NEAR GALLAN HEAD, LEWIS
I'm feeling very chilled out just now. Finished work a couple of hours ago and have some holiday left, so not going back until a week on Monday. A friend is arriving tomorrow afternoon and is staying for two weeks. Although I do enjoy the solitude of this place, I'm always pleased to have company and someone to chat with for a while.
The house is warm and secure now, but has been sorely tested this week by horrendous weather. Winter has definitely arrived. A severe storm last Saturday lasted a full day and night. At one point, early on Sunday morning, the wind was hammering the house constantly and I thought the roof was going to come off. It helped to remember that the house has stood for nearly eighty years without succumbing to the elements. Long may it continue to do so. Mid week, we had a rare flurry of snow, which made driving very difficult for a few hours until the gritters got their act together. Ferries and flights have been disrupted throughout the week, but thankfully, the weather is calm and settled again now.
Only finishing off work remaining to do on the house. The one big job left is painting all of the downstairs skirtings and then it's just fitting blinds, bookcases, door knobs, coat rails and the like.
It's been almost exactly a year since the house was a semi derelict shell and the work started. Although I'm very pleased to have been able to breathe new life into an old property, it's been quite a painful experience dealing with builders and other tradesmen here and I have little doubt they have taken advantage of my naivete and inexperience, to my cost. The pain is rapidly receding now and a little voice at the back of my head is suggesting to me that I should renovate another house and do it all better, having learnt from this experience. I don't think so. Not yet anyway.
Grey lag geese have been officially appointed as villains of the month, hated by everybody it seems. They are particularly partial to Outer Hebridean grass and now have the combined might of the local council and crofter's organisations lined up against them. The problem is that life has been so agreeable for the geese in recent years that their numbers have increased quickly and there are now about six thousand of them eating and causing damage to crops and grazings here. Apparently, they leave so much of their droppings behind them that sheep and cattle are refusing to feed in fields where the geese have been. Well I never.
One councillor has said this week that there are so many geese grazing around the runway at Stornoway Airport that planes are in danger when taking off and landing. As I use the airport every three weeks or so, I have a vested interest in ensuring that the geese are removed as I'm about to fly. Maybe trained hunting eagles could be used to get them, which could also be developed as a tourist attraction, thus achieving two objectives at once -- " Roll up, roll up. geese killing by the Eagle Squadron will start in ten minutes time. Get your tickets here. Credit cards accepted".
In common with many parts of the mainland, there is a serious housing crisis here, with many people being unable to afford to buy a house and consequently, a huge demand for Social housing. There are currently about 750 people on the housing waiting list, with many of those having no chance of being allocated a home within a reasonable time. What houses that do become vacant are usually given to families and individuals considered to be high priority homeless. There is a perception here, that may or may not be true, that incomers are appearing on the doorstep of Hebridean Housing as soon as they arrive and are leap frogging the waiting list by presenting as homeless with dependent children.
The housing situation is now so serious that a Government Minister from Edinburgh is coming to Stornoway in the next few weeks to help find a solution, or at least a way forward.
A couple of nights ago, the Coastguard on Skye were called by the police to say that several red and white flashing lights had been seen a few hundred yards off shore by an off duty policeman. The lights were thought to be from a boat that could have been in trouble, so the Coastguard went to have a look and called out the Lifeboat at the same time. The lights could still be seen from the beach, but the Lifeboat was unable to find a boat or get any response on the radio. Eventually, after an hour long search with no success, the lights were seen again, apparently on the shore. When the Coastguard investigated, they found an eight inch long model boat with a red masthead light, a flashing white bow light and another red light on the stern. On the sail attached to the model boat was written the message " HAPPY 42ND BIRTHDAY OLLIE XXX". With admirable diplomacy and self restraint, the Coastguard manager said "The Coastguard and Lifeboat crew would like to wish Ollie a Happy Birthday and hope it was an enjoyable one." He added, "if anyone else is thinking about using a similar method of celebrating, we would be grateful if you would let us know in advance what you are planning, to save us having to call out the Lifeboat and Coastguard".