Thursday, 30 April 2009
Sandhaven just outside Fraserburgh, we always took her back there to get the work done, knowing it was being left in the capable and familiar hands of the men who built her also it was cheaper in these days to take her from the west coast where we fished to the east coast rather than use one of the local boatyards. This meant clearing the decks of all the fishing gear, leaving everything as clear and clean as possible for the workmen before we started one of the most scenic sea journeys you could ever imagine, up the west coast of Scotland, through the Caledonian Canal and down the Moray Firth to Fraserburgh. Sometimes we would sail through the Crinnan Canal to avoid the Mull of Kintyre where treacherous seas can be whipped up with the strong tides when the wind blows from the wrong direction, but either way the scenery is breathtaking.
The first year I had the pleasure of this journey we sailed through the Crinnan Canal with its small wooden locks that were manually operated (and still are to this day) and at every lock it was the crew who had to go through the procedures of opening and closing the gates and slooshes (the opening on the gates to let the water out or in) until we got to the sea lock that took us out into the north end of the Sound of Jura where the tides ripped through the narrow channels of the Western Isles. The scenery on both sides of the Crinnan Canal was stunning and as this was the first time I had sailed through a canal I had a lot to ponder as we sailed through even more beautiful panoramic scenes made up of these almost deserted islands of which were many as we made our way to Corpach and the sea locks of the Caledonian Canal.
As this was the mid sixties most of the locks and bridges were still manually operated but with renovation taking place a few of the smaller groups of locks had hydraulics fitted making it much easier and quicker to proceed through; the sea locks being one of the first to get it installed.
We had arrived in time to get through the sea lock and into the canal just before the lock keeper finished for the night so we tied up and had a good supper and a good sleep before the journey through to the east coast in the morning.
We awoke at 6 am. to a glorious morning with Ben Nevis standing out in the sunrise with the dark shadows in its gullies making it look like the menacing mountain I had always pictured when thinking of our highest peak. The air from the sea mingled with the aromas of grass and bracken drifting across the canal in a hazy early morning mist was the most fragrant clean air you could ever wish to inhale and what better smell to add and capture memories with than the bacon being cooked for our breakfast before we tackled Neptune's Staircase, the next and longest group of locks in the canal and all manually operated. We were going up each lock we went through and it was every man to his station, with two of the crew and skipper on board to manage the ropes and manoeuvre forward whenever the lock filled with water and the gates opened, with a gang of canal workers pushing four poles that were fixed into a capstan (one on each side of the canal) to open and close the gates and two men on each gate for the slooshes. All in all about twelve lock operators plus the five crewmen from the boat and an hour and a half later we were finally at the top but the view was stunning as we looked back to see the canal winding down to the sea lock, out as far as Fort William and the picturesque shores of Loch Linnhe and of course Ben Nevis towering on our left. (One man now does the job that used to take twelve since hydraulics have been fitted and although the time to go through has been cut it is not by much.)
The next obstacle was a road bridge that opened in two halves and as we approached and blew the foghorn, to let the keeper know of our arrival the first half was already swinging across and a couple of cars had been stopped to let us through. Once the first half was opened the keeper got into a boat, which I can only describe as home-made because it looked like a wooden box with a sharp piece added to the front to cut through the water and a couple of oars to take him the short journey to the other side where he then opened the other half (by means of a ratchet and handle.) He waved us through and wished us a safe passage and it took me all my time to stop myself from wishing him a safe passage back to the other side in his home-made craft that had less chance of surviving than we did even though it only crossed a narrow part of the canal.
The canal was full of characters like that and as we carried on through small lochs and canal sections, going up higher with each lock we came to until we reached the first series of locks at Fort Augustus that was the beginning of our descent and would take us out into the notorious Loch Ness. With us descending, and these locks and one bridge being hydraulic making things easier for us I jumped ashore to get some fresh rolls and a bottle of whisky from some of the various shops that lined the banking, but as I was being served the shopkeeper told me to look out for the monster, when sailing through the loch and thinking he was joking I sort of sniggered until I saw the look of scorn on his face. All the locals are sure there is a monster in the loch and you dare not mock them as I realised so I listened as he told me to put the sounder on in case we passed over it, and how deep the loch was etc. until I saw the boat in the last lock which gave me the excuse to leave but not before I bought a soft toy that was supposed to look like the monster.
(Who was I to argue, if that's what they thought then so be it.)
It takes two hours to sail through the loch hence the bottle of whisky so me and one of the crew had a few drams before going up to give my uncle (the skipper) a break and let him have a couple of libations while we carried on to the next set of locks at the far end of the loch.
I took the wheel and looked out the wheelhouse window onto the loch where a gentle ripple hit our bow as we ploughed onwards through the soft breeze until, all of a sudden my heart leapt into my mouth as out the corner of my eye I saw this shape like I had never seen before skimming through the water leaving a trail behind it as it crossed the loch about half a mile in front of us.
Could THIS be the "famous monster" I was witnessing on my first passage through Loch Ness I thought as I peered harder, heart thumping as I reached for the binoculars, but NAH! on closer inspection it was nothing other than the "FAMOUS GROUSE" and the discussion I had with the shopkeeper that made my imagination turn this speedboat into the elusive monster. Once my heart and imagination settled down we all had a good laugh when I relayed the sighting to the crew but we did have the sounder on and as we approached the deep water near Urquhart Castle a large strange mark (I hate to admit it but it was for all the world the shape of a monster) came on that was not a shoal of fish so my uncle took the readings of it so we could go over the same place we were recording now on the way back.
We were brought back to normal with the approaching locks, and our continual descent to the sea locks at Inverness on the east coast where we had to spend a couple of hours waiting for the tide to come until, in the early evening we were released into the Moray Firth with the swell of the sea to contend with again. It was rough compared to the calm waters of the canal but as we were hitting the seas shoulder on, the rest of the passage to Fraserburgh was fine, arriving early in the morning just in time for fresh butteries (sort of hard flat roll with a more yeasty taste) and a cup of tea from one of the huts at the top of the pier that catered to the array of harbour workers that thronged the place.
The train journey back home is a story for another day, but we did go over the same piece of ground when we sailed back through the loch once the overhaul was completed and where we recorded the monster looking object, nothing was to be seen making it all the more mysterious, and the tales of the locals more intriguing. Years later when scientists were searching for the elusive monster they were asking every boat that sailed through the loch to put their sounders on and report any strange object they came across but by this time our monster recording had been destroyed, (much to my regret) although the mystic of the real monster will go on forever.
It might be a strange recording or it might be a rookie fisherman with a touch of whisky inside him that spots it but something will always turn up to keep the legend alive especially nearing summer when the tourist are about. (Whoops I hope the shopkeeper at Fort Augustus is not reading this.)
Top picture is a view of Loch Ness.
Middle is a picture of Urquhart Castle with what could be the monster?
Bottom is the locks at Fort Augustus.
Sunday, 26 April 2009
As you all know by now it was my mothers side of family that supplied the salt water in my veins, guiding me to a career at the fishing, but on my fathers side I had a cousin about ten years older than me who worked in the coal mines for a while and between us we worked in the two most dangerous jobs in the world.
Occasionally when on holiday he would come out to sea with us knowing beforehand that the trip was only to last a couple of days and we would not be venturing too far. Although you do not need to be too far off shore to experience the wrath of the sea he thought there was less chance of rough seas making his time with us safer and more pleasurable, but on one occasion his ideas were to be proved wrong.
It was two o'clock on a cold dark dismal winter morning with the rain and wind swirling around us when the ropes were cast off and as we approached the harbour mouth the boat was already dipping its head into the waves but as soon as we cleared the harbour we immediately got a taste of what was ahead of us as a wall of water towered above us making us brace for the impact even though the boats engine was only half speed. On a sea like that the boat's head rises swiftly throwing everything and everyone not tied down or prepared for impact, all over the place then when the crest is reached you have the sudden drop back down the other side with another smaller but no less solid wave waiting for you to ram into making the boat come to a sudden halt for a couple of seconds while everything shudders and rattles until, slowly the boat recovers and climbs the next wave which usually, and hopefully is a normal sized one.............well normal size for these conditions.
It was what is classed as a freak wave and accumulates with seas and tide building up or pushing the heavy swell into one enormous lump of water that normally occurs further out but as the wind was blowing onto the shore we were leaving from, it just so happened that it caught us unaware being so close to the harbour mouth. After checking everything and everyone was O.K. we steadied and carried on giving my cousin something to think about as we punched through the storm on our way to the fishing grounds. The freak waves normally do not have white water breaking on their crest until they reach shallower water which allows the boat to ride them without too much damage being done, its just the drop and the sudden stop at the other side that causes concern, while the waves with breaking crests causes spray and water to get everywhere and if large enough can be the cause of sinkings. (Thankfully this one decided not to break over us and we were able to continue.)
Once we started fishing my cousin, though not seasick stayed behind the wheelhouse peeking round between the spraying waves crashing over us to see what was going on until he got brave enough to venture forward to give us a hand with the fish already caught.
In his own words he told me "I thought, after all it was only water that was coming towards me in the spray but when I got my first face full of the water, it hit me like chipping stones and between hanging on for dear life and this icy cold hard water battering my face I wished I was back down the pit again." "The few trips before were fun when the sea was moderately calm, but freezing cold, wet, being constantly tossed around and having to hang on all the time is far from fun and I was exhausted without doing any work."
He did come back out with us a few times after that but only when the weather was guaranteed to be fine and only in the summer months if we were not venturing too far but not now, because he thought it was safer, but because a couple of days was enough for him.
A few years later he got his chance of revenge when the boat was tied up for its annual overhaul and I went to spend a week with him and his wife.
He had arranged a day at the pit for me which I was looking forward to as it always had intrigued me as to what mining was all about so, not unduly worried though slightly wary, we entered the building where the proper attire was to be donned before our descent underground.
I was handed a boiler suit and a helmet with a torch and a heavy battery pack attached to it but when I went to put the boiler suit on over my clothes my cousin laughed and told me to take the clothes off as the suit would be enough. Hummm I thought, its going to be cold down there with just this on but undeterred as my cousin was dressed the same we headed for the cage which was to take us below ground.
I do not know how deep the mine was but I could see why the conveyance down to the bottom was called a cage and not a lift as it consisted of a very basic platform with steel bars around it and a shutter that pulled across to keep us in but not obstructing our view of the hole in the ground we were plummeting down as it shook and shuddered its way to the bottom.
On exiting the cage into the gloom of a tunnel I knew at once as the heat hit us why I had nothing on under my boiler suit and as we began walking towards a small diesel driven train that was waiting to take us to the coalface the sweat began to run down my brow. I was astounded at how warm it was and in complete contrast to the cold blast I was expecting to funnel along the maze of tunnels the mine was made up of. It seemed in the narrow tunnel that the train was doing a hundred miles an hour as it whizzed along the track but in reality it was only doing about twenty and it wasn't that long before we came to a halt where we dismounted with a further walk ahead of us through a narrower tunnel with a roof so low we had to stoop as we walked. Along the way we met the odd miner with his own job to do,one being to hit the roof bringing down loose stones and rubble from among the pit props and staging that supported the tons of earth above our heads and watching it fall around us made me even more wary than I was before although I wonder to this day if it was only staged to frighten me and get some revenge for my cousins scary adventures at sea.
We eventually reached the coalface where all the real work was being carried out by miners lying on their backs under a cramped three feet ceiling of coal shovelling it onto a conveyor belt as the cutting machine dropped it close to them.
"We should be in time to see them blasting more coal soon" said my cousin, thinking that it would be another aspect of his job that I could witness but by this time it was beginning to dawn on me just how deep underground we were and how dangerous this job really was so I was not relishing the thought of being in this position when the walls were going to be deliberately crumbled by DYNAMITE, of all things.
You can imagine my relief when it was postponed due to a snag in the system and we headed back out along the tunnel where by this time a miner was sitting on the ground in a small inlet, his coal blackened face barely viable in the murk eating his sandwich.
My cousin introduced me and casually told him that it was my first excursion down the pit so, knowing that he had one of the most dangerous jobs in the world he laughingly said to me " I'll swap you jobs pal.............. what do you do?" When I told him that I was a fisherman he laughed even louder and said "Nah never mind, you keep you job and I'll keep mine."
As we travelled back up in the cage and I thought to myself of how important his statement was and of how, though we all might think OUR jobs are bad, there is always someone worse off than us, also that we are each cut out for our chosen occupations and the work we take pride in.
Back on the surface we headed for the showers and as I peeled the boiler suit off my moist body the sweat was mingled with layers of coal dust even though I was only walking and observing the proceedings, and as I washed it off I could feel it course on my skin but not as course as the spray that hit the face of my cousin when we were at sea and I did wonder just how much of the dust was devoured along with the sandwich the miner had eaten .
I had enjoyed my experience of the coal mine but knew it was not for me just as the miner knew the fishing was not for him. Aye, each to our own I thought as we left the pit and headed for the nearest pub where I could wash the remaining coal dust from my throat with a cold pint of beer and look forward to my next sea adventure where I knew I would feel more relaxed and at home in my own environment and maybe, just maybe, have a bit more sympathy for my cousin on his next trip with us.
I realized the immense contrast in our jobs and that each had its own elements of danger in their own way, but no less tragic for each close knit community that these special men were honed from with the large losses of life that occur every year no matter how careful they are.
Most, if not all of the deep mines in Britain are now closed given way to open cast mining but still in many countries deep mining occurs where lives are always at risk and of course, "men will always go down to the sea in boats."
Saturday, 25 April 2009
Friday, 17 April 2009
Image by drinksmachine via FlickrI listened to Andrea Mclean on loose women yesterday saying how much she wanted to grow into a bra that her mother bought for her before she actually had boobs and it brought back memories of when I couldn't wait to get long trousers.
Andrea thought that when she began to fill the bra that she was on her way to becoming a woman and I thought that having long trousers would be a step nearer to becoming a man, but contrary to Andrea's mum, my mum put off buying me long trousers until I entered my teens. Most of the other boys in school and at Sunday school even though some were younger and smaller than me had long trousers and protest though I might my mother stuck to her guns. I did have jeans to run about with when I was out playing but getting back into short trousers in the morning for school or Sunday school became an embarrassment to me not, because I was ashamed of my legs, (I've still got a good leg for wearing a kilt although I don't ha.ha.)but because it made me feel inferior to the other boys.
Once I started secondary school I was allowed to wear long flannel trousers and for a Sunday my mother bought me a lovat green long trouser suit of which I hated the colour but accepted it because of the length of the trousers but little did I know at the time that it had to last me three years.
Of course the three years were a time when I grew rapidly up and out so after a years wear the suit became tighter and the trousers became shorter but my mother solved the problem by letting the trousers down and during the winter she bought me a beautiful warm woolen shortie coat that hid the fact that my jacket was tightening around my middle (which was fine in winter).
The school flannels were no problem as with being worn five days a week they wore out and were replaced by new ones that fitted but alas the Sunday garb grew tighter and tighter and the trousers could not be let down any more during the third year.
I still had to go to church with my suit on, so to try and hide the fact that the jacket was so tight it could not button I always wore the warm coat I had even, on the warmest of days. I would sit and swelter in the church, then after it came out the younger members would gather at an open air meeting at the beach where I would have to stand in the warm sunshine with my woolen coat on just to try and be one of the group but feeling once again inferior AND stupid this time as the sweat poured out of me.
Eventually I would try and keep out of sight and go straight home after church not going out in the suit unless I was forced to.
I started the sea two weeks after I left school and drifted away from the church gatherings and never wore the dreaded suit again, the suit I had so longed for when I was in short trousers.
Some of my first purchases with my wages were of course new clothes and I remember clearly standing outside the tailors in my smelly working clothes, picking the material for my new suit then getting measured by an under enthusiastic assistant who after he had finished told me it would take two weeks for delivery.
Undeterred I purchased a sports jacket and trousers along with shoes shirts, tiepins and ties, then went home and had a good soak in the bath before I hit the town.
I never looked back after that and had suits made to measure on a regular basis being driven by my dread of short trousers and tight fitting jackets so much so that even if I am on a beach in sunny Spain it has to be really hot before I change into my shorts, preferring to cover up the legs I always wanted to hide in my youth. (Perhaps that is the reason too why this proud Scotsman will never be seen in a kilt)
I still can't understand grown men parading about in shorts but perhaps they didn't go through the trauma I did regarding the length of my trousers and were some of the lucky ones who had long trousers bought by their mums at an earlier age than me.
I can relate to Andrea on wanting to grow up, and when she buys a bra now I am quite sure her mind will go back to her first one, as my mind wanders to my dreaded days in short trousers and my lovat green suit with the long trousers.(Well they WERE long when it was new ha. ha.)
Tuesday, 14 April 2009
Image via WikipediaSometimes when I sit in front of a T.V. set my mind goes back to the days of black and white sets and all the problems that arose during the broadcasts.
The small screen used to take ages to heat up before the picture finally flickered to a recognizable image which was most likely to be swiftly rolling downwards until the horizontal button was used to steady the picture. Other buttons like the vertical hold were used less often but when the picture wobbled from side to side it was there too, and between the both of them an acceptable picture would at last be reached so we could eventually settle down and watch our chosen program. During the broadcasts technical problems at the station arose on a regular basis and the sound or the picture (or both together sometimes) would suddenly disappear leaving us staring at a blank screen and rather than walk away and do other things we all just sat and stared wondering how much of the program we were going to miss this time. After some minutes we might change to the other channel (as there was only one other channel) to make sure it was the station at fault and if this was the case we would return to stare at the blank screen until it came back on again, maybe being lucky enough to catch the end of the program we had desperately wanted to see, once we went through the rigmarole of adjusting the picture again with the horizontal and vertical hold buttons plus the contrast.
The station sometimes flashed up a message telling us "do not adjust your set as there is a technical fault and normal service will be resumed as soon as possible"
then all of a sudden "Hey Presto" the picture would appear again and just as we had shouted to any of the household who, had the sense to wander away,that everything was fine again it would, disappear....appear......disappear........appear until finally the problem was fixed. These interruptions happened on a regular basis and if it was not the station it might be a power cut which was another, regular feature of the fifties and sixties or the aerial might have been blown off line making the picture all snowy which meant someone going on the roof to adjust it with someone else within earshot relaying the clarity of the picture as each movement was carried out, until a decent image was once again resumed. These things were part and parcel of T.V. viewing then, until British Relay T.V. came on the scene with their cable system that provided us with a more reliable setup, but did not solve all the problems. I installed this system in my bedroom when I was still living with my parents and as they were brethren they did not really want it in the house but as the weeks went past they began to watch it and the fact that I was away at sea most of the time gave them quite a free range. I rented the set from British Relay and paid by putting ten pence coins in a slot at the back of the set paying as I viewed so when my parents watched they helped to pay my rental and when the box was emptied by the collector and the money owed deducted there was always a few ten pence pieces left over to start the next viewing.
T.V. viewing has come a long way since then with most folk owning their sets, very few disruptions, no need for so many buttons AND colour so, to anyone who went through these trying T.V. times, and to those who never just give a thought to the "good old days???" when the black and white set ruled and you could never be sure of seeing your program because you only got the one chance and if you missed it, it was gone. No replays, no recording, no pausing, no going back, just like life I suppose.
Monday, 13 April 2009
We were given enough money for our bus fare in the morning covering the journey to and from school and as we returned home at dinner time for a home cooked meal we were given the same amount for the afternoon journeys which, when added up cost our parents money that could well have done with going towards the house keeping as every penny counted then. Even so if we managed to skip our fare or the conductress mistakenly thought, she had taken it rather than return the money to my mother we would spent it on sweets from the tuck shop but feeling a little guilty too as we handed the money over knowing full well our mother could put it to better use. On one such occasion I decided to spend my ill-gotten gains in the trick shop situated in the main street and although this meant taking a different route to another bus stop I proceeded to carry out my plan when school ended that day. As I ran along the streets I used to pretend I was driving a bus and each pedestrian I passed would be another vehicle in the schoolboy fantasy world within my head. This day being no different although my haste was greater I finally reach the shop (Pat McCluskies) that sold not only the tricks that I wanted, but all the dinky and corgi toys you could imagine plus model airplane kits and all the other toys young schoolboys used to dream of owning. I looked around, eyes agog at all the treasures within, before I asked to see the tricks in the price range that my bus fare would allow. Pat McCluskie placed an array of tricks on the counter and I let my eyes wander from puzzles with nails to stink bombs and the nail through the finger illusion until I eventually decided to go for the sneezing powder. I had seen this stuff before but never close up so when I got outside, I took the top off and had a small sniff to see if it was any good before I tried it on someone else, but it never did anything so disappointed though I was I put it in my pocket and went to the bus stop. I had a few minutes to wait until the bus came so I thought I would have another sniff, thinking it must do something, so taking a deep breath this time I put my nose nearer to the box and inhaled, drawing half the contents of the box right up into my nostrils whereupon I began sneezing and spluttering which started thick mucus to surge from my nose and water to pour from my eyes just as the bus approached. I put the remaining powder in my pocket, brought out my hankie and with one blow of my nose it filled with the thick mucus which continued to spurt out with the constant sneezing caused by the lethal potion in the box. On entering the bus I tried unsuccessfully with my saturated hankie to stem the flow of the gooey mess which by this time also covered my hands but to no avail and when the conductress asked for my fare I could barely stop sneezing long enough to hand over the sticky coins that lay among the phlegm. She did sympathise with me thinking I had a bad dose of the cold as the symptoms suggested, but by the time it came to my stop some ten minutes later the impact of the powder was thankfully beginning to subside to a more bearable sniffle, and as I departed the bus, promptly threw the remains of the box on the ground, vowing to myself never to buy that grotesque stuff again.I rinsed the sodden hankie under a tap until the gunk washed away enough to stop my mother asking any unwelcomed questions and thankfully enough as to prevent her ever finding out about the stolen bus fare (as that is how she would have put it) although another penalty I had to pay for my deceit was walking about for some time with a very damp pocket rubbing my leg as the wet hankie dried within.This was my punishment for depriving my mother of the well needed money I thought, as the strong guilt welled up inside me for the first time since the escapade of fare dodging began but although it stuck in my mind for the rest of my life it did not deter me from spending anymore ill gotten gains when the occasion arose albeit, never again on sneezing powder.
Friday, 10 April 2009
At the age of ten, an age I was easily embarrassed, we went to Fraserburgh on holiday for two weeks and although it was in July the weather was (as usual in Britain) very indifferent so I had little use for the new swimming costume my mum had bought in Ayr at the January sales.
One day though we awoke to a bright sunny morning and at last I was going to get wearing my new trunks. Although they were bought at the sales they were supposed to be the latest thing in fashion being made of wool, tightly woven to preserve ones modesty. They were dark blue with a white belt around the waist, more for decoration than anything else I thought as I slipped them on under cover of a beach towel. Never learning to swim until I was in my late forties I was in no hurry to go into the water and was quite happy playing on the sand with my two sisters, building castles and eating ice- cream until the sun rose a bit higher providing us with more heat.
After we had some sandwiches and a drink of orange I decided to try the water so running over to the edge I waited till the lapping waves swirled round my feet and concluded that it was warm enough to venture further.
My two sisters had decided to join us but as Dorothy was only five my mother stayed with her while Margaret and I edged our way deeper and deeper until I could feel the cold waves splashing at my waist and as each wave hit I would jump to try and avoid the cold hitting my chest but each time I jumped my trunks stayed under the water slipping farther down over my bottom each time. In all my excitement I never noticed that I was exposing my front parts for everyone ahead of me to see and carried on until it got too deep to go any farther. It wasn't until we turned back and reached shallower water that the weight of my trunks became too much
even for the snazzy belt to keep them up and all sodden and saggy they slipped right down to my knees, water pouring out of them as they kept slipping until I realised what was happening.
My face immediately turned red as I look at the throngs of people that were sitting around the sand looking out to sea, some of them laughing at this small boy struggling to keep his trunks around his private parts as he ran for a towel.
Needless to say the trunks were never back on again and if they ever were a fashion item other folk must have experienced the same embarrassment hence the reason you never see woolen bathing costumes now. Its no wonder I never learned to swim until late in life, that was enough to put me off going into the sea for years but but not enough to stop me going on it even though I could not swim and if anyone out there ever wore these fashion items they will be able to relate to my story. You can imagine what would happen if the man in the photo had been wearing woolen trunks.
They were as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike and were domed to failure from the start and I often wonder who thought of the idea in the first place and obviously marketed them without testing them but as they were bought at the sales not too much money was sacrificed for my first and last fashion statement.
Thursday, 9 April 2009
Image via WikipediaThe pushbikes I mentioned in earlier blogs played a very important part in my life having been deprived of one for so long and the fact that they were second hand helped me to understand the workings of them and make me more efficient than most when it came to repairing them.
There was even a national cycling proficiency test that I passed during school hours when the police came and tested the pupils who traveled to school on bikes on their highway code and efficiency on the road. They made a makeshift road and added traffic lights and other obstacles to make it as realistic as possible and studied us as we maneuvered our way round the course giving us points for each correct maneuver or deducted points if we failed to negotiate the course correctly or lost our balance while using hand signals. After the road test we had to answer questions on the highway code and it was all treated seriously just like a driving test. This was in 1963 and I am quite sure that this was the first of its kind in Britain but it went on to become a regular feature in schools after that. I passed with high marks and me and the other pupils that sat the test were presented with a certificate at the prize giving ceremony when school broke up for the summer.
My skills at mending punctures were pretty good too but we were also given a rough lesson in bike repairs by an old teacher (Mr Campbell) during one period when things were winding down for the holidays and one thing that stuck in my mind was when he told us it would only take ten minutes to repair a puncture.
A few weeks after the school started up again I was cycling home for my dinner when suddenly my tyre went flat so not being far from the house I walked the rest of the way home and given that we only had an hours dinner break I thought I would catch a bus back and repair it when I came home in the evening. My dinner wasn't quite ready and while I was sitting waiting I remembered what Mr Campbell said about it only taking ten minutes to mend a puncture so I looked out the repair outfit and quickly went about the repair and once satisfied it was fixed hurriedly shoved the tube back into the tyre, ran the tools around the rim to fix the outer tyre on properly then inflated the tube just in time to sit down to my dinner. Half way through my meal I heard an almighty BANG! and thinking it was my tyre I went to investigate but on examination it appeared to be fine. It wasn't until my dinner was over and I returned to the bike, heading back to school that I noticed a piece of shredded tube sticking out of my tyre, THIS had been the bang but the tyre was still hard????????? As it turned out the tube was stuck fast between the wheel rim and the outer tyre keeping the air trapped inside and the tyre intact so I pondered over fixing it again or chancing that it would hold out until I got back home. I was already late for school by this time so rather that make things worse, knowing I already would have to face the headmaster I decided to chance it. All the hassle between having to walk home part of the way and fixing the puncture had made me about half an hour late, missing most of my first class so the inevitable reasons for my lateness had to be explained to the headmaster.
I stood in front of him with an apologetic look on my face as I explained my dilemma during my dinner break and when he asked me why I was stupid enough to attempt such a task in such a short time poor Mr Campbell took the blame relieving me from returning to class with a stinging hand as the excuse was enough to prevent me getting two of the strap.
Weeeell after all Mr Campbell couldn't deny he told us that it only took ten minutes to repair a puncture and the headmaster couldn't give me the belt on these grounds.........could he?
It should only have taken ten minutes and I have done it in that time (before and after that event) but as the saying goes "more haste less speed" which is very true as I found to my cost.
I still have my cycling proficiency certificate stashed away somewhere and someday it might be worth something it being one of the first.
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
Image via WikipediaIn the mid 1960s the last carter in Ayr was still delivering goods with his one horse powered cart pulled by an enormous Clydesdale that, along with his owner (Boaby Rab as he was affectionately know by everyone in the town) lived to see the passing of this once familiar sight.
Boaby, a stout ruddy faced man owing to his outdoor occupation had been kept on by the haulage company "Peter Duncan" who had through the family business progressed from horses and carts to owning a large fleet of lorries and gave Boaby the odd load of sand to transport to local building sites. As Boaby and his horse were well past retirement age but had no intention of doing so the company kept him on out of loyalty and sympathy giving him the odd load to make him feel useful. They both became characters of the town but I never got to know the name of the horse because when Boaby was heading a slow moving line of traffic across the New Brig in Ayr he would stand on his feet whip in hand, cracking it above the horses head in an attempt to get it moving faster shouting "go on f*@*ing move it yah b******d",never mentioning the horses name but amusing the pedestrians in the process even though, he was swearing although the drivers behind him were using the same vocabulary but they were directing theirs at him.
Mischievious schoolboys like myself used to taunt him and he would turn and crack the whip at us along with a mouthful of his colourful language which only encouraged us to continue.
Sadly the horse died without knowing the joys of retirement and once his reason for living had been taken away from him Boaby passed away too never wanting to retire but leaving behind memories of a character and a form of transport that Ayr would never see the likes of or be able to abide ever again.
Monday, 6 April 2009
Image via Wikipedia
I don't consider myself to be much of a singer and never sing along with a crowd or congregation in the church as my deep drone would be heard over the rest which would embarrass me and most likely put the rest of the singers off. I have sung on my own however when I have had a couple of drinks to loosen my vocal chords so to speak. I was often asked to sing at the local clubs and pubs I used to frequent and got quite a good response but as the audience was a bit tipsy at the time their opinion didn't count for anything although they seemed to enjoy dancing along to the songs I sang and even requested some of the numbers on the odd occasion. (never requesting me to sit down and shut up thankfully)
The reason I am mentioning my latter acceptance of my renditions is because it is in contrast to an experience I had at school when we were asked by our music teacher to choose a Burns song (Robert Burns the Scottish poet) and if it was sung good enough would be sung in front of all of the school pupils during our mock Burns supper. As each of my class mates took their turn I had decided that I would sing the beautiful love song"Afton Waters" and as the melody ran through my head I pictured ME when my turn came standing and belting out the first words "Flow gently sweet Afton amang thy green braes" and with the way it sounded in my head there was the chance that I would get picked to sing in front of all the teachers and pupils.
After listening to the boys and girls that had gone before me I was even more convinced that with this beautiful song and the way I was singing it in my head I was a certainty to be chosen.
At last my turn came and I proudly and confidently stood up when my teacher called my name and when she asked my choice of song I told her in a less confident whisper that Afton Waters was my choice........Miss. The introduction on the piano began and as she looked over at me which was my cue to start singing, I took a deep breath and opened my mouth but sadly not my vocal chords. Although my mouth was shaping the words and the tune was in my head, the words just seemed to get stuck in my throat so I cleared it and awaited the introduction again
but the same thing happened. SIT DOWN Swarbrick was my next instruction from Miss Milligan and needing no second telling I clumped down on my seat flaberghasted at what had happened but couldn't fail to notice the grin on her face.
My voice was in the process of breaking and she obviously knew through experience that no matter what, it would be a while before I could sing again let alone sing at the supper.
Once I realised what was going on I felt quite proud that I was becoming a man and the embarrassment left me especially when some of the other boys who still had their high pitched voices expressed their feelings of jealousy.
Now every time I hear the song Afton Waters it takes me back to that day, and at one time I even thought of naming my boat after it but on reflection changed my mind as it might have been as unsuccessful as my attempt to sing at the age of fourteen, when I was asked to sing for a supper.
I did however make up for it the year after but not in a singing capacity. My speech"Tae the lassies" written in the English class, was chosen to be read by me at the next Burns supper the school held and this time my voice never let me down even getting a nod of approval from Miss Milligan and a round of applause from the audience.
Flow gently, sweet Afton! amang thy green braes,
Flow gently, I'll sing thee a song in thy praise;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
Thou stockdove whose echo resounds thro' the glen,
Ye wild whistling blackbirds in yon thorny den,
Thou green-crested lapwing thy screaming forbear,
I charge you, disturb not my slumbering Fair.
How lofty, sweet Afton, thy neighbouring hills,
Far mark'd with the courses of clear, winding rills;
There daily I wander as noon rises high,
My flocks and my Mary's sweet cot in my eye.
How pleasant thy banks and green valleys below,
Where, wild in the woodlands, the primroses blow;
There oft, as mild Ev'ning weeps over the lea,
The sweet-scented birk shades my Mary and me.
Thy crystal stream, Afton, how lovely it glides,
And winds by the cot where my Mary resides;
How wanton thy waters her snowy feet lave,
As, gathering sweet flowerets, she stems thy clear wave.
Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes,
Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays;
My Mary's asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.
(Above left is the river Afton at dusk.)
(On the right is Burns cottage the birth place of the bard)
Friday, 3 April 2009
Image via WikipediaDuring my last couple of years at school I decided to get a part time job to boost my pocket money to give me the extra needed for the trip I wrote about in my last post and to let me buy some decent clothes(or parts for my bike)which I purchased and paid up through a club that an aunt was an agent for. (Freemans)
The first attempt was as a milk delivery boy and I was told about it by one of my classmates as it was on the same run as his. It so happened it was to be in mid winter when my mother woke me at five o'clock in the morning to start this new phase of my life and as I dressed myself under the blankets with the ice forming inside my bedroom window a million thoughts and fears ran through my head.
All we had to heat the three bedroomed house was one fire and as it was so early in the morning, it still had to be kindled so I jumped out of bed already clothed and headed out into the dark cold streets towards the unknown on my trusty push bike.
When I arrived fifteen minutes later I helped to load the days deliveries of milk cream and orange juice onto the float and soon warmed up with the hard work.
Out on the road I had to learn how to carry as many glass bottles as I could in a little crate built for the purpose while learning the route I would take with its shortcuts through closes and lanes that would take me back to the van to refill before setting off again. I quite enjoyed it once I got the hang of it and as an added bonus we got two pints of ice cold milk to take home with us at the end of the morning which I stuck down my jacket to cycled home for my breakfast before leaving for school.
Saturday was the morning we collected the money and also collected a few tips along the way which boosted our meagre wage along with a tub of cream that was allowed to be taken home that day.
After continuously rising in a freezing bedroom my enthusiasm for the job ran out before I could experience the joys that summer might have brought, so I packed it in and for a few weeks relished staying cosy in bed till it was time for school.
It was not long after,I got a more sensible job as a bakers delivery boy that was a Saturday only and was from 9am to 2pm giving me enough money, added to by the extremely large tips I received from the very wealthy customers who shopped in the best bakers in town and now had the best delivery boy in the west. ha. ha.
That is another story for another day.
Thursday, 2 April 2009
Image via WikipediaThe one and only school trip I went on was when I was 14 years of age and approaching my last year at school before having to go out and face this big wide world my teachers kept going on about.
The trip was to take us to Largs by train then onto Campbeltown on one of the many steamers that graced the Firth of Clyde. It was the pleasure steamer "Duchess of Hamilton" that was to take me for my first sail on the waters that were to become so familiar to me during my carreer as a fisherman and as we sailed down the River Clyde into the more open waters of the firth I stood on the deck and lapped up every inch of the beautiful scenery that lined each shore. It was eleven 0'clock in the morning and the still rising sun complimented the various shades of green on the hills of the Cumbrae islands on our port side and the Isle of Bute stood out in sharp focus on the starboard side with their reflections clearly visible on the calm glassy sea. The musky smell of warm engine oil and diesel hit you when you ventured below decks to investigate the canteen (the bar being shut for the school trip much to the annoyance of some teachers) and it grew stronger as you neared the toilets situated next to the engine room creating an even nastier smell. As the weather was calm and warm I went back up on deck to watch our progress as we sailed on down the Kilbrannan Sound that lies between Arran and the Kintyre peninsula with the wash of the propeller churning up the sea behind with every thrust taking us nearer and nearer to our destination. It seemed no time at all until we reached Campbelton Loch and as we entered this famous inlet it's splendourous beauty, stunning on either side of us was magnifyed by the mirror image on the water broken only by the outward ripples of the boats bow wave cutting into the sea as we rounded the buoy at trench point where the town of Campbeltown began to open out to us at the top of this magnificent loch.
The steamer slowed on it's approach and manuvered around gently edging nearer the pier until it's starboard side was close enough for the mooring ropes to be tied, securing us to harbour wall allowing the gangways to cross the gap that separated us from the land. The boat listed when we all made for the starboard side in our haste to get ashore as quick as we could to spend the money we had saved for this very occasion.
We all went our different ways once we managed to set foot on shore with most going round the souvenir shops to find a gift for our parents and send a postcard that would arrive home days after our return leaving little time to really take in the beauty of this small corner of Scotland.
Others however had managed to get alcohol from somewhere and were consuming it with great gusto, enjoying the freedom they had found before we departed, to return home by way of Pladda light on the other side of Arran. The sun had gone behind the gathering clouds when the time came to say goodbye to Campbeltown and with everyone accounted for the crew pulled in the ropes that had held us to the pier and once again we took in the scenery that had by now changed with cloud and the increasing winds but making it no less lovely to absorb.
Once rounded Davaar Island that lay at the mouth of the loch were headed into open sea and out of the shelter that the loch had provided us with. We headed for the east side of Arran where we would have been able to see the Ayrshire coast if it had not been for the squall that had created cloud cover and was beginning to whip up the water around us making the boat roll and sway gently as we nudged our way through the rising seas. Once we rounded Pladda and set course for the mouth of the River Clyde the easterly wind and seas were hitting us on the starboard side making the boat roll more severely and it was then that the pupils who thought they were smart drinking alcohol ashore realised that it hadn't been such a good idea after all.
When they started feeling sick they went to the rail of the boat to be vomit over the side but with the strong wind blowing they decided it would be better if they were going to be sick, the toilets were the place to be so they headed there with me in tow laughing sadisticly.
Of course as I mentioned earlier the toilets were next to the warm oily fumes at the engine room
and as soon as the mixture of these fumes combined with the smelly toilets hit them they never reached the pan and were sick all over the floor which made things even worse when the stale beer mingled with the other fumes resulted in the culprits boaking and spewing the rest of the way to Largs. We all disembarked and headed for the train but as you can imagine on the journey home some of the children were more enthusiastic about their trip than others and as the guilty ones sat with faces whiter than ghosts the teachers who had suspected their drinking but could not prove it sat with smug looks on their faces as if to say "serves you right" which it did and gave them a day they would never forget in a hurry, but for the wrong reasons. I on the otherhand had a smug look on my face as I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my trip with the scenery and the added entertainment on the voyage home.
Little did I know when I sailed down Campbeltown Loch that day that in the very near future it was to become a familier place and a safe haven to run for in the severe storms that I would experience during my wild exciting life as a fisherman.
The top picture is Campbeltown at the head of the loch.
Right hand map is Arran with the seas mentioned surrounding it.
Left picture is a steamer similar to the Duchess of Hamilton.