A Week of Small Things

Weather: Cool and raining with strong winds


My ferry left Lochmaddy at 7.30am on Saturday 10 August. It was very blowy and there had been some concern that it would not run. The journey was however, fairly smooth although I couldn’t quite manage the keenly anticipated Cal-Mac breakfast that I had planned. The drive to Newcastle was uneventful and I arrived as expected in the early evening. The garden had excelled itself, the recent rain having sent the grass and hedges into overdrive spilling onto the pathway.. Sunday, having earlier cut the grass, found me in the familiar surroundings of the Tanner’s Arms with the Sunday Times and The Observer whilst partaking in an excellent Sunday lunch accompanied by a pint of Landlord and able to plan the rest of my week.

Monday found me at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland to look at John Askew’s exhibition of Photographs made in the far eastern Russian town of Perm. His colourful and astutely observed images give a sensitive insight to the particular community in which John has located himself. I am always delighted by this Gallery which overlooks the Docks on the Quayside at Sunderland. The views across the river from the café are exceptional. Having taken in this exhibition, I travelled on to Newcastle to visit Locus+. The Locus + archive has been recently relocated to Newcastle University for safe keeping and it is good to hear that the organization has such a positive view of the future. Locus+ has achieved so much for the Visual Arts with its innovative approach to creating new ways of working and its commitment to the artists that it has worked with over the years. Many organisations have borrowed heavily from Locus+ over the years including Artangel in London and the Baltic in Newcastle. This has not always been readily understood, and it is to be hoped that Quality and Innovation once again become a central focus of Arts funding as these are becoming qualities that are in short supply within arts programming.

I met up with Mike Golding for coffee at the Pink Lane coffee shop (the coffee here is in my experience, the best in Newcastle) Mike is now writing with the nom de plume of A.M. Stirling and I am looking forward to reading his soon- to- be published and what promises to be a stirring new novel.

In my small studio in Newcastle, I have been photographing many of the Artists that Locus+ have worked with over the years. I arranged to photograph Peter Stark later in the week. Peter, previously the Chief Executive of Northern Arts is very much a long – term friend of Locus and an important part of their ongoing narrative. John Bewley and Jonty Tarbuck (of Locus+) and I reflected on the fact that some of the artists that we had worked with had not been included in the portrait series, for various reasons and that we should try to catch up with them and other omissions whilst this was still possible.

Tuesday had been promised as the best day weather wise of the week and so it proved. It was warm and sunny.  It was to be the first outing of the year for my old BMW 90s. John (Park) called for me (riding his BSA Gold Star)  and we rode out to Shotley Bridge then via Edmundbyers across to Stanhope on the wonderful Weardale road that meanders across the moors for 20 miles or so. The heather is in full bloom at this time in August and the hills are purple and fragrant. We passed through the lead-mining villages of Nenthead and Killhope onto Alston before climbing to Hartside Summit and descending the tight bends to the Village Bakery in Melmerby. After an excellent lunch taken in the garden, we returned to Alston before riding to Middleton in Teesdale, thence back to Tyneside. The weather held and we had a memorable day out. Having wiped the bike down and thanked it I returned it to its shed hoping that there will be another opportunity before the summer ends. I spent the evening with my daughter Laura in Gosforth’s top Italian restaurant Adriano’s eating pizza and drinking Italian beer.

The following day, having wrestled with the garden and sorted out some other domestic chores (including shopping for items unobtainable in Uist)

Thursday I was able to spend some time in the studio photographing Peter Stark and subsequently processing these films in addition to the few black and white films that I had brought with me. When it is appropriate, I enjoy working with film and used my 60’s Rolleiflex to make Peter’s portrait. It makes a pleasant change from the digital cameras that I have been mostly using. The Rolleiflex never fails to be a conversation piece, the camera is one of a pair made in the 1960’s and are as good as ever. In the evening I re-acquainted myself with the Gosforth Chippy’s regular fayre and then packed up the van ready for the drive to Skye the next day.

Friday morning was wet and windy and I set off on the drive up to Glasgow. I had arranged to meet my son Sean and his partner Mia in a Greek restaurant for lunch. The motorway driving was horrific and visibility was terrible. I stopped off at the Costa on the M74 just north of Carlisle where I had the usual cappuccino. For some reason the coffee here is always particularly bad and as I have been served by different ‘baristas’ over the years I can only put it down to the water..

Arriving in Glasgow, I met Mia and Sean in ‘Halloumi’, a pleasant restaurant. Mia is a sweetheart from Vermont and they are intending to get married next year in New York. After our very pleasant meeting and lunch,  I made a mental note to start saving.

The drive onto Uig in Sky was leisurely and took up most of the rest of the day. The late ferry leaves around 10 30 on a Friday evening but it was running a little late. It was a good journey though. On arrival back in Uist at 1. 30am Nicola and I briefly exchanged our various experiences before going to bed. Phew, what a journey!

The big news is that the ‘consultations’ with the public over the proposed development of the Rocket Range at Scolpaig had taken place. I was disappointed to have missed these but Nicola had attended and was very much concerned and brought me up to date with her experience of the meeting. This is a most deeply disturbing proposal that will change the character and nature of this place irreversibly. It is supported by the Council and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board and it is intended that no thorough environmental impact studies at this stage are necessary –  as this is just a ‘test’ activity. Please.

The cats are very pleased to see me and Angie presented me with a full half-rat at the doorstep. Luckily I will never know what had happened to the other half. Alice, boundless in her energy, now has two people once again, to attend to her every requirement. I had brought back a couple of those mice on an elastic leash and within the half-hour the stuffing had started to show on one of them. Cats look so aesthetic and refined, but they are seriously unpleasant to rodents..

“A Woman’s Prayer”

Weather: Showery with some sunny spells and some quite windy days.


Saturday the 10th August – (already). 7am, a blustery, wet morning – I stick my head out of the roof Velux window in the top main bedroom at Minish, to wave John off. He is going to the main land for a week to do some work things and to see his daughter Laura and son Sean. I have a week to myself and with this thought the very fitting poem by Pauline Prior-Pitt  A WOMAN’S PRAYER  came to mind. Pauline is a poet who lives in North Uist, and after she made a point of introducing herself to me, a little while ago, I have become aware of her work. She is a very acclaimed and gifted poet and artist. I am particularly enjoying some of her very humorous feminist poetry.

I have much to achieve this week, so after a short deliberation (messing with Alice, the cat) my essential wake-up cup of coffee is required. Today is computer day – these are very intensely focussed days for me, which I enjoy.

Sunday: began with an early start, more computer work and then a lovely walk by Scolpaig Tower – bliss, beautiful, meadows of flowers everywhere, so precious. The distant hills are blushed with purple from the blossoming heather. The weather was autumnal, otherwise I would have gone swimming. Thoughts of the looming ‘Spaceport’ proposal disappoint me – why here?

Monday: shopping, computer work, print preparation and yoga.

Tuesday: Taigh Chearsabhagh a couple of meetings and then a session in the print studio.

Wednesday: North Uist Conservation group meeting – Spaceport 1 Consortium. Having just arrived to this place it might be questioned as to my right to an opinion, but for me my opinion comes as a human who lives on this planet. I want to know what the long-term affects of – PHASE 1 of SPACEPORT 1 – has on the environment. Who does it affect? And what is PHASE 2 and PHASE 3? Will this also affect the animals, the birds, the insects, the fish – haven’t humans destroyed enough of them?

The Spaceport 1 Consortium was presented by the four organisations:

  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – project lead.
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise –  promoting and supporting economic development.
  • QinetiQ – providing the range and technical expertise.
  • Commercial Space Technologies – providing the core Space and Market expertise.

In this meeting, we were informed by the ‘panel’ that this Spaceport was intending to launch rockets –  a mere 6 rockets a year. In 10 years that is 60 rockets – the fallout from these launches will be dumped into the sea. The rockets will be used to observe climate change. Will it as well observe the amount of damage that this Spaceport will also have on our precious world and do these people even care? How will this observation benefit and reverse the effects of climate change? The answer to all such questions was: As this is a test site only some environmental survey work needs to be carried out and nothing can be clearly determined (including the damage) until after the test has been completed. It states in the Spaceport Community Newsletter that the Spaceport’s footprint will be relatively small, relative to what I wonder? It was also confirmed that this testing is to be used for some military purposes, but these too were not clearly defined. There was an argument put forward (from some of the community members) that the jobs that this ‘Spaceport’ would provide will be welcomed by the locals – it was also confirmed (by the panel) that there were likely to only be 6 -13 permanent jobs available in the long term. So, for a few measly ‘promised’ jobs how much will be sacrificed? Scolpaig is home to a vast number of creatures- animals, birds, insects, marine life. This is one of our few remaining beautiful places.

I care about this place, Scolpaig and my opinion counts because it is part of our very fragile planet, I may not be a local but I too live on the Earth. People need jobs but there will be no jobs if we are all dead. Wake up world we need to think beyond ourselves – think of the consequences, think of the future. And yes, I am proud to be an EXTINCTION REBELLION WARRIOR!

Everyone came out of this meeting very charged. I went to yoga in the evening and felt sad.

Thursday – A beautiful poetry reading evening at Taigh Chearsabhagh art centre  By Niall Campbell and Pauline Prior-Pitt.

Friday – yoga, housework and Hurray John returns – I’ve had some restorative ‘on my own time’ but now look forward to ‘our time’ and place together.

Saturday 01.30am I hear John drive down the track. We have tea and share experiences before retiring for the remainder of the night.


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