Goodbye to School Hello to Work, Part One

Lochearnhead Hotel by Elliott Simpson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Finishing school and looking for work

 When school and I parted company on less than friendly terms around April/May 1973 my dad wanted to know what I was going to do for a job. It had not been a good day, on the rare day that I had gone to school, I was called into the school office to see my mum and dad sitting there with the headmaster. “This isn’t going to end well” I thought. Sure enough, in view of the fact that I had more absences than attendances I was to no longer to be a pupil at the school with immediate effect. Out the door, in the car and off back home. Which brings me back to my dad’s original question, what was I going to do for a job. I didn’t have a clue. I was packed off in the afternoon to sign on and to look for work. This duly done, I went round to my mate’s house to tell him what had happened. He was another who played truant but his day of reckoning never arrived before he left. He already knew what had happened, even before the days of mobile phones and the internet, news travelled fast.

“What you gonna do” he asked. Why all of a sudden does everyone want to know what I’m going to do?

From the age of about twelve, I had a paper-round that paid the mighty sum of £1.00 a week for seven morning deliveries and seven in the evening, two on a Saturday, the second one being “The Sporting Post” with all the football results and reports. Sacked from that job for wanting a pay rise, I moved on to the Co-op where I helped with the deliveries on a Saturday morning. One of my older brothers worked in the main Co-op in town on a Saturday and when I was sixteen he got me a job there as well. One of my other friends Colin said that he had heard that a hotel in Broughty Ferry, about two miles from where we lived were looking for table waiters on a Saturday and Sunday night. We had only a vague idea what the job entailed but cycled down to the hotel and presented ourselves and asked for a job. Surprisingly we were both taken on and told to be there on the following Saturday night at 18.30. I went home and told mum and dad, they weren’t against it, but they did want to know how I would get home. It had been agreed that we would go there on the bus and that the barman who passed near where we lived would drop us off on the way home. I can’t remember what the pay was but I do know that I made more in tips than the pay. The job was to take orders from the drinkers in the hotel “ballroom” get the drinks from the bar and deliver them to the table, take the money and bring back the change. The tips got larger as the night wore on. Colin didn’t last more than a couple of weeks, but I stayed for around six months. I moved to a much less salubrious “nightclub” closer to home and then to one of the major hotels in the city centre, The Angus Hotel, A Thistle hotel owned by Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. I was to be working as a function drinks waiter. All the staff were supposed to be eighteen but myself and several others lied about our date of birth and got a job. It was mostly Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Sometimes starting at 16.00 in the afternoon and not finishing until 02.00 the following morning. This was part of the reason for me playing truant. The other, the main reason for playing truant was that I hated school, I hated every single day I went, I can’t ever remember it being a pleasant experience.

At The Angus, the function room was huge and on some evenings there would be up to forty staff just to serve drinks. We were all allocated a set number of tables to look after and it was up to us to serve beers, wine and spirits during the meal and drinks afterwards. All tips were put into a communal bucket and divided fairly at the end of the night. There were bar staff that served us all evening but never saw the customers, so it was only fair. We were told before we started that we shouldn’t have any money on us at any time whilst working. This was to stop you stealing any of the money, but for mostly it was to make sure you didn’t nick any of the tips. While I was there, I was occasionally asked to work a Thursday lunchtime for a Rotary Club or Lions Club lunch. I would play truant and work the lunch and then go home as normal as if I’d been to school. However shortly before school and I parted, I saw the headmaster amongst the guests for lunch. I made sure that he didn’t see me but who knows if this might have been one of the reasons for my expulsion. On a previous occasion I had seen the deputy head in a country pub one evening when one of my friends, Graham, who had a yellow Ford Anglia, had driven four of us to folk night. There was no way of avoiding him and he just nodded at me. When I crossed paths with him at school some time later, he pulled me to one side, “just be careful” was all he said.

Now finished school, I had plenty of time for work and asked the bar manager for any extra shifts that were going. With it being the end of the function season there were fewer opportunities, there were weddings, boxing dinners and occasional student discos but none of the big company dinner and dances. I was doing the Thursday lunchtime session when one of the managers called me over. He heard I was looking for more hours. “Yes please, if you have any”, he went on to say that the cellar man was off ill and unlikely to be back for two or three weeks, and did I want to take his place until he returned. I jumped like a shot at the chance and was told to be in a 07.30 the following morning and to see the junior manager who was doing the job at the time to be shown the ropes.

Jubilantly I was able to tell mum and dad that I had a job for a few weeks. Friday morning I’m there on time and get shown round the cellars and told where everything is. It’s emphasised that I make sure I have the keys with me at all times and that the various storage areas are kept locked. No one is allowed into the stores, only the management and you. The job was mainly collecting all the empty bottles from the bars, putting them back into the correct crates for collection, picking the orders for the bars and delivering the stock to where it was required. I was not allowed to accept deliveries as the draymen would probably try some ruse to not deliver the correct load. I had to call reception to get one of the management to come and supervise any deliveries. It’s all going well and after two weeks, there is still no sign of the cellar man returning. The second in command in the hotel came down to see me to ask if I can work at least another week. “No problem”, I reply, glad of the work. “You were expelled from school weren’t you” he asked. “Yes”, I said. “What do you want to do with your life then, because this is a pretty dead end job”? I said that I shouldn’t mind doing something like you are doing. “Listen” he said, “I will give some advice, whether you take it or not is up to you. You will never get anywhere in life talking the way you do. If you don’t do something about your accent then you will still be down here in forty years’ time.” With that he turned and left.

I had never thought about how I talked, I just opened my mouth and the words came out. I didn’t really know what he meant, everybody I spoke to understood what I said. It played on my mind and on the way home sitting upstairs on the bus I tried to listen to other people round about me. They all sounded the same as me. Dundee has a horrible hard accent that makes it hard for non-locals to understand but I thought everyone spoke the same way.

The next day I saw the deputy manager again and I asked if I could speak to him. He said he would come and find me when he was free. After lunch, I was sitting having a cup of tea when he came down to the cellars. “What can I do for you” he asked. I said it was about yesterday’s conversation and what did he mean by “talking the way you do”. He went on to explain that the way I spoke marked me out as the person I would become, if you carried on speaking as you do then it is very difficult for you to hold a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand what you are saying. If you don’t improve your speech then you won’t improve your job prospects. He followed it up by saying that in his job he has to be able to speak to anyone and everyone and to be understood. My accent, he said, restricted the opportunities available to me. I said to him that I thought I knew what he meant. “Speak to me again if you need to,” he smiled and left to go back upstairs.

I walked home after work that day and thought about what he had said to me that afternoon and vowed that I would change how I spoke, I had no idea how I was going to do it but decided that I had to try.

I also had an idea that hotel management might not be a bad job/career to look into. I thought about things for a few days and eventually asked mum if I talked “common”. “Yes” came the swift reply. My mother was from Glasgow but didn’t have a strong accent. My dad was from Dundee but had served as an officer in WWII, he spoke very well, my two older brothers, I guess also spoke well, I think it was only me with “bad” accent. “How can I speak better” I asked mum. “First thing you need to do is to slow down the speed at which you talk and then to think about how the words are spelled and to try and say them the same way as they are spelled. This wasn’t something that was going to happen overnight, in the end, it took probably three years to correct my speech. I still have a Scottish accent which I am very proud of, it’s just a lot softer.

Because of my lack of qualifications, four “O” levels, opportunities were going to be limited. My dad, unbeknown to me had been making enquiries about courses at college that might set me on a path in catering. He found a course at the local technical college, now part of Abertay University, “Catering and Hotel Keeping” a two year course that resulted in an “OND” qualification. An appointment was made to see the head of the catering department to find out what the course entailed and whether it would be suitable for me. It all seemed to go OK and I was signed up for the course, starting in September. With the course sorted, I then applied for a grant from the council which came through at £2.00 per week during term time.

I was still working at the hotel as the cellar man, even though the main man had returned to work, he was on light duties.

My friend Graham with the Anglia said to me that there was a party on at the weekend and did I want to go. It was on a Saturday night in a small village, Lochearnhead, in Perthshire. I said I would need to check at home to see if it was OK. A friend of his, “Eck”, someone I knew only vaguely, was working in a hotel there and a staff party was taking place. With an OK from home, we set off on Saturday afternoon and arrived about 17.00. The party was to start at around 21.00, once everyone had finished work. We found Eck who was working as a kitchen porter, he said to head to the public bar of the hotel and wait for him to finish. It was a lovely evening, so before heading to the bar, we had a walk round, found the village shop, got some food to keep us going and walk about a mile down the road to the loch where we sat on a jetty and ate what we had bought. In the boot of the car was our contribution for the party, twenty four cans of McEwans Export. We wandered back up to the hotel and headed for the bar. It was busy with a mixture of tourists, locals and some of the staff not working. A couple of pints and a few games of darts brought us to around 21.00 and Eck came in and ordered a pint which disappeared without touching the sides. “I’m just going to get washed and changed and I will be back in a bit. Before he left, he introduced us to some of the other staff whom we had seen but not spoken to. They were mostly girls who looked between eighteen and thirty, all of them with a soft lilting accent. I asked where they were from. Mostly they were from the islands of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. They were working as chambermaids and cleaners in the hotel. I later found out that the hotel actively recruited from there every year. Eck reappeared and ordered another pint, joined us and said that once the bar shut at ten we would head over to the party. Once the bell had been rung for last orders we headed outside into the darkness and a slightly chilly evening. The party was being held in the communal staff room which was set in a block away from the hotel. The staff accommodation was set in a three sided building away from the hotel, the guest’s car park was in the middle. On the right hand side bordering the road was the female accommodation, facing us was the male accommodation and on the third side was the staff room and next to that the hotel laundry.

The party room was about the size of two large living rooms with a selection of sofas and chairs that had once been in the hotel. These had all been pulled back against the walls to clear a space for dancing. On a table at the back of the room was a Dansette Bermuda record player with extra speakers plugged into the back and a pile of 45’s and some LP’s. Various table lamps were dimly lighting the room. A table near the door was laden with booze and we added ours retrieved from the boot of the car. The music was already blaring out and there was some dancing going on. The room was filling up fast and to start with there was so much noise that conversation was near impossible. I had been chatting to a girl in the pub but lost sight of her once we were in the room. Graham had no such problems, he had long flowing blonde hair way past his shoulders and he had no problems attracting the women. I was hoping to be lucky by association. Eck didn’t move much from where the drinks were and always had a drink in his hand. Everyone was smoking and the air was thick with a blue haze. There was much drinking, laughing and dancing. There was the occasional bit of argy bargy but nothing out of hand. At around 02.00 I was sitting outside with a can in my hand and a fag on, the volume of the music had died down and quite a few had left or were outside sitting in the courtyard. I had met up again with the girl I had seen earlier in the bar and we sat chatting. I have no idea what we talked about. About three o’clock she kissed me and said she was off to bed as she was up at 07.00 to start work. I went back inside as I suddenly felt cold. Graham was nowhere to be seen, He had been with the same person all evening and they must have disappeared off together. Eck was absolutely plastered and was sprawled out across one of the sofas. Others were sitting talking the way you do at parties when the music is low and either the booze has run out or you can’t drink anymore. Drunk as I was, I remember thinking that this looked like a great way of working. I must have fallen asleep as sometime in the morning, I awoke to the smell of bacon. The girl I had been chatting to, and who had left me at 03.00 had brought some bacon sandwiches and coffee. I must have looked rough as she told me to go and have a wash and clean up first. I went into the toilets in the male accommodation and looked at myself in the mirror, I did look rough. I stripped to the waist and washed, there was a tube of toothpaste which I squeezed out onto my finger and used it like a toothbrush. It wasn’t ideal but it freshened me up. I returned to the smell of bacon and coffee which tasted wonderful. She was still there, I asked her if there were any jobs going. She said I would need to ask Miss Brown who was the manager. “Where will she be”, I asked. “She will be across here later to check on the state the room has been left in and to tell us there will be no more parties. She does this every time”. “I’ll make sure I’m not around then,” I replied. I asked her the time as I had no watch. “It’s about nine thirty” she replied. While all this was going on, Graham re-appeared. He said he had gone off with one of the chambermaids and wanted to know how I had faired. I said I had a good time and met a girl whose name I still didn’t know. I suggested we should get out of here as the manageress would be coming to check the state of the room. Looking round it was in a state. There was no drink left on the table by the door. Empties were strewn all over the place. Someone was going to have to do a major clean-up later. We walked down through the carpark and headed to the shop. It was Sunday and it was shut, Graham was starving, he had eaten nothing since yesterday evening. We walked down towards the loch as we had done the previous day and this time found a tea room that was open. Graham ordered and ate a huge amount. I had ham sandwiches and more coffee. He wanted to head back fairly soon as he had work to do for college the next day, I said I wanted to go back up to the hotel to ask about a job for the summer, We agreed that we would leave by twelve at the latest whether I had seen the woman or not. We went round the back of the hotel to the kitchens to see Eck before we went, I told him I was looking for a job, he said there was a porter’s job going. “Carrying the luggage up to the rooms” he said.

I wanted to have another wash before I saw the manageress and walked back up to wards the accommodation block. In the time that we had been away, probably no more than an hour and a half, the staff room had been cleaned up, it was like nothing had happened the night before.

Washed again, I headed back to the front of the hotel and walked in to reception. I asked if the manageress was about. The receptionist went into an office behind reception and a stern looking lady in her fifties came out. “Yes” she asked. “I was wondering if you had any vacancies for summer staff”, I asked. “Were you at the party here last night” she shot back. I had two choices, I could lie and say no or I could tell the truth. “Yes”, I said. “I don’t approve of parties like that”. I quickly wondered if that was why she was still a “Miss”. I said nothing. “What can you do.” I said I was currently working as a cellar man, had waited on tables and lied that I had also helped out as a porter. “Write me a letter applying for a porter’s position and I will think about it. When can you start.” I replied that I only needed to give a weeks’ notice to my current employer. With that she turned and headed back into the office.

That Sunday evening having told my mum and dad that I might go to work a summer season in a hotel I got out the Basildon Bond paper and wrote to Miss Brown applying for the job as a porter. Both my older brothers had worked in hotels over the summer seasons when they had been students so it didn’t come as a surprise to my parents.

The letter was posted on Monday and by Friday I had a reply. A job with accommodation was offered, I had to telephone my acceptance and agree a start date. This was agreed for a week from the following Monday. I was to arrive the day before for a 07.30 start on the Monday. The letter also said that I had to wear black trousers, white shirt and black shoes. I had enough white shirts from school and only had to buy two pairs of black trousers.

I handed in my notice at The Angus the next day I was in and as the cellar man was almost back to normal, it worked out well for both parties. Before the week was over, the deputy manager came down and wished me well. I thanked him and also said that I was taking heed of the advice he had given me.

On the Saturday before I left for Loch Earn I packed everything into to my rucksack that I had been bought when I was in the Scouts. The required clothes for the uniform plus a couple of ties and casual clothes, underwear and toiletries. It was almost full. The last thing I put in was my little travel alarm clock. The type that folded up into its own case. I wanted to put in my transistor radio but there wasn’t enough room.

All packed ready to go, a last meal at home that night and I was ready to go in the morning.

Next time: My first day

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