The Grand Tour: Fife and Beyond

Ramblings of an inveterate cyclist

Crossed wires.

I was chatting with a lad the other day and discovered he had been an apprentice electrician in the colliery in the early 1960s, and this was his story. The colliery manager lived in a company house and his wife wanted a pair of wall lights installed at their home. The chief electrician gave the job to the two newly qualified apprentices.

“We were not all that happy about being chosen for the manager’s wife had the reputation of being a bit bossy”, he told me.

Arriving in good time we soon had the lights installed and before heading back to work, we reported back to the manager’s wife, asking if that was all she wanted us to do?

Inspecting our work she seemed pleased enough with the work, even offered us an apple each by way of reward, which we both refused.

“You have done such a sterling job she insisted, I feel I should give you something, what about a half?”

Well, that’s more like it, a wee glass of whiskey would work wonders, almost in unison we accepted her kind offer. Off she went into the kitchen and returned, not with two glasses of Single Malt Whiskey, but a plate with an apple, now sliced into two equal halves.

Window, window shining bright,

In the early morning light,

Cygnet’s sails once white as snow,

Now billow red in the morning glow,

Off we fly, wild and free,

On tireless wind, on endless seas.

A ministers sage advice.

It was always customary for the minister to give advice to newlyweds at the wedding breakfast. I’m sure we have all heard most of this wise advice over the years. This one came to me as I sat chapping away on my keyboard.

The minister advised a young couple, to never let the sunset on their wrath, and never let a dispute get out of hand. Better if one or even both go off for a long walk and when things have cooled down even the insurmountable will know a solution. A cool head, he assured them, will always find a compromise.

It was many years later that the minister met up with the husband again, he had returned to the village to visit with his elderly mother. On recognizing him, the minister had asked how married life was suiting them both.

“Very well, thank you minister” he replied “we have had a very enjoyable, open-air life”.

The pony that could count.

In 1842 an Act of Parliament was passed which prohibited the employment of females underground. The same legislation also made it unlawful for boys under the age of ten to be given work down a coal mine. As a consequence of that Act, pit ponies began to be used on a much larger scale to transport the coal from the workings to the pit bottom. These ponies soon became “Pit Wise” and had an acute awareness of the operations they were involved in, this led to many a humorous story.

My grandfather once told me that when he had worked alongside ponies down the pit, he knew of a pony that could count. At the Dip Five Foot section a pony stood patiently waiting while the handler coupled the 24 tubs together to form a ‘Race’. He then attached the pony’s harness to the race and instructed the pony, “Walk On”. The pony made no attempt to move and no amount of coaxing, cajoling or threats made the slightest bit of a difference. The opinion of the men was that either the pony was sick and the vet should be called, or that the pony was having an off day. It was then that Willie noticed that the race was made up of 25 and not 24 tubs and after uncoupling the last one from the line the pony, without further instruction, set off along the roadway.

I’m a cock-eyed optimist, as the lyrics say.

I am not a particularly religious person, but I loved the stories at our Sunday School and later in life became a uniformed salvationist. I no longer attend any church, however, the old adage tells us, you can take a man out of the army but not the army out of the man. If I were ever tempted to join a church group again I believe it would be the Quakers.

Coming from a nautical family, and having lived much of my life never more than a stone throw from the sea, it was inevitable when I first came to read the bible for myself I would choose nautical stories. Johanna, a whale of a story. Noah and his ark, and the greatest mariner of them all Paul.

Johanna

Johanna swallowed by a big fish.

We all know the story, Johanna was sent by God to Nineveh, the capital of modern-day Syria, once there he would go to the king and pass on Gods message. If the people did not turn away from their wickedness then they would be wiped from the face of the earth, plain, simple, unequivocal. Now it turned out that Johanna didn’t like the Syrians very much, and would have been happy to see them wiped from off the face of the earth. So, rather than go to Nineveh, he boarded a boat for Australia. Well, Spain actually, but in those days Spain would have seemed as far away as Australia is for us today, the other side of the world.

Noah

Noah built an ark

Now if anyone had asked me to come on board a craft that had no means of propulsion, so even if it did have a rudder or wheel, with no steerage way, no coarse could be set. This boat would have been at the mercy of wind and tide, adrift, a disaster waiting to happen. Then when told of the cargo, all those creepy crawlies and wild animals, no wonder the people laughed at him.

Paul

Paul well he was just a saint.

Paul found himself on board a large cargo ship, a coaster of its day. It had sailed first from Greece with around 150 passengers on board, then on to Alexandra to load with grain, destined for Italy. Caught out in a squall, there was little the captain could do but run with the wind. However, as they nearing the island of Malta, and the sailors looked over the bow of their ship and saw the land rushing towards them at a great rate of knots, alarm bells rang out amongst the crew. They had taken it upon themselves to climb into the tender and leave the ship and her passengers to the mercy of the wind and sea. Cometh the hour cometh the man, out of this chaos Paul tells the centurion that he had spoken with God, and that he was told that not a hair on anyone head would be spared, bold words from a man reputed to be as bald as a coot. Under Paul’s leadership and the authority of the centurion, they put sea anchors over the side, this had the effect of slowing the ship enough for it to make a controlled crash landing onto a sandy beach, whereupon the inhabitants of Malta came to their aid.

Summing up

Johanna

Johanna did finally go to Nineveh, God had chosen well, for he persuaded the whole of the Syrian nation to mend their ways. (I have always had this strange image of people and animals all walking around dressed in sackcloth), Johanna, working hand in hand with God had, saved a nation.

Noah

Noah in his turn, working hand in hand with God had saved all the creatures of the world, including man. (Maybe not one of your better ideas God).

St Paul

Paul working hand in hand with god, saved the ship, her crew and passengers, but his story did not end there. Paul was a small pebble cast into the pool of humanity. Those ripples have spread and spread down through the ages and still lap at our feet today. Paul still saves lives.

The Moral

Working hand and hand, we can achieve great things, even miracles, in our own world. Sadly working hand in hand is far removed from the reality we see in the world today, lessons of the prophets go unlearned.

The foreign policies of America and Britain have been a disaster, and have only worsened over the past 20 years, killing millions, displeasing millions more. Then when the homes and infrastructure of these countries are destroyed and the people start to arrive on our doorstep asking for help, we pull up the drawbridge. Those that do make that perilous journey to our shores, well they die of malnutrition alongside their malnourished child in some squalid Glasgow flat, it makes me angry that I am part responsible for their suffering. The Hindu Kush, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq Yemen, Gaza, Egypt, Libya and right across central Africa we hear the same song sung, and as the New Years approaches, Bush, Blair, Trump and the Johnston’s of this world will gather, and with many a whiskey tear, sing out “A man’s a man for a’ that”.

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