SOUTH UIST TRACK
My faith in Lewis tradesmen has been partially restored by the heating engineer who has sorted out my central heating oil boiler.
The boiler broke down while I was away over Christmas and New Year and when I got back, it took me a few days to find a heating engineer who was willing to come and fix it. He arrived, took the boiler to pieces, replaced a part and it burst back into life. Just as the house was warming up and I began to feel secure again, it stopped and nothing I did could persuade it to work. Back came the engineer, who, with good grace, spent a lot of time trying to identify the new problem, before replacing a different part, which seemed to effect a cure. This time, the boiler functioned well for two days before having another breakdown, which I was also on the verge of suffering. I was embarrassed to call the engineer again, but did so and he was surprisingly enthusisastic about returning, on the grounds that these repeated breakdowns were a personal challenge and an affront to his professional skills and workmanship. Another part was replaced and away went the man with fingers crossed. Oh dear. This time the boiler only worked well for a couple of hours before breaking down. By now, I was at my wits end, but the engineer took the news in his stride and came back to the house quickly and cheerfully.
On this occasion, he brought his son, also a heating engineer and the two of them spent the best part of an afternoon stripping the boiler down, making all sorts of adjustments and replacing another part.
The boiler has now been working again faultlessly for over a week and I'm just beginning to relax and consider the possibility that the problem has been solved.
Everything about this engineer impressed me, but two things stand out. I was so fed up with the unreliability of the boiler that I was ready to ask him to rip it out and replace it with a new one. He wouldn't hear any of it and said that once he'd discovered the cause of the problems, the boiler should function happily for a good few years yet. Secondly, he absolutely refused to give me a bill for the visit by himself and his son and has since phoned to check that the boiler is still working. His attitude, good humour and desire to resolve the boiler faults have been impressive and I'm happy to provide his details to any reader who needs a Stornoway based heating engineer.
I like constancy in my life and am pleased to have a small working lighthouse on an islet in the sea loch at the bottom of the croft. It flashes every five seconds throughout the hours of darkness and I find it reassuring and welcoming.
In the New Year, it stopped without warning and no one locally I spoke to seemed to know why. I phoned the Northern Lighthouse Board hotline - really- and they denied any knowledge, but said they would look into it. The nice man on the other end of the phone was not willing to speculate on whether the light had become the victim of budget cuts, or just needed a new bulb and a service.
Nothing happened for several weeks and I began to think the light was gone forever. Well, imagine how pleased I was to be lying in my bed last night, when I noticed that the light was flashing again and reflecting in my bedroom off the wardrobe doors.
It's the little things that matter and make life good.
It is now possible to do a degree at Lews Castle College in Stornoway and at a variety of remote venues throughout Northern Scotland, which means that young people, and older folk, no longer have to go South for higher education unless they wish to.
Thirteen colleges and educational institutions offering both specialist and general courses have grouped together and were awarded official university status as the University of the Highlands and Islands on 2 February 2011. UHI is now Scotland's 15th University and offers courses by distance learning or personal attendance. Students can do BSc's in Renewable Energy, Sustainable Rural Economy & Archaeology in Stornoway, a BA in Gaelic language and Culture in Skye, a BA in Scottish History in Shetland and a BA in Theology at Dingwall. There are dozens of other degree level courses on offer as well and I'm thinking of enrolling for one myself when I retire in the next year or two.
A couple of years ago, myself and a friend were out fishing when a man appeared with a rifle and started shooting and killing seals that were feeding off the mackerel we were trying to catch. I wasn't traumatised by his behaviour, but I was angry that it was legal and he could just shoot these animals whenever he liked.
A new law now makes it illegal to kill seals at any time unless a special licence is held or there are compelling welfare reasons to end the suffering of an animal. Some annual licences have been issued to those who need to manage seal numbers to prevent seal damage to fisheries and fish farms, but killing a seal without a licence can now lead to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to £5000. I'm very pleased about that.
The Free Church of Scotland does not have a history of hymn singing or use of musical instruments in its services, but has a 100 year old strict tradition of instrument free, psalm only singing. The singing of psalms during a service is led by a Precentor, with the congregation responding. This traditon is threatened by a recent decision of the Church Commissioner's to allow hymn singing and instruments into worship for those Free Church congregations who wish to introduce them into their services.
A North Uist raised Minister who now preaches in Glasgow, is so opposed to the proposed change that he has decided to leave the Free Church and to seek a post as a pastor in another Scottish Presbyterian Church. There are rumblings that some congregations who want to maintain the status quo might also think of breaking away from the Free Church to form a new denomination maintaining the old traditions.