Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Floods

This summer we have seen unusual though not unprecedented heavy rain and terrible flooding in parts of England. While one sympathises with those whose homes have been badly damaged I cannot but reflect on the blame culture that emerges and the failure of people to take responsibility.

Whenever I hear people in West London complaining about the noise from Heathrow planes I want to ask them who was here first, them or the airport? As far as I can see almost everyone with the exception of Her Majesty at Windsor, chose to buy or build knowing they were near a flight path. Get over the noise or move I say.

Similarly, if you have chosen to live on a flood plain, you really should not be surprised at floods or blame the government for not protecting you enough. The government of course has something else to blame. Global warming is the culprit.

One swallow does not make a summer and one wet summer does not confirm that global warming is responsible. Read the history and you will find catastrophic floods have always been with us.

In Sunday School we used to sing,
"The wise man built his house upon the rock.......
The foolish man built his house upon the sand.
The rain came down and the floods came up........"

We are told there is a great need for new homes and there will have to be building on flood plains. Why is there such a need? There are two main causes. Family disintegration means people want to live apart. Unrestricted immigration, particularly from the E.U. is the other factor. Government cannot do much about the former but the solution to the second problem is obvious. Get out of the European Super State.

Ruby Wedding

Sunday 22 July saw us in Wareham, Dorset, lunching at The Priory Hotel, to celebrate Elizabeth's parents, ruby wedding. Unfortunately my one decent lunch picture shows John, our generous host, looking uncharacteristically less than happy as we are about to start the meal. I blame the photographer.
Zac at the lunch.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Elissa at three months

My fifth grandchild is now three and a half months old.
We are undecided as to which parent she resembles. We see both in her.

Morning in Oban

Early morning view of the harbour from our bedroom window.
To the south from the B&B doorstep.
The harbour from our doorstep.
Last full Scottish breakfast. We then took just over ten hours to drive about 510 miles home.

Evening in Oban

Approaching on the ferry. Our B&B was up on the hill beneath the folly.
Langoustines at Coast Restaurant. When I first read these on a menu I did not know what they were. Then someone said they were a local delicacy in the Hebrides. But they were not available on subsequent menus until our last night here in Oban. They ars like huge prawns or small lobsters. I asked if there was any special eating etiquette and was told there was not. The sweetest meat is in the claws which one crushes with the pliers provided.
Unfortuately it was shut and I had not have a dram after my meal.
Sunset from the harbour.
We did not manage a spectacular sunset in the islands but our night in Oban made up for it.

Leaving the Sound of Mull

Duart Castle on Mull.
The Lighthouse on Eilean Musdile.
The lighthouse is on a small island off the larger Lismore.
This is the point one leaves the Sound of Mull for the Firth of Lorn and Oban.
Entering Oban.

In the Sound of Mull

Kilchoan on Ardnamurchan from the Sound of Mull which is over 20 miles long and about two miles wide.
The outward ferry to Barra passes ours bound for Oban near Kilchoan.
The hills on Mull, I believe.
We passed a sail training ship.
Lochaline on Morven.

The Small Isles

Canna and Rum from the ferry. Skye is in the distance.
On the other side was Oigh Sgeir lighthouse.
Eigg and Muck.
Rum, Muck and Eigg.
Ardnamurchan Point, entering the Sound of Mull with the Small Isles in the distance.

Farewell to the Hebrides

Three days a week the ferry goes from Lochboisdale to Oban. We were impressed to be welcomed by name at the terminal as we joined the queue. There I talked to a couple from Holland who had cycled there via Shetland, Orkney, mainland and Hebrides. One gets a better standard of tourist in these parts.
Lochboisdale from the departing ferry.
Lochboisdale is no size but it is the biggest settlement on South Uist.
Farewell to the hills of South Uist.
After those cold N.E. winds this was different weather with no wind. It was warm enough to stay on the open top beck for the five hour voyage to Oban.

Wildlife on South Uist

They look wild but they are not, these highland cattle near Bornais church.
When I was a child, there were pictures of highland cattle on the bedroom landing. I was frightened of them and i am sure recurring dreams of pursuit by cattle are due to those pictures.
But they are really quiet, non-aggressive creatures. Loch Bhornais behind.
The common cormorant or shag, lays eggs inside a paper bag. So says the humorous verse. There were seals by by them on the rocks. Elsewhere on the island we heard the rare corncrake calling.
I believe these are Eriskay type wild ponies on the road to Loch Sgioport by Loch Druidbeg.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Books read in July 2007 (6)

1. William Wilberforce by Stephen Tomkins

Tompkin's has written a sympathetic biography of the great reformer but the author shows a better understanding of Wiberforce's Christianity than he does of his conservatism. I think that the author is in danger of judging Wilberforce by 21st century standards over his opposition to trades unions, support of fewer of civil liberties in the face of threatened French invasion and the persecution of the promoters of atheistic books. Wilberforce's campaign to abolish the slave trade is the major theme of the book as it was the dominating thing in his life. But this history would be improved by the inclusion of a brief chronology or time line, putting Wilberforce's campaign and life in the world historic context of the time which included the American and French revolutions as well as the rise and fall of Napoleon. Wilberforce turned down all office and advancement including a peerage. He was ever a man of principle not party, a great philanthropist and saint whose perseverance was a greater gift than his oratory. The quotations about the horrors of slavery which precede each chapter are truly shocking.

2. Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper

Jonathan Aitken writes a glowing appreciation of this book in his foreword. If you want a brief biography of Wilberforce this is the one to read. It is short and easy to read and tells you what motivated the great reformer. It was his evangelical Christian faith which he evidenced in a joyful personality despite his long struggle to abolish the slave trade, his personal infirmities and problems with his errant eldest son. This was a man who was transformed by his Christian faith. He could probably have been prime minister, but he eschewed personal advancement. If I have one small criticism it is that Piper has produced something of an hagiography with no really critical evaluation of Wilberforce. For this one may read Tomkins.

3. The House That Jesus Built by Dale Ralph Davis

In a age when Christianity is all to often seen as merely a personal matter for the individual, Ralph Davis shows the corporate nature of the Christian faith by starting with what a Reformed protestant church believes. Any church in the reformation tradition, whether Anglican, baptist or Presbyterian will be pleased with his description of the nature of the church , what she believes, what she is. The author then gives an excellent summary of the disciplines needed in the Christian life before he concludes with a challenge for the non-Christian reader to come to faith in Christ. in short this is an excellent brief introduction to Christian faith lived together as church.

4. The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left by Ed Husain

Ed Husain has given us a well written account of a British Asian Muslim, born in 1975, growing up in the east end of London who has experienced different manifestations of Islam. His family background was of a non-political Islam, his honorary Grandpa, a mystical Muslim leader.As a teenager, Mohammed as he was then known, rebelled and became involved with the very political Young Muslim Organisation at the East London Mosque. This lead to a break with his parents. He was very active in student Muslim affairs organising his fellow Muslim students to his Islamist cause. He joined the secretive Hizb ut-Tarhir then under the leadership of Omar Bakri. He describes their cell group structure, disregard for British law and the ethos that the Islamic end justifies deceptive means. The aim is the restoration of the caliphate and one Muslim peole, not nation states. Violent revolution will achieve this. But the violence of Hizb and their lack of Islamic spirituality led the author to leave these radicals and pursue a very un-Islamic career in a major bank. Now married, he was to leave the materialism of a banking career and return to his religion but this time in its Sufi form of mysticism which he encountered on honeymoon in Turkey and in the testimony of an American convert to Islam. After 9/11 Husain was shocked by the extent of Muslim support for the terrorists and for the oppressive regime of Saddam in Iraq. He went to Syria to study Arabic and found employment there and then in Saudi Arabia with the British Council. His critique of Saudi Wahabbism and the nature of Islam in Saudi Arabia are very revealing and devastating. His view is that Islam in Britain is adversely influenced by Islamism and Wahabbism, neither of which are compatible with democracy. He thinks Hizb should be banned in Britain as it is in most Islamic countries. Husain's mystical Sufi Islam seems at home with pluralism and a secular state. It says Islam has no monolithic approach to life. It is a welcome message but one which I fears carries little weight among most serious followers of Islam. Husain's is an eirenic book. But I think his approach to Islam is that of the modern, secularised Briton. Religion is reduced to the private sphere and does not affect all of life. This is a very valuable and informative book and a gripping read It would be improved by an index and also a glossary of Muslim terminology.

5. Praise! Words Edition

When this hymnbook was published in 2000 I thought it good enough for our church to use it in place of our old Christian Praise. I have not regretted recommending we make the change. Now I have also worked my way through the book reading it in daily devotionals so for I think the first time I have read all the way through a hymnbook. I have also sung my way through all those I could put a tune too without a musicians help, but my thoughts will be confined to words as I am not competent to express any opinion as to the music set.

First of all I commend Praise! for its good mix of Psalms together with old and modern hymns and songs. It is a balanced mixture and it is rare for me to have any theological quibbles over what is included. Having a complete Psalter is a plus. I found the attempts to modernise language acceptable. Thees and thous have gone except in rare instances and the use of inclusive language is reasonable. Some will not like the loss of traditional lines, but for me, having to concentrate on the text in case it has been changed is positive. It makes one attend to the text and think more about what you are singing.

One minor quibble is that sometimes when a first line is drastically revised as in A Safe Stringhold or With harps and with Viols, one has great difficulty finding the hymn concerned in the index. I believe this may be rectified in future editions. But overall I have nothing but praise for Praise!

6. John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken

Jonathan Aitken has written an excellent biography, one of the best Christian biographies I have read. Newton is a great subject for a biography for he had a long and amazing life. Aitken is well qualified to write about "From Disgrace to Amazing Grace". He writes with style. His chapters are refeshingly short and to the point. The story is thrilling with "many dangers, toils and snare". One looses counts of the dangers from which the young Newton escapes. It is the story of a great sinner who was found by a great Saviour. Aitken tells the tale with real spiritual as well as historical undrstanding of his subject so that in concluion he can point the reader to spiritual lessons to be learned from Newton's life. For example. God's timing is not ours. Newton had to wait six years from applying, to be finally ordained as an Anglican minister. His marriage is an exemplary and touching story. Newtons spitiuality and prayer life are a real challenge. Aitken shows how faithful and inovatory Newton was as a pastor and how he helped many, especially his best friend William Cowper. Without Newton there would have neem no great poet only a forgotten suicide. Similarly, without Newton we would probably not have has Wilberforce, politician and reformer. Aitken also tells the story of Newton's famous hymn, its composition and rise to fame. Aitken faithfully relates Newton's faults too. His support of the American rebels had to be withdrawn but one is led to understand why many in England, especailly non-conformists, were suppporters of the rebels. Newton was an eirenic man who eschewed party labels and associated with Christian irrespective of denominational labels. This is a great biography and I hope we will have more from this fine Christian author.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

South Uist

By Airigh nam Bahn on the east coat, a ruin on the north shore of Loch Eynort. We were exploring the minor roads. Where one ended we stopped and looked for seals and did see some. We walked along a path above the loch but the midges and horse flies were biting.
On the east coast looking south, Friday lunchtime. The headland is Rubha Ardvule. We were south of Ormacleit.
Saturday moring, south of Homore and looking south.


Eriskay from Poll a Charra Inn, at the south western tip of South Uist. Taken about 8pm after dinner at the inn. We stayed out to try and photograph the sunset but around 10pm as we returned from Eriskay, thick cloud descended. No sunset photography that night.
Here you see the causeway opened in 2001, the last link built on the spinal road. So the ferry to Barra now goes from here, not Lochboisedale in South Uist. It departs from the other side of the island, next to the beach where Charles Edward Stuart first landed in Scotland in 1745.

In these waters in 1941 the S S Politician hit the rocks and sank with 22,000 cases of whisky bound for the U.S.A. on board. Islanders were estimated to have liberated about 2,000 cases. The Excise took a dim view and some local men were imprisoned as a result. Compton Mackenzie's book Whisky Galore, and the Ealing Studio film are based on these events. I had my only dram of the holiday at the bar on Eriskay where two bottles from the wreck are in display.


Near Cuinabunag just south of Baile nan Cailleach on the west of Benbecula. This island marks the transition from Presbyterian culture to Roman Catholicism. This island had both communities. Islands to the north are Presbyterian, to the south Roman Catholic and one sees some road side shrines. (Not the sort of objects to interest this blogger). I believe this place may have been known as Stinky Bay. In these part the smell of seaweed can be unpleasant. Kelp was the major source of wealth over 200 years ago until round 1820 when the demand for it declined due to the discovery of a synthetic way to produce sodium carbonate
Hills of South Uist from the same viewpoint. The secondary school on this island doubles up as a community centre. We wandered in unchallenged, something unthinkable in a school in England. but in the Hebrides it is common for people not to lock their doors. One cannot but be in admiration for the other world represented by the more Christian culture of these isles.
On the causeway to South Uist there is an unusual notice. We never saw otters. A farmer told us he had only seen them about six times in his life. But we met cyclists who had seen one and a couple we thought were bird watching were in fact training telephoto lenses on otters. I believe it was from this causeway that in January 2005 a family of five died when a storm washed their vehicle off the road.

North Uist

Wednesday afternoon we had rain after coming off the ferry but that was the only significant rain in out two weeks in the islands. After dinner that evening in Lochmaddy, we had a beautiful sunny evening to tour round North Uist. Here are the sands at Cladach, opposite Kirkibost Island.
Struan Cotttage, near Sollas, is a restored traditional thatched cottage which can be rented via the Internet.
Our hosts in Lochmaddy, the MacLeods, had two very friendly, very large, Newfoundland dogs.
The view at the back of Rushlee House, our B&B in Lochmaddy.
A look at the O.S. map will show the east of North Uist to be mainly low lying with lots of inland water. This is a typical view from the main road going south.