LOCH DOWN

The weather has been extreme, sometimes wet, sometimes dry. There have been cold and icy spells, strong winds and gales, bright and sunny.

December 2020

Our neighbours, Andy and Effie, have been stranded in Stirling, during lockdown, since November. We have been taking care of their 12 sheep and 8, 1 year old lambs.  The daily feeding ritual of nuts is required together with an overall check/count of our temporary lockdown flock. We would hate anything to happen to these creatures on our watch.

As surrogate Shepherds, we have dealt with a couple of mishaps that have included sheep bullying issues and a problem with ear tag rips. For the bullying problem, we had to herd the sheep into a smaller pen, and isolate the victim. The sheep were then handed over to an experienced Crofter – Don Norman. One of the lambs managed to rip out its earring identity tag – this looked worse than it was (lots of blood running down her neck). The lamb recovered quickly and thankfully no intervention was needed. 

Andy reassured us:

“When Effie’s father was alive he didn’t use tags. He would take out a knife and cut off the tip of the right ear and then punch a hole in it. He would then cut two V’s out of the other ear. That was the norm then and that was his registered mark.
He said, “don’t worry Andy, they don’t feel it”.
I said WHO TOLD YOU ? he couldn’t answer.
When he passed away we started using tags.

The Crofters were very skilled at the ear cuts, and the pain caused by them was probably short lived, there was also no danger of them pulling the tags out later, as this lamb did. It is a learning curve to oversee these lambs and sheep, who respond well, and are trusting and grateful for their supply of nuts. It is also useful preparation for when we have our own sheep, which we will get most likely in the summer.

2020 AKA the  year of the COVID Christmas restrictions. 

It is a difficult time for many, particularly those who might have been completely alone. Let us hope this is the only one like this. Christmas can be a strange time anyway. This year  we were unable to spend Christmas seeing our children and grandchildren. However, in Uist (in Tier three lockdown) we were fortunate enough to be able to spend our Christmas with the lovely Rosie and Raphael. We all contributed to the Vegan Xmas meal, that we had in our caravan – this was suitably decorated to resemble a festive ´Grotto`, we heated up the pre-cooked Christmas dinner on Instant Grill Disposable BBQ containers (unused, from the lockdown summer), and a microwave oven, that we had recently installed in the caravan. The food was brilliant, one of the tastiest Christmas meals ever, and despite, or perhaps because of,  our various age differences, we all laughed till tears were rolling down our faces. 

The weather over the Christmas period was wet and windy, but on the 27th (we were still in Christmas mode, and still staying in the caravans) a slight scattering of snow appeared.  We do have some heating organised in our domestic camp site, but it has walls as thin as a tin can, necessitating multiple layers of clothes. Nightcaps have taken on a new meaning!  

30th of December, back in Lochmaddy, we were woken at 6am by a kerfuffle of cat activity. Outside, in the front entranceway, pathway, three stags foraged about in the snow. One stag had huge antlers with 16 points – this is known as a “Monarch”. It was a Beautiful, intimate sighting – worth waking up for. They are always intensely aware of human presence only approaching silently and with great caution. Between Christmas and New Year. we continued work on the renovation of the Croft.

Back in Westminister Village Brexit – The ‘deal’ marked the end (and possibly the lowest point) of a challenging year. Local fishermen are not happy..

2021

We spent new year’s eve together, in the caravan, with Alice and Angie (cats) with a lovely meal. A quiet and pleasant  time. The new year started with the most beautiful day, with bright blue skies, no wind, and sunshine. The air was cold but blissfully fresh, we rode our newly acquired bikes (thank you Frank and Anna) to Lochmaddy and back. This was exhilarating, and a good way to shift the festive food! 

It is always interesting to contemplate world events from the comparative isolation of The Western Isles, even in non-pandemic conditions. The storming of the US Capitol, clearly directed by the outgoing President and resulting in 5 deaths, marked an extraordinarily low point in world events  His subsequent impeachment and social media ban is ‘made for TV’. What could possibly happen next? Then we had – Brilliant Brexit! It is so reassuring to know that we have taken back control.. Having items delivered to the Island is suddenly very difficult. Certain things are not available as often in the CO-OP. Everything has become more expensive and complicated. On a personal level, the smallest photographic transaction with our nearest neighbour in France has created a new Kafka-esque reality. Our Prime Minister has referred to these, and other issues as ‘teething troubles’ – that is what he does. 

The weather has been wet and windy, but not so cold (yet) around 4 -9°C

We spend most weekends at the caravan on the Croft, which is fun. When the door is flung open in the morning the smell of the sea is in the air. On still days you can hear for miles, the island sometimes works like a whispering gallery and sounds and conversations can be picked up and clearly heard – from a mile or so away. On other days only the wind can be heard, whistling and  wailing – creating an unrest and a frenzy in the atmosphere. The cats get very excitable in the wind and I am sure it affects our energy and moods too.

20th Jan woke up and the world was frozen, even the sheep were frozen – beautiful clear still day, wet and windy and cold at night. The next few days were spent floor sanding, removing a monumental chimney stack from inside the kitchen, putting lights up in the attic. The multi-fuel burner arrived!

24th January snow and walk with Raphael and Rosie, across the beach at low tide to Vallay. We had all prepared a packed lunch to eat when we got there. We had prepared cold toasted bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese – simply delicious! . The walk back was timely as the tide was coming in and we had to make our way gingerly through some knee- deep sea pools.

29th January A big freeze had settled everywhere. Birds swimming in circles in  diminishing  pools enclosed by ice. There has not been much rain, not since Christmas.

January 30th The whole of the Western Isles was moved up to level four lockdown restrictions, due to some outbreaks linked to the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway.

February 2021

The wind has started!

The Croft work continues – we discovered  a wood panelled wall under some tacky tiles and plasterboard, that was covering the walls in the bathroom. This was a happy find and has established a connection to the original cottage. The wood panel, suitably painted, will now stay. The boiler needs some work, so we are still without hot water at the Croft, not a good thing in February.

Early february it is still windy and cold. Stepping outside you hit a wind wall, an almost impenetrable invisible force, WHAM!. When you open the car/van door it needs to be pushed hard and then secured with your foot, to prevent it from slamming on your leg. The winds built, coming from the north east, bitterly cold , and very persistent. Full gear is needed- gloves, hat, scarf, coat and boots – to put the bins out. You know it’s cold when you come in to warm your hands under the tap in hot water.

February 6th – (John) received the first COVID vaccine (thank you Keith)  – with a reaction of two days feeling weird with a temperature and headache – but it was worth it. Newcastle beat Southampton 3 -2 (the world is merciful). Meanwhile, most of the UK was being blanketed by snow. 

February 10th – Wildfire on Benbecula.The weather here has been dry and very cold, the ice has dehydrated the vegetation, and it has made the landscape vulnerable. This hit the national headlines and as we were driving back to Lochmaddy, from Blashaval it was on the main radio 4 news. Such a fragile environment, I do hope the message has been noted.

Storm Caroline

February 13th – 14th  winds up to 75mph

February 14th Valentines’ – the weather has got warmer and the days are noticeably longer.

We had a lovely romantic caravan weekend. Delicious food, cooking in the caravan has become very creative recently, and we have both become adept at microwave cooking – From scrambled egg (with smoked salmon) to cauliflower cheese. We also recently put a toaster in the caravan. There is not so much you can’t do with a microwave and a toaster. 

In the Croft we have managed to assemble and get the multi-fuel stove up and running – a milestone in the house restoration process. We have also bought a small stove for the caravan, and are determined to be more organised, settled and a bit warmer next year.

Watching the trees thrashing in the gales whilst sitting in a caravan that feels as if it is on the high seas is a sobering experience. We managed to pile some cement blocks from the recently-dismantled chimney onto the roots of our trees to weigh down the roots. With luck these will ensure their survival. 

By moving here we have managed to escape many things throughout the past year- The worst effects of Covid, the lockdown, extinction rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests , the heavy snow and floods. Throughout these we have continued to focus on refurbishing the house, learning many new skills along the way. Our photography has necessarily stalled, although we are hoping that the new year will develop positively and allow a new engagement with the world. 

That Donald Trump survived the impeachment process, presumably to resurface at the next opportunity, and that Oprah is interviewing Meghan and Harry gives us all scope for further incredulity, offering some kind of grim entertainment – bizarrely interweaving fact with fiction, makes us all value the things truly of importance to us.  

The cats, Angelo and Alice, have become used to being carted around between Lochmaddy and the Croft. They enjoy the caravans as much as we do. Angelo has become the king of Loch Blashaval , he knocks on the caravan windows when  he needs some shelter. Alice tucks herself in the caravan bed, and sleeps in our arms. Ahh..

February 19th, we have been living in North Uist for two years – Wow! time flies.

The STORM

Weather : wet and windy (not as cold as Newcastle) – the odd still day, with glorious sunshine. Rainbows almost everyday.

October, Saturday the 25th, we stayed overnight at the Croft for the first time. This involved taking bedding, utensils, food and our cats to our two slightly dilapidated caravans, which are situated on the land around the house. The house itself will not be habitable for some time as there is much work to be done. It is a formidable project – but we have now made a substantial start, and even feel a little inspired by our progress.

Tip: youtube videos are a Godsend for the amateur builder.

The weather report forecast a furious storm – for this day (October, Saturday the 25th) with winds around 69 to 71 mph. It was quite windy, although not as bad as it can be. We were very pleased of the time we spent the previous day ‘battening down the hatches’ – which included dragging building material into the house, fastening the glass for the new windows to the trees (which are already a little unsteady) and basically securing anything and everything to the ground – hoping it would hold. The caravans were also strapped down against the wind and propped up with rocks from the foreshore – our ‘bedroom caravan’ still swayed and rocked about during the night. The surrounding sea loch was whipped into a fury of whitecaps and the few trees on the croft thrashed in the wind. We had to add concrete slabs and wooden planks to the tree roots to prevent them being torn away. Fortunately, the wind shifted direction in the evening relieving its assault on some of the few trees on the Croft. It was exhilarating but exhausting and a bit scary at times.

The COVID-19 lockdown procedures have been devastating for everybody and pretty much everything. It has been difficult and slow working on our project with access to places and individuals – we have managed to take a few more portraits but our ability to reach out into the wider community has been made more complex.

Any initiative such as ‘In this Day and Age’ has the potential for many stories and a broad range of interpretations and uses. Beaudrillard’s ‘unseizable enigma’ suggests that the ambiguity of photographic indexicality is central to the integrity of photography, and he pursued this idea both through his writings and through the aesthetics of the photography that he produced and widely exhibited. We have always believed that the photograph, above all other media, has the potential to generate engagement and discourse and that it best functions within a critical context that is open to engagement and participation by a wide public. Meanings are never simply fixed, but are contextual, complex and fluid, and it is in this positive spirit that we continue to develop our project and we always welcome any thoughtful comments or critical discussion.

We are hoping that many of the issues discussed at the recent Imagining an Island Symposium, with regard to our work, will be pursued and developed through a proposed Routledge Academic publication led by Professors Ysanne Holt (University of Northumbria) and Liz Wells (University of Plymouth). The recent ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy was a useful point from which to review any progress and development that we have made, and we are grateful to all for the feedback that we have received as this will help us to further shape our work in the future.

Teaching has resumed at the University of the Highlands and Islands although as in many places the most one sees is a computer screen with the accompanying sub-sync sound. It is a desperate time for students, especially the younger ones. Their educational experiences have been much compromised, and the excitement and educational and social value of travelling to another place to study has been ruined. The University campus in North Uist relies on its ‘special place’ status, as elsewhere one office interior looks much like another.

Meanwhile buckets of old tiles together with wallpaper, various bits of wood, wire and plasterboards are being removed from the Croft house and drainage ditches have been cleared and opened out to cope with the excess water that runs of the nearby mountain (it’s a small one). The soil is dark, dense and peaty and saturates with water quickly with black slurry running off into the loch. The fishing season ended with a vengeance given the strength of the gales, hopefully leaving more fish to return for next year. The house is slowly taking shape and we try to visit daily and move things on. There have been frequent trips to the dump to remove the endless rubbish from the house, and the builder’s merchants have become our (somewhat unwilling ) friends. Lockdown (mostly elsewhere) has ensured that we have remained on the island, although we managed a couple of days in Stornoway where we were able to source some building materials (expensive!) and have an excellent meal during our stay at the Royal Hotel on the harbour side. We even bought an original artwork from the Royal Hotel’s nautically themed restaurant. To be able to dine out was a great pleasure after so long.

The nights are becoming longer and Angie, our crepuscular white cat has taken to the croft and comes and goes freely from the caravans and the house. Despite his lack of natural camouflage he is the main man in this territory, stalking the foreshore. He is happy in a way that he has not been since we were living at Minish. Alice becomes very excited with his comings and goings rushing around between our legs, but she seldom, yet ventures outside.

December, Friday 18th, the U.K. has now been subjected to a second lockdown and over the Christmas weekend the country is held in various Tier categories. There will not be many family gatherings allowed this year.

December, Monday 21st we have heard that a person in Lochmaddy has COVID-19, this new strain is virulent.

To everyone who reads and follows our blog may we wish you a Happy Solstice – stay safe!

The CROFT

Weather:  The autumn weather has been good, with many sunny days, some without wind. Autumn can be a beautiful time of year here, with no midges and beautiful yellow gold sunsets.

Friday 25th and Saturday 26th September – we were eventually able to stage our Symposium entitled ‘Imagining an Island’. This was a collaborative online event, held at Taigh Chearsabhagh (TC), organised by Andy Mackinnon, Keith McIntyre, Rosie Blake, and ourselves. Considering the nature of such events, the proceedings went extremely well and this ambitious and rather intense two-day programme, which was supported by distinguished and acclaimed contributors, was excellent, and provided the kind of intellectual challenge and debate that we had hoped it would. Photographer Robin Gillanders (one of the contributors) and his wife Marjory and, even their cat Spike, could make this event in person. They have a camper van and were able to stay COVID-safe in this. We did all manage to congregate for drinks and snacks in the outdoors, which provided some consolation in this time of segregation. The proceedings of this event were recorded and will be available via the TC website. Hopefully we will build on the success of this event, to further reflect upon the ontology of island-ness. 

We are now Post-Symposium, post the In this Day and Age exhibition at TC and into the second wave of COVID-19 restrictions. The new world has begun…

Since the beginning of this year we have been in the process of buying a CROFT. Croft buying is a lengthy process, with several hurdles that need to be overcome, to qualify as an acceptable candidate. We have fortunately – after a lot of form filling and hiring of the appropriate croft solicitor – met with all the necessary criteria and are now proud owners of a wee dilapidated croft!

NOT OUR CROFT!

The new house with its smallholding, is in a beautiful setting – surrounded by water, both fresh and salt, and when standing in the garden, looking out to the sea loch, there is a real connection and immersion with the landscape, a feeling of living inside the environment as opposed to simply looking at it. The little house on the croft, is in a fairly run down condition, to be honest it needs a lot of TLC, but we are very excited and look forward to this new project – it is going to be quite the adventure!

Dwellings that have not been lived in quickly deteriorate in the Western Isles, due to the high salt content of the atmosphere together with the lively wind and water from the Atlantic Ocean.

Our recent COVID-19 isolation time has been taken up with clearing out rubbish, fiberglass insulation and knocking down ceilings and walls from our newly acquired Croft in Blashaval. Other people’s rubbish never ceases to amaze; there were box upon box of rubbish including framed mouldy pictures of Highland Glens (bad ones); Jim Reeves albums, there are collections of sewing encyclopaedias to faded Masonic regalia, from broken alarm clocks, two pussy – cat china souvenirs from Marbella. There was even a novelty salt cellar shaped like a corn-cob pipe. (This was quite tempting, but sadly it was chipped, and in and age of surface sensitivity, seemed unhygienic, despite the salt). Add to this a multitude of domestic ephemera e.g. the attic required clearing of old insulation material, crumbling building materials, corroded pipes, most of it filthy, all of it useless. It was a welcome relief when Keith and Fran joined us and started a bonfire, mostly burning the wood that they had previously cut from the dead trees near the house. All four of us, in our bubble, ended the day by sitting around the bonfire eating fish and chips, overlooking the loch – a perfect social distancing event.

Our refurbishment plans for the house have been inspired and imagined by the purchase of some wrongly measured architectural windows, from another build. We are fortunate to have got these windows, and are very excited about re-purposing them. A BIG thank you to Anna and Frank, who even helped have them delivered to our croft (via a crane). They will look amazing when assembled on our gable end. We just need to get the people power and equipment to fit them now.

At this point we just need to thank all our friends who have been helping us with The Croft project. Keith and Fran, Alan and Bernie, Anna and Frank, Effie and Andy – we love you! Bonfires and dinners forever.

BERNIE and ALAN WILSON

The weather this autumn has been a blessing, with some exceptional still days, with pearly grey clouds reflected in the waters of the loch. On one such day (with still much sustainable rubbish to burn) we had another social distancing picnic, bonfire – this time with Rosie and Raphael. The fire burned into the night, occasionally casting a light onto the foreshore, revealing some sheep trying to sneak past us – a humorous sight.

End of September to early November is Deer Rutting season. The rutting is most intense soon after dawn and dusk and usually begins vocally with bellowing roars. These loud guttural cries are strange and eerie and echo across the moorlands. A spectacular sound. We spotted a majestic stag with a herd of six hinds, strolling about with pride – obviously successful in his mating battle.

We have managed to fit some more portrait shoots in (although we have had one postponement due to COVID-19 restrictions). In This Day and Age is probably halfway through completion, the pandemic has caused some delay, but realistically 3 years for an in-depth project like this is not unreasonable.

Some sad news this week is that Photographer Chris Killip has died. He will be greatly missed, and one can only hope that his memory and his work will create the legacy that it deserves, and that he would have wished for.

The local cat bruiser, Pish Wish (a rather gorgeous marmalade cat), has been on the prowl and has caused Angelo (aka the white lion) to fall into a depression. Angelo sits on the sofa, no longer motivated to go on his ritual rat hunts. Alice (the alley cat), who is primarily a house cat, gets very excited by any kind of cat or bird activity, that she can view from the windows. She runs from one window to the other throughout the day, checking for possible sightings of these events. We feel sure that Angelo will enjoy living at The Croft, as will Alice, there are no neighbouring cats and there is a good rat population that needs to be culled.

27th October 2020, reported COVID-19 cases in Na h-Eileanan Siar (Inner Hebrides and Outer Hebrides) = 68 total

The Great Escape

JOHN

June 2020

I had been looking forward to visiting the Mainland on the first reasonable opportunity. The timing of the ferries is such that one is crossing around lunchtime. The bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and capers is a particular Calmac favourite of mine, but due to you-know-what, there was no catering available on the crossing. Very disappointing. The wearing of masks made the journey a rather hot and uncomfortable affair, everyone is on their guard and the journey seemed longer than usual.

That weekend was spent in Glasgow with my youngest son Sean. I wandered around the city, visiting all of the usual places gradually steaming up behind my newly acquired face mask. This was made of a black, synthetic substance, when I noticed my reflection in a shop window, it reminded me of motorcycling without a crash helmet (something I remember well at Art School). Cities without Art Galleries and Museums, cafes and swimming pools suddenly seem pointless and dull. My only cultural experience was to visit the large Waterstones where I could browse, looking for the books that I had earmarked to buy when given an opportunity to visit.  I realised that out of maybe 10 books, I could only find 5 and that if it were just the acquisition of books that I was looking for, I would be better-off shopping online… but thank you Waterstones.

After an excellent take-away curry from ‘Mother India’ Sean and I drove to Newcastle to meet various members of our family and to stay with friends. We linked up again to see my youngest daughter Laura in Newcastle, then eldest son Henry and Gemma together with my 2 grandchildren Toby and George in Hexham. We ate our fish and chips in the park whilst the little ones had a kick about (sometimes of each other) Great.

My friend Alan (Wilson) and I went to Eyemouth to check on my motorcycles that had been standing idle since the beginning of lockdown. We cleaned out their carburettors, charged the batteries, and added some fresh fuel before starting them up and generally seeing that they were in good fettle. It was good to be re-acquainted with them. It was also Alan’s birthday which we duly celebrated in traditional Tyneside fashion. After driving back to Glasgow. Sean and I went to the old national football stadium, a half-used space where the old terraces are covered in grass and wildflowers together with the usual discarded beer cans and Lambrini bottles..

We also visited the spectacular Whitelee Windfarm Country Park, which is south of Glasgow, and is apparently, the largest windfarm in Europe. We were accompanied by an engineer who informed us that the turbines were ‘squirrel cage inverters’ Interesting. The following morning found me on the long road North, Although leaving plenty of time for my journey, there was a serious accident on the way necessitating calling the air ambulance. The road was blocked both ways for nearly 2 hours. I only made the ferry because it was an hour late, thankfully so on this occasion. It was good to be back on the island.

ISLE D´ AMOUR

Weather: the summer has been patchy. There have been days that have been cold and wet, with sharp winds sweeping rain across the land and lochs, however when the sun does come out, it is a bit special.

The summer sunshine, is worth waiting for, creating Lochs, that sparkle light reflected diamonds, the crystal-clear water both mesmerises and entices. On these days, we try and go swimming, walking, picnicking and, of course photographing.

The characteristic moorlands and peat-bogs have, this year, become new places for us to explore. On these ramblings, we have had several sightings of Red Deer, circling Golden Eagles and Herons. The purple heather is now in full bloom and appears more glorious than last year. The heather is beautifully complimented by clumps of yellow ragwort and gorse. Ragwort is however poisonous to animals.

Island life continues, seemingly oblivious to the disasters happening elsewhere, but we are all connected and people here are not complacent.

The global human pandemic, has resulted in a general overall compliance with the new protocols. The ease with which these new social practises have been accepted and put in place are a tribute to the efficiency of various online networks, constant media announcements and our fear of exposure to this infectious disease – we now need to address our cyber security a little more carefully. The world (like in the novel WE by Russian (honorary Geordie) writer Yevgeny Zamyatin) is developing a transparent partition, separating Us from Them.

Friday May 29 2020 – since this day of Lockdown relaxation, the island has had an influx of visitors. The ferries are frequently filled to the max. The visitors appear, and even if you have been living here for a short period (like ourselves) you know who they are. There is the Motorhomer – rattling along the single-track roads, frequently confused by the protocols for passing other traffic; the Cycle Enthusiast, they are fabulous, displaying real determination as they pedal stoically into the oncoming winds and rain storms. The Cycle Enthusiast can be a tad touchy and ample distance should always be given to this person; the Car Crawler, a much appreciated (unless you are driving behind them and happen to be in a hurry) hesitant holidayer- they brake at every bend in the road (regardless of how tight it is), and will swerve dramatically into all the designated passing places (even when there is no oncoming traffic). The most revered visitor to the island however, is the Stopper Car – now they are something special. The Stopper Car will do just that, STOP! without warning, and often in the middle of the road – they have seen a bird, a beautiful sunset and sometimes for no apparent reason – sweet really.

N.B. We welcome visitors , and it is good to see the economic life of the island returning.

With the relaxation of lock down our exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Art Centre, This Day and Age (work in progress), is now open to the public. It has also been good to continue with our photographic project. We have managed to fit in and shoot some more portraits, we have also met with our steering group, for the forthcoming Symposium (Simon Hart, Andy MacKinnon, Keith MacIntyre and Rosie Blake) to discuss the final details of Imaging and Island (iAi) on 25 -26th September. We are very pleased with the progress of this event, which will be accessible as an online conference and promises to have a full range of both academics and artists/musicians to present papers. We are very excited by the distinguished line-up.

Our darling cats, Angie (AKA the White Lion) and Alice (the Ali cat), are finally acclimatising to their new, temporary, Lochmaddy home.

Friday 28 August 2020, reported COVID-19 infections on North Uist = 0

Virtual Symposium : Imagining an Island


Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Art centre

Date Friday 25th – Saturday 26th September 2020

Venue Galleries 1 and 2

Event Types: Arts, Environment, Film, Heritage, Visual Arts

A two-day Symposium, in collaboration with University of the Highlands & Islands, Centre for Rural Creativity and the Art School at UHI, North Uist, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, foregrounding Contemporary Landscape Practices in Photography and Film.

An island is a singular place, its boundaries are clearly defined. It is both a microcosm of the World and a philosophical idea. It is a place that invites departure and return and it is a place that engages our imagination whilst continually inspiring re-definition. How have artists responded to these concepts, and how can we further engage with, and develop our understanding of these ideas through Arts Practice?

Using a range of approaches with Contemporary Artists working in Photography and Film, this event will explore the inter-connectedness between people and places, and ask how this is changing and offering new perspectives, due to newly developed technologies and the availability of virtual communication. The Symposium will address our assumptions around identity, belonging, culture and citizenship along with questioning the development of new identities as a result of global diaspora.

Untitled©Kippin&Neate
Untitled©Kippin&Neate

We will be exploring Contemporary Rural Life, moving away from the prevalent idealised and nostalgic representations, questioning who is defining and shaping the culture and landscape today, and assessing how artists responses to these new practices sit within more conventional and historic frameworks.

Proposed CONTRIBUTORS to include (subject to confirmation)
Amund Bentsen and Benjamin Skop : Professor John Kippin and Nicola Neate : Rosie Blake : Robin Gillanders: Professor Keith McIntyre : Professor Ysanne Holt : Joshua Bonnetta : Andy Mackinnon : Maya Darrell-Hewins : Dr. Roxane Permar.

Exhibitions by John Kippin and Nicola Neate; Amund Bentsen and Benjamin Skop together with an open call photographic exhibition curated by Rosie Blake will be open during the Symposium. There will be film screenings curated by Andy Mackinnon included in the programme.

Some contributors will be presenting live from Taigh Chearsabhagh. Other contributors and audience will access remotely online. Registration details tbc.

Undulation©Skop&Bentsen
Undulation©Skop&Bentsen

Paradise Misplaced

Weather: There have been a couple of sunny days, but for the most part of it, the weather has been overcast, damp and decidedly wintery.

There have been some calm, still wet days, that the famous Scottish midges love. For these occasions we have been given (courtesy of Dr. Sean Kippin) and are field testing  Cubby’s Midge Salve, ‘made with love in Glasgow’ . It smells very nice and we live in hope.

When London and the rest of the UK was having a heat wave, we were wearing two jumpers and needed hats to go outside. The summer solstice on June 21st was cloud covered this year – which for novice skywatchers appears unremarkable. Still what ever the weather in Uist one can always say it is ‘BIG’!

As we move into the next phase of lock-down, small changes start to become noticeable, most recently it is the wearing of masks in the shops and in all unbubbled encounters – this  was implemented on the 10th July. The experience of the mask is unpleasant. Anyone who wears glasses, which we both do – firstly you need to smear soap on your lenses – this stops them from fogging up, although we have been further informed (by key workers) that this only works for short periods. All day mask wearers, with glasses, are going to be struggling. Breathing in a mask is also claustrophobic and meeting fellow ‘masketeers’ is an almost ridiculous encounter. The fact that this very surreal happening has descended upon the world, and such extreme measures are being put in place is scary, and also, at  times unbelievable. Being here, in Uist, it has been extra difficult to comprehend, as there have been no reported cases (yet), although we are all living under the constant impending fear that we will all be subjected to COVID-19 … soon.

 “We’re doomed!”

On a very much more somber note – we have been hearing from people and friends about peculiar illnesses and there have even been some unexpected and sudden deaths, which we are sad and devastated about. This really is a very frightening and hyper-realistic time, that as regular people, we could not have predicted and certainly can not imagined. What will the new normal be like?

Our stay at Minish has been spectacular and we feel blessed to have stayed in such a beautiful location. In the past few weeks, at Minish, a splendid short-eared owl, with a face like a wizard, visits regularly, gliding low, swooping circles, mapping the terrain for mice and rats. The cuckoo, which last year was loud and clear all summer long, has not been as vocal this year. Perhaps it has a new patch, or maybe the weather was not been quite right? The seals, are definitely fair-weather creatures, they only sunbathe on the rocks when the wind is warm and calm, and most luxuriously when it is sunny. This year the Herons have used the Minish flight path, to the sea loch, to collect food for their nesting chicks. Herons in flight are a joy to see, graceful strong wing movements, streamlined, from long beak to long feet. The surrounding sheep have also got to know and trust us, the lambs are now fat and independent…

As we drove away from Minish, to the house in Lochmaddy, a Golden Eagle soared  overhead, circling witnessing our departure. According to Pure Spirit Eagle Symbolism

“When an eagle appears, you are on notice to be courageous and stretch your limits. Do not accept the status quo, but rather reach higher and become more than you believe you are capable of. Look at things from a new, higher perspective. Be patient with the present; know that the future holds possibilities that you may not yet be able to see. You are about to take flight.”

We feel forever hopeful…

We have now moved into the Big City of Uist – Lochmaddy. It is a cute cottage, with lovely neighbours. There is a garden that ends at the moorland, which stretches out to the horizon, with some good looking fishing lochs. We have already spotted red deer stags at the end of the garden, so close that the velvet covering on their antlers was easily visible. The deer are not always revered here, they have a reputation of increasing the tic population and destroying gardens, but we love them, and sat watching them, whilst they also watched us looking at them, until they silently danced away, disappearing into the camouflage of the heather and bracken.

Our time here, so far, has in some ways been idyllic (even with COVID-19) and much of what we describe is the beauty of this place, but we are not naïve in our expectations and our decision to take up residence here has been very considered. Remote places can be challenging environments to interact with and the communities can, at times be inscrutable –  this period of lockdown has proven intensified and tested the best of us.

Andy MacKinnon, the curator at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts centre has done an exemplary job, embracing Virtual Reality software to develop and create online exhibitions and events.

The virtual opening of our exhibition ‘In this Day and Age’ (work in progress) was on 3rd of July and this was shown as part of an event that included The Living Wall, Uist Arts Association – Summer Open Exhibition, and Ecognosis by Benjamin Skop and Amund Bentsen

Our Exhibition will run, in a virtual and eventually, (hopefully) actually until 24th September and it will coincide with the Symposium and the Open call, projected and virtual Photographic exhibition. We are thinking, perhaps, a closing event might be permitted by this time?

This has been a very busy period for us, despite the fact that there have been no actual physical social events or distractions.

We have moved house, selected and hung our photographic images for the work in progress exhibition, we have taken part in a zoom conversation for NEPN and the zoom seminar for Shetland College UHI, Centre for Rural Creativity –  A3 Session – ‘Imagining An Island’. We have also been preparing for the forthcoming Symposium ‘Imagining and Island’ and are part of the selecting panel, along with Rosalind Blake for the open call exhibition, which is now confirmed to all take place in September

Meanwhile, there have been numerous and significant Black Lives Matter protests in other parts of the U.K. Statues have been tumbling and H.M.G. is busy confusing everyone about what they may or may not do, (even senior government advisors).. The football season has restarted. After a promising re-start, Newcastle United have been knocked out of the cup (surprise!) and the Scottish easing of lockdown is slowly unfolding. We are expecting to see summer visitors to the island with the ferries fully operating again around the 15th July or so. 

Our cats have had a wonderful time in the fields surrounding the Minish house. Angelo is the boss cat who comes and goes as he pleases. Alice, our young, slightly clumsy Siamese cat, was so excited one sunny morning, whilst chasing a fly in the bedroom, that she shot out of the roof window and fell 20 feet onto the ground below – Completely, unhurt and unflustered. Her beautifully bred characteristics make her a liability in the natural environment and we are concerned about her new love of the outdoors because of the risk that an Eagle might take her. We will ensure this does not happen to her!

We would sincerely like to thank all those individuals who have contributed to the work in progress, In This Day and Age. THANK YOU!

In This Day and Age

In this Day and Age is a photographic project about people who have moved to the Western Isles from other places, both from within and from outside of the U.K. This work was conceived as, and will later become a book publication. An island is a singular place, with clearly defined boundaries. It is both a microcosm of the World and a philosophical idea. It is a place that invites departure and return and it is a place that continually inspires re-definition.

We are interested in the interconnections between people and places, and how this is changing and offering new perspectives. We are here to listen, to and to incorporate the reflections and experiences of the people in this place, whatever they may be. Important questions for us are, Why have people made the islands their home; What are the relationships forged between people and places; Who belongs where?

By working and photographing new settlers rather than indigenous people, we are exploring some of the common assumptions around identity, belonging, culture and citizenship, along with investigating the development of new identities as a result of global diaspora.

We are focussing on present-day elements and characteristics that are developing in communities due to increased social mobility, and are interested in how (and if) this has liberated and benefitted this place. From our base in North Uist, we are also making images of the surrounding places and landscapes. These are contextual, and are intended to create a narrative which we hope has the potential to tell numerous stories.

Through our blog, social media presence and community involvement we are interested in creating a more participatory and socially engaged practice.

Kippin and Neate   2020

The exhibition will be a virtual one initially until the gallery, at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre, in North Uist, can re-open to the public once again.

Imagining an Island

To coincide with our ‘work in progress’ exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Art Gallery there will be a Symposium ‘Imagining an Island’, together with an opportunity for the wider public to become involved, through an open photographic exhibition.

For full details on the requirements for submissions please visit:
www.rosalindblake.com
or contact Rosie Blake: imagininganisland@gmail.com
Details of the wider project can be found at:
www.inthisdayandage.org

A Pie for Breakfast

Weather: Cold, misty and windy with some heavy rain.

After a beautiful April, the weather has deteriorated somewhat. There have been spells of hot sunshine in many parts of the UK that we can only dream of but the weather here has made it difficult to get out much. This has necessitated much inward activity, appropriate during lockdown, which persists at maximum strength on the islands. We have spent much of our time making a short video presentation for the North- East Photo Network (NEPN) searching through such video footage that we have made and constructing some kind of narrative about our project from it. There have also been lots of Zoom activities, one with Photography students from the Royal College of Art (RCA). another with the NEPN and the University of Sunderland, others have been with the students at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI).

There have also been those with family and friends, and it is difficult not to feel the dreaded Zoom fatigue as the situation continues unchanged. We also attended the first virtual gallery opening at Taigh Chearsabhagh where lots of folk sat in splendid isolation sipping their glasses of wine to excellent exhibitions never to be seen in the flesh (so to speak) by the human eye. The life drawing has continued although some models are viewed by such wide-angle lenses that their limbs appear to be suffering from some terrible wasting disease. Clearly the difference between the single point wide angle perspective of a basic lens and the apprehension of the human eye(s) and the brain are in need of some examination and thought with regard to online classes. We are told that in the future this brave new world will dominate our learning and cultural experiences so there is nothing there to worry about.

We have managed to get out a little, once to Balashare beach, a beautiful, windswept, west facing beach with white sand and turquoise sea. The winter storms have damaged much of the hard standing and the gravel road to the beach, and a lone operative was patiently piling stones in the holes that had been subsequently created. We were also able to retrieve out Trail camera which had been fixed onto a post close to a watering hole for deer. We have had mixed fortunes with this device although there have been a couple of good images there have also been lots of uneventful images and moving images. Due to the wind we have not yet repositioned it but intend to persevere with it once the weather changes.

The local Co-op seems to be managing lockdown distancing rules better as people get used to the space restrictions. There is, of course, the usual dysfunctional ballet when shoppers pirouette around one another, occasionally holding their breath and rushing past each other when in a rush, or they have become pinioned into a corner when they hesitate and realise that they need to go back because they have forgotten something, or approaching a check out with a single item behind another shopper with a trolley full of shopping. Such anxiety as this is an everyday occurrence as we approach the Perspex shielded tills slotting our plastic money through the gaps in biological shielding. Any serious shortages appear to have rescinded, and we now have plenty of flour and toilet paper (so are able to make papier mache items to keep ourselves amused).

We, like many others, have been busy baking and have been making Sourdough focaccia, lemon polenta cake, and brownies. These have been sent out as food parcels to places as far away as Glasgow and London, thus ensuring that the pleasurable aspects of life in lockdown experiences can be shared. We have also been nettle picking and the peat-land nettle pesto experience is not to be underestimated. The other development regarding food consumption is that we have taken to the occasional indulgence of Mrs Tilley’s sea salt fudge which is spectacular, recommended, and not for the faint hearted, oh – and we have learned that there is such a thing as a breakfast pie..

We are now 65 days into lockdown, COVID-19 has well and truly set in, of which we are constantly reminded, on every news and media channel. An apocalyptic unfolding of events envelopes the weeks, which seem to drift into each other. The recent weather on the Island, of persistent and engulfing mists, supported by a humid thick air makes it feel like we have been held hostage inside a cloud. The days are not all like this but the the cloud covering has created an hypnotic atmosphere, we imagine that this must be what it feels like to be stranded on an Island…

We have had several sightings of Herons over the sea loch – they are nesting in a near by forest plantation. A beautiful short eared owl has also taken up residence around the croft, and can be seen, particularly at crepuscular times, gliding and swooping across the boggy moorland. The lambs are bigger and fatter and are no longer threatened by the sea eagles.

The glorious flowers of the machair have started to appear: bog cotton, sea thrift daisies and many more that we are yet to learn the names of.

Why the Machair is special

We try to maintain some semblance of a routine, regular yoga, walks and a strict control on our alcohol consumption, which could easily have become excessive, and for some (looking at the emerging statistics) has. We, like everyone else, look forward to being able to meet and greet people/friends, without being chaperoned by Zoom, Skype (or any of the other platforms), that seem to have miraculously appeared, in order to minister to our needs during lockdown.

Our cats, Alice and Ange, continue to exist, confident that this is their undeniable right and that it is our duty to feed them. They are always alert and aware of each other – prepared and ready to defend their absurd territories – usually their own special basket or cat litter domains.