1 EAGLETON NOTES: January 2015



Friday 30 January 2015

Stopping Nuisance Calls

I recall many years ago how my Mother worried about telephone calls which she answered but where the person had rung off or didn't speak. Even then cold sales calls were common and a considerable irritation.  I think I disliked the people who made them to an irrational degree because they upset my Mother so much. She couldn't believe that sales people could be so thoughtless and so believed that they were trying to see if anyone was in the house so that they could burgle it. 

Until recently I received many such calls each day on my landline. I could have barred international and withheld calls but many of my legitimate calls are international and some friends have withheld numbers. 

Now I have solved the problem with one of the best gadgets that I have ever bought : the BT 8500 phone with Call Guardian which, for numbers not in your address book, enables you to hear who’s calling before you answer, and block those nuisance calls. As nuisance callers never leave a name and are often automated anyway they never even ring out. Brilliant.

Thursday 29 January 2015

Thankful Thursday

Despite hurricane force winds, torrential rains and even some frosts (unusual for this house because it's so close to the sea) these two Snowdrops have decided that it is spring.  Such optimism and such a positive attitude reminded me that it's been a while since I wrote a Thankful Thursday post. 

To be honest I've found it very hard in the moments (and there are many of them) when my mind finds itself on the other side of the world: I miss The Family and my friends and croquet and The Handbag. So much is happening there but perhaps most of all I miss seeing Catriona and Fraser grow from childhood through their early teenage years.

At Seilabost 2010 - Fraser doing what Fraser does!
Catriona being Catriona - 2010
Fun in the Lews Castle grounds - 2010
Catriona being impish - 2010
So I concentrate on the Good Things I have experienced this winter: seeing more of my friends here  on Lewis and in Scotland; going to concerts in Glasgow (something I haven't done regularly since I left Cheshire in the early '70s); seeing my garden through the winter and knowing that I will be able to do things in the garden in the early spring that I haven't done for a decade.

And I will see daffodils: mine are already showing their shoots through the ground all over the garden.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Buy Locally

Last year I was travelling through the Highlands when I stopped in a little town that I hadn’t been in for many years. I had a little walk and came across a rather twee little gift shop with a notice in the window exhorting people to buy locally or lose the local facilities.

I had a good look at what was on offer wondering just how much of it was from the area or from Scotland or, indeed, even from the UK. The answer was virtually nothing obvious. It was almost all from low cost/income economies such as Bangladesh and China.

This got me thinking in the wider context. In Napier, New Zealand, I am used to fresh food in season. For the most part greengrocery comes from New Zealand and as locally as possible to the point of sale. Fortunately New Zealand has a climate such that many more fresh foods can be grown and for longer periods than in the UK. Of course many foods such as apples and potatoes can also be stored for eating all year round. I got used to eating things in season and still find it strange that in Stornoway I can buy anything at all all the year round: it is just sourced from wherever it is available and transported often half way around the world. The exception is water melons!

We want to be green. We want the people of Bangladesh and such countries to have better working conditions. We also want food (and everything else) to be available all the year round and not to pay a true market price for it (food is, I believe, often substantially subsidised by the EU i.e. by our taxes) or, in the case of clothes, a price which would allow companies from whom we buy things to insist on good working conditions for suppliers’ workers.

I’d love to support the ideals in the words at the top of this post. Will I ever have that opportunity? History would tend to suggest not.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Another Weather Window

It's 9 years since I had to worry about weather windows and getting on and off the Island. In all honesty I don't recall it being so problematic in the 30 years previously: the ferry seemed to sail in all but the most exceptional circumstances. One was more likely to be worried by snow in the Highlands.  I can recall back in the '70s driving up to Uig on Skye. On the stretch above Glengarry we were behind a snowplough up the through roads with cars strew left and right. We did it with two young children in a Renault 14 (and in those days there weren't even winter tyres) and, if I'm truly honest, with reckless disregard for our safety. We never ever got stuck at the side of the road although we have been stranded overnight on Skye, Tyndrum, Pitlochry and Moffat. Two occasions were caused by major power outages which meant that there was no petrol to be had because no pumps would work. Now I'm retired I can choose my moment to make the crossing and the journey and, so far this winter, I've managed to time it just right. 

I arrived back home to find that the internet was virtually unusable despite the efforts of the Liverpool Lads. Ho hum. It's a bit better this morning. After constant internet access whilst I was away (wifi is even available through most of Glasgow City Centre so one doesn't even need to rely on 3G) our poor access here is a bit of a sharp return to the reality of the Island.

Ah well hopefully I'll be back in Blogland properly for a while.

Sunday 18 January 2015


Our first son Andrew (who preferred to be called Andy) would have been 42 today.  He made it to 33.

Saturday 17 January 2015

Broadband Dreams

Before I came away it was a hectic few days with the BT Openreach engineer trying to sort out my broadband connection. The engineer was a great guy called Robbie from Liverpool who had a companion called Mick on the first day - for health and safety reasons given the gales on Monday - so there was plenty of good scouse banter whilst they beavered away. It’s well over forty years since I’ve been in company like that. They were up on temporary secondment with their vans because of the overwhelming telecommunications problems on the Island due to the lightning in December and the subsequent storms. By lunchtime of Tuesday I had a stable signal around the 1 Mbps.  If it stays stable when I get back I might now be able to watch YouTube and even iPlayer. It was fortunate that when he arrived my broadband connection was dropping every 5 minutes and the engineer could witness it for himself. I’m just hoping that when I get home it’s still as good.

So it was with interest that I noticed an article Tuesday's The Times entitled ‘Broadband speeds are getting lower as UK falls behind’. Apparently the average UK broadband speed is 10.7 Mbps which means that we’re 19th in the world and have fallen behind South Korea (average 25.3 Mbps). However we are, apparently, better off than France, Spain and Italy. What, of course, that doesn’t tell us is how widely available broadband is. In New Zealand unless you are located very close to a school many rural communities do not have broadband. Located as I was a stone’s throw from Napier I only had broadband because a local geek and entrepreneur decided to put micro-wave broadband in the area. NZ Telecom just said it wasn’t profitable. I cannot imagine that it’s profitable in the Western Isles but, as with cellphone coverage, the Government has invested millions in infrastructure.

For me and my neighbours however 10.7 Mbps is something we can only dream about. Just having a steady signal is our goal. When I arrived at Anna's it struck me just how fast webpages loaded.: 13Mbps. Sigh. 

Friday 16 January 2015

Lightbulb Moment Went!

Blogger doesn't often confound and defeat me these days but it did about an hour ago when I went to reply to the comments on my Lightbulb Moment post. The comments were there but the post wasn't! Eh? Eventually it occurred to me that if I went to Networked Blogs there might be a copy there. There was. So I have managed to reconstruct the post. As to how it disappeared in the first place though is a complete mystery.  Now all I have to do is replace the header photos which disappeared a while ago. 

Lightbulb Moment

Sometimes one has a lightbulb moment. Mine came today over a breakfast boiled egg (from M&S and lovely it was too). We were talking about Brian May and the fact that some people have just too much talent and some of us could do with it being shared out a bit more equally. [For those who may not know Brian May was/is also an astrophysicist.] 

Somehow via Demi Moore (who wasn't an astrophysicist) we got onto the subject of height and Anna remarked that at one time she had been her height (1.65m). According to my medical records when I went to Lewis I was somewhere near 5' 10½". Now I am somewhere over 5'9". Where did that inch or so or couple of centimetres go? It was at that point that I had the lightbulb moment. Our spines condense. If we make the assumption that our bodyweight and composition remains the same over that 40 years then that bulk has to go somewhere. If you squash something it will often bulge at the middle. So as we get older and shorter out tummies get bigger. Simple. It was nothing to do with the wine.

Wednesday 14 January 2015

A Life on the Rolling Sea

Well here I am on board MV Isle of Lewis. Actually our new ferry sitting idly in Greenock should have been doing this run 5 months ago but it’s now thought it will be another four or five months before she starts because of delays to the harbour works. I’ve had my mandatory bacon roll and coffee and done the Times2 crossword in the time it took to finish the coffee. To me that’s a good start to a day. Well at 0745 it wasn’t quite the start of the day which actually started over 3 hours, 7 road miles and half a Minch crossing ago.

I shouldn’t say this of course but I’ve been very lucky so far in judging the right moment to make my journeys. This weather window is a short one and more severe storms are expected this evening. By then, hopefully and road conditions permitting (heavy snow is forecast for the Highlands and down as far as Glasgow), I shall be in Glasgow.

All things considered the sea is not too bad and we are running with the wind but I suspect that the return journey may be slightly less pleasant. I shall not be on it!

Sitting here I have been contemplating 40 years of Minch crossings and some of the horrendous seas I’ve sailed on.  The old (and much hated by many) ferry MV Suilvan (which went to be a cattle boat plying between New Zealand’s North and South Islands before going to Fiji where she eventually died) used to sail regardless of the conditions. The mariners said she was a fine sea-boat but to passengers she was a corkscrewing tub. David (of Mollie fame) and I were on board crossing from Stornoway to Ullapool (as I am doing now) when the sea was very rough one pitch black winter morning about 35 years ago. We were up abaft the bridge contemplating what it must have been like in a sailing boat in days of yore. I went into the upper deck passenger accommodation and when I emerged to look for David a little later he had gone. An hour later and after much searching he was still missing. He eventually turned up having walked round to try and get dry. A wave had gone right over the top of the bow and the bridge and soaked him from head to foot. He was less than impressed by my anger at his disappearance. It was the anger of relief. I (and to a lesser extent our more sanguine friend and colleague with whom we were travelling) had been getting to the point of severe anxiety.

And that was one of the less ‘exciting’ crossings!

Update: I'm now at a friend's near Glasgow: wined, dined and wined, and cheese and wined. The journey was amazingly uneventful apart from a 90 minute holdup because of snow and traffic accidents near Drumochter (the highest point of the journey). 

Sunday 11 January 2015

Unhappy Birds

One of the things I forgot to do before the storm was take the bird table off the post. That'll be an oops then. The wind did it for me. In fact the whole base was torn apart. I've put the structure back below the post for the photo but it was actually blown as far as the far edge of the garden where the fence stopped it careering down to the sea. The next base will be stronger! However what is both upsetting and amusing is that the birds just can't work out what has happened. They keep going to their usual perches away from the bird table and then flying to it as if it were there and just looking very confused. 

Friday 9 January 2015

Last Night

We had a storm. Another one. This one, however, was a Big Storm in terms of strength if not so big in terms of duration. It was all over in about 10 hours although the next one is rolling in from the Atlantic as I type. The winds reached 113 mph (182 kph) at Stornoway Airport just a few miles from here. It felt and sounded like a jet plane and a heavy goods train passing by at the same time. Ten years ago almost to the day I lost my conservatory in a hurricane lasting nearly 24 hours although that one also had gusts of 147 mph (237 kph).

75,000 homes in Scotland also lost power: many for the night and some are not yet back on. We were  off from around 2330 until 0930 and so was the cellphone network. Why do storms always feel worse at night and when there is no power and no communication?

This time the damage to my property was slight: the guttering on the conservatory, the chimney pot cowl (which I found about 100 m down the croft just by the sea), one of my compost bins has vanished completely and I've lost a few trees and bushes.   I've heard of a lot of damage round about and apparently there are film crews up near Stornoway where two houses have been badly damaged. I did meet this van which had been lifted from the side of the road and bodily thrown onto the beach. Try explaining that to the hire company.

Another storm is forecast for this evening but it's supposed to be fairly innocuous with winds just up to 80 mph. Hey ho. Wotthehellarchiewotthehell.

Thursday 8 January 2015

I'm Still Here

It's been a very busy Christmas and New Year with a friend staying and and my visits to Blogland have been fewer than I would have wished. I have been moved by the emails asking if I am okay. I am. I'd love to say that my posts will be more frequent during January and I hope they will be but after another visitor (hopefully arriving before the Big Storm arrives this evening) leaves I shall be off to the Mainland for most of the rest of the month. I am hoping to catch up with one of The Girls from Napier with whom I usually travel New Zealand playing croquet.

A number of my presents were red liquid from the fun to the very serious:

This one came in very handy when I had some small visitors (and, of course, Mum and Dad and the rest of the adults joined in).

And a very dear friend mocked my attitude to Christmas with this gift:

I wish for you all a splendid 2015.