Community paper for Mallaig, Morar, Arisaig, Lochailort, Glenfinnan
Glenuig, Knoydart and the Small Isles
List of Issues online
August 2004 Issue
Contents of the online version:
MALLAIG TO GET SCHOOL HOSTEL
As West Word went to press last month, it was announced that Mallaig will be getting its long awaited hostel. On a visit in June to Mallaig High School, Highland Council members and officials viewed the intended site for the proposed Mallaig Hostel, adjacent to the High School at the North West corner overlooking the Sound of Sleat.
The hostel is to be built at an estimated cost of £1 million to accommodate children from the Small Isles and Knoydart attending Mallaig High School. A target date for opening is August, 2005. Up to twenty seven pupils will be accommodated in the hostel in rooms comprising ten double, four single and three single specifically adapted for people who have a disability.
Pupils who will stay in the hostel currently stay in lodgings; scattered between Mallaig, Morar and Arisaig. Weather permitting Knoydart children get home most weekends and Eigg and Canna children go home every fortnight. Local Councillor Charlie King is delighted that Mallaig Hostel is going ahead. He said: "I know that parents on the Small Isles and at Knoydart will warmly welcome the news that the hostel project is proceeding. This will make life so much easier for youngsters attending the High School."
Viewing the site of the proposed Mallaig Hostel are (left to right) Councillor Charlie King; Councillor Andrew Anderson, Chairman of The Highland Council's Education, Culture and Sport Committee, Bruce Robertson, Director of Education, Culture and Sport Service and Martin Sullivan, Head Teacher, Mallaig High School.
SUNSHINE FOR GAMES AND MISSION - BUT ARISAIG REGATTA IS CANCELLED
The dreadful weather we've been suffering all summer certainly wasn't in evidence as beautiful hot sunshine bathed Arisaig Games on the 28th July, Mallaig & Morar Games on the 2nd August and the Mission Gala Weekend of 31st July to 1st August. However this year the 'Arisaig Regatta Association won't be anxiously watching the weather forecast. The fifth Arisaig Regatta has hit insurance problems which mean that this year there will be no races and no Friday Fun Day featuring such competitive water-borne events as the dinghy, raft or canoe races. Alan Lamb, Chairman of the Regatta Association Committee, has issued a statement very much regretting this situation. A Sunset Cruise is planned on the Sheerwater (weather permitting) and the Family Dance with Fergie MacDonald and his Ceilidh Band in the Astley Hall, both on Friday, 6th August . Hopefully the situation could be resolved in time for next year's Regatta.
MALLAIG MISSION GALA WEEKEND
The Friends of the Mallaig Fishermen's Mission put together a full programme of events for the return of the Mission Weekend and were rewarded with brilliant sunshine.
Immediately after the dedication of the seat to the memory of Hugh Allen, the Gala Queen and Princess arrived, words of welcome were spoken by Mr Derek Young of the RNMDSF and Mr Freddie Salmon performed the official opening,
During the day there were displays by the Emergency Services, a Raft Race, and the now traditional Boat Race. In the evening there was a Marquee Dance to Skipinish. On Sunday was the Celebrity Football Match between Chick Young's charity football team Dukla Pumpherston and a local Mallaig XI - read all about it on page 33. At 2pm was the Blessing of the Fleet, and the weekend was rounded off by another dance, this time to Eclipse in the Mallaig & Morar Community Centre.
The Friends of the Fishermen's Mission were formed earlier this year to help raise funds for the Mission. It is open to anyone who has an interest in the Mission's work and who wishes to help.
ALL-WEATHER MALLAIG PITCH COMPLETED
Mallaig's long-awaited all-weather £550K synthetic turf pitch is in use at last, and proved the perfect venue for the Mission weekend Charity Football Match. For use by the school and the local community, the pitch will primarily host football, hockey and shinty playing, training and matches. An official opening date, yet to be confirmed, is expected some time in September. The pitch has been funded by The Highland Council and sportscotland. Morar's Playing Field will soon be in use too. The surface was considered too new to be used for this year's Mallaig & Morar Games but the grass has received its first trim. It is expected that next year's games will be held at this new site..
NW LOCHABER FILM LOCATIONS
Loch nan Uamh features in Battle series
On Friday 17th September on BBC 2 at 9pm part of a series called 'Battlefield Britain' will be screened. This particular episode is called "The Battle of Culloden" and includes the events leading up to and following Culloden. This includes showing how Bonnie Prince Charlie landed and departed from Loch nan Uamh and was filmed from Aurelia, the yacht belonging to Ranald Coyne of Arisaig. The yacht was crewed during the filming by Ranald with Helen Brodie.
'Monarch of the Glen' to be filmed locally
BBC TV will be filming this month in the Arisaig area for an episode of their popular series 'Monarch of the Glen.' Look out when it is screened in November for sights of Traigh Golf Course, Camusdarach and Cnoc-na-Faire - and we've heard they are going to replicate one of the Cnoc's bedrooms for further filming.
MEMORIAL TO HUGH ALLEN The first item on the Mission Weekend's programme of events was the dedication of the Hugh Allen memorial seat. The oak bench, designed and made by local craftsman Graham Moss, was unveiled outside the Mission by Hugh's widow Bridget. Hugh, secretary of the Mallaig and North-West Fishermen's Association, died early this year.
The earth has moved
The die is cast
The map will have to be re-drawn
Constant hummm...the dredger's
Working morn and eve
Welcome 'PIERSE' construction team
Pier works have started.
At last we think we might see a summer
This week-end is looking good
Whales were sighted
Many yachts and Puffins too
We had one fantastic session
Courtesy Lochaber feisean
Young and versatile musicians
Played and sang to us all evening
Baby Anna took the floor, set the rhythm and the pace
Quickly joined by Finn and Lachie, Jasmine, Daisy, Kira, Freya
Followed by an adult core.
Have I omitted any items
Sure I have but one remains
Next week-end com rain or shine…...it is
THE ANNUAL KNOYDART GAMES
Saturday 7th August 2004 Start 1 pm
P.S. Visit Tommy's website www.knoydartshop.com for a view of Inverie Bay.
ISLE OF MUCK
The pier waiting room and store is finished as last, complete with large sandstone plaque inscribed with the words 'Muck Terminal 2004' on the gable. It probably would have been complete in June had the materials arrived before the men! Scaffolding was in particularly short supply.
The Craft Shop has been very busy since the beginning of July though day visitor numbers have been on a par with last year. The Yurt and Tipi have been much more popular than previous years as have evening meals in the restaurant - Jenny and sometimes Sandra have been busy almost every night! Not surprisingly really considering that all the meals are freshly made with nothing except meat coming from the deep freeze.
CAMAS has been busy too! We are all looking forward to a flood of feis musicians to the island on the 4th for a concert in the school.
On the farm it has been silage making time and bale numbers have been approaching 600. All the accessible bracken in the central part of the island has been sprayed with the tractor sprayer. Last year spraying Asulox at half the recommended rate was very successful so I have repeated this practice but on Muck the bracken does not grow as strongly as on other places due to the cattle numbers and the exposure. I have also been spraying nettles. Grazon 90 has been highly effective both with the tractor and knapsack sprayer. All the crops are looking well. We had a 'flying' visit from John Watson who now supplies Harbro with all their seeds. He had come to see the half field of Avanta oats. At last a short strawed oat which could stand the wind and rain till ripe. Perhaps this year we will get the binder out again!
Not before time Wave is painted and varnished. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of her launch in Mallaig and I hope to tell you her story in a future West Word.
ISLE OF RUM
Update on the new shop/tearoom and attached house development. Our new planning application is still under review by the Highland Council, though we have had positive news from SNH, in that they will not be objecting to our proposed site. Mandy Ketchin, our architect, is in the process of putting together a cost appraisal for the whole project and Aileen Kay, on Rum, is completing a preliminary archaeological assessment for the site. The next step will be to raise the funds, assuming we get a positive response from the planning department.
Following on from this, the Area Planning committee were planning to visit Rum this week, however this has now been postponed until September. The purpose of their visit is to assess the proposals and background for the Village Development Plan. This will hopefully lead to the prospect of it being adopted by the Highland Council as a development plan for Rum. Given that The Village Plan has the agreement of the Community on Rum and SNH, the practical outcome of this will be that it will make the whole planning process significantly easier for anyone planning to build on Rum (hmm).
We have now been told that the official opening of the Small Isles Slipways will be on 31st August on Muck. For information, the Rum slipway began its operation on 2nd April.
A number of the community have been invited to attend the festivities and since the Loch Nevis will be transporting some very important people (?) and not calling at Rum, the Highland Council will be providing some other form of transport to take us to Muck and back again. Thanks to Ed, without whose intervention we would be expected to make our own way there.
We have also just been given copies of the proposed timetable for this winter and next summer for the Loch Nevis. In fact we got a copy yesterday (29th July) and are expected to have comments in by lunchtime today (30th). Clearly this is ridiculous, and as luck would have it, Peter Clarke, the Cal-Mac transport Manager has just gone on holiday. We are particularly appalled as the proposed Saturday service for Rum next year is desperate. Saturday is our busiest day for visitors and yet to get to Rum you either have to spend the night in Mallaig in order to catch the ferry at 7.30 am or you spend 5 whole hours on the boat arriving at 7.25 pm. We can only hope that Cal-Mac will listen to reason and make some amendments. On top of this, as Cal-Mac won't directly employ a pier hand on Rum, other staff on the island have to fill in. And on a brighter note, we are still no closer to achieving a successful freight system for our lifeline service…
We have had a fair quantity of nutters in Rum recently posing as scientific researchers. We had Mike, the Ratman, who was depositing lard on sticks up a hill for the rats to eat. The idea being that our resident rat population have taken to eating Shearwater chicks in their burrows on Hallival and before any action can be taken we need to establish how big the rat colony has grown. The rats eat the lard and leave bite marks on the sticks indicating how many there are. Another crowd are also spending their nights up Hallival, this time radio tagging the Shearwaters. The plot behind this project is to ascertain where the birds are feeding at sea with the possible intention of creating some kind of marine conservation area.
Our entertainments manager (Sandy) has decided that we should organise a Music Festival on Rum next year (think Edinbane type of thing). Preparations are underway and we are potentially looking at 13th - 15th May next year.
Along with the other Small Isles, we are getting Broadband soon, maybe this month. I have resigned from the Post Office, though I believe we will have another postie in place before the end of the month. Apologies for no article last month.
Kinloch Castle, Isle of Rum
The castle is now listed in the Buildings at Risk Register for 2004-5. The register is maintained by the Scottish Civic Trust on behalf of Historic Scotland. It is still hoped that money will be raised to help restore the Castle, with Prince Charles showing a personal interest after the castle featured in the TV programme Restoration.
Meanwhile, the Trustees of the Bullough Mausoleum have announced that the necessary remedial work should be carried out by the 1st October this year. The fact that urgent repair work was required to the Mausoleum, which is in Harris Bay on Rum, was highlighted earlier in the year by the Kinloch Castle Friends Association on one of their working trips to the island. West Word carried a request for contractors interested in the job to get in touch with the FKCA and several responded to the plea.
ISLE OF EIGG
Glad to say that as the month draws to a close, the sun is shining, the kids are all in the sea (along with 5 basking sharks spotted off Laig Bay) & there's a daily influx of friends, relatives & regular visitors.
George Carr & David Kirk arrived back earlier in the month with plenty tales of their travels across America, New Zealand & Australia giving us all a touch of the itchy feet. We also welcomed our newest residents Bob Wallace, Norah Barnes & their two young sons, Murray & Logan. Bob & Norah plan to renovate the Lodge & run courses in various ecological/environmental subjects. We wish them well with what is undoubtedly a huge challenge.
Our annual Feis was another great success, with the Eigg kids being joined by friends from Rum, Muck & the mainland. Full marks to Judith Aitken who did a wonderful job with her young drama students who went on to put on a great end of Feis performance on Saturday afternoon. Quite a few adults also took advantage of the excellent tuition on offer which even extended to bass guitar (Kay & Joanne our new rock chicks?). As predicted, Eddie's spoons class proved popular & you got to keep the spoons!. The tutors also provided excellent music at sessions in the Tearoom on Thursday & Friday, rounded off by a very lively & well attended ceilidh on Saturday night. A big thank you to tutors, helpers, organisers & everyone who took part. (& to the man who had a huff when there wasn't enough hot water for him to do the dishes!?!)
Some of us had barely enough time to draw breath, when we were treated to another wonderful ceilidh with Sandy Brechin & the Jimmy Shandrix Experience - definitely funky & that was before the visiting American rapper took the stage!!
And finally, thanks to HiWide & the installation team, broadband has arrived. The computer buffs are delighted - but the more luddite amongst us haven't quite worked out how to set it up yet!
VIRTUAL SCHOOL FOR EIGG?
The Isle of Eigg Residents Association have received an award from the Rural Voices Programme (funded by the Scottish Executive) to investigate possibilities for a virtual school on the Isle of Eigg. It is hoped that vacant space in the currently unoccupied schoolhouse could be used for this project.
Two Eigg mums, Sue Kirk and Sue Hollands, are taking the idea forward and hope that if this project gets off the ground Eigg Virtual school facilities would have benefits for the following user groups:- High school children, who currently have to board with families on the Mainland - If Eigg Virtual School was a reality these children could pursue at least some of their High school careers from Eigg; -Those undertaking further education. Many of the UHI courses which are currently on offer at Learning Centres throughout the Highlands using video conferencing could be available here, allowing islanders top take their education to degree level without leaving home - particularly relevant to mature students with family or work commitments. -Improved access to IT facilities for Primary School pupils, developed links with other Primary Schools, and possibly shared teaching expertise in specialist areas.
The Arisaig Games were a big success this year, with lovely weather and many more stalls than usual. The Dance too went very well even if marred by a little trouble. It's a pity the Regatta has this year fallen foul of insurance problems, but hopefully the family dance will be a success. These insurance problems and health and safety issues are spoiling so many of our innocent and traditional pleasures that they are changing our way of life against our will..
We've had some great art workshops in the Hall this past month, some from the Arts Promotion grant and some courtesy of the Highland Council summer events programme. The Mask and Mime workshops were poorly attended but the five who did the Mask and the three who did the Mime (Jacqueline, Daniel and I now know how to get out of a box) thoroughly enjoyed them, as did the small but select audience who came to the 'Waiting for the Calm' concert which included Mask Theatre - something totally different and visually impelling, as well as fun.
And we now have three colourful banners in painted canvas to hang in the hall, from the Highland Council summer programme with Pete and we'll hang them when we've worked out how to hang them so they can be easily removed when needs must. I'd like to thank Jacqueline, Daniel, Aodan, Amy, Kirsty, Joshua, Erin, Karen, Jessie, John, Georgia M, Georgia H and Shane (on holiday) for their efforts, and if I've missed anyone out I'd really like to know who because somewhere somehow in the Hall I want to list who made the banners. I think they were made by drawing round the participants! Incidentally, there were two jackets left after the workshops - any claimants?
I hope folk will support the charity concert in aid of NCH - not only is it a good cause but it features the debut in the hall of Arisaig's newest band, Bunch of Tyne - Lorraine, Ian et al!
Many of us are sad that Marie MacPherson, affectionately known as Marie Postoffice, has moved away to live with her family, and her house, The Old Post Office, will be sold. Marie has become frail over recent years but could be still often be seen taking a walk. She has lived in Arisaig since she was born in Glen House in 1915. Take care Marie, we'll be thinking of you often.
Arisaig had a very successful Games this year, attended by a record crowd, who basked in one of the hottest days of the year. The beautiful situation at Traigh, with it's unsurpassable views, made this a day that will remain in the memory. Once again, we extend our thanks to Mr Jack Shaw Stewart and Mr Bill Henderson for the use of the facilities.
The opening ceremony was performed by Ranald Macdonald, 24th Captain and Chief of Clanranald who led a parade round the Games field before addressing the assembled crowd He was followed in the procession by his personal lieutenant, Lt. Col.Ruaridh Allen, Commissioner of Clan Donald North Carolina, accompanied by his wife Diane, also a dignitary of Clan Donald, Major Bruce MacDonald, Toiseach of the Council of Finlaggan, Bhal Smith, President of Clan Cameron, Australia, N.S.W., David Cameron, President of Clan Cameron, Scotland, accompanied by Mrs Cameron and Allan MacDonald, representing Arisaig Games. Caroline McKee, Lindsay Evans and Debbie Whitehead, members of Lochaber Schools Pipe Band, carried the standards of Clanranald, Lt. Col. Allen and Major MacDonald. The procession was led by piper, Niall Stewart.
Clanranald presented trophies and prizes during the day and was conducted round the Games field by Alasdair MacLeod, Essan, Morar, who introduced the Chief and his companions to many local folk and competitors.
It is our hope that this will be the first of many occasions when we welcome Clanranald to na Garbh Criochan and we would like to continue the association by establishing a Clanranald Gathering, under the auspices of, and associated with, Arisaig Games, the first such Gathering being envisaged on 27th July 2005
A fine body of men! The Heavy contestants.
Second from the right is Tommy MacEachen, Arisaig, who was competing in his 50th Games.
General Petrák awarded Légion d'Honneur
Regular readers of West Word should recognise the name of Major General Anton Petrák, MBE, MC, who has featured prominently in our pages over the last few years.
The General was a Slovakian trainer of the SOE at Traigh House during World War II and has made two recent returns to the area. The first was in 2001, when he visited his old haunts with a film crew from the Slovakian embassy, to make a documentary about the assassination in 1942 of Nazi Reinhard Heydrich by two their countrymen who had trained here, facts which had been suppressed in their own country under the former Communist regime.
The second visit was in 2002 when he returned, attended by military attachés of the Czech and Slovak nations, to Traigh House to take part in a moving ceremony to unveil a commemorative plaque to the SOE's Slovakian Section.
A keen-eyed West Word reader watching the D-Day celebrations on TV in June thought they saw the General, now 92, receiving the award of Knight of the National Order of the Légion d'Honneur from French President Jacques Chirac. An internet search has found an article in French to confirm this.
From this we learn that the General saw action at Dunkirk in 1940, but after the fall of France that year he went to Britain and so to Traigh in 1942, where he trained Czech soldiers.
In 1943 he was transferred to the Czech brigade where as company commander he took part in preparations for the D-Day landings. In 1944, at the head of twenty men, he captured 14 German soldiers. Subsequently, he led attacks behind enemy lines and gathered intelligence.
At the end of the war, he went back to Czechoslovakia and on the Communists' coup d'etat in 1948 he had to leave the army and was sentenced to many years in prison, branded a 'criminal element' for his 'capitalist services'.
The General was interviewed by the French reporter at the reception after the ceremony when he said: 'If I were a writer I would have no trouble finding the right words to express my feelings. Let's just say this moment is more than I could have ever hoped for. It is certainly one of the best days of my life. To receive such a distinction at the hands of the President of France himself is something which has no price.'
France's highest honour, the Légion d'Honneur was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is awarded for gallantry in action or twenty years distinguished service in military or civilian life.
General Petrák contributed a chapter in the book 'Special Operations Executive - Para-Military Training in Scotland during World War 2' compiled by David Harrison, which is on sale only in the Land, Sea and Islands Centre in Arisaig, price £10.
It is perhaps fitting that Glasnacardoch's Jackie MacKellaig 'discovered' some war related correspondence in the family home in June - a time when the media was, quite rightly, celebrating the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
This certificate, a personal one from the letter writer, M. L. Verhagen, Lijmbeekstraat 101, Eindhoven, was sent to the MacKellaig family in February 1945, along with a photograph of Mr Verhagen (26) and his 'betrothed' Martine (24). In the letter he states that they intend getting married after the War.
There's little doubt that Mr Alexander (Sandy) MacKellaig and his family at Park Mhor, Glasnacardoch, would have been surprised to get a letter from Holland, a fact that the writer alludes to in the opening paragraph of his letter. He goes on: 'But I have made acquaintance with your son Mac - your son was coming overseas to fight for us and to make free our lands. We are now good friends. We find him a fine, respectable boy. When your son comes we we have much pleasure. We drinks a cup of coffee or three, smokes a cigarette and sing a song. The time just fly by. We are simple peoples. I work in the ARP office and me betrothed works to the Philips Radio factory.'
Mr Verhagen apologises for his poor English and ends the letter with best wishes to Mac's father, brothers and sisters from his Dutch friends.
The 'Mac' referred to in the letter was Alex, the oldest of the MacKellaig family, who served in the Artillery in the Second World War.
SEVENTY YEARS OF MEMORIES
My parents were married in September 1933, and had no doubts about where they were going to spend their honeymoon. My mother was of an adventurous spirit having been a Guide Leader, and she was also the owner of a song book entitled Songs of the Jacobite Rising. Where else should they go but the Road to the Isles? My father didn't mind where he went as long as he could be behind the wheel of a car - if he passed a notice that said 'Roads unsuitable for motor vehicles' then that was the road he chose.
Driving from Montgomeryshire was a very different matter then, before today's good roads and motorways made the journey simple, and the last part of the journey must have been hair-raising on the single track unsurfaced roads, towing the very heavy caravan. Fortunately they took photographs. (I wonder if this one was taken at Camusdarach? Another with the same buildings includes some people and is labelled 'The Camerons'.)
They took the ferry to Skye and had a wonderful fortnight in all, but did not venture this way again until 1950, when they brought the family of four children to stay at Duror of Appin. In 1953 we came with tents to Back of Keppoch, to Gorten Sands, which we had almost to ourselves. This was in the days of the brothers Angus and Johnnie MacDonald.. Of course there was no purpose-mown site or facilities, we just pitched the tents down on the water's edge, and enjoyed a two-week heatwave with wonderful blood-red sunsets every evening.
Naturally when married I knew of the perfect place to bring children for a holiday, so in 1972 we came to The Croft and stayed in the field belonging to the late Mrs Catherine MacMillan, coming back yearly until our children reached their mid-teens. Then there was an unavoidable ten year break, but as soon as possible we returned to The Croft, now Gep and Marian's. When our grown-up son acquired a special girlfriend, where did he bring her, with a tent? You've guessed! And this was where we brought our daughter's ashes, to a spot where she had played wih her brother, looking out over the sea and islands. As near Heaven as you can get.
H. Shields, Doncaster
Pictured above is Mrs Pam Ross with grandchildren Jordan and Rebecca with Acting Coxswain Dennis Eddie and DLA George Lawrie on board the Mallaig Lifeboat.
Jordan and Rebecca were there to hand over a cheque to Mallaig Lifeboat - proceeds of a sponsored cycle run from Elgin to Lossiemouth and back in memory of a much loved and sorely missed grandfather, Dave Ross, who died while on a family holiday in Arisaig last July, while sitting on rocks offshore with Jordan and Rebecca. The Lifeboat was called out to recover his body. Jordan and Rebecca, along with Jordan's sister Kaillie and Rebecca's sister Rachel, raised the splendid sum of £500 - an amount which delighted their gran. 'I would have been happy if they'd raised £50,' she said, 'but to raise £500 was a fantastic achievement.' After the cheque presentation, Mallaig Fishermen's Mission Superintendent Len Scott joined the Ross family and Lifeboat crew and officials on a poignant trip to off the Arisaig coast where Mr Scott performed a short ceremony prior to the scattering of Mr Ross' ashes into the sea. Mrs. Ross said that her husband Dave loved the west coast with a passion and it is fitting that his ashes were cast upon the waters off Arisaig.
There was a cheque too for the Lochaber Rural Watch scheme, seen below being handed over to Constable John Brydon of Mallaig Police, in thanks for the part the Police had played in the incident. RMM
Coastal Ranger Report
I can't quite get this right!! July gone and Summer just started?? With temperatures at long last drifting over the 20-degree mark, isn't it nice! Nice too to see the Mission Gala entertain the holidaying hordes in weather that suits the time and effort that is put into the planning and producing of such a splendid event. Funny thing is, that, in that sort of high temperature, people say to me " Not out walking today Angus?" obviously not having seen me perspiring profusely as I toil my weary way through head-high bracken (or higher!) and deep heather in my quest to entertain my willing public! Mind you, I do note, those who tend to ask the question, don't tend to be among those willing to give it a try!
While on the subject of walks, I can say that finally my numbers have pulled up dramatically, with good turnouts on the last few, and some already booking for later in the month. The lack of walkers this year has me somewhat baffled, although there is no doubt that, generally speaking, the visitor numbers, to several of the camp sites particularly, have been down. As this is my main market, then I suppose it's understandable, but the question arises as to why are the numbers down? One would have expected quite a rush to these shores after last year's success in encouraging people to give the overseas trips a miss. "Ah but!" you say " look at the weather we've had". O.K. I'll grant you that the weather has left a lot to be desired, in fact I believe I've even moaned about it in this column, but, come on, you can't say that it has been all bad. How many people have phoned you and asked for a weather run down before saying they weren't coming? No! The problem is, as it has been for years, in the weather forecasts drummed out day after day by Mickey Finn and his gang when an arm gets waved in an offhand manner to the tried and tested refrain of "Showers in the North West". When did you last see a full sized sun symbol sitting in this area? Yea! Me too!! Maybe I'm just biased, but is there not another part of Britain that gets an odd shower? At least ours has the decency to fill up the Lochs before sending any overspill neatly down the burns into the sea without causing flood havoc! O.K. I've probably said too much already, but you get my drift?
This year, as I may have mentioned in a previous report, we Rangers got orders from on high to run, instead of our standard, two groups over two days, playscheme, to run four in different venues. So far we have successfully managed to escape unscathed from both the Fort William one (96 kids) and the Kinlochleven one (43 kids), so hopefully, by the time you read this, there will only be one left in Strontian to struggle through. No doubt the sharpest amongst my readers will have spotted that the fourth has gone walkabout, but that to will have taken place ere you read this! Yes it's the turn of the mighty Mallaig, Morar Arisaig etc. Midgets (5 to 12 year-olds) to test the mettle of the Ranger Service (with, hopefully an odd helper?) on Wednesday the 4th, so all you readers can just wish me a belated "Good Luck!"
Finally, before I close, it is nice to be able to mention that visitors to the area are having some wonderful sightings of otters whilst kayaking off Traigh/Back of Keppoch. One couple, regular visitors to the area, told me that they watched a family of four for some time, and also saw them on consecutive days. Good to know that our otter population is holding up, as I have also had good sightings in other areas. The other thing spotted, not far off, in the same area, was a large basking shark. Easily recognised by their floppy dorsal fin, these huge (10mtrs. or so) fish feed only on plankton and cruise along near the surface with their jaws agape, filtering the plankton out through their specially adapted gills. On speaking to local fishermen, I'm told that there are many being seen further out, so I suppose we will hear more about global warming again in the near future! Seems to me that in my younger years I can remember some local "Ring-net" boats being fitted with harpoon guns for the shark fishing??? Maybe it's just a shorter cycle than some people are leading us to believe! or is it just the fact that fortune/future-telling has never been an exact science????
I leave you with your thoughts and in the capable hands of my ever-ready answering gadget on 01687 462 983.
One more thing, ("Will he never finish" I hear you say). Further to the "Lochaber, the Outdoor Capital of the U.K." blurb. After speaking to many who tend to see "Lochaber" as being Fort William, I was lucky enough to be in a company when area recognition names were being bandied about, so how about, for this privileged part of "God's country" not just "West Lochaber", (as that is normally recognised as being the Strontian end), but "Maritime Lochaber"! I think it's a cracker, and I would love to have your views.
I wondered if this is the same friendly deer that the Editor saw outside West Word last month. He has been visiting us for about 14 months and can be seen regularly in our garden, he stays for anything up to 4 hours at a time and seems to particularly like it when the children are around. He has on a number of occasions lain down behind the bushes and basked in the sunshine. Our children nicknamed him Spike a long time ago because of the one lonely antler he had that looked just like a spike, it has since fallen off but the name has stuck. Mike and I reckon he was a dog in a previous life!!
Mallaig & District Canoe Club - Summer Cruise, 2004
Well, we did it! On the 17th July, sixteen club kayakers completed a circumnavigation of the Isle of Mull taking seven days plus a few minutes to complete the 110 mile journey.
From the outset of the planning process, informed opinion had only given us a 50:50 chance of success, the exposed nature of much of the Isle of Mull's coastline and the unpredictable weather we get in July being the main culprits. Expeditions of all types can suffer badly if the individuals involved do not share clear and common goals. Even although in the general scheme of things our proposed cruise was relatively small beer, being a trip of 100+ miles, there was still plenty of scope for misunderstandings and loads of room for things to go wrong. It was thus exceedingly important that as clear a picture as possible was painted of what the trip would involve. Because for many this would represent the major portion of annual leave, having an enjoyable and relatively relaxing time was seen to be very important. Of course, it all depends what you mean by relaxing …. ! And, certainly, the goal of completing a circumnavigation was clear cut, as was the intention to visit the Isles of Iona, Staffa and the Treshnish, if this proved at all possible. As the conversations and emails set about clarifying the trip, a new and, to the Mallaig Club, an entirely novel problem arose. The proposed trip was proving incredibly popular, for we seemed to have captured the imagination of almost a third of the club and others were clamouring to join so they might qualify to be a part of it all. A ceiling of twenty four was put on the total numbers and the leaders started to get to grips with the problems of controlling so large a number on the water. All of the club's previous experience of week-long trips had involved parties of seven or eight paddlers and here we were contemplating three times that number.
Then another issue connected to the numbers was aired, " How would we find sufficient camping space on wilderness shores for so many tents?" And as this question was asked and the research into possibilities initiated, some of the key experienced paddlers began to ask whether the trip would prove to be the sort of expedition they had imagined and signed up for. Some seriously questioned whether the club contained paddlers skilled enough to contemplate such an exposed journey. Fortunately, the leaders had already asked themselves nearly all these questions and tentative solutions were already in the pipeline. Rather than tell individuals they could not take part, it was thought expedient to trust people's judgement about their readiness for such a venture. Accordingly, we described, as accurately as possible, the conditions likely to be met, the skill level required to cope with these, and the organisation, now absolutely essential, to control the communication between, and the safe passage of, so many individual paddlers. We trusted that the less experienced would drop out of their own accord, and, largely, this proved to be the case.
Basically, we resolved the safety and potential environmental issues by organising the expedition into three groups of eight paddlers, doing our best to place people with friends. Each group was to be autonomous and would be led by an experienced paddler. Movement between groups could be negotiated, but would have to be controlled, so at least one person would know where everyone was, etc. The goal would be for the three groups to camp together as often as this proved possible. Communication between the groups and the expedition leader would be via cell phones and marine band VHF radios. Police and Coastguard would be sent our ideal plan and all the contingencies we imagined necessary. As we neared departure, numbers dwindled until the party consisted of sixteen and we decided that two groups of eight would be advisable. We were ready to go.
By hook and by crook, by Friday night the 10th July, ten paddlers had assembled at Craignure on the north east corner of Mull. The remaining six would leave Lochaline on Saturday morning and join the main party off Java Point. The start of a long trip is a real "crunch" time. Rarely do paddlers have the leisure for a trial pack: usually they rely on their past experience of what will go into the boats, plus a cavalier attitude to all those extras - "We can always leave them behind in the car!" One way or another gigantic piles of gear and food disappear into the two ends of the kayak and people congratulate one another on the achievement of packing before they have paddled a stroke!
By one thirty in the afternoon two groups departed the beach at Craignure and set off down wind towards Duart Point.
Part Two of this exciting venture will be in next month's West Word...
Allie in Japan by Alison MacDougall
It's been close on a year since I last wrote an article, so I've been having difficulties finding a good way to start this one…this year has been quite stressful with Dad's illness and so most things outside of work and my immediate friends fell by the wayside. I returned home for a month after Dad passed away and when I came back here in early May, I didn't think I would be writing another one…but as I come closer to the end of my contract I realise that I can't finish this job without at least trying to put pen to paper (oh OK, text to computer screen then) and finish what I started three years ago.
Three years, and how much has changed. As I sit here in the intense balmy heat of a Japanese summer, I am reminded of arriving in the 30-plus degree, 80% humidity sauna in August 2001, fresh out of university, knowing nothing about Japan, the language, people or customs, excited, terrified and nervous about the place which would be my home for the next year of my life. Or so I thought. Japan has caught me in its grip and is not letting go; even though my job finishes in two weeks, I am going to apply for a working holiday visa upon my return to Scotland and come back to Matsuyama until Christmas, in order to study for level two of the proficiency exam. (I passed level three in December last year.) Three years ago, the sight of a cockroach would cause me to run screaming from a room, Japanese TV was an impossible code of nonsensical utterances, pop music sounded shrill and uncool, the language was a bunch of unreadable symbols stuck on a page. Now I can evict insects (I still kill cockroaches, sorry, they're just too disgusting to live in my flat…but I do it very humanely with washing-up liquid, no chemical sprays or traps), I am addicted to two TV programmes in particular and am applying to go on one as I write (Ainori, kind of like Blind Date but there are 7 people on a pink minibus which travels around the world!), I've fallen head over heels in love with J-pop, regularly sing Japanese pop songs at karaoke, and have recently written a letter to my favourite group's fan club. Luckily my Japanese teacher is a fantastic lady who is not only an amazing teacher but is very flexible with our study materials and helps me study song lyrics, as well as write letters such as that one!
So how does this happen? How is it possible that someone can come here knowing nothing and fall so in love that she can't leave? I'm not at all sure that I have the answer to that question, as this has happened so gradually, so gently, that I just turned around in May and realised that I am not ready to give up my life here. I have finally arrived at a place in my third year where things make sense. Language comes easier to the tongue and the memory, relationships deepen, ways of thinking and acting no longer seem alien but sensible in their own context; in short, perhaps I have become more Japanese, and those foreigners who firmly resist the nuances of Japanese life are the ones who still cannot tolerate things that I have found myself accepting, without conscious knowledge of when this acceptance took place. Yes, the ATM machines close at 8pm - so make sure you go before then. Yes, the classrooms have no air conditioning in summer and no heating in winter - so be thankful that we can escape into the teachers' room between classes to cool down/warm up, something the poor students cannot do. Yes, people make assumptions constantly that you cannot speak Japanese, use chopsticks or eat raw fish - so explain with patience that you can do all these things, and take note of the people who don't make such assumptions, and are delighted to see you embracing their culture, because there are lots of them too. No, students often don't care about learning English. Why should they? How many students in our own countries groan at the idea of learning a foreign language - through study difficulties, lack of necessity, laziness?
There is a sense of superiority present in many native English speakers that I find repellent; namely, that learning English is necessary and the "right" thing to do. One memory that sticks strongly in my mind from Cambodia is sitting amongst the ruins of Angkor Wat, singing Extreme's More Than Words with Lesley, Shirley and Carla; a group of high school students were visiting the site on their free Saturday morning in order to meet tourists and practice their English. These kids had a song book and asked us to sing something from it, so we sang the only tune we knew in the whole book. Every time I hear that song now I am reminded of that surreal half hour in which we were so impressed by the students' determination, drive and humour. Yet one ALT, upon hearing this story, complained, "why can't Japanese students have an attitude like that?" Aside from the fact that this overlooks the numerous people I have met here who not only enjoy studying English but put an extraordinary amount of effort into their study, the answer about the ones who don't is, I think, simple. Look at how British students are notoriously lazy when it comes to foreign language study; there is no economic necessity for us to communicate in another language the way there is for Cambodian people, and millions of other people around the world, to use English. In Japan you can easily live your life knowing no English at all, just as we can live our lives with no French, German, Spanish, Chinese. So why is it that when the boot is on the other foot, and the language in question is English, the assumption exists that it is just not possible that you may not want to, or find it too much of a challenge to, study? Whenever I find myself frustrated with a student's bad attitude, I just remind myself of high school French lessons and how easy it is to get dispirited when the teacher is saying, "What time did you get up this morning?" yet all you can hear is "mwah blah yakka dadada blahhhhhh?" It can be so easy to forget how much of a chore just being a teenager can be!
Today I had the most surreal experience of my life here so far; namely, I had to say goodbye to being an ALT forever. We had the school's closing ceremony this morning and in the section that was dedicated to my goodbye, the students who were in charge of the announcements surprised me with a bilingual version! I was quite overwhelmed as it is the first time I have ever experienced a formal ceremony with translations. So, I got up there and said my goodbye speech in Japanese, though I had to read it off the page as if I got up there with only my memory to serve me, I would probably have forgotten my own name. After my speech, the head boy, Satoshi, came up to the stage and read me his speech on behalf of the students, in English, with the head girl providing a Japanese translation afterwards. It was beautiful…as a teacher I think the best thing you could ever hear is that you have touched someone's life, made a difference, and just made lessons fun for them, so I am lucky enough that my students have been saying just those things in our goodbyes. One thing in particular made me supremely happy. A word that I use a lot in class is majide, which is a popular way to say "really?" with young Japanese people; maybe the closest translation is "for real?" I discovered a while ago that this is a quick and easy way to make them laugh, so I play on that and use it a lot. And apparently, I've become quite famous for it! Satoshi's speech read at one point, "We will always remember the enjoyable time we spent with you when we hear the word majide." Fantastic! These kids say that word about ten times a day, so I will become a legend in my own lifetime at Tsuda Junior High. I am so very proud. Actually, I said earlier that I wasn't exactly sure why I had fallen so in love with Japan, but I should correct that. I wrote a long letter to my students this week, which one of the English teachers very kindly translated with me, and I told them something so true. Whenever I had a bad day here…through culture shock, language barriers, frustrations with protocol, whatever…all I had to do was spend five minutes with my students, and they cheered me right up. Whenever anyone asks me about my job, the first thing I talk about is how much I love them. How they make me laugh, make me happy, how cute they are. Where else would you find students who will come up to you after class with an origami something or other they have made? (One time it was an origami cigarette, I wasn't quite sure what to do with that, but it's the thought that counts.) OK, they probably made it while you were teaching instead of listening to you, but bygones. They can make me laugh in ways I can't even explain because if I were to write the English they say, it doesn't sound so funny. But I promise that there are few things cuter than hearing someone who claims they can't speak English calling you over just to tell you "Hey Allie…no-one beats me at baseball". Or hearing the cute third year boys say that they love you. I even got a marriage proposal this week, which would sort out my visa problems if only he weren't 14…too bad.
I have changed schools every year and it is always a wrench to leave the students, knowing that I will in all likelihood never get to spend time with them again. But I have constantly bumped into my former students in the town, and had new students to get to know in the meantime. Now, I am looking into the future at…what exactly? Who knows? The bright spot that keeps me from getting too sentimental at this time is that Tsuda has an international day in October for the third year students, and I have already scored my place as a Scotland representative. So it makes things much easier knowing it's not sayonara, it's mata ne (see you later). The third years were excited at the thought that I might get on Ainori though…in one class's goodbye card at least three of them wrote "Ainori gambatte", i.e. do your best to get on Ainori! So I will, if only to make them as proud of me as I am of them. The biggest challenge is going to be writing my CV in Japanese…
So all that remains to be done is pack up my beloved home, and enjoy the last few days of this section of my life here to the full. On the 25th of this month I finally get to go to a Japanese wedding, something I thought I would never actually get to see. I will be playing the harp in a turquoise kimono while my friend Mel from New Zealand will be pounding away in the taiko (Japanese drums) group in a red one. The best part is that most of the guests will be in regular Western dress, so if Mel and I were ever going to stand out, the 25th will herald perhaps the biggest optical equivalent of screaming "look at the gaijin!" Matsuyama has ever seen. Should be fun.
And here I leave you. It's been a fantastic opportunity for me to write these articles, even though this year was rather sporadic! I've loved being able to share my experiences with you, and I'd like to thank you all so much for reading them, and for your kind comments on them while I was at home last summer and this April. I promise that if I ever get on Ainori I will let you know and type from the bus, I think that would be a more interesting series of articles than as a teacher! So I'll just finish with the traditional ending to a Japanese goodbye speech, which I've had lots of practice with. My heart-felt thanks for three years; san nen kan, kokoro kara arigato gozaimashita.
Watch this space for extracts from next month's issue!
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