Dalmore Daytime

Dalmore Daytime
Sandy Beach

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Dalmore Tales - 100 Blogs,Not Out.

I began this blog "Dalmore-Tales of a Lewis Village" on the 29th of December,2007 which,barring a few days,is almost one year ago. This is the 100th posting of the blog,but,as I said a long way back, I am grateful and relieved to have been able to document some of the history, and stories relating to Dalmore. I was happy to "resurrect" the people I knew,when I was on my summer holidays in Dalmore(mainly in the years 1945-1960). Had it not been for Google, and the services of an excellent software engineer,my son Alasdair,then the Story of Dalmore would have languished in a large plastic bag at the bottom of a wardrobe,or locked in my memory,as I am the last person alive who remembers this beautiful glen,and the great characters that inhabited it. Some other postings will follow,but another blog, not unrelated to Dalmore,is being hatched "for your delectation".

Monday, 22 December 2008

Preparing the Minks'Feed - An Offal Business.

You didn't get "mink-feed" in large paper sacks from the Crofters,or "The National Mink Breeders Federation" or any other source. By the way,that federation didn't exist. It was created for effect! Unlike feed for sheep(of course they harvested hay etc.in 1956!),the feeding of mink was an elaborate affair,where the main constituents had to be fresh,quantities had to be carefully calculated,and various additives had to be sourced outwith Lewis. We would go over to Stornoway once,sometimes twice a week for the protein rich fish and animal offal. The Broad Bay Fish Shop provided the fish,which was in reality the carcass remaining after the fish fillets had been removed. (mainly haddock and whiting,in these days!). The boys in the fish shop kept our fish aside,presumably for a "bung" from Seoras. Our other visit to town on such days was to Stornoway's slaughterhouse(they had one in these days!). The word "slaughterhouse" is very emotive,and one immediately understands what takes place therein. Today,we send our sentient animals to an "abattoir",which derives from a French word(abatre) meaning to "destroy/put an end to".It seems to have gained currency (even in Stornoway) with those of us who prefer to see our sirloin steak tastefully packaged and displayed in the shops. An abattoir by any other name is a gruesome and hellish place,and yet as a 15 year old with George,I didn't really flinch at what I saw.I once visited Dachau "extermination" camp,near Munich in Germany,and I can tell you that I would never visit such a place again. After what I saw in Stornoway's slaughterhouse,I could never ever revisit such a place,nor will I now recall what I saw there. Suffice to say that we collected two bags of sheep/cattle offal to feed the minks in Dalmore. After collecting the usual "proveeshons",only obtainable in the town(for the womenfolk,that is),a visit to the Star Inn was the rule(for the menfolk,that is). In our case,it was whisky for Seoras and a"sarsaparilla" for the boy. Remember,this 15 year old boy had to drive the A.35 van over to the West Side,but was only allowed to steer until we reached Dalmore road end,when I took over full control for the last mile into Dalmore. After a "te bheag" or two,we were off back home, and another batch of mink food had to be prepared. All of the equipment needed for the feed was housed in a purpose built "house" which we called "taigh na mhink",what else. The correct amounts of fish and offal were minced/ground in a large machine,and to this mulch,various other things were added to maintain the mink in the peak of health - an oil(perhaps olive oil),a coarse grain,and a mixture of minerals and vitamins essential for animals that lived entirely in captivity. This slurry mixture had to be of the right consistancy to be placed on top of the cage for the minks to feed,and perhaps for a few death defying seagulls.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

The Mating of Minks - Lost in the Blink of an Eye.

The mating of minks is said to be the "fastest" in the animal kingdom,but I've heard murmurs among the matrons of Shawbost. When the season is right,the designated male has his box attached to the far end of her cage(the mating hasn't started yet - although the wording might suggest it). The metal doors on each cage are simultaneously opened, and the big male gets the first look at his "brammer". In a few seconds,it appears that a maelstrom has inhabited the cage. There is a chase in progress,covering every inch of the cage,including the "roof", but to us all,it is a blur. Somewhere, and at a time known only to the minks(of course),union occurs and the male instantly high-tails it to the safety of his home,thereby avoiding a severe mauling from his "girl friend". "Ruith na oidhche" was a bit like that, if the father got a hold of you. If the mating went to plan,one could expect between 6 and 8 kittens. In theory,two amorous mink could return 3 or 4 times their own number. In practice,survival rates were nowhere near such ratios. Selective breeding gave rise to many different colours and hues of mink offspring. I used to know many of the colours'names,but only "sapphire" and "breath of spring" come to mind now. The mink were "humanely" killed using a special box and carbon monoxide from the car's exhaust. No physical means of killing could be used,as this would damage the mink's pelt and render it useless for sale. All of this took place(thankfully)when I was not in Dalmore,but Seoras told me how difficult it was to remove the mink pelt in exactly the way that was prescribed by those in London, who graded and valued them. I remember that a pelt on average would fetch about £12(a fair sum in 1956). The pelting and the curing of pelts required a lot of skill,infinite care and a lot of experience. If you got it wrong,you stood to lose a lot of money. So,no matter how well you cared for your mink when alive,it was the colour and quality of the dead mink's pelt that determined success or failure in this endeavour. I remember George saying that ,all things being equal,he would need about 500 mink for a viable farm,and that alone would take a lot of money.
A wild mink, after a kill,prefers to eat the internal organs of its prey ie.its heart,liver,kidneys etc. It rarely bothers to eat flesh. I remember once (the only time I can recall) a male mink escaped from its cage in Dalmore,unbeknown to us. Within a short time(perhaps 1 or 2 hours),an irate crofter arrived from Garenin(which is about 2 miles across the moor), to tell us that the black(****)mink had slaughtered over 20 of his hens, before he realised a carnage was taking place in his hen-run. The mink had only eaten the offal of a few hens - the remainder he killed "for sport". This cost Seoras quite a bit,and I don't recall what happened to the mink.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

The Mink - A Ruthless Killing Machine.

The mink's box was a wooden hutch,with a sloping roof and a waterproofed felt cover,hinged to open, to allow handling of the mink (only with special large gloves). A sliding metal door was built into the front of the box,when the mink required to be isolated eg.when cleaning the cage or after a "supersonic" mating session. Again,Seoras had everything worked out for me assembling the mink boxes. Measurements and angles were standardised,and all the tools were at hand - Black&Decker rotary electric saw(with angle guide),hammer,nails,felt tacks,sheet metal cutters,Stanley knife.I'm only giving these details for those DIY aficionados that enthuse about such matters,because I myself was very enthusiastic about the mink boxes and cages back in 1956. So,five years after "the electric" was switched on in the "dailean",there was I ripping up planks of pine with an electric saw! The mink boxes/cages were housed over in the "leis" in croft No.6 in long roofed stands,in parallel arrangement. The female mink were much smaller than their male counterparts,and were lightening fast in their movements,and could traverse their cage in a matter of milliseconds. You did not stick your finger through the hexagonal mesh,as a test of reaction speeds - never,ever! What I am about to recount illustrates the speed and tenacity of the female mink. The mink's prepared food was placed at a top corner of the cage furthest from its box,so that it stretched up to feed,with its sharp little nose protruding no more than one,perhaps two centimetres(at a push)through the wire mesh. Being beside the sea,there were always gulls around,and some of these would swoop to take a beakful of the mink's feed. One day while we were feeding the mink,a seagull,descending very slowly and hovering just above a cage, allowed one of its webbed feet to enter the top of the cage through the mesh,just for an instant. The mink's response was immediate;it now held the seagull's leg and was pulling it further into the cage. The gull's wings were flapping wildly,aiming to escape,but in a short time the mink's teeth had transferred to the bird's "undercarriage" and was eating its vital organs,with the gull still flapping its wings,albeit very slowly now. The death of this seagull occurred when it offered the mink a very small "window of opportunity",about 1 or 2 centimetres of the mesh's diameter. The death of the unfortunate bird was not intended as a piece of gratuitous violence. It merely illustrates the deadly killing machine that is the mink.

Friday, 5 December 2008

A Home Fit For Courting Minks.

You will remember that each summer,during our holiday in Dalmore,our Uncle Shonnie would set us up (an unfortunate phrase)with a "Big Job" that would take up a good proportion of our holiday time viz. taking home the peats by horse and cart. You will recall that in negotiating a price for this contract,Shonnie knew that he could not engage us for less than £1 (each)."You drive a hard bargain",was all he would say.
Doing the bobbins for the tweeds(5 shillings per tweed)or selling fishing net floats to my "agent" in Stornoway(1 shilling each)were looked upon as private enterprise,which was encouraged.as long as it didn't interfere with the "Big Job" or the "iteachan".Working for George at the minks was to see my income double, because making a box and cage, together earned me another 5 shillings.The young kids in the village could only stand and stare at the sight of "Spangles" and "Palm Toffee" sticking out of all the pockets of my dungarees,when I returned from town "on business". At times like this,my young friends appreciated my largesse with the "siucarean". I could appreciate how Carnegie must have felt!
I was involved in most aspects of George's mink business. To start with,I made the hutches and cages for the mink,and in doing so,earned good money. The mink cages were made of a strong hexagonal wire mesh,whose diameter would allow only about half an inch of mink nose to poke through. Any more than that - it would be goodbye fingers. Wire cutters, pliers and metal ring ties were employed in the construction of these cuboidal cages,which were big enough for the mink to move about freely. They had to be carefully made to prevent escape,with no sharp protrusions that would damage the animal's pelt. The hutch (or box) would be attached at one end,and a door provided at the other end when the male mink came "a'dean suiridhe" (came courting).
Now you must not think that I devised and planned the cages and boxes myself. Seoras had all the measurements and templates written down for me,and when he saw that I could do a proper job,he let me get on with it. By doing this,Seoras inspired confidence,and you felt a useful member of the team.
I'll continue with the minks in my next post.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Fifty years later, We meet on Loch Awe.

For some years now I have fished Loch Awe for trout , on a boat hired from Donald at Ardbreknish. The loch is about 25 miles long,and it takes a "dog left" at its northern end, past the Cruachan Power Station outflow,terminating at the barrage in the Pass of Brander.Here the loch is very narrow,where the hills plunge almost vertically into the waters. This allows us to fish very close to the loch's sides. Two months ago,near the end of the trout season,we were in the Pass of Brander fishing close to its south side,when only a few yards from me,I "espied" a long sleek black animal travelling parallel with us,and in our direction. It had been a long time(nearly fifty years)since I had seen a mink,but never in the wild. I recognised this long black "weasel-like" animal as a male mink, with its neat whiskered head and its undulating gait as it moved alongside us. We observed it at close quarters for about five minutes,and throughout, it was was completely unfazed. As I said, I'd seen minks a long time ago,hundreds of them,but all were in cages(well,most of the time)and all of them in Dalmore. Fifty years on,the American mink has acquired a very bad press indeed,and nowhere more than in the Outer Hebrides,where a programme of eradication was instituted some years ago. Mink farms were set up in Lewis in the period 1955-1960,but there were only a few. This was a labour intensive and costly enterprise in which Seoras wholly immersed himself, over a period of years. With the rise of the anti-fur lobby,and the vast financial investments needed to push the business into profit,the future looked bleak for Britain's mink farms. Over this period,mink did accidently escape into the wild,but there were accusations that during the closure of some farms,mink were deliberately released,as the killing and pelting of these mink would incur a lot of expense, with no return. I find that hard to believe, as farmers especially would know how vicious and destructive the mink can be,and how devastating it would be for indigenous wildlife.
We will see how Seoras' minks fared in Dalmore.