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21 January 2005

CERAMICS STORY COMING TO AN END
THE writing appears to be on the wall for one of Dunoon’s biggest employers - workers were told this week that the Dunoon Ceramics in Hamilton Street is under threat of closure, and over 50 jobs will go.
The parent company is based in Stone, Staffordshire, and has been operating in Cowal for over thirty years. At its peak it had over 100 workers and was the largest employer in the town.
However, in recent years it has suffered a downturn in trade, accompanied by a series of redundancies which have halved the work force.
Production Director Alan Smith visited the Dunoon plant on Tuesday to discuss the situation with the employees.
Speaking to the Observer on Tuesday, he outlined the position. “Basically we have begun a consultation process and put our staff in the picture in terms of where we are. No formal decision has been taken on the future of our Dunoon operation, but it’s certainly the case that the plant is under threat of closure. These are tough times and it’s fair to say that Dunoon has survived against the odds”
He went on: “We have been in discussion with the employees’ union, the Ceramic and Allied Trades Union, to see if there is any way to minimise redundancies, perhaps by moving some of the workers to Staffordshire, where there are vacancies. We have several weeks’ grace and intend to use them to the full.
He said that there were a number of factors which had put the Dunoon plant in jeopardy.
“We are faced with a cycle of falling sales and a dwindling market,” he said, “This has been exacerbated by the drop in the number of High Street shops, our traditional outlets, which have fallen victim to the rise in out-of-town shopping centres.
“We have also been affected by rising fuel costs of the order of 40 percent, transporting material from Dunoon to Staffordshire, a cost that would be avoided if we were to concentrate our production in one place.
“The other problem is the influx of inferior copies of our products, from the Far East, in particular China, which have been flooding on to the European market with quality and price far below ours. We have been taking legal action to try to put a stop to it, but it’s proved to be very expensive and difficult to enforce.”
Mr Smith said that it was important to tell the staff face to face what the situation was. “There are people who have been at Ceramics since they left school and are now in their mid-forties,” he said. “It’s a really sad state of affairs.”
Asked the obvious question - why close Dunoon and not the plant in Staffordshire, he answered: “That’s a fair question. The fact is that the plant in Stone is our headquarters and the premises are larger - it’s simply a matter of logistics.”
He said that the ‘Pot Shop’ in Argyll Street will be unaffected, and that Dunoon Ceramics products will continue to be sold for the foreseeable future; in fact inquiries to the Staffordshire number are answered “Dunoon”.
Some employees have been offered relocation and redundancy packages have been discussed.
A long-standing company employee spoke to the Observer on Tuesday and said that she was ‘devastated’ by the news.
“We’ve been on a four-day week for some time,” she said. “When we heard there was to be a meeting I think most of us expected to be cut down to three days, but we didn’t expect this.”
She said a union official was coming to the plant on Thursday, and she expected that redundancy terms would be outlined to the workers then.
“Mr Smith said there were trade fairs coming up which might change things, but I’m not optimistic and I don’t think anyone else in the factory believes we’ll still be here at Easter.
“This has come as a shock - I really loved my job; there are a lot of people working at Ceramics who are breadwinners, and many families in the Dunoon area are going to feel the pinch when the factory closes.”
A spokeswoman for Argyll and the Islands Enterprise said that they were unaware of the situation at Dunoon Ceramics, but would be in touch with them.
As we went to press on Thursday management and union representatives were locked in a series of meetings.
Councillor Gordon McKinven called the Observer on Thursday to say that he intended to ask for an emergency debate at Kilmory on the matter.


DIESEL SPILLAGE BLOCKS ROAD
DUNOON’S Milton Road was a picture of chaos on Wednesday morning, after a diesel spill from a large fuel storage tank located on Black’s Bakery depot forced council officials to close the entire street.
It is understood that the spill was caused by a tap left open on the tank which had no bunding, a wall built around it to contain a fuel spill, and that diesel had spilled out on Tuesday night onto the street and into Milton burn nearby.
Fortunately council workers contained much of the diesel but were forced to shut the street off for a number of hours, covering both road and pavements with a mixture of sawdust and sand to soak up the fuel.
The closure caused motorists in the area major problems, as the bottom of George Street is also currently closed off at the junction with Brandon Street, due to work by Scottish Water making access to both roads almost impossible.
Nearby shops were also affected by the spill with traders complaining the restricted access to both Milton Road and Queen Street seriously damaged their business.
One shop owner who spoke to the Observer was furious over the road closures and claimed his trading had taken a huge blow, he said: “I was forced to shut my doors on Wednesday because of the spill as both Dhailling Road, Milton Road, the bottom part of Queen Street running onto the promenade and the top part of Queen Street at the junction to Pilot Street were all closed. That left me in no-mans land.”
He added: “Around 60-70 percent of our business is vehicle based with customers reaching our shop by car, so on Wednesday we had nothing, and I have wages and bills to pay.
“The work at George Street is already causing major problems and I understand that as maintenance continues up Queen Street I’ll be forced to close yet again, because pedestrians won’t even manage to gain access to the shop. The whole scenario is an absolute joke and I’m supposed to run a business in the middle of all this.”
A spokesperson for Argyll and Bute council said: “We received a call this morning at 10 am reporting a diesel spillage on Milton Road, which was investigated. A small spillage was discovered - approximately two litres - of diesel which had been spilled on the road, with a small amount going into Milton Burn.
“The spillage was cleared using oil pollution equipment, which involves using pads to soak up the diesel. The pads will be disposed of out of the area as special waste.
The motion of the water in the burn will disperse the small amount of diesel which got into it. A team of 6 amenity services employees worked all day on the spillage. The road was closed but re-opened before the end of the working day. It was treated as a minor incident”
However a resident of Milton Road who spoke to the Observer refused to believe only two litres had been spilled. He said: “I smelled the diesel at about half eight on Tuesday night. The air was thick with it, it must have been leaking through the night well into the next morning. I can’t understand how the council can approximately state that two litres had been spilled, it seemed an awful lot more, and if it was such a small spillage then why did a group of around six council workers spend all day cleaning it up? The whole road was covered with fuel and both pavements on either sides had to be blanketed with sand and sawdust, the entire street was a mess. God knows how much may have ended up in the burn. The big question is why wasn’t there a safeguard wall around the diesel tank because of there had been none of this would have happened?”
It is understood the incident was reported to the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, (SEPA) who dispatched officers to Dunoon on Wednesday and concluded that there had been no significant pollution from the spill and that no further investigation was required.


FANTASTIQUE – FRENCH FARCE FUND-RAISER
“ ‘Allo Allo’ Pleaz listen verrrry carefully as I will say zis only wance.....” with these words, 120 guests were welcomed to a charity evening ‘par excellence’ at Dunoon Primary School on Saturday 15 January. As the introduction suggests, the Fun night was a ‘French Farce’ Fancy dress Fundraiser organised by Chatters Restaurant and La Joile Ronde for local charity C.L.A.S.P who give respite to carers of handicapped children and ‘MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES’ (doctors without frontiers), specifically for children with ‘sleeping sickness’ in the French Congo.
Some months previously an intrepid band of volunteers, brought together by Dunoon restaurateur Rosie McInnes, of award winning Chatters Restaurant, and well known French teacher Lesley Clark, of La Jolie Ronde, began the task of finding all the necessary ingredients to make a fundraiser fun as well as successful. Sponsors and donated Auction and Raffle prizes were offered in abundance and listed below are the wonderful businesses and individuals who gave so generously.
On the evening of the event, guests were greeted by a variety of smiling, saucy French Maids who served glasses of sparkling wine, a fastidious Madame Edith, downtrodden Renee (hunky Andy Irvine), uberbabe Helga and a rather ‘ hindsume polucemin’. After marvelling at the stunning decorations and mood lighting transforming the dining room of Dunoon Primary into a French extravaganza, guests took the opportunity to have their outfits photographed for posterity by Archie Ferguson of the Dunoon Observer and listened to Fifi la Belle (A.K.A Lesley Clark), tell us in French, considerately supplying sub-titles for those of us who only have ‘Bad’ as a 2nd language, about the work carried out by MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES, ably followed by the ‘shy and retiring’ Louise Cannon representing C.L.A.S.P. who spoke of their plans for the monies raised.
Then it was on to the delicious ‘cuisine du jour’, which as you would expect continued the French theme of the night and was lovingly prepared by Rosie and her staff (including the help of Ali & Annette from Dunoon Grammar). Echos of ‘ooh lal la’ and ‘tres bien’ filled the room.
As guests began to sip on their ‘cafe au lait’ the serious business of fundraising began in earnest with auctioneer, French resistance fighter, Graeme Murray and gorgeous Helga, Lorna White, using their ‘questionable’ powers of persuasion to elicit maximum ‘Euros’ for each item on the substantial list of donations. An incredible £5290 was taken as bids with some notable surprises, such as the telephone bid from Tennessee in the US of A for the Chatters dinner for 10 and the River Rocket ride that will see owner John Orr dressed as Madame Edith for the duration of the trip, to name but two.
Merci beaucoup to the enthusiasm of the bidders who made the auction such a resounding success.
Next it was time to let the ‘cheveux’ down by dancing to the dulcet tones of ‘Heron House’, who played a great variety of songs until the ‘les petites heures’ after which everyone headed happily for home (although a few may have had trouble rolling their ‘r’s .
Rosie and Lesley would like to thank the many, many volunteers who worked so hard before, during and after the event and the guests who took the ‘Allo Allo’ theme to heart and made the evening so special. They are delighted to announce that the total raised was in excess of a ‘fantastique’ £8,000, which will be split equally between both charities named.


OBITUARY - VERONICA, LADY MACLEAN
Veronica, Lady Maclean, died on 7 January 2005 at home at Strachur Park.   Born on 2 December 1920, she was the fourth child and second daughter of the 16th Lord Lovat, and was largely brought up at the Fraser family home of Beaufort Castle in Inverness.
In 1938 she moved to London to work as a volunteer in her aunt’s orthopaedic hospital in Pinner, Middlesex. She married, in August 1940, Alan Phipps, a young and dashing naval officer.  After a distinguished service on the Arctic convoys and in the Mediterranean, in November 1943, Phipps was reported missing, believed killed, while defending the island of Leros, Greece. Veronica was not yet 23, with two children. It was not until the summer of 1944 that Alan Phipps’ death was confirmed.
In 1946 she married Fitzroy Maclean. As a young diplomat it the 1930’s Fitzroy had travelled in the Central Asian provinces of the Soviet Union. In the war he joined SOE and worked with David Stirling from whose Long Range Desert Patrols the SAS developed. He took part in a series of hazardous operations in North Africa and the Near East and then led Churchill’s mission to Tito and the Yugoslav partisans. He became Conservative MP for Lancaster and, post war, the family lived in Lancashire until the mid 1950’s. Fitzroy then took the opportunity of standing for the North Ayrshire, Arran and Bute constituency and of moving to Scotland - to Argyll.
Thus on a blustery November night Veronica and Fitzroy found themselves at “a small lochside hotel called the Creggans Inn” in order to view Strachur Park, an 18th century mansion house advertised in Country Life. The sou’-westerly had whipped Loch Fyne into a fury of white capped waves. As they walked up the tree-lined drive “We were almost blown away by sudden gusts of wind, and the night was so dark that the house, much larger than we had expected, suddenly loomed up on us, huge and high.” Even before they had seen the view over Loch Fyne in daylight they had fallen in love with the place and knew it would be their destiny to live there one day and to become part of it.
The asking price was £12,000, with further small sums (as they now seem) for the inn and plantations. Ultimately they also bought Glenshuin and the Home Farm, the latter including 400 acres of park and arable land and the shinty field in front of the house. (Strachur boasted a strong shinty team at the time).
Thus Strachur Park became home to Sir Fitzroy and Lady Veronica, to Veronica’s children by her first marriage Suki and Jeremy Phipps, to their own children Charlie and Jamie Maclean, and to Mr and Mrs Cockerill, butler and cook. But the Creggans Inn too was soon to become an extension of the Macleans’ domain. Mrs Mackechnie, the existing tenant had been ready to retire and, Veronica claimed, “Fitz and I had always wanted to create and operate the perfect small Highland hotel.” So they decided to run it themselves.
Sir Fitzroy and Lady Veronica welcomed a wide spectrum of people: Highland hospitality was on tap both at the mansion house and at the hotel. Peter Fleming (the explorer brother of Ian, creator of James Bond), Norman Parkinson the photographer, and Scottish dignitaries like Jo Grimond were all friends. The American navy arrived in the Holy Loch in the late 1950’s, and soon Sir Fitzroy was appointed chairman of the US Forces Community Relations Committee. This meant entertaining Americans, including Happy Rockefeller, wife of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, who arrived with an entourage of long black limos and whose team of bodyguards occupied the whole of the top floor of the Creggans and caused quite a stir in Strachur.
The Macleans’ connections - Fitzroy was also chairman of the Great Britain - USSR Association from 1959 - meant that even in the Cold War days of the 1960s Strachur welcomed visitors from the Soviet Union. Political dignitaries and revered poets like Yevtushenko thawed in Veronica’s lively company.
Visitors often returned home having seen a bit of Strachur life, as well as good food and conviviality. King Mahendra of Nepal was shown what makes a fine shinty stick by Duncan Sinclair. At the mansion house Rhoda might have prepared salmon “coulibiac” for the Archduke Simone of Austria and the two Archduchesses; and Ian, Duke of Argyll and Margaret, the then notorious Duchess, might have driven round from Inveraray to join the dinner. But the Archduke and his party would have been entertained at the Creggans too. Sir Fitzroy and Lady Veronica were very much “at home” there, and much fun and MacPhun was had. Here Susannah York or Joanna Lumley shared a joke with locals like Alec Black and Marcus McGladdery. In those days The Creggans was Strachur’s only pub and Alec’s mother, Jenny, poured the drams and kept order in the bar.
In the Inn’s heyday Laura Huggins - Laura-the-Hug - managed the hotel, while characterful Jimmy McNab turned his hand to whatever was needed. Veronica’s infectious sense of fun, brooking no reserve or shyness, coaxed Russians, Americans, and TV stars into impromtu ceilidhs. So Moira Anderson might sing a song and local talent like Angus Patterson another, while Veronica whirled Robin Day (of Newsnight and Panorama) in a Gay Gordons to Davie Scott’s band.
Chefs came and went. There were memorable years with Jean Day and John Fortune as the Creggans helped put quality Scottish food on the map. Veronica took the helm and produced four popular cookbooks; the Inn featured in many of them, as well as in the Egon Ronay and Good Food guide. TV cooks like Keith Floyd cooked there and Rostad the Norwegian salmon farmer held riotous nights there. Many generous feasts for one and all were hosted at the Creggans.
Veronica was glamorous and stylish, but it was her warmth and enthusiasm that put all-comers, foreign or local, at their ease in the MacPhun Bar, and Strachur people got accustomed to chatting with people from far afield. Exchange visits (Bute was twinned with Korcula in the former Yugoslavia) and international marriages resulted. It is hard to imagine that with her looks, poise and charm she ever lacked confidence or enthusiasm - you could hear it across a crowded room. But she is fondly remembered by many less self assured, who started their working lives at the Creggans and, thanks to her encouragement, gained confidence.
Above all Veronica should be remembered for her sense of fun and gaiety - both all too rare. Her instructions for making “Stone Cream” might be an epitaph. It involves pouring a pint of cream into a deep glass dish in which there is a little apricot jam, a glass of sherry, lemon juice and a little rind. “Pour the cream from as high as you can, you need a step-ladder and a lot of newspaper on the kitchen floor”. I can hear Veronica’s infectious giggle as she climbs the ladder.
Sir Fitzroy Maclean died in 1993. Veronica is survived by the two children from her first marriage, Suki Paravicini and Jeremy Phipps, and by two sons from her second marriage, Charlie and Jamie.
Christina Noble


A MASTER AND HER SHIP
A master mariner from Kirn has received the ultimate accolade of her profession by becoming the first of only three women to be admitted to one of the world’s oldest seafarers’ organisations.
Captain Barbara Campbell, a Master with the Southampton-based charity, The Jubilee Sailing Trust, has been admitted as a Younger Brother of the Corporation of Trinity House.
Deputy Master of Trinity House, Rear Admiral Jeremy de Halpert welcomed the three new members saying: “The Trinity House community comprises of many of the leading figures in the maritime sector and probably the greatest concentration of professional expertise to be found anywhere in the world.
“It is not until relatively recently that females have achieved seniority in their chosen branch of the profession which represents the benchmark we set for admission to Trinity House. Happily, our predecessors anticipated this prospect nearly 500 years ago when preparing the Corporation’s first Royal Charter of 1514.
“All three candidates, therefore, were invited to join Trinity House on the basis of their merit and the expertise they bring to our work. Captain Barbara Campbell is a Tall Ships’ Master of considerable experience and one of the most highly qualified professionals in her field.”
Prestigious
The word ‘prestigious’ is often used to describe awards which are really nothing of the sort, but in this case it is certainly justified, for Trinity House is arguably the most respected maritime body in the world.
Together with Captain Barbara, Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, and Captain Wendy Maughan are the first three female seafarers to be welcomed into the 350-strong Fraternity of Master Mariners, Royal Navy Officers, yachtsmen, and other professionals from the maritime sector who comprise Trinity House,.
Captain Barbara comes originally from Buckinghamshire, but has lived in Kirn since 1982.
Deck cadet
She joined the Merchant Navy in 1975 as a deck cadet with the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company. That was the year the company broke with an age-old practice and signed on three girls as Deck Cadets.
It was a hard tradition to break. Seafarers are a superstitious breed and as Para Handy’s mate Dougie would say: ‘Women and meenisters on boats is baad luck!’
However, superstition apart, Captain Barbara soon broke the mould. She met her husband Chris on her first ship, the Tekoa, a New Zealand Shipping Company vessel owned by P & O, and sailed deep-sea with various P & O ships for a number of years.
Second Mate
She moved to the company’s Northern Isles ferry service in 1987 and sailed as Second Mate and Mate in the St Sunniva, which had recently been brought on to the route by the company. Captain Barbara sailed on the Aberdeen-Lerwick route for seven years.
‘She was a nice ship and big improvement on her predecessors’, she said, ‘but the locals never took to her because the two previous vessels of the same name had come to a bad end. The second one was lost with all hands while serving as a rescue boat on the Russian convoys. The first one hit a rock off the island of Mousa, and the tragedy there was that she went down with all the company’s crew’s wages on board!’
It was while sailing on the St Sunniva that she first became involved with ‘Tall Ships’, sailing as a volunteer on the Sail Training Association’s topsail schooner Malcolm Miller.
Master
As her experience grew so did the demand for her skills. “I was offered a few slots as relief Mate with the Jubilee Sailing Trust, a registered charity, which at that time had just one ship, the Lord Nelson, then I was appointed Mate.
“I stayed with the company for three years and then moved to the Sail Training Association as Master.
“I commanded the Malcolm Miller for her last year in commission, then spent three years on their new ships, the Stavros S Niarchos and Prince William.
Expertise
‘I was then approached by the Jubilee Sailing Trust to return as captain, and here I am.’
Evidence of the breadth of Captain Barbara’s expertise in sail is the fact that she is only one of three people in the country qualified to examine for the Nautical Institutes’s Square-Rig Certificate, which passes officers as competent in ship handling under canvas.
Her present command, the Tenacious, is a barque of 686 tons, approximately the same in tonnage terms as the paddle steamer Waverley. She has three masts, square-rigged on the fore and mainmast and fore-and-aft rigged on the mizzen. Built in Southampton, she is also notable as the largest wooden ship to be built in Britain for over a century.
Labour intensive
The reason for the rig is simple; it’s very labour-intensive, and that means that the crew have to work the ship.
The ship carries a crew of fifty, but only eight of them are regular paid crew. The remainder, although they are signed on ships’ articles, are untrained in shipboard skills and are largely inexperienced, and many of them have physical disabilities.
Active Role
But that doesn’t mean they are passengers, far from it. They play a very active role in the operation of the ship.
Captain Barbara explains: “The barque design is ideal for the purpose. There are plenty of sails and they each require a number of ropes to be hauled and let go. All the ropes have to be hauled by hand, and it takes two watches of twenty people, to hoist the topsail yards. Because she’s square rigged, she is broad in the beam, and that gives plenty of room on deck for wheelchairs to get around.
“Lessons were learned from her older sister, the Lord Nelson; when she was built rails were put on her deck for wheelchair users, but they didn’t work, and were taken off. We now have strongpoints on deck for wheelchairs, which is much more practical.
Rigging
“Everyone who wishes to can climb the rigging and those confined to wheelchairs are hauled up by the other members of the crew. On the last trip a stroke victim, a woman in her 30s, climbed the mast, all 40 metres of it. It took her over half an hour but she did it.”Though now retired, Captain Barbara’s husband Chris who ended his career with a 15-year spell with Calmac often sails on the Tenacious. ‘More than 30 percent of her complement are returnees’, he says.
‘The concept of disabled and able-bodied people of all ages working together in an environment which is pretty demanding is really quite an eye opener’, he explained. ‘The way the ship works means that everyone can perform a role, and it’s easy for people who aren’t able-bodied to play a full role and one of the key elements is the fact that physical limitations are quickly forgotten and everyone works together.’
‘There are, in fact, very few tasks on the ship which can’t be performed by any member of her complement. “Blind people can do turns on the wheel, for instance, Barbara explained, ‘because the course readouts can be transmitted by voice.”
However, enthusiasm is no substitute for shipboard skills, and the regular crew constantly monitor the tasks of their temporary shipmates to ensure that they are being carried out properly.
Captain Barbara is naturally proud of her elevation to Trinity House, and puts it down to the wide range of experience she has gained in three decades at sea, from deep sea cargo vessels, passenger liners and ro-ro ferries to sailing ships.
She is also pleased that Princess Anne has also been chosen, with her role as Commander-in-Chief of the Women’s Royal Naval Service. Barbara obviously has a strong sense of tradition and has concerns about the decline of Britain’s Merchant Service and the loss of skills which have accompanied that decline. Of Princess Anne she said: ‘She has a reputation for getting involved with things and is recognised as a really hard worker, and I think she will play a positive role in promoting the case for maintaining this country’s seafaring traditions.’
Captain Barbara’s most recent voyage took the Tenacious across the Atlantic from the Canary Islands to the West Indies. Later this year her command will be taking part in the Tall Ships’ Race, from Waterford to Cherbourg, up to Newcastle, and over to Frederikstad in Norway.