Happy New Year with an Islay dram and the New Year’s Concert from Vienna

Islay Events

As I eluded to yesterday, today marks the start of a new chapter in my life, even though I don’t know yet where it will lead me. All I know is that over the coming weeks I’ll be looking for new career opportunities, while also aiming to use the opportunity for a few other changes. But at the same time there are some constants, including my love for Islay and some annual rituals/traditions:

Picture of a colourful dawn over a field with trees at the edge
West Berkshire New Year’s Day dawn

This morning I got up early and left for my morning walk before dawn, on the return leg I saw a lovely colourful New Year’s day first dawn of the year sky over one of the West Berkshire fields I pass on my route. When I returned home I got the oven going for some fresh “New Year’s Day bread”, one Hemp Hearts bread and one fruit bread. Then it was time for one of my New Year’s Day traditions (mentioned on this blog before eg in 2020 and in 2018), the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna with a dram of Islay single malt whisky and my New Year’s Day brunch.

The whisky is the same as for Christmas, the Kilchoman Single Cask 11 Years Old Bourbon Cask. The brunch is the aforementioned Hemp Hearts bread, scrambled eggs and some smoked salmon. The salmon “slowly smoked for 12 hours over oak & whisky cask chippings”, so I’m imagining they were Islay whisky cask chippings.

Picture of a brunch with scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and fresh bread as well as a dram of Kilchoman Islay single malt whisky
New Year’s Day brunch with an Islay dram

The concert has now reached the encores with the famous Blue Danube, so I’m going to finish now and wish you all a happy and healthy New Year 2022!

My Islay (and something else) look back at 2021

Islay Events

So there we are, New Year’s Eve 2021. Another year coming to an end. Might as well take a look back at the year, what it meant to me, Islay related and a few other areas. The year brought both good and bad things and events:

In particular the first half of the year was of course still dominated by the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic, even though the ramp up of the vaccination efforts brought some hope. My second dose came too late for me to book anything for the first half of the year (I had decided I wasn’t going to travel until my second dose had taken full effect). Still, I managed to continue with daily posts on my Islay pictures photoblog by digging into my archives and plundering some other resources (mainly pictures taken on my phone). Also the belated online Islay Sessions 2020 took place early in 2021.

Then the first bad news struck when Ian Brooke unexpectedly passed away in June. I still miss him, my daily visits to the Islay Birds blog are not the same without him (that’s not to diminish the sterling job the team continuing it in his memory is doing, it’s just different). Also missed seeing and catching up with him at his bird hide when I finally managed to return to Islay in September, at least I had a good catch up with Margaret.

At least September brought my first return to Islay after 22 months without a visit. As you can read in that post it was magical. Being back on the beaches was just brilliant. Rediscovering some old haunts and exploring a few new places was just what I needed. And I had booked my next visit even before I left for my September visit, returning for a week in October. This time I stayed at Ballitarsin Lodge, which was another new experience. Some fantastic views from up there, also a few morning walks along the Glen Road instead of a beach. I got to meet some old friends with their latest addition to the household (and some homemade Spaghetti Bolognese on great evening), followed by some brilliant October night skies (I still need to process the pictures from that…).

Then the end of the year arrived with some bad news, but also a lot of opportunity for 2022: Earlier this afternoon I shut down my work laptop for the last time as a Verizon employee. Or in other words, from next week I’m looking for opportunities for the next stage of my career. If you know of any good jobs in the Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) area or similar, positions as a Finance Business Partner or similar please get in touch. Remote work or in the Greater Reading / West Berkshire and around area. You can learn about my skills and experience on my LinkedIn profile. Onwards and upwards, and after I’ve settled into my next career step it will be time for another visit to Islay.

The Islay Sessions 2021 return home to Islay

Islay Music

The Islay Sessions 2020 had to be moved to an online event for the well known reason of the Covid pandemic and related restrictions. For 2021 the Sessions return to their home on Islay, they will take place over the weekend 26-28/Nov/2021 in the usual locations, mainly the Port Charlotte Hotel and Bruichladdich Hall. Here’s a promo video with some more details:

Islay Sessions Promo 2

Also see the artist’s line up video:

Islay Sessions 2021 Artist Line up

For more information and tickets visit the Fraser Shaw Trust website and the Islay Sessions / Fraser Shaw Trust Facebook pages.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend in person myself this year due to work commitments (the last 5 and first 2-3 working days of the month I need to be working and with the long journey to Islay from where I live it’s not feasible the way the Sessions fall). I understand there are efforts under way to also stream the Sessions online, so I hope to be able to attend at least virtually.

Thank you for the online Islay Sessions 2020 (in January 2021)

Islay Music

As mentioned previously the Islay Sessions 2020 had to move online due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Originally the plan was to hold them on the original weekend in November, but for various reasons that didn’t work out and the event had to be pushed out. Two days ago as of writing this it finally happened and the live stream went ahead. I put on my finest tartan, poured myself a wee dram and sat down in front of the computer to watch. While of course not as good as a real live event it was still a great evening! All credit to the organisers and the musicians for making this such an enjoyable event.

Greig Shaw was our host, I believe from his garden shed, which he had very nicely decorated for the event. Greig led us through the evening, talking about his late brother Fraser in whose honour the Sessions are now being held and very ably introducing the musicians. The musicians were be Daimh, Maeve MacKinnon, LB Salter & Jenn Butterworth and David Foley & Jack Smedley. Of course there was also a prize draw with some rare whiskies and other goodies.

The individual concerts were pre-recorded, which I think was a wise move. I’ve attended other online concerts, which were plagued with problems, sound and image being out of sync and more. Here the stream worked well and it was a joy to hear the musicians play as well as talk about their music.

As I had hoped the live chat was available, which I found very enjoyable. A lot of people I know personally as well as virtually were chatting while listening to the concert, many of the musicians joined in as well. Memories were exchanged, virtual rounds bought and more.

If you missed it or would like to see it again the Fraser Shaw Trust has made the whole event available on their YouTube channel (don’t forget to subscribe, if you haven’t yet):

Islay Sessions Complete Show

Thanks again to the Fraser Shaw Trust, all the organisers and all the musicians for such a wonderful evening. Hopefully we can see each other again in person soon for some real live music!

The Islay Sessions 2020 go online

Islay Music

Same as so many other events this year the Islay Sessions 2020 will take place online. They will also be a bit shorter this year, taking place on Saturday 21/Nov/2020 in the evening. However, the line-up is as good as ever with some familiar faces (as in, they have performed at previous sessions) and some new artists. Today the organisers uploaded a short teaser:

Fraser Shaw Trust – Sessions 2020

This years sessions will be broadcasted live on the Fraser Shaw Trust YouTube channel, starting at 19:30 on Saturday 21/Nov/2020. The musicians performing this year will be Daimh, Maeve MacKinnon, LB Salter & Jenn Butterworth and David Foley & Jack Smedley. I hope we will be able to use the live chat function, while not the same it would allow us to chat with the musicians and listeners, something I’ve always really enjoyed at the real live sessions.

Get your tickets and with it entries to the prize draw (including for a rare Bruichladdich valinch) online, I understand you can get as many as you want. For more information follow @TrustFraser and @IslaySessions on Twitter, if you’re on Facebook you can like TrustFraser on FB and Islay Sessions on FB.

Hope to “see” you there!

Listen to the This Is Islay podcast

Islay News

Some new media from Islay to write about. Back in August the This is Islay podcast was launched. Its goal is to bring you voices from Islay, news and events with interviews from the community. It is intended for both locals and listeners further afield to give an insight into what is happening on Islay and how the community experienced events. The intention is to complement other news sources (e.g. The Ileach), not to compete with them.

As of writing this two episodes have been published, Welcome to This Is Islay Fàilte a chàirdean and Islay Resilience and A Trip To India. The below embedded player should list and allow you to play the most recent episodes (as of writing this the two mentioned ones):

Snowball Earth, Back to Islay and FilmG This Is Islay

This is Episode 15 of This Is Islay, a volunteer-led podcast celebrating the people, places, events and connections of Islay and Jura. This episode is hosted by Jolyon Thurgood and Glen Roberts, and production was led by Tom O'Farrell . Thanks to the Port Charlotte Hotel for hosting our Rhinns recording studio. The goal of This Is Islay is to use podcasting to foster community involvement, education and training, providing resources and facilities to research, produce and promote content for a worldwide audience. We collaborate with Islay High School through the support of their staff and access to their recording facilities, and are working closely with MYFOS to involve the young people of Islay in digital media and podcasting. We invite you to provide feedback, ideas, or even join our podcasting team.  Find us at https://anchor.fm/thisisislay and at our website https://www.thisisislay.co.uk .  Let us know what you enjoyed and what you would like to hear next month.  Contact us by e-mail: thisisislay@gmail.com and follow us on Twitter @thisisislay, on Facebook @thisisislay and Instagram @thisisislaypodcast. More about this podcast: We hear from Professor Alasdair Skelton of Stockholm University, a regular visitor to Islay, who tells us about Snowball Earth, his most recent visit to Islay, and his attendance at COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, all in conversation with Glen Roberts. We also welcome Mr Iain Beggs, Gaelic teacher at Islay High School, chatting to his Gaelic students about their award-winning short film “Easga Bhuidhe na Feidh”, which won the Best Film (Learners) award this year as part of the FilmG competition. For more information about FilmG, please visit filmg.co.uk . To view the winning short film, visit https://youtu.be/oARMiRNVzyQor https://www.filmg.co.uk/filmichean/easga-bhuidhe-na-feidh/?lang=en Our theme music is '£50 Cashback' from The Fraser Shaw Trust.  Keep up to date on Islay Sessions and the work of the Trust in support of the relief of multiple sclerosis at https://frasershawtrust.com .
  1. Snowball Earth, Back to Islay and FilmG
  2. Fairtrade and Feis Ile – Islay's Festival of Music and Malt
  3. Land of the Ilich – Past and Present
  4. Christmas 2021
  5. COP26: Islay Perspectives, and The Islay Times

I hope you’ll enjoy the podcasts as much as I did and will subscribe to them (I’m using Google Podcasts, which works really well for me, but various other services including Spotify are available). With the latest developments around Covid-19 I found the information about the Islay Resilience Group very interesting and how it will help with possible future developments. But of course there are plenty of other interesting topics as well.

See you next year, Islay (hopefully)

Islay News

Several factors were involved in this decision, but over this belated bank holiday weekend I have made the decision not to travel to Islay this year. Back in March when I wrote Sadly no Islay visit for me for the foreseeable future and also in recent weeks I still had hopes and plans to visit later in the year. I’ve got two weeks off work in October, which I had originally planned for a long Islay visit. But I’ve now decided to make it another staycation in West Berkshire, where I live (and currently work from home. I normally work in Reading, but we’ve been told to work from home until at least the end of the year). I don’t feel I have to justify that decision, but I still would like to explain:

To start with I’m still not comfortable to travel or go anywhere with people in confined spaces. While my GP told me she doesn’t consider me a Covid-19 high risk and I don’t have to shield like some other people I’m still very careful. I’ve read several reports of long term health implications from Covid-19 infections, including heart problems. Having fully recovered and been given a new life after my major heart surgery a few years back I just want to minimise the risks. I haven’t been to a pub or restaurant since March or even February (can’t remember) and obviously haven’t used the dining voucher scheme by the government. I haven’t even been to the beer gardens some of the pubs around where I live have opened. I’d love to, but I must admit I’m feeling physically uncomfortable even when walking past them. Some will say I’m overreacting, that might well be, but that’s how I feel.

Going on the long trip to Scotland with these feelings doesn’t feel right to me. It wouldn’t feel like a holiday. The journey (with over night stops, ferry crossing etc) would be very stressful and even on Islay I couldn’t fully enjoy it. Sure, most of the time I would spend in the cottage and outdoors away from people, but even though it’s probably safe (I know the restaurants, distilleries etc all follow the latest guidelines and do their best to keep everyone safe) I wouldn’t feel comfortable to go for a meal, go to a pub/bar or visiting a distillery. Visiting any friends isn’t very realistic either, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going into anyone’s home.

Finally the news over the last week or so have further tipped me over to the decision not to go. As I’m sure everyone is aware the infections rates, R-values and whatever else they measure have gone up. While it’s probably too early to say that there is talk of a second wave. Across the continent we have significant increases, same as earlier this year where the UK was lagging the continent by a few weeks. Some restrictions have already been put in place, I fear further restrictions might come over the coming weeks. For me personally not the time to plan a trip, just too insecure (I’ve seen it very closely, some people I work with had to cancel their holiday in France the day before they were due to depart as the rules changed).

I’m obviously very disappointed that I won’t visit Islay this year. I hope the situation will improve next year, I’m hoping that there will be an Islay walking week again and that I will have the confidence to travel. Should that turn out to be too early then I’ll have to wait. All I know is that at some point I will be back.

To finish I’d just like to make clear that this is a purely personal decision. It’s no guidance, direction, anything for anyone else. If you want to go and it feels right for you to go, by all means visit Islay. I’ll be happy for you to go, share your pictures and videos and experiences so that others can enjoy them as well. Islay will welcome you, many businesses on Islay are waiting for you, support them in this difficult time.

Sadly no Islay visit for me for the foreseeable future

Islay News

Unless you live in a cave (or the Big Brother house in Germany) this post probably won’t contain any huge surprises. With a heavy heart I’ve just cancelled my upcoming Islay visit in April. Regular readers and anyone who knows me will be aware how important in particular that visit is to me in the annual calendar, as it is the Islay walking week. I also fear my usual visit in June might not happen.

The reason is of course the dreaded Coronavirus/ Covid-19/ whateverthecorrectnameis. It’s all over the news, all over mainland Europe countries have gone into lockdown, the UK is now starting to (belatedly?) follow suit. The latest guidance as of writing this is “PM says everyone should avoid office, pubs and travelling”. While important to me personally I admit travelling to Islay for a holiday is “non-essential travel”. My employer has implemented a working from home where possible policy to support “social distancing”, providing regular updates, since Friday I’m working from home. Keeping in mind my major heart surgery a few years back and a few other factors I believe I’m in the “high risk” category, so I’m going to be safe rather than sorry. Travelling most of the length of the UK is not something I’d be comfortable with in these circumstances.

This whole situation is obviously also very bad and concerning for many small businesses on Islay, in particular in the tourism sector and related other businesses. If tourists don’t visit Islay these businesses lose their income, in worst case they might even go bankrupt and lose their business. I understand all of the Islay distilleries have closed their visitor centres until further notice, another hit to Islay’s tourism industry. I don’t know what the answer/ solution to this is, all I know is that continuing as if nothing was happening is not an option. I don’t think anyone would want the UK to be in a situation similar to Italy where hundreds of people die and medical staff in the hospitals have to make decisions who they are going to save and who they are going to let die because they simply don’t have the capacities.

What I do know is that the money I’m not spending now will find its way to Islay at some point. As soon as it is safe and possible to travel again I will return to catch up.

Islay Sessions 2019, a look back

Islay Music

Three weeks ago I listened to a lot of very nice music during the Islay Sessions 2019 at the Port Charlotte Hotel and Bruichladdich Hall. After that the day job and a few other things got in the way, so I only now get a chance to look back at it. Those who follow me on Twitter might have seen the clips already (individually), but here’s a video with a few impressions I’ve pulled together (all recorded on my phone, so it’s not studio quality. But I think it’s good enough to give you an idea):

The Sessions took place over three days from 22-24/Nov/2019. The Friday kicked off the event with a concert by newly formed VOX in the conservatory of the Port Charlotte Hotel. They played a variety of songs, with Laura-Beth and Kim (as well as on occasion the audience) providing the vocals. After the concert most went to the Port Charlotte Hotel bar for the informal part of the evening. Members of Eabhal and VOX joined forces and played a variety. Later during the evening Grahame Allison (owner of the Port Charlotte Hotel) sang a Gaelic song he performs regularly, what made it even better was Kaitlin Ross (of Eabhal) and Kim Carnie at times joining in.

Saturday saw the main concert at Bruichladdich Hall. After an introduction by Greig Shaw (brother of the late Fraser Shaw, who started the Islay Sessions) the Charlie Stewart Duo warmed up the audience with a variety of tunes on fiddle and guitar. Once they finished their set they stayed on stage to support Kim Carnie who sang some beautiful songs in Gaelic and English for us. Again there was some audience participation after a crash course in Gaelic for some. After the break and the Islay Sessions raffle of CDs and whisky Eabhal took the stage, mainly playing songs from their debut album This Is How The Ladies Dance. Again some beautiful tunes including some with rousing pipes. I headed back to the cottage after the concert as I was tired, but I hear their was more music in the Port Charlotte Hotel bar until early in the morning.

Sunday evening I finally got to see and hear the concert I had been waiting for for a year (she had to cancel the previous year as she had lost her voice, but this year all went to plan): Claire Hastings gave a wonderful solo performance with guitar and ukulele and of course her wonderful voice. Among other songs Fairweather Beggar and I Missed The Boat got an outing as well as a new song she wasn’t even sure it was finished just yet.

I had a great weekend and straight after their sets bought two albums online (Eabhal and Kim Carnie’s In Her Company). Angus was of the same opinion, as he writes in the Oban Times, Thrills and spills at Islay Sessions. If everything goes to plan I’ll be back for the 2020 Islay Sessions, scheduled for 20-22/Nov/2020. May be see you there?

Islay Sessions 2019 coming up

Islay Music

Just over a week to go until the Islay Sessions 2019, taking place 22-24/Nov/2019 (Fri-Sun). As of writing this I believe there are still some tickets available, but not for all events (I think the Friday is sold out). So who will be there this year?

The one I’m most looking forward to is Claire Hastings. Claire was scheduled to perform last year, but unfortunately had to cancel as she lost her voice, rather important for a singer. I’ve bought both of her albums and have listened to them many times. Here’s one of my favourites:

Fair Weather Beggar by Claire Hastings

Another one is this one, although I hope nobody will miss their boat on the way to Islay:

I Missed the Boat by Claire Hastings (here with Jenn Butterworth)

Next on my list are Eabhal, some of the members I know from previous Islay Sessions. Here’s a nice taster for their music:

Eabhal performing at Showcase Scotland 2019

The one I know least about is Kim Carnie. I will find out about her during the Saturday concert as well as on Friday where she will be performing with Laura-Beth Salter, Innes White (which I both know from previous sessions) and Calum MacCrimmon as VOX (no website I know of).

Very much looking forward to a great weekend with lots of great music, meeting old and new friends!