Jonathan: Sorting through some old documents belonging to the Grazings Committee of the Eriskay Common Grazings (of which I am, again, Clerk), I came across these (unused?) tickets for the small (very small!) vehicular ferry that ran between Ludag in South Uist to Haun in Eriskay for some years until the causeway opened in 2002. They aren’t needed for record purposes. Is there anyone interested in acquiring memorabilia of the days when one sailed over the sea to Eriskay, rather drove there along the causeway? There’s four vehicle tickets and two pedestrian tickets – both in continuous strips, though for reasons of aesthetics the picture here shows only two of each. If you’d like make an offer, please send your bid and contact details to email@example.com by 31 January 2017. The successful bid will be anounced on the Eriskay Grazings facebook page. The proceeds of sale will be added to the Grazings Fund.
Jonathan. Alas, they don’t use those initials, now – OHMS. On Her Majesty’s Service. That’s what used to be printed across the top of envelopes from government departments. These days they’re sent just like any other post. Not even a government-standard manilla envelope. So there was nothing external to give me any warning, or to raise my level of anticipation. It was a complete surprise to find this –
It took no more than a moment to see myself at the High Court of Justiciary, in Edinburgh, all expenses paid, for weeks – or even months! – of hearing and sifting the evidence on some convoluted criminal case, the outcome of which would reaffirm – or perhaps diverge from? – some arcane and ancient precept of Scots Law. But then my eyes re-focussed from distant imaginings to the paper in my hand, where I found the words Lochmaddy Sheriff Court – in North Uist, just over an hour of driving from here. So. Petty Crime. Hmmm. Down to earth – with a bump!
I have served on a jury before. It was back in the mid 1980s when we were living in Barnsley, Yorkshire – so under English law. I spent a fortnight or so at Sheffield Crown Court on two criminal cases. My recollection is patchy. One case involved a young man and cars. (‘Twas ever thus! I suspect even Fred and Barney were in that kind of trouble before they got married and settled down.) We couldn’t come to a unanimous decision: eventually the judge sent us back to settle on a majority verdict.
Well, just six weeks to go. And then a little excitement to life! A very little, and probably of very short duration! … or it could be very very dull and drag on for a fortnight.
Then again, I might not be selected at all!
Jonathan: My last words as Grazings Clerk were those that I wrote in the newsletter for shareholders on the future of the boundary fences that enclose the islands common hill grazings. Shortly after publication of the newsletter, having received not a single expression of support for the proposed renewal – but several hostile to it – I resigned from the office of Clerk and from the Grazings Committee. In the light of recent events in other crofting communities, Denise and I were becoming increasingly concerned that we were at risk from hostilities from those – present in every community, we suspect – who seem to prefer nastiness to neighbourliness. Acting in good faith, in the interests of shareholders and the wider community, and striving to adhere exactly to the law – that doesn’t seem to count for much, these days. Crofting law now seems to work favour of those who abuse it, and the authorities take their side.
Now, it seems that our sheep – at present escaped from the hill grazing and unwilling to return there (though I’m working to persuade them to get used to it and stay there of their own free will) – are exciting the passions of those for whom finding fault in others comes more naturally than facing up to their own failings. Such as, for example, failing to fulfill their legal duties as crofters to cultivate and maintain their crofts ; to not misuse or neglect the croft ; and as shareholders to contribute as required to the upkeep of the island’s hill fences.
The island’s grazings regulations require that …
… all sheep shall be removed from the crofts to the Common Grazings on a date in the Spring of each year as fixed by the Committee ; the sheep shall not be allowed to return to the township lands before a date in the Autumn or after 1 November as fixed by the Committee.
Denise and have not and will not ‘allow’ our sheep to return ; it is the shareholders collectively who, by failure over decades to maintain the hill fence, ‘allow’ our sheep (and the sheep of others) to return!
Denise and I work tirelessly, every day (and very long days they are) at our crofting and related work. We strive to comply fully with our duties as crofters and shareholders – notwithstanding the difficulties put in our way. We are ready and willing to pay our proper share of the costs of repairing or replacing the hill fence, and have set a sum aside to cover those liabilities. (From my work on this matter as Grazings Clerk, £300 per share should be more than enough – assuming the 80% government grant will still be available.) Denise and I call on other Shareholders to match that commitment!
He that is without fault among you, let him cast the first stone!
Jonathan. Bringing a croft back into proper productive use after years of neglect, underinvestment – or downright dereliction, is no small task! We certainly undestood that when we put in our bid for the tenancy, back in 2007, but only as high-level aspirations: keep a variety of chickens free-range and sell attractive quality eggs) and low-level guesstimates ; Clear out the old creel store and fix it up as a hen house – £200. Say it quickly and with conviction and who’s to argue? (Well it cost a great deal more than £200 and yet the hens are still arguing the merits of the case! But I digress.) There are some who bring to such a task a bulging bank balance – which runs to waste in paying others to do all the work. Some abound with creative ideas, but lack the practical skills or hard work and patience to acquire them. Yet there’s one necessity that can be neither brought nor bought, and cannot be accumulated as capital, yet is indispensible to many endeavours of life, not least working the land and keeping livestock. And that’s the good will of neighbours. Tolerance of our failings ; help when really needed ; advice that takes account of our own peculiarities of character, our aspirations and our circumstances – not a lecture. If the value of capital is realized only when put to work, and the good judgement of a budget only when well spent, then good neighbourliness is made manifest only if acknowledged, if actually put to use. And with that in mind, let me say this: We will not be keeping Highland cattle on our croft, as we’ve long intended to. They’re too big and and powerful for us to manage without help, and even when quiet and contented they can casually wreck a good fence just by scratching their neck on the wires. So thanks, Seonaidh, for telling us what we needed to know: not when it was too late to do anything about it apart from soldier on regardless or give up and lick our wounds, but in time for us to really benefit from that advice, when we’ve time and opportunity to redirect our ideas and energy into something more suitable for our circumstances.
Denise: This lunchtime J got a phone call to go down to Smercleit for an interview intended for a current affairs programme on BBC na h’Alba (Gaelic language channel). Apparently the problems at the Tipperton outfall are a bit controversial, so he was needed to talk about his design proposals. He didn’t have time to change, so there he was explaining that he was a chartered civil engineer in his usual crofting uniform – a baggy and scruffy boiler suit and a pirate-style scarf to keep the sun off his balding pate. I couldn’t see this going down well if he worked for one of the big consultancies! Still, it’s what he had to say that matters I suppose, and I’m sure he managed that fine enough. Anyone see this? We looked on An Là and Eòrpa for a few days but never saw J at all. Perhaps the producer thought the sight of J would be too much for the older viewers with a very proper sense of decency ;~)