The Ardross-man



Omen 10 – The Haining Omen

From the very beginning there has been something weird drawing me to the Barony St. John buildings in Ardrossan as a base for my charity.

Little coincidences or quirks that I’d refer to as “omens” which seemed to be telling me that this was my destiny.

Yes, I know, this all sounds fanciful and I have detailed all the Omens in previous blog posts – but let me summarise them to date –

Omen 1. The Ardross-Ardrossan – this highlighted the similarity between the name of the village where I lived in the Highlands (Ardross) at the time I bought the buildings and the town where the buildings were (Ardrossan).

Omen 2. The Instructor Omen – not knowing exactly where in North Ayrshire Ardrossan was, I contacted a group I had trained as instructors from North Ayrshire to see if they had heard of the church – and it turned out that the leader and a couple of instructors actually lived in Ardrossan,  giving my charity a supply of ready qualified, local instructors.

Omen 3. The Star of David Omen – when visiting the buildings for the first time with my brother David, I noticed it had a Star of David (Jewish) symbol in the hall window and in the church window. Strange for a Church of Scotland building but a coincidence since David was here with me.

Omen 4. The Church Omen – After putting a bid in for the hall building, we were informed it had been accepted and we would be getting the church building too.

Omen 5. The SAS Omen – As the Three Towns of Saltcoats, Ardrossan and Stevenston often gets abbreviated to SAS (as in the SAS Explorer Scout Unit) it was a coincidence since SAS was the abbreviation of my organisation prior to it becoming a charity, Security And Safety.

Omen 6. The Owner Omen – how strange to find out that the only other person on the title deeds to the church buildings was Robert Bell in December 1844 and now, exactly 170 years later in December 2014, my name was added – Alan Bell. Only two people on the title deeds, both named Bell.

Omen 7. The Elder Omen – Having found the accounts from 1906 and 1909, I was surprised to see that David Bell was a church elder. The same name as my brother.

Omen 8. The Wolf Omen – Having decided to look at getting the church ceiling painted with a fresco, a local painter had the idea of painting a Celtic horoscope with animals and trees representing the various star signs. Her plan of work showed various animal drawings of a stag, salmon – and a wolf drawing which was identical to the emblem of my children’s Primary School….in Ardross.

Omen 9. The Wallace Omen – A chance meeting with World Karate Champion Bill “Superfoot” Wallace saw him agree to open my Centre…..on the 720th anniversary of the original William Wallace’s taking of Ardrossan castle just behind the church buildings.

And now, one of my new instructors comes up to me having read one of my blog posts regarding (Omen 7. The Elder Omen) and asks me if I noticed her name in the list of church elders.

Daisy Haining is currently our youngest instructor. She is 17yrs old and was actually born in Stevenston (one of the Three Towns) where she lived for the first two years of her life before moving to Ardrossan.

Her father was originally from Stewarton in East Ayrshire (15 – 16 miles away from Ardrossan) so no immediate link with Ardrossan until 15 years ago.

And here’s the thing – Haining is a pretty uncommon name. In fact, Daisy has never met anyone else with the same surname other than her relations!

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But yet, here in the list of church Elders in the New Ardrossan Parish Church annual report of 1906 and 1909 is a Mr D. B. Haining.

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Now, if you look carefully at the list of Elders, you’ll notice there is something really strange about D.B. Haining – it’s the only name abbreviated to initials. All the other names are written in full.

D.B Haining was also the “Representative Elder to Presbytery and Synod” (I had to look up “synod” and apparently its either “an assembly of the clergy and sometimes also the laity in a diocese or other division of a particular Church” or “a Presbyterian ecclesiastical court above the presbyteries and subject to the General Assembly”) and D.B Haining was one of only three Elders who were on the Poor Fund Committee – the other two being James Barbour and David Bell (same name as my brother).

So yes, it is a Mr rather than a Miss. And yes, it is D.B. Haining rather than D. Haining. But there is no denying that this is spookily weird.

I buy the church on behalf of my charity and two of my six instructors have the same surnames as two of the twelve church Elders from over a hundred years ago.

Even spookier, two of the three members of the church’s Poor Fund Committee have the same surname’s as two of my instructors and one has the exact same name….the other is the only person to have their forename as an initial instead of the full name, making this name D. Haining the same as my instructor D. Haining.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I think you will agree that this new revelation does indeed qualify as Omen 10. The Haining Omen 😀


Money flushed down the drain

Well, it looks like the warning I got (See my last post Is this another Omen – or The Omen?) may really have been an omen. 😦

It started with a blocked toilet in Barony St. John’s img_2433Ladies toilets…….then the Disabled Access toilet was blocked…….then the Gents urinals overflowed.

Originally I thought it was the twenty-odd kids whom come to Muay Thai three times per week. It seemed that they all saved themselves all day to come into the hall and take a dump in my toilets.

I was going through a toilet roll per week in both the male and female toilets. :-/

Now compare that with the previous owners, The Church of Scotland.

I can pretty much guarantee that the members of the congregation went before they left their house and wouldn’t have dreamt of taking a dump in the church hall toilets. Sacrilege.

Also, in the last twenty years or so, the congregation numbers had decreased and, of course, the hall was probably only open once per week so the volume of people using the toilets was obviously far less than the present.

Anyway, ALL the toilets were now blocked and I tried everything to unblock them –

I poured a bucket of water down each one to try to flush away the blockage….No joy!

I rammed a mop down each one to try to act like a plunger…No joy!

I poured a kettle of hot water down each one (my granny’s old trick)…..No joy!

I poured enough drain cleaner down each one to dissolve my mother’s chocolate cake (and that’s no easy task, believe me)…..No joy!

There was nothing else for it, I had to get in a specialist drain cleaning company to identify the problem and hopefully provide a solution. It was time for – The Drain Doctors (I kid you not, that’s the name of the company).

So, first step was finding the drain cover and sticking a camera up it to see what’s blocking the drain.img_2436

There appeared to be a slight blockage but nothing major – well nothing a high powered water hose wouldn’t shift.

So the Drain Doctor inserted the water hose into the drain and turned on the water.

Five minutes passed – nothing!

No sign of water forcing up into the toilets – no sign of the blockages shifting – nothing!

So the Drain Doctor took his hose out and shoved his camera back up. This was quickly followed by an exclamation of “Oh sh*t!”

It appears that this drain pipe was actually disconnected and what he had actually been doing was firing water under the floor of the hall.

“Don’t worry, it will soak away.” he said. Hmmmmm!

I should’ve known then that this was going to get to be a lot worse than I had expected – in fact, things were going to get a lot, lot worse.

img_2434The Drain Doctor decided that if we couldn’t find the way into the toilets from the drains, we had to go from the toilets to the drains. So he opened the connecting pipes in the Ladies and shoved The Worm down it.

Now, The Worm is a mechanical, spiral, flexible rod which twirls and snakes around as its inserted into the pipe system. The theory is that it will loosen up anything down there.

After an initial back splash (I’m going to have nightmares about this), The Worm was switched on and slowly fed down the pipe…..No joy!

After five hours of trying to free this blockage, Drain Doctor One had to give up. His colleague would come and try again tomorrow. img_2437

The next day, Drain Doctor Two arrived and after assessing the problem, called for backup.

Now we had Drain Doctor Two and Three on site and they weren’t leaving until the air was filled with the sweet smell of success – or something a lot less sweeter. 😦

Cameras were inserted up the drain again….No joy!

And then they realised, hang on a minute, there are two drainage pipes side by side. One should be the drainage pipe as it runs into the drains – and one is the storm drain pipes connected from the gutters to the drains with a drainage trap midway.

img_2435The storm pipe is only three inches in diameter whereas the sewage pipe is six inches.

Surely the toilets hadn’t been connected to the storm drain pipe when the toilets were refurbished twenty odd years ago?

It was at this point that the fire alarm company decided to pop in and replace the faulty fire alarm in the corridor – and guess whereabouts in the corridor it was?

Yep, of all the forty plus feet of corridor, the alarm was directly above the hatch with the blocked pipes! Typical.

So, as the Drain Doctors hatched a cunning plan to solve my blockage, the alarm guys went up a ladder to solve my faulty alarm. What could go wrong?

The Drain Doctors reckoned if they cut a hole in the disconnected drain pipe and then drilled a hole in the storm water drain pipe which they thought was actually connected to the toilets, the blockage would simply flow from one drain hole to the other. Brilliant.

Now, if you can imagine an oil drill in Texas striking oil, it will give you an idea of what happened next.

Unfortunately, I haven’t got a photo of that so this is the best I can do….img_2438It’s taken from across the road from the church hall – which was the safest place for me to be at this point. 😀

As you can see, we have the two Drain Doctor vans plus the alarm company van all blocking the pavement and part of the road – while inside the sewage blockage was spraying all over the contractors. Not a pretty sight….and apparently not one which they wanted photographed either. 😦

Anyways, once the initial eruption died down, the Drain Doctors managed to insert a high pressure water hose and got the drain cleared – Hooray 🙂

But my problems were not over yet – Awwww 😦

img_2440You see, the drain trap in the storm pipe (remember the one which was actually connected to the toilet drains) must have been filling with sediment, toilet paper and faeces over the last twenty odd years and was probably now full of crap (literally) making the flow of water and the flushing of the toilets almost impossible.

Now the water is now flowing albeit slowly but this means that if more than one toilet is flushed now, they will overflow into the space between the two pipes. And eventually, the storm drain pipe will block up again.

So, the solution had to be to get someone in to connect a pipe from the storm drain pipe to the disused drain pipe and then maybe, just maybe, we’ll be back in business.

Enter Super Builder, Paul Marchetti.

Paul is the guy who has saved me, and more importantly the charity, a fortune in building works since we bought the church buildings in December 2014.

Paul cleared up our dry rot problem, secured our doors, replaced our toilets, damp proof lined the walls, re-plastered our kitchen, repaired the roof and ceilings in several areas….etc. etc. etc.

He is the master builder of all master builders. He is, quite simply, Super Builder.

His plan was to reconnect the toilet pipes with the original six inch wide drain pipe and block off the storm drain which was actually disconnected anyway (and turimg_0736ned out to be the one which Drain Doctor One had pressure jetted water into).

To do this he had to remove eight bags of rubble from under the floor to fully access the pipework. 😕

And so, just over a week from the point where this all started, we are sorted. The toilets are flushing, the drains are flowing and the air is finally clearing. Phew!

And the reason for naming this post Money flushed down the Drain?

Well, the total hall rental profit for the last FOUR MONTHS (and then some) has been lost paying for this little mishap. Quiet literally, money flushed down the drain. 😦

I’d like to think that this is the last big problem I’ll incur for a while – but with the weather forecast saying we are to expect our worst winter in decades, I have a feeling that my bad luck is not over yet….    keep-calm-the-worst-is-yet-to-come-2







Is this another Omen – or The Omen?

I emptied some of my old books which I’m reluctant to throw away until I find out if we’d be needing them in a book shelf / public reading area.

Do you think someone is trying to tell me something when this book ended up on top? 😀img_2377

One Year On….

A year ago today, I started this blog with my first post “The Journey Begins…“, now some 111 posts later, we seem to have come a long way – although to me my progress with the Barony St. John’s church and hall has been slow and laboured.

I started with a church building and a church hall. Both in dire need of repair, renovation and saving.

The hall was the easiest to save (if easy is even close to the right word) and so after cutting through all the red tape, legal booby traps and funding minefields, I finally managed to start the mission of opening the hall room, toilet areas and reception area to the public.

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Along the way, I’ve found lots of church and Victorian memorabilia –

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And discovered lots of the buildings’ secrets –

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All of which I’ve detailed in blogs throughout the year including describing some spooky goings on and the many Omens which have spurred me on –

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Finally, and against all the odds (and some local people who’d rather see the buildings torn down and turned into a carpark), the hall is now up and running both for my charity, including the many disabled groups and victims of violence we help, and as a community asset as we provide martial arts and exercise evening classes plus free training courses for the public.

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But the journey continues.

And I’m sure I’ll continue to find wonderful discoveries and insights into a time gone by and hopefully mementos from the Victorian age.

I’ll face trials and tribulations galore as winter sets in and the work begins (hopefully) on opening the Training Room.

And my hopes to save this iconic, grand old church building will also continue – hopefully with some backing from the local community.

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So, join me for Year Two – and let the adventures begin. 😀

Omen 9 – The Wallace Omen

Last year, I was at a martial ardsc01280ts show in England and I got talking to two martial arts legends, Pat le Hoang and Bill “Superfoot” Wallace.

For those of you who don’t know, Bill got his nickname due to the speed of his kicks which were once measured at over 60mph.

American-born Bill retired undefeated from competition in 1980 after being the Professional Karate Association (PKA) Middleweight Champion for six years. He was Elvis Preslebill-wallacey’s bodyguard and personal trainer from 1974 until his death in 1977 and founded Elvis’s Memphis karate club for him.

He was elected into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame in 1973 as “Tournament Karate Fighter of the Year” and again in 1978 as “Man of the Year”.

Despite retiring from competition over three decades ago, Bill continues to be one of the martial arts most popular figures, writing several books and appearing in over twenty movies including “A Force of One” with Chuck Norris; “The Protector” with Jackie Chan; “A Prayer for the Dying” with Mickey Rourke; and most recently “The Operative” with Michael DePasquale Jr.

We had a great time together last year and even went out for a few drinks later (although Bill doesn’t touch alcohol and sticks to Coke).

Skip forward to this year, and last  month I was talking to an English friend of mine about Scottish legend, William Wallace and he called him “Bill”. It then dawned on me that Bill “Superfoot” Wallace was actually called William Wallace!!

Now, I’ve already mentioned in previous posts about my intention to open a William Wallace Visitor Centre in the former Barony St. John church in Ardrossan and this now struck me as a bit of a coincidence as I now knew another William Wallace. “Wouldn’t it be good” I pondered, “If Bill Wallace could officially open our Centre giving it a William Wallace connection.”

Pie in the sky though, as Bill lives in Miami and doesn’t get to the UK much, never mind Scotland LOL.

Then, three weeks ago I get a phone call from a martial arts friend in London – Bill Wallace is coming over for a UK tour and is going to be in Glasgow at the end of September.

Now, as you know, I’m a great believer in fate and so I took a chance and contacted Bill to see if he could squeeze in a visit – and lo and behold he could. 😀

Not only that, when I picked Bill up to take him across to Ardrossan on the west coast of Scotland, he told me that back in the 1970’s the USA karate team came to Scotland for a tour. They had visited Edinburgh and were on their way to Dundee when Bill saw a castle ruin and asked the tour bus to stop. He ran out and across the fields towards the castle, zig zagging along various paths as if he had run along them a thousand times before. His team mates had trouble keeping up and finding the right path.

When they found Bill, he was in the ruin of the castle at a plinth which said that William Wallace had stormed the castle back in the 13th Century. Nobody present knew this existed – including Bill. Spooky, eh?

On his return to America, Bill decided to find out more about his family roots and discovered that his grandmother had indeed been Scottish and had emigrated from Scotland to America. Bill then contacted The Society of William Wallace and told them where his grandmother had been born and they confirmed that it was “highly likely” that he was descended from the original William Wallace.

Now that has got to be an omen!

What are the chances of me meeting a Wallace from America who agrees to open my Centre and then reveals that he is descended from the original William Wallace?

imageNot only that, but I thought it might be a good idea to link Bill and William together as this year not only marks the opening of our Centre in Ardrossan but is also the 720th anniversary of William “Braveheart” Wallace’s takeover of Ardrossan Castle.

To mark this, I had arranged for Bill to be photographed at Ardrossan Castle behind my church with a Wallace sword.

Now that IS an omen!

Ceiling collage

Looking up at the ceiling of the Barony St. John church, I’m struck by how similar a design it is to the entertainment venue, Oran Mor in Glasgow.

The Oran Mor is a converted church turned bar, restaurant and music venue that has become one of Scotland’s most popular nightspots and acclaimed writer and artist, Alasdair Gray was the man responsible for painting the zodiac inspired mural on the ceiling.

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The ceiling in the Barony St. John is almost identical in design. The same concave ceiling with wooden beams stretching across it just crying out to be re-painted.

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Local artist, Julia Griffin and her assistant, Lynn McNally, have put forward a design of a night sky complete with Celtic Zodiac characters in keeping with our church history and our planned William Wallace theme.

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Her idea is to combine the Celtic zodiac of animals (see my post: Omen 8 – The Wolf Omen) and the Celtic zodiac of trees making this work of art truly unique and a great talking point for people to discuss and figure out what character signifies their birthday.

Some of the draft character ideas look absolutely stunning and I cannot wait to see the finished look.

bird framed          stag framed

One thing is for sure, if we pull this off, our Events Centre is going to have a wonderful Wow Factor!

Omen 8 – The Wolf Omen

You know I am a great believer in Omens and this Barony St. John project has had more than it’s fair share.

In other posts I’ve told you about The Ardross-Ardrossan Omen, The Star of David Omen, The Instructor Omen, The Church OmenThe SAS OmenThe Owner Omen and The Elder Omen – well now we have The Wolf Omen.

That’s 8 Omens – must be a record!

Local artist Julia Griffin came in with her designs for a collage for the ceiling of the church (more about that in a later post) and one of her designs caught my eye – it was of a Celtic wolf.


This photo is taken from her design collage and the reason why I feel it is another Omen is that this wolf design was first discovered in 1890 on a stone monolith found in Ardross in the Scottish Highlands – the very village I have just moved down from (hence the name of this blog “The Ardross-man”).

This very stone / design is the logo of Ardross Primary School where my children go to school.

School wolf

Now, look at the shape of the front leg of the wolf in the school logo. Look at the face of the wolf. Look at the curved lines on the shoulder of the wolf. Look at the way the lines curve on it’s hind legs. Look at all of this and compare it to Julia’s wolf design.

This isn’t just a likeness of the Ardross wolf, it’s almost a replica.

Now, it’s no big deal that a local artist in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire would choose a Celtic wolf design and draw it almost identically to a Pictish wolf design – but this is the very same wolf design found in my previous home town of Ardross AND it’s used by my children’s school as a  logo?

I’d say, the chances of that happening were pretty remote – unless it was another Omen. 🙂

Omen 7 – The Elder Omen

Ok, you know something is meant to be when you get Omen after Omen telling you so –

So far, there have been 6 Omens which I have mentioned in other posts – 1. The Ardross-Ardrossan Omen, 2. The Star of David Omen, 3. The Instructor Omen, 4. The Church Omen, 5. The SAS Omen and 6. The Owner Omen.

Now, when I knocked down some old lockers in the hall building of Barony St. John, I found some annual reports from New Ardrossan Parish Church (as it was known back then).

The accounts date from 1906 and 1909 and apart from a bit of dirt on the front cover, look brand new.

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What interested me and must surely be another omen was when I looked inside and read the list of Elders. Included in this list of names was my brother’s name – David Bell.

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In the 1909 annual accounts, it details not only the Elders but also members of the Poor Fund Committee. David Bell was on both these lists.

Spooky connection or what? 🙂

Now add this to the fact that the only other name on the title deeds of the Barony St. John apart from mine (Alan Bell) is John Bell – not my father (same name) but a John Bell from 1844 (see Omen 6. The Owner Omen).

Who would have guessed that 171 years later, another Bell would buy the church?

What are the chances of that?

Spoooooky! 😀

Omen 6 – The Owner Omen

Okay, I’ve told you about The Ardross-Ardrossan Omen, The Star of David Omen, The Instructor Omen, The Church Omen and The SAS Omen – but this has got to be the omen of all omens!

Like I mentioned before, I was getting overwhelmed by omens pushing me towards buying this church so after Omen 5 I decided to put a bid in – and I was successful.

Now here comes Omen 6 – the biggy;

When I got the title deeds, it turns out that the man acting on behalf of Church of Scotland for the original register of the building was a Mr Robert BELL back in 1849.

Who would have thought that the only two people according to the title deeds to own these buildings (albeit in the form of an Advocate on behalf of the CofS Trustees) were both named BELL.

Now if that’s not an omen – I don’t know what is!!

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