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Top author visits Lochmaddy

Lochmaddy Village Hall was packed with fans of author Alexander McCall Smith on Friday night after he sailed into the North Uist port to give a literary talk.

Photographs by Roz Skinner

Author sets sail for Lochmaddy talk

Most celebrities arrive at their engagements in a limousine, or perhaps even a helicopter! 

However, celebrated author Alexander McCall Smith will be making his way to Lochmaddy, North Uist to give a literary talk on July 24, in an unusual form of transport. 

"I keep a Fisher 34 - a very hardy boat," the author explains.  "Last year, we sailed to Canna to Lochmaddy, then back up the mainland, so we are going to sail across the Minch for my engagement.  I love the idea of sailing in - I do a lot of touring, but this is a unique opportunity to combine a sail with literary activity!"



Mr McCall Smith will be speaking in Lochmaddy as the guest of Comann na Mara (Society of the Sea).  This was a result of a meeting last year with Gus Macaulay who heads the group. 

Mr McCall Smith relates: "He was very welcoming and said: 'You must come and give a talk here at some point.'  Lo and behold, he sent us the invitation and I was delighted to accept it.  It will be a general discussion of books.  It will be a general discussion about my books and it should be a lovely event.  We love the islands and, for many years, we always took the children once every year." 

Mr McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe, had a childhood spent in Africa, an adulthood in Scotland, a short period in Ireland and a year in Botswana...  in his own words, he has "been around a bit!"  He goes on to say: "I was a Professor of Medical Law at Edinburgh University, but I always used to write in my spare time.  Gradually, when the books took off, I decided to become a full-time writer."  Producing around four or five books a year, Mr McCall Smith transports readers to the warmth of Botswana in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series, to the streets of Edinburgh in his Scotland Street series and Isabel Dalhousie books, as well as writing stand-alone novels and children's books.

Recognition has recently been received for one of those stand-alone works: Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party, which chronicles the comedic adventures of an American on holiday in Ireland.  This book earned Mr McCall Smith the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize.  Describing the style of Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party as similar to his humorous Professor von Igelfeld books, Mr McCall Smith says: "I just sat down and wrote a ridiculous story and I had great fun!"

Whether they are light-hearted or serious, Mr McCall Smith's books are gentle, warm and amusing - and each of his titles hints at the personality behind the book.  "I have a basic idea for the title, then discuss it with my New York editor, Edward Kastenmeier.  He has a box of additional adjectives in his office, and he often suggests one to me!" Mr McCall Smith says.  One of his upcoming books has a particularly delightful title - The Revolving Door Of Life, which is the latest Scotland Street novel, due to be released in August.  This book promises another brief glimpse of freedom for put-upon Bertie when his overbearing mother goes to Dubai.  "His grandmother, Nicola, comes and she buys him a kilt and lets him eat pizza and is terrific fun," Mr McCall Smith says. 

In October, the latest Mma Ramotswe book will be released, entitled The Woman Who Walked In Sunshine.  Younger readers can also enjoy Mma Ramotswe's adventures as a girl in the newly-released  Precious And The Zebra Necklace.

In a world where bleak events do occur, Mr McCall Smith's books are like pocket rays of sunshine.  How does he maintain his optimistic writing style, but, at the same time, face up to everyday problems?  "People say I'm a utopian writer, but I don't think I am," he says.  "I dwell on positive aspects of human nature, because the vast majority of people are well disposed towards other people.  I think it's possible to be aware of the ways in which the world can be a vale of tears, but one doesn't need to make that the prevailing key of one's work.  Philosophically, you can make a case for adopting an optimistic view of things on the grounds that nihilism doesn't actually help." 

Mr McCall Smith will be speaking on July 24 at Lochmaddy Village Hall from 7:30pm and you are welcome to attend. 

(Interview by Roz Skinner.  Photograph by Alex Hewitt.)

Open Day at Eaglais na h-Aoidhe

There will be an Open Day at Eaglais na h-Aoidhe on Point, Isle of Lewis, on Saturday 18th July, from 10am to 4pm.
Also known as St Columba’s Ui Church, this is a medieval ruined church located at the Point end of the Braighe overlooking Broad Bay.


It is one of the most important archaeological sites on Lewis.  It was the main church on the Island during the medieval period and is a burial place for Macleod chiefs until the 17th Century and the Mackenzies who controlled the island in later years.  It is one of the few and most complete remains of the medieval and post-medieval period on the Isle of Lewis.
The ancient ruins were very carefully consolidated and stabilised in 2012/13 after a long fundraising campaign.  However the severe storms of 2014 and 2015, coupled with exceptionally high tides earlier this year, took their toll on the sea defences near the Church.  The seawall was badly breached in several places and the church and graveyard were at risk from further storms.


Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (the charitable trust responsible for the church) got professional advice and funding to repair and strengthen the sea defences.  Sheet piles were very gently inserted between the church and the sea along the line of the eroded seawall.  Then the area was filled with stones and the level of the path was raised to nearer the base of the church.  A wooden rail finishes the top of the piles neatly.
The Open Day on Saturday 18th July, from 10.00am to 4.00pm is for people to come and see the work that has been done.  Several directors and an archaeologist will be there to answer questions and to listen to your ideas for the future.


There will be an opportunity to buy books about the church and other gifts and Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe are planning some activities for children.  You will also be able to see and contribute to the research we are doing on the graveyard.
"Everyone is welcome and we look forward to meeting you on the 18th, " say the organisers.

 

 

MSP pledges fairness on ferry pensions deal

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has rejected claims that the tendering process for the Hebridean and Clyde ferry services will be unfair because of unequal provision of pension liabilities between contenders CalMac and Serco.
Speaking just before a day-long strike for ferry workers, he said:  “It is the Scottish Ministers’ intention that the winning tenderer will be obligated to take on a reformed CalMac pension scheme for the duration of the next contract. 
“Whoever wins the tender will have to abide by that requirement.  This means that no advantage will be conferred to either company because of pensions.
“I would also like to welcome the Transport Minister’s announcement of the setting up of an independent procurement reference panel with the aim of ensuring fairness, openness and transparency during this process.”
The panel will be invited to review and offer comment to Transport Scotland on:
• the Initial Invitation to Tender, due to issue on 10 July 2015. 
• the Interim Invitation to Tender, due to issue in autumn 2015.
• the Final Invitation to Tender, due to issue in December 2015.
Transport Scotland will take the views of the panel into account and provide an undertaking to consider all relevant points made by the panel.  Any necessary changes arising from the panel’s assessment would be incorporated in the subsequent or final version of the Invitation to Tender.
The panel will be made up of some six to ten members representing local communities, various sectors or interest groups including the trade unions.
Minister for Transport and Islands Derek Mackay said:  “This is an entirely new initiative in the procurement of ferry services in Scotland – the establishment of an independent Procurement Reference Panel to further reinforce our commitment to fairness, openness and transparency in the procurement process.
“We have already engaged with key stakeholders who have a direct interest in the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services, but this panel will give them additional assurances around the procurement process.  It will also allow further important input from local communities and interest groups.
“As Minister for Transport and Islands, I am well aware of the crucial role these lifeline links play for families and businesses on the West Coast and the Western Isles and there is no doubt the award of the next CHFS contract is an incredibly important moment for Scotland’s island communities.
“I am convinced this new approach will be welcomed by all of those who live, work and visit communities served by these services.”
Mr Mackay also addressed issues around the tender process:
“The Scottish Government would rather we did not have to tender these services.  My party opposed the initial tender of these services in 2004.  However, it has been demonstrated that EU law requires the Scottish Government to do so.” 
He said the present government inherited this situation from the previous Labour-Lib Dem Administration and it was that coalition which initiated the first tendering of the contract. 
“Some opposition members who supported the tender then appear to be suggesting that we break EU law, the consequences of which would surely result in challenge.
“If we were not to tender this contract we put the services themselves, the subsidy we provide them with, the routes, the vessels and the investment at risk.  That is not a risk this Government will take.
“I also want to re-emphasise that the current tender process does not involve the Scottish Government selling any assets or controlling interests to the private sector. 
“No matter the outcome, Scottish Ministers will retain ownership and control of all the vessels and ports currently under public ownership.
“We will set routes, timetables and fares – as we do just now – and we will retain full control of the services provided by the operator through the public service contract.”

Borgh Pottery reopens

Borgh Pottery has reopened after a massive development project which has seen the roof replaced and the inside entirely remodelled – despite delays imposed by the worst winter in years.

Borgh Pottery has been established for many years off the road between Barvas and Port of Ness in North Lewis in the village of the same name.

Owner Sue Blair welcomes people to her new retail zone – while the final touches are put to the transformation of her pottery-making area and to new studio facilities at the rear of the building.

Once work is completed, the pottery will be integrated into the garden surrounding it, with a chance for people to enjoy the plats, shrubs and wildlife as well as the original pottery work and a whole range of other products from home and away.