Bernera prescriptions and fuel

Bernera prescriptions and fuel

20 August 2020

The wind is back. Torrential rain in the night.

Yesterday was a great day for a walk to Bernera Island fully described in walk section. It lies off the south-west coast, so you need to know the tides. Two hours before low water we crossed on perilously slippery semi submerged stones and seaweed, walked up the east side raised beach, saw two caves, and the beach that looks like white sand from the mainland but is small flat stones some with holes, which people have made into jewellery. About two thirds of the way along climbed up looking for the remains of the chapel where, in the 6th century, St Columba and some say St Moluag are said to have preached. They added that up to a thousand came from the mainland, surrounding islands and Lismore. We found it but not the re-sprouted yew tree which regrew after it was cut down and made into a staircase for a Lochnell Castle. The castle burnt down, but the staircase was untouched. Was that the yew quality or the spirituality of Bernera Island?

Returned via Achinduin Castle and between the MacColl houses where we met Iris MacColl, her daughter Sadie, son Donald and son-in-law Pete Walker, who was mowing the lawn. They know Bernera well—imagine having that as your childhood playground—and Donald assured us there were at least two yews still there. Almost back at the car H spied a sheep on its back which would certainly have died had he not turned it up. It was caught in a tyre rut.

We have a crisis; maybe the start of a crisis. It’s the prescriptions. Dr Lorna Macgregor posted in the very useful Lismore Community Noticeboard to the effect that, as from next week, medication will be collectable at the shop. Since she suspended medical services on the island at the beginning of lockdown, volunteers have been delivering them to houses and latterly making them collectable at various places; the ferry, the hall car park etc. The shop agreed, but objections have been raised. More to come here.

For the last thirty years—and some time before—doctors have consulted twice weekly (Mondays and Thursdays) in the surgery of Lismore Hall. In normal times they bring the medication, the island being part of the Port Appin Medical practice.

Lismore Public Hall

The first doctor I knew was Iain McNicol MBE from Port Appin and his father was the doctor before him. He had a supportive wife and family in the village (still has of course) so was truly a family doctor, but things have changed since his retirement in 2009 after 29 years in charge of the island’s health. There is a full report on his island farewell (this link will take you to the original Lismore website where you can access this news at the 2009 page).

Dr Iain McNicol MBE in 2005

All the doctors since have come from elsewhere and some have been women who do not necessarily have wives servicing them. I have seen off at least three doctors since Dr McNicol and met a number of loci. He was extremely good for me as I was almost totally disabled by frequent migraine attacks, and he was prepared to get the latest migraine medication regardless of cost and was even prepared to come over specially if I was vomiting for three days and yearning for death. Others have had different opinions of every doctor we have ever had. That’s normal. Being a GP is extremely hard as their knowledge is general, and they are bound to miss stuff. Don’t know how they do the job these days when folk are both well-informed and not reverential. A lot of reverence went on 30 years ago.

Apologies for the misspelt Iain

The prescription crisis is being compared to the 2005 Fuel Crisis when we suddenly lost our weekly delivery of vital fuel which came on The Lismore, the ferry at the north end, having been delivered there by one of the Gunns of Gunn’s Garage in Appin. And they demanded no money up front and some really took this extra service for granted. Our empty cans were left at the slip here and the ferryman (there was only one then) took them across on a special run and returned them full. The crisis was never resolved and we no longer have fuel deliveries. A lot of time went into not solving it. My Oban Times reports of the whole sordid business are also in the old website news in the 2005 reports.

The Lismore unfit to deliver fuel arriving Port Appin

Suffice to say Lismore made headlines for a few weeks in the Oban Times.

A fuel crisis. Islanders left in the lurch. Feb 2005

It all started when the wash from the larger Glensanda boat, which no longer calls, washed a can into the sea and the then ferryman—a person no longer here—refused to rescue it and the Marine Coastguard Agency got to hear of what was said to be a fuel spillage. Or more accurately someone reported it and so our problems began. The MCA served a prohibition notice on the Lismore/Port Appin ferry route banning the carrying of fuel, all hand luggage over 500 kg (which must be stored in the designated area) and bicycles.

It was not just fuel but washing machines, sheep and bikes.

Mairi Perkins, Chair of the Community Council, told a packed meeting—ferries always prompted packed meetings—that she had been given no notice of the ban and no reasons why a practice that had been going on for years was suddenly banned.

Oh the halcyon days when we had a nurse practitioner or even a nurse.

Officials at Argyll and Bute said: the petrol issue is insoluble—they said this regularly meaning they didn’t know what to doand added we may agree to try and sort out something with goods and bicycles which so many tourists rely on …

Washing machines and bikes reprieved. Still no fuel.

A brief reprieve: Foster Yeoman agreed to a request by Councillor Elaine Robertson to carry 200 litres per week for 2 weeks provided the petrol was in sealed containers and that a representative meet the vessel at either end to load the empties and pick up the full cans and remove them immediately from the slip at Point. This was done by an army of crisis- ready volunteers led, I think by Roger Dixon-Spain. Open to correction. If you require a name check let me know. Here Roger is working with the late David Ramsden of Rowan Tree Cottage.

Lismore Community council appointed a consultant to look into all the options that may provide a permanent sustainable solution. They didn’t solve it. Once you hire a consultant, your problem is doomed to be insoluble. They are holes into which money is poured.

More of this gripping yarn at Lismore website. And it did go on.

H, who knows a thing or two about carrying dangerous goods at sea, maintains to this day that this banning was unnecessary. A way could have been found to continue this service but, as ever, they ignored him. He was just a master mariner who carried dangerous goods worldwide. As a result, and encouraged by the government, we bought a diesel car only to discover that we’d made a bad environmental move having been told it was a good one. Diesel is delivered to the island by Gleaners in Oban but only in large amounts, so we now belong to a diesel club.

The result: the island was left in the lurch. Ad hoc solutions were found. Some enterprising folk delivered fuel in private boats. Some carried cans to Oban, and still do, but this has its own quirky carrying problems at the other end and requires forms for the ferry bit. Some took their cars to Oban simply to fill them but, as island cars are not required to have MOTs, this was not practical. Worse, before RET (road equivalent fares) were introduced for us in 2016, ferry fares were stratospheric making it the most expensive fuel in the universe. No wonder many a can was carried in a freezer bag as I recall. May still be.

Tip: Left in the lurch. This alludes to a 16th-century French dice game, lourche, where to incur a lurch meant to be far behind the other players. We definitely were. Lismore has a history of being left there.


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