What appears to be many moons ago, I did write a book about the history of Dalgarven Mill, and its eventual transformation through the Manpower Services Commission exercise into the really rather nice set of historical buildings that you see today.
Two things have happened recently. The first thing that happened was a visit by a former labourer (we had approximately twenty-eight, more than we really needed, but only because the money spent on their wages had to equal the money spent on the wages of the tradesmen, joiners, plumbers, slaters, historians, reseachers, conservators, whom we employed at the same time!).
In conversation he said ‘were you aware that the first pic of the jobs here went to those youngsters who had been either in prison or borstal?‘ I looked at him in astonishment, and said ‘well that explains quite a few things!‘. The first is that the two young students who had been helping as volunteers for more than a year and who had been given two of the posts at my insistence, had tried to escape the initial meeting until I saw them leaving and said ‘what the hell do you think you are doing, it took a lot of argument to get you this paid work‘. ‘Leave it Rob‘ said one. On my high horse by this time, I assumed because I knew they were of a certain faith they had been verbally abused, so I stormed into the meeting, saying ‘there will be no religious bigotry on this site, I am an Episcopalian and I don’t give a damn about the rest of you’. ‘Rob Rob‘ says one of them, tugging at my sleeve until the three of us had left the hut, ‘it’s nothing to do with religion’ – ‘so what is it?‘ said I. Martin looked carefully in both directions and said ‘they had a roll call, and we are the only two who haven’t been in Barlinnie!‘. It meant nothing really at the time, except it explained maybe to my naive mind that is why they had been unemployed. But as time went on, the leopards were finding it difficult to change their spots…. and almost everything that wasn’t nailed down was prey to their evil intentions. My wife, who shared my innocence at the time, said to me ‘I was driving to Kilwinning today, at the same time as the labourers were leaving, the ones on their bicycles seemed to have bundles of things hanging from their machines, and don’t quite know what they were!‘. I didn’t know either, and questionning only brought denials of any knowledge of what she might have been talking about. However, a few days later, we had a fairly momentous step forwards in that, having queued in a hired lorry with a considerable amount of cash in my hip pocket to secure some wonderful pitch pine beams from a demolition site in Greenock, we were now ready to fit these on site. With some excitement, they were secured from their store, and carried to their position in the restoration. I watched with interest as they were hoisted into position only to discover that having been purchased at the ideal length for the space, they were now considerably shorter than they should have been! The penny didn’t drop instantly, but an inspection of where they had been stored confirmed that the swinging parcels on the back of the bikes were kindling which was being sold in the town, possibly the most expensive kindling ever provided!.
However, this and other escapades apart, they did carry out the most incredible programme of work that made the Mill possible, so perhaps we could forgive the tendencies of some!
The second thing occurred a few days ago when someone who now runs a successful business introduced himself to my grandson as one of the 17 year olds who had their life transformed by watching his grandfather work, plan, exhort all and sundry to benefit from and enjoy the project. So, philosopher I am not, but you never really know what effect you are having, as was also demonstrated yesterday when a visitor said ‘excuse me, did you once teach architecture at Strathclyde University?‘. ‘Yes’ I said, ‘well I was once of the students there, not that you ever taught me directly, but I thought you would like to know that despite qualifying, I eventually became a methodist minister which is what I am today, but it’s lovely to meet you!‘
So, as you go about your daily tasks, just remember: somebody is always listening and maybe, just maybe, you could do them some good!