Susan Morrison: CalMac survives dad’s five-year ticket scam

Picture: John Devlin

Picture: John Devlin

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SO Serco, you thought you’d get the ferry routes, eh? Ha! Scotland is, and always will be, CalMac country.

CalMac saw them off with a bid including 350 commitments to improvement including, I assume, updating the ticketing systems since the days of my father. He loved Caledonian MacBrayne, but never wasted a chance to bilk them whenever we sailed to Dunoon, which we did regularly throughout my childhood.

Dad was never one to see a penny leave without tears and fond farewells.

It was a simple scheme. As the ferry neared the pier, dad would fire up the trusty Morris Minor, whilst mum stationed herself by the rails. Me and the wee brother, aka The Pest, would be sent wriggling through the crowd, ready to make the run for freedom the minute the gangplank was secured, with the strict instructions to wave our hands behind us shouting “Ma dad’s got the tickets” and run like the clappers.

He did have tickets for us, but he bought them in 1963, and managed to use them until 1968, when he realised that the print had worn off. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to CalMac.

Despite this buccaneering approach to ticketing, our family was CalMac to the core. We shunned the upstart Western Ferries. Why, they didn’t even look like proper ships. The Juno and Jupiter were nimble mini-liners by comparison, who could thrash the opposition on speed and agility.

There is a story that a CalMac skipper came alongside the Western Ferry mid-Clyde one day, spun Juno round 180 degrees and did the rest of the trip to Dunoon stern first, and still got there faster.

Back then, CalMac carried Americans across to the Holy Loch. The nuclear subs apparently defended us against the Commie Menace, surely poised to sneak up the Clyde one dark night and invade Red Clydeside, which, let’s be honest, would have been one helluva conflict of interest.

Presumably the comrades would have greeted the Soviets fraternally and then extended an invitation to joint them at a branch meeting of the local party, followed by tea, scones and speeches.

This would have stunned the Sons of the Red Star into comas of boredom, making them easy prey for our victorious allies.

It’s a miracle we all made it to shore

Our American cousins brought their own cars across. My dad claimed that it was because they wouldn’t fit in our cars.

Americans weren’t fat back then. They were just bigger than us. Even the Americans who quite clearly were awash with Scottish DNA sporting pale skin, freckles and ginger hair looked like they’d been force-fed Miracle Gro. They looked like us, only . . . healthier. The CalMac deckhands would regularly wave on Morris Minors, Minis and Bedford trucks to sit next to Chevvies, Caddies and Buicks, all gleaming chrome and snarling radiator grills.

They may have ruled the open highway back in the States, but not in Dunoon, where the narrow roads could snare a Chevvy in an untrimmed hedge in seconds, to await rescue by the garage tow truck, which local legend said was fashioned from something left over from the Second World War.

I was left seasick at price revenge

The smell of diesel, sea air and exhaust fumes, the change in the note of her engines as she was ready cast off, the churn of the bow propellers as she peeled neat and sure away from the pier. That’s pure excitement for me.

Two years ago we sailed to Mull on the MV Lord of the Isles. Her engines opened up. She pushed back and swung to sea, and everything rushed back – the endless summers, the Morris Minor and memories of my dad – and I burst into tears.

Then I stopped crying, because I realised I was looking at a poster advertising a special ticket offer that would have saved us a whack of money had I been more savvy.

CalMac got its cash back from the Marauding Morrisons, pirates of the Dunoon-Gourock run and somewhere I felt sure my dad was laughing.

Go overboard on parent skills

It wasn’t always endless summer. There were winter nights when we crossed the Tail of the Bank and the Clyde had decided to throw a temper tantrum.

The ferry could do a fair bit of rock and roll as she crossed that open stretch.

My mother once stood on the deck of the Juno on one particular howler of a night, and pointed out the lights of Gourock behind us.

“Right,” she said, “if it starts to sink, you swim that way. You’ve got your 100 yards swimming medal. I’ll save your wee brother.”

“But mum,” I cried above the winds and waves (actually, come to think of it, we were in the tea lounge, but you get the idea), “what about dad?”

“Women and children first,” she said, grimly staring down the wild weather. “Anyway, your dad will just try to save the Morris Minor.”

Motherhood, Lesson One, learned.