagination, the benefits seem to be more and more media-related and less of a benefit when one wants to purchase everyday items. 

That doesn't stop Amazon sending me an email every day with suggestions of things I might want. A few days ago they suggest this jumbo sized garden storage box. I didn't want one but I was rather confused by the mixed message which so often happens to Island and Highland residents. 
Delivery to the UK - Islands is apparently not a problem half way down but at the bottom it states that they do not deliver to offshore postcodes. 

Now I can understand it for an item like this even though it's sent flat-packed but when exactly the same thing happens for an item that can fit into a first class envelope the decision making process defeats me.

I should add that some suppliers have absolutely no problems sending beds, mattresses and the like (often at no additional cost to the buyer) so sending a flat packed plastic storage box should be no problem at all.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

On Pronunciation of Names

Lee recently wrote about pronunciation and spelling in a particularly witty offering which included the following:
It’s gruelling having to read out loud the works of Russian novelists like Zhukovsky, Turgenev, Saltykov-Schedrin, Dostoyevsky, or the poets, Baratynsky, Batyushkov, Konstaninovich et al.

Leo Tolstoy is simple to pronounce, but try saying out loud continually at a rapid pace the name of his infamous heroine, Anna Karenina. Don’t even attempt those she hung around with such as Kirillovich Vronsky, Stiva Arkadyevich Oblonsky, Konstantin Dmitrievich, Sergej Ivanovich Koznyshev, Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya, to jumble but a few. Whew!

Why couldn’t Anna be friends with Tom Smith, Fred Brown and Jane Jones?
Strangely I have never had any problem with the Russian novels, novelists or names which I devoured voraciously as a young man/late teenager.

It reminded me of the after-dinner story Peter Ustinov used to tell of arriving (many years ago) at the Russian border with a party of British visitors. The border officials stumbled painfully over the unusual and difficult-for-a-Russuan-to-pronounce names: Jones, Smith, Chamberlain etc (and that's before one gets to the one's the Brits can't pronounce like Cholmondelly). So when they came to the last one they were utterly delighted to find a name they could pronounce easily: Ustinov.

It also reminded me of a meeting I attended many many years ago where a singularly uncontentious matter was put to the vote and one person voted against it. On being faced with querulous looks he explained that he could not face the idea of the Chariman having to try and say 'unanimously' yet again.

Thursday 26 November 2015

Death of an Old Lady

No. Not a famous person. A ship. A ship that started its life as a completely new approach to transport to the Isle of Lewis from the Scottish mainland: a roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) ferry. I arrived on the Island not long after she did. I never experienced the need to crane the car onto and off the ferry and travel from Mallaig up the Minch for hours on the original Loch Seaforth. That ship was MV Suilvan.

Photo from Flickr by Mark Nicolson of the Silvan crossing The Minch
I have many many memories of this wonderful boat. I say 'wonderfull' because she was an innovation, a great sea-boat (according to those who sailed her) but a dreadful corkscrewing tub to her critics. She operated on the route until she was replaced by MV Isle of Lewis in 1995.

I have many many stories of journeys on her: largely because she sailed in almost any weather and one had to be pretty hardy to endure the worst of journeys which occasionally doubled the usual 3h 45 m journey time.

The time when a colleague (who hides behind the nom de plume of Marcel) and I were standing on the top deck abaft the bridge (hidden by the wave above) and I went inside to use the toilet and came out to find him gone. After an hour he appeared in the 'lounge' still soaked to the skin from a wave that had gone over the top of the bridge just as I went inside.  On another occasion a colleague and I were almost alone as passengers returning from Ullapool when a massive wave came down the Minch hitting the vessel side on and scaring the very living daylights (it's a family blog!) out of us. They are the mild memories - the others would take too long to recount.

After leaving service in Scotland she went to New Zealand and saw service across the Cook Strait between North Island and South Island as a cattle boat. In 2004 she went to Fiji.

Two days ago she went to the bottom of the sea in Suva Harbour, Fiji. There was no loss of life.

R. I. P.

Wednesday 25 November 2015


In the supermarket recently I met someone whom I know. In fact in Stornoway it is impossible not to meet someone one knows but that's another matter. She knows me well enough to know that I have been spending a lot of time recently working at, or ferrying people to and from,  the house my son, Gaz, is building 15 miles away from where I live. Add to that the fact that I've been away in Glasgow and am also having work done at my own house and have a number of other things happening at the moment and my time has been pretty well occupied.

"Well, it will fill in the long winter days for you and they won't drag."

Now here's the thing. Never in my life since I was a child can I ever recall time 'dragging'. In fact I've never had enough time in my life to achieve all that I want to achieve. The fact that I always have too many things on the go at any one time and am not the fastest thinker on the planet when it comes to writing and so on probably contributes to what appears to be a lack of time.

So far I have used 'I' ten times but the thing is it's not really about 'I', it's about lifestyle and modern life and, so far as I can see with many friends it is a shared situation. 

After all what is 'real life'? Those of us who are retired fill our lives in many and varied ways. Some fellow bloggers demonstrate that: YP walks miles, takes photos and blogs; Adrian walks miles, crawls around in murky places and takes photos of landscapes and bugs and fungi and anything else that takes his fancy and then spends hours working out how to find new ways to play with his photographs; Frances writes, campaigns and falls off her horse. I could go on and I realise that many of the blogs I follow are not written by 'retirees' and I know that those I have mentioned have lots of life outwith the bits that I've mentioned.

The last few months have made me wonder, though, what actually defines the reality of having a busy life in retirement. I know people who are members of societies; people who campaign; people who work for charitable causes; people who spend much time looking after grandchildren.

I sometimes feel ashamed that I do none of those things and yet I still feel that I have a 'real' life. 

Anyway as a result of my temporary journey into the real life of 'working' my 'other real life' in Blogland is getting neglected. Hopefully that situation will soon be remedied and, as Arnie said "I'll be back.".

Tuesday 3 November 2015

It's That Time Again

This year seems to have been unbelievably and very enjoyably busy.  Recently I've been helping my son, Gaz, who is having a house built on the Island and who is doing some of the work himself which has it's difficulties for someone who is away sailing around the world for a living two months out of every four. This is, and has for several generations been, a very common situation for the men on this Island.

Anyway we had Sunday off and I decided that it was time to make the first two of the six Christmas cakes I make. It's a very rewarding experience and it starts the day before when the fruit is soaked in brandy overnight. It then takes most off the following day because they are baked for a long time at a low heat.

They might not look very appealing now but after six weeks of being fed with brandy and then iced they should be quite edible.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Summer Time is Over

Here but started There. So instead of being 11 hours ahead of Scotland, New Zealand is now 13 hours ahead. This morning should have been much lighter but I was rather upset to realise that it was still dark enough to had to put the lights on when I got up.

So it's alter the clocks morning. I used to have a list of them. Then I realised that many of the devices in the house alter their time automatically these days. The computers, cellphones, televisions, radios, phones, central heating, weather station, radio controlled clocks and probably other things I've forgotten about or take for granted all change automatically. That just leaves me with about six 'ordinary' clocks and my watches to alter manually. 

It's a far cry from my youth when there was the living room and dining room clocks and individual watches to be wound and altered and that was it. Well apart from my early childhood when there was a weights driven clock in my bedroom (which wasn't as ornate as the one on the left).

Thinking about it our timepieces then were not only fewer in number but they were a lot greener: no batteries and they were repairable (and, I have to admit, far less reliable).

Friday 23 October 2015

Safari Day 7: The Last Day

Who could ever have dreamt that a simple comment by Pauline on a blog back in heaven knows when could have led to the safaris that Pauline and I have undertaken and the friendship that has ensued. However all good things come to an end and in this case the seven day safari (but not, I hasten to add, the friendship) was over almost as suddenly as it begun when I met Pauline off the plane in Inverness. It was a glorious Sunday. Pauline was to leave on the Monday for her brother's 'down South'  (of England not Down Under) and then for more exotic parts of the globe. I had to leave on the Sunday afternoon for a hospital appointment in Ayr first thing the following morning.

So I thought I would show Pauline Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. The sky was a bit hazy when we arrived (along with hundreds of other people) but after a while the sun broke through and cleared the mist away and it was actually very warm: a perfect end to the safari.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Safari Day 6: From Lewis to Inverness

This was possibly the one day of our safari that I'd have planned differently. I had originally wanted to show Pauline the Isle of Skye but I discovered that accommodation on Skye for a single night on an August weekend is well nigh impossible however far in advance or however short the notice you give. So I decided to take the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool and then travel to Inverness via the road to the north and across to Lairg and Bonar Bridge. The Highlands of the first part of the journey are as spectacular as ever but then the landscape becomes more gentle, 'though still wild, and, frankly, far less interesting than much of the rest of Scotland north and south of the central belt.

We had arrived into Ullapool on MV Isle of Lewis which we then watched sailing back to Lewis down Loch Broom
Stac Pollaidh (pron polly) and Cul Mor just north of Ullapool (looking West).
Bonar Bridge has a Carnegie Library for its 1000 inhabitants. 
The current Bonar Bridge
We stayed for the night just across the Moray Firth from Inverness at North Kessock.
We very much enjoyed the friendly service, the food and the accommodation in the recently re-furbished hotel.

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Safari Day 5: Uig

Day 5 of Pauline and my Lewis and Harris Safari was spent travelling over to the far West of Lewis. It was the least clement of the days we were on Safari and although it didn't rain there was a strong wind and relatively little sun.

At Breanish Pauline braved the wind to photograph the Information Stones. I was sure that I'd blogged about them but couldn't find a post. I'm sure that in the next few of Pauline's posts you will see their contents.

Information Stones at Breanish
It might be as remote as it gets on Lewis but it certainly isn't a blackhouse!
The cattle are pretty laid back over that side of the Island 
The Uig welcoming party
Pauline taking photos of sand
Pauline marching off into the distance

Sunday 11 October 2015


When I started blogging in 2007 Blogger didn't have any provision for responding to individual comments except by making another comment (which would appear at the end of the comments). Very rarely if ever can I recall 'conversations' in comments. My blogs were started as a combination of a diary and a way of keeping friends in the country I wasn't living in at the time up to date with what I was doing. Consequently I wasn't really writing with comments as an expectation. 

Gradually, though, more dialogues have developed and now comments and commenting is an integral part of blogging. Sometimes it's a way of saying that I've visited although I recall in the early days of Adrian's blogging wondering just how many ways it was possible to say that someone's photos were so good. As we got to know each other and Adrian posted about places I knew or wanted to know and as he got more acerbic the comments became more 'interesting'. It's hard to comment, too, with many photo blogs like Liz's.  On the other hand some bloggers like Yorkshire Pudding or Frances Garrood (with very different blogs and styles) write posts that would overall be pointless if one could not comment.

Most of the blogs that I follow (which is not that many really) have manageable comments. However one blog that I follow has more comments than many of the rest of us put together: Jenny Woolf's An English Travel Writer. As a consequence Jenny wrote the following recently:
Thanks to everyone for the comments, I really appreciate them all and read them avidly! It is funny, although I have been blogging for years I still puzzle about how to manage comments, I wonder if anyone else has this problem. The 3 alternatives seem to be to reply individually, reply in a lengthy response taking in a lot of peoples' different points, or say nothing. I THINK it's best to treat it like I would do if it was a real life party, i.e. respond to everyone individually, but that can feel pretty frantic. Sometimes it is good just to listen and nod - but then perhaps people think you're not interested or not thinking about it. (I do in fact think about everything that people write in their comments). A "group" response to things that several people have said interests me most because it draws together different ideas and aspects, but I don't think many people would see a "group response" unless they're looking out for one. I think that responses only get sent on to subscribers if they're linked to their own comments. Hmmmmm.........
Some of the responses to that comment were quite interesting. I recall a fellow blogger telling me that he never ticked the 'Notify me' box because he never read other people's comments nor responses to his because he just didn't have the time. He did read a lot of blogs though.  It was that comment that made me realise that I always wanted to keep the blogs I follow to a manageable number because, for me, blogging is participatory. So although I sometimes don't comment and sometimes even when I do I have little to say I do try and keep up with both blogs and the comments made on them.

I don't blog as frequently as some nor, indeed, as often as I used to but I try and read all the blogs I follow and comment when I feel that I have something to say (and sometimes even if I don't!).

Your thoughts?

Friday 9 October 2015

Safari Day 4: Harris

Day 4 of our safari saw Pauline and I travel down to Harris. For some reason I took fewer photos than I usually do but I know that Pauline tool lots so I will simply show you a few of St Clement's Church in Rodel at the southern point of the Island. For those who would like to know more about the church the Historic Scotland website may be of interest.

Saturday 3 October 2015

Safari Day 3: Morning

It's been a very busy time recently. The weather has been better than any we've had on Lewis since April and I've been doing some outside maintenance and also been doing some labouring for our son, Gaz, who is having a house built on the Island. So my visits to Blogland (and Facebook) have been fewer than I would usually make.

On Day 3 of our Safari before we went off to the West Side I took Pauline for coffee at my favourite watering hole in Stornoway: the Woodlands Centre. It stands on the edge of Stornoway harbour which was unusually swathed in mist that morning.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Safari Day 3: Lewis

True to her reputation Pauline brought lovely weather to Lewis with her - during the day anyway which is what mattered. So we drove across the Island to the West Side to explore.

The hills of South Lewis from The Peatland Road
Looking South and West 
The Garenin Black House Village (Pauline in red).
Old and new thatch. Weighted fishing net was thrown over to help keep the thatch in place in storms.
Pauline capturing a thatcher at work. I think she got some cracking photos.
Just another village black house.
The village street 
The Broch at Dun Carloway

I'll do a proper post on the Broch one day
From New Zealand to The Standing Stones of Callanish
The interior of the Black House at Arnol 
and the Church at Eoropie