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More Roamerisms from the early 1990s
* This month sees the centenary of the opening of the West Highland Railway Line. For some reason ScotRail, Railtrack, InterCity West Coast and Rail Freight have been keeping a low profile about the celebratory aspects. However, all things being equal, there will be a 10-coach special – with a steam double-header – arriving in the Fort from Helensburgh. And another steam special is scheduled to pass through a ‘centenary arch’ after leaving Fort William station. This train is due to convey a platform party of dignitaries. Centenary speeches are being prepared and Lochaber Schools Pipe Band will lead the principals to the station. That’s you advised, then. Which is a sight more than railways officialdom have done for the local press, despite our repeated requests for information when we were able to get through on the phone. So, without ‘The Butler’ to tell us if the train’s up to time, we’ll all have to go along to Fort William (new) station to see for ourselves whether the centenary special arrives on schedule.
* ‘Back on track’ again. The last time I heard about the duties of a railway flagman was along the erstwhile Ballachulish Line after it closed in March, 1964. In the summer of the following year, a local man applied to cross the land still owned by British Rail at Ballachulish, so that he could get his yacht to the water – it being too large to go under the arch constructed on the line, the track of which had already been lifted. Back came the reply from Buchanan House saying, in effect, ‘Permission granted. We will liaise with you when we are able to send a flagman to stop the trains while you cross the track.’
* No problems with flagmen for the Lochaber lads of the Cameron Highlanders TA. On exercises, they were, in the winter of 1960. Based at Arisaig, with sealed orders – to be opened at midnight, and which decreed that the TA boys would be conveyed by the unit’s lorry from Arisaig to Achdalieu. The instructions from there were for them to find their way back to ArisaIg under cover of darkness – but to make no use of the road. Sentries were stationed along the A830 to ensure there would be no backsliding. It was reckoned that the overland trek would take many hours. The lorry driver, Archie Carn Dearg, duly deposited the lads outside Achdalieu Hotel, and then headed back to Arisaig. And it was there, in the small hours, in their snug billet, that the sundry NCOs and TA majors were taken considerably aback when the entire unit arrived back in their midst, faces blackened and carrying full kit. No flies on the lads. They’d walked the railway line!
* A couple of MacBrayne’s Circle buses appeared quietly in town last Saturday. As old as the Lochaber hills – but bang on timetable.
* ‘Excuse me,’ said the Welsh visitor in the High Street. She was addressing Jimmy. But she didn’t know that. Otherwise she probably would have said, ‘Excuse me, Jimmy,’ and would have been pretty sure of being correct. Anyhow, Jimmy lent a helpful ear. ‘Am I missing something?’ the Welsh woman queried. ‘It says in this brochure that there are two and a half miles of shops in Fort William.’ Jimmy sent her on her way after explaining that half a mile was more accurate.
* Not long before the tourist season slips away relatively unnoticed. But you can still rely on our visitors coming up trumps with their queries on ‘Informations, Campings and Bed & Breakfastings’. One such tourist came in to the Spean Bridge office seeking the whereabouts of the distillery ‘where Southern Comfort is made’. Which, of course, has prompted the Spean staff to send a suggestion to head office that Colin Ross might care to come up with a brand named ‘Northern Comfort’ or ‘Western Comfort’. Over to you, Colin.
* A message for one of the 4,000 local MacDonalds I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. ‘Congratulations on your fortieth. Hope you can find the mouse. From the girls at the home.’ I don’t know what that means, either. But I do recall our teacher of English, Bill Murphie, sending countless class colleagues of mine (several MacDonalds among them) out of room 18 with the instruction ‘Go and catch a mouse to yourself.’ I didn’t land any mice. Because, during the English double period each week, Bill Murphie used to despatch me along to KK’s for ‘an ounce of Walnut Plug Sliced’. At the start of our fifth year the tobacco cost 1/6. By the end of the sixth year it had risen to half a crown. But I hadn’t the heart to tell Bill. In case he sent somebody else out of the classroom, instead of me.
* Protective helmets for shinty referees? Could be the next thing. Especially after referee, John Henderson, was laid low by a ball hit by a Strathglass player in last Saturday’s game against Glenurquhart. Shaken, John was soon stirred, however. By the magic sponge.
* Divy Livingstone is going on the ceilidh train. ‘I’m taking a week’s holiday,’ she tells me. Says I, ‘Well, I’ve heard of West Highland time. But surely you won’t need seven days to get back to the Fort from Glasgow?’
* Our councillors were a bit dismissive of plans to turn St Mary’s Primary into a ‘Jacobite HQ’ as part of a 1745 visitor attraction project. ‘I read about this in Scotland on Sunday, and it makes the place sound a bit like Brigadoon,’ ventured Councillor Purdon. ‘You mean it will come to life every 100 years?’ queried Councillor Hunter. ‘That’s a step forward,’ opined Councillor McFarlane Slack.
* There was fresh snow on the Ben for the August bank holiday, with the light fall covering the top 200 feet. Thus, the first snow of the summer/autumn was actually six weeks later than last year when the summit had a coating on July 9. In 1992, the ‘early’ snow was on August 30, and in 1991 there was no sign of summit snow till September 23.
* Lochaber is about to host a ‘first’ in film premieres. Because, this weekend, all the local extras in Braveheart are having a party to celebrate their part in the epic.
* Incidentally Billy Connolly was in the Fort at the weekend. No kilt, right enough. He was resplendent in lederhosen.