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Issue 39 - April 2014
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We’re a bit hi-tech-y this month, as these weeks of spring have seen a lot of bright ideas bursting forth. We make no apology for that, since Arran, though its own unique self, is part of the greater outside world, with interests that go far beyond the scope of the ‘parish magazine’. On this island, we are looking at ways in which we can generate natural energy and increase our self-sufficiency, so knowing what people in other places have discovered and are developing matters a lot. Meanwhile, we go on enjoying a vast range of arts and music and entertainment. All this, and daffodils, too. How lucky we are!

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Fantastic music on Good Friday

Simon Thacker and his amazing partner, Justyna Jablonska, will be appearing in Whiting Bay Hall two weeks earlier than originally scheduled, on Friday 18th April, at 7:30 pm. This is to avoid the clash with a visit from Lesley Riddoch, the well-known broadcaster, who is due to speak on Friday 25th, thus causing a lot of people agonies over which to choose.

Simon is Head of Guitar at Edinburgh’s Napier University, and is well known throughout Europe and beyond for his superb, ground-breaking performances. He tours constantly and has appeared in Spain, France, Malta, Cuba, Belgium and the US, among countless other places. Justyna, who is from Poland, is likewise internationally renowned, a skilled cellist with an extraordinary repertoire of varied musical styles. Together, the pair of them link in a duo called Karmana, which is Sanskrit for ‘performing anything by means of magic’. Their combination of deep sonority from the cello and romantic invention from the guitar is indeed magical, and irresistibly seductive. They play music from all over the world, ranging from the fire of Brazil and Spain to the exotic rhythms of the Balkans, but touch also on the European tradition, with lovely tunes from Vivaldi and the mid-nineteenth century classics. Simon is a composer as well as performer, and has written a suite suitably called Karmana. He and Justyna have worked with musicians from countless different countries, and absorbed their musical inheritance. It is with good reason that a recent review described their performance as ‘A veritable tour de force that took the breath away.’

In their crowded international schedule, we have been fortunate to find a date where they can fit in a visit to Arran. Don’t miss them - they truly are, in every sense of the word, fantastic.

Tickets at £10 can be bought at the door, from Inspirations in Brodick on online from

See pictures of the performers here.


!Arran Civic Trust meeting April 1st

On Tuesday, April 1st, in the Ormidale Pavilion at 7:30pm, Simon Green, the architectural historian at the Royal Commission of Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), will be speaking on ‘Arran’s Architecture’, with particular reference to the future of Arran buildings that are on the Society’s register. Mr Green is an enthusiastic and eloquent speaker, and has great expertise on his subject. All are welcome.


Lesley Riddoch, 25th April

by Heather Gough.

Lesley is a national treasure. Feisty, fun and immensely entertaining, she has in her time held countless vital posts. President of the Oxford Student Union, she became contributing editor to the Sunday Herald and assistant editor of the Scotsman. She was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for making political writing an art form.As a broadcaster, she is well known for her own Lesley Riddoch Programme and as the presenter of BBC Scotland's ‘Speaking Out’, Radio Four's You and Yours’and BBC Two's ‘The Midnight Hour.’ She has chaired the Celtic Film and Television Festival, is a trustee in the buy-out of the Isle of Eigg and a member of the Scottish Prison Commission. She holds an Honorary Doctorate from Glasgow’s Caledonian University and is a co-founder of the think tank, Nordic Horizons, which has brought Nordic experts and specialists to Scotland, sharing social policy insights and experiences. And she is coming to Arran!

!On Friday 25th April, at 7:30 in the Community Theatre in Lamlash, Lesley will speak about her challenging book, titled Blossom - What Scotland needs to Flourish.

Blossom is a contemporary and historical account of Scotland, told through the stories of people Lesley has met - talented and resilient people who have struggled against the odds to improve and transform their communities, often without help from the authorities. Through the pages of her book, Lesley has made known the voices of people who all have something in common - they know what it takes to make Scotland flourish.

Come and join Lesley for an evening of fun, lively discussion and provocative thought.


AVA Art Show

This year, Arran Visual Arts holds its spring show at the High School from Wednesday 16th to Monday 21st April. As always, there will be a wide spread of work from Arran’s artists, both in the form of pictures and crafts such as ceramics and textiles. The ideal place to take Easter visitors, and a good chance to catch up with what is going on in Arran’s vibrant art world.


AVA workshop

Tapestry Weaving

Louise Oppenheimer will be running a two-day workshop on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th April at the Rangers’ Centre.

Louise says, ‘We will be weaving on small frames to produce pieces inspired by colours and forms found in nature. Using fingers as our only tools, we’ll build shapes and patterns as complex or simple as each participant wishes, exploring the delights and possibilities that hand weaving allows in small scale format. In a relaxed and informal atmosphere, I will guide those unfamiliar to working on frames and encourage those who have experience, to enlarge upon their favourite imagery and explore new ideas based on the landscape of the west coast of Scotland.’

!She continues, ‘Colour mixing and blending is an important feature of my own work, so I will be keen to highlight the quality of work that can be produced when gradations of colour are incorporated into the image. Source material to aid inspiration will be provided in the form of literature and examples of my own work. Most importantly, with support, guidance and warm atmosphere, I anticipate a wonderful time sharing our mutual passion of fibre and hand weaving.’

All yarn will be supplied but do bring your own weaving frame if you have one. There will be one you can borrow, courtesy of Spin Off, to whom we are grateful. Please do bring scissors, and any sketch books, pencils and pens or other resources you wish to inspire you. If you have a thick felt tip marker pen please bring it - but don’t worry if you haven’t got any of the above.


Wonderful Djordje

On Saturday March 15th, Brodick Hall was packed with people eager to hear Djordje Gajic, the astonishing master of the accordion. Many had attended his previous concerts, where he formed part of a duo, but he had not performed on Arran as a soloist since his first appearance on the island, which coincided with a blizzard and had a limited audience. Since then, news of his extraordinary skill has crept round, and this time, nobody wanted to miss their chance.

They were amply rewarded. Always modest and charming, Djordje explained that he would be playing a wide variety of music - and then plunged into the well-known Bach Toccata and Fugue in D minor, filling the hall with a colossal sonority that sounded like a cathedral organ. From there, he went on to the delicacy of Scarlatti, the counterpointed tunes weaving lightly in and out. At the interval, someone said, ‘How does he manage to play three distinct musical lines at once, on one keyboard?’ Djordje explained that his left hand, constantly flickerng across multiple buttons, played sequences of single notes as well as chords. The right hand was busy doingthe same thing, so in effect we were listening to a man playing two pianos at once, but with the power and sustained harmony of a church organ.

It is largely due to Djordje that serious interest in the piano accordion has grown in this country. In Russia, where he did his Master’s degree in music, the ‘bayon’ as it is known, had long been respected as a demanding classical instrument, but here, it has tended to be dismissed as the background to a French film or something heard in a Mexican café. Aye, well, as they say, we know now. We came out into the rain having been touched by sheer magic.


Kirsty’s book

Kirsty Wark must have been delighted to see Brodick Hall filled to capacity for the launch of her first novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, on Friday March 21st. A long queue formed at the table where she was signing copies, and people listened with rapt attention as she and her editor discussed the book and its making. Kirsty, as a consummate mistress of the art of broadcasting, is a relaxed and easy speaker, and everyone had a thoroughly good time.

!Having read an advance copy of the book, there were lots of questions that could have been asked, but this would have been very unfair to all those who were just looking inside the covers for the first time. I still wonder, though, whether other people would find the story as sad as I did. Elizabeth Pringle, living at a time of firm convention and respectability, is a woman capable of passionate love, though she finds it circumscribed by the equally strong love and duty she feels for her mother. Without giving away too much of the plot, it’s fair to say that this divided loyalty leads Elizabeth into an agonising choice that, in the end, leaves her bereft and grieving. It’s a story that touches on the lives of many young women of the era, struggling to ‘do the right thing’ even if at terrible cost to themselves and to their future lives.

In terms of its setting, Kirsty obviously has a deep love of Arran, though it cannot always extend into the familiarity felt by people who have spent long periods, or even the whole, of their lives here. Holy Isle and its Buddhist community come into the tale as well, less successfully to my mind. It takes a very long time to enter more than superficially into an understanding of a different belief system, and in terms of plot, this strand is probably one too many. However, Elizabeth and the young woman to whom she has so inexplicably bequeathed her house both come over as very real and very touching people, and the essential warmth of the book lives long in the mind.


New restaurant and drop-in place for Brodick

!The café that used to be Stalkers and then turned into a pizza house has now taken on a new life, in the hands of Donal Boyle, well known for his phenomenal skills as a folk fiddler. Suitably, the new enterprise is called Fiddlers, and has a gently musical theme, with crotchets and quavers lettered above the service counter. Freshly decorated, it looks airy and welcoming, an easy place in which to sit over an excellent coffee, watching the Brodick world go by outside its spacious windows. It serves a full menu of delicious, imaginative food (‘We have an excellent chef,’ Donal says modestly) and the atmosphere is welcoming and unhurried. The picture shows Donal with his daughter, Céile Swinton-Boyle, who is currently contributing her quiet, friendly help behind the bar.

Situated near Woolley’s in the centre of Brodick, Fiddlers seems ideally situated to attract both locals and visitors. We wish them the best of success.


‘Yes’ Campaign officially Out of Control

The vibrant and imaginative campaign for a ‘yes’ vote in the September 18th referendum continues to grow across the country. Arran is no exception, and the early Spring has seen the emergence of new groups, free of any central management, bringing information and enthusiasm to the debate.

Think you’d like to know more about Independence? Perhaps “I just don’t like Alex Salmond” is now becoming too lame an excuse for inaction? April is definitely the month to join in, with several opportunities to question ‘Yes’ campaigners, and find out more.

First up is John Mason MSP, who will lead a meeting on Christians and Independence on Sunday 6th April (2.30 to 4.00pm, at the Ormidale Pavilion, Brodick).

A new group ‘Arran Women for Independence’ has two informal meetings organised:

On Saturday April 12th, Frances Barron (a businesswoman from Ayr) will be at the Ormidale Pavilion from 2.30 to 4.00pm for a discussion with tea and coffee.

Ms Philippa Whitford (leading breast cancer surgeon from Crosshouse Hospital) will speak on Scottish Independence on Friday 2nd May from 7.30 to 9.00pm, also at the Ormidale Pavilion. There will be wine and nibbles and a relaxed atmosphere.

Finally, Alyn Smith MEP, will visit the island on Friday 9th May as part of the EU Elections run up, with details of a public meeting on the day still to be confirmed.

And don’t forget journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch’s appearance at the Lamlash Community Theatre on Friday 25th April (advertised elsewhere), which will also have some relevance to the referendum debate.

Yes, No, or ‘not sure yet’, everyone will be welcome at these free events. Join in.

Meanwhile, in the biggest community campaign Scotland has seen, over 30 Arran volunteers will be providing literature in door-to-door leafleting runs between now and September, to counter the lies and spin and fear campaign of the unionist newspapers.

There’s more information about all this at:
and Yes Scotland Arran on Facebook.


Corrie Film Club

The next showing will be on Easter Sunday (20th April) as there is a Scout group in the hall on the 13th. Please note the change of date. The film to be shown is a gripping story called The Hunt, made by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg in 2013.

It touches on every teacher’s nightmare - that a child may involve him (or more rarely, her, in a garbled sexual accusation that results in public outrage and professional destruction. Lucas, the centre figure of the film, works at a local kindergarten and enjoys his warm relationship with the children. Lucas is divorced, with custody of his young son, and a relationship with Nadja, his co-worker at the kindergarten, develops into living together.

!One of the kindergarten pupils, Klara, is the daughter of Lucas's best friend Theo. Out of the blue, she accuses Lucas of showing his genitals to her, though she seems to have this confused with pornographic pictures shown to her by her older brother. The adults in the community believe her story, regardless of the self-contradictions.

Lucas is shunned by his community. His friendship with Theo is destroyed, the pressure causes him to break up with Nadja, and his son is publicly ostracised. The kindergarten staff pressurise other children at the kindergarten, who also "admit" to being abused; but they make the mistake of saying these episodes occurred in the basement of Lucas's house, which in fact has no basement. His ostracism turns to violence. A brick is thrown through his window, and he is beaten by grocery store employees for trying to buy food. Somebody kills his dog.

On Christmas Eve, Lucas confronts Theo, without much success, but later, Theo overhears his daughter Klara apologising to Lucas as she drifts off to sleep. He realises Lucas is innocent, and visits him on Christmas Day with food and drink as a peace offering.

Tensions in the community lessen. Lucas and Nadja resume their relationship and Lucas's son is accepted into the local hunting society as an adult. On a hunting expedition to celebrate this, somebody shoots at Lucas. Blinded by the setting sun, he can’t see who it is. All he can do is run.

The Hunt is an intelligent, questioning film about the way in which hysteria can grip an entire community. Mads Mikkelsen is utterly credible at Lucas, and the whole story rings terribly true.

The showing starts at 8:00 pm on Easter Sunday in Corrie Hall. Everyone is welcome and entry is free - though a contribution towards the hall’s expenses would be welcome.


Poem of the month

selected by David Underdown, who also writes the footnote


By Jacob Polley

For the time we have left and the times
we’ve asked the time of each other
I pack you a weightless box of fluff, blown
from the roadside dandelion clocks.
Like an arrowhead or spear-tip,
I slip in a hollow-pointed pen nib
to say winter without you will be wordless,
the water coffined and the empty trees
unmoved by the wind as it moans.
Tell me what time it is. Tell me again.
I send you all I could recover
of those frail innumerable summer moons.

Jacob Polley, born in Carlisle in 1975, often makes strong use of rhyme in his poems, which tend to be sparse and sometimes dark. In ‘Dandelions’, taken from his second collection Little Gods (Picador Poetry 2006), an underlying tenderness is reinforced by repetition: ‘Tell me what time it is. Tell me again’. Polley’s latest collection, The Havocs, is also published by Picador.



They sound like supporters of some perverse revolutionary sect - but no such thing. Perovskites are an alternative to silicon, and they look set to revolutionise solar panels. They were announced at the Materials Research Society conference in Boston last December, and caused immense excitement. Think of this fact:

Turning just 1% of the sunlight falling on the British Isles into electricity would meet our entire energy demand.

Cameron may dismiss this as ‘green crap’ but it is a hard fact. At present, we can’t achieve the 1%, because the silicon cells used in solar panels are expensive and not very efficient, because of their molecular structure. All of silicon’s four outer electrons are taken up in forming the chemical bond that holds the crystal together. You can tinker with this by adding a minute amount of phosphorous, creating a diode that lets electricity flow one way only. This is the way LEDs (light-emitting diodes) work. We’re all familiar with garden lights that work on a little solar panel on a stick that you shove into the ground. If you use the diode principle the other way round, instead of using the sun to make light, you can turn that light into power. That’s how solar panels work. But because they use silicon, they have been very expensive to manufacture. Perovskite cells, on the other hand are easy and cheap to make, because their natural structure has a light-flow in the opposite direction to that of a diode - not power to light, but light to power. They have a light-conversion efficiency of up to 20%, which is miles above anything achievable with silicon technology. After that conference session in December, immediate phone calls were being made all over the States and beyond, halting work on existing solar systems and switching to the use of perovskite cells.

If anyone here on Arran is thinking of installing solar panels, hold your horses for a bit. There is going to be a technological revolution that will make the present panels look as old-fashioned as wind-up gramophones.


Arran, eco-tourism and deer

Alan Bellamy writes a second piece on the management of Arran’s uplands and the benefits -and problems - of increasing eco-tourism.

Many questions are asked about the degree to which deer are considered a ‘natural’ part of the environment. Is the continuation of large sporting estates dedicated to red deer stalking (on land arguably stolen from the people) desirable, or in the long term sustainable? A BBC report last year quoted a a group of scientists as saying, ‘Around half of the UK's growing deer population needs to be shot each year to stop devastation of woodlands and bird life.’ A study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management agrees that this would keep numbers stable.

!An emotional response from people who love to see these beautiful animals is only natural, but In the absence of natural predators deer populations are continuing to expand. They threaten biodiversity and in some places cause road traffic accidents and crop damage. Dr Paul Dolman, ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author of the report quoted above, said: ‘We know deer are eating out the vegetation of important woodlands … and are implicated as the major cause of unfavourable conditions in terms of woodland structure and regeneration.’ The heavily subsidised livelihoods of upland farmers also come into question.

George Monbiot in his recent book, Feral, refers to a report by the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, which takes Sutherland as a case study. It shows that on the four-fifths of the county owned by estates, deer stalking generates £1.6 million, while the vastly bigger sum of £4.7 million is spent on deer management. Monbiot compares this to the Isle of Mull, where the return of white-tailed eagles has brought £5 million a year into the local economy and supports 110 full time jobs - only two less than in the whole of Sutherland.

The Scottish government calculates that wildlife tourism is already worth £276 million a year. It has also worked out that reforestation with native species (and the consequent return of plant and animal biodiversity) could increase this figure and generate many more jobs than deer stalking does today. All in all, controlling deer numbers seems to be essential.

Of course tourism, even if wildlife-based, brings its own problems, chief among them the increased carbon footprint of those travelling in order to experience wild places. However, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has made it clear that climate change will increasingly drive developments in land use policy. The uplands, being a home for special flora and fauna, are uniquely placed to act as a sponge to retain rainwater and release it slowly, delivering consistent and safe water supplies in the lowlands. They can also contribute a store (and potential sink) of carbon in peat and other soils. The UK uplands store some 5 billion tonnes of carbon, but of that Scotland holds well over half, 2.7 billion tonnes in peat and other soils, plus 1 billion stored in blanket bog.

!Wildlife tourism tends to increase disturbance, as well has having an adverse carbon footprint, so conservation and education should always be at the heart of tourism marketing where Scotland's wild places are concerned. This is not always the case. Some people feel that there has been reluctance, or ignorance, on the part of our own tourism organisation here on Arran to address this issue. Others worry about the effects that reforestation may have on animal species and especially birds that prefer open ground - but the British Trust for Ornithology has clear views on this. It says, ‘The development of these “new” forests will take many decades, but already the shrublands and ungrazed exclosures that have been created are supporting important numbers of some birds.’ Those quoted include the cuckoo, willow warbler, grasshopper warbler, whinchat, tree pipit and reed bunting, all of them species that have declined in many parts of lowland Britain. More typical upland species such as black grouse and short-eared owl are already found in such areas.

Alan Watson Featherstone, the founder of Trees for Life, hopes that in fifty years the land that has been reforested around Glen Affric and Glenmoriston will be home to capercailie, ospreys, golden eagles, boar, beavers, lynx, and perhaps even wolves. How about that as a picture of Scotland’s, and even Arran’s, hills, in the future?

Finally, there is the health of humanity to be considered. The developing field of ecopsychology shows again and again that to seek to ‘heal the soul’ in isolation from our natural setting is never fully successful. As the poet Gary Snyder was told by a Native American elder, ‘If people stay somewhere long enough, the spirits of the land will begin to speak to them.’


The Clyde 2020 Scottish Parliament debate

reported by Jim Henderson

On Tuesday 11th March, with 9 other members of COAST and the owners of Creelers Restaurant, I travelled to Edinburgh to attend a debate on the state of the Clyde waters after 30 years of 3-mile limit removal. We were joined in the gallery with representatives of SIFT (Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust) and CFA (Clyde Fishermen’s Association).

Arran’s SNP member Kenneth Gibson MSP presented Motion S4M-08449, proposing that Parliament should acknowledge the commitment of Scottish ministers to meet the requirement of the Marine Strategy framework directive to return the Clyde to good environmental status by 2020.

Mr Gibson’s introduction showed the proven success of the No Take Zone (NTZ) in the space of only 5 years. The protected area is only 1 sq. mile of the Clyde, at the north entrance to Lamlash Bay, but already the clams and queenies that had been so badly affected by scallop dredging are more abundant and larger in size. Lobsters, too, in the same protected area and its immediate surrounds, are larger and more numberous.

Mr Gibson drew the chamber’s attention to the number of people who had travelled some distance to be present at the debate. He congratulated the members of COAST (formed in 1995) on the voluntary work being carried out to halt the decline of the Clyde, which has deteriorated since the removal of the 3-mile limit in 1984. The resultant over-fishing had severely affected local employment and recreational fishing, which is a right of the public. Mr Gibson described the serious state of the Clyde, where the only remaining commercial fisheries were trawling for prawns and dredging scallops, other species having been almost totally wiped out.

!There is now a statutory duty to improve the eco-system through a marine strategy supported by interested parties including COAST, SIFT, CFA, MSO, and The Wildlife Trust. The proposed Protected Area (MPA) for the South of Arran aims to improve the eco system of the inland waters of the Clyde, which in turn would develop tourism and create local employment. This economic argument is gaining strong public support, and is important both as a benefit to the Clyde Estuary to local inhabitants.

All the speakers taking part in the debate congratulated Mr Gibson for bringing the members’ business to parliament, recognising the knock-on effects of the past 30 years of over-fishing. The environmental minister Richard Lochhead said the protection of the Clyde in all its aspects was vital and all stakeholders would be consulted. The subject would remain on the agenda of Scottish Parliament.

The most important question remained unanswered, and it is this:

With growing support and approval from the public for the proposed South of Arran MPA, why are Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government not showing leadership to protect the eco system, not only around Arran but in the entire coastline of Scotland?


!Another home-seeking cat

Linda Hartley of Cats Protection writes about a lost cat called Susie.

Susie has been in care for sometime now and really needs to have her own place. She is about 3-4 years old and is a very loyal cat who loves routine and stability. She would love to live in a house where she had access to the outside world, but she is very domestic and loves to be in at night and settle down. She likes to be stroked but has not shown much sign of wanting to be cuddled, probably because she is yearning for a place of her own, where she would belong to just one person. She is very intelligent and always comes when called. Dogs and children would probably frighten her, but she would settle happily with a cat-understanding owner.

Susie has a pretty face, but a stumpy tail. We don’t know what happened to her - possibly a road accident. It doesn’t bother her in the least, and somehow adds to her odd little personality. She is vaccinated, neutered and has been vet checked.

Please call me if you can help. I’m on 01770 820611.

Linda is the co-ordinator of the Arran branch of Cats Protection. She’s at Blairvoyach Farm, Shannochie, KA27 8SH. Phone as above, or see the website.


Bridge Challenge

Can South make six spades against any lead by West?


Sharp rise in borrowing to pay for food

More than 1 in 6 people in Scotland say they borrowed to pay for food last month. The figure has risen by half in the last eight months. This means the number of Scottish adults who struggling to pay for food has risen by more than a quarter of a million in less than a year. The Westminster effect appears to be getting more toxic by the minute.


Wonderful Clouds

By Susie Thompson

!Clouds - we all see them. Usually we just ignore them, as they are a part of daily life. Sometimes we have to take notice of them when they warn us about threatening inclement weather.

I suddenly wondered - just what is the collective name for clouds? There are the better-known collectives - a flock of sheep, a shoal of fish, an exultation of larks, a charm of goldfinches. Then there are more exotic and surprising ones - a bloat of hippopotami, an ambush or streak of tigers, a crash of rhinoceri/rhinocerouses/rhinocerous - you take your pick of the plurals! The Sami people, who live in the northern tips of Scandinavia and Russia, use at least 180 words related to snow and ice, according to Ole Henrik Magga, a linguist in Norway. (I quote from an article in The Washington Post.)

!So, why do we seem have so few words for clouds? I have found scurry, soufflé, and bank. A cumulation has been suggested. Whatever comes to mind will probably depend on the sky you’re looking at at the time. Looking out of the window as I write, words like dismal, gloomy and driech come quickly to mind, but these are all mere adjectives - not the collectives that I have been searching for. A nuisance, a rainfall, a thunder are all possibilities. A collective noun for a skyful of clouds like today’s doesn’t seem to exist. Or does it?

This last winter we have suffered from far too many driech, dark grey and dismal skies and clouds, which have dropped so much rain. Sunshine and blue skies cheer us up and smiles come out with better weather. Some clouds form shapes that can cheer us up and make us smile. Little white puffy clouds can take on the shape of very unexpected things.

Cloud watching or spotting, while sitting in the garden on a dry or sunny day with a cup of tea or coffee - or maybe something even a little bit stronger, is a recommended activity. A camera by your side is also a good idea.

I found the photos above on the Cloud Appreciation Society’s website. These weren’t taken by me but by other CAS members, I hasten to add. Just look at just what amazing shapes clouds can take.


Scotland’s credit rating - very good, actually

An item posted on the Rev. Stuart Campbell’s Wings Over Scotland site on February 27th, 2014 caught our attention.

Contrary to the Chancellor’s threats and black warnings, the blog quoted evidence that Scotland is in rather good shape for an independent future. Standard & Poor’s, one of the world’s key ratings agencies, had remarked in its report on the country that, ‘Even excluding North Sea output and calculating per capita GDP only by looking at onshore income, Scotland would qualify for our highest economic assessment.’

This was not, of course, reported by the national press. Are we surprised?


On microplastics

By Sally Campbell

Lawmakers in Albany could make New York the first state to outlaw the tiny plastic beads used in personal care products like facial scrubs and toothpastes. It has been found that tens of millions of these beads have been appearing in the Great Lakes, with high concentrations along the New York shores of Lake Erie. They accumulate in the gut of fish and birds, eventually causing their death, and they often become coated with toxins like PCBs. Scientists suggest that those toxins could be working their way back up the food chain to humans.

There is no physical way to filter them out of water systems, because they are so small that they slip through wastewater treatment plants. They have been found as far away as the Los Angeles River and in the Pacific Ocean.

Some manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, have agreed to phase out the use of plastic beads. Others, such as Burt’s Bees, already use non-plastic alternatives like powdered pecan shells, that are bio-degradable. But thousands of products around the world still include plastic beads. Be careful what you buy.

See this video on plankton and microplastics:


Print CrosswordCrossword

by Dave Payn



 1 Lorna chose some cheesy snacks (6)

 4 Gain from listener at end of discussion (4)

 9 Artisan ruins crooner (7)

10 Gold item results in revolution (5)

11 Fifty nine different garments (5)

12 Fenella Fielding involved in new lines – causing choke (7)

14 Some Indian ruler defined as ringleader, initially (6)

16 Tap dance changed to tango, initially (6)

18 A politician involved in violence results in turmoil (7)

19 Mosr of pewter replaced by idiot (5)

21 Wood from the old bill, it's said (5)

23 Arrived at auction for mediaeval palace (7)

24 Warble sounding like a gem (4)

25 Credit new rate with causing despression (6)


 1 Lana's new facial bone (5)

 2 Prisoner has a French instrument. It's a puzzle! (9)

 3 Regulatory body for decimalisation, generally? (5)

 5 Suffer when Al Gore creates awful noise (5)

 6 Roll-up substance (3)

 7 About to employ matter (5)

 8 Some theatre stars are relaxed (2, 4)

13 Whistle a note when involved in Goatfell disaster (9)

14 Odds on a new cure for tree? (6)

15 Regret thanking mum for turning up with ham (7)

17 Annabel charms to a degree, with rude noise! (5)

19 Merit altering watch (5)

20 Great name (5)

22 'Dad, come back... Dad!' (3)


Answers for the March crossword

1 Captain Hook, 9 Hospice, 10 Sieve, 11 Pastry, 12 Hippie, 14 Champs Elysees, 16 Rotund, 17 Scampi, 21 Twill,
23 Eternal, 24 Play it by ear.

2 Assistant, 3 Trier, 4 Item, 5 Hastily, 6 Owe, 7 Chap, 8 Recess, 13 Pneumonia, 14 Curate, 15 Penalty, 18 Chewy,
19 It'll, 20 Beat, 22 Ill


Build your own wind farm

!A group of volunteers in the New Forest has established the West Solent Solar Co-operative to build a 2.4 MW solar farm on the site of a former gravel pit. They have secured the site, got the planning permission, and sorted out a grid connection and are wading through all the other necessary permits and licenses. They now need to raise approximately £2.5 million so that Solar Century can build the farm, and intend to do this by inviting people to invest in this project, thereby becoming members of the co-op. The minimum investment is £250.Investors will get an attractive return - financial projections indicate an overall annualised average return of 8.5%.

Over 500 people have already downloaded the offer documents and the money is starting to come in. The share offer is open until 30th April, or until they have raised the £2.5 million - whichever happens first. It’s not limited to near-by residents. If you’d like to put an investment into this very lucrative offer, see, who will send a share offer prospectus. Or you can or call them on 07736 248315.

They would be very happy to advise other groups thinking about setting up a community renewables project, and say they themselves have benefited enormously from the knowledge passed on by earlier-established renewables co-ops.


Salmon situation worsens

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), recently issued figures showing that in the fourth quarter of 2013 sea lice numbers on farmed salmon were massively out of control in in parts of the west coast and western isles. Average lice numbers were over thresholds in 13 out of 30 areas for which data is reported by the industry. On the seven farms in this area, operated by two companies, Wester Ross Fisheries Limited and Scottish Sea Farms Limited, the monthly lice count was between five and ten times the permitted threshold. This is despite three area-wide treatments and a staggering 25 other treatments for lice.

!Hugh Campbell Adamson, Chairman of the Salmon & Trout Association Scotland (S&TA(S)), said: ‘We would ask Ministers again to consider ordering a cull of all the fish in the very worst affected farms - the kind of decisive action taken by the Norwegian authorities when they were faced with a similar problem - and the fallowing of these farms until such time as a proven solution is identified.’

There is clear evidence that both wild salmon and sea trout are in decline in Scotland’s ‘aquaculture zone’, whereas, generally, populations have stabilised on the east and north coasts where there is no fish-farming.

More detail is available from the Salmon & Trout Association (Scotland)


Even the Daily Mail …

… which is not given to jumping up and down about green issues, was horrified to discover that pesticides, including DDT, had been found in farmed salmon on sale in five major British supermarkets. Figures released through a Freedom of Information Act request had disclosed the presence of Dieldrin, Cypermethrin and pp-DDE (a by-product of DDT) as well as other chemicals, in fish sold by Waitrose, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Iceland.

!DDT was banned for use almost 30 years ago because of its risk to human health. Dieldrin, a powerful pesticide linked to health problems such as Parkinson’s, breast cancer, and immune, reproductive, and nervous system damage, was banned in the1970s. A recently published study suggested a link between DDT and the high incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

The production process of salmon involves covering the fish in chemicals to kill parasitic lice. These chemicals accumulate in the fat of the fish. Inactive farmed salmon are far fattier than the wild fish and therefore more likely to carry chemical traces. Don Staniford, Director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, said, ‘Farmed salmon is the most contaminated food on the supermarket shelf. It should carry a Government health warning.’


Can you be too clean?

Those of us who were born in the grubbier days of no washing machines or showers have a secret conviction that we were healthier (if we didn’t die of diptheria or polio) than today’s more sanitary tots. In the ‘90s there was quite a swell of opinion that our immune systems were so unchallenged that they didn’t know how to rise to any emergency. With some reason, it’s pointed out that countless products such as toothpaste, soap, laundry detergents and even clothes now routinely include antibiotics in their manufacture. Not only does this build resistance to a quick antibiotic shot when we really need it, but it lulls our immune systems into torpor.

!Scientists are beginning to treat that idea with new respect. They recognise now that the bacteria in our gut, collectively called our microbiome, is a very complex system in its own right. Each person's microbiome is so individual that it is in close touch with his or her inique combination of inner and outer environments. A recent scientific paper said, ‘gut microbiota may even be considered as another vital human organ.’ That’s why antibiotics commonly cause diarrhoea - introducing such foreign ‘soldiers’ into a peaceable gut community causes warfare and deaths. No wonder long courses of treatment (including ‘chemo’ for cancer) leave you feeling so peelie-wallie. The really interesting thing, though, is that microbiomes are also affected by their outside environment, including things like house dust and the aerosol effect of flushing a toilet. Partial microbiome transplants have been found to work wonderfully well for people whose own internal system has been knocked out of kilter.

The most amazing thing, though, is that our gut bacteria can affect the way our brains work, and influence the way we think and feel. Transplanting gut microbiota from relaxed and adventurous mice into the guts of timid and anxious ones at once reduces their stress and makes them happier and more adventurous. Don’t all rush, now, but this could see Relate in the waste paper basket.

Some of the conditions that could be linked to the state of your gut bacteria include asthma (often linked with gastritis, surprise, surprise?) obesity, mood disorders, acne and a whole range of childhood disorders and ‘food fads’. James Greenblatt, a psychiatrist and clinical faculty member at Tufts Medical School, successfully treated a teenager with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) by boosting her ‘good’ bacteria with high-powered probiotics. There’s a lot of interest in investigating the state of the gut bacteria in autistic children.

Meanwhile, it might be an idea to go out in the garden and get your hands dirty.


Fukushima, a continuing cause for concern

On March 11th 2011, the Fukushima Dai'ichi nuclear power plant was knocked out by a devastating earthquake and tsunami. Three of the plant's six reactors suffered core meltdowns and hydrogen gas explosions. Three years later, more than 300,000 people remain ‘nuclear refugees,’ unable to return to their homes. Those who have been allowed to go back find themselves in an ‘untouchable’ region: Nobody visits it and the public believes that its livestock and fish are still contaminated.

By late 2013, 1,600 nuclear refugees had died. More than 35% of some 38,000 Fukushima children examined were found to have cysts or nodules on their thyroid glands, whereas a control group of Japanese children from other places showed only 1%. Despite this, the Japanese government raised the "permissible" level of radiation. Children can now legally be exposed to 20 times more radiation than was previously allowed.

The Fukushima plant is still leaking radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean at the rate of 400 tons per day. Radioactive cesium, a carcinogen that accumulates in the body tissue of animals, fish and humans has been found throughout mainland Japan. This has closed the fishing industry, and is present in large migratory fish such as Bluefin tuna as far away as the coast of California. Radioactive water from Fukushima is expected to reach the West Coast of the United States in early 2014.

Reporters wear personal protective gear while touring the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan
on November 7, 2013.
(Photo: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Pool via The New York Times)

Intensely radioactive spent fuel rods still lie in the warped and sinking remains of the power station and will cause a catastrophic fire if another (and potentially likely) earthquake strikes the region. For this reason, the US State Department advised Americans soon after March 11 to evacuate to at least 50 miles from the plant. Personnel aboard a US naval ship were photographed in protective clothing, swabbing decks to decontaminate them. Several of those involved have since become ill, and are suing TEPCO, the plant operator responsible for the cleanup of Fukushima nuclear power plants, for lapses in basic safety requirements. Neither TEPCO nor the Japanese government has sought or welcomed international engineering assistance in their technologically challenged project to remove and rehouse 1,533 spent fuel rods from the severely damaged reactor 4. The rods embody the radiation equivalent of 14,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.

A contributor to the American site, Truth-out, said that promoting nuclear power as a ‘low-carbon’ alternative to fossil fuels is ‘a myopic bargain with the devil’ and went on to say the US has enough renewable resource capacity to power its entire land-mass. Without the considerable risk of blowing us all to Kingdom Come.


The Co-op idea lives on

!Those of us still clinging doggedly to the ‘caring, sharing’ principles that underlie the Co-op movement may take heart from what’s happening in Vermont. Probably the most European of the States, it is currently thinking of instituting a public bank of its own.

The idea is fundamentally co-operative. The Vermont Economic Development Authority would apply for a banking license and allocate 10% of taxes collected by the state for the state’s own use. At present, all tax income goes to large banks outside of the state, which are free to use it as they like. If Vermont controls its own finances, it can fund projects that benefit the state and local economies, including granting loans to Vermonters. It is, in fact, a replica of our Credit Unions, which communally-minded people are increasingly turning to.

Vermonters have voted about 2:1 in favour of public banking. Town meetings are going on, and they have, in the American phrase, ‘done the math.’ Supporters calculate that a State bank would create more than 2,500 jobs and generate about $350 million annually. And that’s in a State comprising only 600,000 citizens.

They have a good model to work on. North Dakota. the ‘Peace Garden State’, has had its own bank for 99 years. The Bank of North Dakota helps to fund large projects, and it provides inexpensive loans to students, businesses and farmers. Its financial stability has made North Dakota one of the few states that have weathered the recession in the past five years with no serious trouble. Whether Vermont will follow remains to be seen. The Wall Street banks will of course fight their community bank idea every inch of the way.


Spindrift: A Wilderness Pilgrimage at Sea

By Peter Reason

reviewed by Sally Campbell

Spindrift is the story of a sailing odyssey, but also of an inward journey into deep truths about who we are and how we belong in the universal scheme. A meditation on sailing and life, it is a hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking book for landlubbers, sailors, philosophers and naturalists alike.

!It is a story of pilgrimage, of reflection through solitude and through connection with nature. Mostly sailing alone, Peter Reason invites us to share in the minute-by-minute challenges of seamanship and navigation, on his enthralling journey in his 31ft yacht from the Cornish coast, to the Scillies, across the Celtic Sea, visiting harbours and islands in County Cork and County Kerry, and finally circumnavigating Great Blasket and Skellig Michael.

Exploring far more than the seaways, the author successfully manages to tell the story of a journey with another dimension - that of investigating and reflecting on our human place in the ecology of the planet. He reaches towards his stated aim of re-opening the ‘great conversation’ with the Earth, in contrast to our modern ways of living, which leave us speaking only to ourselves. Above all, this book shows us that Nature is not just a place to visit, but our home.

Stephan Harding, resident ecologist at Schumacher College, describes it as ‘A truly great reading experience that drew me out of myself into the turning world of the oceans and into the depths of ecological awareness.’

Spindrift: A Wilderness Pilgrimage at Sea, by Peter Reason. 978-1-908363-10-7 HB £16.99 Publication 24th April 2014. The book will be available for sale from 1st April - at


A funny side to fracking

Rex Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil, America’s massive oil business, which is the biggest fracking outfit in the world. He makes 40 million dollars a year. But right now, he’s furious about fracking. So what’s his problem?

Well, Rex has an 83-acre farm in Texas where he keeps horses. It didn’t bother him that fracking is running the state dry, polluting tap-water, creating health problems and causing earthquakes - all that was OK. But when the frackers built a 160-foot-tall water tower to feed millions of gallons of water into their gas wells, he blew up. Not literally, we regret to say, but he is very cross. Because you see, the tower stands above the tree line and spoils his view. So he’s suing. Best of luck, Rexie. Without the water tower, the whole operation will fall apart. Cheers!

Meanwhile in England, the anti-fracking protesters arrested at Barton Moss - Caroline Lucas MP included - are on trial.


!John Swinney answers questions

Brodick Hall was packed with people on Sunday, 30th March, to hear what John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, had to say about Scotland’s independence. They were not disappointed.

Mr Swinney, who has all the lean charm of a very nice greyhound, is a clear, highly cogent speaker. His introductory remarks were kept short, evoking an overall sense that Scotland does not have enough control over its own affairs and pointing out that all parties in the Holyrood parliament voted in favour of spending £1 million to counteract the effects on Scotland of the iniquitous Bedroom Tax. Then the meeting was open for questions.

Throughout the evening, Independence was treated as a national concern, not a narrowly political one. On finance, Mr Swinney said investment in renewable energy would be a key factor, as would an agreement to state a fixed level of spending and debt, which would have to be adhered to. He pointed to welfare as a vital way to support people and enable them to get into employment, and added that immigrant workers would be a vital element in developing the economy.

The audience behaved with Arran’s customary courtesy, though some of the questions were searching. A Guardian article suggesting a possible deal with the Westminster government that might lead to retaining Trident and the Faslane base was quickly debunked, as was any suspicion that there might be continuing support for nuclear energy. ‘Our main aim,’ Mr Swinney said, ‘is to get rid of Trident.’ And there was a roar of applause.

Not everyone present was a supporter of the Yes campaign, but the mood was overwhelmingly one of enthusiastic support. Mr Swinney brought with him a sense of intelligence and freshness that is far removed from the trivial obfuscations of Westminster, and there was a strong sense that Scotland has picked up Barack Obama’s now discarded phrase, and can use it with meaning. YES, WE CAN.


Jan’s kitchen

Paradise cakes

4 oz. butter/marge.
4oz. sugar
4 tablesp. ground almonds
4 tablesp. s.r. flour
1 small teasp. baking powder
1 egg

Cream fat and sugar, add egg and then other ingredients.
Line a baking tin with short crust pastry.
Sprinkle chopped glace cherries and /or sultanas on pastry.
Then cover with almond mixture.
Bake in moderate oven ( 160c / 180c ) for about ½ hour.
While still hot cut into squares or fingers.


… and finally