Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Just when I thought this house renovation was going well, the first problems have occurred. Water is getting through one gable end wall in spite of the builder having tried various expensive methods of sealing and curing it. No one seems to know quite why it's happening because the solid stone walls are fifteen inches thick and the pointing is new and substantial. We're now waiting for the cavalry to arrive in the form of the Building Inspector, who has given me a building warrant at last and ought to be able to offer some solution or way forward with the wet wall. In addition, the plumber has failed to turn up as promised and the electrician disappeared without trace one day last week and has not been seen since. The builder is doing his best to cope, poor man, but cannot continue with ceilings and walls until the rewiring, heating and bathroom are installed. Consequently, the work has almost ground to a halt for now until the plumber and electrician reappear. At present, there is an explosion of house building and renovations here on the island and all decent tradesman have as much work as they want, can pick and choose which jobs to do and charge prices that would not be tolerated on the mainland. It's essentially a case of take it or leave it. The notion that I might move back into the house at the end of January now looks a tad optimistic. Still, mustn't grumble.

Have been on holiday for the last week whilst a friend has been visiting and it's been lovely to take a break from work, potter round the island and talk to another human being for long periods. Like me, this friend had an ambition to see Golden Eagles at close quarters and we were lucky enough to see a pair circling above the road as we were driving a few miles from here. It does lift your spirits to have the privilege of seeing these majestic creatures flying freely and largely unpersecuted.

It's back to work tomorrow until Christmas, then another couple of weeks off when the entire office closes over the festive season.

When I first came to these islands in 1978, there were two seaweed factories still functioning at Keose here on Lewis and at Sponish on North Uist. The seaweed was gathered from around the coast by freelance collectors, who sold it to the factory, where it was dried in enormous tumble dryers before being milled and bagged on site. The powdered Alginate was then sold all over the world for use in the manufacture of cosmetics, medicines and for putting the head on beer, among other uses. Sadly, because of competiton, particularly from the Chileans, who started to process Alginates more cheaply, the Hebridean factories closed down about twenty five years ago.
Well, what goes round, comes round. During the last few years, the demand for processed seaweed has increased as new uses have been found for the product, prices have risen and it has now become economic for the factories to reopen. The plant at Keose, just outside of Stornoway, went back into production a few months ago under new ownership and an enterprising businessman in South Uist has bought new dryers and milling machines and is about to open a factory there. The raw seaweed, of two distinct types, is readily available, although the cutting and collection of it from the shore is dirty, cold and hard work, but potentially very profitable for those willing to work independently in all weathers.

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