Weather: Mostly good with lots of sunshine, quite windy.
I met Alan and Mick at the ferry terminal and they followed me on their bikes to our house.
Having parked the bikes, they were pleased to have completed the ride. Having ridden similar distances previously I can well understand that they did not want to get back on the bikes until the time to leave. The four of us had a brilliant weekend, the weather was excellent and we visited some of the local places of interest, we had quite long walks, visited cafes including the excellent Seafood café at Kallin where bacon and scallop rolls are available. On the table next to where we were sitting, a man returned the salad that accompanied his main course on the grounds that he hadn’t asked for it…) We visited the excellent Westford Inn for Sunday lunch and generally caught up with one another. We had a wonderful evening of projected music videos, taking it in turns to afflict one another with our own particular musical proclivities. The weather was good as they left early on the Tuesday morning. Alan and Mick were excited on seeing a large number of dolphins on the ferry back to Skye. Their ride back to Newcastle was damp in places but unproblematic. It was a great trip for all involved.
We have had a week of administration and catching up with necessary paperwork. I have been re-reading a thesis for examination and have been sorting out such tedious necessities as preparing the accounts. Nicola has been scanning and preparing images for various purposes and has been preparing her teaching presentations for next week, when the University new term begins.
We have managed to make two portraits this week and to discuss the planning of another. This work is slow but is always enjoyable, we work with individuals (and some couples) to plan how we will approach this work. It is a creative and collaborative act and we are making steady progress. We have agreed to exhibit a ‘work in progress’ exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhag next summer.
Looking out of the upstairs bedroom window one morning I noticed what I thought was a dead sheep on the foreshore of the loch behind our house. On closer inspection, it turned out to be lying on its back, but was still breathing although looking somewhat alarmed. Nicola and I are insufficiently experienced with sheep to know if its condition was serious, or what to do in this situation, so I walked to see Andy our next door neighbour who works the croft next to the house. He came down and promptly pulled it up on its hind legs. It then trotted off up the hill, mud spattered and happy apparently none the worse for its experience. Apparently sheep ca die if they are upended in this way and not found.Next time, we will all know what to do.
The following week Nicola started the new teaching term at the University, and I was once again, en route to Newcastle and on the boat to Uig. After my long drive, the next morning was spent in Alan’s shed at his house in Gateshead machining valve guides and grinding in the valves to fit the cylinder heads of my R50/2 BMW. Later, Alan rode over to Kenton on his 30’s Ariel and we spent the rest of the afternoon fitting them back on the bike. Such fun. This accomplished , the bike was put in the shed, probably until next year.
Weather: Changeable. Strong winds with showers and some bright spells.
Monday 8th September morning, John headed off to the main-land for an extensive (10 day) road trip to Brighton and some financial meetings in Newcastle.
This is also marked the beginning of term and my 1st Tutorial introduction to students at Taigh Chearsabhagh Centre for the University of the Islands and Highlands (UHI). A great BA Art course with some very talented students, I look forward to supporting them this academic year.
Tuesday September 10th – a significant plummet into autumnal weather, which in Uist means the winds develop a ferocious energy. My trip to the local Solas Co-op became more of an expedition. With my wind proof coat firmly fastened and Co-op bags in tow I left the house and as I turned to head towards the front garden and driveway I am hit by the hurtling whirling wind, ‘Splat’ – like a slap in my face. My Carrier bags flapped beside like parachute balloons causing me to moon-walk down the drive to the gates, that need opening before I get into the car. There is also rain, that has been given a wind-force factor making the rain drops fire like little pins into my face. The car it’s self requires a Houdini manoeuvre to get in – I have to hold on to the doors tightly (so they don’t fly off the car) and then wedge myself into the driver’s seat. Every movement I make is obstructed and exaggerated, the phrase ‘battling the elements’ feels the proper way to describe walking to and getting into the car. When secured inside the haven of my vehicle, I am almost exhausted, but also strangely ecstatic and windblown.
Much of my time, when John is away, is spent catching up on scanning and other essential time consuming digital work – I spent Wednesday and Thursday, some of Friday and Saturday doing my media ‘catch-up’ which as every ‘anorak’ will tell you can take up many hours in the day, and to anyone else this can be uneventful and obssesive. I enjoy the intensity of this kind of work, but am aware that there is not much to discuss that might be of interest to most people.
I will move straight to Friday evening – and the more important Hebrides International Film Festival 2019 . At 5.30pm a viewing of the very appropriate ‘Rockets Galore’ (A must see for all North Uist residents!) directed by Michael Relph and based on the novel by Compton Mackenzie. The story line in this movie is almost identical to the ‘real’ proposal for the Space-port on the site of Scolpaig in North Uist. (There is only one questionable moment in the movie and that was when the local priest patted a small boys bottom (this is of course a sign of the times) – a distinct intake of breath was heard from the (now) more aware audience. Still a highly amusing film, with amazing back projections and very fitting – a prediction of events to come… ‘Rockets Galore II’ is in the making and to be set in North Uist!
The weather this week has had an overall wet and blustery presence, although Sunday let up enough to tempt me into a fabulous walk along the beach. I set off to Clachan Sands Beach, the nearest beach to Minish. I feel blessed to be living in a place where I can drive for just ten minutes and then arrive at the most beautiful white sands beach with turquoise water, a max of 5 other people and array of Oyster catchers, Lap wings, Sanderlings a variety of gulls – and other birds that I am not yet able to confidently identify.
John arrived safely back on the Wednesday – I was impressed with the amount of driving he did. I am always pleased when we are back together.
Angelo maintains his title as ‘King Ratter’ whilst Alice has developed an unhealthy taste for flies – this causes havoc with her stomach and the catching of them causes havoc with anything that might be in the way of her and the targeted fly.
I was driving down to Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire to meet up with Dave Cubby who was over from Australia amongst other things, to meet up with some folks in Brighton. I parked the van outside his sister Janet’s house and was drinking a cup of tea when Janet’s partner, Ian asked me why I had parked my car in the neighbour’s drive. Oh no, said I – looking beyond the hall out towards the road, it’s on the street outside…
Janet and Ian live on a private cul-de-sac in Ashby in a detached bungalow, you get the idea.
My car had managed to slip its handbrake, trundle off down the street, mount the kerb, enter the neighbour’s drive (which was 50 yards opposite and further along the slight downward slope of the street). It managed all of this on its own, and on somehow turning into the neighbour’s drive, it destroyed the recycling bin (a very good thing, recycling) before stopping 3 inches away from a brand new, white BMW.
The owner of the car opened the front door in her dressing gown, no doubt curious as to what must have made the noise. She was very understanding. No harm seems to have been done and Ian (bless Ian!) was able to replace the recycling bin with one he had spare. Miracles do happen. Minutes later, the man of the house returned. He was very big, and had fitted CCTV for security purposes only recently. This incident provided, of course, the perfect opportunity to see what had actually happened. A small crowd developed around his smart phone and were treated to an action replay. Meanwhile I had been keepin a low profile having re-parked my car in Janet’ s driveway after taking the precaution of leaving it in gear in addition to very nearly pulling the handbrake lever off.
When the fuss had subsided Dave drove to Brighton in a newly rented Nissan. He had learned to drive in Australia in a car with an automatic gearbox. This car had six forward gears, any one of which Dave was likely to engage without warning..
We parked in the Travelodge car park before unpacking and walking along to the local Indian Restaurant. Some day.
The next morning Dave and I were due to meet up with Mick Duckworth and Charlie Hooker. We had all been a part of creating ‘Experimental Studies’ in the early 70’s.
The afore-mentioned course pathway had ‘evolved’ from the Fine Art Painting and Sculpture at the University, before becoming ‘Critical Fine Art Practice. Experimental Studies developed an alternative Fine Art culture that was seen as Socially based and outwith the gallery system. Its media were performance, artist’s film (later video) photography, writing, audio, in fact pretty much anything apart from painting and sculpture, which we considered insufficiently conceptual and belonging to an earlier sensibility.
As we arrived at the University we were welcomed by a John Hilliard dual screen film piece playing in the foyer. It featured a 19 year old version of myself pointing a 16mm film camera at Tony Finch (whatever happened to Tony Finch?) who was pointing a 16mm film camera at me. Sue Breakell is in charge of the archiving of materials relating to the University and Naomi Saloman is currently responsible for the Critical Art Practice programme. We were made welcome and we were there in order to flesh out some of the missing details from the earliest years of the programme. Jenny Lund, the curator of the Brighton Art Galley was also present and she had previously interviewed John Hilliard, our main tutor at the time and the central focus around which Experimental Studies had developed. Without John, who encountered stiff resistance at the time, it would not have happened. Apart from his continuing brilliant career as an artist, John became the Professor at the Slade School, continuing his commitment to educating artists. Charlie was to join us later although as the Professor of Sculpture (ironically) he had previously made his contributions to the archive. Amongst other things the six of us talked about was ‘the Fabulous Shitts’ a proto punk, anarchistic rock and roll band including all of us in various capacities.
After the meeting, we met up with Charlie and Gordon Grant for an extended lunch, drifting into the evening in the Basketmakers Arms, a Brighton landmark where most of the drinkers were in the street outside the pub in the evening sunshine. The next day we spent wandering the around the entertaining Brighton shops buying hats and Cigars (!) before were back on the M25 on the way to Ashby de la Zouch, from where I picked up my errant car and drove back to Newcastle. Sunday was time to recuperate in the Tanner’s Arms for Lunch with my daughter Laura. The next couple of days were spent attending to the domestic and financial, before finding myself back on the boat from Uig to Lochmaddy, an evening sailing after a day’s driving in the rain.
THUNDERBIRDS are GO !
Weather: Mostly fine and sunny with relatively light winds.
The big news around here is the proposed development of a Rocket Range on north Uist.
This perhaps needs to be restated. In the age of Environmental Extinction Rebellion, increasing climate change awareness and the ever-increasing levels of CO2, not to mention the awareness raising pleadings of Greta Thunberg and others. The Council think that it is a good idea to completely transform the unspoilt nature of this place and create a SPACEPORT! – ostensibly so that it can provide a few new jobs for the island, all without even the advice of a proper environmental impact study! Nicola and I attended several of the ‘consultation’ meetings that have been taking place where these proposals have tried to rail-road this through by the Council, who have purchased the land in order to make this planning application. So no conflict of interest there then..
There have, of course, been many objections, but the Council attempts to marginalize a large number of these with the insinuation that as many of the objectors are not ‘indigenous’ folk they somehow are not valid. The logic of this argument is extremely unpleasant and finds its echo in Populist Politics around the World. Like the Amazonian forest and the Polar Ice Cap the environment is of concern to us all, and cannot be the subject of the whims of speculators and careless guardians such as the Island Council. Their tactics are to keep this a local issue. In a small place, such as this, everybody knows somebody or is related to somebody, who works with somebody.. – voices are seldom raised however keenly the issues are felt…The site at Scolpaig is an exceptionally beautiful one. It is teeming with rare wildlife and plants, overflown by eagles, has special archaeological interest, and is loved by everyone who has ever visited it. It will be ruined, never to be replaced and we and all of the world will all be the poorer for it.
Still with the febrile environment of the ‘consultation‘ meeting foremost in our minds, we returned to the Community Centre in Carinish for our weekly yoga session. This is something in which Nicola is consummate but I am as flexible as Nigel Farage..
It was a beautiful late summer’s day, so after the yoga session, we decided to take our snorkeling equipment and spend some time on the beach at Clachan where we swum in the clear water as the tide gradually uncovered the white sands. During our Hans and Lottie impersonations I was pluckily attacked by a crab – no doubt I was viewed as an alien invader by the creature which had dug into the sand with only its claws protruding and defending its territory from a monster 1000 times its own size. Later, over the weekend we photographed Rosie and Raphael before walking along the Machair foraging for mushrooms and other fungi. Raphael spotted the biggest field mushroom that I have ever seen.
We had a week of writing reports, feedback to students, cutting the grass (this takes at least 3 hours) the odd unsuccessful fishing trip, visiting the vets, the usual shopping trips, walks along our foreshore and preparation for our forthcoming trip to Harris and Lewis at the weekend. We have booked an Airbnb in Harris and are looking forward to the weekend. It is ostensibly to celebrate my 40th birthday but is really to have a much-needed break. Keith has agreed to feed Angelo our big white cat and Rosie and Raphael have agreed to look after Alice our kitten. The evening before catching the ferry from Bernerey to Leverburgh we dropped Alice, our kitten off with Rosie and Rafa and stood with them as we watched an otter swimming in the bay close to their house in the western part of the island.
It was sunny and warm the next morning as we took the ferry on the way to Harris. There were porpoises in the bay close to the island and we had an excellent journey keenly anticipating the week ahead. We stopped at a very charming round café at Greabhal on the way to our accommodation at Asaig. It was most welcome, and in addition to excellent coffee and cakes they had the most beautiful ‘Sussex Rose’ handwash in the lavatory, available to purchase in the café at only £20.. Because it was nearly my birthday we shared a piece home-made caramel shortbread-truly special!
Our accommodation was in a rather charmless caravan, flesh pink on the inside with that gilded chintzy finish to the fixtures and fixings beloved by caravan designers. It was however, clean and warm with all of the necessary accessories, such as a charming table lamp decorated with attractive fungi. We noticed that a short way along the road there was a cattle grid. This meant that every time a vehicle crossed the grid there was a whomp! The noise varied according to the weight and type of vehicle. I imagine that one would be able to guess the type of vehicle grossing the grid, but luckily we were only to be there for two nights..
We visited the capital of the Islands, Stornoway stopping off at a couple of charity shops on the way to the centre. It is a pleasant enough town and is a considerable contrast in scale to the other settlements on the islands. After some essential purchases including lipstick and fishing line we had an excellent lunch at the Harbour Café, a pleasant sea food brasserie in the modern style. Having lunched, we visited An Lanntair, the Arts Centre situated opposite the ferry landing station. This was busy with people in the large café area and generally milling around the ground floor galleries where there was an exhibition of a catholic selection of work by Tom Hickman.
We had coffee in the café (mostly milk) before driving down to Callanish, the site of the Bronze Age circle comparable to the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney or Stonehenge in England. During a previous visit to Callanish, there were people everywhere on the site. This included a woman in what was intended as a red druid’s outfit miming to a ‘celtic’ soft rock song whilst being filmed. Every so often 6 other, similarly clad young women would drift into the picture wafting in the ethereal breeze of the ages in time to the music. I don’t know how successful the song was but at the time, it certainly made the visit a memorable one. On this occasion we mostly had the place to ourselves, the atmosphere being slightly compromised by one of the nearby residents drilling something.. The site is a spectacular one with amazing views across the hills and the sea loch and we were pleased to have experienced it on a fine day.
The following day saw us walking towards the Eagle hide in the Mountains of Harris. As we approached the small car park we saw a pair of Golden Eagles being harassed by another bird, probably a raven. These are spectacular birds in a wonderful landscape and we were looking forwards to viewing them from the privileged situation of the hide. As we walked up the valley the weather deteriorated and the rain started. When it rains it rains hard. We were quickly soaked through, and it was a great relief to eventually struggle on to the hide where we could shelter from the rain. Needless to say, we saw no more eagles that day. By this time, the visibility was poor and we were grateful to return to the car. Apart from a further stop off at the rotund café at Greabhal on our way back to Leverburgh, that was our (birthday) weekend. Two hours later we were picking up Alice, our kitten from where she had been thoroughly indulged for the weekend by Rosie and Rafael.
In cat-world – Angie has had his teeth examined, as his gums are causing him some discomfort. He has been booked in for a scale and polish in a couple of weeks time..
He whacked 5 Rats in one day! His record to date. Alice managed to bring in a caterpillar as she is only a trainee. She has eventually found her purr again as her nose was somewhat out of joint after her weekend trip away from home. She has a tummy upset which caused not a little embarrassment whilst she was away, and we will have to keep an eye on her.