When Scottish islands blogged
January 9, 2015 2:23 PM   Subscribe

As part of an emerging online technologies project, the BBC set up Island Blogging in the early 2000s to allow residents of three groups of sparsely populated and often windswept Scottish islands (the Outer Hebrides or Western Isles, Argyll and Clyde Islands and the Northern Isles) to blog for free. As nearly all were on often unreliable dial-up, the service was simple and web-based, allowing comments (by anyone) and posts and pictures (blogging residents only). Moderation and rules were light; controversies were infrequent.

Some islands produced many bloggers and posts. Others produced one, while some of the less densely populated islands sadly did not contribute. Some bloggers were people who had lived on the islands all their lives; others were 'incomers', settling from places such as Alaska and South Dakota.

Localized community humor sometimes propagated in the comments of posts such as Is there life on Harris from 2005.

Other local humor included the long-running Fank Dating event, for single and lonely residents of the islands to find a partner. (a fank is a pen for holding sheep) An announcement, and explanations of terminology, logistics, and a gift to woo that someone special with.

Other subjects included:

- The difficulty of killing an island rat.
- Diaspora.
- Strange fish which wash up on the beaches.
- Geology.
- The Guga: catching and cooking.
- The monthly trip to the big supermarket.
- Deliveries.
- The usefulness of libraries in rural places.
- Nudist beaches in extreme weather.

The service was wound down and archived towards the end of the decade. An attempt by a few contributers to set up a continuation service was short-lived. Instead, many locals on the islands use Facebook, Twitter or other online media such as letters to the local news website to discuss God. Over the six years of the BBC Island Blogging project, 364 registered bloggers posted nearly six thousand times.
posted by Wordshore (25 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
"I've a braw new table tennis bat. It has red bobbles on one side but the other side is shiny and flat. Is this the sort of stuff you're looking for?"

posted by Sara C. at 2:52 PM on January 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Fantastic post.

"Is this the sort of thing you're looking for?" is my new favorite meme.
posted by Miko at 2:55 PM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

"Our Christmas tree fell down last night when the dog leapt up and ate the fairy. That fairy had been in our house for thirty years. My mum had made it in Primary 5. She gave the dog a skelp. It is out worrying the sheep today. I don't think this dog will last long somehow. Dad is digging a hole down the croft as I type . Is this the sort of thing you're looking for?"
posted by Iridic at 2:56 PM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

Fantastic post. "Is this the sort of thing you're looking for?" is my new favorite meme.

Thanks. Must admit, a driver for this FPP was to bring the Is there life on Harris post to the MetaFilter audience.
posted by Wordshore at 2:59 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

'Remember the liver is evil - it must be punished.'
Wayside Pulpit from Continuing Church Hall Contin
posted by dougzilla at 3:50 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I adore how all the comments are formatted with quotations around them. What a wonderful treasure.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:15 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I remember this! I learnt all about the Guga from these people! And they were going to get a crew of Viking women from York to row up the coast and marry their batchelors - did that ever happen?
posted by glasseyes at 4:32 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

For auld lang internet my dears
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:03 PM on January 9, 2015

"I saw the butcher's new bacon slicer yesterday. It has a special setting for Ayrshire Roll. The butcher had run out of marac and his van was full of turkeys and customers."

Completely odd and delightful. Thanks much, Wordshore!
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:26 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's strange to see people I know being mentioned in the Fair Isle entries. It's a nice place, but remote, and the boat crossing will make you puke.
posted by scruss at 5:41 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

"It was dark at home last night - we hadn't lit the tilley lamps. My mother was getting ready for the prayer meeting and found some 'sweeties' in dad's suit pocket. We now know that mother does not like the taste of mothballs. Is this the sort of domestic incident you are looking for in your thread?"
phil macbucket from Rodil Harris
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:45 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

It feels very strange to read this presented as history.... time passages.
posted by plep at 6:47 PM on January 9, 2015

As a little contrast, and at a bit of a tangent, here are some photographs from turn-of-the-century* Lewis in the Western Isles. I've searched and don't think they've been on Mefi before.

*Turn of the century before last!
posted by glasseyes at 7:06 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Ah, it was a longboat full of women from Arran, coming in for the Fank.
posted by glasseyes at 7:27 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

It feels very strange to read this presented as history....

There's a "... wait for it ..." preserved in amber, in there. Which, wow. Who knew that would sound so dated a decade later?
posted by Sara C. at 7:29 PM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

It feels very strange to read this presented as history....

Yes, the time thing feels weird. I lived on one of those islands, population 130, from 2004 to 2009 and was the sole Island Blogger. Though over time, from the odd comment here and there, it became clear that a lot of neighbors were quietly reading mine and other blogs.

Even though we were stuck with dial-up for most of the time (a sort of broadband came, but long and painful story about how bad it was e.g. it went down for some residents at low tide), many islanders were online. The youth used a Facebook-like social media network called Bebo to do profile pages and communicate. Some of the senior men used eBay a lot - and they were good at it - to buy and sell stuff e.g. tractor parts. The senior women used the net less, but they had their own telephone-based information network (gossip and tea were the unofficial second currencies of the island, probably many islands). Fishermen did all manner of work research online (including buying and selling boats). Because of the demographics, dating websites were popular, as was the practice of scouring dating websites to try and find what your neighbors or relatives (1/3 of the residents were related to each other) were putting on them. A few people were not online, and were vocally against it. The Swiss hippy artist who operated a pottery in a crofters barn and tried to pay for her bus fares in crockery she couldn't sell was one, but she had a road to Damascus conversion when a large art grant that involved online work came her way. The local church minister was another, especially if the web was used on Sundays. Down with that sort of thing.

Blogging was not widespread as an activity. Reading the blogs of your neighbors, on the other hand, was hugely popular (that gossip=currency thing). That's also how I got banned from the local shop; after repeatedly being sold bad food, I got exasperated after being sold some deep-frozen coleslaw one time and, fed up and jet-lagged, blogged about it. Several people read it, the shopkeeper got phone calls from a few of those readers within the hour, he banned me, a local councillor blogged about me being banned, more people boycotted (several had already switched to online shopping or the shop on the next island due to a different incident), and the shopkeeper sold up and went to run a UKIP branch back on the mainland. More than a few residents, amused by this, followed it online and for the remainder of my time there I kept getting local presents, at Christmas and birthday of coleslaw.

The islanders were less amused by references on blogs to the island being a wealthy place, or the residents being wealthy. This was partially for tax purposes, and because indications of wealth made it more difficult to apply for local or community grants. So there was some muttering about the recurring (and often not that exaggerated) comments online about the number of residents with personalized number plates, large cars, or continental practices. There were some far more extreme, and astonishing, things that went on online (and had been since the 90s) which I currently can't (ironically) blog about as it may derail someone else's active PhD research on net use there.
posted by Wordshore at 1:52 AM on January 10, 2015 [22 favorites]

Great post! Is there life on Harris? is hilarious. Some of my ancestors on my mother's side hail from Barra. Have to visit there one day. I hear they have a castle.
posted by jet_manifesto at 3:33 AM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Scruss: It's strange to see people I know being mentioned in the Fair Isle entries. It's a nice place, but remote, and the boat crossing will make you puke.

Aye. A video on Facebook of the big ferry leaving Orkney just yesterday for mainland Scotland. Think they served a really good fry-up when I was on that one a few years ago; bacon, eggs, sausages all done well. That probably wouldn't have been the wisest ferry meal option yesterday...
posted by Wordshore at 5:57 AM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

True enough, Wordshore, but that was a big boat. The Good Shepherd IV, on the other hand, is only 76 tonnes gross. It crosses Sumburgh Roost, which is some rough seas. Even in August you'd get breaching. The skipper used to set up his paper bag as he left Grutness, and he advised us “If you're going to spew, spew early; that way you can enjoy the rest of the journey.” And spew we did. Everywhere. Oh the horror.

I can attest that it's better to have had something to eat. My first crossing I had no breakfast, so was bringing up bile for most of the trip. My last trip (which I can't believe is now over 22 years ago) I ill-advisedly wolfed a bunch of bread and marmalade, which led to an event I'm not proud to recall as the Great Sea Crossing-induced Fortnight-delayed Golden Shred Sinus Incident of July 1993.
posted by scruss at 9:29 AM on January 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

From the longboat full of women thread, linked above:

"I believe I am the most powerful man in the world and I'm looking for Arran lurve. I have three cows and a 1974 VW Jetta as a dowry and own my own house and teeth. I know how to treat a woman and how to worm a sheep ( or is it the other way round ) I do not intend leaving Dell Fank empty handed and have the Registrar from Barvas on standby. I'm a Leo and my favourite biscuits are Garibaldi. My long range forecast is Sunny in 06!"

Al 'The Body' MacPherson from The Muscular Arms Shawbost
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:55 PM on January 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh Wordshore. This post and your subsequent comments are truly the Best of the Web.

And yet, talking about preserved in amber, sometime in 2007 a blog slips into contemporary time:
We knew at the beginning of the month before anyone else of the cracks in the
Middleton Windsor relationship. It was when Donald in his capacity as car park attendant at the Fank noticed a VW Golf with no road tax parked on the top road into South Dell. There was a Top Shop bag on the back seat and some polo equipment along with it with the initials WW on the shirt. Knowing that William Wallace is long dead Donald put two and two together and realised there was some top totty at the masked ball that evening looking for lurve.

...When Lets Twist Again came on (courtesy of Amgus McKinnnon and his Wheels of Steel a late replacement for Paul Oakenfold) Donald saw his chance and made his move for Kate. After that the Windsor boy was history
posted by glasseyes at 4:31 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks a lot for this post. The blog is a lovely memento - witty, wry, tough, tender (kind of), full of the spirit of place. X
posted by glasseyes at 8:47 AM on January 11, 2015

Oh lordy, I used to frequent Island Blogging when it was in its 'hey day'. I always had a love / hate relationship with the website. It began originally in the Argyll and Clyde islands as a project to promote digital literacy and grew to encompass communities in the Northern and Western Isles. As this digital literacy grew and the blogosphere in general developed, it became very easy to set up blogs elsewhere across the web and concerns about Island Blogging’s technical limitations, House Rules and Terms and Conditions were noted as well as problems with the blogging engine and spam filtering which recurred with increasing severity.

In short, five years into it's run it became apparent that the site did not best serve the resident blogger’s needs and that the technology had reached the end of its natural life. So the site shut down and its bloggers forced to move to virtual pastures new. The Lewis Island bloggers, my home island and who I paid most attention to, managed to get themselves WordPressed up thanks to a kind soul called Les from England who held their hand and helped them get started again.

Why love / hate? Well some of the blogs were frankly awful. Not that my own island blog elsewhere was of any great shakes at all but a good few of them were just dire, looked like crap thanks to the restriction of the Beeb’s site, comments appeared to be heavily edited or censored and, a minor gripe, locals were in the great minority, so it kinda felt like the English White Settlers Association at times. But some were quite readable and there were a couple I really enjoyed.

Off the top of my head they were...

Arnish Lighthouse: A self confessed outsider’s view on the island. I think he lived on his own and was obsessed by the weather forecasts and death. He documented local graveyards and war memorials and took photographs of headstones. He stills blogs faithfully

Soap Lady: An duck keeping, soap making English lady who bought a puppy who turned out to be a total sheep-worrying nightmare.

The White Settler: Possibly the worst poet in the world, writing verse about his failed love life and various medical conditions.

Fred Blog: Newly arrived handyman from Kent, can't remember much about him.

x33xxx: A homosexual Dorset man who left the island and continued to blog from Dorset. He threw a huge tantrum when asked to leave the blog as he was no longer an island resident and a group of others left with him in protest.

Finally there was Calumannabel, probably the only local on there. He was very funny, very parochial and 100% tongue in cheek character whose humour could only be fully appreciated if you were local too. I never did discover who he was or whether he was poking fun at the others or not but he kept his true identity well hidden and the incomers seemed to love being part of his banter...

Blogging is still alive and well on the islands, broadband access is far more widespread (although speeds are very poor) and people are much more savvy about social media and bringing their story to the world from their desktop and smartphones and there's something quite therapeutic about sharing the goldfish bowl life of these remote places with the wider world...
posted by Caskeum at 1:43 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wish MetaFilter allowed me to flag Caskeum's comment as "Fantastic" multiple times, instead of just once...

A few more snippets since this post went up:

- Turns out that at least one councillor was blogging, and several may have been commenting. Also an elected parliamentary representative allegedly commented every now and then.
- Calumannabel is/was from Lewis, and was also one of the most prolific (possibly the most prolific) commenters.
- The Coll blogging controversy of 2007 resulted in some people complaining to the police.
- Been reminded about Stornoway Chat, which was a community blog/forum set up by a local who I think worked on ships, or in the oil industry, around the world(?) That was well used, especially around election times.

Also; I met the blogger behind Arnish Lighthouse at the Guest House he was staying in long-term in Stornoway. Quiet Dutch guy, who seems to have spent the last decade blogging massively on several platforms (usually at the same time) about the Hebrides. Specializing in weather and death, as you say, and also war history, local history, and the passing of pets. He had a substantial online following amongst a certain demographic of American women. According to his LinkedIn profile he's still there.

Also met x33xxx by chance at a tech meeting on the mainland not that long ago and made the mistake of mentioning the Hebrides. That didn't go down well. He may possibly have anger issues, or maybe was having a really bad day, don't know.

I met several others as well at a tea and cake meet-up in Stornoway (think there were several of these), but am infuriated I didn't keep details or take a picture (especially as I spent a lot of time taking pictures in the Hebrides). Did remember that there was a mix of English, mainland Scots and locals, and that female bloggers outnumbered male. Unsure how representative that was.

Oh; some poetry from The White Settler:

"This valentines day is just like any other,
Every passing year you get more like your mother,
She sits in her chair her face in a frown,
If I was a dog she would have me put down."

posted by Wordshore at 5:44 PM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

A friend wishes to note the contribution of D Morrison of Scalpay through his dispatches to the Oban Times, e.g. "PORPOISES: It was once impossible to miss seeing porpoises swimming in the sea. Now there aren't so many, according to local fishermen."

They may have been prepared for print, but are the essence of a certain kind of island blogging.
posted by holgate at 1:57 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

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