Interconnectors through the Ages

24 08 2014

There has been great rejoicing on the island of late relating to the news that the high speed fibre super optic Broadbayband ‘broader than broadband’ cable is in the process of being laid.
 
A large crowd gathered at the Braighe recently to watch the cable-laying ship Rene De’cearc start reeling out cable to the Mainland. There was much cheering as the cable was plugged in from the crowd of spectators who had gathered, no doubt eager to upload a clip of wee Shonnie singing at the local Mod to EweChube. However, this was swiftly followed by much booing as it was revealed that the high speed broadband wouldn’t actually be in operation for quite some time and that Auntie Seonag in Paisley would have to wait until 2016 to see Shonnie blasting out a verse of Calum Sgaire.

Some of the locals in that crowd would be aware that there was a touching piece of historical symmetry taking place, as that very part of the Braighe was where the old Telegraph Cable used to come ashore. There had been similar scenes of rejoicing when the first telegram arrived at the Braighe in 1872 and the islanders caught up with world events (such as hearing that the Jacobites had lost at Culloden and that America was no longer a British Colony)

But the telegraph was not the first time technology had been used to connect the Isle of Lewis to the mainland.

The first recorded attempt at connecting with the Mainland took place in the Neolithic Period when a group of cavemen, stranded on the Isle of Lewis following a sudden Ice Age and the subsequent rise in sea level, tried to wave to their companions who had made it safely back to the Mainland. Or at least this is what the Stone Age cave drawings found in Mac an t’ Shronaich’s Cave are thought to depict, or it might just have been some of the graffiti produced by the Manor Gang with some spray paint they nicked from Woolies.
 
The Outer Hebrides prospered during the Stone Age, due to the islands’ plentiful supply of olacs and the world’s seemingly inexhaustible demand for them. But the advent of the Bronze Age in 2900BC was accompanied by a steep slump in the global rock price, and the islands’ economy nosedived. To attract inward investment, the HIDB (Highlands and Islands Druid Board) decided to invest in the hi-tech communications infrastructure of the day by constructing a high-capacity multi-channel ley line from Stonehenge to the Callanish Stones. The high-speed connector and big tax breaks on offer soon attracted a number of multinational druid firms. Within months they’d set up a large scale human sacrificing plant where the Callanish visitor centre stands today, a curse factory at Breasclete, and a mistletoe packing facility near Garynahine (despite the fact that there was fleek all mistletoe on the island). Naturally all 3 schemes went bust within a year, the foreign druids fleeked off without paying back their HIDB grants and the Callanish Stones fell into disrepair for the next 4000 years or so.

Next, during the brief Roman occupation of Stornoway (see previous MUHOS entries), plans had been put in place to build a connection to Ullapooldinium to transport the high quality spa waters of Loch Mor a’ Stairr to the posh villas of Invernessium. Roman engineers came up with the idea of building a subaquaduct under the Minch over which the pure fresh Lewisian waters would flow gently towards civilisation.

A conventional aqueduct was built from Loch Mor a’ Stairr which carried the waters down to the Briagh. A huge holding pond was dug out in the middle of the Braighe where the spa waters were to be stored prior to making their journey across the Minch. This holding pond is still in existence but of course goes by the name of Loch Branahuie nowadays. To this day, the crystal clear waters of Loch Branahuie are testament to how pure the local Lewisian waters were.
 
A Roman galley called the Renus Decartus was commissioned to lay the stonework of the subaquaduct. It was loaded up with huge ollacs from the Marybankus Quarry and set sail for Caledonia. Ever few feet, a slave was chucked over the side clutching the ollac, with instructions on where to place the stone. After five years (and several thousand slaves) the subaquaduct was ready. A grand opening ceremony took place on the west side of the Minch featuring the finest of Roman Britain’s nobility. The personal representative of Emperor Calumigula declared the scheme complete and opened the sluice gates. Several hundred gallons of Lewis water flowed out of Loch Branahuie and disappeared down the subaquaduct and into the Minch.

The obvious flaw in the plan was only discovered when the spa waters flowing out at the Ullapoolindium end were found to have a distinctive salty taste.

The next attempt at connecting the islands took place in 550AD and was instigated by St Columba and his monks. Shortly after arriving on Iona and establishing his religious community there, St Columba decided that he needed to spread his message to the rest of the Inner Hebrides and in particular the barbaric and heathen Outer Hebrides. 

He tried sending out monks in wee coracles, but they were all beaten up by rogue Vikings. Instead, St Columba came up with the idea of Cuireamlink. The plan was to build a network of wee chapels on each and every island throughout the Inner and Outer Hebrides. Each island would have its own monk on duty in the chapel. On Sundays, St Columba would stand in the pulpit in Iona and would blast out his sermon.  A monk standing on the beach at Iona would then shout each line of the sermon to another monk on a neighbouring islet.

That monk would in turn shout across to the next island and on to the next eager monk. In this way the Gospel was sent up through the Hebrides until it eventually reached Stornoway. Unfortunately the Sunday sermon didn’t reach Stornoway until the Monday, a fine tradition still kept to this day with the Sunday papers not reaching until Monday. 

After a few weeks of sending the sermon up through the islands, the various Monks began to predict St Columbas sermons and were able to shout the next part of his message across the sea before it had actually reached their wee island. This technique was known as ‘Pre-Sending’ and eventually evolved into present day precenting. 

Next, in the tempestuous years of the early 17th Century, the Fife Adventurers attempted to dispossess the Macleods of Lewis, colonise the island and seize control of its lucrative fisheries. Niall Odhar Macleod and his clansmen retaliated by sinking the ships transporting the colonists’ catches back to the East Coast markets, and flogging their cargoes to the Dutch.  The Fifers decided that the only answer was to “conftruct ane muckle braw pypelyne aneath ye Mynche fur fafe conveyance o’ wur Herrynges awa frae the Teuchters”. The “pypelyne” ran out of their permanently besieged stockade near Zebo’s, past Chicken Head, turned left up the Minch, right at Cape Wrath, right again at Wick and down the East coast to Methil. Once ashore, it continued overland to a massive fish processing plant constructed near Dumfermline, roughly where thon big Amazon warehouse off the M90 is today.  Sgadan were gutted and salted in Stornoway and pumped down the Herrynge Pypelyne. Customers would send their orders by pigeon to Dunfermline where they’d be packed and dispatched by high speed oxcart,with a guaranteed standard delivery time of no more than 24 months, to any destination in the land (Highlands and Islands excepted).  The Fifers’ scheme ran successfully for a year or two until King James VI realised the bleigeards weren’t paying him any tax, and cancelled their royal charter. 

In  1874, local inventor Alexander Graham (from Dell) thought it would be handy to invent some way of communicating with his cousin Alexander Graham Bell. Dell envisioned a device where upon a person could talk in one end, and then through a cunning array of wires, make oneself heard to another person with a similar talking device some distance away. Dell was perhaps somewhat lacking in the scientific skills of his cousin, as was borne out by the failure of his device. Dell had tired out his device over short distances with some success, but felt that he should try it out over the more impressive distance covering the Minch. However, the main flaw seemed to be that the string between the two tin cans got wet, thus rendering Dells instructions to his Ullapool based assistant totally inaudible.

In the 1930’s a few enterprising entrepreneurs tried to establish an electricity connection between the island and the west coast of Scotland. The plan was basically to run an electric cable across the Minch and plug it in to a socket in a house near the coast. The plan would also be more economically feasible if they could find an empty summer house where the owners wouldn’t notice their electricity bills being slightly higher then usual. The shareholders also managed to get a bargain deal on 50,000 Woolies extension leads. A fishing boat was chartered to take the leads over the Minch and once all the cables were connected up, the plug at the mainland end was attached to the wall socket of the house and the switch was pressed. The poor cove who turned on the electric switch was thrown across the living room and out the window, shouting ‘Fleek sakes!’ as he flew past his bemused colleagues. It is now widely accepted that this is where the phrase ‘A flick of the switch’ first originated.

As well as giving the poor cove a good deal of burns, the electrical discharge into the Minch killed most of the fish in the vicinity. The dead fish floating to the surface did help regenerate the Stornoway fishing industry for decades after, as the hundreds of thousands of herring electrocuted in the disaster were able to be shipped off around the world as fried herring





Uisdean, we have a problem. The Stornoway Space Race.

26 07 2014

Stornoway’s selection as one of 8 possible locations for a Spaceport will have caused old SYs to chuckle to themselves recently, for it’s not as if the space race is a new phenomenon in these parts. Older readers will remember well the heady days of the 50s, 60s and 70s when the different parts of the Western Isles expended vast amounts of money and peats in the race to conquer the great beyond. But the Outer Hebridean quest to explore the even outer-er reaches of the cosmos goes back much further than that. It’s also widely acknowledged that Outer Space was named after the Outer Hebrides.

Even in ancient Pictish times, feusagach weirdo druidy types regularly made use of rockets for ceremonial purposes and the celebration of special occasions such as the summer solstice and the Barvas communions. Remnants of their circular stone launchpads remain to this day and prove a popular draw for equally feusagach weirdo druidy types.
 
The possibility of using similar means to actually send man into space was explored by the French writer Jules Verne in his 1865 novel “De la Tern á la Lune” (From a Tern to the Moon). Written while boarding in the Haldane Hostel during his time studying at the Nicolson Institute and inspired by the local bird-life, the novel’s protagonists were fired to the moon via an enormous gun strapped to the back of a freakishly oversized Arctic Tern flying at high altitude to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. His French publishers refused to let the book see the light of day until he removed the bit about the Arctic Tern and retitled the story. Still, his years at the Nicolson were productive as it was during this time he wrote another Science Fiction novel about cloning one of his teachers in an underwater laboratory: “20 Dina Leagues Under the Sea”.
 
It was in the post-war years that the Space Race truly took hold. In 1945 the victorious allied powers were scrambling over each other to grab Nazi rocket scientists for their nascent space programmes. Stornoway Town Council were no exception, although given their meagre resources they were unable to capture any of the big names. After the Russians and Americans had taken their pick, Stornoway could only get Bhehrner Bhon Branahuie, an enthusiastic Gaelic scholar who had banned the use of the letter “V” while heading up Germany’s unsuccessful Bh2 programme in the dying days of the Third Reich. 
 
The fleekeen Uibhisteachs got a head start with their rocket range in Benbecula, but due to their exposure to prevailing westerly winds and proximity to the Dark Island Public Bar, they could only get their rockets to go sideways.
 
Meanwhile, the Rubhachs were desperately trying to beat the townies into space. Unable to procure liquid hydrogen for rocket fuel they improvised with methane derivatives from runny slurry and launched Spoot-nik in 1957. Later that same year, in order to reinstate their cosmological dominance, they launched a second Spoot-nik. However, this time, the chief engineer’s collie Dìleas had snuck inside the satellite prior to launch and inadvertantly became the first living creature to orbit the earth, much to the Rubhachs’ delight.
 
The Rubhach domination of the Space Race came to a head in 1961 when Yuri Gagarrabost became the first Leòdhasach in space aboard Portvoller 1. The Townies weren’t going to take this lying down, though, and in 1963 the Leader of Stornoway Town Council, John F. Kennedy (whose path to office was cleared when his brother Calum won the Mod Gold Medal in 1955) promised that a Townie-led Space Mission would put a man on the moon by 1970. His claim became a stunning reality when Apoileagan 11 was fired from the launchpad at New Street, Back, in 1969.
 
Hundreds of islanders huddled around their television sets with bated breath as they watched the events unfold live on BBC Alba. Two crew members climbed out of the Command Service Module, the Calumthelady, and entered the landing module, which broke off from the larger craft like a Presbyterian schism, and soon afterwards settled on the lunar surface.
 
The lunar module had been nicknamed in such a way as to rub the Rubhachs’ noses in the fact that the Townies had got to the moon first, so imagine the delight at mission control when they heard the words, “The Eagleton has landed!”
 
The first man to have the honour of setting foot on the moon was Commander Neil Arm-Strond (whose parents came from Leverburgh), although his crew-mate Buzz Aldredsroad had a better claim to Towniehood having been born under a tree out the back of the Castle Grounds.
 
Despite all the jubilation, space travel came at a cost. Many tragedies occurred along the way, and some were narrowly avoided, such as the ill-fated Apoileagan 13 mission, when a bottle of 4-Crown (which had been brought on board to celebrate the mission’s success) exploded half way to the moon, prompting the Commander to radio back to base, “Uisdean, we have a problem”. Incredibly, the crew managed to improvise a repair to their craft using only fuidheags, old copies of the Scottish Farmer and 5 feet of rusty rylock fence wire.

To this day, some conspiracy theorists refuse to believe that Stornoway really landed a man on the moon, claiming that the grainy footage seen on BBC Alba was all faked up at a secret site on the East side of Harris and pointing out the similarity of the Lunar and Hearach landscapes. However, the majority of experts dismiss the theory, pointing out quite rightly that in 1969 it would have been a lot harder to mount an expedition to Harris than it would have been to reach the moon.

Although the Townies and Rubhachs dominated the space race, other parts of the islands tried to get in on the act. The West Side in particular was keen to get some glory, going so far as to hold a competition to pick who would be their first astronaut. The competition was won in 1989 by Tolsta Chaolais resident and former employee of the Shawbost Mill, Helen Siarman. Siarman’s first mission was conducting experiments on Gaelic Radio presenters aboard the MIRERIMÒR space station.
 
Barra fish-factory billionaire and part-time Catholic Priest Richard Brahanseer announced in 2004 that he was intending to enter the private space-travel market. Brahanseer was convinced that Barra was the most suitable of all the islands for a space base because it was so near to the equator, and because the local clergy would have no objections to Sunday launching. He went so far as to build a base on the Tangasdale machair in 2006 and began test flights with a heavily modified Twin-Otter. Sadly, the venture was doomed to failure when the grazings committee evicted him for causing too much erosion, and Virginmary Galactic went out of business.
 
Only time will tell if the Outer Hebrides will ever revisit its glory days of travelling into the vast, empty unknown and to go where no man has gone before, but signs are encouraging, especially after former Comhairle leader George W Bùthsheumais in 2004 gave his blessing to resuming manned missions to the moon and eventually, Maaruig.





Will Ewe Still Love Mehhh To Borgh? Songwriter Chearaidh Coffin Dies aged 75

22 06 2014

Admirers of classic songwriting craftsmanship were saddened today by the death of one of AGOFR’s legendary lyricists at his Loch Angeles mansion.

John Murdo Macleod was born in Brue in 1939. On leaving school in the mid-50s he took up employment as a hearse driver with local undertakers Al Cr*e & Sons. While working, however, he tended to be thinking up songs in his head rather than concentrating on the job. He would often forget to apply the handbrake on his vehicle at funerals, and the hearse would invariably roll off downhill with the casket of the deceased aboard.

Macleod was famously coma co dhiu about this; instead of joining the rest of the mourners in hot pursuit he would just stand there and wave as the hearse disappeared into the distance, bidding goodbye to the vehicle and its contents in bad Gaelic. Thus it was that John Murdo Macleod eventually became known to one and all as “Chearaidh, Coffin”.

Inevitably Coffin was sacked from his hearse driving job and decided to become a professional songwriter instead. Like countless others before him he bought a one-way ticket for the Point bus and headed for Tiumpan Alley, a low-rent neighbourhood on the far side of Portvoller where unscrupulous music publishers employed scores of low-paid hacks to turn out ten-a-penny show tunes for the nearby theatres of Broadbay.

Coffin’s first writing job was in the Mill Building, a derelict textile plant owned by two failed Harris Tweed barons with the cuiream, who had diversified into music publishing. Domhnall a’ Cheistear and Alasdair Naomh planned to get rich again by staging an extravagant Broadbay musical based on the Free Presbyterian breakaway from the Free Church in 1893, and Coffin was instructed to write all the songs for it. With its irresistibly catchy hookline, the big closing number “We’re Off, So Fleek Youse, Ya Free Church Backsliders With Your 1889 Declaratory Act Relaxing The Stringency of Subscription To The Westminster Confession Of Faith” had all the makings of a hit, but the show closed after the first night when nobody turned up. A’ Cheistear and Naomh had forgotten that the target audience for their extravaganza were unlikely to buy tickets, given that they disapproved of all music except unaccompanied psalm singing and considered all theatres to be the embassies of Satan on Earth.

Undaunted by this false start, Coffin continued at the Mill Building, inspired by the pool of writers, artists and producers that it attracted. On a daily basis Coffin would end up having a slice of duff with Mill Spector, or crashing woodbines off Leverburgh & Stoller. He’d often meet Connie Francisstreet & Dionne Warmemorial on the bus at dinner time sneaking up town for a livener in the Macs. Other days he’d skive off to the fank to help Niall Diainmond and Sonny Reeves Bono with their drenching, or give Harris Fyre and Bobby Darn a hand with their dodgy salmon net down at the rocks.

But the major turning point in Coffin’s life came in 1959 when he met Uigeach musical prodigy Carole Keanncropaig. Keanncropaig’s tunes and Coffin’s lyrics soon proved to be a winning combination. Their first big success came with “Will Ewe Still Love Mehhhh To Borgh” by West Side cailleach group The Siarelles.

After that, there was no stopping them. In the years that followed, Coffin & Keanncropaig penned a string of hits including: …..

“Don’t Ever Change (Your Boiler Suit)” by the Fleekits (Bodach Holy’s old band).

“Keep Your Lambs Off My Grazing” by Little Einacleit

“The Lo-Cromore-tion” also by Little Einacleit, and later covered by Kylie Scalpay

“It Might As Well Rain From January To December ( Inclusive )” by Bobby No Vee And No J,K,Q,W,X,Y or Z Neither.

“Unpleasant Newvalley Sunday” b/w “Pleasant Valtos Sabbath” by the Mankees

“You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Cuiream(ach)” by A’Thighearna Fanklin

and many others.

As the 60s went on, Coffin’s experiments with Lysergic Flukanide and other hallucinogenic drugs led to increasingly erratic behaviour and the breakdown in 1968 of his marriage to Keanncropaig.

Despite his problems, Coffin continued to write and deliver hits through the 70s and 80s including:

“Theme From Na h-Oganich ( Dotaman, Noel, Where Youse Going To ? )” by Diana Rossandcromartycountycouncil.

“I’ll Meet You (at the) Halfway (House)” by the Ceardbridge(cottages) Family

“Tonight I Celebrate My Airidhbhruach” by Roberta Fluke and Zebo Braighe-son

“Saving All My Marag Dubh” by Whitney Husinish

Coffin continued to write, produce and encourage talent in the music industry for the rest of his life.

“I been in this business a long time, cove” he said in a recent interview with Rolling Steinish magazine. “Hell, when I started in Tiumpan Alley it was all about selling sheet music. Yeah, we sold a lotta sheet back then. And I sold a bigger pile of sheet than everybody else”.





Tony Bennadrove – an Appreciation

16 03 2014

As if the sudden demise of Uigunderground train drivers’ leader BobCrowlista wasn’t bad enough, committed socialists in SY (or at least in Garrabost) are today mourning one of the giants of Lewis’s 20th Century Labour movement.

Born in 1925 into a wealthy Marybank family whose fortune had been made in the Barvas-ware craggan industry, Angustony Wedgewood Bennadrove’searly years were characterised by wealth and privilege. Due to his old man being on Stornoway Town Council and his mother being a noted hardline cuireamach suffrachette, Bennadrove encountered radical thinking and challenging debate very early in his life. As a child he met many of the leading world politicians of the pre-war years, including Rams A. Macdonald (the first sheep to become Prime Minister of Branahuie), and Mahatma Garyvard, (the leading figure in the movement for independence for South Lochs).

Bennadrove’s early life followed the expected trajectory of the upper classes – exclusive private education at the elite Westsideminister boarding school in Ballanthrusal, followed by a degree in philosophy, politics and earmark recognition from Horgabost University. But it was the early exposure to politics in his home life, combined with the shock of encountering the lower orders when serving as an officer in the RAF (Rubach Air Force) at the end of WWII, that drove him to seek office.

Bennadrove was initially elected to Stornoway Town Council in 1950, but in 1960 he found himself no longer eligible to sit when he inherited his father’s nickname. His old man had held a vital part time job at Stornoway airport, stopping people from coming in at the wrong entrance and crossing the runway when arriving for their BEA flights to Glasgow. As a consequence, he had acquired the title of “Viscount Steinishgate”. On inheriting his father’s nickname, Bennadrove was legally obliged to leave the Council, get the cuiream and take a seat in the House of The Lord on Kenneth Street. Bennadrove fought for several years to get the law changed before being permitted to renounce his title and return to the Council as plain “Tony Bennadrove” in 1963.

In 1964 Bennadrove joined the government of Hearach Woolson, a charismatic leader famous for his trademark pipe and Gannet raincoat. Serving first as Stornoway’s Postmaster General, Bennadrobh was responsible for the construction of the Post Office Telephone Exchange on Keith St, then Stornoway’s highest building. (Unfortunately, due to the building having been constructed on the site of an old manure depository it became known as The Post Office Todhar). As Post Master General Bennadrobh also campaigned fiercely against the pirate radio stations of the 60s such as Radio Calumina, which sat offshore in Broad Bay transmitting the latest Calum Kennedy, Alasdair Gilles and Tommy Darkie hits to the groovy kids of swinging Stornoway – even on Sundays.

In the late 1960’s Bennadrove became the townie Councilor for Technology and presided over a number of innovative technological advances including a new really powerful Rayburn stove which gave rise to the phrase ‘the White Peat of Technology’. Bennadrove also gave the green light for the development of the first bus to permit passengers to take food on board, the Chicken-Suppersonic Mitchell’s Bus commonly known as ComhannCord.

Bennadrove continued to serve in public life throughout the 70’s (in both Woolson’s and Seamus Calanbow’s administrations) and into the 80’s when he increasingly became seen as a more  radical left wing politician, even more lefty than most Rubhachs. This gave rise to the phrase ‘a Bennadrovite’.

In the later days of his political career, Bennadrove became something of a thorn in the side of the increasingly right wing Labour and Co-op Drapery Party. Bennadrove became a figurehead for workers rights during the 1980’s Peatcutters Strike and often shared a platform with Peatcutters Union leader Amadan Sgarbh.

Bennadrove strongly opposed the construction of Stornoway’s No. 3 Pier as he felt this would have an adverse effect on the town by attracting even more Herring Gulls. He campaigned to stop the Gull Wharf and was the Chair of Stop The Wharf, and remained sceptical about the existence of Weapons of Maws Destruction.

Bennadrove was also a prolific herder of milk cows and was well known for his many Dairies.

Bennadrove is survived by his son Ivorhillary Bennadrove who served in Tony Blarbuidhe’s Cabinet. 





The Laxdale (Bridge) Saga

21 02 2014

For those of you who don’t know, the Laxdale Bridge is a narrow bottleneck, just to the north of Stornoway. It’s the main route to get those who live in the northernmost parts of Lewis home after a hards days work in the town. It’s an old bridge and a Listed one so it can’t be dynamited in the name of progress. The on-going saga of replacing, sorting out or just ignoring the Laxdale Bridge has filled many columns in the Gazette over the decades.

It would appear that this is a recent problem that has only come to prominence since it was found that two buses won’t fit on the Bridge at the same time. But it’s a saga stretching back many centuries and one that has been raised in story and song through the aeons.

In the Neolithic era, the Laxdale Bridge crossing was an important node on the trade routes between Stornoway (or Stornowaaaaaaargh! as it was known in Caveman) and the rest of the island. Even back then it affected the flow of commerce, not least in relation to an ancient delicacy.

The last surviving colony of woolly mammoth was found on Sulasgeir. Salted Mammoth was a great delicacy with the Neolithic Niseachs. Each year the Niseachs would row out to the island in their dugout canoes and catch 2000 mammoth (a quota carefully monitored by Friends of the Rock and Greenpieces of Ollac) . The hardy proto-Nessmen bravely scrambled up and down the rocks of Sulasgeir to catch the Woolly Mammoth in their nests. Once caught, they would skin and salt the animals and after a fortnight return to Ness with their haul.

From Ness, the salted mammoth would be transported southwards to the markets of Stornowaaaaaaaargh! However, the Laxdale crossing in these days consisted only of a number of stepping stones, which permitted just a single file crossing. Many mammoths were lost to the river as the Nessmen heading south collided with Neolithic townies heading north with sacks full of Harris Screed. Angry letters were carved on stone, but to no avail.

Even during the brief Roman occupation of Lewis the Bridge caused all sorts of traffic chaos. Despite an elaborate stone archway spanning the river, the growth in demand for Classical Niseach delicacies such as guga tounges in aspic and Chariot Wheels (the mythical giant biscuits of Habostinium, fired in the ovens of Pistrino Roigeanii) led to huge tailbacks to get over the narrow bridge.

In the Viking age, the Laxdale Bridge consisted of a wooden crossing, constructed from leftover masts and longships. The Vikings used the crossing to take their farmed salmon from the fish cages on the lochs of the Barvas Moor to the waiting longships in Stornoway Harbour.

As was the custom in Viking times, a resident Laxdale troll called Bjoki lurked under the bridge with the express task of terrifying anyone who attempted to cross it. Bjoki was extremely diligent and insisted that no traveller should pass without being subjected to his blood-curdling warcry of “Bjalach nokk” and paying a toll in the form of “Vootbeins”, “Hen Sjuppurs” and “4 Krone” (a beverage beloved of trolls but lethal to humans). This led to immensely long queues on the approaches to the bridge at peak times, especially on Friday afternoons when the hordes of office Vikings from the local authority, Thing Nan Eilean, all fleeked off home early at the same time.

All this carry-on inspired local bard Snooli Stjornovagrsson to write “Laxdaela Saga”, an extremely long and boring epic about the bridge, its history and the generations of characters who had to wait to cross it. Fortunately Stjornovagrsson’s tome is lost to history, having been pulped after a copyright dispute with some Icelander who had already written a better known saga with a similar name.

The Laxdale (Bridge) Saga

Laxdale Bridge
Full of heritage
Is very very narrow
You’d struggle to cross in line abreast
Unless you were pushing a barrow

But the problems old
Or so we’re told
It’s perplexed many a scholar,
Architect and engineer
And even those with a dog-collar

Coves and blones
placed stepping stones
In Neolithic years
Not wide enough for two to pass
When hunting mammoth with their spears

Druids in fog
used wooden logs
In the days of Celtic tribes
But for shortage of tree
It was onlyhalfaswideasitwassupposedto be
According to the scribes

A Legionaire
used stone dressed square
Back In the Roman age
Barely wide enough for one chariot
Led to the creation of road rage

And surplus masts,
with rope well lashed
Were used in Viking time
The narrow bottleneck to cross
Reinforced the paradigm

The greatest minds
Through the mists of time
Had everything to consider
But they missed perhaps the easiest thing
Just fill in the fleekin’ river.





Lost Underwater Cities of Lewis

7 01 2014

The high tides and flooding in downtown Stornoway this New Year will bring back happy memories for those old SYs who can remember some of the island’s other Lost Underwater Cities. A mere 10000 years ago, the vast city of Backlantis stretched from Tiumpan Head to Vatisker Point and from Stenish to Garrabost, filling an island that covered most of what is now Broad Bay with gold-domed temples, vast amphitheatres, majestic pyramids and good corrugated iron sheds. The Backlanteans were adherents of the powerful sea god Posiedon-nie, (famed for his three pronged tairsgear) who blessed them with great prosperity and learning.

Consequently they lorded it over both the populace of neighbouring Stornoway and the primitive barbarian tribes of the surrounding countryside, extracting vast annual tributes of gold, jewels, precious spices, sgadan, peats and duff.

As with all great empires, however, the Backlanteans’ easy lifestyle led them into decadence and in-fighting. The elders in the Temple of Posiedonnie at the heart of the city fell out over the best way to gut a sgadan in order to read its entrails and split into numerous factions – the Temple of Posiedonnie (Continuing), the Associated Posiedonnie Church, the Free Posiedontyrians and so on.

Meanwhile Caledonian Backbrayne, the city’s ferry operator, decided to start Sunday sailings to the ‘mainland’ of Lewis, despite objections from the Emperor and the Backlantis Pier and Harbour Commission, and dire predictions of doom from various local oracles and wise women.

Needless to say Posiedonnie himself got completely fleeked off with all this – especially the Sunday sailings – and pulled the big plug that he’d installed in case of such an eventuality. The city filled with water and sank to the bottom of Broad Bay in a night, enabling but a few bedraggled survivors to reach the Eastern shore and establish the village now known as Back.

Sadly with Global Warming and all that, Back itself might soon suffer a similar fate, and today’s descendants of the Backlanteans may soon find themselves having to move to the top of Muirneag.

Not so the citizens of Achmore. Their ancestors in the ancient city of Achlantis (located at the mouth of today’s Loch Erisort) managed to get on the wrong side of Posiedonnie as well – something to do with nicking the High Priest’s turnips, according to the ancient Egyptian scrolls – and Achlantis, like Backlantis, was quickly submerged beneath the waters.

The surviving Achlanteans decided to avoid such punishments in future by moving as far away from the sea as possible, which is why Achmore is where it is today.

Older readers may also remember the short lived late 1970’s BBC Alba tv series, The Man From Achlantis. This stared Patrick Duff, later to star in Dellas, as a water-breathing resident of the sunken city who got up to all sorts of aquatic scrapes. The series was filmed entirely in Stornoway Swimming Pool (on a Thursday night just before the Canoe Club session).





Watch With Màthair (Part 1):Sanderwick Green.

7 11 2013

Plenty in the news just now about the new children’s programme ‘Katy Morag’, recently filmed on the Isle of Lewis. But it’s not the first popular and iconic children’s show to have been produced on the island. Readers of a certain vintage will no doubt fondly remember the children’s programme Camberwick Green, and its spin offs Trumpton and Chigley.

Created in the mid 1960’s by Gordon Murray and narrated by Brian Cant, the programme entertained generations of children with its catchy songs, clever animation and hard hitting story lines about crime, drugs and teenage pregnancy (oh, hang on, that was Grange Hill).

However, many people will be unaware that the series was originally shown on BBC Alba in the 1960’s. It was only after the success of the show in the Gaidhealtachd that the BBC commissioned it for wider broadcast. The original BBC Alba show portrayed everyday life in the village of Sanderwick Green, through the medium of puppets filmed in stop-motion. Sanderwick Green was losely based on the gentile rustic charms of Sandwick, a village near Stornoway.

The BBC Alba show was narrated by Brian Fank, who replaced Brian Ceard, who had replaced Brian Wont. Brain Fank also sang all of the songs.

Each programme would start with a shot of an upturned fishbox on the Stornoway pier. As the music played, the featured character of that particular episode would rise up, spinning out of the fishbox to a voice-over of;

‘Here is a fishbox, a musical fishbox, wound up and ready to play. But this box can hide a bleigard inside. Can you guess who’s in it today?’

The characters of Sandwick Green included;

Windy Miller- an eco-warrior who lived in a windturbine
Dr Mawp -the village Doctor who drove about in a vintage tractor
Roger Barley- the chimney sweep/butcher
Mrs Bun-yman- the FP village gossip
Mr Carloway -the paranoid Fishmonger who sold his wares from inside an ancient stone fortress
Willie Johnathan Bell-owner of a ‘modren mechanical farm’ just outside the town, who had a barn full of shiny IDP machinery but drove around on a rusty old traction engine. PC MacGarry-Beach- the village Bobby constantly on the search for sheep rustlers and underage drinkers.

Each character had their own wee song, such as PC McGarrybeach’s

‘Here comes the policeman, the big friendly policeman
Pc MacGarry-Beach number 452
Under-agers, druggie-takers, if you don’t know what to do Just call the policeman, the big friendly policeman
Pc MacGarry-Beach no 452′

Sanderwick Green is probably best known for the Army Cadets at Bobban Fort, under the command of Captain Snortofwhisky. Ably assisted by Sergeant Major Crowdie, the Cadets could be expected to roll into action in every episode to help out with a problem.

As they assembled in their army truck, they would be accompanied by the ‘Driving Along….’ song, which could be adapted for almost any vehicle required to meet the needs of that episodes storyline.

Hence you had;

‘Driving Along in an army truck, in a humpity, bumpity army truck’ for the soldiers,

and for the episode about the Free Church Sunday School picnic descending into anarchy when the rival FP Church Sunday school were spotted arriving on a Mitchell’s bus at the other end of Coll Beach ‘Driving Along in a Mitchell’s Bus, in a humpity, bumpity Mitchell’s Bus’

or indeed, the famous episode where Dr Mawp had to find the serum to stop the Zombie plague by borrowing the only working vehicle; ‘Driving Along in Al Craes hearse, in a humpity, bumpity Al Craes hearse’ only to be cruelly killed by a zombie who’d been hiding in the coffin behind him.

Close to Sanderwick Green was the town of Donaldtrumpton. But this is for another day.








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