People

Jack of all trades (Duncan Buie)

He's here, he's there... it's not easy to pinpoint what Duncan Buie does. But Richard Jones has a go
By Richard Jones
Before I interviewed Duncan Buie, mashman and stillman at Isle of Jura distillery, I was told, “Yes, he’s more than happy to speak to you, but he doesn’t really think there is a typical day in his working life to talk about.” He wasn’t kidding.“My work at the distillery is my main job,” Duncan began by saying, “but I’m on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week in my other voluntary positions, managing the coastguard and fire services on the island of Jura. You have to be ready to go at any time, at a moment’s notice – so I never really know what I’ll be doing on a particular day.”Born on Jura, Duncan (pictured right) spent several years working on the mainland before he was drawn back to the island around 26 years ago.“I started in the warehouse at Isle of Jura distillery, but I certainly wasn’t planning on staying here as long as I have,” Duncan says. “I then moved inside the distillery as a mashman/stillman, but returned to the warehouse as the supervisor a few years later. It’s only fairly recently that I was drafted back into the distillery again because we were short of numbers.“My father worked in both the coastguard and fire services, and I joined him when I moved back to Jura. “I’ve been doing the work ever since and because Jura is a small place we don’t get an awful lot of calls. We once went six months without an incident, but that was then followed by three fires in one day!”In his coastguard work, Duncan is primarily responsible for incidents involving missing or overdue boats and mayday calls from vessels in distress.“Our role is to observe and co-ordinate the scene,” he explains. “We can call out the lifeboat if necessary, or the rescue helicopter if it is needed.”Duncan states that his main work in the Fire Service involves chimney fires.“If the homeowner burns wood in their stove, the resin can easily build up and create a blockage,” he notes. “Our job is to get there as quickly as possible and deal with the problem before it turns into anything more serious.”I ask Duncan whether his work with the emergency services ever got in the way of his regular distillery job. “No, not really, the people at the distillery are only too happy to help,” he says.“We’re a small, close-knit community and everyone pulls together. The manager or the assistant manager will sometimes take over if I’m called away during work time, or my partner on the shift will try and cover for me.“The last time I was called out was for a coastguard incident. It was around midnight and I was working the night shift – unfortunately the stills were running at the time. “My colleague kept an eye on things, but I was also able to follow how things were going as the whole incident took place only 100 yards from the distillery!”There was a time when even three jobs wasn’t enough for Duncan.“Oh I’d forgotten about that!” He jokes. “Yes, about nine years ago I was also the assistant registrar on the island. My grandfather, mother and father had all been involved as registrars, and I joined as the assistant to my mother.“During my time I married one couple, as well as recording a few births and deaths.”So with four jobs you must have been pretty busy? With such a range of different roles to occupy his time, I ask Duncan what he enjoyed most about them.“You get a real buzz with the emergency service work, one minute you’re steadily going about your everyday life and the next you’ve got the blue lights on rushing to an incident.“Plus you get enormous satisfaction extinguishing a fire, or helping someone out.“However, in my distillery job I also get real pleasure when I see someone enjoying our whisky!”When asked what motivated Duncan to carry out all his voluntary work, he replied, “Well I always like to think that if it was my house, or my boat that was in trouble, someone would help me.” Which brings us, finally, to yet another of Duncan’s jobs.“Yes, I have a commercial shipping boat, but my mate does all the hard work on that – catching crabs and lobsters to sell to Spain. “I just sit back and help him out whenever I can…”