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26 June 2009

2009 – and an OAP is reduced to this…
DESPITE soaring summer temperatures, Kames man John Turner, 78, has to burn an open fire in his living room – to boil a pot of water for tea. Mr Turner has had no cooking facilities for the past month after a new fusebox was fitted in his rented house.
When work began on May 27 on his Argyll Community Housing Association (ACHA) home, John expected a swift, and tidy refurbishment of his kitchen, leaving him with a room to be proud of. Instead, the pensioner has been left unable to make a hot meal and is surrounded by mess from the unfinished job.
The electricians came in May, followed by the plumbers a week later - Mr Turner was then told that work had been suspended because of swine flu. That was it until the Dunoon Observer contacted ACHA on Tuesday. A tiler turned up at Mr Turner’s Charles Terrace home on Wednesday.
All this time Mr Turner’s electricity kept switching off.
The electrical problem has only arisen since a new fusebox, or consumer unit, was installed.
A spokesperson for ACHA, however, blames Mr Turner’s cooker, saying: “Mr Turner has had a new consumer unit installed as part of the modern rewiring of his home.
“These consumer units are sensitive to any faults in electrical appliances in properties. It is the association’s view that Mr Turner has a faulty cooker which is clearly not the association’s responsibility and this is ‘tripping’ the system.”
John, a retired forestry worker, said: “My cooker is fully serviceable, there is nothing wrong with it. It’s only five years old. In fact the power sometimes goes off when I boil the kettle.
“The electrician boy said that these units are too sensitive, and that all he could do was switch it on again.”
“Yesterday, boiling the kettle switched it all off, today it didn’t so there’s no rhyme or reason to it.”
The consumer unit has been installed some eight feet high meaning that, when it does ‘trip’, Mr Turner is unable to reach the unit to re-set it. He then has no alternative but to call for help.
ACHA’s spokesperson goes on to advise Mr Turner to have his cooker checked by a qualified electrician, despite the fact that he has had several visits from ACHA electricians to install his fusebox.
The spokesperson continued: “ACHA tenants are advised in advance of the rewiring work that the modern consumer unit may detect faulty appliances. This is clearly an additional benefit of rewiring which adds to tenants’ safety.”
ACHA’s words may not, however, be much comfort to John Turner.

The well known local landmark known as ‘Jim Crow’ has been painted over, in an act viewed by many local people as pure and simple vandalism.
For those unfamiliar with the feature, Jim Crow is a lump of rock on the Firth of Clyde shore at Hunter’s Quay. The rock has a curious shape, with the appearance of the pointed head of a bird or animal. In the past century or so, the rock was painted in the form of a crow’s head, with the legend ‘Jim Crow’ written alongside. Jim has been a feature of the local landscape ever since.
One theory concerning the motive behind this act is that whoever is responsible for painting over the rock may have done so in protest at what they see as the ‘racist’ overtones of the term Jim Crow.
The deed seems to have been done overnight between last Sunday and Monday (June 21/22), and it did not take long for word to reach the Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard. On Monday morning we received a call from an angry local lady, Mrs Nancy Skelton from Kirn, who said: “Jim Crow has been a feature and local attraction for generations, and I am shocked that people could see racism in what is a crow painted on a rock.”
Later the same day, we received the first of two letters supporting the painting out of Jim Crow (see Safety Valve, page 10), in which Dunoon resident Giles Wheatley writes: “The inspiration behind the name and design have been suggested to be: Thomas Rice, a white American caricaturing a black man; the owner of a nearby builders’ yard; a shark; and a jackdaw, which incidentally has a black beak, not a red mouth.”
He continued: “To say that it is mistaken to see the Jim Crow rock as racist is to misunderstand racism. What must visitors to Dunoon make of this anachronistic caricature?”
But locals have dismissed any suggestion of racism, and Mrs Skelton added: “I’ve spoken to lots of my friends, and they are as shocked as I am over this. Growing up in Dunoon, we were all told different tales about how Jim Crow got there.”
She added with a twinkle: “But I know that my daddy put it there, because he told me himself.”
On a more serious note, Mrs Skelton said: “We cannot let them get away with this. If there is any racism in this - and I don’t believe any local sees anything other than a much loved painted rock - it is in the heads of the people who seem to have done this.”

Tying the knot – Druid style
When the telephone call arrived last week, my initial reaction was to inwardly snort derisively. The caller, a sister of the bride, said: “There’s a pagan wedding, or handfasting, ceremony taking place on Saturday and I wondered if the paper would be interested.”
As I say, my first response was to categorise the whole thing as mumbo jumbo which would no doubt be populated by wierdy beardies and delegates with sandals - not to diminish the significance of the marriage ceremony, of course. While the conversation continued, my journalistic antennae, such as they are, began to twitch and curiosity overcame my prejudice. This type of event doesn’t happen every day, so I agreed that we would try to get ‘someone’ to the ceremony at Castle Toward - none too keen however to take on the assignment myself.
The promised ‘someone’ turned out to be yours truly (amazingly, every one of my dear colleagues had pressing engagements elsewhere), and on pulling into the car park at Castle Toward it was apparent that there was a wedding under way, but the guests were dressed in conventional suits, ties, wedding outfits and hats.
Surely I must be at the wrong place.
Hmm...I asked the nearest suited gentleman, and as I approached, noticed that he was standing beside someone dressed less conservatively, with a pony tail, which was reassuring. The two men confirmed that this was indeed the correct place and time. Not a sandal in sight; perhaps it was time to start revising my preconceptions.
The bride, dressed in white with a green cloak, was accompanied by her groom in tartan trews, and the couple were piped to the gardens, where a circle of druids awaited. Druids; now this was more like it, and my prejudices reasserted themselves.
To someone brought up in the Church of Scotland, I must confess that many of the proceedings appeared alien and - though it is hard to define - vaguely threatening as they began. But not for long, as the ceremony ultimately proved to be completely fascinating, with a charm and humanity which I have rarely experienced.
Keeping as open a mind as I am ever able to keep, I watched as the wedding guests formed a circle around the couple, before the bride and groom-to-be approached druids placed in the four quarters of north, south, east and west to receive blessings from each, and the handfasting ceremony followed.
Conducting proceedings was a registered celebrant, who is able to perform marriage ceremonies which not only satisfy druid custom, but also Scots law. A marriage performed in this way is as legal in Scotland - unique in the countries of the UK - as any other.
All in all, I found the whole ceremony, timed to coincide with the summer solstice, strangely genuine - if that makes sense. Though this correspondent does not pretend to be particularly attuned to these things, there was a palpable peace and spirituality surrounding the handfasting ritual.
The whole event, even to a layman, was clearly a compromise for the assembled guests - a slightly watered-down version of druidism. But it was fascinating nonetheless to witness the type of wedding ritual which may have deep roots in our society, perhaps going back many centuries to pre-Christian times.
Some, with stronger faith than me, might rail against the entire system of druidism and similar pagan beliefs. For me, there is more to be gained by listening to the thoughts of followers of any belief system. We may not agree with every aspect of their views, but society must surely be enriched by greater understanding.
We wish the bride, Maria McNeill (or Aria, to use her druid name), and groom Alastair Graham (not a follower of druidism himself) the very best for the future, and I would like to thank them for sharing their special day with the readers of Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard.
Have I use the word fascinating yet? Who cares, I’ll use it again – it was, genuinely.

Straight shooters
Dunoon and District Clay Target Club held a ‘come and try it’ session last week for a group of curious ladies (plus two gent) from Dunoon Sheriff Court.
The club is keen to attract new members - females in particular. Cowal can boast some talented female shooters, including some who have competed for Scotland, but it is important to keep the sport alive at grassroots level and encourage more people to try it out and join in.
At last Wednesday’s session, the visiting ladies were welcomed by Ian Murray before receiving a safety briefing and instructions on how to get started.
The club is affiliated to the Scottish Clay Target Association, which has a number of shooting disciplines. At the Dunoon club, the main discipline is ‘down the line’ or DTL, which is the most popular type in Scotland.
DTL sees clay targets thrown from a special trap to distances of up to 50m at a fixed height of 2.75m.
Each competitor shoots at a single target in turn, but without moving from the stand until they have shot five targets.
They then all move one place to the right, and continue to do so until each shooter has completed a standard round of 25 targets.
Shooters score three points if they hit the target (or ‘kill’) on the first shot, with two points for a second barrel kill.
The top score achievable in this format is 75, and the Dunoon club has several members who expect to be scoring at the higher levels in competitions.
The theory is fine, but when it comes to putting it into practice, it soon becomes clear that ‘practice’ is the key when it comes to hitting those targets - as the visitors soon discovered.
Safety is paramount and shooters wear safety glasses to protect the eyes from target or cartridge debris.
Contrary to popular opinion, club members advised that it can be easier to aim by keeping both eyes open - although again, this comes with practice.
Wearing ear defenders is a must, and holding the gun firmly back against your shoulder will minimise bruising - although members of the group had some quality bruises to display the next morning!
After the visitors had shot their 25 targets, they were able to watch club members in action, before the shooting scores were read out. Kim Wilson was the clear winner with 6, and received a medal for her efforts.
Regardless of the scores, all agreed that the evening had been great fun and clay target shooting was definitely an activity they’d like to try again.
The club meets every second Wednesday at the trap behind Cot House. For more information, contact George Lynn on 01369 704362.