The Cuiream Missile Crisis

9 10 2012

It’s 50 years this month since the Cuban Missile Crisis famously brought the world to the brink of nuclear Armageddon. In 1962 the eyes of the world were focussed on the Caribbean, where the Soviet Union and the USA faced each other down, and the fate of civilization and of life itself hung in the balance.

However, the Eye Peninsulas of the world were focused on a much more serious situation in the Minch, where a confrontation between Free Church congregations threated to split apart the fragile interdenominational peace that existed between the various churches on Lewis and Harris.

Old SYs in the know will tell you that this stand-off – The Cuiream Missile Crisis – came much closer to triggering a global nuclear conflagration than thon wee spat between Kruschev and Kennedy.

In the early 1960’s, the many and varied Presbyterian denominations of Lewis were engaged in a Cold War of ideology and holiness, as to which Church had the best sermons, the blackest elder hats and the biggest list of things that weren’t allowed. The Point and South Lochs Free Churches were on particularly bad terms after a falling-out involving a Minister’s wife putting too much salt in the Communion Soup, with counter-allegations being made that low grade Bachelor Buttons were being used in Rubhach services.

On the unlikely pretext of preventing Hearach Seceders from sneaking up to Point to invade their Communions, Knock Free Church announced plans to base nuclear missile batteries on the Shiant Islands, a mere stone’s throw from the South Lochs coast.

Finlay Castrator, the local Shepherd on the Shiants, was a hardline communist whose 1-man regime (governing a population consisting of himself and 400 sheep) was entirely dependent on the Rubhachs for support. As far as he was concerned, villages like Orinsay and Lemreway were hotbeds of exiled Shiant sheep intent on re-taking the islands and overthrowing him at the first opportunity, as they’d already tried to do in the abortive Bay Of Mehhhags invasion of 1961. Consequently he was only too happy to site the missiles on top of a cliff which meant that every Free Church, mission house and fank in South Lochs was in range.

Across the water, recently-elected President Calum F Kennedy of South Lochs was determined not to back down in the face of this provocation, and supported the local Free Church in demanding that Knock remove their missiles.

Meanwhile Knock Free Church’s case was taken up by the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Point, Knokita Khruisgean. The Rubhachs claimed that their batteries on the Shiants were a legitimate form of defence, pointing out that the Lochies had already done a deal with the Tolsta Seceders to site missiles on the cliffs above Traigh Mhor, taking most of Point into range.

A period of stalemate began, with both sides posturing and blaming the other in scathing sermons delivered from the pulpits. Neither side outgunned the other, but if one side moved first, the other would react almost instantly, resulting in devastation for the entire planet. It was this period of time where the phrase ‘MAD’ (Ministers Assuring Destruction) was first coined.

Eventually Kennedy and Khruisgean were persuaded to do a deal by Dag Hamnaway, the Secretary Cheneral of inter-church negotiating body the (Dis)United (Denomi)Nations who had recently died in a mysterious tractor crash.
In return for the Rubhachs removing their missiles from the Shiants, the Lochies agreed never to invade the islands. This didn’t go down well with the exiled anti-Castrator sheep community in South Lochs, who regarded it as a betrayal of their cause.

When Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade passed through Dalbeg in November 1963, many conspiracy theorists suggested that the disgruntled Shiants sheep had had a hand in it. Or at least a hoof.

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The Story Behind Lews Castle (Part One of A Few)

23 04 2009

Long before he became Sir James Matheson, Bart, Jimmy Matheson was an apprentice butcher with Charlie Barley. He learned his trade with Stornoway’s Master Butcher and after serving his apprenticeship decided to make his mark (and fortune) in the Far East.

Young Jimmy hitched a lift on a passing sailing ship en route for the China Seas and reached Shanghai in 1840, with nothing but a meat cleaver, a white butcher’s apron and an idea in his head to bring black puddings to the masses of China.

Working from a small backstreet shop in downtown Shanghai, Jimmy spent several years trying to perfect the ideal black pudding for the Chinese market. He experimented with blood from local animals, including Chinese dragons, Peking Ducks and goats, but none of the blood he found had the correct characteristics required to make a perfect marrag.

In despair, Jimmy sent a message back to Stornoway asking if Charlie Barley could send him a few Crobeg sheep to see if the ‘Lewis factor’ would improve the taste of his black puddings.

Unsure of how to get a flock of 20 sheep to the other side of the world, Charlie Barely took a wonder down to the harbour and chanced upon a Stornoway sea Captain home on a few weeks leave. The Captain listened to the butcher’s problem and suggested that the newly developing Tea Trade might offer a solution. Hundreds of sailing ships were now plying the trade routes between Britain and the Far East, carrying cargoes of tea to the middle classes. These boats were returning to China with empty holds, so the Captain was convinced that the Tea Barons would be happy to generate extra income from a profitable sideline.

That same week, the first of the tall ships arrived in Stornoway and loaded up with 200 of the islands finest blackface sheep. Within the space of two short months, Jimmy Matheson and his sheep dog were guiding the flock through the streets of Shanghai to the local slaughterhouse.

As expected, the addition of Lewis sheep blood transformed the Chinese Black Puddings. Within days, Jimmy had sold out of all his marags and had to request another ship full. In the time taken for the second cargo to arrive, a thriving marag black pudding black market developed, as local shops tried desperately to get their hands on Jimmy’s puddings.

The arrival of the second ship caused riots at the docks and the flock had to be escorted to the slaughterhouse by the local militia. This second batch of marags sold out almost right away making Jimmy a very wealthy man.

Soon, the local Captains were jumping at the chance to carry a lucrative cargo of Lewis sheep and within months hundreds of ships were criss-crossing the oceans.  Fierce competition broke out as to who could do the crossing in the quickest time and who could carry the most sheep. In order to make their ships faster, the Captains came up with the idea of shearing the sheep to remove their fleeces and lighten the load. Each ship soon added expert shepherds to the crew and shearing clippers became as important as compasses and sextants. The use of shearing clippers also gave rise to the name these merchant vessels came to be known as, the Clippers.

Within a year of cracking the right formula for the perfect Far Eastern marag, Jimmy Matheson was well on his way to becoming a very wealthy man. Now all he had to do was find something to spend his money on.