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Iain Maciver: Our poor gugas aren’t feeling too good

Gannet numbers have fallen as a result of avian flu (Photo: Gail Johnson/Shutterstock)
Gannet numbers have fallen as a result of avian flu (Photo: Gail Johnson/Shutterstock)

When I’ve had the flu before now, I have been really miserable.

The aches and pains, the high temperature, that dry cough and sore throat. Don’t even talk to me about the constant trips to the toilet. I felt sick. I was sick. I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t eat – very unlike me. I know, you’ve felt like that too.

Now, imagine you had a really bad flu and you were stuck on a rock out in the Atlantic. No thermometers to check your temperature, no Lemsips, no bed and, oh goodness gracious me, no toilet. Some are facing that awful situation right now. Not people, mind you, but birds.

The famous gugas out on the lonesome uninhabited island of Sula Sgeir, about 40 miles north of Lewis, appear to have a bad case of bird flu. It’s like severe Covid but also different, one guide says. Helpful.

Awful photos have shown many of the 20,000 solan geese, to give the guga its proper Sunday name, are sick and dying out on that blasted outcrop. The outbreak means the annual guga hunt by fishermen from Ness in the north part of the island, which was scheduled for next month, has been cancelled. Lucky for the 2,000 gugas due to be slaughtered this year, if you can call that luck.

It’s also unlucky for the many locals and their families around the world who salivate each August waiting for the return of the trawler laden with yummy gugas.

Guga hunters in the Western Isles.

OK, yummy is the wrong word for yon slithery mass of grey, oily seabird. The guga is very much an acquired taste. Many other non-Niseachs think the taste akin to an old scouring cloth or a well-used mop. I am in that latter camp.

Believe me, I have tried many times to like it, but to love a dish that at the same time is making you heave is not easy, or pleasant. Even with ketchup, that gritty mop just wouldn’t go down.

So, if the colony on Sula Sgeir get through their own pandemic, they at least won’t have the ravenous Niseachs to contend with.

Axl isn’t feeling rosy

Spare a thought for a mum in Stornoway who has also had to contend with illness. Not her own illness, but someone else’s.

It was more than two years ago that Joanne Scaramuccia booked tickets for the Guns N’ Roses concert at Glasgow Green on July 5. Yeah, last night. But it didn’t happen because lead singer Axl Rose and the guys cancelled or postponed it because of what is being described as “a mystery illness”.

The band sought medical advice, said GNR. Isn’t it strange that for the last two and a half years, anyone who had a hint of a high temperature or ate coleslaw that tasted of iron filings immediately announced they had failed to open, cancelled, gone home or whatever due to Covid? Everyone understood that.

Now, if they get something else, it’s private. They go all mysterious and don’t explain anything. For all we know, Axl Rose may have a serious illness or chilblains. No information.

This comes after Joanne’s daughter was crushed last week when her long-awaited Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in Bellahouston Park was also cancelled due to, yes, unspecified illness. Two cancelled concerts.

Time to get Red Hot in the Hebrides

You may be thinking: “What’s the problem? They’ll get a refund.” Listen, going to a concert in the Central Belt is a big deal if you live on offshore islands like the Hebrides.

There’s the ferries to pay for, the long bus or train journey, the accommodation and the Happy Meals. Getting the ticket price back doesn’t go near to covering it.

There is only one way to sort this. Guns N’ Roses and the Red Hot Chili Peppers will have to play in Stornoway. OK, maybe Lerwick too. To make up for the massive disappointments the Scaramuccias have suffered, and probably many others, they need to reschedule.

I haven’t provisionally booked them in, but they can let me know how their diaries look

If their managements see this, and I’ll send it to them, they should know I am thinking of them playing in either Lochside Arena or the Back Recreation Centre here on Lewis. I haven’t provisionally booked them in, but they can let me know how their diaries look.

Axl, it was yourself that sang Sweet Child O’ Mine with these famous words: “She takes me away to that special place, and if I stare too long, I’d probably break down and cry.”

Poor Joanne thought she was going to a special place – to see you. Then she broke down and cried. See what you can do. Deal?

By the way, what happened to the Guns N’ Roses’ tour bus when it got a flat tyre and had to be jacked up for the repair? Its axle rose.


Iain Maciver is a former broadcaster and news reporter from the Outer Hebrides

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