Guest post from @Wordshore: On Lochwinnoch and Stornoway: the ‘Ooooh’ momentsby Jennifer Jones on Jun 11, 2012 • 5:59 am No Comments
It’s weird, watching the torch (or, the flame of the torch, as there are many torches – torchi?) wind its way around the countries of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and for some unexplained reason Eire. Is that last one something to do with Bono. It’s always something to do with Bono.
Weird, because after spending my first twenty years in Ye Olde Cottage in NowheresVille, Worcestershire, I moved around the various countries a lot. Subsequently, une flickering flame is being hurtled past three actual properties, and through nine communities, that I’ve lived in. Two of these communities are in Scotland. Or Scotchland, as the Republican birther Donald Trump said, and I’ll come back to him later.
A few days ago, I watched the torch on the feed to the BBC website, as the convoy approached Lochwinnoch. I bought my first hoose there over a decade ago with Ruth. The convoy, at high speed, zoomed past the house; giving me just enough time to get a screenshot. It still … looks the same. It’s white. And, hey, look, there’s a For Sale sign outside, as the current owners probably can’t stand the neighbours we escaped from either. I wonder if the labrador that barked 24/7 is still alive.
How does this feel? There’s the thing (that I can’t find a reference for, so it may be a myth) that 1 in 4 Americans will be on TV at some point in their life. It shouldn’t be a big thing, seeing a place you once lived in on TV. There’s so much TV footage out there, why is this unique, exciting, even more than mildly interesting. I could see it on Flickr. Or Google Streetview. Or take a Pendolino train that smells of wee to Glasgow, and a train that is actually running in wee to Lochwinnoch and stare at it myself. It’s just a house, a few hundred miles away, not the surface of the moon. No big deal.
But it’s still an “Ooooo” moment, even though it lasted less than a second. Perhaps this was my upbringing (I’m 43) where people really did step out of their houses and stare if a plane went overhead.
Watching the actual torch running going through Lochwinnoch was also strange. Hundreds and hundreds of people, waving union jack flags. And only a few Saltires. Huh? I lived there long enough to know how that does not represent the village. Also somewhat fake was spotting two people in the crowd who were notorious trolls on the Lochwinnoch village website forum. Fake because they looked so happy and friendly on TV, whereas online they are both well known for posting angry content under multiple identities, and trying to get the village library closed down .
But, in Lochwinnoch, the village seemed united for this brief event. Well, it would do if they were the actual village people, but there were far too many there, so I’m assuming many were bussed in. Everyone seemed to be enjoying it, with as per usual the grumpy people taking to the forum to decry the whole thing. One other point; that’s a damned steep hill out of the village, and they may have been better off putting the fittest, rather than the unfittest, runner for that day onto it.
So tomorrow the torch does an early morning thing in the Outer Hebrides. More specifically, the island of Lewis. More specifically still, just the stones (tourist attraction ahoy) at dawn, and Stornoway, the erm capital of 8,000 people. It’s not going to the rest of Lewis, or the other islands that make up the archipelago, which is a damned shame. Then again, the Outer Hebrides is a seriously large place (it amuses when tourists take the ferry over and try and “do it in an afternoon”), being longer from end to end than it is from Glasgow to Newcastle. Look, this is a place so large and remote, that a few decades ago a half-ton bear escaped from the set of a tissue advert – I’m not making this up  – and remained free for nearly a month. It’s as wild as you can get in north west Europe. And the thought of a corporate torch-bearing runner being eaten on a remote Outer Hebrides island brings a smile. Stranger, more extreme, things have happened there.
But most of all, it’s a shame because if the torch relay had gone through South Uist, then it would have passed the village of … Stoneybridge! Home of the Olympic Committee Bid from the 1990s. “Stoneybridge! We’ve got … a bridge! And a bus shelter!”
It’ll be interesting to see how much of a live feed the BBC manage to do from the Outer Hebrides. Unless it’s a satellite link, I’m banking on not very much. BT have gone into the major erm urban areas e.g. Stornoway, but outside of there, the islands rely on a hilariously ramshackle wifi relay system that is expensive (and cost several million pounds to install in not much more than a few thousand houses), has a low capacity, and is prone to weather. And also, in some cases, the tide . Actually it’s not hilarious if you’re trying to work and making a living from it, and this was the primary reason I moved off the islands to places that had competent infrastructure. A pity, but outside of Stornoway the islands don’t possess a reliable enough IT structure to net-based work. I have several chapters on how this came about for an ebook on living on the islands, for some point in the future.
The other point of interest is that the torch, flame, and “only” 60 olympic procession staff  arrived, in a low-key manner, on Sunday night. Low key, as a minority of the Lewis islanders are of the persuasion that Sunday is the day of rest. This has led to an increasing number of disparities. For example, on the Sabbath the swimming pool is closed so you can’t get fit, but the pubs are open so you can get hammered. Planes and ferries come and go, and emergency services still operate (though even recently there were still mutterings if ambulances used sirens and flashing lights on a Sunday). Shops stay closed. And one of the churches takes down its website for the Sunday.
But it’s now more the exception than the rule that newcomers to Lewis who hang washing outside on the Sunday are “requested” not to do it again. The newcomer, or incomer, soon learns that it is not the act of “work” that matters, but the being seen to do the act of “work”. This is why large garages with interior drains are popular on the islands, so people can wash their cars on a sunday, and do other things in the garage, in private.
And so, the torch will have slunk onto Lewis by now. But even here, the “no work on the Sabbath” rule will have been bent, so taxi drivers will have gained extra trade, and accommodation places will have welcomed new guests, on the Sunday, for one night only (many in previous decades did not).
But in a few hours time, the torch will be woken from its brief slumber and taken to the Callanish Stones. I’ve no doubt that various councillors will get in on the act, as they do whenever there is a TV camera on the islands. Not because it’s modern technology and they aren’t used to it (it will be fun when they are all issued with iPads later in the year), but because any opportunity for PR is taken with glee. When Donald Trump briefly stopped in the Outer Hebrides a few years ago (his mother was born there), out came the council, cloth cap in hand, to try and elicit some money from him while not staring at his spectacular hair , which was trying valiantly to escape in the Hebridean wind. A promise was made for funding, but as to this date, not kept. He’s not expected back, and without a large cheque, won’t be welcome.
And if the councillors come out in force, they’ll be needing a widescreen TV. Why? Get this. The Outer Hebrides has a population of 25,000, give or take a thousand. Going by the national average, it should have 6 local councillors.
It has 31.
That isn’t a typo.
Thirty one expensive councillors.
One review of a few years ago said the number at the time should be reduced. It ended up being increased. As the last elections showed, this meant you could get elected to the council with less than 100 votes in some constituencies. Which, considering that two thirds of the population are related to each other, and people will feud for generations over the merest thing, makes elections interesting.
So I’ll be looking out tomorrow for two things. Footage. Any footage, to see if they got an Internet connection of any kind. And how many councillors were in shot at some point. I’ll guess at eighteen.
Actually, a third thing. An incident. Any kind of incident. Not wanting innocent members of the public to get harmed, or the moment for legitimate torchbearers to be ruined, but just some protest, or anti-corporate thing. I gather the big Coca Cola coach lorry advert on wheels thing won’t be in the Outer Hebrides. That’s a shame, as on the single track roads, there’d be a strong chance that a grumpy crofter would not be giving way to a great big red thing from the mainland. Perhaps the Hebridean wind will blow the flame and the backup flame out. Or a runner will stumble and fall into a bog. Even better if it’s Fearne Cotton or any of the other Jubilee weekend presenters. Or the Wee Frees would find a reason to protest (it doesn’t usually take much). Or the torch accidentally set fire to the petrol station owned by the local fuel baron and councillor, in an incident which would be extremely popular in Stornoway.
Just so long as the flame doesn’t go near the gas towers, else there wouldn’t be much left of Stornoway.
Give us an incident. Give us drama. And something else to add to the modern folklore canon of rural and island Scotland
Jennifer Jones has 140 post(s) on Citizen Relay: Tracking the 2012 Torch Around Scotland