A short video of a two-day kayaking trip from Oban, around Kerrera, on to Barrnacarry Bay, Pulladobhrain, Eilean Duin, and back to Oban, in September 2021.
A short video of a two-day kayaking trip from Oban, around Kerrera, on to Barrnacarry Bay, Pulladobhrain, Eilean Duin, and back to Oban, in September 2021.
The World Stone Skimming Championship is an annual event that takes place on Easdale Island, in Argyll on the west coast of Scotland – a lovely part of the world. It’s an absolute hoot! Much fun and entertainment. Everyone is so friendly and it’s impossible not to have a good time. The event is great fun for all ages, with many children also taking part. My video above shows some of what happened during the 2019 Championships, which took place on 29th September.
The rules are fairly simple. Stones used for skimming must be formed Easdale slate and be not more than 3 inches at its widest point. Each contestant has 3 skims per session. The stone must bounce on the surface of the water no less than 2 times before being considered a valid skim, and must sink between the designated area. Essentially, everyone is trying to skim the furthest distance, and if you reach the ‘back wall’ you will get through to the ‘Toss-off’ final.
The 2019 men’s champion was Peter Szep, from Hungary. The women’s champion was Christina Bowen-Bravery, who is shown in my video.
My grandfather was a carpenter. I don’t seem to have inherited many of his skills, but I enjoyed woodwork at secondary school in Doncaster, and was disappointed when I couldn’t continue the subject when we moved to Elgin. In the distant past I made a kitchen, and a bed which is actually still in use. More recently I decided to have an attempt at making a bench under the window in our breakfast room.
Above is the room with its original decor. It took three coats of paint to make it presentable.
I found some boards in our shed, and bought some more wood from B&Q, then set to work.
Lindsey tested the structure.
The next stage was painting the uprights and front edge the same colour as I’d painted the skirting boards.
The thing you notice when attempting to make such things as this bench is that nothing is perfect. The floor is not 100% level, the walls are not 100% straight, and even the wood planks I bought at B&Q turned out to have slightly different dimensions. My saw cuts were also not completely straight, but in the end it doesn’t matter. More important is that the bench is structurally stable, and level, which it is.
The finished bench with cushions. This will give a maximum of five extra seating spaces. Unfortunately, there’s a slight design problem with the bench! The cushions were harder than I expected, and as a result, the height of the finished bench is slightly too high for some people, but it still functions.
My friend the Tall Thin One (TTO) had barely been on holiday for two days when Lindsey, who was in Crieff at the time, received an automated call from his security company – “The alarm at xx Royal Crescent needs attention. If you are able to attend to this, please press 1. If you are unable to attend, please press 2 and we will proceed to the next contact on the list.” As Lindsey was in Crieff, she pressed 2, but then phoned me here in Edinburgh to tell me about it.
I was going into town anyway, so I dropped by Royal Crescent to see if everything looked OK at TTO’s pad. I couldn’t see anything untoward from the front, but knew not how to inspect the place from the rear, as it’s a terraced townhouse. Then I noticed a neighbour coming out of next door’s front door, so I asked him if he’d heard an alarm going off that morning. He said he hadn’t, so I explained that I was a friend of TTO and was trying to check things were OK. The neighbour was about forty, dressed in tweeds and looked wealthy. You don’t get to own a grand town house apartment in Edinburgh New Town without being wealthy, and you don’t get to be wealthy at forty without being decisive, and the neighbour gave an example of this decisiveness by, after giving me a once-over and deciding that I was legit, taking me round the block to an alleyway which gave access to the back of the town houses. He showed his decisiveness for a second time by quickly clambering up the six-foot-high wall to get a better view into TTO’s back garden, and said he couldn’t see anything untoward.
Then he told me that he could see from his perch that TTO’s back gate was not locked from the inside, so I opened it and inspected at closer range TTO’s back door and windows. Nothing was untoward.
All this kerfuffle had obviously alerted TTO’s neighbour in the apartment above. The window was raised, and a rather dignified older chap stuck his head out and asked us, in a typical plummy Edinburgh accent, if he could be of assistance. I explained who I was and what I was doing. It turned out that the neighbour was called Harry, and that the business with the alarm had all been Harry’s fault.
Harry had needed access to TTO’s back garden to let in some workmen to erect scaffolding to his second floor apartment, early that morning. The TTO had left Harry his front door key and Harry knew the security code for the burglar alarm, but in his rush to attend to the workmen Harry had left his spectacles behind when he opened TTO’s door and could not see which buttons to press to deactivate the alarm, which had then gone off.
Not only that, but TTO’s phone had then rung (almost certainly from the security company to check if everything was OK) but Harry, without his specs, could not find the phone. He’d picked up the TV remote instead and pressed the green button, which then meant that TTO’s alarm, phone and TV were all going at the same time, early in the morning. Harry explained to me, as he hung out of his window, that he’d eventually got everything under control, and that peace had resumed at xx Royal Crescent.
The other neighbour, the decisive one, decisively announced that as the situation had been explained to his satisfaction, he would return promptly to his general business, and strode off, decisively, leaving me to chat for a couple of minutes with Blind Harry.
Looking up at Harry poking his head out the second-floor window, with his distinguished look and his plummy Edinburgh literati New Town accent, made me giggle when I thought about wifies of the past having a hing’ oot their tenement windae for a natter. How things have changed.
It must be my age.
There are people I know from my information professional days who are completely au fait with just about all aspects of modern technology, especially those dealing with communications and social media. They’re great! They utilise what is available and make the most out of things. They don’t seem to fear technology in any way, but see it rather as an opportunity to be investigated and utilised for the possible benefit of all concerned. But, especially nowadays, they also realise that there can sometimes be a downside to it. Everyone has to keep that idea in the back of their minds at all times, nowadays.
And then there are my non-information friends, a few of whom are fine with modern technology, but there are various others who sometimes struggle or who have a different perspective. The other day I was trying to explain to one of the latter about using Bluetooth to play music from a phone to a speaker. He didn’t understand what I was getting at, “I don’t really use my phone that much. Only for phoning, really”. Someone else who is a long-standing friend only checks his email about once a month.
There are others who are actually proud that they don’t own a smart mobile phone. And then, of course, there’s my friend Fat Mac, who as regular readers of this blog will know, has a unique attitude towards modern technology. “Ah hate a’ this fekkin stuff, Rodz, it’s jez a constant war wi’ ra effin machines as far as Ah’m concerned”, he often complains, vociferously. He hates all post-seventies technology. Sometimes, I can’t blame him, as he inevitably seems to choose the short straw when it comes to technology, even when all the straws are long.
For about ten years he’s been struggling to get the ‘photies’ he takes on his phone onto his laptop. Even though there are about twenty ways to do exactly that, he can’t cope with nineteen of them. If nothing happens when he connects his phone to his laptop via a cable, which is the only method he likes because he can physically see a cable going from his phone to his laptop, then he’s sunk. One thing Fat Mac is not, is a technology problem solver. Surprisingly, at the same time, he has mastered working all the zappers needed for his TV, and can quickly find a video on any platform of just about any boxing match from the 1970s (his main interest, apart from drinking).
Most of those friends who don’t like new technology and social media dislike the idea of what they see as a loss of privacy. Well, that’s entirely up to them, I suppose, and you have to respect their opinion. They’re the ones who are sometimes difficult to contact.
All of the above people, like myself, are pretty old or at least ‘getting on’.
Most young people, on the other hand, don’t have the same inhibitions/concerns when it comes to technology. My two sons and their friends simply use technology to the full.
I always tried to be up-to-date with technology before I retired. Back at library school in the mid-seventies I didn’t take the computer options, because it seemed to me as though computers, in those days, were not about people at all, but involved folk in backrooms loading punched cards, and doing things with them. When DOS and then Microsoft Windows came along, everything changed, and that’s when I became interested. Prior to that, I worked with an acoustic coupler, which was the latest gizmo at that time, only because it helped me answer researchers’ questions. I had no interest in how it actually worked. I disliked the tension it caused, because if you were slow or made an error it cost money, and I hated having to spend hours checking the bills.
More recently, technology has started to pass me by. I don’t watch many DVD movies, but when I do, it’s often a struggle using the PS2 controller to get them on the big flat screen. My sons don’t understand why this isn’t obvious to me, as PS2s have been around for ages, but I’ve never been a gamer. Someone showed me screen mirroring recently, and this is surely the way forward. People will have access to whatever and everything they are interested in via their mobile phones, and when they need to see things wherever they are on a bigger screen, they’ll use screen mirroring.
Another recent (I presume) thing is mindfulness and technology, #MindfulTechnology. In order to stop his rantings against technology, I’m going to suggest that Fat Mac takes it up as soon as possible.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we’ve had a problem with our boiler. After 53 days without hot water or heating the problem was finally fixed. It’s not my intention to name the companies involved. The Chief Executive of our service home plan company assured me personally that he will review the circumstances that led to our situation, and make changes to procedures where applicable. I’m happy with that. I’ve named and shamed on a couple of occasions in the past with respect to completely different issues, but I don’t think that would achieve anything more in this case, and many of our delays were actually caused by the sub-contracted boiler manufacturer.
So I can now write about some of the more ridiculous elements in what we’ve experienced, and you can hopefully enjoy them, without this post being a tirade.
It all started when our boiler needed it’s annual service as part of one of those home plan service agreement things. The service engineer found a fault with the boiler which he could not fix there and then, and stuck a ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker on the boiler.
I asked him what would happen next, and he said that the home plan people would be in touch with us to arrange for someone to come and do the work to (I think it was) the heat exchanger.
After he left, my wife and I got out our contract with the home plan. It was very reassuring. We now knew that we were covered, we need not worry, that they were there to help us, that there was a network of 5,000 engineers available, and that they were on hand to keep our home safe and warm.
There were delays, but eventually two more heating engineers turned up.
The second and third heating engineers said that they couldn’t fix the boiler, but recommended that the manufacturers, who would have all the spare parts, would be able to do so.
A couple of days later the home plan people phoned up to say that they were having trouble arranging for a heating engineer from the manufacturers to come and fix our boiler, as that company was very busy and their heating engineer was on holiday. They would call us back, but wanted to know if the heating engineer would need a ladder to access the boiler, and also if there was parking outside our house. I told them that no ladder was needed, and that there was usually parking available somewhere near the house. They asked a second time to confirm that a ladder would not be needed, which I thought was a bit strange. Later on I thought about this and reckoned that for health and safety reasons the manufacturer’s heating engineer probably could not go up a ladder. Well, I thought, that would not be a problem, as our boiler was on a wall only a few feet high.
A fourth engineer, from the manufacturers, turned up eventually. He had originally been booked for the previous week, two weeks after the third and fourth engineers had called, those two week delays having been caused, as I said, by the fourth engineer having been on holiday, but they phoned us in the meantime to say that he’d gone off sick, hence the extra week’s delay.
I’ll refer to the fourth engineer as ‘Red Robbo‘ for reasons that will become obvious to older readers of this blog. It became clear, eventually, that Red Robbo was far more interested in finding reasons for not doing the repair rather than actually doing the work. Like my friend Fat Mac, he seemed a bit of a throwback to the 1970s, when nothing ever got done for one reason or another
“Kudni git pairkt” Red Robbo complained vociferously, as he came in the front door. Red Robbo was a man of few words, and every one of them was delivered with a Scottish accent so thick that even I had problems understanding what he said.
I showed him into the kitchen, opened the cabinet door, and he looked at the boiler.
“Hiznae been install correk” he announced, gruffly. I felt it better not to follow that one up, but merely pointed out that it had been going strong (until recently) for some time.
“Whaurs yer draindoon?” Red Robbo enquired.
“Where’s my what?”
“Uzzara draindoon, ferra wa’ah tae drain frae?”
“I don’t really know. Where is it likely to be?”
He then accompanied me downstairs, where there is one radiator, which he vaguely glanced at, and then announced,
“Uzz kawney c wanz”*
We went back up to the kitchen, where he had yet another look at the boiler. He got out a sticker with ‘Danger, do not use’ written on it in large letters, and stuck it next to the sticker saying ‘Danger, do not use’ that the first service engineer had stuck on it, weeks previously.
Then he closed the cabinet door, turned to me and announced,
“Utz unna cubinet”
“Yes” I answered, “It’s in a cabinet. The cabinet was put there just after the boiler was installed, some time ago. Is that an issue?”
“Uzzcunna fux ut uffitz unna cubinet. Yeil hivtae hiv the cubinet takken aff.”
“You can’t take the cabinet off the wall?” I asked, with some trepidation.
Red Robbo looked askance, stuck out his chest for a second, and then said the following three words in perfectly understandable English.
“Health and safety”
My heart sank. Everyone in the UK knows the extreme finality of those three words and the utter futility of questioning them.
“Yuzzll needa jyner tak it aff” Red Robbo added, helpfully.
For a moment I thought about showing solidarity with Red Robbo and saying to him, in his own parlance, “Ufyeez gieuz a haun-up, Ukin mebbie tak if aff masel”, but I suspected that this would not solve everything, and that he probably still had some additional dry powder in reserve preventing a successful conclusion to our boiler problem, so instead I said,
“Oh! Health and safety. Well, I’m pretty sure that my wife and I could probably manage to dismantle the cabinet. Anything else?”
“Yuzz needa draindoon. Orgerra plumma tae find wan”
“Erm” I hesitated, “Are you not a plumber?”
You should have seen the look he gave me when he answered, “Umma heet’n enjuneer. Snay ma jobe tae fuxa draindoon. Ratzferra plumma.”
So, more than a month after the first service chap had stuck his ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker on the boiler, and with now two ‘Danger, do not use’ stickers on the boiler, and with the help of the fourth heating engineer to visit the premises, the progress made consisted of a discovery that the boiler was in a kitchen cabinet, and that the whereabouts of the drain down was unknown. And all that time we’d been without heating or hot water.
Before Red Robbo left, he gave my wife a piece of paper to sign. A signature was needed on a form to show that we had read, and understood, the second ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker that he’d just stuck on the boiler. The form was in semi-legal jargonese, and much more difficult to understand than a ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker, which I reckon is fairly self-explanatory. Then he asked her to sign his handheld mini-computery-looking thing, using a fingernail signature.
“What are you signing?” I asked, because the screen she was looking at had no writing on it whatsoever. Red Robbo explained, “Sjuz summat tae say at Uv bin here.” Then he left.
I decided to phone the home plan people and tell them that we were not impressed with the service we had received so far, and that our boiler was still not working. The home plan girl didn’t seem very helpful this time, and I was getting nowhere, and it was at that point that I made what may have been a mistake – I said that I’d like to make a complaint. The girl immediately passed me on to someone I shall call Suzie (not her real name), who explained that she was now our complaints manager. She was very reassuring. I went through our situation, and said that it was simply not acceptable. She agreed, and said that she had registered our complaint. I then asked Suzie what would happen next.
Suzie explained that our complaint would be investigated.
This meant that we would receive a letter in the post within three working days acknowledging our complaint, and that every endeavour would be made to resolve our complaint within two weeks, but that the process might take six weeks, and she added something about an Ombudsman being available as a last resort. It seemed to me that perhaps effort was now going into investigating the complaint, rather than fixing the boiler, but that’s just MHO.
My wife and I went on a short break to an Airbnb where there was a shower, and waited for the letter. Before we left the house, we looked up ‘central heating drain down’ on Google, and immediately found a picture of a drain down. Knowing what we were now looking for, we went downstairs, looked at the bottom of the radiator, and saw a drain down!
When we came back from the short break, it took us ten minutes to take the cabinet down from the wall. The boiler was now completely accessible.
So the phone goes, and it’s our complaints manager, Suzie.
“Is Mrs MacLeod there please?”
“I’m afraid she’s out. Can I help? I’m Mr MacLeod.”
“Its Suzie here, from your home plan. I’m afraid I can only talk to Mrs MacLeod, the account owner, for security reasons.”
“Hi Suzie, we spoke the other day. Suzie, Mrs MacLeod is at the swimming pool. This is the only way we’ve been able to have a shower now for seven weeks. What security reasons have you got for not telling me when our boiler will be repaired?”
“I’m very sorry, Mr MacLeod. I’ve left a message on Mrs MacLeod’s mobile phone.”
I was annoyed, but didn’t say any more. When my wife returned from the swimming pool she phoned Suzie, who said she’d had terrible trouble getting the boiler manufacturers on the phone but had eventually got through to them, and had been told that they couldn’t send an engineer for another week.
I’d had enough. It was now 49 days since the first ‘Danger, do not use’ sticker had been stuck on our boiler. I couldn’t stand the thought of Red Robbo going off on extended sick leave and then eventually pitching up sometime in the new year only to drive off again because he couldn’t get parked.
I did a little research and contacted the service home plan company’s chief executive by email. I explained that we were about to have visitors to our house, our elder son was arriving back from Ethiopia in four days with his girlfriend from Kenya. I explained some of the history of our situation, and that our guests from Africa would soon arrive. How bad would it be, I explained, if we were not able to offer either of them a shower, and that being used to the heat of the African sun they’d have to huddle together in front of our small blowy electric fire for warmth. What would his girlfriend think if this was an example of Scottish hospitality?
This did the trick. The company phoned up and said they were pulling out all the stops to get an engineer to us on the Monday, together with all the spare parts needed to repair the boiler. I was to contact the chief executive personally if the job didn’t get done on Monday.
My wife and I suddenly went all giggly at the prospect of being able to shower, without going to Porty swimming pool, within three days, and we also thought about how warm we would make our house for our returning son.
So anyway, it was the fifth heating engineer who finally fixed the boiler. Like a good engineer, he followed the problem back to it’s source. It wasn’t anything that the first, second, third or fourth engineers had said needed replacing. It didn’t need access to the ‘draindoon’, and it didn’t look as if the cabinet needed to have come off the wall. It was a £5 gasket that was needed, which he happened to have in his van. Thankyou Andrew, the heating engineer.
Now I’m going to have a hot bath.
* Translation: “A drain down is not visible to me”
One time, more than twenty years ago, I had to call out an emergency plumber. I can’t remember what it cost (it seemed a lot at the time), but nowadays to call out an emergency plumber the cost is likely to be above £60. You only call an emergency plumber if, well, it’s an emergency. A slow drip is not really an emergency. A trickle or a spray could well be an emergency, and a gush even more so. I had a trickle/spray caused by me putting a small nail through a pipe (don’t ask). And, of course, it was the weekend when I’d been doing some home repairs/damage.
So, there was a trickle/spray coming from the pipe. I’d tied some cloth around the pipe, and this had downgraded the emergency somewhat, but I called the plumber anyway.
I can’t remember for sure, but maybe the company was called ‘Pure Plumbing’ or something similar.
So the emergency plumbers pitched up, and I showed them the pipe, undid the cloth, and there for all to see was the trickle/spray of water coming out of the pipe.
Without further ado, the plumber took a hammer from his belt of tools and hit the pipe, once, at the point from where the offending trickle/spray was emerging. The trickle/spray immediately ceased.
I was dumfounded. I looked at the plumber. He looked back at me, and said ‘lead pipe’.
For goodness sake, I thought to myself, I’ve had to cough up £60 for someone to come and hit my lead pipe with a hammer once. Why didn’t I think of that?
The plumber obviously thought he was onto a winner. Not only was this probably the most money he’d ever earned for the least imparted effort, but there could be more where that was coming from, so he promptly suggested that he could rip up most of my floorboards and replace all of my lead piping for only several hundred more pounds. I’ll give him that it was worth a try, but we put it off until we’d applied for a grant for replacing lead pipes.
I don’t have a great record when it comes to plumbing, but that record is much better than when it comes to electrics, which I do not understand at all, at all. I’ve connected at least one washing machine in my time, and only had one resulting complaint from them downstairs.
A while back, well about five years ago, we had a plumbing chap in to service the boiler and central heating. For this we pay an annual amount, and having the annual servicing was very reassuring. The plumber told us that we had a problem, which was almost certainly that we needed a new pump. So I contacted the service agreement people and said that we needed a new pump, which was covered by the service agreement. There was then quite a bit of toing and froing with the service agreement company, who suggested that we should get a power flush of all of our radiators first, at our own expense (because power flushes are not covered by the service agreement). I remember questioning the service agreement company about the need for a power flush when their own service plumber had said that we needed a new pump. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the company eventually agreed to install a new pump, which solved the problem.
Around the same time, by coincidence, my friend Fat Mac had been advised to power flush his own central heating system by his own service agreement company, but being a stingy so-and-so he’d decided instead to do without any heating whatsoever for six months and attempt to raise his own inner heat through prolonged and extreme meditation (I’m not kidding you – this is the truth) and in addition solve his plumbing issue through the power of prayer.
As an aside, and in Fat Mac’s defense, this connection between plumbing and prayer is not uncommon, IMHO. My son Jamie was living in Accra, Ghana, renting a house, and he had a problem with the water tank which meant that the shower often reduced to a dribble (not even a trickle). So Jamie called the landlord. The landlord responded quickly, and pitched up to the house. Jamie showed him the dribble of water coming from the shower head. His landlord went through to where the water tank was situated, called Jamie though, with his left hand he took Jamie’s hand, and then he placed his right hand on the water tank, then he said: “let us pray”. Then the landlord left.
All of this played around my head for a while, and with a medium amount of artistic license and exaggeration, I facetiously wrote to The Sunday Times agony aunt Mrs Mills ‘seeking’ a solution. Below is my letter, and her response (read the bit under ‘Flushed Away’):
Which brings me to my latest plumbing issue. It’s now mid-to-late October, and our boiler hasn’t been working since the end of August. We’ve had no heating or hot water since 31st August. We have a service agreement, which may, or may not, be with the same company as in the past (my wife deals with that). So, since the beginning of September we’ve been going to the Porty swimming pool most days, for a shower and a swim.
I’ve never swam so much in my life! We’ve also, as regular readers of this blog will know, been on a couple of breaks to places where they have showers/baths.
Yet, still, the issue with our boiler continues. It’s now a complaint with the service agreement people.
As the complaint has not been resolved at the time of writing, I can’t give more details, here. So, this post is…to be continued.
Due to the fact that our boiler has still not been fixed (long, boring story), and we haven’t had heating or hot water for 6 weeks, I’ve been swimming in the Porty pool most days. There’s only a certain amount of swimming one can do, so to get a nice shower somewhere else we went over to the west coast for a couple of nights and stayed in an Airbnb. Our first experience of Airbnb, and very nice it was, too.
On the way over, we stopped briefly at Loch Lubnaig, which had overflowed a bit with all the recent rain.
Further west we crossed what is known rather grandly as the bridge over the Atlantic, onto Seil Island. The bridge spans seawater, which makes Seil an island, and what a lovely island it is.
I mentioned archaeological sites near Crinan in my last post. The area has many examples, in fact there are more than 800 ancient monuments within a six-mile radius of the village of Kilmartin alone.
About a mile from Cairnbaan are examples of Neolithic rock art, from about 5,000 years ago, at Achnabreck.
No one knows exactly what these markings signify.
We didn’t manage to visit Dunadd Fort, but instead headed south into Knapdale, where we spent an afternoon walking in the hills above Tayvallich. Starting from the cemetery at Carsaig we headed up a very rough and overgrown track to the south-west and stumbled upon a substantial derelict farmstead at Barnashaig.
Not too far from the ruin was an impressive standing stone, the Upper Fernoch Menhir. I wanted to take a photo, but nearby was an enormous bull. It seemed to be asleep, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Instead, we walked on and found the stones shown above, a few hundred yards from Upper Fernoch.
At Kilmartin there are several carved stones from a much later date – 1200s to 1712.
It is festival time, here in Edinburgh. The city is very busy, there are countless events and performances, and you never know what you may see round the next corner.