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Stoked up

From narcotics to puffers, of the Clyde variety. It was, to be sure, almost like a stream of Para Handy tales at North Ayrshire education committee, or, to be precise, tales of 26 boilers. Jim Leckie, head of education services, was the man on the bridge.

"Well now, Dougie," Captain Leckie began. (Actually, he didn't, but he could have.) Councillors were informed that coal-fired boilers in 26 schools are nearing the Great Stoker in the Sky and need replacing at a cost of Pounds 400,000. "The finest vessels in the North Ayrshire coastal trade," Para Leckie continued. (Actually, he didn't but . . .) There were terrible, terrible problems in primaries where the lone janitor had to "trim the coal", the captain continued. (A wonderful expression which baffles everyone except the trimmers.) The captain explained technicalities beyond anything seen in any education setting - physics labs excepted. "The combustion efficiency of the existing coal boilers varies considerably from one boiler to another within the range of 55 per cent to 70 per cent compared with 82 per cent for a modern gas boiler and 90 plus per cent for a condensing boiler," it was revealed. "McPhail! McPhail!" Captain Leckie might have exclaimed. In fact, he continued: "Most of the stokers are unable to burn the coal at a rate fast enough to achieve the boiler manufacturer's rated output, actual outputs being 45 per cent to 65 per cent of the badged rating." (Another wonderful expression which baffles everyone except presumably the badgers.) Ah, if only Dougie were here, he would tell us.

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