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November 2010 Archives

November 4, 2010

To Tarbert, with enthusiasm

Back in 2007 we published a guidebook for the Kintyre Way, then at an early stage of development. Over the last three years it has acquired a Ranger, the energetic Owen Paisley, and both its route and its waymarking have been much improved as a result. It just ran a photographic competition, and the winning entry shows Dunaverty Bay, the view that greets the walker at journey's end. I congratulate David Joule of Ulverston Cumbria on his image:


Yesterday the Kintyre Way group had invited me and two other speakers to its Annual conference in Tarbert. David Adams McGilp, a local man who’d come back to the area as Regional Director for VisitScotland, kicked off. His challenging title was "VisitScotland: who needs us?" and his style refreshingly direct – a pleasant contrast to the corporate marketing speak that we have come to expect.

He stressed the importance of the visitor economy, estimated at £11 billion this year – Scotland's major earner and the key to its recovery. Apparently, 22% of the VisitScotland Growth Fund was spent in Argyll and allegedly 22,000 businesses are now supported by the agency.

People have to come to Scotland and to stay in Scotland in order to come to Kintyre ... It's expensive to get here. It’s expensive to stay here. It’s wet when you get here. How are you going to make coming here worth the bother and the cost?

In relation to online marketing, he pointed out ‘The Internet is now the major platform for marketing. Visitors book their travel online, their transfers online, why would they not want to book their B&Bs and baggage transfer online?’

Then we heard from Ian McCaig who is MD of The Edge, an online marketing company based in Ayr. He galloped through his slides showing a wide range of options at lightning speed, and caused some consternation in the audience by insisting that they have to do all of these. A B&B provider tried to query which is the most important, the blog, tweet or the Facebook page, given that you can't do them all, there are only 24 hours in the day and cooking the breakfast and cleaning the bathrooms aren't optional. However, Ian seemed to insist that all were essential.

Afterwards, I tried to zoom in on what a small business can do, here and now, by way of online marketing that doesn't cost a fortune, doesn't demand new IT skills and doesn't require any lead time. My message was to start by making the most of existing channels. My first two suggestions are quick, easy and completely free. One is to make sure that your business is listed and located correctly on Google maps. In case you've never done this, it's as simple as visit Google maps and follow the instructions to put your business on Google Maps.

My second idea was that they could make more use of our own Kintyre Way forum. With the honourable exception of Owen Paisley and Alison Clements, hardly any Kintyre residents ever post there. Yet it provides a free opportunity to promote their businesses by making relevant posts that includes links to their own websites.

A third was to query why all the Kintyre Way packages are currently offered by companies based in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, not one in Kintyre? Yet if B&B operators, taxi companies and others were to band together, a Kintyre offering could have many advantages, including lesser environmental impact and more investment in local facilities.

November 10, 2010

The BBC, school governance and the wheelie bin

Yesterday was a long day for Keir: work began at 7 am when Radio Scotland were due to interview him live at Landrick before he left for Holyrood Magazine's conference in Edinburgh, and ended after midnight when BBC Scotland's taxi returned him from Glasgow after Gordon Brewer had interviewed him on Newsnight. On iPlayer, the item begins at minute 12 and Keir's studio interview runs from minutes 14 to 20.

In between, he gave the keynote address at the conference Managing Scotland's Schools. His message has clearly struck a chord not just with the delegates and with the media, but also with the world at large. In essence, Keir wants fresh thinking on the governance of schools. He wants to empower schools and teachers, rather than rely on the outdated command-and-control model whereby councils make many of the important decisions and commit most of the spending in the traditional top-down fashion. Decisions should be delegated to the level closest to the impact of those decisions.

In BBC Scotland's lunchtime news, this was the lead item, complete with reaction from the critics: the BBC website currently hosts this Call for revamp of Scottish school system. By evening, Scottish Television had broadcast their own report, currently on their website under Former education chief calls for change to schooling structure with comments from Mike Russell among others.

There was also plenty of newspaper coverage yesterday: the Times ran a long story on page 11 and the Herald had it front-page, under the misleading headline Scrap council control of schools, urges expert, although its editorial was more thoughtful and generally supportive. The Scotsman ran it under the heading Call for 'massive power shift' to headteachers by Andrew Whitaker.

It remains to be seen if this story is a one-day wonder, or if the debate will pick up momentum. Meantime, here is my crucial contribution to Radio Scotland's technical team early yesterday morning: the wheelie bin in which I had been sweeping up the autumn leaves. To make their Dounreay-style satellite link work, the antenna had to be propped up at the critical angle:


November 28, 2010

Dundee Mountain Film Festival 26-7.11.10

I just got back from the 28th Dundee Mountain Film Festival. It makes a pleasant change from my routine electronic contact with the world to get out and meet some real customers and yes, even to sell some books direct from our stand. It's also food for thought that so many people come up and tell us they've never seen anything like our books before! We need to spend more on marketing ... And if you are one of the lovely people who came to tell us how well our book had performed on your hike, please remember your promise to put it in an email. Here is our display in the Bonar Hall:


The highlight of Friday's event was Cathy O'Dowd, with her tales of success and failure: the success was on Lhotse's south-west face, the failure on Everest (attempt at a new route on its Kangshung Face). She has already summited Everest twice, which perhaps made her more relaxed than many mountaineers in reflecting on the lessons of failure. Her collaboration with composer Anni Hogan provided "Mountain" – a magical live multimedia performance with Himalayan images, piano and voice.

Saturday featured an amazing 28-minute film on Mustang by Will Parrinello, narrated by Richard Gere, about this tiny Himalayan kingdom. In an era of Chinese persecution of Buddhism, Mustang is the last refuge of authentic Tibetan Buddhist culture. The project got art experts to collaborate with local farmers in the delicate restoration of these wonderful 15th-century monasteries which were literally falling down, their rich paintings crumbling into ruins. The result has been a renaissance of art and energy in the whole community.

After the evening session, it was time to head down the A9 for home. The weather had turned so cold that I couldn't get the X-type home last night, so I finished my journey with a cold uphill hike.

November 29, 2010

Snow chains, frustration and the X-type

I now realise that I was lucky to get home from Dundee on Saturday. By yesterday, the A9 was closed in both directions and the chaos around Dunblane was on BBC Breakfast, with lots of vehicles stranded overnight near the Keir roundabout. Why the police didn't attend until this morning is unclear, but for people in unheated vehicles overnight survival must have been a challenge.

The snow at Landrick is of course deeper than that down in Dunblane, and the hill impassable to all but high ground clearance 4x4s. So I couldn't get the X-type up the hill and although kind neighbours took it into their driveway late on Saturday night, I was determined to get it out of their way yesterday. So I hiked down the hill with snow chains in my rucksack, and tried to fit them.

I had bought the Klack-and-Go chains online from a British company last January. After a struggle which I attributed to inexperience, I had fitted them to the X-type's front wheels, where they did an excellent job for weeks until I took them off (easy) once the snow melted. Given the advantages of daylight, plenty of time and a previous success, how hard could it be to repeat the process?

Three hours later, humility had set in. The chains were still not fitted, and I had learned some painful lessons:
a) like the stock market, past performance is not a reliable guide to the future: somehow since January the chains had become mysteriously an inch too short, or the tyres had mysteriously grown, impossible though this may seem
b) don't listen to anybody that tells you to try fitting the bottom before the top: this led to the chain wrapping itself around the axle, the disc brake and other expensive bits, then getting stuck fast and creating an urgent need to remove the wheel in the hope of sorting it out
c) the bottle jack may be a dream to pump up, but if it isn't tall enough, you end up with a car jacked up, the chain still wrapped around expensive bits of hub and the jacking point being occupied makes it hard to deploy the car's own jack
d) after a further two trips back up the hill to collect various tools including said useless bottle jack, the whole afternoon is beginning to wear thin, not helped by kind neighbour Malcolm volunteering that he had fitted chains only once and it took him five minutes (!)
e) once the car was fully lifted on its own jack, and I had failed miserably to distentangle the chain, the only thing that redeemed Malcolm from his 5-minute boast was that he freed the chains in a casual, gentle flick; by now I am too desperate to feel irritated
f) with darkness falling, I am finally ready to give up and phone the chain supplier next day to try to negotiate a swap for a larger size of chain. Since the other cars were going nowhere, mine being in the way no longer seemed so devastating. Enough already.

This morning, the chain supplier insisted that the size was correct, but suggested that the least little kink in any of the links would make the chains seem too short. By now I have watched the glamorous female on their website video fit these chains inside two minutes 20 times over: infuriatingly, she doesn't even get her long fingernails soiled. But her chains are a very slack fit whereas mine still seem a fatal inch or two too short. Nonetheless, now desperate, I spend another couple of hours lying in the snow, struggling to flake out the chains and eventually, hallelujah, after endless fiddling, both are in place.

The only trouble is that the snow is too deep for a saloon car, so this victory only lets me move the car from one inconvenient parking place to another, a very modest form of progress.

About November 2010

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in November 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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