October 13, 2012 § 7 Comments
Last year I organised Glasgow’s first Tweed Ride and such was the demand for another one in 2012 it would have been rude not to oblige.
Being so far from the city meant that this time around I took a back seat / saddle and placed the event in the hands of two Glasgow chaps I knew would make a sterling job of it.
And that they did…
August 27, 2012 § Leave a Comment
At lunchtime word reached The Croft that a whale had washed ashore at the beach just down the road so I hopped on the bike and made the two minute journey down to see what was there.
Sure enough, a 6 meter male Common Minke whale, dead in the water and making a stench, flopped sad and lifeless in the breakwater. The tide was coming in and the rain was driving, the only colour in the gray was its bright red, distended internals, puffed out like a baleen bullfrog or baboon butt. Not a very dignified death but only the coastguard, sheltering in his 4×4 was there to witness the ignominy.
Shame really, they usually live for 20 years and no idea how long this one swam the sea but his time was obviously up, for reasons unknown.
By the time I left the smell downwind was already pretty interesting, high tide was due soon though and no doubt plans are afoot to deal with the big body.
As long as they don’t try and blow him up
August 21, 2012 § Leave a Comment
So the byre is almost done, at least to a basic level.
Once the stall walls were levelled and removed the floor needed a bit of work with a hammer to bring it level but it was ready to take the Harris Tweed loom at long last. There is still a draining channel that needs filled but most of the walls have been nicely whitewashed and I’ve made a start in treating the rafters with wood stain and they look pretty good.
We had fun and games putting my loom in. It weighs a ton and is so dang cumbersome to move. Usually it sits on two wooden blocks, held in by huge bolts but to move it requires jacking it up on a set of pallet lifters, removing the blocks and fitting castor wheels before lowering it again. Then its the simple matter of removing the seating, handles, chain, pedals and pushing it up a set of steep steel tracks into the back of a Luton truck. The truck we borrowed was higher than expected which left the gradient ridiculously steep, so much so that the loom cantilevered at its mid-point. It took four of us to wrestle it into the back with a few hairy moments. And that was the easy part as it was simply moving from a flat garage floor directly onto the ramps, the Ness side proved far harder.
To get to the new loom shed required backing the truck up a long steep driveway and then negotiating some gravel, a narrow gate, a sloping grass path and then a narrow door with 6 inch step. It took six of us, assorted bits of wood, levers, strops, lifters, blocks and brute strength to finish the job – all in clouds of the worst midgies of the year.
But the loom is in and looks great (and undamaged) in its new home. Phew.
Still got much work to do to the byre, a wood stove for heat, better lighting, some electricity points, workbench, seating etc. but all in good time…
January 8, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Mor Macleod, a highly respected Lewis tradition-bearer and the very last orphan of the Iolaire disaster, has died peacefully in Ospadal nan Eilean, Stornoway, after a brief illness. She was 97 years old and had all her faculties to the end.
Born Marion Smith in Earshader, Uig, in December 1914 – her younger brother, Coinneach Iain Smith, would be a noted bard – Mor vividly recalled word coming (two days late) to Earshader of the wreck at Holm, on 1st January 1919, and the death of her father, 46-year old Kenneth Smith, and so many others. (Her mother, who died in November 1980, would be the tragedy’s last widow).
Over 200 returning service men had died when HMY Iolaire hit rocks and sank - just yards from safety - at the mouth of Stornoway harbour. Only 79 men survived. Celebrations to greet their home-coming on New Year’s Day 1919, turned to an extended period of mourning as corpse upon corpse washed ashore in the days and weeks to follow. Many bodies were never recovered.
It was Britain’s biggest peace-time maritime disaster and tore the heart out of an island as scarcely a single village on Lewis did not lose men in the sinking. The majority of the dead came from Lewis. Seven belonged to Harris while 31 were crew members from different parts of the UK.
Mor was frequently interviewed on the loss of the Iolaire and made a memorable appearance on BBC’s ‘Coast’ programme in June last year, quietly recalling how she had sat, puzzled, on her grandfather’s lap as his tears splashed onto her face.
But Mrs Macleod – who had spent her youth largely in the company of very old people and amidst rich oral tradition – was an authority on many aspects of Lewis lore, life and geneaology, and appeared frequently on radio and television, discussing everything from the healing properties of the bog-bean to Lewis Evangelicalism to oldtime wedding customs to how to make a really good marag.
With some help from the Iolaire Disaster Fund, and proving bright and capable at school, Mor duly travelled to Edinburgh and trained for nursing. She was duly appointed, in 1937, District Nurse for Barvas and Brue, and supplied primary-healthcare to that considerable area throughout the Second World War, armed with little more than a bicycle, the primitive physick of the time, and keen professionalism.
She had of course personally to deliver every infant born in Barvas and Brue – there were then no hospital confinements – and was quietly proud that in her decade of service she never lost either infant or mother.
She also liked impishly to recall the diplomacy necessary when pressed, more than once, if she believed in tinneas a Righ - the prevalent belief in rural Lewis that the touch of a seventh son (or, in a pinch, a seventh child) could cure scrofula, a glandular form of TB.
Retiring to marry local crofter John MacLeod in 1947, Mor settled happily into family life but never ceased to read, learn, and exercise her keen brain. Possessed of bardic dignity, matchless presence and speaking the most beautiful, purest Gaelic - to say nothing of utter, pitch-perfect command of English - in her latter decades she took quiet pleasure in being approached so often to impart lore and knowledge.
On the ninetieth anniversary of the Iolaire sinking – an exceptionally fine New Year’s Day, January 2009 – Mor sturdily attended the little open-air service of commemoration at Holm, along with the other surviving orphan: Alasdair ‘Sandy Mor’ Macleod of Garrabost, who died in 2010.
Mor and John cared at Brue for her mother, Mrs Christine Smith, in the final year or two of her life - six decades after the Holm calamity and when Mor herself was already an old woman.
- John Macleod
August 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
The story behind the tale of the Megantic Outlaw Donald Morrison told in five parts.
In the 1800′s gaels from Lewis were forced into emigration from landlords and overcrowded crofts to the promise of better land and life in Canada, the reality was somewhat different on arrival and yet so familiar in terms of land, authority and struggle.
The new community built new lives on the hard foundations of “oatmeal and the catechism” but when the threat of eviction once again reared its head, one man took a stand…
August 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
For those unable to place hands on a copy of the West Highland Free Press (although little excuse given you can subscribe online) there is a new website collating and archiving the weekly column of its former editor and current columnist Brian Wilson.
A canny look at national and international issues, often through a local lens, the lack of hype and hyperbole and consistently solid writing make it a refreshing change from the usual diatribes of Hari, Fisk and um…Burnie etc. There’s also a healthy dose of sideswipes at the Murdochs and Salmonds of the world for added amusement.
Just so long as he sticks to current affairs, if he starts blogging about Harris Tweed I’ll probably have to throw in the towel.
August 16, 2011 § 2 Comments
Was great to hear of a new Harris Tweed Hebrides shop appearing on the illustrious fashion boulevarde that is Point Street in Stornoway.
Despite being the island’s capital town, the main base in the home of Harris Tweed, laying hands on the cloth, a stylish jacket or other quality product has previously been nigh on impossible.
The HTH shop puts an end to that oversight and does it with quite a bit of style. A simple but striking exterior (gotta love a red door) with a large bold window sits pretty on a corner of the busy thoroughfare in the heart of SY town, a stone’s throw from the harbour and very easy to find.
Inside the set up is clean and spare, seamstress’ dummies show off Judy R Clark jackets and Harris Tweed soft furnishings, clothing and accessories from HTH’s own collections are all present and correct.
Best of all there are shelves are filled with rolls of the Clo Mor, to purchase at your chosen length.
A long tailor’s table, traditional creels filled with bobbins, framed Harris Tweed images and a glam bowl of Chinese lilies complete the set up.
It seems to have a nice pop-up vibe but I hope it stays put, being a real asset to the town particularly in the busy tourist season.
Moreover it would be splendid to see something similar pop-up in Glasgow, London and elsewhere. After the slightly depressing experience of buy Harris Tweed from James Pringle Weavers on Buchanan St recently the city could do with a far better representation of the stuff.
(Thanks to Les Ellingham for the snaps)
August 11, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Images © Dominic Cocozza. All rights reserved.
August 9, 2011 § 3 Comments
Image © Dominic Cocozza. All rights reserved.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Every other city with style had done it and after a few beers and some banter with the courier folk I know there was obvious scope for Glasgow to hold its own Tweed Ride.
Started in London in 2009, the idea of getting one’s Victoriana on, donning tweed and riding out on a stylish velocipede caught on quickly and the likes of New York, Paris, Sydney, Tokyo, Paris and Toronto all soon followed suit. Riders set out on a tour of their home city, dressed to the nines in dapper fashion,
took in some sites, popped into a hostlery or two and generally enjoyed a pleasant day out in good company.
I’ve organised and run events for over a decade for thousands of people. Up mountains, in forests, on boats, in warehouses, legal, illegal, day, night, summer, winter…it doesn’t phase me.
This was easily the hardest to pull off. No budget to speak of, apart from my right hand man Stoofa no staff to lean on, no “official” status to lend weight, no time, no pay, an increasingly ambitious gameplan…
And to top it off, me being me, chose to name the Glasgow ride The Harris Tweed Ride, instantly appropriating a brand name that some people have been spending a lot of time and money and effort successfully re-establishing. The marking of Scotland’s first tweed cycling event with the world-famous orb seemed a no-brainer. With hindsight, a rather naive no-brainer.
The idea of this event ending up a marketing disaster plagued me from very early on, failure to pull it off with any sort of style, flair or credibility would see me a laughing stock, barred from island circles, the man who made a mockery of the clo mor.
No pressure then.
A whole host of local, independent businesses and partners were pulled together to feed, water and entertain the 100 riders who had signed up. Almost all of them were small but leaders in their field with a particular Scottish bent. Argyle teas, SY marag, West Coast oysters, Scottish cream scones, whisky cocktails, Scottish gin, all plied by some of the most respected bars and restaurants in the city (Brown’s, WEST, Gandolfi, Ben Nevis, Crabshakk, Stravaigin, Blythswood Square…).
The design and identity was strong, using a local up-coming designer, the marketing was low-key, underground, word of mouth and social media driven and there was no big press hullabaloo. The riders were drawn from right across the Glasgow scene, couriers, musicians, artists, fashion folk, tweed geeks, bike nerds, foodies, friends.
No big names, no celebrities, no scenesters or “faces”. No sell out, no awful brand associations, no cynical marketing, no big statements. Just grassroots enthusiasm, a genuineness, a true reflection of the many good things about Glasgow.
In the run-up, the omens weren’t good. The weather forecast was awful, volunteers called to let us down, last minute meetings with the council and police were called due to confusion over event timings and routes. All signs pointed to my red-faced resignation from the world of weaving.
But on the day?
For my part, it was an honest event. Damp but far from damp spirited. There are things that could have been improved on, things that I’d have done differently but such is the nature of an inaugural outing like this. I think everyone genuinely had a great experience and that’s what matters. So many people and businesses gave so generously of their time, energy and efforts too. It was all most heartening in so many ways
The event was my last project here in Glasgow. It pulled together all the things I love about this place, good people, good food and drink, good music and it rounds off a year of big changes, a year in which I’ve been more “out there” than I generally feel comfortable with. It has been fun. A lot of fun. But now it’s time to reel my neck in and get on with doing what I do, under the radar and away from the limelight.
A quieter life beckons.
July 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
The hunt is on for an official flag to represent the Western Isles.
In the Green & Nordic corner…
In the Yellow & Retro corner…
The winning flag will become a marketing emblem for the Western Isles and used at external events, such as the Island Games and pub crawls on the mainland.
The Comhairle invite you to vote on your favourite. I have no idea if this is open to the rest of the planet but as it’s online then I guess so.
My vote is for the yellow one as it’s just so fleeking weird. Three 1970′s Noggin The Nog boats floating around some wavy, watery lines and an egg yolk sky. Design classic right there.
[ UPDATE ]
Here’s is The Croft’s proposed design to be submitted shortly.
A subtle combination of the two official entrants, here we see an evocative crossings of tarasgeirs, powerfully set off by three iconic herring gulls stealing a marag. A flag I’m sure we can all rally around.
So vote here!