OldByreSkye

gallery, cafe & apartment

Marginalia

If you follow us on Facebook [other social media are available] you will know that we have recently been away for a week to Lewis and Harris for a wet week.  Our arrival was delayed by over ten hours as the morning ferry was cancelled due to gales which had kept the ferry over in South Uist and which also closed the Skye Bridge.  This further delayed the ferry as by the time they hoped to run there were only a handful of vehicles waiting.  We finally sailed at around 6:30pm, via an unscheduled stop at South Uist which turns a 90 minute crossing to Harris into 4 hours, so it was nearly midnight when we arrived at our firs accommodation in Great Bernera in North West Lewis.

For the most part the weather continued wet and often windy.  Now, this sort of weather can be quite conducive to photography – the dark brooding skies, misty landscapes, that sort of thing.  However, horizontal rain at 40 mph does tend to get onto your lens, however deep the hood and I’m grateful that Pentax SLRs tend to be weatherproofed*.  So for the most part, photographically it turned into more of a recce for later trips.  The bad weather was, however, good for working on the beaches.

Luskentyre beach #1. Shot from below the level of the tops of the breakers from a hopefully safe distance!

Now, I hear you say, if the rain is horizontal at 40 mph why do you want to be on a beach?  Fair point, but if you want waves, you need wind.  And I have set myself a project over winter to shoot a set of seascapes.  I also have a strange affinity for the coast [just as well, living a couple of hundred metres from it…].  Although I was born in the heart of the Midlands as far away from, the sea as you can get in Britain I spent much of my childhood in Northern Ireland where the coast was only a 45 minute car-ride away, and a frequent destination at weekends.  And then later, a few years after university I spent time working at a marine station in the Irish Republic doing rocky shore surveys.

luskentyre2e3-3

Luskentyre beach #2. Wind blowing the tops off the breakers…

So I love beaches [although not hot sunny ones full of sunbathers!] and the shoreline in general.  I love being at the margins, at the edge looking out.  Which is perhaps why I love the west of Scotland and the west of Ireland, at the edge of the continent, looking out…  When I stand on a beach, on the margins of the land, looking out onto a stormy sea I see raw power, I see chaos, I see a terrible beauty,  I see a universe that is utterly indifferent to my continued existence and could sweep me away in an instant – yet I am beguiled.  There is an intensity that overwhelms the senses and I become marginalia, simply a passing mark on the sands, at the edge, indifferent to everything but the moment.  And if I have a camera, trying to capture the moment.

If you do follow us on Facebook you will have already seen two of these images, but I make no apology for including them here, not least because I’m still working on the others!  Usual when shooting water I use slow shutter speeds to suggest movement, or even stillness with very long exposures, but here I’ve tried to capture the power and forms of the sea so the shutter speeds are quite high, up to 1/1250 in #1.

luskentyre3

Luskentyre beach #3. The blue and the grey and the white…

I did take some photographs of other things, and one of them has a little lesson to teach.  But I’ll tell you about that next time…

* In the days when we could afford trips to both Antarctica and Greenland I happily shot away while users of more lauded brands of camera had theirs seize up in the cold and damp, and in at least one case, terminally…

Currently listening to: The Time Has Come – Anne Briggs.

Hello summer, goodbye…

Well, summer has been and gone since the last blog – although I never intended there to be such an interval, but so it goes.  So what’s been going on?

The last rose[hips] of summer...

The last rose[hips] of summer – from a Scottish rose…

The ‘main event’ was obviously the independence referendum and as an on the record ‘no’ I’m obviously pleased that you won’t be needing a passport if you come up from south of the border.  It was an interesting campaign that got quite heated at certain times and certain places.  It reminded us why Gordon Brown was once a power in the land [and is still widely respected this side of the border].  And it gave the Prime Minister the opportunity to display true statesmanship in the wake of the result by fostering reconciliation.  And he totally blew it with a petty partisan speech aimed at his own right wing which alienated the ‘no’s’ as well as the ‘yes’es’, reneged on recently made promises, blabbed about ‘the Queen and I’ and ably demonstrated why if it had all been about ‘the effing Tories’ we’d be running the saltire up our flagpole as I write.

And it goes on.  We’re all in this together, but we’ll reduce spending on the poorest in society so that we can give tax cuts to the well off.  Benefits must be frozen as it’s unfair if they rise more than the wages of hard working families.  Given that benefits have been frozen at 1% for two years and ONS figures show average wages only increased by less than 1% once in the past 15 years I’m having trouble with the maths on that, unless we’re talking about the public sector, which the Tories have been vilifying ever since Cameron was elected leader, who have had pay frozen .  So there you are, a hard working tax payer in the public sector with no wage increase for the past few years, David and Gideon’s diktats make you redundant and now you’re a benefits scrounger who isn’t deserving of an increase in income either.  This way to the low wage economy…

And just to add insult to injury we have human rights: well, at least for the moment we have them…  Apparently as we are British we don’t need the European Convention on Human Rights, we can have our own British version.  They just don’t get it – or if they do, they don’t care.  You either believe in universal human rights or you don’t.  And if you don’t then have the guts to say so.  And if you do, then how about principles rather than expediency.  Oh, sorry, this is politics…  Human rights are not a menu where you can choose what you want, when you want it, and who you want it for.  They are all for everyone all the time.  And the whole point of an international convention is that individual signatories cannot change it as and when it suits them.  A “British Bill of Rights” sounds grand [how about a written constitution then …] but any future government with a working majority can rewrite it as they want, and without any forewarning such as inclusion in an election manifesto [much as the recent changes to the NHS.  Now THAT’S mission creep…].

I’m reminded of the words of a Bruce Cockburn song written over 30 years ago* – when I saw him perform it about ten years back he said it was still as relevant as when he wrote it.  Still is…  “It’ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first, But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse”.

And remember.  If, on 7 May next year, you go to bed with David Cameron, you wake up with the Tories – Gove, Gideon, Shapps, IDS, Grayling, every last one of them.  And they’ll probably charge you for it…

*The Trouble with Normal.  I’ve added a link.  If you look at the lyrics it really could have been written yesterday.

Currently listening to: Blues Run the Game – Jackson C Frank.  [Thanks to the wonders of Spotify.  Other music streaming services are available]. A song I first heard as performed by the late great Jackie Leven at The Troubadour in Earl’s Court

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming…

As stated before, when it comes to Scottish Independence, I’m a ‘no’ vote – as a republican federalist I don’t agree with independence, although I don’t agree with the status quo either [and neither am I an admirer of their music!].  Even so, I continue to be amazed at the ineptitude of the ‘no’ campaign.

In today’s paper [The Observer, since you ask – other newspapers are available] was a 12 page booklet, entitled All the Facts you Need, which I assume is Better Together‘s belated riposte to Scotland’s Future, the 620-odd page tome from the yes to independence campaign.  If we ignore the fact that the cover seems to have ripped off The Guardian/Observer style manual in appearance, I noticed one very odd item within.

On page five, Jobs and Economy, is a section Save our shipyards.  It features the paragraph and image below.

Strange goings-on on the Clyde… [Source: All the facts you need: Better Together]

The ship at the bottom is clearly one of the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers [the largest ship in the Navy’s history] – the double superstructure gives it away.  But what of the other six vessels, which presumably represent the “6 Royal Navy frigates” mentioned.  Without getting too geeky, and suggesting too much of a misspent youth, they looked odd to me: they looked like something from the old Soviet Union.  So a quick google for Soviet corvettes led me to strangely familiar pictures, which turned out to be Tarantul-class corvettes: the best is that below.  Does the outline look familiar?

Soviet-era Tarantul III class Corvette – made in Scotland, apparently…
[Source http://www.militaryimages.net ]


I know that uncle Alex has somewhat unwisely said that he ‘admires’ Vladimir Putin, but surely Better Together isn’t suggesting that an independent Scotland would start building warships for the Russians??

Currently listening to: the sound of my own disbelief…

Anti-Rant

I have almost got another blog post ready, but I felt like a quick eve-of-poll rant.  We haven’t got any local elections around here, only the European elections, but there’s plenty in politics to rant about even without elections.  I could rant about Nigel ‘Phony’ Farage, the privileged, privately educated, stockbroking, pinstriped, self-styled man-of-the people, Toad of Toad Hall, but it’s too easy.

No, my current bête noire is that current favorite insult of the neo-liberal – ‘anti-business’.  George Osbourne used it as his ‘killer’ argument against UKIP and Labour in a speech to the CBI today.  Almost every time a government minister is up on their hind legs they are calling anyone who disagrees with them ‘anti-business’, a level of name-calling debate that they should have got over in the playground.

Of course, calling people ‘anti’ something is a very old trick – it’s a negative so it is supposed to put you on the back foot. You are supposed to say ‘oh no, we’re pro-business, of course we are’, as the rights of  “hard-working people” are brushed under the carpet of zero-hours contracts, enforced ‘self-employment’ (so the real employer is spared the hardship of national insurance payments), tax breaks and child protection services sold off to the sort of companies that bill us for looking after non-existent prisoners, assuming they haven’t lost them in the first place.

OldByreSkye – apparently we may harbour "anti-business" sentiments...

OldByreSkye – apparently we may harbour “anti-business” sentiments, despite being a business…

So here’s a thought.  If someone says you’re anti-business, don’t say ‘we’re pro-business’, say ‘We’re actually pro-people’, because people are what makes business work: ALL the people from the bottom up.  Remind them that it’s normal for there to be risk if you make an investment and you can’t expect the public purse to make it better if you lose out.  That drug companies were founded to make drugs, not fortunes for city financiers and hedge funds.  That if you need paying more than a million pounds a year to make you feel secure and valued then you might not need more money, you might just need counselling [and you can afford to pay your taxes].  That it’s rational to expect a safe working environment.  And if being pro-business means that you are anti-people, anti “normal hard-working people” [to quote just about every government speech since they hit on that particular divisive wheeze] then maybe, just maybe, you’ve got the model wrong…

Currently listening to: Ziggurat – Steve Tilston.  A Pretty Penny should be played as background music every time a banker is interviewed on television.  And Nigel Phony should be made to listen to Speaking in Tongues until his ears bleed…

Procrastination [or why no blog update for weeks!]

It’s been a while since I did a blog post as I’ve been busy keeping the Facebook page updated daily with the doings of the gallery and cafe.  It’s also sometimes difficult to know whether to write certain things on the blog, being as how it is the face of OldByreSkye which is a business, rather than a purely personal affair – hence the procrastination.  That said, the blog is now part of a greater web presence [albeit still on WordPress] so perhaps we can have it that the owners [or at least one of them] can sometimes be a bit eccentric or opinionated.

There is an increasing amount of heat, but not a great deal of light, around the independence debate.  [What do you mean, what independence debate!].  We’ve have had the inevitable currency spat as the nationalists run scared of proposing a central bank for Scotland, and the ongoing positioning as to whether a currency union would be possible. [Stop press: it’s just a negotiating position really; oh no it isn’t;  oh yes it is…  it’s pantomime season again!] There have been scare stories about pretty much everything by now, some of which [such as denying dual nationality and elements of security/intelligence sharing] simply beggar belief, as the government mouthpieces suggest that an independent Scotland would instantly drop to some second tier of relationship with the remaining UK, if only out of spite.

Northern lights over OldByreSkye – more light and less heat than the independnce debate...

Northern lights over OldByreSkye – more light and less heat than the independence debate…

In British politics the old post-war consensus that gave us the NHS, welfare, and social housing has broken down. Instead we have the apparently all-conquering advance of neo-liberalism, with it’s flag wavers in the media, which is entirely beholden to the market, the small state and a subservient workforce – until the market fails to produce and market forces can’t be allowed to prevail and we bail out private companies that can’t be allowed to fail and who promptly behave as though nothing ever happened even though we, the people, theoretically own them.  [In the US we’ve also seen neo-conservatives [neo-cons], although that seems to have been a cover for right-wing American global hegemony.  What we haven’t seen is neo-socialism, New Labour being soft neo-liberalism, but neo-liberalism regardless, with the use of the word ‘socialism’ in the UK becoming akin to ‘communism’ in McCarthyite America.]

But in Scotland the post-war consensus didn’t break [and you can still be a socialist!], or at least that’s what Scottish cultural mythology tells you.  The neo-liberal tories rejected the consensus, but were, in turn, rejected after the Thatcherite experiments, and the increasingly neo-liberal centre and centre-left have lost ground to the nationalists who have progressed from being characterised as “Tartan Tories” in the early ’70s, to something more akin to “Old Labour in a Kilt” [a gross oversimplification but a good soundbite, and Alex Salmond shows evidence of being every bit as much in thrall to the rich and powerful as Harold Wilson ever was…].  So it is easy for a social democratic party, which is what the SNP broadly is, to gain traction, especially if untainted by long years in government and with a large and noisy neighbor to point at for all the ills of the world.

I have no real ax to grind for independence as I’m a ‘no’: being a republican federalist I can’t see much point in swapping one broken system for another.  I would favour the elephant in the room, the one missing from the vote, namely devo max [and the same for the other devolved administrations and the English regions: but how do you get there from here?].  Salmond didn’t want it on the vote as it would have killed any chance of a ‘yes’ vote stone dead.  Cameron didn’t want it as it would have meant a properly formulated, morally binding, policy post-referendum and the coalition doesn’t do those…  If the poles are to believed, we stagger onward towards a close ‘No’ that will not be decisive enough to settle the issue for a generation [a generation is normally taken as 25-30 years depending on who you ask] but may still be taken by opportunistic politicians as a vote for the status quo.  So we may well end up where we started: ouroboros, the snake that swallows it’s own tail…

Currently listening to: Won’t be Long Now –Linda Thompson [it won’t be – less than six months now!]

All change please…

[belated] Happy New Year, and welcome to the new look blog/website.

We really needed to a proper website up for the first full year of business for the gallery/cafe.  Unfortunately the old WordPress ‘theme’ [PianoBlack] although very nice for the blog didn’t work for a website, as when you added extra pages the navigation was hidden away up the top right, almost invisible.  So we’re trying a completely different theme – Bold Life – as none of the other [free] black themes worked either.

As you can see, we now have a static home page, and specific pages for the blog, as well as linking to the online gallery and accommodation, and a proper contact form.  There is still quite a lot of tweaking to do, and it’s not entirely impossible that the whole theme may change again before the end of the month as we either get used to it, or not…

Currently listening to: The Time Has Come – Christy Moore [who I saw live in Baltimore, Co Cork, in 1986, as you do…]

Season’s Greetings

Season’s greetings to all the followers of the OldByreSkye blog, and anyone who just stumbles across it.

Season's greetings

Season’s greetings.  Bring back the snow and take away the gales!

It’s been a stormy week.  If you follow us on FaceBook you will know that we’ve been off-line since Monday.  There was a brief power-cut in the gales on Saturday night, and then on Sunday night we lost power again, for eight hours when the local sub-station was hit by lightening, and the resultant power-surge fried our [and a lot of other people’s] router. On Wednesday night/Thursday morning we had ferocious gales again and we got up at three in the morning and went downstairs as it was too noisy to sleep.  Although last night was quiet it’s blowing again tonight and the forecast shows no respite.  No snow but lots of brief hailstorms among the rain, which is when we get the lightening.  The image was taken earlier in the month when we did have some snow!

Currently listening to: Winter Songs – The Albion Christmas Band

Now we’re flying…

Our flyers arrived at the end of last week, all 5000 of them and, uniquely for something coming from off the island, actually arrived earlier than estimated.  They’re A5 and, as you can see, double-sided although as the back has the logo on as well [bottom left, hidden on the photograph] they still make sense if you stack them the wrong way round as one of the first outlets we gave to them demonstrated by doing exactly that!  It would have been nice to have had some promotional material when we opened, but was always going to be a bit difficult to include photographs of the actual gallery if it isn’t finished…

Flyers

Both sides now – who we are, what we are, where we are and when we are [open]. How we are will vary from day to day…

So they are now on display in the Portree tourist office, which costs but is free for the rest of the financial year, probably because we are already signed up with Visit Scotland through the holiday let.  We will now be touring everyone we know who can display leaflets, and doubtless some we don’t know, to be ready for the season.

2014 promises to be a busy year up here.  It’s ‘The year of Homecoming’,  the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, and of course, the independence referendum.  The Year of Homecoming is a wheeze originally devised in 2009, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, to boost tourism by encouraging people of Scottish ancestry to visit the old country.  And why not if boosts the economy, but please spare us coach parties of be-kilted tourists! [Although we’ll still take your money!]

Currently listening to: Flow and Change – Judy Dyble.

Soup, and other institutions

Well, there hasn’t been a post on the blog for a while.  I’ve been working on some format changes to make the entry page more of a web portal for the business, leading off to the blog and the gallery, but these aren’t quite ready.  There’s also been the daily posts on our Facebook page, and we also now have a Twitter feed, under Claire’s control, so there’s plenty to keep you up to date!

The other morning I was making cock a leekie soup over in the gallery kitchen.  For the uninitiated it’s a quintessentially Scottish soup made with chicken and leeks.  Traditionally it would have been an old fowl put in the pot and boiled, and then the meat removed and served as a separate dish to make it go further – not so much ‘canny Scots’ as subsistence farmers making the most of what little they had.  Many recipes include rice: I used pearl barley as it seemed more authentic, but it got me thinking as to why you would have rice in a Scottish soup.

waterfall

Quintessential Scotland: it only needs a tartan-clad piper and some shortbread and all the stereotype boxes will be ticked.  And I’ll be run out of town…

Rice is the most important grain grown as a human food source. [More maize is grown, but more of this is used as animal feed, so calorific value is lost.  Look up trophic levels to see why it’s really a bad idea to eat animals even if they taste nice…] It was probably cultivated somewhere around 10,000 years ago in southern China and was known in Europe in the classical world.  Large amounts of rice have been found in Roman camps in Germany dating from the first century AD, but the exact spread throughout Europe seems unclear, and it probably happened more than once, and from different directions.  The Moorish expansion seems to have brought rice-growing to the Iberian peninsula in the 10th century.  It’s production was encouraged in 15th century Italy, from which it is a short step to southern France.  Given the nature of the Auld Alliance [1295 – 1560] it’s not too fanciful to envisage direct trade in rice from France to Scotland, especially given that at least one source claims that cock a leekie soup itself originates in France from chicken and onion soup, crossings over around the 16th century…

So, our quintessentially Scottish soup may be distinctly European, a material memory of historic links and broad-based identities.  No prizes for guessing where this is going.  The major event of the week north of the border [the only  border with the definitive article] has been the publication of the White Paper on Scottish Independence – you may have noticed it elsewhere, wherever you live.  We have the curious situation of having on the one hand a devolved government formed by a party with a clear majority and mandate that clearly stands for, indeed it’s reason for existing is, an independent Scotland, and on the other a population that on present polling rejects that vision, yet would still probably return the same government regardless as its other policies seem to better fit the national belief and self-image.  This in a system that was designed to prevent a clear majority and force coalition governments.

From here the ‘yes’ camp’s best recruiting sergeant seems to be every utterance of the Westminster Government on the issue which are based on negativity and apparent bullying, ‘you couldn’t do this, you can’t do that, we’ll take our ball away and go home’, ignoring both that  this reinforces the stereotypes that play to nationalism, and there is every chance that those issuing such proclamations wouldn’t be in power at the time if Scotland became independent.  There are still more that enough ‘don’t knows’ for arguments and referendums to be won and lost and the national conversation up here in the next year will be interesting to follow, especially if wavy Davy continues to pull U turns every day to desperately try to please a party with more wings than a Chernobyl chicken.

So, this St Andrew’s* day who knows, in five years time those in the ‘home counties’ wanting a weekend in Europe may be going for a jaunt across Hadrian’s wall to seek [Scottish] enlightenment…

Currently listening to: Vagrant stanzas – Martin Simpson.

*He’s Patron Saint of rather a lot of places, including Russia…

On the road again…

So on Monday evening after work I finally got out to take photos and DO NOTHING ELSE for a few hours.  I took myself off to Talisker Bay in Minginish.

A few words for the uninitiated [Sgitheanachs can move along: nothing to see here…]. Talisker Bay lies about five miles from the Distillery that shares it’s name – the distillery is in Carbost, on Loch Harport, although it was on the Talisker estate, hence the name.  The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of two rare species of Burnet moth and the geology.  And the geology gives us black and white sand, which opens  interesting photographic possibilities.  Also, as it faces due west into  The Little Minch you get spectacular sunsets.

Talisker Bay sunset

Terminal Beach*.  Landscapes on drugs: surreal colours in the sunset at Talisker Bay…

And so it proved.  I was a little late arriving, not least because the road down Glen Oraid faces directly into the setting sun and I had to stop and clean the windscreen and drive slowly as I was completely dazzled despite sunglasses and a peaked hat pulled right down.  It’s a twenty-odd minute walk to the beach and I got set up just as the sun was setting.  The tide was receding as well, even faster than my hairline, so more sand was being uncovered which was what I wanted.  That said, the extreme contrast between the sky and the beach, even after sunset needed a three-stop hard grad neutral density filter to hold detail in the sky [yes, there is post-processing as well, but best not to burn out the sky, or there’s nothing to process] in addition to various ND filters to add different effects to the sea.

Making tracks: drainage at Talisker Bay

Making tracks: drainage at Talisker Bay

Sometimes the most pleasing images are at your feet.  A the sun sank lower below the horizon, I decided to concentrate on the beach and take the horizon out of shot. The lighting was also influenced by a very bright moon over my shoulder.  And here you can clearly see the thin layer of white sand on the black sand base, picked up in the low light, like the trail of some ancient sea creature returning to the waves.  They will both be available as prints i the gallery very soon.

*The Terminal Beach is a short story [and a short story collection] by the late JG Ballard.  The terminal beach in that case is at Eniwetok [now Enewetak], which was used for nuclear bomb testing by the US, including Ivy Mike, the first hydrogen bomb detonation.  I like the title for the image, although in my imagination the colours fit better with the mood of the shimmering land- and waterscapes of The Drowned World.

Currently listening to: Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear

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