Monday, November 26, 2007

It's dark, dark, dark now, most of the time. Well, not quite, but it's 8:30am here and I can barely see a thing through the window and daylight goes about 3:30pm.

Building work still progressing slowly but surely. Most of the double glazing is in and floors and walls nearly finished. Slight delay though because the plumber had an accident, injured his leg and won't be back at work until after Christmas. Consequently, no bathroom or central heating yet. Oh the trials! Fortunately, the builder thinks he has found another plumber, always a difficult job here, and work may recommence next week. To delay the job even more, the builder has sacked two of his apprentices for failing to turn up on time or simply not arriving at all after a heavy weekend of merrymaking. In addition, the costs are beginning to spiral upwards and I'm not convinced that I'm still in control of this project. Lead me to the Gin bottle somebody please. The good news is that the builder seems confident that he will be gone and I can have my house back by the end of January.

Not doing very well in my Gaelic class just now. Have missed a few weeks recently when I've been away or had to do other things and am really struggling with it. Find it incredibly frustrating to only converse in Gaelic, without being able to check out progress in English. The continual mantra from the tutor is ' don't bother about what it means, just speak it'. The problem for me is that I've no idea what I'm talking about much of the time and that leaves me feeling anxious and occasionally embarrassed. Can't stop myself from translating Gaelic into English as I speak. Don't feel that I'm moving forward, so am going to look for another class - probably at the local college - which does teach through the medium of English. Fairly sure now that I'm not suited to this Total Immersion style of learning.
Although the flat I'm staying in is very remote and isolated, it has the advantage of being 28 miles from Stornoway along this most amazing road, which is bordered on both sides by near and distant hills. The vivid summer and autumn sunrises and sunsets have long gone, but depending on the time of day, the entire landscape now progresses through colours ranging from wispy smoky grey, to midnight blue and black. It might sound depressing and forbidding, but when you're in the middle of it, it's quite awe inspiring.The hills can be seen in layer after layer, spreading down the islands and the sheer beauty of it all sometimes leaves me open mouthed. The danger of watching all this of course is that the road is so twisty and precipitous in places that I'm at grave risk of driving over the edge into a Loch. My track record of paying attention when driving is not brilliant at the best of times, so unless I get my act together and concentrate more, this might just be the last blog I ever write.
That would be a shame though, because I'm getting cabin fever and looking forward to spending Christmas in the South. Apart from seeing friends and family, oh the joy at the prospect of being able to spend time frittering my money away in B&Q, John Lewis, Matalan and M&S. All a bit shallow really, but I do miss the bright lights and crowds in chain stores after a few months in self imposed exile out here. Instead of flying, I'm taking the car this time, so that I can load it up with stuff to finish the house renovation off after the builder waves me goodbye with one hand, whilst brandishing the final payment cheque with the other. There are shops here where most things can be bought, but the choice is often non existent and the prices stratospheric. For higher priced or multiple items, It is often less expensive to buy them on the mainland and paying a carrier to deliver them here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Winter is almost upon us. It's getting much colder now and the days are very short. Go off to work in the dark and come home in the dark. The whole island feels as if it's hunkering down and going into hibernation until next Spring. Although most of the tourists have long gone, there are still a few hardy souls staying in camper vans in remote places. Before I came to live here, I visited a number of times between November and February and always enjoyed travelling about looking for unexplored nooks and crannies, with no one about except for local people just going about their daily lives.
The plane to Barra was grounded again this Thursday because of heavy rain, high winds and poor visibility, so still haven't got to land on the beach. Maybe next month- or the month after.
A clear day today, so drove over to the West side of the Island to explore. Good views of the Flannan Isles from Gallan Head and even managed to make out St Kilda some forty miles away, although not very clearly. Took number one son to St. Kilda twenty years ago and would dearly love to return. Perhaps next summer.
Work on the house continues and is progressing well. New windows and bathroom to be installed during the next two weeks. Having some problem getting a building warrant from the local authority, but hope to sort that out this coming week by throwing myself on the mercy of the building standards officer. Now looks unlikely that the renovation will be completed by Christmas, so have taken up the offer to go and spend the festive season in the South with son and his family. Any original ideas for a Christmas present for my lovely eleven month old grand daughter? The drive is over five hundred miles, but with two weeks off work, not too difficult to recover at each end. Just a few years ago, found it easy to drive that distance in one day, but sadly, am no longer possessed of the energy to do it without stopping for long periods.Leaving the Island in Winter can be an uncertain experience, because the ferry regularly fails to sail in rough weather, so fingers crossed.
The issue of Sunday Observance on the Island, always simmering, has come to the fore again in the letters page of the local paper, the Stornoway Gazette. The Presbyterian Church and the Lords Day Observance Society are fighting against any liberalisation of Sunday activities on Lewis. They believe it is theologically wrong, will have a seriously negative effect on 'the island way of life' and that the opening of the Stornoway sports centre and Sunday ferry sailings to Ullapool will be the thin end of the wedge. Their opponents say that Sunday observance should be a matter of individual choice and that those people who want to play sports, or travel to or from the mainland on the ferry on Sundays, should be allowed to do so and not be dictated to by those people who want nothing to change.. The ferry company, Caledonian Macbrayne, are not willing to provide sailings from Stornoway on Sundays without majority support, so they sit on the fence. There are inconsistencies here, because the council, whilst having the power to prevent the sports centre opening and the ferry sailing, have approved those activities in the Southern isles. It is possible to get a ferry from Leverburgh in Harris to Berneray and then another one from Lochmaddy in North Uist to Uig on Skye on Sundays, but no, the Stornoway ferry can't sail and exercise can't be taken. The council have of course, licensed the well used pubs in Stornoway to open all day on Sundays and there is a large petrol station, with an off licence to sell alcohol, which also opens.
For the time being, Sunday is a lovely quiet day here in the rural areas, which I enjoy for now. How long will it last?
Some good news is that one of the Harris Tweed Mills, which closed last year, is reopening under new ownership, with the probability that about twenty five jobs will be created.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Good progress with the house this week. The builders have now laid new concrete floors in most of the downstairs rooms and have started to reline walls and ceilings. The place is just a shell at present but I'm hoping that an ugly duckling will turn into a very fine swan when the house is finished. Having to learn to live with minimum communications in the temporary rented flat, 'cos there's no mobile phone reception and the best television picture is pure snow. Feels like an austere existence just now, but there are compensations. The Uig district of Lewis, where the flat is, is very remote and extremely beautiful. The house is surrunded by hills and this is Golden Eagle country. On arriving in Lewis, I had two unfulfilled ambitions. One was to see eagles at close quarters.They can regularly be seen soaring from half a mile away, but that doesn't count as a real sighting in my book. So, picture the scene. There I was at eight o'clock this morning, standing at the kitchen door with coffee in hand, when the sky darkened. Looked up to see that day hadn't turned to night, but a pair of eagles were circling just two or three hundred feet away above the hill at the back of the house. Amazing sight. These birds are so impressively big, with wing spans of eight feet or so. Managed to grab the binoculars and watch them for about ten minutes before they flew off to hunt down the valley.
The other ambition, sadly not yet realised, is to fly into Barra in the Southern Isles. Barra is a lovely small island at the bottom of the Hebridean chain and has the distinction of having the only airport on the planet with daily scheduled flights which use the beach as a runway. The timetable changes according to the state of the tides and the plane, a British Airways Twin Otter, often throws up spray as it lands. The pilots make the choice of three approaches depending on wind and other weather. Very elemental! Folks who have done this flight tell me it's one of the great experiences of life to fly into Barra. I've often watched the plane land from the warmth and cosyness of the terminal building cafe with envy. Well, the day came this week when I found I had to go to Barra to do some work and the flight was booked with considerable excitement on my part. I usually go to Barra in my car and cross from Eriskay to Barra by ferry, but It's a long journey from here and not a good use of time, when there's a work deadline to meet. So there I was at Stornoway airport on Thursday, in decent weather, when the pilot came in to say he didn't think the plane would fly because of claggy conditions over Benbecula, where the plane goes first. Crossed my fingers and waited in the airport lounge for two hours to see if conditions improved, but regrettably, the pilot decided not to fly. A real disappointment, but the good news is that I'm rebooked on the flight to Barra next Thursday.