Industrial Metal

A wee while back I had cause to walk home from the edge of Glasgow after leaving the motor in the garage. It was a lovely day and I had the best lightweight footwear on for putting in the miles: purple Converse.

I was down by the Clyde anyway so I skirted the docks and then in time passed the new Clydebank College which has been built on a part of the ground that was once John Brown’s shipyard, the place where they built the QE2, HMS Hood, Britannia and more.
What was a place of mass employment, innovation, skill, industry, a supplier of the means to shape the world and the #1 target for German bombers is now a flat expanse of ground–up rubble. That rubble though has blossomed and the whole place is a meadow with a riot of flowers in purple, yellow and white. It’s quite beautiful.

The Titan Crane, now over 100 years old, still stands as a monument, a memorial, a tombstone to the activity that gave the town its life and purpose.
I’ve seen Clydebank sink in my life like so many other industrial Scottish towns, I hope, like Paisley seems to have done, it finds energy and enthusiasm to try again.
Whatever location and inhabitants make the headlines, there are good people everywhere. It’s just that they always seem to have the quietest voices.

Further along is another odd remainder. They could wipe away every trace of a mile wide shipyard but this 1920’s German built hydraulic press was just too much for the hungry scrap men apparently.

It’s cast iron, and it’s an incredibly complex casting too. The skill that went into making this is quite stunning when you know how they do it, and even at that I still think there’s more than a touch of magic in it. Sand, molten iron and clever hands.

I hope they leave it here. It’s a reminder and it’s a warning, where we were, where the hell are we going.

I’m not stupid, I’m not looking at this slice of history through rose tinted welding goggles. I know enough about the realities of life back then and I worked with many who served their time in the shipyards but I do mourn the loss of the knowledge and ability that lived and worked here and prosperity that could have been had for the area if, well I could go into a profit and politics spiral here, but the bottom line is humans, we just ruin it for ourselves just being us don’t we.

Ah, but here was something wonderful about seeing a ship launch.

I walked on through broken fences to where the dock has been filled in. The transatlantic cable laying ship ran from here, the road is even Cable Depot Road and at it’s junction to the main road used to stand the Boilermakers Social Club. Generations to come will wonder about these strange mystical names.

I had to detour around the Golden Jubilee hospital as their fence is tall and unbroken which was a bit of a pain, but this took me past the 1904 Dalmuir sewage works with it’s lovely old brickwork and surprising absence of nasty smells which were an all too familiar visitor to local noses not so long ago.
The old Caledonian Railway bed is accessible here with the occasional wooden sleeper or other jagged remnant of infrastructure to remind you of what once was.

I clambered over concrete blocks into the old oil depot at Old Kilpatrick to take an easier path back out to the modern world with plans to pick up the canal or the riverside trail for the last few K’s home. Still surrounded by industrial history on every foot step though.
I know this sounds stupid, but when I’m doing this stuff I often have an equation in my head that I can’t solve to my own satisfaction. Back when all of today’s route was full of living industry, thousands of people worked in these places, the towns were all smaller and the population was hundreds of thousands less, so where the hell is everyone hiding in 2022? Are we just all sitting shoulder to shoulder in offices or what?

I know, the population increase is probably retired folk living longer and the actual working population might be smaller, I dunno, maybe I’m too lazy to research.
Actually no, not lazy, it’s a rabbit hole of fascination I don’t want to stick my head down and get my ears jammed for countless hours.

Anyway. That first photie is when I took Jimmy to show him the hydraulic press after my walk, I have seamlessly blended it into this incoherent account.

Also, by the time I got to the Scout Hall in Old Kilpatrick, Linda’s offer over the phone of a run home was welcomed enthusiastically. The Converse were great the miles that I’d done so far, but I think my feet might have started taking issue as the heat ramped up as I marched along.

It was a magic walk, a proper wee exploration of places I haven’t been in ages, even years in some cases and also some corners I’d never seen at all.
Given the amount of trespassing involved in it though, we’ll have to talk about specifics over a cuppa at camp.

Deep blue see

I was in a dungeon in the dark with the water on the floor actually drying up rather than deepening as I usually tend to find it since I’d actually stopped the leak and then the call came.
It was an international call, it meant a border crossing.

I had all I needed, I could go then and there. “It’s 12 miles to Argyle and Bute, we got a half tank of gas, half a pack of Wrigley’s Extra, it’s sunny and my sunglasses are in Linda’s car”. In my head: “Hit it”.

I put my feet on foreign soil for the first time in a long time. Funny, it felt like home. Fresh snow, blue skies, cold dark water, a chill breeze, a tingle in my toes and a tear in my eye.
I laughed out loud, a nervous reaction I think. All the lockdown breaking arseholes who have seen this and walked or driven through it without worry or consequence and I’m playing in my head how I would explain to the police where I was going and what I was doing if I got pulled.
I had the set of church keys in my pocket, my tools in the back and a documented loss of pressure to investigate. And I was still a little worried.

Come the 26th I don’t care, I’ve done my bit. I played the game to the letter, if there’s a third wave due to dumb bastards mixing willy-nilly over Easter and consequently another lockdown I’m declaring myself the ambassador of a small independent Scottish protectorate and I’m going wherever the hell I like with diplomatic immunity.



The journey ended in another dungeon of course and with a few fancy moves I left it all in fine working order. Amusingly I’ll have to got back next week though because it needs a pump. Bummer.

Floored (Tales from the Toolbox)

I seem to spend a lot of my time on a floor, or indeed under a floor. I suspect I’m getting to old for it too as the recent trapped upside down with my back arched over an electrical trunking under a concrete slab incident brought to mind.

But it can be pretty. look at that window. I woke up to fresh snow all over Misty Law and Hill of Stake on Saturday and immediately went to spend the day prepping four churches’ heating to go back for their surprise services the next day after a successful legal action during the week. Which I did rather enjoy.
Aye, you can safely hang out together in a church now but I can’t step foot in Argyle and Bute solo. I spend my life in churches, surely all that dust from the floor must give me whatever covid repelling proprieties that they said they have to allow early reopening?

I could probably say that I wish I had their lawyers, but what the hell. I can’t begrudge folk getting together for their mental health, and that’s exactly what this is. Besides, given the average age of congregations, they’ll mostly have had their shots. I wish them well and look forward to getting cuppas and cake when the groups start filtering back into the church halls when I’m in fixing stuff.
I get to know the days where groups are on, Wednesday I can get soup here, Monday is just coffee there, Friday is, well we’ll come back to that.

For now I’ll just lie on the floor until it’s my turn to go out and play. At least the window is nice.


Monday on my mind.

Maybe this will be my last thought on it, or vaguely related to it. Maybe not.

It’s so grey now, you have to love the contrast. It’s like the bloke that worked on a job we were on for many weeks, I think he was in the ventilation squad.
Anyway, he quite anonymously and quietly worked away doing ducting and whatnot making no real impression or impact until one day at a general informal site meeting where we were standing around chatting about where we all were so were weren’t working over each other or getting too far ahead for each other he started juggling steel pipe fittings like a seasoned circus performer. And with a straight face too. You could have heard a pin drop.

Never underestimate anyone and never assume anything.

Border Crossing

I never though Argyle and Bute would feel like a foreign land. With documents and accurate accent in place I headed into the unfamiliar on a solo mission of extreme urgency.
Church heating needed my attention.

It was a glorious day and a joy to be out. The previous perfect white blanket of snow on the hills is now streaks after the thaw but Ben Lomond still looks very fine, and oh so very close to where I was driving.

The church is familiar to me and my toolbox, most of them are around here, and I always try to do maintenance visits in Spring and Autumn because it’s the loveliest graveyard I’ve ever seen.

Colour bursts from the ground (thank you to those pushing it up from below) in Spring and rains down from the trees at the tail of the year, but this year it’s a veritable explosion and a very early one too that I found when I pulled off the road onto the gravel with crocus’ and snowdrops flooding the grass from stone to stone.

The currently rare sunshine has other delights that I was glad too see when I got inside, even my wee pal up the back was getting some warmth on her cheeks.

I was very happy indeed to be at my work and overjoyed to be out and about. It’s such a lovely world waiting for us.

Tales from the Toolbox

The tales of sending apprentices for left handed screwdrivers, long stands or a set of fallopian tubes are all true.
There are more practical lessons though.

Using Stillsons, everyone’s favourite adjustable pipewrench, I was always told to keep my hand on my nose. So ridiculous was this tip that it stuck.
What it means of course is keep one hand on the the nose of the Stillsons as well as the handle so that if, indeed when it slips off, it doesn’t swing back and break your nose.
See how that works by clever association.

Using a hacksaw is not as easy as you’d think. The secret is to “let the saw do the work” which is true of many tools actually and although it might seem obvious saying it, you also have to use the whole of the blade.
Apprentices often find tools scary, they’re sharp and heavy and youngsters can be a bit handless until they gain their confidence. So you often find the middle few inches of a hacksaw blade are worn down and scraped clean of paint.
Asking for a new blade isn’t a good idea, you’d get sent back to use the other ends until they were just as worn. You’d quickly learn to use the whole blade, which is more efficient and so much easier on the elbows.

Another fear is swinging a hammer full pelt from behind your head with accuracy. When I do it now I can see other folk look on with terror like I’m going to hit them, myself or fire the hammer into the scenery. But I don’t.
So, apprentices pick up hammers and hold them just below the head and swing them softly from a few inches above the target because it feels safer. It’s actually not, your hand is near the impact area and the heavy head of an engineers hammer needs the length of that shaft to give you control over the swing. It’s just a really bad thing to do as well as being inefficient.
So I saw an old timer take a boy’s hammer and say “I’ll fix that for you son..”. He sawed off all but three inches of the shaft and handed it back to him.
He now had a heavy, expensive and useless tool.
I saw a lot of improved swinging technique after that.

I was also told to always tidy up my tools, they’re my livelihood blah blah blah.
I usually do, but sometimes there’s a happy accident when I don’t.

Listen to the money (Tales from the Toolbox #1)

With the approval of the Hydro schemes in Glen Etive this week there has much talk of backhanders, brown envelopes and bribes heading towards Highland Council members.

This is largely due to frustration and disbelief, folks just can’t believe that someone would approve these horrendous schemes so they look for the reasons why and self interest in the people responsible is usually top of the hit list.

The real answer is more complex. A lot of folk don’t care about the landscape in the way that we do as it’s a barrier to business and progress, so there is a financial element, but a more transparent one.

There’ll be an element of “don’t tell us what to do”, central belt internet warriors interfering in things they don’t understand being put in their place.

Lack of vision, lack of empathy, lack of care and disregard of the future all play a part, how many people have you met who care nothing for the world beyond the limits of their own bubble of personal interest.

It’s part of why we are where we are on a global scale. Stepping sideways and seeing things from someone else’s perspective is a rare and vital skill and brings with it an ability to see problems while they’re a possibility and before they become a reality.

People, you can’t live with them, and you can’t live… with them?

In saying all that, I’ve been asked for backhanders many times in my business life.

Some were casual inquiries, almost testing my commitment as a prospective contractor, some were exactly the seedy interactions that folks imagine.
I remember one in particular in a cafe with a local authority clerk of works who told me what the other contractor had offered him personally for the works under discussion and could I better it. I laughed in his face.
Had a similar proposal from another local authority figure, but probably most disappointingly was the “How much is it worth?” to get a contract from someone in a major learning institution in Glasgow.

There’s been plenty of that in more minor ways over the years along with abuses of position, pushing of luck and taking of liberties. Business really does run like your worst fears suspect it does and if you step over the line into the cesspit you’ll never get back out.

Blah blah blah moral high ground? It’s all very well but it’s also probably why I’m skint.

This has got me thinking though. 35 years of tales from the tool box? Aye, time I got that stuff down on here.