Bill Mills' room

Bill Mills

Two Acres in Coll

by  Bill Mills

On going aboard any puffer the first thing you were asked was -

“Would you like a cuppa?” And that is when you would hear some of the stories.

          While sitting sipping my huge mug of tea the cabin boy had given me, the Skipper started teasing the lad about his lack of success with the lassies-especially the other night in Coll. The cabin boy was older than most cabin boys, surprisingly well spoken and well mannered –just a little bit slow.

          The Skipper told me that no matter how hard he tried, how nice he was to a lassie, whenever they heard him speak they thought he was kidding them on.  I asked what had happened in Coll.

          There had been a dance on the Saturday night and the cabin boy had really taken a fancy to this particular lass, but with the usual result.  When  the young chap saw this girl getting friendly with his arch enemy on the puffer-a young seaman- he lost his temper and tried to force her to dance with him.  She laughed at him and his rival pushed him away.

       The cabin boy returned to the fray, stood in front of the girl and said “ Will you dance with me if I give you a couple of acres?”  The lassie snapped back “I’ll give you a couple of acres”- and promptly kneed him hard in the groin. His ardour was quickly snubbed.

          The Skipper finished the story by telling me that the funny thing was that the cabin boy’s family were very well connected on the mainland and had some land on the island. The girl didn’t understand that she was being offered ‘2 Acres of land for one dance with the cabin boy.’

          Returning from a summer cruise sailing up the West Coast of Scotland we decided to take the short cut through the Crinan Canal and while the Skipper was paying his dues to the Waterways office he was warned that there was an old Puffer coming through that didn’t always obey the navigation rules of the Canal. When asked where we might meet the puffer we were told –“Who knows ?. But you will get good warning –just keep looking  up through the trees rather than round the canal bends.!” We thought that was a very peculiar way to give advice.

          About halfway through the Canal we found out the meaning of the warning. We did happen to be looking up and not round- when one of us shouted look that must be the puffer coming and following a raised pointing finger just above the treetops were great clouds of smoke-now we understood. Keeping well in to the bank we slowed down –and round on the wrong side of canal came this rusty old puff-puff lady. As she passed we saw she had some passengers- about ten we thought- all covered in soot from the funnel and with other black marks of their clothes.

          The old puffer had been converted –if that was the word-to end her days on a commercial footing-goodness knows what the brochure read but the folk on deck we had observed had – (we were told later) arrived on scene with no one to greet them and had been sitting as best they could about deck when a lorry with a load of coal arrived alongside. The driver had some experience of this puffer and her Skipper and one crew-his wife. The ‘passengers’ were told that Skipper and wife were probably in the pub and could the passengers help in getting the coal aboard so the lorry driver could get on his way. Reluctantly the poor holidaymakers started lifting bags of coal from lorry to puffer.

          When the ‘crew’ had arrived it was all treated as a good laugh-but not by the paying customers. Hence the state of the poor ‘cruise ship’ folk when we passed them.

          Another day – another Puffer! 

Bill Mills