Wednesday, March 24, 2010


This, ladies and gentlemen, is a monster articulated lorry containing an eighty seat cinema. Screen Machine travels around the more remote parts of the Scottish Highlands and Islands showing movies to communities that are more than a one hour drive to any other cinema. It is very popular and sets up shop in the car parks of village halls, hotels or anywhere else with accessible toilets and an area of flat ground big enough for it to park on. Screen Machine charges £6 per full priced ticket but has to be subsidised to enable it to pay its way. It has a single driver/operator to make it all work, supplemented by a locally recruited usher at each venue. After arriving at a particular site, the driver uses a built in diesel generator to power the hydraulic rams, steel wires and pulleys which open out the sides of the lorry and transform it into a proper comfortable cinema with fixed seats like any other.
There is a cinema at An Lanntair in Stornoway, so Screen Machine doesn't visit Lewis, but it travels regularly to Harris, North and South Uist and Barra. When I came across it at Lochmaddy two weeks ago, the films on offer were Avatar and Sherlock Holmes.

Almost overnight, Winter has disappeared and Spring has taken over. The countryside is waking up and becoming noisier. Day time temperature is round about 10-12 degrees.
On Barra a few days ago, the crocuses were in full bloom, as were the lovely little tete a tete daffodils, but my village is about a hundred miles North of Barra, colder and I have no flowers to see yet.
I do have dozens of frogs frantically pairing in all of the drains on the croft though, leaving masses of spawn everywhere. Frogs may be declining elsewhere but we could export them with plenty to spare. As in previous years, the colour range is amazing. Very few are green. This morning, I came across brown, orange and yellow frogs and some of almost a black colour. They croak very loudly when mating, which, I think, makes them an easy target for the big Grey Heron I saw perched statue like by one of the drains near the house this morning. Easy pickings for that particular bird for the next few days.

The Harris Tweed industry seems to be experiencing a welcome and overdue revival just now and may be on the verge of becoming trendy. Pete Doherty, the larger than life frontman from Babyshambles, has commissioned a local designer and tailor to make him a rather nice three piece Harris Tweed suit. There he was, splashed across the front page of last week's Stornoway Gazette, looking resplendent in his new clothes. The designer said he was a lovely man to work with and it will be interesting to see how far the tweed industry tries to develop this new image and promote tweed products to a much younger and more fashionable market than it has done previously. I'm very fond of the 1980's herringbone grey tweed jacket in my wardrobe - or would be if it still fitted me - but it's hardly the last word in high fashion.

The Hebridean Celtic Festival takes place in July again this year and the line up has just been announced, with Runrig as headliners on the Saturday night. Long before I came to live here, myself and a few friends used to enjoy going to Runrig concerts every year in our local concert hall. This Summer, the same friends are coming to stay with me on Lewis for a bit of a house party and to see Runrig performing on home territory. Should be great fun.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Throwing open the curtains and windows early this morning, it was hard to believe that only two or three weeks ago, we were in the middle of the coldest and harshest winter experienced here for many years. No sign of snow anywhere today. Even the hills have lost their white topping because of the rapid increase in temperature during the last few days.

With the sun shining brightly, visibility crystal clear over the lochs and mountains and a voice in my head shouting ' Up and at 'em ' at me, I was on my way to Bernera at 7:30am, looking for Eagles.
Bernera has a population of both Golden and Sea Eagles and several days ago, a friend phoned me to boast of having spent the afternoon sat in the garden watching a pair of Eagles circling and cavorting immediately above the house. Although I am only a few miles away, I don't see Eagles around the croft very often and have to content myself with Buzzards, Hoodies, Ravens and the occasional Peregrine rocketing by.
Incidentally, I do like the acrobatic, social and entertaining Raven, which is quite common on the island, but I was astonished to read on the website that 536 of them were counted leaving the Stornoway rubbish dump on Wednesday evening. That would have been an amazing sight and I'm sorry I missed it.

Returning to this morning, I would like to tell you that there were Eagles everywhere on Bernera, so tame that they came to feed from my hand. Regrettably, integrity compels me to tell the truth, which is that all I saw during two hours of wandering were Lapwings, Buzzards and amazingly, someone hanging their washing out on Sunday. Nevertheless, it was a spectacular early morning, the light was terrific and I thoroughly enjoyed myself just pottering about. Standing on a hill overlooking Bosta Beach, I could see Otter tracks on the sand below me and experienced a real 'glad to be alive' feeling for the first time this year.

A colleague at work, not prone to exaggeration or telling tall tales, told me an interesting story yesterday she had heard from her neighbour. The neighbour was driving through Breaclete, in the centre of Bernera and was scared witless when a large object landed on her bonnet and bounced on to the road. She stopped a short distance away, looked back and saw a rabbit, still alive. As she was deciding what to do, a Golden Eagle flew down, scooped up the poor animal and disappeared into the nearby hills with it. The bird had obviously caught the rabbit earlier, lost its grip and dropped it on to the car, before plucking up courage to retrieve it.

Now that the Stornoway-Ullapool ferry is sailing regularly on Sundays, the campaign to open the Lewis Sports Centre in Stornoway is gathering pace. Although the sports facilities in Uist open on Sundays, the Western Isles Council refuses to allow the citizens of Lewis to use the modern and expensive sports centre on the Sabbath, under pressure from the Lord's Day Observance Society and the Church as a whole. Remember that pubs and hotels are allowed to open and the licenced garage that opens on Sunday has queues of people waiting to buy alcohol. The plane flies and the ferry now sails, but there is this concerted rearguard action to keep the gym, swimming pool, sauna and other facilities closed.
The vocal campaign to open the Sports facilities received a lot of publicity recently when a Stornoway woman applied for legal aid on behalf of her ten year old daughter, claiming the Council's refusal to open the Sports Centre is a breach of her daughter's rights under equality discrimination legislation. The application for legal aid was refused, but a group of pro Sunday opening campaigners are now seeking a Judicial Review.
The use of a child in this manner by a parent makes me squirm with distaste, but the anti Sunday opening lobby seem little better. One of them, an articulate professional writer, sent a letter to the local Hebridean News website which concluded:-

" We are fighting against the tide to protect the unique culture of this community and the interests of its most vulnerable workers from a campaign dominated by malevolent home grown atheists and a bunch of colonial incomers."

This, so far, is the quality of the tactics on both sides. Use children, or blame the non believers and incomers.