Tuesday 31 May 2016

We've Been Together Now

for 12 years and 100,000 miles. Okay it's not quite as poetic as saying for 'for 40 years' but when one is talking about a car then it is quite a long time. Many of those years weren't even full years because I was in New Zealand for six months of most of them. To reward the Nighthawk for her service to me during that time I decided that she could have a makeover; well a tarting up really. So she spent a few days in Nomie's Body Shop in Stornoway (where else would one go?) who did the honours. She looks good as new.

Yesterday after six weeks of not driving after my knee surgery I was back behind the wheel. Whether we'll be together for another 12 years remains to be seen but for the time being we make a good team and we'll be staying together.

When new
12 years later

Monday 30 May 2016


I think that Spesh has chaffinches occasionally in her garden. Now I can't say for certain that I have never seen one in the garden here in Eagleton but if I have I've not recorded it. So, for the record, here, at just after 0600 yesterday morning, is a photo of a Chaffinch (and a Greenfinch) on the bird table.

Late yesterday evening the Chaffinch re-appeared and I managed another slightly better photo through the window in the late evening sun: not good but better than the morning one.

Sunday 29 May 2016

BT Broadband - Again

Yesterday I actually managed to get a reading for my broadband speed which even BT would have to admit is exceptional and unacceptable (and theoretically impossible).

If you live on Lewis (and I'm sure many other places) then the chances are that the eternal cries of all the companies selling broadband at speeds we can only dream about will irritate you. Firstly let me say that I am grateful that I have broadband and a mobile/cell phone signal at all. Many do not. However my tussles with BT are reasonably well documented. Since my last series of visits from engineers about a year ago my broadband has, usually, been working. The speed wasn't great at about 1 Mbps. A few months ago the telephone exchange was upgraded to fibre and my speed went up to 2.5Mbps. Whoopee.

A few days ago I lost it completely and then it returned but intermittently and at about 0.24 Mbps.

Yesterday after a telephone conversation with a neighbour a hundred yards away when I could hardly hear her I decided to bite the bullet and have a conversation with someone in India.

"Hello. I would like to report a fault. I have no or intermittent and poor broadband but it may be my telephone line because I can only just hear you and there is a huge amount of crackling on the line."

"You have come to the right person, Sir, I will sort your problem."

Move forward 17 minutes (he had agreed that the readings he was getting were showing that my speeds were poor) during which time I had to ask him lots of times to repeat himself because the phone line was so bad (his English and diction were perfect) he asked me if I was having difficulty with the phone line.

The upshot was that he then tested the phone line and it is faulty. It will be repaired by the 3 June at latest.

Thank heaven I have back-up satellite broadband which, last night, was giving me 27 Mbps.

I'll be back tomorrow with something more interesting which isn't a gripe.

Friday 27 May 2016

It Just Takes One Day

Yesterday I did some work in the garden and despite being absolutely brilliantly sunny  the strong wind from the North-East was bitterly cold. In fact it was so cold that I wore full winter garb and only stayed out for half an hour. It was the same the day before.

Today I spent the whole afternoon in the garden planting out tubs and so on and it was toastie.

Down in the bay the youngsters' actions said it all:

Thursday 26 May 2016

And Now For Something Completely Different

Over the years I have collected the occasional piece of pottery that interested me. Here are a few of those that remain in my collection.

Pot, 17cm, by Vee Harper, Guildfod Village Potters, Perth, Western Australia.
Possibly my favourite piece for a number of reasons:
It is beautifully simple in form and yet the outcome is wonderfully complex in colour and texture
and, for me, it represents so much of 'the colour of Australia'.

Handmade stoneware figure, 19cm, by Natàlia Ferré, Forès, Spain

Handmade stoneware teapot, 30cm, of Margaret Thatcher as Britannia in the style of Gerald Scarfe by Sue Blair of Borve Pottery on the Isle of Lewis
One of my most valued (and probably valuable) pieces which I fell in love with the second I saw it in an exhibition back in the day and had to have despite, at the time, being unable to afford it.

Made by a member of the Napier Pottery Club, 16 cm, and bought in a shop in Napier, New Zealand.
It is probably the least expensive piece I've ever bought (a perfect example of someone undervaluing their worth) and yet one of the most expressive of pieces.

Golden Eagle, 21cm, modelled by Tom Mackie of Aviemore and produced by Scotia Ceramics at Coll Pottery on the Isle of Lewis

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Protection from The Public

I returned to The While House today. Actually it's now a rather dirty grey.  The White House was never its official title but it was the mockingly sarcastic title given to it when it was built back in the late 70s. I don't think anyone calls it that now but when it was built it was a massive structure. Now some of the private houses being built on the Island are almost as big. To what am I referring? The offices of Comhairle na Eilean Siar (The Western Isles Islands Council).

A neighbour, who is also a local Councillor, gave me a lift into town when she attended a meeting and I agreed to meet her at the Council's Offices after I'd done what I had to do. When I arrived I was met by a former colleague who was on the reception desk and presented with a visitor pass and accompanied to the Members' Lounge to await my lift home.

It was, as it happens, a very enjoyable visit because I met a number of people whom I knew and was able to keep them from their duties for a while to reminisce and catch up whilst I was given coffee.

What really struck me, though, was the security. I had to be accompanied if I wanted to move from one room to another because doors are controlled by swipe passes.

When the building was opened one of the rules laid down by the then Chief Executive (an Islander of exceptional ability and a lawyer) was that it didn't matter how senior someone was they were there to serve the public and the public had access to them. There was a certain irony in that if one had a lot of staff and responsibilities then one might well not be the best person to answer everyday operational questions. In practice that meant that unless one had a 'Do not disturb' or 'Meeting in progress' notice on one's office door anyone had relatively free access.

Now not even all staff have access to all areas.

Why? Well on balance the chances of a physical attack is almost non-existent here on Lewis. However the likelihood of someone (be they an employee or member of the public) having access to private information is very real. Now that the protection of everyone's privacy is absolutely paramount the slightest leak could be a matter for the national press to slate the Council for its laxity and enable the person to sue for large sums of money.

It's a sign of the times but I have to say it's a cause of some sadness to those of us who worked in less fraught times.

Friday 20 May 2016

Blogger: What are you up to?

I woke up this morning to see various comments in my mail about a post entitled 'Calmac Survic'.  Yesterday I decided to do a post on the subject of Calmac's survival but, as I already had a post scheduled for this morning, I decided to do it today instead. However the heading (and possibly some post text) apparently did not stay in my draft and found their way onto the blog and onto Facebook. Very puzzled I checked the Dashboard and discovered that the post is, indeed still a draft.

What is really strange, however, is that I can't see the post on my blog either in draft or any other form and it's not on my Facebook page either.

It shows on the Dashboard as a draft post but when I try and open it there is no text at all.

So I shall try and do a post today and let you know what I did want to say.

The Blackhouse by Peter May

Arising from a comment by Carol on yesterday's post the following is the text of a post on A Hebridean in New Zealand on 11 December 2012.
I really should resurrect my book blog because last night I finished Peter May's book The Blackhouse.  I can think of no book I have read for many years that kept me so riveted to it: particularly towards the end when I couldn't put the light out until I'd finished it.  It's complex (though not really complicated)  and, in parts, implausible (are not most novels?) but the characters and places are so real it's uncanny. 
Having lived the majority of my years on Lewis makes it all the more poignant and I can see many of the characters in people I know or am acquainted with.  Contrary to at least one reviewer I do not think it is insulting in any way to the people of what has long been my home.  Every place has it's characters both good and bad and Lewis is no different.  Some of the less central characters who are there for the embellishment of the story though not from Ness are immediately recognisable (sometimes as an amalgamation of real people).
The descriptions of the Island and the places (I'm fortunate enough through my work, for example, to have been all over the Lews Castle before it was declared dangerous and closed to the public) are wonderfully evocative of the place and reading the book here in New Zealand I was transported back to Lewis: almost like being beamed there à la Star Trek.
Oh yes, the story.  Police officer, unpleasant senior police officer, friendly and loyal police officer colleague, murder, deaths and so much more (some of which would sow ideas which could give the stories - this is not one story - away).  Frankly you don't need to have a synopsis: it seems to me in many ways that the murder is just a way of having a setting on which to hang (sorry) the characters who are really what I think the novel is all about.
I would stick my neck out and say that I think that anyone I know who reads this book will enjoy it at one level or another.  
I bought it on Kindle (as I will now do the others in the trilogy) but when I return to Lewis I will have to have the real copies as well. 
I subsequently read the other books in the trilogy and I would thoroughly recommend them too.
I have yet to read the other books that I have by him but I'm sure that when I do I will not be disappointed.

Wednesday 18 May 2016

What Do My Books Tell You?

Meike made a comment on a recent post "It does help getting to know a person better when you see what kind of books they have, doesn't it?" That reminded me of a couple of posts I did 5 years ago on the books in my bookcases. 

I started the first post with an anecdote from 40 years ago.  I was waiting for a colleague.  He had just moved in a few doors away not long after we moved to Lewis.  I was looking at his bookcase.  I have no idea at all why I asked but something made me ask if he minded me looking at his books.  He replied that he didn't like people looking at his bookcases because books were a private thing and you could learn too much about a person by knowing what books were in their bookcase.
In the second post the subject of electronic books and the lack of book cases to look at was raised (I think by Monica). 

I had been looking for a book today. I knew it was a proper one but I checked the Kindle to be certain. It made me realise that I had a pretty eclectic set of books on it and thought I'd share them and see what you could tell from them. And if you can tell anything about me then you are a "better man than I am Gunga Din".

Tuesday 17 May 2016


The title has no relevance whatsoever apart from the fact that I'm writing this post today and today is, you guessed it, Tuesday.

I am now guestless. Anna left for Glasgow on the 1400 ferry and as I write this should be just about home in the burbs of Glasgae.

This evening I was watching The News whilst having dinner and then The One Show which I sometimes watch whilst clearing up was about the death of Barbara Windsor in EastEnders. Now, whilst I have watched various episodes of Coronation Street in the days of Ena Sharples and in New Zealand because Wendy was a true Corrie fan, I have never watched an episode of EastEnders. I did tonight.

Then, for some reason I cannot explain, I decided to watch The Railway Children.

Now some of you will not have read my blogs of times past when I described the effect the cancer medication had on me in the early days. In short I could be walking through the supermarket and suddenly burst into floods of tears for no apparent reason. Well this evening's choice of viewing had the same effect. 

I am now trying to recover my composure and to that end I'm watching QI and writing a blog post just to prove that I, despite being a male of the species, can multi-task. 

Sunday 15 May 2016

Shepherding: Lewis style.

We were having lunch yesterday when Gaz pointed out that in a croft several over from my house sheep were being moved. We see few enough sheep these days and most of the crofts are too overgrown and often too boggy for a quad bike to be used but here were sheep being moved using an ordinary two-wheel drive family car. It says a lot for the good husbandry of that croft (the car was driven from top to bottom) but also says something about the driver: that is not flat land by any means.


Wednesday 11 May 2016

Dunnock or Hedgesparrow

I was idly looking out of the kitchen window a few days ago when a Dunnock caught my eye. I am used to seeing dozens of Sparrows (House Sparrows to be precise) very day and all day in the garden. However a Dunnock is a relative rarity and I discovered that I've never posted seeing one on the blog. Dunnocks or Hedgesparrows look similar to female House Sparrows but are Accentors and have a grey head and chest and a fine beak unlike the House Sparrow's finch-like beak. They are also a solitary bird unlike the very gregarious House Sparrows.

Monday 9 May 2016

Rather A Good Day

Today has been by far the warmest day this year in this little piece of paradise: 20℃ and hardly a breath of wind and no midges!  

I woke at 0420 and was astonished to hear something I've rarely heard before here in Eagleton: a dawn chorus. I accept that it was fairly limited but there was a blackbird and quite a few other songbirds welcoming the new day.

Pat and Dave took my car and me into town this morning. Then they dropped me at The Woodlands whilst they took Briagha for a walk in the Lews Castle Grounds before joining me for a coffee. 

Photo by Dave of Briagha in the Harbour
It was so warm and wonderful this afternoon I decided to start planting seeds in pots to put in the mini greenhouse propagator. I'd not got far when Gaz and Carol turned up. Gaz fresh from his 81 mile Caledonian Etape cycle race yesterday in the Pitlochry area of the Highlands where he had come in the top 12% with a time of 4:06:12. He raised a very respectable sum for the Marie Curie Cancer Foundation in memory of his brother Andrew who died of the disease 10 years ago.

We sat outside in the warmth unable to believe our good fortune and musing on summers past and what this summer might be like. More 20 degree days would be very welcome. We saw a Cuckoo being chased by some smaller birds and then heard it calling for the rest of the afternoon. We drank in the Skylarks singing their hearts out.

It's three weeks since I had my knee replaced. It's doing very well indeed. The exercises are quite demanding but I don't need (but do use when outside) a walking stick and I'm off all pain killers. The knee is healing and therefore tightening so it's exceptionally important that the exercises are done properly and frequently

With staples in
Two weeks and staples removed
Today: three weeks and healing well

Saturday 7 May 2016

It's Saturday

Today is Saturday. I had nothing planned: no lift to town and no visitors: a quiet day. There were plenty of things to be getting on with though: bed linen to be washed and ironed; pills to be sorted for the next month; a few letters to be written; the car to be emptied because it's going in for a facelift on Monday; the camera infra-red remote to be found; some 'studio' photos to be taken; some more of my tens of thousands of hard copy photos to be sorted for scanning. The list was endless. I could even have started painting the wood surrounds in the conservatory. 

How is it then that a sudden lethargy overtook me in the later half of the morning? I'd done my second set of knee exercises and was about to have a coffee when my mind and body rebelled. Yesterday I'd been listening or trying to listen to piano concertos of a few composers I didn't know: Kullak, Dreyschock and Ludomir Różycki to name three. This morning I suddenly just wanted a huge and loud dose of Beethoven: I haven't listed to one of his piano concertos for a while. So that's what I did: I sat down in front of the speakers with no phone, no computer, no book and not even a thought in my head (the easiest of the things to achieve) and I listened.

Of course reality kicked in after lunch and I did get some chores done. This evening, though. I decided to watch BBC Young Musician of the Year semi final. The talent out there just blows my mind.

Earlier in the week I decided that some of the heavy work in the garden was going to be beyond my capability for several months at least so I decided to discuss certain projects with David of Maybury Garden Centre under their guise of Maybury Lawns and Gardens. One thing was to clear an area which had been filled with trees which had blown down at various times over the last two winters. I had cleared as much as possible but all the roots and some of the tree trunks were still in. 

This was the site yesterday morning:

This was the site yesterday afternoon:

There was a lot of work and several large vanloads of debris involved in that transformation. It would have taken me days even at my fittest. Now I have a blank canvas with which to start again.

Thursday 5 May 2016

Have You Ever Wondered?

Have you ever wondered where the radar station that shows all the rain for the far North-West of the British Isles is? Or perhaps pondered on the guidance systems which help aircraft find their way over the North of the earth when travelling from the UK to Canada and the US? Highly unlikely I would have thought.  However quite a few people have asked me what the 'funny objects' on top of the ridge across the valley from me are.

The details of the Met Office weather radar network and more can be found here. However what most people see in practice is the results on the weather forecasts on television. This is the graphic from the Met Office website referred to above.

The aircraft navigation aid is much less likely to feature on television or make its presence felt at all but every time I fly North I will think about the part this piece of equipment plays in that journey.

NATS could, however, at least have spelt Stornoway correctly.

Sunday 1 May 2016

The Mind

I woke to the strong aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

I could tell from the type of light peeping around the bedroom curtains that it was early and that it was obviously not sunny. The bedroom is on the opposite side of the house to the sunrise but one of the things about big skies is that there is nothing to interfere with the light. David obviously was up early. I closed my eyes and tried to decide whether to get up or return to the Land of Nod. (A post from that hamlet in the East Riding would be welcome YP).

Before I arrived I woke fully and further sleep was lost for the day. The mind is a strange thing. I had smelt coffee. I had. I know that I had. But I hadn't. David, whose first task of the day was always to make a cafetière of strong coffee, was a ferry journey across the Minch and 330 miles away. I lay wondering how often we are absolutely certain about events that we 'know' took place but which didn't or vice versa. 

It did occur to me that few, if any, of you have ever seen the township of Eagleton in its setting on the Island. Well here it is. The picture is facing roughly South.