Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 550

Issue # 550                                                   Week ending Saturday 2nd May  2020

Blue Sky Thinking Encapsulates Our Approach to the Awful Coronavirus
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

We now know that you can have the dreaded virus for a week and not have any obvious symptoms. It is now thought that taking regular supplements of vitamin D - the sunshine vitamin - can help many people. It won’t stop you getting it but your body may deal with it better if you do get it. So dragging ourselves outdoors is a must. Many other claimed cures are unproven, though.

The American president’s references to an anti-malarial drug called hydroxychloroquine and whether it and other disinfectants could be cures reminded some of us of certain crofters’ use of a treatment for liver fluke disease in sheep. When sheep suffered from that awful condition, they became listless and had no energy. Their wool would come away in patches. Sometimes they couldn’t even stand up because of the nasty wee bug inside them.
A capsule delivered down the throat with a rubber-nozzled pump-action gun was often a miracle cure. Crofters used to losing such sheep would scratch their heads in wonder as the pill did its work. A few days later, the blackfaced beauty would take up its bed and walk, run and go on to have a happy hillside life. That capsule was hailed as a gift from on high.
Its reputation spread wider when Big Norman from Kirkibost - Tormod a’ Spung - accidentally burst a capsule on his Sunday breeks. A stubborn stain that had prevented their regular use for Free Church services suddenly vanished. There it was - gone. His son, Norman Angus, known to all as Puss, recalls speculation about what else the wee capsule could do spreading through the village. “It was just amazing. It wasn’t meant to do that. There was no explanation at all, at all,” he tells me.

Could the sheep’s “bulla” - that’s what we called a capsule - have other miraculous properties? Could a crofter, who had the classic symptoms of being listless and having no energy, be revitalised by a quick pop down the gullet with the pump action thingummyjig? On many mornings there were many crofters who out of sorts after a late trip to the bar at Scaliscro in Uig or the Doune Braes Hotel at Carloway. Was the “bulla” a hangover cure?
Despite various mystery crofter illnesses over the years, whether anyone risked their livers and lives taking the liver fluke treatment for a hangover isn’t recorded - but at least they had spotless dungarees. The fact that Donald Trump is now said to give voice to suggestions that consideration be given to the use of medicines designed for other uses for coronavirus is giving some cause for thought in Kirkibost. Puss says: “Donald Trump should test his anti-malarial drug to see if can take a stain off his Sunday trousers. If it can, it could have many other undiscovered uses.”

In a crisis you just have to make do with what you have. When I went shopping yesterday, the supermarket was out of toilet paper again. What could I do? I ended up using lettuce leaves. That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Mrs X has also found new previously-undiscovered uses for our oven. She is busy baking lovely cakes and freezing them. Coming downstairs the other day, I found her all hot and sweaty as she had been making a number of particularly delicious ginger cakes. Then I suggested we take our cuppas outside and sit in the rare sunshine to get some vitamin D into our bodies. She leaned back and stared at the big clear blue sky and said: “Have you noticed that there are no polluting jet planes up there going to and from America. With the lockdown and so few planes flying, there are no vapour trails up there.”

We marvelled at the vast blue unstreaked heavens. After a while, I said: “Actually, I can see a vapour trail.” She quickly scanned the sky to no avail and demanded to know where I had seen it. I told her it was coming from the kitchen window. She said: “What are you on about, you clown? There is no ... oh no, no, no.” She had forgotten she had a great big cake in the oven. The cup of coffee went flying as she dashed inside in a frantic bid to save the luxury ginger creation.

Too late. That cake was supposed to make 12 slices but it was charred so badly that when we pulled off all the black bits what was left was the size of a cupcake. Just as well we have no visitors nowadays.

Like so many, Mrs X has also been googling the Covid-19 treatments and symptoms. She said to me: “It says here that one of the symptoms of having the coronavirus is having no taste.” I told her not to fret about all the medical stuff about it as it would just depress her. She said: “Seriously, I think this thing about having no taste is very important. When I look at you, I realise I have had these symptoms for the last 25 years.”

Scotland Could Have Different Exit From Lockdown

Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland could have a different exit from the Covid-19 lockdown if she felt the UK government had taken "premature" decisions.  The first minster told the BBC she would do what she judged best to protect Scotland's population.  But Ms Sturgeon added she would not take a different path "for the sake of it".  "It's not political in any way, shape or form," she told said.  A total of 1,249 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Scotland, according to the latest Scottish government data.  Statistics published on Sunday showed that another 18 people had died with virus, though the actual number of deaths is much higher.  The UK's total hospital death toll of those infected with Covid-19 passed 20,000 on Saturday.  The first minister said lifting lockdown measures that have been in place since 23 March and renewed for a further three weeks on 16 April would not be the "flick of a switch".  As we do start to ease them, there will be a real need for caution and a slow, gradual process," she said.  Asked if she would like to close the border between England and Scotland so she could pursue a different strategy, Ms Sturgeon said she had no power to do that.  "I don't have the power to close borders but these are discussions of course we want to continue to have with the UK Westminster government," she said.  "On this question of will Scotland do things differently - not for the sake of it we won't. Only if the evidence and our judgement tells us that that is necessary. "If the UK Westminster government took decisions that I thought were premature in terms of coming out of the lockdown, than clearly I would want to make sure that Scotland did what I judged was best to protect the population."  Ms Sturgeon told the BBC it was important to have simple and consistent social distancing measures across the UK as the virus "doesn't respect borders or boundaries".  She added: "I think that's still the starting point but I think we all have to take decisions that we judge to be right." Speaking later Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said there would not be a "binary easing up of measures", but careful steps to find a "new normal".  We need to take a sure-footed way forward that protects life but also ensures our way of life.  Mr Raab, who has been deputising for Boris Johnson while he recovers from coronavirus, said social distancing measures would be "with us for some time".

RAF Flying Coronavirus Cover Across Scotland

RAF helicopters are providing cover to transfer coronavirus cases from across the whole of Scotland.  The squadron of Pumas was deployed to Kinloss at the beginning of the outbreak. They have been training all over the country for weeks and are now fully operational.

11 Million Face Masks Arrive in Scotland
Scotland's supply of PPE has been bolstered after 11 million face masks and 100,000 testing kits arrived from China.  The supplies arrived at Prestwick Airport on Friday.  It comes after Chinese suppliers sent a shipment of 10 million masks earlier in the week. One million of the new masks will go to NHS Wales.  Scottish businesses have also provided supplies and equipment to support the fight against Covid-19.  The first minister has praised the more than 1,600 organisations and individuals that have helped.  Nicola Sturgeon gave her thanks, saying Scotland's health and social care system is facing "unprecedented demand".  "Protecting staff working on the front line is an absolute priority and we will continue to do all we can to make health and social care staff feel as safe as possible in their workplace," she said.  In many cases Scottish firms have retooled in order to manufacture supplies.  Grangemouth -based chemicals company CalaChem has produced 20,000 litres of hand sanitiser, using alcohol supplied by distillers Whyte and Mackay.  The firm has an order in place for a further 560,000 litres over the next four weeks.  Stonehaven manufacturing firm Macphie has started bottling the sanitiser and will deliver the initial order into the national supply chain from next week.  And Annan-based PPE manufacturer Alpha Solway is making 20,000 face visors per day for the NHS, to fulfil an order of 1.1 million visors.  Scottish Enterprise chief executive Steve Dunlop said "the pace and agility" of Scotland's business community has been "phenomenal".  Jim Miller, director for procurement, commissioning and facilities at NHS National Services Scotland, said: "A big part of what we were doing in NHS Scotland procurement is to look at how the money we spend with suppliers can have a positive impact on the Scottish economy."

Recorded Crime in Scotland Down by A Quarter Since Lockdown
Recorded crime in Scotland has fallen by about 25% during the coronavirus lockdown, Police Scotland have said.  The number of serious assaults dropped by about 40% and house break-ins were down 30% compared with the same period last year.  However, "public nuisance" incidents - generally related to people reporting others for breaking lockdown rules - have more than doubled.  Police Scotland said they now accounted for about a fifth of all calls.  Fraud has also increased by more than 10% between 24 March and 19 April, according to the quarterly figures.  The force said there was some evidence that criminals were exploiting the coronavirus crisis to commit offences.  Noise incidents have also increased "significantly", which officers believe could be related to the increased amount of time people are spending at home.  There has been a "slight decrease" in domestic abuse incidents, but Police Scotland warned this might not reflect what was going on behind closed doors. The UK's lockdown measures came into effect on 23 March, restricting people from leaving their homes unless they had a "reasonable excuse". The measures were initially put in place for three weeks, but were extended for "at least" another three weeks on 16 April.  The Deputy Chief Constable of Police Scotland, Fiona Taylor, said the "significant" changes to life in the UK were having an effect "on the nature and level of demand on policing". She also warned that the provisional figures covered a relatively short period and cautioned against making assumptions about longer term trends.  Ms Taylor said: "We are seeing, for example, a slight decrease in domestic abuse incidents but are acutely aware this may not reflect what is happening behind closed doors and we know that people don't always report abuse immediately.  "For some, this period of physical distancing and isolation may expose them to a greater risk of abuse, harm and neglect.  We have been using our social media channels to highlight our concern and raise awareness in communities. We want people to feel safe and we want to prevent harm by identifying people who may be at risk, and putting in place measures that will help keep them safe."  The deputy chief constable went on to say that protecting children remained a priority for Police Scotland and there would be no change to the way officers responded to child protection issues.  Police Scotland's figures also suggest that breach of the peace has fallen by more than 50%, with possession of drugs down by about a fifth.  But the force believes it could be "months or years" before there is a clear picture on how the pandemic and subsequent social distancing measures had affected crime in Scotland.  The deputy chief constable added: "These early indications suggest that there are fewer crimes committed on the streets and in our town and city centres because the overwhelming majority of people are stepping forward to do their part to protect the NHS and save lives."  Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf welcomed the fall in crime and said he was pleased people were adhering to physical distancing requirements.  "However we must continue to seek to protect the public and reduce opportunities generated by the current Covid-19 outbreak that some will use to exploit members of the public," he added.  He said there was help available around the clock for people experiencing domestic abuse in their homes. Scotland's 24 hour domestic abuse helpline is on 0800 027 1234 and support is also available online.  "These are tough times for everyone and ensuring people and communities across Scotland are safe and resilient is vital," he said.

Colin Snaps Up Thurso Camera Club’s Photographer of the Year Title

Thurso Camera Club’s photographer of the year for 2019/20 is Colin Campbell. Colin, who works at Dounreay and also has his own photography business, amassed 95 points over the club's monthly competitions.  Gareth Watkins took second place with 78 points, while Jason Ridgley was third with 49.  The themes over the winter season from September to April were farm animals; obscure macro; garden life; Caithness heritage; long exposure; and lucky dip pick.  The club’s 24 members submitted two photos for each theme – one colour and one black and white.  The images were shown at the club meetings and those in attendance voted using a scoring system from one to five. The voting for the last month, in April, was held remotely online due to the coronavirus lockdown.  With the postponement of the AGM and trophy presentation, Colin will not be able to receive the shield until later this year.  Meanwhile, the club’s outdoor summer season of field trips has been replaced with weekly photo challenges using pre-selected themes. Voting takes place online.

More Than 2300 Businesses Get Council Grants
Highland Council has helped more than 2300 businesses obtain a small business and self-catering grant.  The Covid-19 small business and self-catering grant scheme was set up to help companies stay in operation during the coronavirus crisis.  It has now paid out £26.89 million to 2341 businesses across the region.  The latest figures show that grants were given to 1341 businesses, to the value of £14.8m, within the past week alone.  The council has been focusing on reducing the large backlog of applications.  It says the backlog of self-catering applications "has now been addressed" and all applications submitted are now being processed as they are received.  Highland Council's head of development and regeneration, Allan Maguire, said: "Unfortunately, over 70 per cent of all business grant applications received are incomplete.  Over 600 incomplete applications have been worked on over the past week. All information has now been secured from businesses, which will allow the applications to be processed and grants paid.  However, this extra work has led to inevitable delays and has hampered early payment of grants. Please follow the guidance on the website."  He added: "Efforts will continue in the coming week to reduce the application backlog and ensure that application forms which are submitted and complete are processed as quickly as possible."  Businesses are being asked to remain alert to scams and only respond to any correspondence in relation to business grants if it is from an official Highland Council email address, which has full contact details at the footer of the email.  On Thursday, the council will be launching a self-employed hardship fund and inviting applications.  The council will be delivering this grant scheme on behalf of the Scottish Government and final details are being worked on.

'Vital Funds' Will Help Families Through Pregnancy
An organisation in southern Scotland has been awarded a slice of National Lottery Community Fund backing towards its work with pregnant women.  Nurture the Borders supports expecting mothers with activities such as live online antenatal classes.  It has been awarded £144,760 so it can continue to support families across the Borders over the next three years.  Rosie Kennedy, director of the charity, welcomed the "vital" funding. She said: “The current pandemic means our services are more in demand than ever before and we are so thankful to be able to support women and help break the isolation during this very difficult time for many.”

Care Homes Boss Praises Residents for Their Stoicism
The boss of a care home firm looking after hundreds of elderly residents – including a home in Tain – has spoken of "the most serious challenge ever faced" in nearly 30 years working in the sector.  Parklands Care Homes operates residential facilities across the Highlands, including Tain and Muir of Ord.  Another is still under construction and scheduled for opening in Fortrose later this year.  In paying tribute to staff and "stoic" residents, Parklands Care Homes managing director Ron Taylor said: "In almost thirty years working in the care sector, this is without doubt the most serious challenge we have ever faced.  Covid-19 is entirely indiscriminate. Anyone can get it. Anyone can spread it.  As the number of infections increase, we are working day and night to protect our beloved residents from this wretched virus.  Our residents are taking the lockdown in their stride, as one would expect. They are stoic. They remain in good spirits but obviously miss their family and friends. Technology is keeping us connected and we have regular video calls between residents and their loved ones. Inevitably, our staff numbers are down - by around five per cent - as a result of employees self-isolating or shielding due to underlying health conditions.  Those at work are fearful, worried they could transfer the virus to residents or to their own family members. I feel very humbled and privileged to work alongside them and I am immensely proud of them, and their families, for the sacrifice they are making to ensure the welfare of our residents.  I also want to thank relatives and friends for the patience and understanding they have shown over the past month. I know how painful this period has been for you and your loved ones. I am grateful too for the wonderful show of support we have received from individuals and businesses across the community. Your many acts of kindness make a huge difference to our team."  He paid tribute to the dedicated team at Aberlour Pharmacy which serves all of the care homes in the group.  He made his remarks in a blog post timed to coincide with one of the Clap for Carers events showing public appreciation of NHS staff and other care workers during the public health crisis.

Highlands to Be Among First Areas to Get Mobile Covid-19 Testing Units
Health secretary Jeane Freeman has confirmed that the Highlands will be among the first areas to get mobile coronavirustesting capacity supported by the army.  The announcement came over the weekend with further details from Ms Freeman earlier today in an interview with the BBC.  The mobile testing units will deploy to the most accessible areas and will concentrate on key workers to ensure continuity of services for the public.  Though the exact location of the first deployments have not yet been revealed, they will be used to serve the NHS Highland patch which covers by far the largest area in Scotland.  This comes after a new key worker-only testing centre was established at the Inverness campus, supplementing the two testing centres already in place in and around Raigmore Hospital. Mobile facilities can be set up in under 20 minutes and can test hundreds of people each day. It will travel to those most in need.  Specially trained Armed Forces personnel will collect swabs at the mobile sites before they are sent to labs for processing, with the results coming back within 48 hours.  The rapid expansion of a network of mobile test units is now under way, with new units being fielded in the coming weeks and at least 96 ready to be deployed by the start of May UK-wide.  New mobile sites will travel to frontline workers in places including:   Care homes, Police stations, Prisons, Benefits centres, Fire and rescue services. Ms Freeman said: “They are mobile so they will go to wherever, initially in the south of the country and in the Highlands but we need more than that of course, you know as well as I do, but the Highlands of Scotland covers a significant geographical area.  So this is the beginning of that mobilization and they will be there to allow key worker testing in particular but to supplement any other test that is needed to feed into NHS labs.  The logistics of it are being worked through very carefully to ensure that. As you know Scotland has quite a big land mass but in those areas the population is dispersed so we need to hit on the best locations for them to pause so that people can access it more easily.”

'Eerie' Atmosphere on An Island Without Tourists

At this time of year the Sligachan Hotel, with its backdrop of Skye's Red and Black Cuillin hills, should be "buzzing".  The hotel is usually a hub for hillwalkers and tourists on an island where visitor numbers have boomed in recent years.  But Deirdre Curley, who runs the Sligachan Hotel with her husband Gary, says there is now an "eerie" atmosphere. Deirdre is the fourth generation of her family to run the business.  "The hotel has been in my family for more than 100 years, through two world wars, but this is a completely new scenario we are dealing with," she says.  "The business has never seen anything like this before."  She said the hotel would normally be fully booked until the end of the season.  The number of visitors flocking to the islands to see landmarks such as the Fairy Pools, The Quiraing and the Old Man of Storr have grown dramatically over the last decade.  The number of tourists had increased to an estimated 500,000 a year, putting pressure on some of the local infrastructure and leading to fresh investment in the car parks at the main attractions.  However, Covid-19 has changed everything for the Curleys and the other businesses which rely on those visitors.  The first signs of trouble emerged following outbreaks of the coronavirus in continental Europe.  Gary said they started to notice an impact in late February when Italian and Spanish tourists started to cancel their bookings. "The number of cancellations became quite overwhelming," he said.  "It gave us a powerful sense of the seriousness of the situation."  By the middle of March, the Curleys decided to close the hotel once their remaining guests had checked out.  In the weeks since then, the family business has been dealing with cancelled bookings and paying refunds.  Booking websites have passed the cost of refunds on to the hotel, but the business has not received any payout from its insurers.  In addition, it does not qualify for support from the Small Business Grant Fund because its rateable value is above £51,000.  "We are still haemorrhaging money on future bookings," says Gary, who wants to see government support for the business and others like it on the island. "We need the support. We were the first businesses to close and will be the last to be allowed to reopen."  Over the course of a year, the Sligachan Hotel and its Seamus' Bar provides work for 30 people.  The Curleys have furloughed more than 20 staff, while a couple of seasonal workers from the Czech Republic were able to find farming jobs near Edinburgh.  Deirdre says there is a strange atmosphere at the hotel without its staff and guests.  She said life on the island was "quite eerie". "But you still feel lucky to have grown up on this incredibly beautiful island," she said.  "My mum said it feels like how Skye was back in the 1960s, before it changed into something completely different in recent times."  While Skye currently has a feel of bygone times, Gary says it is hard to think about what the future will hold for the island.  "The mountains and the Highland hospitality that we are famous for, they are not going anywhere," he says.  But he warns that the business landscape could change on the island if those in the tourism sector are unable to survive the crisis.  Hugh Ross, of the Staffin Community Trust, agreed that the island was "remarkably quiet" without the tourists.  The community, in the north east of Skye, has a resident population of just under 600 people.  "Like other west Highland communities, the absence of visitors is having a huge impact on tourism-related businesses in Staffin," he said.  However, he said the hard work of the islanders had needed to continue during the lockdown.  "Crofters are busy with lambing, staff in our shops are working hard to ensure food is available, and home carers and volunteers are supporting our vulnerable residents," he added.

Soldiers Drafted in to Help Test PPE for Nurses At Scottish Hospitals

Soldiers have been drafted in to help test personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses at four hospitals in and around Glasgow.  The Scotland-based chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) instructors are helping staff at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde as part of measures to protect frontline workers from coronavirus.  A group of 20 soldiers are helping test the fit and functionality of the PPE for doctors, nurses and healthcare assistants across the health board.  The hospitals are Glasgow Royal Infirmary, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, the Royal Alexandra Hospital and the Inverclyde Royal Hospital. Defence Minister Baroness Goldie said: “The soldiers are part of the MoD’s support to the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland in our battle against coronavirus.  Our tasks include military personnel providing specialist planning and advisory roles across the Scottish Government, liaising with each of Scotland’s 14 health boards, providing additional helicopter airlift capacity for patients in remote and island communities, and being part of the multi-agency teams providing drive-through testing centres at Scotland’s airports.”  The soldiers are from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 Scots) in Penicuik and the 3rd Battalion The Rifles (3 Rifles) in Edinburgh.  It comes after military personnel also supported the creation of the NHS Louisa Jordan hospital at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow.

Armed Cops Carry Out Search At Fife House

Armed officers carried out a raid on a house in Fife in connection with suspected firearms offences.  Police were called to the property in Thane Place, Dunfermline, at around 7.30pm on Wednesday after receiving information.  Local residents reported seeing a heavy police presence at the scene.  A man was arrested over suspected firearms offences, but was later released without charge. Two marked police vehicles remained in the street on Thursday morning.  A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "On Wednesday, 29 April, as a result of information received, officers assisted by firearms officers searched a house in Thane Place, Dunfermline.  A man was arrested in connection with suspected firearms offences and released without charge.   No weapons were recovered."

Migration Drives Population Rise in Scotland
Scotland's population increased last year with the rise driven by migration, according to figures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS).  The data shows there were 5.46 million people living in Scotland as of 30 June 2019, an increase of 25,200.  The NRS said 30,200 more people moved to Scotland than left the country in the year to mid-2019, arriving from both overseas and the rest of the UK.  There was no natural growth as deaths outstripped births over the same time.  Population changes varied across the country, the NRS said in its mid-year population report.  Three-quarters of council areas experienced population grown, but eight areas saw declines.  Most of the population growth was in Edinburgh and Glasgow and neighbouring areas. Population declines affected mainly rural areas, some islands and other areas in the west of Scotland.  The overall growth in Scotland's population amounted to 0.5% over the year. There were 5,600 more deaths than births. The figures also show that Scotland's population is ageing.  In mid-2019, 19% of the population were aged 65 and over, compared with 17% a decade earlier in mid-2009.

Family Find 121-year-old Copy of Borders Newspaper
A couple have expressed their amazement at finding a 121-year-old copy of a local newspaper while renovating a historic Peebles building.   Shona Haslam and her husband Marc purchased the old Peebles Courthouse in 2017.  But they were staggered when they discovered a perfectly preserved 1899 edition of the Peebles News.  Scottish Borders Council leader Mrs Haslam said: “It is a fantastic piece of local history and will definitely be finding a special place when the building is finally renovated.”  Justice was delivered from the former sheriff court on the High Street for 150 years before its closure in 2001.  The Haslams bought the property three years ago and it will eventually become their family home, as well as holiday accommodation.  The family were astonished when they found the old newspaper, costing one half-penny, dated February 25, 1899.  Mrs Haslam told us: “I know DIY is a favourite lockdown activity for many, and in the Courthouse we have our fair share.  While we were cleaning out, in one of the many boxes that we found when we moved in, I discovered this absolute gem of a Peebles News from 1899."  She added: “What always amazes me is how many of the names are still recognisable as well-kent within the town. You only need to look at the names of the committee of the March Riders meeting to see so many familiar surnames."  The newspaper's content included:      A notice from the Town Clerk WM Buchan, requesting householders not to put paper in their ash buckets daily.  Details of the Peebles Choral Society Annual Concert.  An auction sale of plants and shrubs in James Smith’s Auction Rooms at 29 and 31 Northgate, Peebles. Adverts for umbrella repairs by Turnbull’s; John Dougall’s watchmaker, jeweller, cycle agent and optician; John Green’s winter clothing; WM Weatherston & Son, Saddlers and Harness Makers; Walter Mitchell’s Bootmaker, Northgate.  Houses for sale. Sports reports from Leithen Rovers, Peebles Rangers, Peebles Rovers, Walkerburn Thistle.  An article detailing a public meeting of the Peebles March Riding which was presided over by Provost Ballantyne in the Town Hall.  An annual meeting of the Peebles Brass Band in the Masonic Hall where Chairman Mr J A Kerr presided over a most “meagre” attendance of the public, which he took as a sign that the public had no fault to find with their management.

Aberdeen Boy and His Dog Walking Marathon to Save Farm
An Aberdeen schoolboy will walk a marathon to support a struggling farm – with the help of his beloved dog.  Mac Johnston, 7, has autism and is a regular visitor at VSA’s Easter Anguston Farm along with mum Jodie, dad Terry, big sister Kennedy and their pooch Marley.  When Loirston Primary pupil Mac learned the farm’s future was in doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic he decided he wanted to do something to help.  And the youngster is planning to walk a marathon in the area near his Cove home during the month of May, with Marley by his side.  Jodie, 38, said: “We take the kids to Easter Anguston a lot in the spring and summer because Mac adores animals. He says he wants to work there when he’s older. When we explained to him the farm might have to close he was really upset and decided he would do something to help.  Around the same time, the school sent out an email encouraging the kids to walk a marathon during the month to keep active and we thought it would be a good idea to combine the two.”  Jodie added: “Although Mac is quite active, his autism affects his social skills so it is a challenge to get him outside.  Marley has hip dysplasia so it is going to be difficult for him too but they are up to the challenge.  They have a really special bond. Marley really is like an unofficial therapy pet. He has a really calming effect on Mac when he is having a meltdown.  They are brilliant with each other.” Easter Anguston, which provides training and work opportunities for people with additional support needs, normally welcomes more than 20,000 visitors a year.  But VSA has been forced to temporarily shut the doors due to Covid-19.  However, with staff and maintenance costs still to pay, as well as the costs of keeping the animals, it requires around £10,000 a week to keep the farm going and a campaign has been launched to help save it.  Jodie said: “We would be gutted if Easter Anguston closed. It has been so important to us as a family.” VSA chief executive Kenneth Simpson said: “We were so humbled when we learned of Mac and Marley’s challenge to walk a marathon in support of Easter Anguston Farm. This is such an inspiring thing for Mac to take on especially as he is only seven and lives with his autism. I wish them the best of luck in their challenge and cannot wait to see how they get on. Thank you so much Mac and Marley.”

Caithness Writer's Radio 4 Drama Attracts Audience of Two Million

A Two-part drama by Caithness writer Colin MacDonald attracted a total audience of around two million when it was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.  MacDonald, who grew up in Wick and lives in Edinburgh, adapted Weir of Hermiston from the final novel by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Stevenson died while writing the book and it remained unfinished but, using the author's notes, MacDonald completed the story and dramatised it for radio.  It is set in Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills in the early 19th century and is a tale of romance, murder, hangings and wild adventure.  Helen Mackay from Thurso played the lead female role, while the star-studded cast also included Phyllis Logan of Downton Abbey fame, rising Hollywood star Jack Lowden and veteran Scottish actor Paul Young. The first episode of Weir of Hermiston was broadcast on Sunday, April 19, and the concluding part last Sunday. MacDonald, who has written for radio, television and film, said: "We had an audience of around one million listeners for each episode – and of course there will be more listening on catch-up over the next while. It’s great to hear that. And we had really good reviews/ previews which described it as 'unmissable, gripping and powerful'.  I have had loads of emails from people, within the industry and outside it, saying Helen was exceptional.  One listener sent a text to Helen Mackay which said, 'I have never listened to radio drama before. But I felt I was watching it.'"  MacDonald added: "That to me was the best thing of all. We try to make movies for the ear and the imagination, and for that person it worked."  He said the audience would have been "heightened slightly because of people being cooped up in their homes" due to the coronavirus restrictions.  MacDonald described Helen Mackay's performance in the play as "exceptional" and said: "One major aspect to the reaction to Weir of Hermiston is the number of people who thought Helen Mackay’s performance as Christina Elliot was extraordinary.  It has been very striking. I have had loads of emails from people, within the industry and outside it,saying she was exceptional – and she was.  She had demanding scenes to play, right across the emotional spectrum, and she delivered movingly every time. I was so lucky to have her in the cast.  I will be working with Helen again. I am certain of that."  The drama marked a return to work for Mackay, who gave birth to daughter Nell last year.  Meanwhile, MacDonald is working on a film for Amazon Studios in Los Angeles which tells the story of Raasay crofter Calum MacLeod who, when thwarted by local government, set out to build a road across his island himself – a task that took him 10 years. MacDonald wrote a successful drama for BBC Radio 4 about it previously.

First cases of Coronavirus Confirmed on Skye
The Isle of Skye has its first confirmed cases of the coronavirus.  Skye Community Response said cases had been expected, and they included an "outbreak" at an independent care home in Portree.  The volunteer group, which works with the emergency services and NHS Highland, appealed to islanders to follow social distancing advice.  It said a number of cases had been confirmed recently and that healthcare providers were doing a "superb job".  It said: "It was expected that our community would begin to see cases. It was a question of when, not if, this would happen.  "Whilst other parts of Scotland and the UK maybe approaching, or passing, the peak of the pandemic we are just seeing the start."  NHS Highland said the outbreak affected an independent care home. A spokesman said: "There is substantial testing under way to fully understand the extent of infection.  The care home is being supported through the health protection team within public health, local health and social care teams, primary care as well as the adult social care functions within NHS Highland.  All assistance will be made available to the care home in order to contain and manage the situation."