Sunday, December 16, 2007

The builder is an excellent communicator, who makes a point of meeting me at the house regularly to keep me informed of progress and to pass on his latest bill for extra work that needs to be done. As the result of demands from the building inspector that I superinsulate the walls, the roof space and undertake a variety of other unanticipated work to new building regulation standards, the renovation is now 20% over budget and looks like over running even more before completion. When presenting his bills, the builder adopts a gloriously sympathetic expression, tells me that he understands the feelings of loss of financial control I must be experiencing and assures me he has cut his profits to the bone to help me. A wonderful human being indeed. This week's good news is that having thought about it, the builder thinks he knows how to solve the wet wall problem. Something to do with roof tiles not overhanging enough and driving rain getting in. All sounds a bit dodgy to me, but if he dries out the wall, I'll sign the next cheque willingly.
I've spent the weekend moving most of my property from the upstairs rooms to a friends' house, so that the electrician and plumber have free access to do their jobs. The slight glitch here is that neither of them have turned up yet. The electrician swears over his mother's grave that he will arrive tomorrow and the plumber, who was supposed to arrive two weeks ago, is still not on site. Bet Sarah Beeny never had these difficulties. Sadly, charm doesn't work on tradesman here. To his credit, the builder is hustling them as best as he can, but I suspect little will happen now before the new year. When the heating, bathroom and new wiring are installed, the builder should be able to finish off the remaining work very quickly. I'm still putting him under pressure to complete the job by the last day of January and he responds by sucking in breath, looking sad, shaking his head gently and telling me that 'it's all a bit tight, but I'll do my very, very best '.

Temporary break in blogging for ten minutes now. My lovely landlady, who owns this flat and the restaurant downstairs, has just arrived at my door with a plate of Tiramisu,(?) made with her own fair hands. Fine woman.

Had an interesting wildlife experience yesterday. Was driving in a remote part of the island, when I saw a buzzard on the side of the road in front of me, apparently eating something. When I got closer and the buzzard had flown off, the prey turned out to be an almost pure white mountain hare, the first I have ever seen. Unfortunately, an extremely dead one.

A few miles West of here, there is a most spectacular beach called Uig sands. It's surrounded by mountains and is jaw droppingly beautiful. In 1831, a local man called Malcolm "Sprot" Macleod, was walking on the dunes by the beach when he came across a stone chamber, which had been exposed by the wind. Within the chamber were 93 chess pieces, carved out of Walrus Ivory and of great quality.They became known as the 'Lewis Chessmen', are world famous and regarded as national treasures. No one really knows how the hoard came to be in the sandbanks, but the experts now believe that they were carved in Norway about AD 1150, possibly in Trondheim. There was Norse occupation of the Outer Hebrides for about five centuries and it is now thought that the chessmen were hidden towards the end of the viking period. Fairly quickly, the chess pieces were removed from the island. Eleven of them are in the Royal Museum in Edinburgh, whilst the remainder can be seen in Room 42 of the British Museum in London.Plenty of information about the Lewis Chessmen on the Internet for those interested enough.
For some time now, there has been a move to have the chessmen returned to a permanent home here on the Isle of Lewis. A recent copy of the Stornoway Gazette had a letter from a reader making a cogent argument for the chessmen to be housed in Stornoway or Uig. This would almost certainly result in a huge increase in the number of tourists who visit here, but it seems unlikely that the museums in Edinburgh and London are going to give up their spoils willingly or easily. It's all reminiscent of the Elgin Marbles dispute really. One of the reasons for not bringing the chessmen back to Lewis is security. They are regarded as priceless, but why can't secure housing be provided for them in the museum in Stornoway? The benefits to the Island would greatly outweigh the dubious advantages of the proposed gigantic windfarm, which will destroy the visual landscape for at least a generation.

I'm working away in the Southern Isles for most of this week and off on the Stornoway- Ullapool ferry( weather allowing) next Saturday to spend Christmas in the South with family and friends.
Hope you all have a great holiday. More Tales from Lewis in the New Year.

PS. Have been asked by several people to include more photographs in the blog. Can't do this just yet, because being away from home, I'm having to write this on my work laptop and don't have the cable to connect my camera/memory cards to the computer. Will try to sort this out soon.

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