For a clearer idea of what we do at GalGael there is no better way than to hear the voices of the people we work with every day. The accounts below are taken from participants, volunteers and staff, many of whom have moved on since the interviews were made and we wish them all the best of luck for the future. They represent a cross section of many issues we witness as we do our work on an daily basis. Many thanks to Jenny Laurie for her time and commitment through taking interviews and writing up this piece of work and providing some of the GalGael people with a chance in giving us an insight into their lives and some of the issues they deal with living in the Govan area.
VOICES of GALGAEL
responses to GalGael and its work
collected and compiled by Jenny Laurie
between July 2006 and October 2007
with loving cooperation from everyone
1st Visit : Ronnie, Billy, Helen, Stuart, Will, Tosh, Alec, Tam, Gehan
3rd Visit : Billy, Davy
4th Visit : Gerry, Kelly-Anne, Stuart, Tam, Seumas, Ruth, Ronnie
5th Visit : Ian, Barry, Davy, Billy
6th Visit : John, Helen, Billy, Tam
7th Visit : THE SPIRIT OF COLIN MACLEOD
8th Visit : Jack, Davy
9th Visit : Kara, Ronnie, Jim, Fiona
10th Visit : Fiona
11th Visit : Tam
12th Visit : Gehan
13th Visit : Fiona, Ronnie
14th Visit : Jack, Davy
15th Visit : Stephen, Sarah
16th Visit : Livi, Fiona
17th Visit : Jimmy the Hat, Peter
18th Visit : Lawrie (Pops), Robert, Allan, Tam
19th Visit : Fred
20th Visit : Narrator’s Observations
21st Visit : Dennis
22nd Visit : Seumas, Billy
23rd Visit : Bill
Footnote : Anne
GALGAEL 1st VISIT WEDNESDAY 12th JULY 2006
As I enter the building in Fairley Street, Govan, for the first time, I notice the large panel over the door
GALGAEL established 9th century
Once I’m in the foyer, I have to just look around a bit and act as if I was a piece of furniture. This lasts for only a few moments because WORKSHOP SUPERVISOR TAM MCGARVEY (you’ll hear from Tam later) comes out and welcomes me and helps me get into conversation with a few of the trainees who are
BILLY, RONNIE, STUART, HELEN, WILL
Billy : I’ve just started for the second time. First time was in 1997. I just kind of fell away from it. Now I’ve just started this new course.
Jenny : Was it just not the right time for you back then?
Billy : No. I had an aneurism, and now I’m left-handed so I’ve got to learn again.
Jenny : Are you feeling better now? Ready for a fresh start?
Billy : That’s it.
Jenny : So what do you hope to get out of it?
Billy : A bit of experience. A job maybe. I want to build boats because I was involved with the first one that was built here. And houses and that you know.
Ronnie : We’ve made a few boats here. We were told about it at the induction day yesterday. Here’s a picture of one in the paper. It was launched in July.
Jenny : You must be looking forward to getting to the point where you all get into a boat you’ve helped to build and get out on the water.
All : Aye.
Billy : When I was younger I was in boats. I did a bit of fishing and that. I don’t think I’ll be seasick, I’ll tell you that. As I say I helped to build the first boat.
Jenny : What was it like being part of that, Billy? Good?
Billy : Definately… I was on a fishing boat before, and I was fishing and diving for razorfish, so being on a project like this - you know, on the water again- I’m looking forward to that.
Ronnie : I just started. Yesterday.
Stuart : I’ve just started.
Will : I like it here.
A key staff member passes through. She is GEHAN
Gehan : I’ve so much to do. I’ll go now, but I’m pleased to meet you. (you’ll hear from her later)
Tam : I’ll see you later, Jenny.
Helen : I’m learning weaving. I absolutely love it. I was at Portsoy Folk Festival doing a demonstration. It was great. I’ve been at GalGael 3 months. There’s the loom...it’s the only one in existence of that type. You can have 4 people working on it at one time making different things. This small piece I’ve got here will end up as a bookmark, or maybe a belt.
The colours in the small piece are yellow, green, orange and cream...but soft, more like mustard, a granny smith apple, terra cotta and a kind of pale mushroom.
Helen : I’ve lost my comb which I use to push it all down nice and tight. It’s just an afro comb. You can use your fingers, but you really need to batter it so the comb is better, you know, to get it tight.
I’m doing the course Navigate the Future, the woodwork part, so in my spare time I do my weaving, after class. And I come in on a Monday when I’m not supposed to be here, I love it so much. When I go to get my daughter - she’s 6 - at 4 o’clock I’m tired but I’ve had a good day.
My wee girl loves it here in GalGael.
Tosh : I’m a Volunteer, documentary film maker, music maker, member of GalGael.
I first met Colin – he was the one who started GalGael – (you’ll hear more about Colin later) when I was a teenager cutting about with the Free State. Drugs, crime, and violence, all that. Colin always talked to me in a very nice way and tried to steer me away from it. I stayed with GalGael. And the rest as they say is...geography.
I’ve started Navigate the Future Part 1. It’s not so much taking a hammer and chisel to a piece, it’s more taking a hammer and chisel to your soul.
It’s good. Good people. I like it.
I’m a volunteer and I’m a leather worker. I work a few hours every day. I do whatever needs doing around the place. I think the jewellery, the leather work, the weaving should become self-sustaining but everyone’s too busy so that’s maybe something for the future. At the moment everything is done for love.
Here’s a leather panel I’ve been working on. All the carvings are taken from the tombstone of Alistair Crotach, a McLeod Clan Chief from the past. The tomb is at Rodel Church on the Island of Harris. The first thing engraved on the panel is a boat. It’s the last boat of that kind, it’s a birlinn, a Hebridean galley and the McLeods were the last to have them. There are other things engraved on the leather panel, but I need to go just now so I’ll tell you about them next time if that’s all right with you.
On the windowsill is a framed certificate
GOVAN FAIR ASSOCIATION 2006
SECOND PLACE TO GALGAEL
2ND JUNE 2006
I’m reading a big display board just inside the main entrance. It has a border of photos and gives a lot of information. Here’s what it told me;
The first boat to be built by GalGael was launched in 2002. Its name is ORCUAN, meaning WHALE OF THE SEA.
It’s a 30 foot long traditional Scottish clinker, built under GalGael supervision by
People of Govan
Retired shipyard workers.
It took 2 years to build, and the main material was storm-felled timber from Glasgow’s parks. The design is based on the Scottish birlinn which is descended from the Viking longship.
300 years ago this kind of boat was banned from use by the Statutes of Iona. Before that, it was used as the main form of transport in mountainous regions, linking the ‘constellation’ of settlements on the West Coast.
Now, Galgael use their own birlinn to
Open sail-training opportunities to the local community
Link urban and rural communities
Enable access to Scotland’s unique natural heritage.
Never have I come across a project with aims like these. I’m looking forward to learning more.
Who were the first members of GalGael?
GalGael or Gal-Gaidhiel were the strange or foreign Gaels originating in the 9th Century as a Gaelic-Norse mingling of people. In continuing this spirit of inclusiveness, the present recently formed GalGael Trust strives to integrate insiders and outsiders so that traditional culture can be transmitted to all, regardless of origin.
GALGAEL 2nd VISIT WEDNESDAY 2nd AUGUST 2006
JEWELRY MAKER HND Silversmithing
I’m a silversmith. Of sorts. Everything’s experience, a lifelong process. Techniques change all the time.
Billy’s jewellery is made of silver, quality 999
A miniature Hebridean galley, a pendant to wear on a chain. It’s about 3cms wide and 4 cms in length, and is a symbol of GalGael.
Billy : I’m really restricted because of machinery but all that’s about to change. I’ve just left college - Cardonald College, an HND in Silversmithing and Three Dimension Jewellery Design. It’s taken all this time to get a business account built up - bureaucracy’s a pain in the arse, they’re determined to stop you before you start. Tomorrow or Friday, my new equipment arrives, £5,000 worth. I’ve still got more to order but need to build up as and when. This time next year I should be up and trading properly.
This workspace I’ve got is about 20x20feet. I only need this wee worktop to do my work but there will be a lot of other surfaces with my casting unit, (which is a machine you use to pour molten metal) and a vacuum machine, (which draws out the detail of the design). Other machines too.
Billy shows me another pendant in smooth silver in the shape of an ‘om’. It’s flat and shiny and needs to be cleaned a lot as it tarnishes easily.
Item 3 is a pictish sunswim, and each point has been made as a dolphin.
Bracelets, wide chains, charms; a good variety of designs and textures.
Billy : I’d like to specialise in Celtic stuff. It’s the alchemy I like.
Item 6 is a silver birlinn set on a plain background with a silver frame.
Billy : I’ve coloured the background with oxidation to make a grey matt contrast with the silver.
Jenny : Do you use a computer at all?
Billy : No, they’re to impress. If you can’t do a thing with your hands, you can’t do it.
I first heard of GalGael when my friend Colin asked me to row a boat. That was six years ago and I’ve been here every day since. That’s my penalty for all my cardinal sins in life.
The boat I rowed was the second boat that GalGael built. We launched it on the Clyde at Govan Cross. Atmosphere? I don’t know, I was too busy rowing. I was used to rowing boats which was why Colin asked me. There were twelve on the boat, eight rowing. She was called the Orcuan.
We went to quite a few places in her. Tarbet Loch Fyne, Holy Loch, Eigg, Ardrossan, Largs, the North Sea, Ireland. Ireland was the longest trip, best part of a week. I enjoyed the trips. Every single one of them.
I want to progress now but it’s hard, you wouldn’t believe how hard it was to set up the business side. The politicians are all talking about a global economy but I think Jack McConnell has got that completely wrong, in fact I think it’s shocking...he should be looking at people all over Scotland who’ve never been heard and never had an opportunity and who’ve never had any encouragement in their life...no wonder there’s problems with drugs and violence, people need something to do. Did I really say all that?
I’m a trainer in woodwork. I’ve got a boatbuilding background. In the past I worked on fishing boats and leisure yachts, but now I’m on wooden boats, especially as fishing boats are fewer in number than they were.
I met Colin while doing a radio course next door to the Maritime Museum in Irvine. Later we used to bump into Colin and other GalGael people at festivals. A contract came up to fix a boat for GalGael and I came in to do it ...and never left. The contract (and the money) ran out, but it was such a good time, and I said I’ll come in as a volunteer till you can sort it out. Then they employed me in January 2006. The place sort of grows on you.
I teach Tuesday pm 1-3, Wednesday 10-12 and 1-3, and Thursday 9-12 and 1-3. On Fridays there are usually discussions, workshops, and visits to places that are part of our heritage. A broad spectrum of people come in- there was once a Pop Group, NIZLOPI, who gave a music workshop, and the trainees were all put into groups and they wrote a song then performed it to the rest.
Sometimes they go on the Clyde on a power boat - for fun but also to learn about safety. And they learn about perspective, and how different well known landmarks look when seen from the water.
I was a woodwork trainee, and I’ve just finished my first four months and I’ve got my certificate. Now I’m starting metalwork. The woodwork was great. I loved it. I made a birdhouse and I’m giving it to someone as a housewarming present.
It stops me from drinking in the day-time but I still take a wee drink in the evening. I like coming here. I get depression and this gives me something to do and something to work for. Not that I’m looking for a job - I’m 45. But if my woodwork and my metalwork leads to something I’ll be glad to keep doing it.
Remember Helen McDonald, the weaver, from last time? Here’s an update.
Jenny : I have something for you, Helen, here. This is for you.
Helen : For me? That’s fantastic....a weaver’s comb.
Jenny : Yes, it’s the real thing. It’s got lead bolts to give the right weight and it was my mother’s and I always knew I’d find a home for it and now I have. It’s yours.
Helen : I can’t believe it. At the River Festival my wee afro comb broke and I was trying to give a demonstration with 3 teeth and a wee plastic handle. Now I’ve got this…. oh, thanks!
And she gave me a big hug which made my day.
Then I started getting hold of a few facts. The first boat to be launched by GalGael was The Gift of the Gael. The launch took place on 1st January, 2000. I think it was just coincidence ...but what a way to celebrate the millennium. Then TAM MCGARVEY started telling me more.
Tam : GalGael has been at all three Glasgow River Festivals but maybe 2006 was the best for GalGael. We made a tent with poles and canvas...it was huge and open at the sides which was great for a very hot day. We had the Orcuan in the water with six rowers and the Albanach Pipe and Drum Band on board as we went round the basin and up and down the river with the pipes going.
It was specially good for the amount of involvement for the trainees - they did security shifts all night, and we were all supporting each other, eating together and being right in the community...I think maybe they wanted to be part of the clan.
Other things I’ve seen today in the foyer of the GalGael premises are; toy-chests with wooden hinges, a shaker -style set of steps, some seats, benches, tables, and spice racks, all made by the trainees. Then there is the Chair for the Govan Fair Queen. Throne is a better word. It’s five feet tall, high backed and made of oak. The carving below the seat is of the sunstone, seen in Govan Old Parish Church. The Gala Association people will come back to borrow it each year for as long as there is a summer Fair in Govan... the chair was designed by Tam.
Tam : I’ll tell you a bit more about this chair. The carving below the seat, according to one theory, depicts the whirlpool at Corrievreckan (which is a famous whirlpool between the Isle of Jura and Craignish) and the design is prominent in Govan Old Parish Church. I wanted to bring Govan’s history to the chair. The chair was made by Jack and Dave, and Ian did the carving. I created the design for it. The back represents the mouth of a salmon and the ring is this carved circular space below. It links the story of St Mungo, the Clyde, Govan, and GalGael. History gives a sense of grounding, recognition, a sense of connection. I have an art background and have worked in Community Arts projects. It’s good to get the chance to use my skills here.
GALGAEL 3rd VISIT TUESDAY 8th AUGUST 2006
Jenny : Hallo Tam. Would it be OK if I come over today?
Tam : Yes that would be fine. We’re having a barbecue so come about 12 and if you are good you’ll get something to eat.
Jenny ; Oooh. Thanks.
Billy : I met you before didn’t I? It was my first day and I was telling you how I’d returned to GalGael after my aneurism. You were wanting to know how we started. See this photo on the wall here - it’s a small longhouse. (A longhouse is a Viking dwelling). I helped build it. It was our very first premises and took 2 weeks to build.
I can also see a model on the windowsill of a small wooden longhouse.
Billy : Aye that’s it too. You can see the whole thing is held together with wooden rods. There’s not a nail or a screw anywhere. I’m disabled now but I can still work as well as someone who isn’t. Since I last saw you - five weeks ago - I’ve learned my L joints and my T joints. I was thinking I’d get straight into boat building the day I started back but I had to learn my joints first.
Ronnie’s my pal. He works at the same table as me. I can do everything he does. Nothing stops me from doing what I want to, even with the one hand. Do you see that herring gull on the roof across the road? That’s our mascot - we reared it in here. We’ve been feeding it. It went away for a few days, we chased it because it was just sitting here being lazy. It’s got to do its own thing. But now I see it’s back. I came from Castlemilk. When I was a wee boy there was open fields and animals and birds.
I’m in here Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 10am till 3pm. I’m doing woodwork with John Elder and Ian Bogle - he’s always called Uncle Fester but I don’t know why.
I’m interested in doing a boat - I’m ready to start. I’m feeling better, not sitting back.
We are all outside in the yard and it’s starting to rain. The barbecue is a huge stainless steel drum half full of hot embers and on the mesh some drumsticks and sausages and burgers are crisping up. On the outside of the drum are celtic friezes and a birlinn is etched on the shiny surface. I’m told Colin made the barbecue out of an old container and decorated it by shotblasting through a latex stencil. I pick up a soft white roll and take the tongs to a chicken leg and recognise Davy Christie a bit further round the circle. He tells me the barbecue is to mark his birthday and tells me he is sixty six.
Jenny : Davy, what’s that pile of black railway sleepers for? Or are they beams? Are you going to use them?
VOLUNTEER BOAT BUILDER and FURNITURE-MAKER
Davy : It’s pitch pine from out the Clyde. It was used to shore up the banks of the Clyde when bigger vessels started coming further up. It’s black because it’s been lying in the river for years, but under the black there this beautiful smooth wood. ‘Pitch’ is the Americal name for resin, and the trees grow in North America near Maine. The resin makes the wood very durable so that’s why it was used for supporting the deep sides of the Clyde. The exact place in America is Adirondack, and there is a famous chair called the Adirondack chair - I got the plans when I was over in America and I made some of these chairs, and I used the pitch pine out the Clyde, which we got with the help of BAE Systems - they had the equipment to lift it out for us. A lot of English hauliers came up and bought it but we got it free. Anyway, would you like to see the chairs?
We go in out of the rain to the workshop. The two chairs are low with slatted seats and curved backs and wide arms like ledges. Sure enough the timber has some black streaks but is mostly a warm tan colour and has a smooth finish.
Davy ; Here’s a boat-shaped cradle I made out of pitch pine for Colin’s baby. When the baby got older Colin let him row his cradle.
Here’s a bench made from pitch pine, in a Victorian style, quite ornate. And here’s a chess table - the round top is of ash but the set-in chessboard is of maple for the light squares and mahogany for the dark.
We go back into the foyer.
Davy : I should have stayed at home for the plumber but I got my sister to let him in for me...I can’t stand sitting about when I could be here. I’m a volunteer, I’m retired, and I started coming here to help out. Here’s a blanket chest with the Green Man carved on the lid. He represents the idea of the tree as a living being, a person, who would protect you. It was a pagan way of understanding survival and knowing about goodness and evil.
The face of the Green Man is benign and there are oak leaves carved all around his head, some new and green, some withered round the edges and some dead, reflecting the life cycle. There are ivy leaves too.
Davy : When I was learning about furniture making we had to learn about trees, where they grow and what the different timbers were like. We had to write it all out and give talks to others in the class. I used to think it was longwinded but it made you think about what you were doing. I’ve still got the notes. I’m still learning at 66.
I was part of GalGael from the very beginning. Well almost. The beginning was the Free State where the motorway protesters, led by Colin, started making things and developing skills. That lasted 2 years, then the protest had to end - the road got built anyway - and Colin said we’ll not waste all that. And so GalGael was started and I came in at that point.
My other blanket chests are made of yew or cherry wood. That’s a lovely wood- you can smell the cherries when you are working with it. But I’d better away and see the plumber.
The candle that burns all day in the foyer in memory of Colin is low now and the day is winding down.
Gehan : You are welcome here Jenny and please help yourself whenever you’d like tea.
GALGAEL 4th VISIT WEDNESDAY 30th AUGUST 2006
I arrive, bedraggled and with no energy. I think I’d be better just going home but I don’t feel like turning round and getting the Underground back the way I came. So I go in. And where’s this gorgeous lively rich guitar music coming from? Is it a CD?
It’s Gerry (I find out later). I haven’t met Gerry before. The music stops.
Jenny : That was terrific. What’s it called? Are you going to play some more? Is it all right if I sit down here and listen?
Gerry : Aye. Sit down if you want. I wrote that when I was sixteen and it doesn’t have a name.
Jenny : You could call it ‘Sixteen”
Gerry : I could.
There followed a song, and Gerry sang it to his own guitar with great style. People were toing and froing all the time but he was oblivious. Some stopped in passing, others kept right on with what they were doing. It’s unusual to have spontaneous performances in the workplace, but I later discovered a fresh viewpoint from Tam who said “it’s a good idea to welcome various activities during the course of a day at work; it lets people have a chance to change their mood, and it makes them feel happy. It kind of lifts the day”. Anyway, back to Gerry and the music.
Kelly Anne is listening too.
Kelly-Anne : He’s great, isn’t he? I’d love to play like that- just pick up my guitar and relax and play like that. I’m learning just now- Tam’s teaching me, but it’s taking ages and I’ll never sound like Gerry. I was good at the piano, but this is harder.
Helen (the weaver) comes in and gives me a big hug. It turns out she is Kelly Ann’s sister and it’s clear to see although Helen is fair and Kelly Ann is dark. Shannan, Helen’s wee girl, is there too; she is six, and comes here after school. Everyone knows her and they all talk to her. She’s clearly at home here.
Gerry starts playing again and I get up and ask trainee Stuart Watson if he’d like to talk to me for a wee while. He says yes and we go to the back room.
I first met Stuart on Visit 1 on 12th July. He had just started, and naturally couldn’t say much to me. Everything I asked he said “I’ve just started”. So I asked him if he’d talk to me in a few weeks time and left him in peace. And now here we are.
Jenny : How old are you Stuart, and what have you been doing since I last saw you?
Stuart : I’m seventeen. I’ve made a two-step out of oak.
Jenny : Can you take me through the process of making a twostep?
Stuart : First you have to select your wood and sand it. Then you varnish it. You cut the side bits and glue it all together. Then you cut it to the right shape and size, then you make your joints and fit it all together. Then another two joints and final gluing. I had to learn joints before I started on the twostep. It took four days to learn that, all in one week. It felt good when I knew how to do them.
The teachers were Sam, Seumas, Ian and Gary. All of them took part in the teaching.
I’ll give the twostep to my wee sister. She knows already. She’s pleased.
Jenny : Why your wee sister? (Thinks; I should know the answer to that!)
Stuart : She’s tiny. (Yes, I should have). Before that I made a spice rack. I’ll get assessed on that.
Jenny : How did you get connected to GalGael?
Stuart : Sam H. They kept coming to see my Mum and Dad. I didn’t like school and didn’t go after I was fifteen and when I was sixteen I left officially. Sam H is Scottish Association for Mental Health. One of the things they do is to connect young people with organisations which could help them move forward.
Jenny : How do you think the people of Govan see GalGael?
Stuart : Some of them don’t know a thing about it, but some do. I think they like it. They like seeing the boats going out. We go out every Friday on the boats. We go to Braehead and sail back. It’s brilliant and rowing’s easy as long as you keep the same pace as everyone else. It’s your back - you move backwards and forwards and move your arms to lift the oars. I’ve been in the same boat each time, the Orcuan. It’s kept beside the tall ship in Glasgow Harbour. We get a run to the Science Centre, then we wait on the boat coming to go to Braehead. It takes about an hour and a half each way, depending on which way the wind is blowing.
I like it when the sun’s shining but I suppose it might get wet and windy soon.
Jenny : Will you still want to go rowing in a big heavy boat in those conditions?
Stuart : I won’t like it so much but I’ll still do it.
Later, I saw Tam who comes across as a really calm person but who has a huge amount to do and a visibly strong sense of commitment to GalGael. Even an outsider can see that it’s difficult not to think about and remember Colin, and maybe Tam was thinking about Colin at that moment. Anyway, this is what he told me.
Tam : There were major difficulties towards the end of 2005. When Colin passed on in November of that year, it was obviously a massive blow to all at GalGael. Then a few weeks later the festive season came along and some of the people with addictive issues went off the rails when we closed down for a couple of weeks. One or two have still not returned. It took a while for the course to get back on track due to the suffering and sense of loss, not to mention the massive organisational upheaval. We began to implement the SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) course which required trainees to do some basic joints and make some simple wood products. This batch of trainees had been involved in some bigger GalGael projects while Colin was with us so they saw this as a backward step and felt that the quality of the course had nose-dived. The next batch of trainees totally disproved this by the enthusiasm with which they applied themselves to the course. Then we realised that Colin’s vision was our strength, and although his persona was no longer with us, the inherent strength he had built into the GalGael structure meant that once we got back on our feet things should fall into place. And they did, quite quickly. It started going really well after that.
Goes back 7 years with GalGael. There is a massive red wagon against a wall in the workshop. Seamus built it, and used it for travelling the country with his young family. I was told this by someone in the workshop; to hear it in Seumas’s own words we may have to wait a bit.
We didn’t have much time to talk together but Anneruth did tell me something really important. Here is what she said;
Barmaddy Farmhouse, which we hope will be our ‘country estate’- I’m working on that. You wouldn’t believe how much administration there is to do in order to secure it. It’s up near Loch Awe, and will be a rural centre where we can work and live close to outdoors. It is very nearly in our grasp.
Jenny : Remember your first day? Is it going well for you?
Ronnie : Yes. I’ve made two birdhouses, 2 spice racks, and I’m making a coffee table.
Tam overhears and joins in.
Tam : Ronnie is good at Gaelic as well. We have a Thursday night Gaelic Class, and Ronnie is doing well at that.
Ronnie : My name, Latham, goes away back
GALGAEL 5th VISIT THURSDAY 21st SEPTEMBER 2006
Straight off, I see
Ian : Hallo Jenny. How are you?
Jenny : I’m fine Ian thanks. It was Doors Open Weekend wasn’t it, and I saw you were open on the Saturday afternoon. How did it go?
Ian : It was very good. We had 200 people through the door and it’s quite a small space, especially round the doorway but we managed fine. People were very interested in what we are doing...some were amazed...they’d never thought about it before, making boats and sailing them on the Clyde... yes, it was good.
I later learn that Ian Bogle is quite a retiring sort of person, but in truth he is a huge part of the absolute backbone of GalGael
GalGael? It’s a way of rediscovering yourself, and gaining recognition of your individuality. The Support Nurse told me about GalGael. I’d had a real bad breakup and I was depressed and worried. The Support Worker noticed I had no friends, only my dog. I took him out and went for messages, that was all. One day the Support Worker said to me “When were you last happy?”
I said, “when I was an apprentice pattern-maker at Dewramet Iron and Steel Casting in Hillington and I was making wooden moulds for parts for turbines and air systems”.
Then he went on tell me the story.
My apprenticeship was four years. Dewramet closed down at the end of my 3rd year. I was devastated. Three years of my life and I had no options, just left to..... no experience to take with me. Nobody would employ me. I was the only one doing the proper job - the other two apprentices hadn’t moved on the way I had. I always had a thing with wood. I’m a practical person, not an academic. This was right for me, It was something I liked doing and I took a pride in it. That was eleven years ago.
I took meaningless jobs. Not anything I saw a future in. Just to get money to go out at weekends. I always gave 110% at anything I do- I think you may as well give your all. None of it led me anywhere.
I became a jack of all trades and master of none. I worked in BT, in Complaints. I built computers in a factory. Call Centres, all types. Remember 192 - Directory Enquiries? And I programmed phones to get them back into action. But there was nothing I could stand back and take a pride in.
I had a fiancee of eight years and that went wrong. I was earning fantastic money and went binge drinking. I’d always suffered depression and it got worse. Eventually my Dad found me in a cupboard, my hidey-hole, my wee den... with a beard. I was a hermit, I had drifted away from all my friends. They all drank. My friend Alan’s girlfriend never complained so he got away with it. They were all happy in their jobs, although they’d just work when they needed something. I like money and I like spending money so I like working for it but this is more about me than money.
I was in a private let. There were addicts downstairs, lying in the close, maybe ten of them every night. No chance of leaving the house...they’d get in the minute you went out. The locks were no use and the walls were flimsy and there was no security. This all led to severe manic depression. I couldn’t relate to anybody. Then my father found me and took it seriously. I never went back to my parents but my Dad could see. First he thought if he checked on me every day in the evening on his way home to see how I was...Second, he knew I couldn’t stay there in the private let and he said if nothing could be done he’d section me. A really bad thing was that there was no earthing in the plugs and there was a big crack in the ceiling, the landlord didn’t care. My Dad took pictures of all that to show to the Homeless Unit. My Dad helped me. He could see the state I was living in.
Then he dragged me to the GP and that led to me seeing people at Dykebar Hospital, mostly as an out-patient. Once I started sobering up, I could see what I was doing to myself. My mother said to me “How do I explain to Michael (my wee brother, who was 12 at this time) that he doesn’t have a brother any more?” That was a moment of clarity. I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t like me.
I got a post as a careworker in Nazareth House in Paisley Road West. The people there had Altzheimers or Dementia. I know I had a lot to give, but after four months I went back into depression. A few had started dying, people I cared for. I knew I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t function, couldn’t concentrate or take care of myself let alone others. I slipped back. Then on the day after Boxing Day, 27th December I moved into Linthouse, to a reasonable place.
I started with telling you when I was happy and now we are back to that. As I said, the Support Worker was a Depression and Addiction Nurse and she saw I was drinking... from Friday to Wednesday. That’s when she said “When were you happiest?” and I told her about the apprenticeship. She said “I think I know somewhere you’d be happy”.
I started at GalGael in August. I came with the Support Worker and had a look at the place. I was apprehensive. I had some qualifications but...then I thought oh well, it’ll get me out of the house. Little did I know that within the week I started I’d love it. My personality came out.
The thing is, everybody here’s had knocks and we are all bruised. The instructors here are so friendly, more like family than instructors, and I feel I could talk to them about anything. They said I could go at my own pace but I just threw myself into it. It really is like a second family...no cliques, one big group.
A wee while back, my old girlfriend had phoned to say she’d had my dog put down. She’d heard I was doing well. Now I knew I could get another dog. I did, and a big group of us walk our dogs. Mine’s a border collie cum terrier called Hendrix and no way could you part me from him. I’d never let him out of my sight. We - the friends and I - walk our dogs at 4 o’clock every day, seven days a week. We are dog-walkers and have an affinity.. We are all from different parts of life...Rosina, Susannah, she’s German...and John, he’s an alcoholic but a nice guy. Quite a lot of them know quite a lot about GalGael. I didn’t, but they did.
After three weeks in GalGael the psychiatrist said to me the change was absolutely amazing. She couldn’t believe it. The Support Worker said the same. I was this guy that couldn’t speak... and I am so happy. I’ve had more out of GalGael in a few weeks than all the psychiatrists and everything could provide. My family are really really chuffed. Of course I should be working and earning money, but I’m planning to go through everything GalGael can offer with a view to possibly going to college at the end of it. Self-respect, confidence, friends, people I move in society with...your mind is your only limit in here, your imagination can go free. I’ve never met such generous beautiful people in my life. That’s the sort of person I want to be. In the future, if ever they ask me for time or anything I will be happy to give it. There isn’t enough GalGael in the world. Non-judgemental? I’d totally agree with that. GalGael gives everyone a fair whack to shine. See Shuggie? (fellow trainee). He’d never thought of working with wood. He’d never thought he’d become passionate but he has.
The dog walkers all know of or about Colin. Eventually Colin will be a Pearce or an Elder. Like them he’ll have a statue. I think he’ll be an icon of Greater Govan, synonymous with the area. I wish I’d met him.
After listening to Barry, I thanked him for being so articulate and clear and honest.
DAVY came through with a beautifully thick silvery rope wound round in loops on his arm.
Jenny : Hallo. What a lovely rope.
Davy : I’m away to hang myself. Do you want to see the new boat before I go?
Jenny : Have you got time?
Davy : Aye. Come on. Through in the workshop he describes the new boat.. It’s a peapod. It’s like the American Maine Peapod, which was inspired by the canoes used by the Passamaquoddy Indians. It’s made of cedar, which is a wood that bends. The shear plank, or finishing plank (ie the top edge) is of oak because it is hard. There are two pairs of oars, 2 men, plus a wee mast and sail.
I can see the peapod shape easily even though the boat is turned upside down on its trestles. When this actual building stage is finished, Davy will turn it right way up and fix the ribs. They have to be cut, then steamed so that they will bend, and fitted inside the boat to the shape of the hull.
Davy : This boat was donated to GalGael in a half-finished state. A Doctor was building it but unfortunately he became ill and couldn’t finish it so he gave it to us. A Maine Peapod boat.
Davy then shows me a chair he is making. The back is a semi-circle of spars from the top to the floor and the seat fits into the semicircle. It’s quite grand even though it’s fairly modest in size. A little bit like a throne- graceful.
Davy : The chair is modelled on King Arthur’s chair which I saw in a painting. It was in this book ‘Celtic Mythology’ by Arthur Cotterell.
I think to myself that Davy is great at finding new challenges and following them through. He is also working on a coffee table belonging to his sister.
Davy : Our father was a boat builder and we both love anything to do with boats. My sister’s house is full of relics - she has all the models I made.
I could just stay here and work round the clock. You get so caught up. I’ll need to go home now, but maybe I’ll not hang myself till another time.
There was just one more thing. I wanted to wear something to remind me of GalGael. At that moment Billy O’Hara, the Silversmith passed through and I asked if I could come through to his workshop.
Jenny : Have you got your equipment installed Billy? How’s it going?
Billy : Still running around daft, but I’m getting there. I’ve got my new equipment, but getting it all set up is not straightforward.
Jenny. : Good luck with that. Have you got a wee silver west of Scotland birlinn on a chain that I could try, Billy?
Billy : Wait a minute, I think I have. Oh here it’s not very clean, it’s been lying in this bag in the drawer....a touch of Brasso and it’ll be fine. He helps me fix it round my neck
Jenny : It feels lovely. Can I buy it right now?
Billy : Aye. You’ve made my day.
Jenny : Good. And you’ve made mine.
GALGAEL 6th VISIT TUESDAY 24th OCTOBER 2006
I’ve lived all over Glasgow. And I was in Aberdeen for twelve years. I prefer down in Glasgow. Aberdeen was more of the country life. I was in the Rudolph Steiner school teaching how to do gardening work. It wasn’t really a school, more a centre which followed the Steiner principles. I enjoyed the gardening work. In winter when there wasn’t much gardening apart from digging, we did weaving. A Danish guy started weaving workshops so I learned and was helping him.
Sometimes I got fed up and just felt like walking out but I knew if I did that I’d end up in a hostel. I also knew I’d be letting them all down as well as myself, so I stayed.
I could do so much on my own but still I needed help. I really took to weaving and I was able to cut the cloth and tailor jackets and make bags and belts. Most of the wool we got from farmers, some from mixed farms but most from sheep farms. It was already spun and dyed, using small spinning wheels and natural dyes from things like onion skins, orange peel and flowers. Herbal flowers were also used for medicine- teas and all that.
I got good at weaving. I also made bees-wax candles and melted wax for polishing wood. A neighbour kept bees. The Rudolph Steiner idea was to use everything. There were two acres, all veg and we made our compost and mixed it with manure from the cows and the sheep and all that.
After 12 years I felt like a change. I like to keep on the move and other people wanted to come and do a year’s course, people from Germany, France, Italy and Spain, all over. I got to a stage when I knew I’d done enough.
When I moved to Glasgow I started a course in painting on glass and canvas and wood. I did this at a big place near Bridge Street underground, beside the Big Issue offices. This was 2004. the course was two years and I finished it this year.
Then I helped build the Radio Station down near the Town Hall in Govan. There used to be a biscuit factory nearby. Anyway I helped to build the studios for Sunny Govan Radio. Then I started woodwork at GalGael.
My brother-in-law was DJ at Sunny Radio and he mentioned that GalGael was looking for trainees and I volunteered to give it a go. This was March, April. I knew how to do woodturning from the Aberdeen days, but never got into it all that well. At GalGael I’m learning to make birdboxes, spiceracks, tables, stools and boxes.
Jenny : What did you think when you first came here?
John : All right. I get on with everybody. But I normally do get on with people. I have not made enemies - not that I know of. Near the end of 2005 I wanted something to do and I met Colin when I came to GalGael to ask about it. Colin asked me where I stayed and I told him, up in the flats. But I didn’t. I stayed with my ex-wife’s brother in Shettleston. It was a wee fib. They didn’t really mind about it but GalGael is really meant for Govan people. And I was in Govan most weekends to see my ex-wife.
I like to work with my hands. It keeps me occupied. It stops me gambling. For a good while I was putting £30 - £40 a day into the Bandit machines. The puggies. I wanted to cut it out, because I was always skint at the weekend when I wanted to go out. I’ve cut it down, to about £15 a week. I don’t have to scrounge off people now. If I wasn’t here at GalGael I’d stay on the machines all day.
I’ve got an Art Group I go to in Govan on a Friday morning and that also helps me stay away from the puggies.
My Woodwork course is in three stages. I’m on the first stage of the training. The second stage includes Metalwork. I’d like to carry on here. It depends on how they feel. If more come in...well, there’s only so many places.
Colin was a chatty and cheerful person. Always having a good laugh.
Jenny : Thanks John.
Helen the weaver comes by.
Helen : Hallo! How are you?
Jenny : I’m fine thanks Helen. How’re you getting on?
Helen : I’m still doing my weaving. I’ve nearly finished a bag. Remember the weaver’s comb you gave me that was your mother’s? Well this week Bernie gave me a weaving hook, it was in his auntie’s sewing box, and silk cutters too. So I’ve got stuff and I don’t need to compromise. We’ve completed the 2nd course (that’s Woodwork 2 and Metalwork, Introduction). We were meant to be finishing but we all said we didn’t want to go. We said “We ain’t goin nowhere”. So they’ve given us an extension.
Me and Rosie took a lumberjack lesson. Learning how to saw logs and chop them. Pure blisters, look, I’ve still got them. The guys wouldn’t do it - it was pure knackering, but I loved it. It’s dead physical. If we go to Barmaddy (GalGael’s yet-to-be-confirmed outdoor centre beside Loch Awe, still at an early stage) we’ll be asked to do lumberjacking on a voluntary basis. My mother’ll look after my wee girl.
Jenny : What does your mother think of Gal Gael?
Helen : She loves it. Before I came here I was acrophobic. The four weeks before I started here I started making myself go out. Now they’d have to physically remove me. I’m not going. But I know there’s two new ones wanting to start. Aaaarrrgh! I’ll need to go. Cheerio.
Helen goes off. She is very fair and slim, and of a small build, and she’s wearing the regulation well-made black laceup boots and overalls that everyone wears here. She looks completely at home in them, and I think if I met her wearing different clothes I might not recognise her.
I just started three weeks ago. I had been unemployed for four years. I’d been sick and depressed and found it hard to get back into work.
I’m a joiner but I hadn’t any tools. Being here is a way to help me back into work. At the end of the course I’d like maybe to get started up as self-employed. It’s good. I haven’t been out in a boat yet but I hope there’s a life-belt cause I canny swim. But I’m looking forward to that. And I’d like to get some tools.
I’ve been here one week. I’m from Falkirk but I live in Govan - my girlfriend is Billy Gray’s daughter. I heard about GalGael through SamH. (Scottish Association for Mental Health) And Billy told me about it too. It’s really nice. All of it caught my eye. Really really nice. They don’t just leave ye tae get on with it.
I’ve been here six/seven weeks. I’ve been greenwooding. That means chopping down trees from the forest. I’ve also been making stools, using willow. I believe in using everything around, using the environment. Like putting a chicken on a stick and setting it on the fire. I’m making a stool and a prayer box for the Church I’m in.
GalGael is a good place. It gives people hope. When I first came they all thought I was off my head because I believed in Jesus. I still do. When I was homeless the Lord got me through. He always does get you through hard times. I’ve got three weeks left here.
I don’t know what the Lord has got in store for me. Something is telling me to do plumbing. I have done joinery and stonebuilding and I want to be an electrician. I have always wanted a wee house, a barn or something up north. Space. Space for children to live naturally. I want to start something - a wee campsite where children can see the wilderness and get out the city. Learn to plant carrots. I know I could do a lot but I need to learn more.
Jenny : We’ll talk again I hope, Guy, see you soon
Guy : Aye, fine.
Here is Tam coming over for a blether.
Tam : I see you’ve got your GalGael silver boat on. My mum wore hers right to the end.
There’s a wee bit here from the 4th Visit that we could change... it doesn’t explain how we felt when the courses were a bit shaky at the end of 2005, beginning of 2006. We were grieving over Colin and it was hard to focus on anything else. I’ll sort it out and e.mail it to you. (It’s now sorted)
Jenny : Of course, Tam. I wouldn’t like to misinterpret what people say to me. I’ll need to make sure everything’s checked. See you next week?
Tam : Aye, nae bother.
GALGAEL 7th VISIT THURSDAY, 2nd NOVEMBER 2006
This is no ordinary visit, no ordinary day. It is special. A gathering is arranged to mark the first anniversary of the death of Colin Macleod.
Every time people catch each other’s eye they exchange hugs. People who hardly know each other stand with their arms open. A new very large egg-shaped white candle is lit under Colin’s photograph. Some are very subdued while others are chatting away and laughing. There are a lot of kids. Later I see them playing races with chairs on castors, making a right noise. No-one is in black or dressed up. It’s somebody’s birthday, Seamas’s wife, and she gets Happy Birthday sung to her and she is so embarrassed that she runs out the door. Maybe she feels her birthday is not important this year.
There is a spread laid out, but most of it has already been enjoyed. There are the bones of whole fish left on platters and that’s it. I was hoping for a piece but I was too late. The barbecue, Colin’s amazing steel embossed brazier, is lighting up the yard, glowing and pulsing like an enormous heart.
Jack : Colin? He made me very welcome when I first came round to GalGael in February 2000. He impressed me because he would work with his hands all the time and had confidence in what he was doing. He would tackle anything. As soon as I saw what he had set up, I knew, as a newly retired boat-repairer, that this would change my life, and it has, and for the better.
Davy : Everybody has thoughts, their own thoughts about losing Colin. Some are going up to Lewis to visit his grave. I won’t be doing that...I just think about it all in my own way. A whole year...sometimes it seems an age and sometimes it seems to have passed like a flash.
Danny : Did you know Colin was a Christian? Not in the sense of going to Church- I don’t think he ever did that - but he was a Christian. He would give a bed to a stranger, open his house up, give food, help, encouragement to anyone who needed it. Another thing about Colin is that he never forgot if you did something that was out of order but at the same time he never bore a grudge. That is not what a lot of people do- most people cannot forget and that keeps the grudge going. Colin remembered everything as if it would make him wiser if he had a record in his head of everyone he came into contact with.
During this conversation some bagpipe tunes start up. The piper is a great player, and the bohran accompaniment by Tam gives the music a skirl and a throb and a lilt all at the same time. Hearty, loud, strong and lyrical. This continues for a good while...plenty of tunes filling the space, loads of cheers at the end of each set.
It’s nearly time to go. Gehan comes over with the quaich of whisky which is of course the cup of friendship and passes it round.
Out on the streets, thousands of Govan people, mostly men, are making their way to Ibrox for a big game. The streets are full, catering vans are mobbed, there is a lot of excitement and a bit of
harsh aggression here and there, and a lot of banter.
There’s no more I can say. As I make my way home I am thinking that the death of Colin Macleod is a monumental loss for Scotland and Govan.
GALGAEL 8th VISIT TUESDAY 7th NOVEMBER 2006
JACK ANDERTON and DAVY CHRISTIE
Jack : It was February 2000 when I first heard of GalGael. I had just retired and was wondering what I could do. I was walking down Pearce St. I saw this totem pole near the water’s edge. It was one of Colin’s but I didn’t know that then. I asked a young woman about it and she said to me “Just go in”. I did and I’ve been here every single day ever since. Well it was in different premises then, smaller and nearer to the river. The first man I saw believe it or not was Davy. Davy’s welcome was “Are ye looking for wood? People are always looking for wood when they come here”. I said I was looking for information. Then I said “What’s GalGael?” Davy told me it was a boat-building enterprise. And suddenly I saw Peter Mathieson. He was a friend of my wife’s sister and I was knocked out when I saw him in GalGael.
Davy : Peter Matheson’s a boat builder and he’s been working with Colin from the start. He built the Orcuan, the second boat that was built by GalGael.The first was The Gift of the Gael. It was launched on New Year’s Day 2001. The Gift of the Gael, was the first one we ever sailed. We worked on it all night that NewYear’s Eve. That was our Hogmanay. Not only that, it was the New Year of the Millennium. It was the first boat to be launched on the Clyde for decades and decades. We sailed it up the river. The Glasgow Herald came and photographed the whole thing. Of course there is a problem because now we have quite a lot of boats but we need people to use them.
Jenny : Are the people locally not really interested?
Davy : Yes they are in GalGael, but they maybe don’t have an immediate use for a boat like ours. Or any boat for that matter. You can see their point. Maybe the boats can be used by Outward Bound schools. But the main thing is the trainees. That’s what we are all working for - it’s their futures, and the trainees are important for another reason besides giving the chief focus...they bring in the funding. .
GALGAEL 9th VISIT NOVEMBER 8th 2006
TRAINEE NAVIGATING THE FUTURE (WOODWORK)
I’m here because I want to get out of the house, need to have something to do, and get back in touch with my creative self. I like making jewellery and I need to get back to it. Working with wood is easier than the materials for jewellery, the silver especially- there is more tolerance in the measurements. With jewellery making everything has got to be exact. I don’t know whether my Navigating the Future course will lead to work, and I don’t know if I’ll be ready anyway. I would like it to work like that- we’ll see. I think Navigating the Future is a good name for the course. It’s empowering- that’s the word.
I’m leaving soon. Fed up. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not GalGael and it’s not Govan. I’m just fed up with Glasgow. By the time I leave I should have my SQA. I’m giving it everything. You need the certificates because the College courses are in big demand. I think I might get a good note of reputation from GalGael.
Where am I going? Falkirk. Well not Falkirk really it’s Denny. I’m going to learn to be a furniture maker and maybe I’ll get an apprenticeship and then a grant to start my own business. But that’s a long way off.
Mind, I’m going to take my time with the next step. I rushed it last time- I got a job as a chef- 16 hours a day 6 days a week. At first it was great seeing people enjoying the food I had made for them, but then it got so it was always the same. I lost my appetite, couldn’t eat. My relationship went pear-shaped because I was never around and I gave up in the end. Next time I’ll be more careful.
I’ll probably be away in about four weeks though they will probably let me stay around up till Christmas. I don’t think I’ll make the January start at one of the colleges in Falkirk, I’ll have to wait till August. I’ll get a job in between, probably as a temp chef to get me through.
Jenny : Good luck, if I don’t catch you again.
Ronnie : Aye. Right. Cheerio.
Jim tells me there are three lathes here in the GalGael workshop. The first two belong to the club known as Strathclyde Woodturners, and the third one is GalGael’s.
Jim shows me a candlestick made of Douglas fir. It’s made from a changing-cubicle door in the old Pollok Public Baths which makes the wood at least 100years old. It’s plain, smooth, elegant. Jim goes on to explain his role in GalGael
We make bowls, egg-cups; the big thing we do here is carving small mallets for the trainees. You can’t do delicate carving with a big mallet. Ian Bogle finds me the wood and I make the mallets.
In exchange for keeping two lathes here we offer help to trainees. Today I helped Rosie with handles for her sea-chest. I’ve made sheeting pins for both big and small boats, and wooden balls to run the sail up the mast on the fibreglass boat. Whatever is needed- it’s a good barter system, a trading system- we get wood, we give help, and offer advice where we can.
I heard of GalGael 5 years ago in 2001. You meet people who meet people... One of our members helped to set GalGael up in the first premises. People I know have made things for GalGael over the years. In 2005 our own club made wooden quaichs, I think it was oak we used. I helped with one...I roughed the ball out then someone else cut the shape from the rim. To do this you cut round the rim to leave the two handles, leaving a nice lip to drink out of.
A typical day. It’s 2005. I get my usual greeting off Colin. A genuine person - if he hasn’t a good word to say, he’ll say nowt. Within a week you felt you’d known him for years. He’d give you a hug to greet you, and you’d know you’d been greeted. That’s the beauty, people speak, they talk to you here.
Anyway. I had some spare time and I think this is a worthwhile setup. I knew I could come here and do a bit of woodturning. When you’re retired you look for something to do. I come here to work with people. I work with Rosie. The club is insured to work with children so we are used to doing things with people who are not sure of themselves. Rosie isn’t but she is getting on well.
At the Glasgow Show on Glasgow Green and at the Tree Festival in Edinburgh we let children make mushrooms and hedgehogs. We dressed them in smocks and and facemasks (the children that is) and worked with them, making things on the lathe. At Glasgow Green there were 300 children at the show so we are used to giving encouragement. Rosie here is unusual- she is left-handed. If I’m working with a righthanded person I can use either hand but with Rosie I have to use my right hand in order to maintain control. We’ve perfected it, and just do it. It’s very satisfying.
The GalGael building’s not bad. It’s a lot better than what went before. It needs more insulation, partitions, extraction systems, but I’ve worked in a lot worse. But these improvements would be absolute luxury in an organisation like this. It would be good, ideal, but it’s expensive, especially the dust extraction. I’m here one day a week and I take stuff home with me then bring it back in finished. People sometimes ask me to make things and I do. GalGael people use the lathes- they’re not exclusive to us. I’m also a forgesmith, but that’s another story.
BASKETMAKER/ BASKET WEAVER
Fiona : When making a basket to fit a boat you need to tie it into the space and make a flat base to sit it on. For that I would use willow. The basket would fit the prow and would be big enough to hold ropes, tools and food. Everything you need. It’s a long process.
I started in Mechanical Engineering and after four years study I had 2 years work followed by recession and redundancy. I can’t do it, I thought. The equipment, the facilities...how could I be self-reliant? I did lots of jobs and ended up in a woodland in Tighnabruich and there I started making and weaving baskets. My friend and his brother had to cut back the conifers and the cuttings were used to keep the deer out, they were woven into the existing fence. It was a forest garden with chickens and ducks - they were eaten by foxes - and veg and fruit. There was willow and hazel too...the willow will be lovely now they are grown; it’s a pity I’m not there any longer to make use of it.
I do events with GalGael. If there is anything going on there that I can help with I’ll help. I come and go. You have to practise, improve, and find new designs. I’ve cut down because I’ve got no storage space. But I’ve got enough experience and enough work with Community Groups in Glasgow and Argyll.
I decided not to have a house, which means I can live on a lot less money. So I live in a van. No bills for fuel, electricity. I don’t need these things, and I don’t want ANY money from the government. I’m going to improve my van by installing a wee stove. And I’ll put an extra battery in the van to power a laptop. I’ve also got a Ford Fiesta. I lived in it for seven years.
It was 2002 when I met Colin, and it was at a Festival. It was through a guy called Donny who was with the Free State with Colin and Gehan. At the festival people kept saying “Have you met Donny yet?” He gave me a leaflet on GalGael and next time I was in Glasgow I came in to see them. Colin had been looking for a basket weaver and the first time I met him he showed me the boat and said ‘Can you make a basket?’ I said I would give it a go, so I did and it fitted. Then Colin would ring me up and say ‘An event! Can you?’
Colin had Orcuan moored at Portavadie, and I was near there at the time. He phoned me and said a few would be up to do some repairs on Orcuan and would I provide a cuppa? I agreed. It turned out that sixteen people came to do the repairs and they all needed to stay the night.
What has my connection with GalGael meant to me? Family. It’s my family. Similar sort of ideals, motivated by the same things. You can trust them here. Billy (the silversmith) has a cousin who is a second hand car dealer. I bought a van off him on trust totally. I wouldn’t have done that before. There’s great connections here with people who are not out for themselves. It’s a support network.....helping each other.....you just do it. Willingly helping each other out. Without complicated feelings of obligation. Here is not a work-place in the usual sense, but a lot gets organised and a lot gets done. The motivated ones help the others be motivated. Personal lives are open.....there is nothing to hide.
GALGAEL 10th VISIT TUESDAY 16th JANUARY 2007
I’ve been here a few months. I love it. I’ve been working with the handloom. I was making lagging and phone bags. The loom is 10feet tall and very heavy. It’s made of ash and yew. The canvas that is hanging on it just now is painted with a map of the Firth of Clyde - the story of the Clyde I call it. It shows islands and the mainland. In front of it, after a space of an inch, is the loom frame with vertical wool strands for weaving the tapestry. This will follow the map of the Clyde. I have been working on this along with many others. I’ve woven mostly land but a wee bit of sea too. I like the rhythm of the work - you seem to get into a right good rhythm. Hours go by and I don’t notice. I could be there for hours. You need deep concentration. You can’t take your eyes off it a minute or you make a mistake. I haven’t got a favourite colour. I like the tan and the blue, and all the different colours coming together make it what it is. And the moss greens. It’s the blending of the colours I like. I think it’ll stay here if a wall space can be found but as you see the walls are full.
It was actually the hand spinning I saw first and was attracted to. I’ve done a wee bit of that but now it’s more the weaving on the handloom. I like it all but weaving is where I’ve had my choices. I’ve used various looms in Lewis, making Harris tweed on broadlooms. It’s different altogether. I was born in Glasgow but spent a lot of time in Lewis and I wasn’t more than eleven years old when I found I couldn’t stop weaving. I didn’t want to leave the isles. I kept going back and still go back and I see Cathy Ann and her boys. I like Glasgow better now that I have found GalGael. Life has taken a turn for the better because I’ve got GalGael. My son has been here and he loved going round the workshop when he was in for a ceilidh. I’m a volunteer weaver and I find everybody so easy to get on with - like a big family, an extended family.
One of the trainees has made me a small loom and spindle. It has disappeared and I’m waiting for it to come back. I know I’ll get it and once I do I won’t stop using it. I’ve loads of work to get on with. I’m making what we call a God’s Eye. That is two pieces of wood joined in the middle and the wool is wrapped three times round then threaded over to the next section and wound three times again. There is a wee rhythm with that as well. I’ll show you the good one.
Fiona brings them through. One is in salmon pink wool, one in turquoise. You can use them as mats. Fiona tells me there is a load of salmon wool at the moment.
I was coming in two and a half days a week and if I’m needed at any other time I come in. Annaruth is a great help. She gives me things to do, weaving, carding the wool, teasing the wool, and also winding the wool into balls. Unwashed wool is used for lagging and good wool for the phone bags and general weaving. We do the dying here and often use onion skins for the browns and tans. We managed to get a fleece form Lewis, from Colin’s dad, who keeps sheep. Colin’s family brought it down.
All the wool is from Scottish sheep, mainly from up north.
Lagging is what you use for belts and tags. You decorate them with embroidery in various colours.
Phone bags use the same technique but you are using wool that is carded but not put into balls. You put your phone inside and there is a cord to carry your phone round your neck. It’s very successful. I’ve started off with the belts but I’ve only done one phone bag and I’ve still to finish it. I love making the belts and once I know what I’m doing I’ll like making the bags. But really I like it all.
I like going round the workshops and seeing what is happening. I love to see the towering boats and watching the different stages. Everything is so natural, natural wood, so comfortable. I’d love to have furniture like this in my house.
It was a pure fluke hearing about GalGael, totally unplanned. I live in Mount Florida, the opposite end of the city. I was just looking for my son, and I followed the music that was playing on the bandstand to a tent. I had to go into the tent to see what was happening. They were doing spinning. It was in Knightswood Park in July 2006. They were also putting designs on to belts. Billy was making his jewellery - longboats for pendants, GalGael ships of silver. I felt as if I was on another planet. I felt a right buzz as though at last I had found what I’d been looking for for years. A lifetime ambition had actually come to me at last. Long may everything at GalGael continue.
Ian gives me a little information about the huge bird of prey carved out of timber and hung from the ceiling in the foyer. It is in full flight and has a wingspan of six feet. It is an eagle, a golden eagle, carved in oak, and female, bigger then the male. This is because the female needs extra weight for the times when she is looking after her eggs and cannot leave to find food. It is a beautiful thing, a symbol of power and strength. He tells me it was carved by Colin.
GALGAEL 11th VISIT THURSDAY MARCH 1st 2007
I’ve been involved with GalGael for about twelve years. It started with the Pollok Free State, which was a political protest to stop a motorway being built that would pass close by the community of Pollok.
I started going once a month, then it was once a week. I’d been studying at the Art School, graduated, then got a job for four days a week. That left one day which I spent with Free State. I had done a thesis at Art School, which was all about community life, with Pollok at the heart of it. Old Pollok and Old Nitshill had become broken down and isolated and I wanted see if ‘community’ could still mean anything.
Then I met Colin, and I got hooked into the community vibe that was going on at Free State. Colin was doing what I was thinking; connecting people with the environment. Trying to get back to a natural landscape.
Its strength was that different parts of society were all coming to one place; the unemployed, a wide range of age groups, academics, students, artists, musicians. All this created a dialogue. You can end up with a ghetto mentality, and you can get stuck in a self-referential bubble. For instance, an all-young group without aspirations can soon become a collection of neds, a group of professors can soon become cut off from those they are aiming to help, and a group of politicians are likely to talk without reference to those outside their circle.
So the dialogue from a big (or small) mixed community leads to empowerment, and this is what happened. The well-heeled felt a connection with the poorer people. It was the place to be, it felt real, had a sense of meaning.
It was, is, the best thing I’ve ever done. Art School was good but this spoke to me. The Pollok Free State was a creative environment, but it was inclusive. Sometimes the art world can be a bit exclusive.
It started because of Colin’s love of trees and birds. We’ll come to that later.
It was a nice bit of green belt left to the people by the Maxwell Estate. The motorway was built in the end so we lost that battle. But we are still here, twelve, thirteen years later, still addressing a lot of issues.
In the beginning, Colin saw it as a protest but he tuned into the energy. He said, “let’s come at it from a different angle - let’s think about the skills, the teaching, the passing on”. He had so many skills; he built a tree-house round the trunk of a tree that was nearly two metres in diameter, and he put in a concrete base and a kind of lining so that a stove could be installed. I was a sculptor, and came to help, making the doors for the stove, just plain functional flat doors, and then we could have a big fire inside Colin’s tree-house.
This is an example of the extent of Colin’s imagination. He saw everything as possible; he would just think of something that would support all his beliefs, and then he would bring it about.
I was only a bit-part player. I didn’t have the involvement that I have now. I’m supposed to be a metal-worker but have become involved at many other levels, especially organisation. Music, sculpture and my OT background all contribute..
Now I am a training supervisor. I am supposed to keep on top of the quality of what we do. Personally I am interested in the ethos of what we do. I try to tune into Colin and what he was tuned into. A kind of truth. People are all part of nature, everyone is special, and everyone has potential if you give them a chance.
The protest was a bit of a mess at first. There were drugs, beer cans all over the place, partying. Then Colin started a big tidy-up campaign. All the work shy people disappeared and we were left with those who wanted to be part of whatever would come about and who would work and contribute.
I went down one day - I will never forget it - and there was a big banner with the word RESPECT. It meant respect the culture, the environment, the space. I thought, “Respect - that is the perfect word”. I always go back to that. Now it’s a slightly different message, but the same; what is important? Venue, Tools, RESPECT. It is a powerful word. Everyone expects respect, but not everyone gives it. But once there is respect, the rest happens itself.
As a volunteer I did half a day a week for quite a few years. Then funding was found and I got a job with GalGael round about 2004. Before that I had worked as an Occupational Therapy Assistant, a Community Artist, and as a Musician. A lot of that work has helped me here. Some of my past work was with the NHS and I would say a lot of the time it was virtual reality. People were clients or service-users. Nothing really happens. A man might watch TV without changing the channel for hours and hours while a big meeting about his welfare was going on in the next room. The situation remains the same. GalGael has fewer resources, and does more work, and it’s what I see as actual reality.
My favourite story is how USA’s NASA spent millions of dollars trying to invent a pen that can work in a zero-gravity environment. The Russians overcame the problem by using a pencil. At GalGael we are pencil people.
At the moment we are looking at ways of selling GalGael products so that we do not have to rely on funding all the time. The boat-work we do now is mainly restoration. The one you can see through in the workshop is an old East Coast fishing boat called a Fifie, one of only six that are left out of thousands of fishing boats. We will use it as an escort boat. We bought it because we felt it had heritage value, and is a good working boat.
Inspiration has to be two-way. That brings respect. The trainees here have had some terrible experiences but they have come through and we are inspired. That gives us respect for them, and I think it works the other way too.
We are interested in the Heritage of Govan. The past and present community has shaped Govan. The ancient spiritual community, from before the time of the Romans, has shaped it. Much later, it was a place of industry but there is little of that left. We are interested in getting local people to connect. It’s not just an empty place, a big modern housing scheme. George MacLeod of the Iona community lived and worked in Govan. Govan would have been a fording point for crossing to Whiteinch and going on the North of Scotland. Perhaps this is why there is clear indication of blacksmith premises in the town.
If you walk along near the river you see a lot of industrial architecture, a lot of evidence. We want to teach people to understand, and follow the stories.
A Chilean sculptor was here for a while and he felt that too. He made four dancing figures from an old slate and metal circuit box he found near the river. This box was for operating the opening of the sluices. This is the kind of thing that makes you aware of what’s there and makes you proud, and makes you want to defend it. A sense of place.
You ask me how Govan people react to GalGael. I think that there are some who see it as a counter-culture, or something that is away from the norm. There are some who want to belong. But I think that out there is the counter-culture. Out there, people are cut off from normality. TV isolates, car use means your feet never touch the ground, and people do not communicate with one another enough.
Whereas, we are where humans have always been; we are working with natural materials and we eat together every day.
On the way back through I’ll show you the dancing figures.
We go together through the workshop where a lot of work is being done. At every bench, men and women are hammering and carving. I cannot interrupt such single-minded industry although I am dying to find out what they are making. We pass The Wee Fifer, up on trestles, being given a new lease of life. This is no virtual workshop, this is an actual workshop, just as Tam said earlier.
Then we come across the figures. Tam has to go but I stay and look at them for a while. I can see how pieces of the circuit box have been made into four torsos, and that smooth flattish stones have been used for heads. Limbs are of metal, maybe wrought iron, slender and....wait for it...full of movement. That’s how they look and I think that is what the sculptor intended. Each has a motif of some sort to show individuality...I’ll need to look at those again to be more specific. Right now I’m too full of impressions to take anything else in.
I remember one other thing Tam said. His mother wore a GalGael silver birlinn boat on a chain all the time, until her passing in 2006. Now Tam’s sister wears it, and I imagine she wears it with a sense of pride and a sense of place.
GALGAEL 12th VISIT TUESDAY 13th MARCH 2007
Gehan : My name is pronounced with a soft G and emphasis on the second syllable. My father is Egyptian, and although I have seen him quite often I have not been to Egypt since I was fourteen. My father is retired now, and I expect to be able to take my children to Egypt before too long.
How did I become involved with GalGael? Personally I was involved in several issues – I had concerns, with the environment, mainly. I remember I was on Skye and I read an article Colin had written in Land and Liberty. I felt it was a stirring analysis of the political and economic situation in Scotland. It felt upbeat, and made me want to respond in a real way. The suggestion was a Summer College, with nature, and culture at its heart, and I found it inspiring. Then came the idea it could start in the Pollok Free State – before the P F S had been dubbed that.
I came down but I didn’t find Colin. He was abroad I think. Anyway, the protests got started, and Colin was very hands on in getting it started . One influence was he had been doing a lot of Youth Exchange work around Europe, and interacting with environmental and cultural activists like the Rosebud Reservation, in South Dakota – they were coping with alcohol and suicide – and something made Colin decide to make a stand. It came back to the context of Pollok Free State which was local. He had a strategic approach, which was to involve local environmental groups. He would organise social events at the wood that was part of Pollok, and under threat, and it grew from there.
I was part of the later wave of involvement in the environmental networks. A year of activity was already completed. The Press tended to make out it was just some road protestors from down south. The truth is that it was entirely local. As the campaign developed people from all over got involved but that was later.
The decision about whether the road was to be built took about four years. There were points which we negotiated with the Operations Manager, but then the actual work started at different sections, initially at Malletsheugh.
When they came to evict the Free State it was dawn raids – pulling people out of their beds. Colin had been arrested, and given an injunction so he was barred from the site. He did go in, just stayed back.
How did I feel? Sad and angry. It’s hard to describe. It’s like tons of stuff packed into a short time. Acts of bravery, acts of stupidity. Things that were thought provoking. Human courage. And a wave of excitement. You end up getting into a reactionary position because you recognise the limitations of what you can do, then react to other people’s acts of brutality, thoughtlessness and violence.
The road was going ahead, but there has been so much positive outcome from the way the Free State evolved. Rather then a crushing defeat it was a matter of recognising all the positive things that had evolved. It was to move forward, with a meaningful purpose, and that was the point. Changes for the better. We had spent years campaigning on what we didn’t want – it was time to focus on what we did want.
One thing Colin was very strong and positive about was that it was not to be a charity, but more a re-igniting of a sense of peoplehood. That’s why we chose the name GalGael, the GalGael being a historical group of people in habiting the West Coast of Scotland, and who were culturally confident enough to assimilate the incomer in a way that was inclusive.
We used not to mention Free State because of fragile relationships between establishment and dissenters, but now it’s an undeniable part of our genesis. We refer to our past, so long as the reference is in context. The experience of Free State can be related to other struggles. Govan Workspace and the issue of dumping the waste from the demolished Partick granary in 2004 helped to crystallise local opposition. Once the waste dump was defeated, this energy was used to help engage interest in Govan’s heritage, and fed into the Govan Conservation Plan. For the first time in history the local people are involved in championing what’s good for the community. It’s good to see that link, and I think Colin had a lot to do with making the connection.
One of our early leaflets captures a feeling of igniting a sense of peoplehood. Peoplehood is different from nationhood. Nationhood can mean throwing away too much through the collective; and becoming detached feeds the negative. So from early on, it had to not claim charity status but concentrate on re-engendering a sense of meaning, and the importance of recognising human individual potential.
The start of GalGael was partly inspired by community buyouts of Eigg, and Assynt. In addition, ecological restoration and re-forestation. All of these things came round about the same time.
In my first paid role with GalGael, I was a Development Worker. This meant I applied for grants, developed what we were doing, planned projects, supported the practical work, and got on with networking. I know it’s a lot but you stretch to fill what has to be done. You have to do everything from cleaning the toilets to meeting folk and liaising. Everything. You don’t have the resources to buy it in and you learn as you go.
With the funding, we had a fairly high success rate. Something in people responded in an intuitive way. The outputs were visible, tangible. Easily seen, easily measured. It captured the imagination.
Now I am project co-ordinator. This still requires a bit of give and take, flexibility. We decided not to divide the workforce too much so the lines are blurred and we all muck in whenever necessary. If visitors are coming we all embrace responsibilities. We are not head on with this – it is more subtle than that. It’s by example, and expectation that leads everyone into doing things as a team. We try to instil a positive work ethic. Purely wage-motivated work leads to undermining our sense of worth as individuals.
There is always a buzz downstairs, which is a good indicator. People coming in and out. We must be doing something right. There is always energy. People at GalGael are welcoming, and always offer tea and a chair to people who come in. The custom is established. It is a natural inclination, but in reality, for many, being guarded or even suspicious is normal.
You are asking me how things are going now. It has not stagnated: on the contrary we are moving forwards in ways that Colin would like to see. We are expanding the benefits of what we are doing.
In those early days in Free State when Colin and I were having our first child, I thought that when the protest was finished we’d move to some rural idyll. The GalGael (it didn’t have a name as yet) started and I interpreted it in a really fluffy way, and I was all leaves and trees. Then Colin said what GalGael really was and it didn’t sit well with me. But he stuck with it. The Birlinn was the link with the west coast and Colin said the birlinn was to be the emblem of GalGael. Then Colin and I were in Iona for the weekend – a very rare thing, for Colin would never leave Free State - and when we came back we found out that a man with a metal detector had found a silver birlinn, and the next idea was, we’ll unite the people of Govan by building a timber birlinn. I was so angry, and stomped upstairs to the lodge, furious and shouting with frustration. We were to be committed to Govan. What about my rural vision?
Through the floods of tears I began to envisage what Colin was describing. And he also said that we have to prove ourselves in the area we are from, and not start imposing ourselves somewhere before we have done that.
We have partially done that now. The burst of the vision – and understanding that - is now bearing fruit. Considering what we have been through, it’s going well. We are reaching into rural areas as it happens, as people come and ask us to help them set up projects that are related to GalGael, and everything it stands for. The rural connection is alive.
GALGAEL 13th VISIT THURSDAY 15th MARCH 2007
It’s a really cold breezy day and I’m away over to GalGael for a short visit to check up on one or two things. The first person I see is Helen McDonald the weaver, who gives me a hug and asks me how I’m getting on. I say I’m wabbit, and she says “yer what?”
“Wabbit,” I say.
“What’s that?” says she. I’m amazed.
I meet Fiona who has just passed her test piece with all its joints and ells. She is very pleased and says at last she’ll think seriously about making her big set of shelves. She comes in with Ian who is going to take her photo. She sits down, holding a beautiful box on her lap, with a heavy lid. It’s made of yew, and has a gorgeously piebald texture of light and dark. Fiona says “I’m going to keep all my wordly goods in this”. She holds the lid open for the photo to reveal the inside, then holds it sideways. Her face is one big beam. She has just finished making her box.
The next person to come through the front foyer of GalGael is Ronnie Latham. I had caught a glimpse of him on Tuesday 14th, and I’d been surprised as he’d gone to Falkirk for a complete change and now, here he is, back with his navy blue dungarees and his heavy boots, looking as if he means business. But now we have a minute or two to talk together. I am very chuffed to see him.
Jenny : Ronnie! How’re ye doing?
Ronnie : I’m knackered.
Jenny : Wabbit?
Ronnie : What?
Jenny : Never mind. Anyway, where have you been today?
Ronnie : I’ve been cutting hazel at Lochwinnoch. You know I’m starting making rustic furniture, hazel’s good for it, it bends and you can make chairs and tables with bent hazel wood.
Jenny : Do you use …er…thin branches or trunks or …er…how does it work, Ronnie?
Ronnie : Come through the back and I’ll show ye.
Through we go and there is this really graceful curved armchair. It’s got quite a high back and the slats are indeed made of stout hazel twigs, still with their shiny bark on. The texture is not all that smooth but there is a lovely sheen of colour, hazel colour, which catches the light. The chair has a woven look about it although when you look close it’s only woven here and there. It’s beautiful.
Ronnie : This is the first one I’ve tried. I’m going to make more, I’ll make a double one, and I’m going to take them to the River Festival and let people see how they are made, I’ll work on the site and folk can watch.
Jenny : How did you get all this together so quickly?
Ronnie : It wasn’t right for me, going to Falkirk. I’m better here, and I like it here. They’re letting me do other work, attending meetings and working on the Newsletter, and other things, and they’re giving me a chance to think about what else I can do, so it’s good.
I look at him and realise that even though his dark Hebridean eyes are shining with enthusiasm, he is really pale and has two plasters, one on a finger and one on his thumb, with blood seeping through. I say I’m going to nag; will you make sure those injuries are really clean and will you have a cup of hot tea right away, Ronnie, I mean it. And I tell him I think the chair is lovely and I hope to see him again soon. He goes Aye right I will, cheerio Jenny. I go off but before going out the front door, I meet Davy and Jack, who tell me they have started building a Norwegian yawl. We have talked before and I know they have been part of GalGael for years. I can’t wait to hear how they are getting on, and of course to find out what a yawl looks like and what it is built of. We make an arrangement to meet on Monday morning at 10.30.
This was meant to be a short visit, and it was, but the amount of activity that emerged in that wee space of time probably adds up to more than a year in most other workplaces.
GALGAEL 14th VISIT MONDAY 19th MARCH 2007
I’ve got here on a bright but very cold day and I’m straightaway invited to come through to the workshop to see the Norwegian yawl that Davy Christie and Jack are working on. There is not much to see yet; the square rudder is interesting, and the long elegant prow indicates the grace of the boat which will be the end product.
GalGael has a different atmosphere today because it’s Monday and there are no trainees. There is a bit of toing and froing but not as much. The instructors and administrators are there of course and a few volunteers are in to get things done. I’m introduced to Giles who goes back a long way with GalGael and is the first person I have met to have taken a lot of responsibility for sailing the boats that have been built by GalGael. Once I have told Giles that I am compiling a record called ‘Voices of GalGael’, he promises to write some descriptions of the voyages.
I get into a huddle with Davy and Jack. They are going to take me back a bit so that I can understand why they got involved, and how they, and GalGael itself, developed alongside each other.
Davy : We had a portacabin for planing the timber and a wooden frame shed that Colin had built in earlier times, and that was for the boat itself. The shed was smaller than the boat which is why it was sticking out at both ends. It was 2000 and that was the boat that became the Orcuan
Jack : Davy took me into the shed to see it all. I was seventy years of age, and I’d just retired. I said I was looking for something to do, and Davy said I should just come down, that they were looking for people with experience. I’m an engineer but I’ve always been interested in woodwork. I was actually in architectural engineering in my last employment and from that I gained experience of working with wood. Before that I’d done all the sawing and other procedures by hand – it was my hobby – but now I was experienced. I got the job with the architect through a colleague who was in the same athletic club as myself and he had enough confidence in me to phone and tell me there was an opportunity in the firm he had just joined. So I had quite a lot to offer when I came upon GalGael that day.
I was flabbergasted to see this taking place in a back street in Govan. I had done some woodwork in the Pearce Institute. My grandfather was a ship’s carpenter and I’d had access to his tools for years. I said to myself “this is just what I’ve been looking for”, and it turned out to be just that.
I felt relief, and anticipation and excitement. I’d spent forty-five minutes with the people on the boat and I realised when I saw the way they worked that this wasn’t just a few people passing the time. This was something else. It certainly opened my eyes. In saying that, I had to be clear…. I told them I was very interested but I wouldn’t manage down for a few days but would certainly be back. And I’m still here. That was February 2000. Now it’s March 2007.
Davy : It was gradual with me. I was unemployed at the time and went to the Job Centre. I was sixty. They said, do you fancy going to college? You’d get a grant. I went to James Watt College in Greenock to do a full-time two-year course in Furniture Design, Furniture Making, and Marketing. I had been a golf-club maker for twenty-six years so it wasn’t unrelated.
We had to learn about the history of furniture. There was a lot of writing and learning about how to run a business. Five days a week. It was one of the greatest times of my life. I met another lad like me, an older student, George, who was Hungarian, and we got on well with the young students. Girls and boys, young and old. We’d all go together every day to the pub for lunch. I got my HND and was presented with it in Greenock Town Hall by the Provost. I had a gown and mortarboard and my family were all there. It was a great achievement for me as I had left school at fourteen and this was my first academic qualification. I learned to read and write properly, which meant a lot of essays and all that, and I enjoyed it.
When I finished college in the summer of ’98, I thought great. And during that summer the tall ships came to Greenock from all over the world. I’d always loved ships…boats and sailing were everything to me…so it was amazing to me to see these tall ships all coming in at one time. I walked along the wall to see them better and I saw this wooden stall with a canvas cover. I happened to look in and saw this model of a Viking ship, I thought it was, but it turned out it was a birlinn. The people around the stall seemed a rough lot, rough and ready (by my standards anyway). Then I saw Colin – a ragged man with long hair down to his waist and a long black beard, and I backed off a bit but he came forward to me and said “What do you think?”
I got talking to him and he drew out of me what my history was, what I did for a living. When I said boat-building and furniture making the man grabbed on to this and his eyes, his whole being lit up. After more talking I asked where they came from, and he said they had a small workshop in Govan. A week later I turned up at the workshop and the first thing they got me to do was make a table out of green oak. The top was three inches thick and the table was huge. Green oak is unseasoned wood and it wasn’t ideal but it’s all we had. After some years it became twisted and buckled but I thought it looked even better.
Colin got some funding to build Orcuan. There was Colin, me, Garry and Ian and a few volunteers. And we started building the boat. Then we got Peter Mathieson as head boat builder; he was from up north and had tremendous experience, and he trained us all in boatbuilding. The funding came in to pay him to do this. He guided us all. I forgot, Colin’s young brother Ian was part of it too. We learnt a hell of a lot from Peter Mathieson, and that learning curve got GalGael really started. The key to the process was to understand the way West Highland galleys were built in the past. During all that time on Orcuan, I studied books on galleys.
We had a dispute with the site owners and were thrown out, and also we fell out with Peter Mathieson. I think they wanted to set up in business together and then employ us, but Colin didn’t even consider it. We were left with this boat half finished and a lot of timber, and nowhere to put it all. Then Colin and Gehan found premises up at Craigton, Teuchterhill…an old scrapyard. We cleaned it out and set up again. It was a massive wooden shed and we got Orcuan transported up there and started building without Peter Mathieson. It took a year and a half to finish it. That building at Teuchterhill came as a godsend…we were desperate. It was a longer sounder arrangement, and we could do furniture making and boat building there. Volunteers turned up to give us a hand. Me and Jack had to travel all over the place to get bits and pieces. One day Colin asked us to go to the Chief of Clan Ranald at Ballachullish to take sizes off his boat. We turned up without even a tape measure. So we placed the rudder against the shed wall and took the measurements in relation to Jack whose height we know already. We took it all back, measurements, photographs and drawings, and finished Orcuan. A great achievement. Lads worked who’ve never built a boat before and we turned out a beautiful boat.
We left Teuchterhill when the lease ran out. By that time Colin had got us premises in Clydebrae Street on the riverside, an old engineering workshop. We spent a week or so cleaning it…the floor was saturated with oil…and we set up there. We started building a series of Ness yawls and a boat builder from Fair Isle came and helped us and advised us. He built the first one and gave us the templates to build our own. We were producing furniture too. Then we got a project to build a cruck frame for the Govnu’s Hoose in Bellahouston Park, that’s from ‘Gobhnu’ which is the ancient Celtic smith god. The model for it is on the windowsill behind you, Jenny. It’s in the amenity park, just below the House for an Art Lover, and is a climbing frame for the kids. It’s all covered in graffiti now but the massive oak beams are standing and the more mature it gets the more it seems to be part of the landscape. Colin created a giant granite sculpture with an old Celtic design carved on it and that stands within the wooden structure.
By this time GalGael had got funding for a mobile sawmill – a Wood Mizer. That has been a great help for cutting timber.
We have always been looking for better premises. We have ended up in Fairley Street having bought it outright with funding from Europe and other sources.
Jack : How do I feel? I feel very fortunate to have found GalGael. I can’t think of any other experience that would have given me the enjoyment that I’m having by being part of GalGael. I’m a very fit man. I am a Scottish Masters 5km for over 75s champion. That’s how fit I am. I’m well capable of working here and will continue for a good few years yet.
Davy : You should see the medals he’s got. How do I feel? I don’t know what I would be doing with myself. It gave me inspiration and a new lease of life after my retiral from employment. I was always making things and wanting to do things. When I met Colin it opened my life up to a great adventure.
Jack : The sail over to Ireland was an adventure.
Davy ; We were always out and about all over the country with Colin and Gehan and the kids and had a great time. There was so much energy. There was never any discrimination. Now we’ve got this far we are hoping to create an outdoor version of GalGael and that will bring more adventures. GalGael has fulfilled a chapter in my life. Colin was a very remarkable man. Without Colin I’m not sure if GalGael could have gone from strength to strength as it has.
Me and Jack are taking a back seat now. We are involved with all the projects but not as involved with the trainees as we used to be.
GALGAEL 15th VISIT 26th MARCH 2007
CARVER, VOLUNTEER PAINTER/DECORATOR
A strong hand comes out to shake mine.
Hallo, I’m Stephen
Hallo, I’m Jenny.
There’s a short silence. You always get a lovely welcome from whoever is in GalGael’s reception area, but I was a little taken aback at the suddenness. The only thing I could think of to say was that I was here to collect spoken accounts of the work and ethos of GalGael, and that I was a volunteer.
Stephen : I’m the same. I was a drug addict and I’m just off the drugs, I’ve been clean for five years. I fell 60 feet when I was breaking into the Washington arts Centre in Argyle Street, just beside the Kingston Bridge, and was in the Spinal Unit for a year...that’s an amazing place, a great place. I had time to think. I had broken both legs and damaged my spine but I missed the very heart of the spinal cord so the paralysis went away. So after that I had to stay in a hostel for two weeks. My relationship had broken up. While I was in the hostel, my partner came to look for me. She tried everywhere she thought I might be, and at last she reached Govan but then she was attacked. Luckily the police came immediately and they asked her where she was going and she said to find me, and gave them my name. They knew where I was and they took her there, to me, and we put our arms round each other and that was it. She didn’t know I was clean. We had always understood each other. We’ve been together since then and now we’ve got a baby...a wee boy...Stephen.
Out comes a photo on Stephen’s key ring. The dearest little baby looks at me with huge eyes, and I can see his contentment.
Stephen : He was seven weeks early, and weighed only four pounds. But the birth went OK and Wee Stephen is healthy. Watching that baby being born...there is no drug in the world that could make a human being feel the way I felt.
STUDENT ON PLACEMENT AT GALGAEL
I’m a Youth and Community worker for the Church of Scotland in the Govan area. The Churches are Govan Old, New Govan, and Linthouse St Kenneth’s.
I was first in contact with GalGael three years ago. That was in the Burleigh Street days, before these premises were obtained. I was getting to know the youth community.
Colin asked me to bless the launch of one of the boats. The Euan Namara which is Gaelic for Bird of the Sea. It was commissioned by the Isle of Arran for the community. What happens is you arrive here and you’re given a task, a purpose. I said to Colin “Are you sure that you want me to do that?” He said, “That’s your job”. GalGael finds the right kind of role for all kinds of people.
I knew that the new boat was, like all boats, linked to the idea of fishing as a means of sustaining life itself. I have some theology training and used this to help me extend these thoughts. I can send you the text of the blessing.
Sarah did give me the text of the blessing and here it is:
Lord of All Creation
You know the sight of boats all too well.
Your closest friends were people who depended on boats.
You sailed in them to teach people on the shore,
You drifted out of the busyness of the crowds for a time of quiet.
You performed miracles from boats,
Quietened the storm and told the fishermen where to find a great catch.
Each boat a vessel to show your love of all people.
For in those moments of laughter and learning,
Fear and frolics you revealed your true self.
Bless this Eun na mara
That she too will help people to find quiet, face storms,
Hear laughter and stories.
Bless the hands that made this boat with love.
Hold close – all who sail in her from her home of Govan
That they might be shown how to make the catch of their lives.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sarah : It was June 1994. The Govan Fair Queen did the part that goes “I name this ship...” and then I gave the blessing. The boat was then rowed off on its journey up and down the river and then it was sailed to Arran where it did a tour round all the primary schools. It was a birlinn. I think both oars and sail were used on that first voyage.
My office in the Pearce Institute was very near GalGael so after that I was in often for a visit. I would have a cup of tea with Colin and Gehan. Encouragement was given in both directions. We talked about the bigger vision, and spent a lot of time dreaming about Govan. You were, are, always welcomed. There is an expectation that you have something to contribute, you are of value. Even if it’s to share a cup of tea. It’s always done in a natural way. Time is given.
One other day we rowed one of the boats from Inverkip to Braehead. You saw different perspectives of Govan from the water. The river changes your perspective and people’s reactions are different too. Everybody waves. Our boat is not your average yacht, not a business boat. As well as looking different, it’s symbolic of so much more, to do with culture and history. Sailing in a boat with people who built that boat gives you a different feeling. To travel in transport which someone has made is quite special, I think. The people on the boat were such a mix - some passing through, some with long-term connections with GalGael. Whether you are with GalGael for a day or for a long time, there is something significant, symbolic, of the people’s journeys coming together.
Govan Old Church is built in a big cathedral style, and there are many Celtic symbols in the graveyards, carved on what are known as the hogback stones. These connect the church with GalGael.
Currently, I’m on a student placement. I’m doing my postgrad Community Education Certificate. Looking for something within the placement boundaries I could invest in, GalGael was the obvious choice because it’s innovative, and I like it. The University staff are happy to endorse personal choices. I felt so good when that was decided, happy to spend a bit of time here. There is a lot of coming and going, events are full of people and it’s good to connect with them again.
Eleven weeks, fulltime, of learning, meetings, and understanding how the organisation works. The longer you are here the more you carve out your own role. What is the best bit? A lot of what I do is reflective. I don’t fix things, but I think about how things can be seen, and maybe helped along, all the different ways. That is valued and I think that’s the best bit. There is an element of gentle problem-solving that can go towards repairing damaged lives.
Administration comes easily, as there are similar issues that I am used to and similar ways of handling them. We use the same systems; two way sharing, good approaches. Here there is space for creative thinking. The creative process too of course. Me? I’m specially interested in photography. I like using both colour and black and white. I used to take a lot of photographs of people and now I am focussing on landscapes. I’d say I have an eye for what looks good. Everyone needs to nurture their creative side. GalGael provides the various opportunities to express that.
I’m here from 9-5 for 11 weeks. What do I do for lunch? Someone always makes soup and I have that each day with the others. I think food is the key to joining in. In my job food is offered a lot, and people, especially young people, get included more easily as a result. Here, when people come in, they are nurtured both emotionally and physically.
GALGAEL 16th VISIT 17th APRIL 2007
I think if I asked Livi if his name was spelt with one v or two, he would just smile and say what does it matter. ‘It’s my name, my only name, the name I ‘m known by, I’ve no other’. I discover his full handle is John Livingstone but he is a wee bit jaggy about it so I’m sticking with Livi because I respect him, and in any case he says firmly ‘that’s me, that’s who I am’. This is what he told me.
Livi : Colin was leader of the Free State and I joined in with him right at the beginning in 1996. I had so much respect, so much time for Colin. When I first met him he said “Would you help me move this rock? I want to carve a serpent on it”. It was a big red sandstone rock and I asked him where he wanted it. “Over there”. So I just picked it up and carried it. Then he said, “I can use you”. I’ve been around ever since and we became friends.
I live in a tepee in the hills all the year round.
When we first got this building in Fairley Street I did a lot to help pull it together. The machines, everything that’s in situ, I had a wee hand in. Just helping Colin. He had this knack of waking me up when I needed to be woken up. He knew how to keep me busy. GalGael is my family.
I helped to build the furniture for the office and reception. The front desk is of tiger oak and the panel on the front is of granite with a salmon carved into it. We cut the space out and it all fitted perfectly, first time.
Over the years that’s what we did.
How did we get the wood? Colin had so many contacts. I don’t know. We’ve used thousands of pounds worth of wood. The yew round the doors, you can see, it’s two toned...dark at the centre then very light new growth round that and then the bark. The frames of the three doors and the window in Reception show all that and they’ve been cut to follow the edge and give the natural shape. All done with what we had.
Colin gave an amazing lot of good to others, and he saw potential in people, in bits of wood, in stones. This was the building blocks of everything that’s been done here. Others were pleased to help him in return. One was Jim Neary, who owned the building. He offered a four year lease with an option to buy, which was very fair of him. GalGael now owns it. Upstairs has not yet passed a full safety certificate so it’s used for storage and extra office space for just one or two people. Upstairs at the back I worked on the roof, and exposed the hammer beams inside.
Colin used to say, “I’ve got a job for you...take a boat to here , go and collect this wood from there”. He sent me all over the place. I always assumed we - Colin and me - would be doing things together forever. I also assumed he’d be burying me. He was the greatest boss. He had the talent of taking people and putting them into a situation they would thrive on. Selfless.
He once called me his cohort. I had to look it up. It means ‘drafted into a legion’. But so was he a cohort. Now I do what I’ve always done here. Pottering about. Me and my partner Fiona - Colin brought us together, he always knew we should be a pair - he had so much influence. I’ll always be sad, but I remember how much fun he had and wanted to have.
Last time the boats were out was at the Falkirk Boat Show which was located at the Canal where the Falkirk Wheel is. Everyone went, including Tam with his coin -striking and Big Allan with his fire-making. This was the GalGael thing - making a presence. The Orcuan was taken by trailer to Slamannan then lowered into the canal. And there was me, Livy, standing in the prow in my plaid, naked to the waist, being myself and being photographed from the towpath for the Scotsman newspaper. It was the most interesting looking boat in the whole boat show, with a wild-looking bunch on board playing drums and pipes. It was a medium sized birlinn, 30foot, with four pairs of rowers.
When we first decided to make the boat it was through finding a birlinn necklace. No birlinn had actually existed for a long time, so carvings were the only way of seeing what it was like. It was a great achievement when we built the Orcuan - the first birlinn to be made in Scotland (an Irish boat already exists) to have sailed the seas for centuries.
Fiona has joined in and I am wondering how she is getting on. She has willow ready to use, and is keen to start on it. She has been given an old fishing basket which belonged to the grandfather of a friend and she is going to make a replica of it because it has an interesting shape. She is still relying on her van as her space, so any willow or finished basket must fit into it.
Jim the Piper is also around today. He has got amazingly colourful shorts on which are a talking point, but he is a bit worried that wearing them reveals the fact that he has been waxing his legs. More later!
I’m on my way home and I’m thinking about the first time I saw Livi. It was on April 3rd 2006, six months after the death of Colin. A ceilidh - THE EAGLE NIGHT - was being held in the Pearce Institute to bring people together and Livi made a startling entrance in his plaid and his dancing shoes, a black-eyed spirit, who seemed to flit through the company like a bright flame. This was a kind of sombre occasion, but Livi’s lively presence, the musicians, the food, and Tam’s brilliantly laid back organisation, all combined to make it work. I thanked my lucky stars that Tam had invited me along; I thought it might be a baptism of fire, but it wasn’t. Just a getogether with a common purpose that really meant something, and part of that meaning was, and is, the welcome that is always given to a stranger.
GALGAEL 17th VISIT THURSDAY 28th APRIL 2007
JIMMY THE HAT
Jimmy tells me right away that he likes to wear different hats all the time - he’s got a lot of them, a Van Gogh hat, a Russian hat, but not a baseball cap. It’s got to be something specific, he says, something that stands out. I’m a gab, he says, and people talk to me. Wearing a hat helps. I like hats.
Jimmy : I got involved with GalGael through sitting round the fire in 1996 with Colin. Colin said “What do you think of the GalGael?”
I said “What’s that?”
He said “Strange Gael”.
I learned that this referred to the Norsemen who for three hundred years had been living alongside the Gaels. The Mainlanders thought of them as alien, so GalGael means ‘strange Gael’.
I said, “That suits. That goes”.
I went away and worked on a building project because Colin hadn’t got anything started. I worked with this Charitable Trust for 8 or 9 years. Then that finished. I had to see it through. My promise is my promise. Since returning here I’ve been spending two days a week - sometimes three. Today we moved a boat in. That’s future work. It was donated to GalGael. We’ll repair it and sort it and people will learn things off it. Then we’ll recycle it back into GalGael. It’s hard to get people with the skills to repair boats that were built in the 20s and 30s.
I was in Yarrows for fourteen years. I’m a metal worker to trade but I’ve got many skills. Skills are transferable and I share mine and learn from others. My passion is building.
GalGael provides an opportunity for young people if they want to take it and if they stick with it, it’s fulfilment for them and fulfilment for us. It’s a great start in life for them. A lot of young people want to learn but they’ve no tools, no opportunities. How do we pass on skills if they’ve not got the opportunities? GalGael is a place where they can get the opportunity.
I’ve known Gehan since the day dot. Tam knows me really well. Big Ian, I know him. It’s similar minds, going towards a common purpose and helping each other.
In a big place like Yarrows, you’re just a number. In GalGael it’s more than that, it’s a bond, more than a job. Yarrows is so big but GalGael is big too, in concept - people are always coming and going. They go and then come back. It doesn’t matter of they’re up north or in the Borders - if they’ve been involved they’ll come back and see everyone. It’s always like that. With a big company you only contact them if you want a job.
We’re going sailing tomorrow. The Orcuan, four pairs of rowers. There will be trainees rowing, probably about five of them, and the rest will be experienced. I’ll be rowing. Ian Bogle will be the master of the ship, the drum-beater. We’ll unberth the Orcuan, then go up-river to the weir, then bring it back. If the tide is with us it will take about an hour. If you’ve caught the tide and you’re all in harmony, it’s great and then we’ll have James the piper playing and that helps the spirit of it. Jim Neary might lend us his twelve seater and we’ll drive over the Squinty Bridge to where the Orcuan is, beside the Glen Lee tall ship.
Once we’ve got the momentum, it’s easy. The new ones watch the man at the forward end, the very front. What he’s doing, they follow. He makes the stroke. People stop on all the bridges and watch. It’s the pipes that does it. Mind you the boat is an unusual sight and they see that first, then they wonder where the pipe music is coming from, then it gets closer and closer, not like in the town when the piper is just standing nearby. They see the boat, then they see the piper.
Last week we went down to Largs to the Vikingar and took packed lunches. A wee day out. I hate the word bonding but we like being out together and anyway work should be fun. Vikingar was interesting, looking into our history. We never got that at school. We know what 1066 was, but we never knew our Scottish history, were never taught it at school.
First time I was in America visiting my son, we were up in the mountains. First road we hit was called Ireland Road. The second one was Scotland Road. We’ve carried that influence all over the world but here the children don’t even know our own history. It’s a shame.
GalGael trainees - their attitude is changing. It seems the further on they get, the more they get interested and this applies to me too. It’s a learning curve. I’ve worked all over and seen International Volunteer Services, and European Volunteer Services. Our kids never hear about these programmes where they can learn and pass on and meet people of the same frame of mind. Our kids don’t know about these schemes and it’s a shame. But GalGael is a Scottish programme for young Scots who need to learn as well.
This is the way the group works here - if everybody is out enjoying themselves or working together in the workshop, the knowledge is bandied about and is shared.
I’m doing the ECDL - the European Computer Driving Licence, and I’m on the first module. I was never interested before but my family is abroad and I want to e.mail them and hear back. So I’ve learned. I’ve got a reason for learning. That’s what happens. Mind you computers aren’t exactly a skill, not a creative skill. That tapestry over there, you can see it. It’s been made, created by someone, and that person may not even have known they could be creative, until someone says, why not have a try?
Orcuan of the Great Ocean
Alba of the High mountains
Scotland of the Hebrides,
May Orcuan bring to your shores
People of goodwill and hospitality,
May modesty and humility together,
Be with those who sail in our boat.
Hoist her sail, man the ropes and rudder,
Let the elements take us,
To the ancient isles,
Where tides race,
And eagles fly.
May she catch a few fish from the ocean,
To feed our clan,
May she carry our precious cargo,
Three saplings for planting the forests of tomorrow,
May she carry the precious cargo,
Of knowledge from the past,
And inspiration for tomorrow,
For Alba yet to be.
To the Creator we humbly bow down,
Accept these efforts we make,
For the joy and happiness of our community and nation.
23rd August 2002
On the launch of GalGael’s boat Orcuan
GALGAEL 18th VISIT THURSDAY 10th MARCH 2007
LAWRIE (Laurence) (Pops) SLOWEY
Lawrie : In my life I’ve been through countless jobs. I’ve been in diving teams, I’ve had my own business, I’ve worked on the North Sea. I’m retired now. Not sitting around in the house. My son and I have been doing the whole course here at GalGael, both of us. I’ve got certificates from all walks of life but the GalGael one is the best. It says on it that I am an URBAN CLANSMAN. That phrase is on the certificate and it makes you so proud, proud to be part of GalGael. It’s got such a ring to it. URBAN CLANSMAN. I’ve got a bag of tools too.
I can pass on any skills I have to people. The organising of trainees, and working in conjunction with instructors...I help them with things they wouldn’t normally do. They put it all together and have something to be proud of.
Last Thursday we had a guest from England, Aonghus Gordon. He leads a similar organisation in Sheffield and they are making cutlery in the way it was done in the past. He explained the way they go about things. As our guest he came on the Orcuan with us. Four pairs of rowers. It was just a short row to let him see one of GalGael’s boats (a birlinn), in action. We were telling him about when we were last on that boat. That was to Arran. We also described the sail to Ireland, especially going up the Strangford Loch; at the narrowest entrance to this loch there’s an 11 knot tide and you have to hope the tide is with you or you will never make it.
Another thing I want to mention about last Thursday’s short row is that Gehan said let’s have some GalGael zen. Everyone went quiet, just rowing or sitting. The quietness and peacefulness and the rhythm of the rowing helps your breathing. The atmosphere, the breathing, the exercising - that’s GalGael zen. Later, over wild salmon smoked and cooked over the fire back in Fairley Street, our guest, whose name is Aonghus Gordon, gave a speech and mentioned the peace and quiet of rowing on the Clyde. He said how important it is for people to learn how to gain that peace for themselves. The whole day was nice and having Aonghus with us was really good. It was like uniting two peoples from different parts of Britain - we can learn from them and they can learn from us. In the end, I had to leave. Jim was playing his pipes, it had been an excellent day. Everyone had contributed with the food; I had made a couple of chickens into a tandoori. All the food was wholesome - no packets. The exchange of ideas was good. Aongus talked a lot about reviving the old trades - glasswork, and, as I said, the old way of making cutlery.
The course I did was ten weeks then sixteen weeks - that was in 2006 - at the age of sixty-eight. I did both parts, and had my 68th birthday here. I was given a bottle of whisky. We had two guests from Seattle, so we got the quaich out and handed round the whisky.
I did the bird box and the spice rack - the bird box is in my garden, and I’m hoping a wee dunnock, (the Scots name for a hedge sparrow), that I’ve seen about will go in it. I made a small chair for my hallway at home out of the outside cut of an oak tree. The seat and legs are of ash, joined by mortice and tenon joints. These are the first things I’ve made since schooldays. I’m going to make a phone table to go with the chair.
Nowadays I come in a lot to help. Allan wants to build an extraction unit and I’m going to help him. After that I might help John Elder in the boat department, cleaning, painting, getting them ready to go back to sea. I want to put back into GalGael in any way I can. I help some of the trainees to get here. If they need it I can pick them up and take them home. Most don’t need that but if anyone does I’m willing to do it.
Simon, another volunteer, makes ship’s masts. I’ve seen him working with a drill and a sandbelt. He was sanding down the mast for one of the boats - the drill is adapted, by having a drum which turns the sandbelt over the mast. The drum is the same thickness as the mast or maybe a tiny wee bit thicker to allow it to go over and smooth the mast. I’ve never seen that before - it’s so good they way he’s worked it out.
My first time here it was just before the winter solstice, which is an important GalGael ritual. I was offered a whisky and we had venison and seafood, prawns, oysters. All Scottish food straight from the land or the sea. I was here for the celebration of the first snowdrops. The snowdrop bulb has the highest temperature of any bulb and this heat gives it the energy to force its way through anything.
Good times here, good banter. You learn little pieces of history and how to go about things.
Lawrie has got to go now so we say cheerio, but just then there is a major happening. Ian Bogle and Allan Walker are helping Robert McLean to lift a beautiful blanket box through Reception and into a car outside. I am speechless. This most useful and gorgeous piece of furniture is so obviously the result of loving effort and quite intensive concentration, and seeing it being carried through from the workshop into the broad light of day is a bit like unexpectedly coming across a newborn lamb or a calf when you’re passing a meadow in springtime. Robert McLean (the mother?) has shining eyes and flushed cheeks, and looks....happy doesn’t really cut it.
It’s a pine blanket box. I’ve been here ten weeks. I did my test pieces then we could make whatever we liked. Allan said a blanket-box is a big job but he said he would help me. Now I’ve done it. I did get O Grade Woodwork thirty years ago, and some of what I learned then came back and I picked a lot up when Allan was helping me.
I came on the course to brush up my woodwork. I like it because of the atmosphere and the other folk and the fact that there are no set times. You’ve got the freedom to come and go - you can get yourself a coffee - but you have to abide by the rules and regulations.
The corners of the blanket-box are dovetailed. It’s made of recycled wood. The box itself is of pine, and the hasp is of ash. The top was too big and I had to cut it, and when I got to this bit at the front I cut it wrong leaving a big spiky corner. Allan said I should learn how to round off so I learned that and that’s how my box has rounded corners. It gives it a different look from squared corners and I like it like that. The hasp is all cut and carved out. I did that myself but Allan checked it and showed me, and he made the padlock. John Elder helped me at the start and he designed the hinges and the handle-holds for the rope handles at the sides.
I’m taking it home now and I know exactly where it’s going in the living room and it’s going to hold my wee girl’s toys.
I came here in November 2006. I’ve been doing woodwork since I was eight years old. My very best thing is a table I made recently which I call The Vision. I’ll show you it later. It’s upstairs. Woodwork is my hobby. I am a furniture maker and I did have my own business but I got all my tools stolen (I did get a few of them back) and I got ripped off too. Then I caught a lung infection, and was very low. I had been brought up in an alcoholic environment and I became an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for fourteen years now. I think giving up the drink is the way to help others. The trouble is, when you do put down the drink there is a void and you have to fill it. I have filled that void with woodwork, but I don’t work at it commercially...I haven’t the heart for that as there’s too much pressure and anyway, I’m not ruthless. So I’m on benefit. But a friend next door to me suggested I came down to see the people at GalGael and that’s me ever since.
We go upstairs to the store and Allan shows me The Vision. It’s a coffee table four foot square. It’s his best piece to date. He is waiting for glass and beading to fill the inner square which is about an inch lower than the surround. It has Celtic designs carved on it. The table is made of reclaimed oak, and the inlays are darker, and of reclaimed oak flooring. The surface is smooth as silk, beautiful to the touch, and the legs have, in contrast, a slightly rough textured finish. Allan tells me the design in the centre is one of his favourites and he was pleased to be told that it had been one of Colin’s favourites too. It took four months to complete the table.
Allan : I think it’s going into an Exhibition in an old flooring place in the Broomielaw, so I’ll need to get the glass and beading to finish it. Tim, (the other furniture maker) is setting it up. He helps the trainees too. The main way to help the trainees is through confidence building. When Robert (McLean) started, he hadn’t too much going on in his life. Then suddenly he has a goal, and keenness. I’ll give people who have that all the time in the world. I think if you believe you can do it you will do it. When I was a small boy my father made me learn to saw in a straight line by cutting scaffolding boards - you know, big planks. I would be two days cutting one board. If I tell the trainees that’s how I learned to use a saw they don’t believe me.
I mentioned the void that happens when you give up drinking. Creativity fills that void for me. To anyone, I’d say, always have a hobby.
It has been a very eventful and stimulating visit as usual, but before I leave there is more.
TAM tells me he is going to an event in the Glasgow School of Art on this very evening to meet Scotland’s best known Gaelic poet Derick Thomson - Ruaraidh MacThomais. Tam’s main aim in attending this is to describe the work of GalGael, especially the emphasis on cultural heritage; GalGael’s interest in boat building, its achievement and practical application to the building and sailing of the birlinn; and Govan’s connections and links with the Outer Hebrides, where some members of Govan’s population of today can find traces of their roots. Tam is taking two very important gifts with him to offer to Derick Thomson; firstly a polished timber rib of a boat bearing the words FAILTE…A’TIGHINN BHON CHRIDHE secondly, an invitation to visit GalGael’s premises to see what is happening there, to speak in Gaelic with some of the Trainees and Staff, and to be given the chance to become an Urban Clansman. Derick Thomson is also invited to partake of the GalGael traditional feast.
On my way home I am thinking about the honour of becoming an Urban Clansman. I am wondering if you absolutely have to be a famous poet or a successful Navigate the Future graduate. I’m wondering if I will ever be able to put Urban Clansman after my name. I’ll need to ask.... but if it’s to do with sharing the same goals and values, maybe they’ll consider letting me be one. And even more. Tam has given me a copy of the first issue of the new Newsletter which is entitled URBAN CLANSMAN : GALGAEL’S GUIDE TO URBAN SURVIVAL. In this great wee publication I read news of Trainees who were kind enough to talk to me and tell me about themselves a whole year ago on my early visits in the Spring of 2006. I also read of work completed, skills developed, potential discovered; a building being strengthened, a social community becoming more firmly established and an open door to a future that is full of hope. My documentation of VOICES OF GALGAEL will soon, like Robert’s blanket -box-cum-toy-box, be rounded off, but the spirit of the Urban Clansmen is, I hope, permanent, as it represents all that is really important
GALGAEL 19th VISIT THURSDAY 31st MAY 2007
It was six or seven years ago and I’d given up on life. I’d had an operation on my spine and I was in the doldrums. I had no work and I was staying on my own, but I didn’t sit about the house going boohoo all the time. I tried to re-decorate the house, and then one day I met a few people at the Govan Fair.
I stay right on the banks of the Clyde. From my house I can see straight across to where the River Kelvin flows into the Clyde. I used to go down and feed the swans. When you’re alone your loaf turns before you’ve eaten it. Anyway, on this particular Saturday, the day after the Govan Fair I mentioned, this character came over. Dreadlocks, beard, tackety boots – and said “Can you row?” I’ve rowed from when I was a kid, I’ve done a lot of rowing. I looked at him. “What’s this about?” I said. He then told me the history of the Scottish birlinn. He said he was launching the first birlinn to sail for hundreds of years and he needed some help. I said “Hang on till I get my slippers off”. I’ve been here, with GalGael, ever since.
Can you row? It’s an unexpected question to be asked in Govan even though Govan is where many ships were built, even though I lived on the very site where Harland and Woolf used to be. In fact I worked on the building of those houses. Twists and turns. Amazing. Still, it was a strange question. Can you row?
The boat Colin was talking about was the Orcuan. I loved it. I still love it. We took it on the North Sea, up and down the Clyde, out to the Firth of Clyde and to Ireland and back. So far that’s all – we’ve not reached America yet. I forget we also sailed the Orcuan on Loch Lomond and on a wee loch in Fife – I forget the name. Terrific times.
When I started with GalGael the premises were at Teuchterhill. You were up to your knees in mud in the winter and covered in dust in the summer. Sometimes I would take time off, even on days we were sailing – and brood and feel sorry for myself.
My son is a lift engineer. I asked him to come and see me at GalGael. I wanted him to see what I was doing. He spent a day – it would be November 2000. There was no reaction at the time. Nothing. I had one of my spells off around then. Then I got my Christmas card from my son and it said HAPPY CHRISTMAS. I’M PROUD OF THE WORK YOU ARE DOING AT THE GALGAEL. It meant a lot that my son said that, but I felt I’d let GalGael down by staying away and I knew I had to go back. I felt the pride too.
When we started here in Fairley Street – volunteers like Livy and many others worked at getting it fixed up – that’s when they started the Navigate the Future Course. One day as I walked towards Fairley Street I saw a big ginger tom cat with a wee bird in its mouth run in front of me. I managed to get the cat and retrieve the bird – a house martin. It still had its yellow down feathers and couldn’t fly. It must have fallen from the nest. I brought it here and we nursed it and fed it. Colin’s family took it home at night to keep watch over it. When it appeared to be strengthened enough, Colin and his daughters took it to the shore of the Clyde where I’d first seen it, and it flew off as natural as anything. Colin’s daughter said, “It flew off to its mum and dad”. We all loved her telling that story.
I likened that to the trainees who came in. They were just starting their Navigating the Future course, like fledgelings. We’ve had quite a few successes, young ones ready to take flight on their own. I was, am, touched by that.
Robert came in. He’d been homeless from when he was fifteen to when he was twenty-three. He came in here, moved on, passed his tests, got a job and got a house. He’s started college, and wants to be a plumber. He met a girl in college, a French girl and he’s getting married to her in Lyon next year and he’s invited me. “Have you got a passport?” he said, “I want you to come.” When he got his first wage he wanted to take me out, but for me it was enough to see him clear-eyed, clean, healthy, and up for all the challenges of life. Mind you, getting married is a challenge in itself, isn’t it?
We both feel the same way about that and so we have a good laugh together.
Fred : I encouraged him, that’s all I did. He had been a professional homeless person and this makes you institutionalised. You get happy to be homeless, happy to have all your decisions made for you. I had a chequered past myself and had been in institutions – my choice – I had a good upbringing but I made a few big mistakes – so I wanted to help and when I saw people coming into GalGael I wanted to listen and encourage. Not that I’m perfect, but I’ve found my independence and I have a key to my door. And I did help. Robert is a good example and I feel proud of that though of course it wasn’t just me, it was everybody in the organisation. It’s good here…you get your upsets – like when things don’t go fast enough – but successes outweigh the bad bits.
I made a table but I don’t need furniture, it’s just another thing you have to dust. Right now I’m sanding down an old prawn boat. Is it satisfying? No, It’s tedious, but when it’s finished it’ll be satisfying. It’s a gift from a man in Fife. He saw our website and phoned us to say, come and see this boat. He gifted the prawn boat and we are repairing it. We’ll use it as a support boat; it has both engine and sail.
The people I’ve met, students, friends, associates, it’s taken me down a different path. I’m really grateful to them all, including yourself, Jenny.
I believe ‘they’ are wanting to empty Govan so that rich people with boats can enjoy the river. A friend of mine said years ago, when they started taking down the tenements, “It’ll become a playground for the rich”. I believe that’s what’s happening, especially with the BBC and ITV coming in. GalGael ate trying to build a pier and a longhouse. There certainly was a pier at Govan until forty years ago. GalGael is also trying to secure a bit of the river at Govan Church so that we can have public access to the river. I’m quite sad – I don’t know what they’re going to do with us. The new houses are going to be too close to the river and we won’t get access to it.
My granddaughter is thirteen. She loves it here. She doesn’t come around as much now that she is growing up but she’s got a loud voice and is great at selling raffle tickets.
When I heard that Colin had been taken ill and his life was in danger I was devastated like everyone else. I decided to go and buy a bottle of whisky and take it home and just drink it. Then I met one of the new trainees who said “where are you going?” I said, “to buy fags”. He asked if he could come with me and I said he could.
I never got that bottle of whisky and I think Colin was watching me. When I look at that picture of him beside the reception desk, I see that he still has his eye on me. He sees everything I do.
GALGAEL 20th VISIT TUESDAY 5th JUNE 2007
I’ve been reading in the excellent Urban Clansman (the first issue of GalGael’s new-style newsletter) about the newly acquired croft at Loch Awe. The lease is in place and work can start. This will create opportunities to learn about forestry, and many aspects of the environment. Urban Clansmen will live there together for weekends or longer,and will cook and eat as well as develop their creative skills. It’s a terrific asset and there is plenty of excitement shivering through GalGael in Fairley Street. The newsletter asks people to donate household things so I am arriving by car with a bag of bulbs, a pot of chives, and a few items of crockery.
The first thing that happens when I get in is that Tam shows me photos of the Govan Fair, held on Friday evening, the first Friday of June. For many, the Govan Fair was the starting point of their association with GalGael. The photos are mainly of the float which, with its Urban Clansmen and Clanswomen on board dressed as pirates, is named PIRATES OF THE HEBRIDEAN. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of fun in these photos. One thing that stands out is a great picture of Fred O’Hara, dressed, like the others, as a pirate. The difference is on his shoulder, Fred carries not a parrot, a talking bird which simply mimics and repeats whatever he hears from the people around him. No. Fred is supporting an owl on his shoulder.
That says more about GalGael than a whole library of information could provide.
It’s August 29th 2007 and I’m back doing some editing, and I’m lucky enough to meet Dennis.
21st VISIT WEDNESDAY 29th AUGUST 2007
LORRY DRIVER AND VOLUNTEER
Dennis : I’ve been involved with GalGael for eight, nine years. The first time I met Colin was at the Lord Provost’s Procession. See first impressions? I thought, here’s one of these new age hippies. But he made me feel so welcome, even though he gave me a cup of tea in a mug that was chipped and dirty. You had to just not look. And I learned later that food was served caveman style even with fish. But that was nothing and I didn’t bother.
I went to Malaig with Colin to bring the Orcuan back. This wonderful boat had been transport for the GalGael people who had been invited to Alistair McIntosh’s wedding on the Isle of Eigg. Alistair was one of GalGael’s Trustees, a key person from the start. His wedding was a never-to-be forgotten event, full of Celtic rituals and ending with a party in the Community Hall.
Now it was time to bring the Orcuan back by road on my artic, with its big crane on the back. We’d had a right good chat on the way up. Deep talk, about everything. He was making things all the time, using his hands, creating gifts out of string or wood – a wee fender, say, carved. He’d spend four hours making it, then he’d just give it to you. You’d always treasure these things.
In Mallaig he was a bag of nerves in case the boat was damaged while it was being hoisted by the crane. I had to say “Colin, just stand back…I know what I’m doing”. I wasn’t offended. The boat was his pride and joy, everything to him. Having said that we did hit the roof of a bridge on the way back, but Colin took that in his stride. We had completed what we set out to do so he was fine.
Once when I helped out by going off to get the boat back, when I got there they were all away sailing and I’d not much time because I was juggling this trip with the demands of my job. But I could never stay angry with Colin for long. And he had a big effect on me. I could never forget him.
Now, I’m still a lorry driver and I help GalGael by moving boats or timber. I do the Govan Fair, when I make my lorry into a float. I have to be careful when I’m fitting things round my job but it’s often the weekend when I join up with my friends here.
GalGael is a fantastic thing, a great idea of Colin’s. Now we are at a stage when politics, personal politics that is, are so much to do with self gain, and the people that really matter are at risk of being left behind. The amount of expertise here needs to be valued, to be given whatever kind of recognition it takes, to ensure we don’t lose it. Colin always could spot anyone who was there for the wrong reasons. This kind of thing could, possibly, mess GalGael up – but I hope it never happens. I wouldn’t want to see that. So many have come through here and have emerged with self-respect. It happens through treating people as equals even if they are not very good at explaining themselves. Being honest, I’m not always very good at that myself.
It has to continue.
22nd VISIT THURSDAY 4th OCTOBER
WOODWORK TRAINER (among other things)
I’d lived near Inverness for ten years when I came back to Ayr where I’d been born and brought up. This was April. In May I went to a festival which is not something I usually do but I went for the craik. I met a bloke I hadn’t seen for years and he put me on to a boy who was involved in Free State. The guy I had known for years said they’d been having a good discussion on land and other related matters. He said if I was interested I could get talking. It turned out that the guy he’d been discussing things with was Colin Macleod.
As a country boy I had never ever imagined coming to the city. For me the city was a taboo. Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth…I would never consider it. But once I knew what it was that Colin Macleod was talking about, that was different.
We clicked right away. I came up to meet him and gradually got involved in GalGael. I shared a lot of thoughts with Colin about the West Highlands, boats, language, land and the culture of the people. From that time we kept in touch. Then one day we went up to Ballachulish and took a boat out…the AILEACH. It was built in Ireland by MacDonalds, Boat Builders, Scottish boys who’d left for Ireland after the ’45. And there’s another big debate.
Me and Colin and some others took the AILEACH out for a row and a sail on Loch Leven and Loch Linnhe. We beached the boat and stayed the night on an island in Loch Linnhe and what a great time we had. It was very hard going, the rowing, with the wind and tide against us both ways and 16 rowers were pulling the heavy birlinn, and it was the first time I had rowed at all, I’d only ever experienced MacBraynes Ferries before that day. The craik and the camaraderie…just brilliant. On my father’s side my family were West Highlanders and I’ve always had a feeling for boats. That journey on the AILEACH…I just took to it. Totally natural.
In addition to being a woodwork trainer I manage the Loch Awe Project, the rural vision that is close to GalGael’s heart. I firmly believe in all the issues. It’s a personal odyssey. I feel strong personally, and I feel very strongly about people in the city who are denied this. I believe the historical background of Scotland represents centuries of baggage, which means a wedge has been driven between the people of Scotland. All the social problems…the ill health, the drugs, the crime and others, come from this divorce from the land in my view. It’s of huge importance to me, and many others. See when you go to a high rise flat? It’s no way to live…no green space, no fresh produce, no…..richness in life, and the lack of these things speaks volumes. I mean the kind of richness that leads to spiritual and emotional health within the self instead of what we have, which is a kind of dissociation.
I think Scotland is a massive example of a dysfunctional society, and I think it is the result of feudalism. The Scottish Government are beginning to see some of this, but if they don’t go further with it there will remain a huge gap.
I have built two or three wagons. I’m a horseman to trade, a horse logger, a driver of horses. I sold my last horse a few weeks ago. I lost my grazing through development. It’s a sore point. I had a volatile upbringing and moved house twenty times. I’ve had to move my grazing twelve times. Houses valued at £500,000 or £750,000 are going on the last grazing land I had. I’m nothing in that scene. Just like Free State…then we were nothing to the big boys. To be honest, after struggling for twenty years – family, job, beliefs, horses, dogs, trying to keep them all was very very difficult and I’ve only just kept going. I worked so hard to achieve all that.
If I had a bit of land, a small-holding or something like that, I’d be settled for life. My heart is in the Highlands and I’ll never be right till I’m there. The belief, and the work we are doing, and what we are achieving here in GalGael, - all the strands - that’s what keeps me going.
The wagon through in the workshop is a Scottish four-wheel flatbed lorry. The Transport Museum is the only place you will see anything like it. It was built near Aberdeen, between Aberdeen and Inverness. I kept the iron tyres and replaced every nut and bolt. It was nearly done for when I saw it, but I stripped it right down to its most basic form and rebuilt it. You can tell where a wagon was built, because all wagons of one type come from the same district.
I go out to the workshop to have another look at Seumas’s wagon which is kept here and used occasionally for big days. It is 11ft 1in long and 5ft 6ins wide. The shaft are, folded back on to the wagon to save taking up extra room, and are 6ft 7in. It is painted a smooth deep red with a bronze trim The four curved parts of the undercarriage are like huge and weighty versions of an old-fashioned Silver Cross pram. I’m trying to imagine the strength it would take to build it in the first place…Seumas says this would have been in the 1920s…and then to take it apart and build it again sixty or seventy years later. I’m really impressed and quite moved by it. My friend Davy, the furniture maker, passes by and says “It’s a work of art, isn’t it”.
My afternoon is nearly over. Or so I think. Then Billy the silversmith comes over and I ask him about ropework, because I’d heard it referred to as being an important thing at GalGael. Here’s what he told me.
Billy : A pal of my Uncle Fred was in the Merchant Navy and he could make anything out of a rope….a chair, a ladder. He would make it look so simple. Colin made things out of rope; handles for sea-chests, rope mats, all kinds of things. The use of rope leads to far more things than knots and ladders. A young sailor starting out will have to ‘learn the ropes’ before anything else. Now that phrase can mean anything, learning anything, but it originated from literally having to learn how to tie knots in ropes, and make rope serve many purposes. Ropes give all of us here inspiration for Celtic knot designs and rope borders. I even use it in my silver work…a twisted rope design in silver is a universal thing. Rope has always been valued at GalGael and always will be, it serves so many purposes.
23rd VISIT THURSDAY 4th OCTOBER 2007 (later on in the day)
Tam says there is an Australian visitor I might like to meet. In comes Bill Dorman of Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia. Bill teaches metal sculpture, in a school where special recognition is given to youngsters with emotional or behavioural problems. His job is to steer them into a creative challenge which will guide them through and beyond the pitfalls. This project has had such a good outcome that the education authority made an award to Bill of money to fund travel to a country of his choice. He chose Scotland and sought out GalGael instinctively.
As soon as I knew I was travelling, I chose Scotland, because I felt connected. I have a slightly Celtic look with my colouring and reddish hair and although I have no knowledge of any Scottish ancestry I am sure I have some Scottish connection.
My criteria, my work description of my method is “Go out fishing with Granpa”. In other words, you try together to problem solve and find ways of doing something well. The kids in my school often say “You’re the teacher, you know everything”. If I were to go along with that, they might never achieve anything, they might just leave it all to me. So I say, “We’ll do this together and see what the possibilities there are”. The result is that they have the opportunity to think and in the end the work is really and truly theirs. That’s the heart of it.
I met Tam and Gehan here at GalGael and we talked about ways in which I might help while I am here. I have made a grille for the bothy room door, which is really a safety measure as it is bolted in front of the glass so that everyone realises it IS a door. The design is by Tam – we share a love of metalwork. The top bit looks like two boomerangs, stretched into a kind of cat’s cradle shape. Below that, in the larger space, is a coiled adder or serpent.
Since I’ve been here I’ve helped to clear out the metalwork materials and make the space more usable. We’re hoping to get the furnaces working and then we can do blacksmith work. But Billy would get dust from that into his silver, especially when he is smelting, so we decided to close off his workshop with a wall. All that will be completed before I leave on Friday. I’ve been away for a month…it’s time to get back to my wife and three kids and my school. It’s been a great experience coming here and sharing ideas. I felt completely at home from the first moment I walked in, and I guess it’s because we share the same values.
He gives me a beautiful leaflet showing the work of some of the pupils at Mulwaree High School, Goulburn. The subtitle is “Owning Our School”.
I am sitting having a cup of tea before going home when I start thinking about the silk screen panels in the foyer of GalGael. I was going to describe them one by one, but then I thought…..why don’t you come and see for yourself, which is what Anne Livingstone did on Glasgow’s Doors Open Day, 16th September 2007.
In her own words
I had heard about GalGael from a friend, and had seen some of their work on display at the River Festival, so I was curious to see the setup. Doors Open Day was the perfect opportunity.
As I approached the building I could see the entrance was festooned with balloons, and a group of people outside were being entertained by a piper. I received a lovely warm welcome, and was introduced to my tour guide, John Elder. His particular passion is boat-building, specifically wooden boats. He described how they use donated timber and re-cycled floorboards that would otherwise be destined for scrap. The variety of work was amazing; tables, dressers, chests and garden seats carved in the shape of mushrooms. Even the hinges were either of timber or made in the forge at the back of the GalGael workshop. It made me realise as if for the first time how beautiful wood is as a building material; whorl and grain, the most subtle gradations of dark to light, hardwood, and all degrees of suppleness.
John was very enthusiastic about the work that GalGael produces, and so were all the other staff members who were around that day. Quite a lot of the products are selling, though some of the boats are kept for voyages (mainly up the West Coast to explore heritage of the islands), while others are returned to their owners having been entrusted to GalGael for repair. Rowing an old Scottish Viking longboat is a great accomplishment, and GalGael trainees can add this to their other new skills. At this point in the tour, John was side-tracked by a couple of young women who were having problems with a leaking fibre-glass boat. Phone numbers were exchanged with John promising to help if he could. While this was going on, another staff member had the opportunity to demonstrate his skill at making exquisite miniature boats housed inside bottles. There were many fine carvings on display, and even a replica of the Lewis chess set.
Recently, GalGael acquired the lease of an empty farmhouse near the shore at Loch Awe. It will be furnished and used as a place where city dwellers can experience life on the land, a learning experience, a chance to consider other ways of living.
Towards the end of the tour, John pointed out an example of rather avant-garde art that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Tate Modern. It consisted of a large empty frame hung with papier-mache body parts. One of these was a hand, and I got quite a start when one of the fingers recoiled on touch. It was obviously made of some kind of rubber.
“Ooh, I didn’t expect it to do that!”
“No”, said John, laughing. “I didn’t know it did that either.”
John and I then said our goodbyes, and I headed off to the main entrance, which I’d missed on the way in. There on the wall was a memorial to Colin Macleod, who set up GalGael, and who sadly died in November 2005 at the age of thirty-nine. Part of the memorial conveyed very well the intense shock that everyone felt. As I watched the candle burning everlastingly in Colin Macleod’s memory, I reflected on how important this project is, and how wonderful it is that it is continuing to thrive.
FAREWELL, FOR NOW. RETURNING TO GALGAEL IS AN ESTABLISHED CUSTOM, AND I’LL BE ONE OF THE MANY WHO WILL GLADLY FOLLOW THE TRAIL BACK TO FAIRLEY STREET.
Jenny Laurie November 2007
2nd Visit: Billy, John, Rosie, Helen