From the Clan of the Cave Bear

25 Oct

The cloud capped Isle of Mull over the Firth of Lorn from the clan home of the cave bear* —


One might well think so when you live on the Island of Luing and your partner is interested in mosses – one of the original living organisms – it has been around since before the sharks. I hasten to add I’m referring to the moss (not my partner Helen) which grows on the dank mainly sun-starved rocks in the many deep cuttings on the island quarried by slate miners and quarriers as they searched for that elusive perfect slate.

The Luing slate with it’s many veins of iron pyrites – ‘fool’s gold’ – was popular in the early years when slates were split from the mother lode by hand but the same iron pyrites proved to be a problem in the machine age as it knocked hell out of the expensive saws used to cut them into shape.


With over one thousand types of moss – each one bearing a Latin name it’s not an easy subject to master and the poor photographer soon get’s told by the mossochist** where to point his camera —


No worries – having spent several years in both Southern and Northern Hemisphere’s working in quarries and hard rock tunnels he’s more interested in the drill markings in the rock face beside her.

The long score-like marks show where the drillers bored through the rocks either in pairs using hammer and twist drill or with air powered more modern equipment before stemming the hole with powder or gelignite – setting a detonator – retiring a hopeful safe distance – covering their ears if they are fussy and pressing the plunger —


With a bit of luck all the holes blow together and the rockface comes down. On the other hand when even one charge fails to detonate it’s a worry to all concerned as the charge could still be live and the poor ‘mucker’s out’ are there in the front line as they clear the debris from the blast. I have worked and played as the plant fitter alongside many ‘Tunnel Tigers’*** and they certainly didn’t expect to live long in their chosen career.


Strangely enough it was usually the drink that killed my workmates and it slowed me down for a few years too while I fought – drank and sang along with them when I left my young family behind during a strike-hit UK in the late 1960’s and chased the ‘silver dollar’ around the world in an effort to pay the mortgage.untitled

Hard rock tunnelling is notoriously hard on the workers and machinery involved – with one job in particular where we worked in ‘bad’ rock that would one day house an electrical power station at the Kariba Dam between the two warring former Rhodesias – emergent now Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Photo shows the dam wall with 400ft depth of water behind it. The dam stretches 173 miles back up the Zambesi River – almost to the Victoria Falls and is 43 miles wide at it’s widest point.
church-of-santa-barbaraIt was no surprise when the authorities built a special chapel to commemorate the dead as it had been a case of working with one eye on the quarry wall or tunnel roof and the other on the repair in hand in an effort to keep the job moving.

The Victoria Falls —


It was usually safer to crawl underneath the broken machine and if possible effect the repair from below – at least a substantial dump truck or loading shovel gave some sort of protection from falling rocks —


A mandatory hard hat was no protection when one of these fellas came tumbling down —


I reckon my current bunnet complete with pom-pom would have been just as much use 🙂


Clan of the Cave Bear* – any resemblance to the fictional historical novel by Jean M Auel is purely coincidental.


Mossochist**:: a term coined by givitsum**** to describe the modern day moss and lichen hunter who blindly pursue their prey without thought of danger to life or limb in doing so.

Tunnel Tigers***:: that breed of self-styled hard men who earned their living by tunnelling the Scottish Highlands to connect one valley’s river with the next to feed the many hydro-power stations built there in the 1950’s and 60’s at a time when ‘elf n safety was virtually unheard of in the industry.

givitsum****:: in this case a noun – from the verb used in motorcycling terms ‘to givitsum’ – usually accompanied with a twist of the wrist and unless you have been living on Mars for the past hundred years needs no further explanation 🙂


Leave a comment

Posted by on October 25, 2016 in Isle of Luing


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: