North end ferry Crisis

North end ferry Crisis

21 August 2020

21 August 2020

Our prescription crisis is rumbling on. No solution in sight. Yet. But we hope there will be. Several people are working ‘behind the scenes’ dealing with ferrymen’s concerns, privacy issues, as well as what ifs re theft. The latest news is the following FB message from the doctor:

I know all these problems are new, but that is never going to be possible. For decades meds have been delivered on the north end ferry: we have never been asked to travel to Port Appin for them. I hope this isn’t going to prove insoluble as we cannot order online here. We are always in danger of losing our GP as many remote areas have done, so I counsel caution. I always counsel caution. Always have and always will; in a small community.

H is away to collect the island car a Fiat 500 (still diesel) now freshly MOT’d and serviced by Gunns Garage. He’s driving it from Port Appin to Oban prior to bringing it back on the CalMac ferry. Things are complicated on an island; they take days instead of hours. He will also do a little shopping although we are super keen to support the island shop and all the many island food enterprises. We are lucky we can afford to be magnanimous.

Already enough are having to order from distant suppliers who pay no tax.

The island shop and Post Office is under new management which is a great relief as it did look as though we were going to lose this vital facility and hub. An earlier crisis; a ‘will the shop close for lack of a buyer‘ occurred simultaneously with two other crises one major, the possible loss of the North end ferry, and one routine, the resignation of Catherine Davies, the wonderful school head teacher. We were all surprised and relieved to hear that Laura and Robbie Cook were taking on the business of keeping us fed and managing our mail.

The north end ferry loss would have changed and maybe destroyed the island as we know it at the stroke of a bureaucratic pen.

Roger Dixon-Spain showing great crowd management skills

Packed live-streamed meetings, a first, were held in a winter hall which in retrospect would have been a superspreader had the virus already arrived. Letters and emails were fired—it was a war—at all MPs and MSPs and I wrote a piece for the Oban Times, as the erstwhile correspondent. This is the gist of our plight:

This ferry brings all medical assistance (doctors, nurses, carers, Marie Curie and Macmillan nurses, vets), the minister, emergency firefighters and much else.

For several this is a route to work. Without it, many would be forced to either live off- island, away from their families, or to leave and, as some of these have young children, this would soon affect the school. At the moment off- island workers can leave at 7am and return at 8pm. They can work in Appin, Oban, Fort William, and beyond.

Without it, the island as we know it will die and be attractive only to tourists and second homers, who can never create a community.

And so on. I also praised our wonderful ferrymen who may be jobless. The meetings were chaired by Roger Dixon-Spain who made sure that everyone was kind. Vitriol was inappropriate. The irony was that up to this point we had been led to believe that we were getting a new ferry at the north end. We assumed the meeting was about this! Well I did.

Under new management

News of Teenie and David Wilson’s retirement from the shop came roughly at this time not from the blue but definitely from a semi cloudy sky. Losing the shop may not have been as fatal to our communal life as the loss of the north end ferry. It would certainly have been awful and the loss of the Post Office a disaster for the many flourishing small businesses. Also, since church has lost its popularity rating, the shop is a meeting point—or was—before the virus. Having to go elsewhere to shop would certainly have been more expensive in time, petrol etc. And running a business from an island with no Post Office seems impossible. Would they have had to relocate?

When I first came the shop was basic but had been a lot more basic before Pat and Geoff Taylor took it over from Dick Holyoak. He had run a cinema in Glasgow and bought the building which included the shop and the flat above, now owned by Rosemary Barry. He reluctantly sold a scant range of indifferent food and goods. Apparently. He did though have a plastic bag printed with his name; now a museum piece.

I well remember my first visit for, although H had spent a great deal of his childhood here and his mother was from here, we were denied credit; fair enough, we may have been fiscally dodgy (risible if you know H), but more inconvenient was not being allowed to order a paper. In the early 1990s bread and papers (and much else) were delivered by the super-reliable Anne MacCormick, the postwoman. Apparently it was illegal but, until a misanthrope reported it, it went on here as it still does on other islands. This was not a crisis and the Lismore spirit (similar to the Dunkirk but less dangerous) got round it, as it has got round so much before and during the current pandemic. The misanthrope has moved.

There were, at one time, three shops (and a delivery van) but Lismore Stores is now the only one. It was built in the 1890s by Neil MacCormick of Daisy Bank, and was a great step forward, providing islanders with many of their needs, as well as being the centre for an outreach tailoring business. Indeed, Mr MacCormick (known as The King I believe) secured the contract for the Caledonian MacBrayne uniforms.

In 1915 the shop was damaged by fire but was restored and continued trading. Since then there have been four proprietors:

David Colthart, Dick Holyoak, Geoff and Pat Taylor (who built Mountain View now owned by Scott and Anne Barr) and, since 1997, the much-appreciated David and Teenie Wilson who brought it to the standard we all greatly appreciate. When H was deep sea and away for months I could happily feed myself from David’s shop.

In 2006, David won an award for Best Rural Post Office. Highly deserved. ‘The Lismore Post Office has beaten 1,100 other entrants and been named the best Rural Post Office in Scotland and will now go forward to the national final. David and Teenie were unable to travel to London so Janette Stewart and Anne Livingstone represented them at a lunch at the Grosvenor Hotel on 16 November.’

In 2010 the Heritage Centre told the Story of the Shop in the museum exhibition. Tony Perkins built a 12th scale model of the building, exact in every detail—even the tiles were to scale and positioned individually! He used old photographs, oral research and the present building to construct the model which is a faithful replica of the building as it was in the early 20th century.

All of the above is why island life is vulnerable and sustained on flimsy understandings. The infrastructure can disappear because someone in the council or the government has a money-saving brainwave. Or someone vital resigns or retires or … one house too many is sold at an inflated price to an outsider who is never going to live here and help the island develop. The sustainability balance. Crucial.

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