Arriving at the tiny station of Dumfries after four trains taking me across the UK, I was welcomed by a fellow meeting his own description:
“You will recognise me from the bright Red Hat with feathers..
If i am late don’t worry yourself, your arrival is my utmost importance”
Tim Dennis, aka Captain Quetzal, is at the core of a merry, enthusiastic, dedicated band of activists, artists and practitioners, who are setting up a very interesting collection of projects in and around the small Scottish port of Palnackie. The central project is the Quetzal Trading Company with a gallery, studio space, carpentry workshop and other activities rounding it out. I had arived at precisely the right time. The entire group had assembled in the local bar (it is a one bar town) for drinks while a few other finished the preparations. One month previously, the dynamics of the group had become complex, so the workshop was to be closed on the date I arrived. Originally for one month, the planned closure was altered to one minute due to the departure of some of the complexity causes. The entire crew were dressed for the occasion, wonderful Edwardian regalia and feathers in hats, I was by far the most banally dressed of all present. Shortly afterwards we made our way to the workshop, where a small, short ceremony was undertaken, the workshop closed, re-opened, and we all trooped inside, accompanied by horns blasts and smoking incense.
Tim and the rest of the group have a wonderful ability to make people feel welcome. With the very short time of my visit, it was all they could do to get me around to visit some of the partners in their activities. We started before 8am enjoying a cup of tea with the (apparently typically Scottish taciturn) owner of the local truck and skip company who rented them the workshop space, then inspected the harbour, into Dumfries to meet some local boat liveaboarders, a poet, the local chandlery, an ocean going yachtsman who is training them up and Alice Francis, a local artist who is getting a second boat ready for sail cargo.
The Quetzal approach is wildly different from that of the other groups I met. There is nothing international, no fine rums or fairly traded chocolate, no maritime traditions. The goal of Quetzal, at this stage, is to move stuff. Whatever is needed, however possible. Members of the group have experience transporting horses, building ships, driving and repairing trucks, building houses and generally being useful in their communities. The have local suppliers of animal feed and hardware that need deliveries to the Isle of Man, just visible on the horizon. Because there is no ferry service from Scotland, this must all go via Liverpool, a long detour. So the Quetzal approach is: let’s get it there. Cheaply, with some adventure, in small boats using the wind and tide of the Firth of Solway to our advantage. The return trip from the Isle fo Man will be used to bring supplies from the small breweries on the island to some local pubs. The group have already bought one building to use as a gallery and studio spaces, perhaps they will be opening Palnackie’s second bar before too long.
The Quetzal is a central American bird that is beautiful but, if kept in a cage, will die. The Quetzal Trading Company is living up to their name.