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Some more Edinburgh characters
This will be the last page of our time living in Edinburgh. The list of characters I have mentioned so far is incomplete and I may add more in the future. Please bear in mind that all of these history pages may be corrected, added too or updated at any time so if you read a page when it was first written it could be revised considerably by now.
I have asked friends and relatives for their reminiscences and as they arrive the appropriate page gets updated.
Ralph Ford (Taffy)
Now here is a proper character although a much reformed one compared to his younger wild days. I mentioned him way back on the 1975 page when a bunch of us traversed the Cuillin Hills of Rhum. Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a roustabout on North Sea Rigs and Taffy could be outrageous in the extreme.
He was once sat in the front row of the stalls of the Kings Theatre watching a show featuring the comedian Stanly Baxter who was a very popular impessionist at the time. One of my favourites of his shows was when he did the God slot at the end pretending to drink from a tumbler of water which was actually gin and kept saying "lovely watter this" until he fell over.
Anyway Taffy seemed to take exception to him and walked up to the the stage and proceeded to take the piss out of everything Baxer said until Taffy was thrown bodily out of the theatre taking refuge in Bennets Bar.
A surfeit of beer was always something of a problem for Taffy and I believe he eventually took the pledge. One Saturday at the weekly gathering in Bennets Bar next to the Kings Taffy was conversing with the mother of one of the girls with us about how lovely her daughter looked. "Look at her with those tight jeans on" he said. "You can see her minge lips!!" At which point there was a deathly silence!
Uncle Murdo shared a flat in Edinburgh for a long time. They were known as the odd couple!
Here is a nice photograph of Taffy and Sue at her 40th birthday celebration. As you can see he scrubbed up nicely and one of his favourite expressions was "tidy boy".
David and Theresa Ingram
I have also mentioned them previously and will no doubt again as they were our next door neighbours for all of the 14 or 15 years we were resident in Northumberland Street.
David was an Orcadian by birth but should have been born in a much earlier time. For example he regarded Mozart as a modern composer. He spoke in a very correct but medieval way so that you were so busy interpreting what he was saying you did not notice the frequent obscenities that he slipped in.
David was an antique dealer. He, somewhat like myself, did not take fools gladly and had a heathy disrespect for the general public who dared to question the provenance of an antique he was selling.
He was once paid a visit by the American singing star Dionne Warwick who naturally David had never heard of. She bought a piece of furniture to be shipped to the USA worth several hundred pounds and proffered her American Express card in payment. Credit cards had not ever been part of Davids business dealings and probably never were.
Dionne trotted off to the bank to get some cash no doubt charmed at this old fashioned Scotsman who would never make millions selling antiques for if he didn't like you or he liked the look of the piece in his shop he would raise the price!
Theresa on the other hand was more 20th century and tended to be quite loud especially after a couple of drinks. This is jumping ahead many years but just after we retired and were taking ownership of our Barge Harmonie II we went back up to Edinburgh to say farewell to all our friends. A whole bunch of us including the Ingrams had lunch in some swanky pub in George Street where much wine was consumed after which we ajourned to a rooftop bar in Castle Street for it was a lovely summers day.
After many more bottles of wine Theresa who was chatting to a couple of male friends was heard to say in a loud voice "but I have a beautiful vagina". The mind boggles on what the converstion was about but the whole bar must have heard it. The Ingrams took a taxi home as the 10 minute walk there was physicically impossible for either!
Ulstein UK Success
Shipyards in the UK were closing down and what was once the largest Merchant Marine shipping fleet in the world was rapidly shrinking. This was not yet the case in other European countries like Holland and in Norway their merchant fleet was actually expanding. Shipbuilding in Holland was also still bouyant and many coastal cargo and fishing vessel were being built. Ulstein had a reasonably good agent in Holland but did not seem motivated enough to succeed and our market share was negligible.
I asked the main board if they would let Ulstein UK look after sales and service in the Benelux countries and they agreed. I kept the existing agents but visited them every month or six weeks to visit yards and owners with their sales engineer Harry Pronk. One particular project we pursued was with a shipowner in Rotterdam called Van Nievelt Goudriaan. To cut a long story short we were successful in obtaining a big machinery package order for 4 ships sets from the Dutch shipyard Van der Giessen de Noord which at the time was the largest equipment order the group had ever obtained.
The order consisted of main and auxiliary engines from Bergen Diesel, propulsion gearboxes, shafting, CP props and thrusters manufactured by us in the UK, steering gear from Frydenboe, winches and windlass from Norwinch, compessors from Sperre and deck cranes from Hydraulik Bratvaag. I remember big resistance from the yard to include our gearboxes and propellers as we were in Holland they favoured Lipps who were local but the price went up if they broke up the package and I knew the owners were set on Bergen Diesel.
Morten Ulstein was by then managing director of Bergen and kept reducing the price of his engines despite me telling him there was no need to buy this order.
The Group had grown too large too fast and did not have the management experience. Idar had employed a lady marketing manager who did not know one end of a ship from another and became very excited about this big order. She asked me to go and set up a new Ulstein company in Rotterdam and run it which I declined to do explaining that the idea of the UK company being responsible for Holland was so we had some control over our own destiny with the slackening of the UK market. Another Ulstein company in Holland defeated my purpose.
She took no notice and set up a new Dutch company, sacked the agent, appointed Harry Pronk to run it and stole one of my sales engineers to help him. It ultimately failed of course.
Caves and Mountains
Although I had by this time given up serious caving activity there was still the social side of that way of life and it continues to this day.
The physical activity was replaced by more time in the mountains and Munroe bagging. At the weekends I would get up early and drive as close as I could to the mountain I wanted to climb leaving Sue asleep in bed.
The GSG hut in Sutherland was often put to use but we also took visitors like Don and Maureen Laverick from Australia up there when we stayed in hotels. On one trip with them I thought I would take Don up Stac Pollaidh which is an easy climb. We set off up the hill and within 10 minutes Don was pleading to return to the ladies. The reason was the notorious Scottish midge which Don claimed were worse than the Hexham Grey, a mosquito found in the Hunter Valley in NSW with a nasty sting.
I once bagged Ben Lomond in mid winter snow and ice. After descending I walked back down the West Highland Way alongside Loch Lomand's bonnie banks and braes. I passed some lovely little beaches which I though might be nice places for a picnic in the springtime with Sue so one sunny day we packed the champagne and smoked salmon, retraced my earlier steps along the Loch and settled down to enjoy the day on a little beach. That is until the midges had us beating a hasty retreat.
On another occasion we were having a glorious summer so we took our camping gear and drove out West to the Ardnamurchan peninsula which is the most westerly point on the mainland British Isles and spectacular coastal scenery. We crossed the Corran Ferry and drove along the narrow winding road along Loch Sunart with views of the Isle of Mull. Every other passing place had a foreign tourist's car parked enjoying the views thinking they had found the perfect holiday place. Little did they know that weather was very unusual and it was more often teeming with rain and blowing a hooley!
We found a camp site near Kilchoan and had dinner and a few beers in the local pub before retiring for the night. It was very warm and we slept naked. Later I woke up and needed to pee so unzipped the tent and stepped outside. In mid flow I was attacked by a million midges and once you start with a full bladder you can't stop and neither do the midges! Every part of me was stung and they really liked my poor willy. Sue couldn't stop laughing!
Italy has always been our favourite country to visit. When we retired I wanted to go and live there but Sue felt that it was a place for holidays and not for living in so we bought Harmonie instead and sailed round Europe. Another retirement consideration was to buy a big RV in the USA and float around the Americas for a few years but the barge idea won the day.
Alta Via Uno
The Italian Dolomites have some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and have always held my fascination. The vertical nature of the mountains meant that climbing them required advanced techniques that I did not possess, however, there existed artificial aids which were originally put in place to get armies to strategic positions during warfare which the Italians called 'Via Ferrata' or 'Iron Way'. These were extended and added to by conventional climbers to speed access to other climbing routes.
During my caving days I was a stauch advocate of having no artificial aids in caves and indeed was personally responsible in removing ironmongery from Swildons Hole on Mendip. It was pretty hypocritical of me to take the opposite point of view when it came to the Via Ferrata. I should have said 'if you can't climb it then don't spoil it for those who can' but I didn't.
There are seven long distance 'Alte Vie' running North South down the spine of Italian mountain ridges averaging 2000 to 2500 metres in altitude up to a maximum of nearly 3000 metres on the Alta Via 2. I had the idea to go Alta Via bagging and began with Alta Via Uno.
A Somerset caving mate, Mike Palmer, also expressed an interest as did a couple of Scottish guys so we all met at Lago di Braies, the start of AV1 at 1500m and said goodbye to our families and friends.
I planned to complete the 75 miles and total ascent of 22,000 feet in a week, stopping overnight in Rifugio's apart from the final night on the Schiara mountain where we would bivouac in a mountain hut. The Rifugio's varied from rough old hostel type accomodation with cold showers to 3 star hotel type but you could rely on being well fed Italian grub which improved as you progressed South.
I had spent several weeks preparing myself for this expedition by bagging a Munroe every weekend but Mike had done no preparation so was unfit. We reached Rif Pedero from where a jeep track led up to Rif Fanes at 2100m where we had booked to stay the night. Mike wanted to take a jeep ride 'cos he was knackered but here was a purist who would not use cable cars to save time so I wouldn't let him. We were in danger of missing our dinner at the rate we were going so I compromised and let the jeep take our rucksacs up while we walked.
As the walk progressed I began to suffer from a strained knee ligament when descending, something that would only be eased by rest. We had arranged to meet our support team, Sue, Pat and Alistair at Passo Falzarego and so called a halt there so I could have a few days rest before continuing. We completed the last section in three days with the final nights bivouac hut being struck by a thunderbolt which was somewhat scary.
The final Via Ferrata descent down the vertical mountain face was also concerning as with all the electrical storms around it was a bit like descending a lightening conductor! Walking away from the bottom the storm broke. We walked into Belluno and collected our badges for completing the walk and they said they were surprised how fast we had done it.
Mike and I came back the following year to tackle Alta Via 2. We took the cable car from Bressanone avoiding a climb of 1800m up the first mountain to Rif Plose at 2500m much to Mikes purist objections but Rif Plose was actually the official start of Alta Via 2. We awoke to snow which turned to rain as we descended below 2000m but on the way up to Rif Genova we encountered a blizzard and lost the path. We had to abandon the attempt, hiked to the nearest railway station and returned to our families camping at Lake Garda.
There are some nice photographs of Alta Via 2 on a later visit Sue and I made on this page.
A Management Buy-out.
The manager of our bankers head office on The Mound, the Bank of Scotland, used to pay me a visit every six months. Just after the fiasco with the big Dutch order he appeared and remarked that I did not look very happy so I gave him a resumé of what had happened. His reaction was the same as mine which was it seemed like our parent company were not that much interested in us.
He then suggested that if that were the case why didn't I get a buy-out team together and buy the UK company. They would support such a process with financial support and could arrange for a specialist consultant to lead the team on a no cure no fee basis. That consultant was an American guy called Kerry Napuk who I already knew of as Sue had worked for him previously.
I talked the idea over with service manager Dave Borthwick and contracts manager David Stiven and we all decided to take the idea further. After a meeting with Kerry we agreed to go ahead and our first objective was to decide what the company was worth and to put finance in place.
By this time I had employed two design engineers who were working on putting existing product drawings onto a Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing system (CADCAM) so we could go straight from a design drawing to the CNC machine without the need to program the machine tool thereby saving time on the shop floor. Up until then we relied on all design drawings coming from Norway so we really had no product without the Norwegians.
The only value in the UK company was therefore the fixed assets as we would be dependant on the goodwill of the Norwegian company to continue to license us to manufacture their products. For that reason we investigated the possibility of obtaining a licence from a Japanese company should Ulstein not give us a license and we had also some product design ideas of our own for the future.
Some if not all of my readers may not be at all interested in the detail of how our management buy-out went and if so then do not click here.
More Italian Escapades.
The Palmers and Alistair Simpson shared an old farmhouse in Yarley near Wells in Somerset.
Mike eventually set up his own business as a quality systems consultant and we employed him at Ulstein UK Ltd to help us obtain ISO 9002 quality standard.
Alistair was a drilling engineer offshore and travelled the world.
I think it was Pat Palmer who noticed an advert in one of the quality newspapers for the hire of caravans in a little place at the foot of Lake Garda called Peschiera del Garda and suggested the Manchips and us all join up for a holiday together.
Sue and I arrived at the camp site to find the rest of them installed in the caravans owned by a rather large English lady called Caroline. Those caravans must have been pre war and no wonder they were so cheap. A Dutch truck driver opposite with the very latest in caravan technology looked at us with pity and I was driving a Jaguar SJ6 which looked completely out of place!
Peschiera itself was a lovely little town situated on the river which flows out of Lake Garda and we all quickly made friends with the camp site owner who was called Nello. It helped that Nello's son Marco fell in love with Mike and Pats daughter Kirstine so we were invited back to his house to swim in his pool and he introduced us to his winemaker friends where we arranged a tasting.
This was Amarone country which is a full bodied red wine made from partially dried grapes and is very high in alcohol, frequently over 15%. The vineyard we visited did not make Amarone but instead made Recioto which is the traditional sweet wine of the Valpolicella area. Their wine was allowed to ferment longer with the grape musk so it was drier, more like an Amarone.
We sat around a big table with the family who joined in the tasting, in fact it became more of a piss up than a tasting and when we left at Lunchtime you can see from the slide show above we were well oiled.
Before leaving Italy I changed all our Italian Lire currency with Alistair for Sterling then realised that I needed Lire for the Autostrada. This was in the days before mobile phones or credit cards had taken hold and I could not contact Alistair so I went round to Nello's place where I woke up his wife who threw me down enough Lire to get me out of Italy. I think I still owe her?
On the way back to the UK we diverted for a few days in Vienna where I had booked a really nice expensive Hotel right in the centre. Some contrast after those ropey caavans.
We drove up to the entrance in the Jag, handed the keys to the concierge and said "park it please". I'd always wanted to do that.
Right opposite the hotel was one of the famous Vienna Patisserie where we indulged in Sachertorte, Apple strudel and other naughtiness. We visited the Opera House for a guided tour and booked a symphony concet for the evening.
The concert included the Mendelssohn vioin concerto and the soloist was a Hungarian who played it like a gypsy, quite memorable but I can't remember his name.
We visited the Hofburg which was the imperial palace of the Habsburg's who ruled the Holy Roman Empire from 1612 to 1806 after which it was the seat of the Austrian Emperor and eventualy the Austro Hungarian Empire until 1918 when the result of WW1 put an end to it.
Mozart composed much of his music in Vienna from 1781 until his death and the adjacent slides include a famous statue which was re-erected in the Burggarten park which has a treble clef in flowers in front of it and which every visitor to Vienna takes a photo of. The other must photograph monument is right in the city centre. I think it is a bit ugly but it is considered by those with superor taste than me as very beautiful.
It commemorates the great plague of 1679 in which an estimated 76,000 people died.
St Stephens Cathedral is pretty spectacular as you can see from the slide show above.
Sue and I did quite a lot of mountain walking in the Dolomites although I have to admit that she was not entirely enthusiastic about the activity.
On one occasion when reaching a pass we found a snowfield on the Northern side. I insisted that Sue roped up but she thought that was a stupid idea and we almost came to blows!
Sue would aften say to me "you go ahead and I will wait here for you" so I would reach the summit alone. Given the choice she would rather wander around historic places than climb mountains but she knew how much I loved the scenery and enjoyed having her along so she did it for me. "How much further" was a constant question so you knew when she'd had enough.
"How much longer" was also a question she used at cricket matches but Rugby Union was a common love.
I have put together a collection of photos of us both on some of our Dolomitic adventures in the slide show adjacent and above.
The ones above include a couple of shots that are 10 years apart. The first one was taken in 1974 during that first holiday we took together in Europe then in an extended visit in 1985 I managed to find the exact same spot I took the first photo and Sue took the same pose. It was a shame she did not still have the 'angel' top!
On another occasion I joined Mike Palmer, John Manchip and others for a few days in the Brenta Dolomites which are situated just North of the head of Lake Garda.
We stayed at a rifugio high up on a pass over the Cima Brenta (3150m) and I remember the wonderful view above the clouds over Lake Molveno in the morning and I took lots of photographs.
Unfortunately on the way down we stopped for a drink and for some reason I put my camera on the ground and left it there. That was the second Pentax I lost in Italy, the first I left of a bus in Firenze. When we arrived in Molveno I was too knackered to climb back up the mountain to try and find it so I have no photos of the Brenta.
Above is a photo taken of us just after we arrived in Molveno and I think it portrays just how knackered I was and utterly pissed off at losing my expensive camera.
A change of lifestyle.
Parting from Ulstein left a nasty taste in my mouth. Considering all the work I had put in over 15 years taking annual UK sales from zero up to £7 million plus and establishing a solid manufacturing base, most companies would have at least said thank you but there was not one word of gratitude. I did hear second hand that some of my ex colleagues were unhappy at the way I was treated including the younger Ulstein family members.
I now had to decide what to do with my future. If I were to continue a career in Marine Engineering there was little future prospects in the UK. Who would want an ex managing director of a failed buy-out attempt approaching 50? Sue was still doing secretarial work but it was becoming more difficult as computers were making shorthand typing redundant so she was also ready for a change of occupation. We decided to buy a business.
My first thought was a pub but Sue knocked that one on the head. In any case we would have failed miserably as Sue would have asked our male drinkers if they had washed their hands every time they came out of the toilet!
Every Saturday we used to queue up at the top of Lieth Walk to buy food at Valvona & Crolla's deli. This business was run by an Italian family since the 1930's and does a roaring trade. We were both foodies and the idea of owning a deli appealed. We also thought we might move South nearer to many of our friends in Somerset so I set out to find a business for sale.
I prepared a business plan and my friendly BOS manager agreed a commercial mortgage in principal. The first deli I found was called Oughs and was in Liskeard in Cornwall. This had all the old original Victorian shop fittings and aimed to serve people in the old fashioned personal way. The assistants even dressed in period costume and it was often used as a film set. Sue was not enthusiastic with Liskeard, she being a city girl, but I put in an offer which was turned down.
I asked the agent for the reason and was told that it wasn't really for sale. The Dutchy of Cornwall would top any offer made but were not ready to purchase it just then so I was up against Prince Charles. The Dutchy did subsequently buy it, ripped out all the lovely old fittings and completely ruined the business.
Then I found another in a Herefordshire black and white village which we both loved called Weobly. I put in an acceptable offer but when I told the owner we had to sell our Edinburgh property he refused to do the deal. I explained that Scotland was different to England and we just had to put a closing date of offers for our Flat and it would be sold but he just wouldn't believe me the prat!
Finally I found a place in Somerset called South Petherton and The Fruit Shop was for sale. It wasn't exactly what we wanted but the idea was to turn it into a deli. We had no experience of running such a business so the plan was to run it as an exisiting concern and gradually turn it into a deli. Once we had learned the trade we would sell it and start a deli from scratch in a place with more chimneys with Salisbury a place in mind.
The adjacent photo was taken at Easter 1990 and shows my grand piano being craned into our lounge above the shop so it will be self evident that we made an offer that was accepted.
Sue had decided she could live in South Petherton which was one of the attractive hamstone villages in that part of Somerset, so called because of the soft mellow stone quarried on Ham Hill nearby. On our final visit as we drove away she said "buy it for me" so I did as I was told and we sped back North to put our Flat on the market
We had a lot of interest in our Flat what with the garage, conservatory and ensuite improvements we had made and sold it making a handsome profit on what we paid for it.
Dave Borthwick gave us a voucher for a fly-drive holiday in Malasia which he had been given to him by a car dealer for purchasing a couple of service vans (guilty conscience?) which we used just before we moved out.
We flew from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpar (KL) and collected our car. I had been to KL a few times when at sea but never went ashore as we always anchored off and never stayed long. We didn't stay long either as were keen to explore the East coast which a fellow marine engineer had told me was paradise with golden sandy beaches. We were not impressed and even less impressed that, being a Muslim country, alcohol was hard to find.
At Kelantal we did find a half decent hotel that served alcoholics like us. Then we headed West up into the highlands and the tea growing area but it rained constantly until we descended down to the West coast at Penang Island where we found the Casaurina Hotel right on the beach and loved the place so stayed put until we had to get back to KL for our flight home.
On the train from London back up to Edinburgh we got talking to a bloke who asked us what we did. We told him of our plans and he warned us not to under estimate the bad taste of the general public but wished us luck.
So after 16 happy years we said goodbye to all our Edinburgh friends and headed South to Somerset.