Archive for August 2013

Letter from New Zealand : Earthquakes

The recent bout of earthquakes in New Zealand hasn’t been made much of in our national press, with a Scotsman article claiming that there had been just two strong ‘quakes. Easdale People’s Foreign Correspondent, Jennifer, tells the true story:

27th July, 2013

The big news here is EARTHQUAKES. You may have read about  them in the papers. Our first big earthquake hit at 9 a.m. last Friday (a 5.5 on the Richter scale). I was drinking tea in a local café at the time when we heard a noise like an express train approaching at full speed and suddenly the whole place was shuddering violently. There were a few tourists around who didn’t know what was happening – the locals soon told them. It went on for 20 seconds. Nothing was broken but the windows looked as if they might shatter at any moment. Since then we have had thousands (I’m not exaggerating  – merely quoting the Met Office) of after-shocks. A second major earthquake arrived the evening before last. This one was recorded as a 6.5. I was sitting reading at the time and again, very suddenly, the house started shaking like crazy. Many of the Picton residents either raced out of doors or else skulked under tables (the recommended action taught in all NZ schools). I stayed put but did clutch my treasured Chinese horse in my lap. Ornaments tend to get thrown about when earthquakes strike and I should be sorry to lose this one. I’ve since heard that some of my friends have lost various items of glass or china. Wellington streets were strewn with broken window glass and everybody was advised to keep out the centre of the city. Both my boys rang to check that I was all right and one bridge friend actually rang to ask if I’d like to go and spend the night at her house, as she thought I’d be too scared to sleep in my own house, surrounded by tall trees as it is. She said she’d come and fetch me in her car. It was a kind thought but in fact I wasn’t feeling at all frightened; the whole experience was extremely interesting and quite exciting from my point of view. I should doubtless have been less blasé, had I suffered any damage. The shaking reminded me quite forcibly of a few stormy nights during my Antarctic cruise when everything was thrown about the cabin. The seismologists haven’t yet decided whether there’s a previously unknown fault come to life in the Marlborough Sounds but they do say that we must expect lots more disturbances over the next few weeks. I was woken by a large jolt at 3 a.m. this morning and everyone thinks that another large quake is imminent. Wellington of course, like San Francisco, is fearful of “the Big One”.  Wellington does lie on a major fault (confluence of the Australian and Pacific plates). The recent tremors have all been centred south of Blenheim, (half an hour away) but there is a danger that they may set off something really nasty in the capital city. So far, no-one has been killed and there have only been a few injuries. One rather sad postscript is that a number of the Christchurch residents have migrated to Picton to escape their devastated city and now they’re back in the centre of things again. Our recent quake was actually stronger than the one that wrought havoc in Christchurch but didn’t do nearly as much damage.


Jennifer at home in NZ
(Photo: Tim Flinn)


16th August, 2013

The earthquakes continue. For weeks we’ve been enduring endless shaking and today has been particularly bad. We’ve had two quakes over 6 on the Richter Scale this afternoon. The first was a 6.6 and the second a 6.2. and we’ve had lots of shakes in between over 5. All these are classified as “severe” and appear on the seismic website in brilliant red. “Strong” earthquakes are amber, “moderate” quakes are green and “light” quakes are blue. The house is still shaking as I write this. Andrew has just ‘phoned from Auckland (which isn’t affected) because the news programmes are completely taken up by the earthquakes at the moment. He could hear the rumblings down the telephone line. No-one has been killed so far but Wellington has suffered a fair amount of structural damage. Power lines are down, buses and trains have been suspended and roads have been closed. The radio is advising everyone to “keep calm”. At this point the ‘phone rang again – a friend checking that I wasn’t too frightened. Like the friend who rang during the last major quake, she offered to come and fetch me and put me up for the night. People here are very kind. I’ve spent most of the afternoon in the garden, weeding. Surprisingly enough the tremors are much less noticeable when you’re out of doors. The ‘phone has just rung again – yet another friend worried that I might be scared here on my own.

Apart from all this seismic activity, all is well here.


The stunning view from Jennifer’s house
(Photo: Tim Flinn)


28th August 2013

The earthquakes seem to have died down over the past week but the residents of Seddon (the epicentre of the last bunch of tremors and about 45 minutes away by car) are still struggling with the aftermath. A friend of mine has been taking food parcels to her brother, whose house has been wrecked and who still has no electricity. I had a long and frustrating talk yesterday with my house insurers. The policy comes up for renewal in October when I shall be away, so I was trying to get things sorted before I left. NZ has just introduced a whole set of new rules for house insurance. Everyone has to measure every room in the house, every balcony, every deck, every paved area, every drive etc. etc.. The premium is going to be based on the cost of rebuilding should the house be demolished by earthquake activity. All our premiums are going to go up exponentially and the recent quake activity in this area is not going to help. The girl to whom I spoke on the ‘phone was not particularly helpful. She said she could give me no idea as to how much I was going to have to pay as it wouldn’t be calculated until payment was due, but the firm will be quite happy to take the required amount out of my bank account when the time comes. So much for any hope of shopping around for the best bargain!

The Islands that Roofed the World

A beautiful book by Easdale author Mary Withall, charting the history of the slate islands of Easdale, Belnahua, Luing and Seil, and the part they played in roofing buildings from Glasgow to Norway,  the USA to Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies.

Mary relates how the men won the slate, and the personal trials they went through to do so; how they lived, what their dwellings were like and what they and their families had available to eat; the diseases they suffered (arthritis and rheumatism from working “up to the ankles in water and often in the rain and chilling winds”); how they passed their little leisure time : and much more besides.

Read Mary’s book and realise just how lucky we are to be living where we are, when we are.

The Islands that Roofed the World  is available from Mary, from the Heritage Centre in Ellenabeich, from Waterstone’s in Oban, and from Amazon.

It’s a must-read for all Easdale residents, so that we can locate ourselves in the history of the place: and also for visitors, so that they may better understand the place they’re visiting.

Top Tips for Stone Skimmers!

The following letter was published in last week’s  New Scientist  in response to the question “How do pebbles skim on water?”. Clearly the advice contained in this letter needs to be studied and acted on by anyone intending to take part in the forthcoming Stone Skimming Championships on Easdale Island. We therefore reproduce the letter in full below.

“• In a paper published in the journal Nature in 2004, the French physicist Lydéric Bocquet and his collaborators revealed some of the secrets of successful stone skimming. They found that the optimum angle of attack is 20 degrees. So, even when the stone is thrown horizontally, the leading edge should be 20 degrees higher than the trailing edge. This maximises the number of jumps by limiting the contact time between the stone and the water, which is proportional to the energy dissipated.

The thrower also imparts a spin to the pebble, providing a gyroscopic effect that stabilises its flight and preserves the original angle of attack when it bounces. In the absence of spin, the water would impart a torque on the stone and, because the trailing edge is the first to make contact with the water, this would tend to make it tumble.

The actual physics of stone skimming is not yet perfectly understood. However, the bounce could be understood as a result of the conservation of momentum and Newton’s third law: when the stone exerts a force on the water, the water exerts an equal and opposite force on the stone. This lifting force is proportional to the density of water, the surface area that is wetted and the square of the forward speed of the stone.

[Hello?? Are you still awake at the back there? Ed.]

Also, the bow wave created ahead of the stone when it strikes the liquid might act like a waterski jump, helping to launch the next hop. This minimises the contact time between the stone and the water, which in turn maximises the number of jumps.

Although ensuring the optimal angle of attack as the stone strikes the water, and imparting just enough spin to maintain stable flight are important, there are other factors. Selecting the correct size and shape of stone and having a fast throwing arm are examples.

Given that the urge to skim stones has been with us for thousands of years and the rules – getting the greatest distance or number of bounces – have remained unchanged since the ancient Greeks, perhaps this should become an Olympic sport.


Up comes the Stone Skimming … and here we go again …

As is plastered all over the national press, Eilean Eisdeal directors have recently had discussions with island owner Jonathan Feigenbaum regarding the forthcoming Stone Skimming event – at which, we hear on the ever-fertile island grapevine, Eilean Eisdeal were represented by a Very Eminent Legal Representative.

In case you haven’t already seen the extensive press coverage, we reproduce it below for your interest.

Firstly, the Press & Journal, who so gallantly stepped into the breach last year to “save” the Stone Skimming event:

Now … at least they reported correctly on what the Residents’ Association is undertaking. What a pity, however, that their front page photograph, captioned “Jonathan Feigenbaum: island owner” actually showed Jonathan’s father Clive, who deceased some years ago.

And now, the respected Daily Express has this to say:

 Global sponsorship?? Excuse me?? This is Easdale Island, not snooker championships in the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield!

And the even more respected Times newspaper reported as follows:

 One resident has responded toThe Timesarticle and has copied us in as follows:

As a resident of Easdale Island, I would like to set the record straight regarding your article “Fee could sink stone skimmers” (August 22, 2013).
Firstly, it is unlikely in the extreme that a £1,000 fee would cause the event to “sink without trace” given that last year alone it raised £9,500 for the organisers’ coffers, and over the last five years has raised some £40,000 in total.
Secondly, Easdale residents have not “reacted angrily to the demands of the landowner”. Most residents of my acquaintance (and, as there are only 45 of us, I can fairly say that I know them all) are either completely unmoved by the landowner’s request for a fee, or feel that he is perfectly within his rights to make a charge for the use of his own land. The only “angry reactions” have come from the directors of Eilean Eisdeal, the event’s organisers, to whom the landowner’s request should have come as no surprise.
Thirdly, the “benefactor” who “came to the rescue” last year was not anonymous. It was the Aberdeen-based newspaper The Press & Journal, which made a very big splash indeed about “saving” the Stone Skimming. There was an anonymous benefactor in the shape of an individual who, at the last minute, organised and paid for Public Liability Insurance for the event, which Eilean Eisdeal had claimed to Mr. Feigenbaum was already fully in place, but had declined to exhibit to him.
Fourthly, locals do not need to “struggle to see how the money has been invested”. They know full well that Mr. Feigenbaum donated the £1,000 to the Easdale Island Residents’ & Property Owners’ Association (EIRPOA), with the intention that it be used to fund something of benefit to the whole island. Being a democratic organisation, EIRPOA consulted its members, and the Slate Islands Heritage Trust, and Mr. Feigenbaum himself on how that money should be spent. From those consultations the clearing of overgrown paths, the replacement of broken fencing and the restoration of steps up to the island’s lookout point emerged as top priorities. In conjunction with the Slate Islands Heritage Trust, EIRPOA set up a ring-fenced Special Project Account, both organisations adding a little from their own funds to the account. One thousand pounds is not a great deal of money, so expenditure needs to be prudently managed, and the clearing of paths is under way with the assistance of volunteer labour, conserving funds for the parts of the project which will require outlay for materials and labour. The aforementioned facts are well known to the locals, including to the two directors of Eilean Eisdeal who attended EIRPOA’s AGM at which a full report was given.
Perhaps, instead of making a lot of fuss about what has happened to £1,000, the directors of Eilean Eisdeal should be accounting for what has happened to £9,500. That is something that locals do, indeed, “struggle to see”.
Yours faithfully,
An Easdale Island Resident
The author of the above response doubts that it will be published because it tells the (quite peaceful) truth, whereas what the papers want is sensationalistic “rows” between island residents, and between residents and the landowner.
As a footnote, we also hear that on the day of the Stone Skimming (29th September) it seems that Eilean Eisdeal intend to close the road from Ellenabeich to Balvicar to local traffic in order to accommodate the flood of Stone Skimming participants.
Hey? What about my breakfast newspaper and croissant? Nobody seems to be thinking about that.

An old Easdale custom continues

The on-paper Easdale People regularly ran photos of people moving sheds around the island in various creative ways, and we’re proud to continue that tradition, as the shed that was originally Henry’s, then Jan’s, then Julian’s and is now Willie’s, makes its way up to the allotments. Even after all these years- and all its travels – the shed was remarkably robust and took some dismantling, but Team Easdale (Willie, Euan, Don and Henry) managed it


Going …

… going …

… gone!



Mobile signal for Seil (and Easdale)

Hello? 21st century and we don’t have ANY useful mobile signal here. When we live here we’ve an idea of where we can go to get a … um … two-bar signal. On Easdale Island there’s a reasonable signal outside the ferryshed, and if you go up the mountain you can probably get … wow … THREE bars!!

It’s an issue for us all, whether full-time residents, holiday home owners or visitors.

Our Webmaster Nick Bowles has set up an on-line petition to try and get this sorted, by needling our MSP and MP to access – for us – some of the £150 million allocated by the UK government for improving mobile coverage throughout the country.

There are 121 signatures on the petition right now, which is brilliant. BUT … we’re going for 200!!

You can sign up for it HERE. Please do.

P.S. Some people have experienced difficulties with signing the on-line petition, so paper ones have been put in the Easdale ferryshed, Village Shop, Heritage Centre and Oyster Bar.

We’re truly special!

A reader, island visitor and would-be resident has sent in the following post:

Jeannette & I visited this island called Easdale purely by chance towards the end of June, just past, whilst enjoying an extended touring caravan holiday in Scotland. We live in York (so not really English you understand) and were so taken with what is a magnificent island that I have thought about nothing else of consequence since. You see what you have is special. I mean truly special.

Leaving aside the politics (of which I’m still not fully up to date with) you have what can be described as the best of many worlds. Isolation, connectivity, beauty, history, industrial heritage, and from what I’ve read in these web pages a degree of community spirit that is not witnessed in many many other parts of the UK. So stop and think about that for a wee while.

I reckon many islanders feel similar thoughts too. We hope so. Approaching and just reaching the tender age of (we’ll say very late 50s) we have aspirations, and subject to moving goal posts of pensions etc. feel Easdale may be the place to settle for a decade or so – to imbibe our beings with all the things I listed above. To become part of a living community; take up sailing again, doing voluntary work, a part-time job – whatever.

So outgoing & friendly was one of the islanders (shan’t embarrass him/her) that, during a good chat whilst looking at a couple of boats in the harbour, s/he showed us around one of the island’s cottages. Both Jeannette & I were taken by a realisation of what life could be like in a place like Easdale.

We made enquiries on our return to Yorkshire of purchasing something suitable & simple on Easdale as the thoughts would simply not dissipate from our minds (as holiday memories often do). We have looked at websites for renting and come to the conclusion that we should rent for a period of say 6 months over the winter to see whether (and weather!) we could stay the course. We also made enquiries at our workplace to take a 6 month leave of absence (allowable where we work) as a pre-retirment option.

So the essence of this early morning ramble is two-fold:
1 – to let you know you do have something special
2 – to put down a marker for the near future and invite constructive comment

We hope offence has not been taken by the above (not intended) and if there are suggestions or reading you think might be suitable for us to catch up on then do please let us know.

Best wishes to all you fortunate people,
Jeannette & Robin
Is it permissible to fly the Yorkshire flag alongside the Saltire on Yorkshire Day (1st of August?)