True life stories mark charity’s next chapter

Eileen Graham has a story to tell from Jamaica in the 1960s when she had lunch with Jacques Cousteau

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Entertaining the troops in Berlin in 1945, having the ‘very young’ Bee Gees band as a warm-up act, fixing the Queen’s toilet and having lunch with a famous undersea explorer are just some of the true life stories and memories shared in a new book celebrating a befriending group’s 25th anniversary.

‘Lunch with Jacques Cousteau and Other Stories’ gets its title from just one one of the many memories retold in the book brought out by Cowal Elderly Befrienders (CEB) with funding support from Age Scotland.

All of the stories in the collection have come from older people in Cowal and Bute who have used CEB services combatting loneliness and social isolation in the elderly.

The cover of Cowal Elderly Befrienders’ new book, sharing stories and memories

CEB  had been working on the book on and off for some years but when lockdown struck last year and curtailed community activities and meet-ups, it was a chance to get it finished, said project co-ordinator Robin Miller

A limited edition of 1,000 copies has now been printed and about 300 of them will be sent out to the book’s contributors, other older people who use the befriending services and out to its volunteers, with the rest available to buy for £5 from Dunoon shop Bookpoint or CEB – Argyll Talking Newspapers are also helping  prepare an audio version of it.

Eileen Graham from Kames is just one of the people who contributed to the 41 stories. It is her story from her diving days in Jamaica in the 1960s that inspired the book’s title.

Eileen learned to scuba dive at the Discovery Bay Marine, she used to dive to 200ft in the beautiful clear waters  and went on to become an underwater photographer for the lab that was also a diving school.

‘I took thousands of pictures of corals which are still used today by oceanic researchers. I learned recently all my pictures are still available on the internet and I was able to look at them thanks to Elaine from the Befrienders. I had donated many of
my pictures to the National History Museum years ago. I don’t think coral reefs now look like they did back then and I suppose comparing my pictures helps to illustrate the effects of years of erosion and pollution,’ she said.

And added: ‘At one point Jacques Cousteau and his researchers were on Jamaica, working from his boat the Calypso, and some of my friends at the diving academy dived with them. One of the staff at the marine lab was a very good cook and we all had a big lunch with the Calypso crew – only a couple of us from the lab spoke French and we had a whale of a time chatting with Cousteau’s team. I remember Champagne was involved! Jacques was not called Jacques by his crew – he was respectfully referred to as the ‘commandant’!

Robin said there are thought-provoking memories, sad stories and humorous anecdotes ‘all of life really’ in the book’s pages.

‘There are many memories that we are glad we have helped to preserve, and we are very grateful to all our contributors for allowing us to share them.  We have endeavoured not to edit them and to let the voices of the storytellers come across as clearly as possible,’ he added.

The illustrations in the book are part of another CEB project called Tree of Hope – nurseries and schools across Cowal and Bute were invited to take part with older people sharing messages on leaves for a tree that will go on show, possibly in Dunoon’s Burgh Hall – once Covid allows.

To find out more about CEB’s work or to order a copy of the book, go  to www.cowalbefrienders.co.uk