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2 February 2002

COWAL’S CHAOS
MONDAY’S storms wreaked havoc on residents of Cowal, as hurricane force winds and blustery showers swept through the area.
Motorists travelled home in trepidation, as they battled against the high winds shaking their vehicles, while the constant rage of the sea seemed determined to block their paths.
Numerous roads were eventually closed in the area, mainly due to the danger of structural damage and slates falling from roofs. These included Milton Avenue, Hillfoot Street, Ferry Brae, Kirk Street, Kirk Brae, Argyll Street, Moir Street and Church Street.
Other areas sealed off were Milton House, which was evacuated due to potential structural damage; as did Dunoon Primary School, which had exits shut off; the B836 Ballygowan Bridge, which had cables across the carriageway for more than three hours; and the Glenmassan Road, which was the victim of three fallen trees.
Dunoon Pier was grateful to have only suffered roof damage, and a spokesman revealed that this was because a southerly wind would have caused more serious damage than the westerly wind that gusted through the town.
A portion of the recently restored stained glass window at Dunoon Old and St. Cuthbert’s was blown in, as the mullion separating two of the panels disintegrated.
Residents throughout Cowal suffered power cuts during the day, with Dunoon seeing the supply flicker constantly. Toward and Inverchaolain were totally without power from around 5pm right through until 8.15am on Tuesday morning and Clachaig was similarly affected until 5.45pm the same evening.
A spokesman for Strathclyde Police, Dunoon, said: “We were kept busy with various incidents, including the closure of several streets in the town due to fallen slates.
“A lorry was also blown off the road up at the Rest and Be Thankful, but no-one was injured. Overhead power cables also came down on a car in Glen Lean and, although the car was damaged, no-one was actually hurt.”
He added: “A tree also fell on to a police vehicle up country, but the vehicle was empty at the time.”
Following the storms, Dunoon General Hospital has suffered some serious roof damage and consequent water damage.
A spokeswoman for the hospital said: “This has mainly affected one ward area and the roof of the plant room.
“As a result, the hospital lifts are out of action and are expected to be so for a period of about a week.
“Immediate repairs are being carried out, but this is subject to the limitations of the weather and will, therefore, take some time.”
She added: “We are pleased to report that no patients have had to be evacuated from the hospital, although three bed bays within one ward had to be closed and patients moved elsewhere.
“There have been no injuries to staff or patients as a result of the storm, or the flying debris.
“Despite this, we have continued to be able to take admissions and look after patients, even without lift facilities. However, we apologise for any inconvenience to those visiting the hospital, as the only access to the first and second floors is via the stairs. The situation is under constant review in the light of the forecast of further strong winds on Friday and the limited beds available.”
Meanwhile, those brave enough to chance heading across the water were left stranded, as ferry services were disrupted and many sailings were cancelled.
The 11:30am Cal Mac carried foot passengers only, due to the high tide. However, the next ferry after this did not leave Dunoon until 4:50pm. Western Ferries set sail again at 4:10pm, having ceased since mid-morning.
The storms also caused access to the Kingston Bridge to be halted and the Erskine Bridge was closed, while the Rest and Be Thankful was only open to cars.
And the people of Greenock also suffered from the 121mph wind, as terrified call centre workers fled from their offices at IBM when the winds ripped the building’s roof off. Five hundred employees were evacuated, several injured.
It was reported that the storm had claimed seven lives throughout Scotland.
At present there is no estimate as to the overall cost of the storm damage, but it has been suggested that it could run to tens of millions.


CHANGES AHEAD FOR CALMAC
CALEDONIAN MacBrayne are to change the managerial structure of the company by devolving power from its Gourock headquarters, and appointing route managers to take responsibility for the company’s 26 routes.
The company is aiming to have the bulk of changeover in place by April 1st and have already begun the process of advertising for route managers.
The move is designed to make CalMac more sensitive to the needs of the communities they serve, give better cost control in the operation of the ferries, and improve relations with their work-force.
The system has already been proved successful on the Arran ferry, which has been overseen by a route manager for the past year.
A company spokesman said the new managers will have more responsibilities and will look at all aspects of running the service, including areas such as budgeting, liaising with staff, developing local marketing and promotional initiatives.


DRIVERS: STOP, LOOK, LISTEN AND THINK!
PARENTS and Argyll and Bute Council are asking drivers to be more careful when approaching the children’s main road crossing point at Strachur Primary School.
Over the last year four incidents have been logged by the authorities, when cars have failed to stop for the children to cross.
In one instance the children’s crossing patroller received a glancing blow from a car’s wing mirror.
The most recent incident happened just after Christmas and prompted the school’s board to ask if new signage and flashing lights could be erected to warn drivers.
This was carried out at the beginning of January, but parents and the school board are still concerned about the situation, and are asking the local authority for further information and advice to make the crossing as safe as possible.
Headteacher at Strachur Primary School, Marian Morris said: “We have become increasingly concerned about the situation. The main road has always been a problem, but these drivers did not stop for the patroller who was standing in the middle of the road!
“It is an unusual situation here. Patrollers elsewhere are not often asked to stop traffic in a road with a 60mph speed limit”.
Eddie Shaw, the council’s co-ordinator for school patrollers in Argyll, hopes a new limit will be set at 40mph by the start of the beginning of the summer school term in August.
Strathclyde Police Dunoon, have been carrying out checks in the area keeping an eye on traffic speed.
A police spokesman said: “It is an offence not to stop under the road traffic regulation 1984, section 28, saying a vehicle should stop before reaching the place where children are intending to cross.
“The Procurator Fiscal could also deem this as dangerous or careless driving, which would carry a fine and possibly disqualification”.


GRANDPARENTS WANT DEDICATED BUS
GRANDPARENTS Alastair and Sheila White are fighting to secure the safest travel arrangements for young school children in the area.
When their granddaughter Caitlin, now aged six, started school at Sandbank Primary she was able to travel aboard a dedicated school mini bus with seatbelts, much to the satisfaction of her grandparents and mum.
However, when space became a premium on the bus, the family was told Caitlin would have to transfer to the normal service bus, which runs past her home in Kilmun.
This was not a situation that pleased either her mother or grandparents. They were concerned that children as young as Caitlin would not be safe travelling to school this way, as they felt there would be no proper supervision, and that she may also be frightened by an older group of children.
Alastair assessed the situation by travelling with Caitlin on the bus several times and was appalled with the lack of supervision, which resulted in some children roaming around out of their seats and behaving rowdily.
He explained: “The younger kids were being hustled and bustled by the older children and no one was there to supervise them.
“With the best will in the world it is unfair for drivers to take responsibility for this, they are not paid to be nannies, and are also busy watching the road.
“It also worried me that because this was the normal service bus anyone could get on and perhaps persuade a child, especially a young child, to get off with them”.
However, when Alastair and Sheila approached the authorities about their concern they were dismayed and angered by the reaction.
Sheila said: “We were told the council’s policy is that each child is one unit and considered the same as any other, but no-one can tell me a four-year-old has the same sense as a 12-year-old.
“Children seven and under should be travelling on dedicated buses, properly supervised with seat belts. I believe the council is only worried about keeping costs down”.
Caitlin’s family became so worried about the travel arrangements that for the past six weeks the little girl has been dropped off at school by her grandfather.
Alastair added: “Caitlin would have gone to Rashfield Primary School and when it was closed we were told the kids would be properly transported to another school, but that is not happening.
“Our little grandson Thomas is due to start school in August, but there is no way I am going to allow a four-year-old to travel on the normal service bus and I would say to parents out there that they should be careful about putting their younger children on buses like this, that don’t have any supervision”.
A spokesman for the transport section of Argyll and Bute Council’s Education Department said: “We transport children in a legal manner and if parents don’t want to use the buses that are available they have the option to make that choice.
Head of Revenue Resource and Secondary Education, Joe McGeer added that parents were not guaranteed a dedicated service to transport children, when Rashfield Primary closed, and that the council’s policy on this matter is not driven by costs.
He explained that by using the normal service buses as a way of transporting children to school they were helping to support those services.
He said: “There are a large number of kids transported to school of all ages and it has proved to be a safe method of transport. Occasionally parents have complained about the lack of seatbelts”.
Mr McGeer also revealed the council are not actively looking at improving the current school transportation situation, although they do regularly review the matter.


KEEPING HOME CLOSE TO YOUR HEART
FORMER native of Sandbank and now resident in Vermont, Norma O’Brien (nee Gilmour) keeps home close to heart by displaying Dunoon on her car vanity plate.
Norma has lived in Vermont for 35 years since moving with her husband Bob in 1967.
The couple decided to treat themselves to a vanity plate after visiting Dunoon last April to see family and take part in the Site One Reunion.
Costing 63 dollars, the plate was 20 dollars more than their regular registration.
Norma said: “We had to make three choices, Dunoon was our first, Argyll and Cowal were the others we chose in case someone in Vermont already had a plate with Dunoon on it.
“I grew up in Dunoon and Sandbank. My brother David Gilmour and family are still there, so we come back to Scotland quite often. We wonder if anyone else in other States has a number plate of Dunoon”.
Do you know of more Dunoon plates travelling around the States?


~ NOWHERE IS TOO FAR AWAY ~
A DESIGN reflecting his Scottish roots is what Gourock woman Nina McKechnie wished as a memorial for her late uncle, William Williamson, who had lived most of his life in Canada.
For 84 years Canada had been William’s home, and he said that although he was Scottish he was also proud to be Canadian.
He had travelled to his adopted country as a 14 year old boy and had helped in the building of the Canadian railway system. Aged 17 he enlisted in the army and fought with Canadian troops at the battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War. He was badly wounded in the war and spent four years in hospital recovering from his injuries.
His home in Canada was in a town called Dalkeith, in the Eastern Ontario county of Glengarry. Nina describes the area as tremendously Scottish.
Never having married or had children Nina was William’s closest relative and when he died aged 98, she was keen to find just the right memorial for him.
Even though the Canadian stonemasons were familiar with Celtic crosses, Nina couldn’t find what she was looking for.
She said: “They suggested doing the cross in marble, but I thought that would look too shiny. I had pictured in my mind something you would see in our own cemeteries, an old-fashioned looking cross”.
Undeterred Nina decided that if she couldn’t find what she was looking for in Canada she would try back home, where she eventually found Dunoon stonemason Ronnie Stokes, who was able to help her realise her wish.
He designed, arranged to have made and shipped to Canada a four foot high piece of Scots granite fashioned into a Celtic Cross.
The Creetown stone, Ronnie suggested should be used for the design, is also particularly apt as it was often used to make war memorials and Nina was keen to include on William’s cross his involvement at Vimy Ridge.
Describing the process of construction and transit of the memorial, Ronnie said: “When the block was quarried the sizes were immediately sent to the Aberdeen stonemason who cut it to our design, through them it was arranged to be sent to a Canadian stonemason, who will letter and erect it. The base of the cross has also been designed for easy maintenance. It slopes forward so that grass cutting around the base will not damage the face of the cross”.
It seems that having stones designed in one place and then transported across the country or even abroad is quite common in Ronnie’s business, and he says himself that they can arrange for stones to go to any cemetery, whether it be at home or abroad.
The cross itself is still in transit to Canada and it will have to wait until April or May before being put in place as the ground remains frozen until the Spring.
However, Nina will be there to see it finally complete its journey as she plans to travel to Canada to see it erected.