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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 21:10 GMT 22:10 UK
Remote phone engineer disconnects
John Macaulay and helicopter
John Macaulay takes a helicopter but he used to travel by landing craft
A telephone engineer with most remote job in BT is hanging up on a 40-year career after making his 70th visit to the Scottish islands of St Kilda.

John Macaulay's job is to maintain the telephone exchange at the islands' Ministry of Defence missile tracking station and cover the Western Isles.

His work has seen him rub shoulders with royalty and spend hours trying to get on and off the archipelago.

The 59-year-old from North Uist, Western Isles, is set to retire.

Mr Macaulay said it was not unusual to travel to St Kilda by landing craft in the 1990s.

However, in later years - and on his 70th trip - he has been able to fly in relative comfort by helicopter.

He said: "The landing craft were not built for speed and they were not built for comfort in the Atlantic either.

I got such a shock that when I shook his hand I forgot to address him as HRH and just said: 'Well, it's a pleasure to meet you'
John Macaulay

"They had to drop anchor off the beach and wait for the tide to go out before they could drop the ramp and allow passengers and vehicles ashore.

"So you could arrive at St Kilda and have to wait two to three hours before you could land."

On another trip Mr Macaulay left South Uist at 1300 BST on a Wednesday but on arrival at Village Bay eight hours later a huge swell prevented a landing.

The skipper said he would try to land the next day, but when it dawned the weather had worsened.

Mr Macaulay said: "We had to ride out the storm on the west side of the island till Thursday night.

"The next day the landing craft was unable to beach because the gale had covered the landing area with boulders. The power of the Atlantic gales out there can move huge boulders as though they were marbles.

John Macaulay on St Kilda
John Macaulay on St Kilda

"After essential stores were taken ashore by an inflatable boat, we set sail to South Uist, arriving there at 7pm. That was pretty typical of the way things could go."

His work in the Western Isles also brought him in contact with the Prince of Wales when a customer called from the island of Berneray, off North Uist, to report a fault on one of his phones.

Mr Macaulay said: "I took the ferry over, cleared another fault at the exchange and went to the customer's croft with a new phone for him.

"I told him I was in a hurry to catch the next ferry, but he said 'hang on I want you to meet somebody'.

"He beckoned me in and sitting in his conservatory was HRH Prince Charles. I got such a shock that when I shook his hand I forgot to address him as HRH and just said: 'Well, it's a pleasure to meet you'."

It turned out the prince was visiting Berneray for some relaxation and peace and a chance to enjoy the crofting lifestyle with a local family.

He had been on Berneray for several days and the islanders had respected his privacy and kept the knowledge of his presence to themselves.

Mr Macaulay began working in the telephone industry when he joined Post Office Telephones in 1966.


SEE ALSO:
New children's guide to St Kilda
31 May 06 |  Highlands and Islands
Probe launched into petrel crisis
26 May 06 |  Highlands and Islands
Islands join world heritage elite
14 Jul 05 |  Scotland
Protection extended for St Kilda
02 Jul 04 |  Scotland
Sheep throw light on winter blues
17 Feb 04 |  Scotland


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