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She and her young children would take long walks, getting to know the landscape, and in this way developed a knack for finding long-lost standing stones. There are others. The Lewis chessmen for one. These are the most precious archaeological objects ever found in Scotland.

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Despite a recent theory that they originated in Iceland, the academic consensus remains that they were made in Trondheim, Norway. How they came to be in Lewis, no one knows. The mystery is part of their magic. Thanks to a long-term loan from the British Museum, six of the pieces are on display at the Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway: king, queen, bishop, knight, pawn and warder a rook in modern-day chess. They are the colour of tobacco-stained teeth, and are made from walrus tusks. Most striking of all are the facial expressions.

The bishop, deep in thought, grasps a crozier. The queen, right hand to her cheek, has the look of saucer-eyed ennui familiar to any woman who has ever been sent an unsolicited photo of an intimate nature. This sense of a living personality is one reason why the chessmen move us. But there is something more. They are a tangible link to the people of the past and, because they are gaming pieces, they speak of human pleasure and intellect. The men and women who played with these were, perhaps, not so different from ourselves.


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It is easy to imagine them being held by hands that have themselves long turned to bare bone. Yes, there are Lewis chessmen on display in London and Edinburgh, but it is far better to see them here in Lewis — spotlit in their glass case — like watching your favourite band play a homecoming show. By way of an encore, I make the trip across the island to the spot on the west coast where they were found. Hooded crows, hunched on fenceposts, are monkish figures in feathery cowls.


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Peat stacks, drying out by the road, resemble beehive cells. The gorse shines bright as any illuminated gospel. A wooden king more than two metres tall sits in majestic isolation next to a layby. Behind his throne there is a stile. Cross it and you are on the machair — the distinctive grassy dunes of the Hebrides — and then a great arc of white sand. What ivory monarchs might still lurk down there, awaiting restoration? Back in Stornoway, a glimpse of contemporary life: the second annual Hebridean Pride festival.


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  7. Unfortunately, the rain has worsened. What had been an invigorating spritz is now drizzle with menaces. Scarlet Skylar Rae, a drag queen from the mainland, is protecting her blond-and-pink wig with a Bible-black umbrella.

    A local woman, Lu, expresses her support for the occasion before being dragged off in the opposite direction by Banksy, a Newfoundland dog wearing a rainbow scarf round his collar. At the front of the parade, local GP Dave Ripley is standing through the sunroof of a Hyundai, holding a rainbow flag aloft. He is wearing a silver dress and a tiara. Passing the crazy golf, the bowling green, the fishing boats, it is a stirring sight.

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    Just a few years ago, the idea of having an event like this in Stornoway would have been unthinkable. Religious conservatism is still a significant part of the culture, and most shops and other businesses are closed on Sundays. But things have changed, and continue to do so.

    The vice-chair of Hebridean Pride, Amanda Maclennan, and her wife, Kirsty, were the first lesbian couple to get married on Lewis. They had met and fallen in love while working in the local supermarket, which made them the talk of the town. Most gay people of her generation — she is 44 — moved away from the island, she says, because it was easier to be themselves elsewhere.

    But she felt unable to either leave or lie.

    Reporters already had seized on the Cornelius memo as evidence that the White House had planned the firings long before an audit discovered the sloppy bookkeeping and other management errors that officials later cited as reasons for the dismissals. Clinton, asked about the flap, defended his aides. But amid all the questions, Republicans saw an opening. Christopher S. Bond R-Mo. But the audit and the FBI statement were essentially attempts at damage control. Neither document added any new information to a story that has become a raging obsession for the White House press corps.

    On Friday, the number of reporters and photographers cramming into the White House briefing room for the daily press briefing roughly doubled the usual attendance and, as has been true for the last several days, questions about the travel office dominated the briefing.

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    Ironically, White House aides originally thought the firings would be a positive story--demonstrating they were being aggressive in cleaning up management inefficiencies. But they forgot two basic rules of political operation: first, make sure your own house is clean, and second, be careful in going after people who are friends of the press. One of the factors that started the examination of the travel office was complaints relayed by Thomason that charter companies he knew of had not been allowed to bid for White House business.

    Thomason, a Hollywood producer, has insisted to friends that he did nothing improper.

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    But Administration officials are continuing to look into the question of whether he may have used his friendship with the President to seek business for friends. The appearance problem was worsened because the fired men worked in a job whose sole purpose is the care and feeding of the White House press corps. Each of the fired men has done innumerable favors for reporters over the years.