Goodbye to School Hello to Work, Part Two

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

Part one is here

This time: My first day

The next morning, I was up at 08.00 had a bath and breakfast. By 09.30 I was ready to go. All attempts to persuade Graham or my dad to take me had failed so it was public transport all the way. I had been into the bus station during the week and I could get a bus to Perth and another one to St Filllans but I would have to hitch a lift for the last 7 miles. I got off the bus in St Fillans at around 14.30 and found my way to the Lochearnhead road. It took some time to get a lift but eventually I arrived at the hotel sometime before 17.00.

The Lochearnhead Hotel sits at the junction where the A85 meets the A84, it has a commanding position looking down towards the loch.

I headed into reception and the receptionist gave me a key for one of the rooms in the male accommodation block. I head over and find my room. The bed has been made up for me. The room is smallish just enough space for a single bed and a wardrobe at the end, there a bedside table, a hard chair and a small chest of drawers. The floor was covered with linoleum. I unpack and stow my rucksack under the bed. The window just above the side of the bed looks out onto some bramble bushes about four feet from the window. The whole place is very quiet compared to the Saturday night just a couple of weeks ago. My door was slightly open  and eventually someone pushed it a bit further and says “hello, are you the new porter”. “Yes” I reply. “Were you at the party a couple of weeks ago”, I confirm I was and he says he had seen me in the bar beforehand. He is Scott, one of the chefs, I said I knew Eck vaguely and that was how I had been at the party. I asked who else was in the block, Eck, and one of the other chefs Doug. “With you that makes four of us.” “What about the girls”, I asked. “You’re not wasting any time are you” he laughed. He went on to say that there were ten girls, and there block was full. “Plenty to go round” he said. I asked about food as I was starving. “On Sunday night it’s a cold meal served in the stillroom before dinner service, I’m just going over if you want to come”.

On the way across he explained that the chefs didn’t work on a Sunday night. There was a cold buffet in the dining room that was renowned locally and always busy. The owner did all the carving of the cold joints.

We went in the back door and down some corridors that led to the stillroom. The stillroom is where all the teas, coffees, toast, sandwiches and suchlike were served from. There was a long table down the middle with seats either side, the food was all under damp tea towels to keep it fresh. A couple of girls were sitting eating and Scott introduced me to them. They both had that lilting west coast accent that sounded lovely. I followed Scott, got a plate and filled it up with cold new potatoes, York ham and roast beef. There was water on the table or tea and coffee if you wanted to make it. I had water and sat down with the girls and chatted away. Where are you from, what are you doing, how old are you, do you have a girlfriend. It felt a bit like the Spanish Inquisition. No doubt they would be reporting back to the others later on. The food was good and my plate was soon clear. Sitting back afterwards I asked generally where Eck was. “The bar isn’t open until seven, so he will be lying drunk somewhere. Sunday is his half day  and he usually spends it drunk. Other people come and go and I am introduced to most of them. One wall of the stillroom has windows running down one side, not to outside but into the kitchen area which is about four feet lower down. It gives a commanding view of everything that might be happening. On the other side of the kitchen are windows to the outside. At around 19.30 things start to get busy with people coming and going in the kitchen, a fridge door would be opened and a side of meat would be carried out and disappear, trays of salad also went out of the kitchen. Around 20.00 Scott said he was going for a drink and did I want to join him. I said no as I was starting at 07.30 in the morning. He said he was on breakfast duty and would be starting at 07.00. “Would you knock on my door as you go passed” I asked. With that we parted, I looked into the staff room as I passed and noticed the record player had been replaced by a TV. It was on with a very fuzzy picture playing to no one.

I had a better look round on my return and found there were two baths and two showers as well as the hand basins and toilets. Early to bed and set the alarm for 06.30.

When the alarm went off the next morning, I opened my eyes and the first thought was “where am I”. Quickly realising, I silenced the alarm and looked round. It was dark and I had to get out of bed to switch on the light. I lay back on the bed debating whether to sleep a bit more or get up. I swung my legs off the bed and back onto the cold lino. I got half-dressed and went off with my wash bag to the toilets. Returning to my room I was putting on my shirt when Scott was banging on my door. “Thanks” I said, “I’m already up and getting ready”. “Good”, he said. “You don’t want to be late for Gregor” and walked of down the corridor and out the door in his chefs whites.

I went out into the morning air, it smelt fresh, there was hint of dampness from the morning dew and the sun was trying to shine through the clouds. It was cool but the day was going to be warm.

I had put on a tie, it didn’t say anything about one in the offer letter, but I thought that must have been an omission, better safe than sorry. It was a Paisley pattern tie, quite trendy I thought.

As I walked in through the front door I could see a tall man, probably in his mid-fifties standing next to reception. Black shoes, black trousers, white shirt and, oh no, a green tartan waistcoat and matching tie. “That’s the reason a tie wasn’t mentioned in the letter. “Are you Gregor”, I asked. “Yes” he replied in a soft west coast accent. His voice was low, there could have been a hint of menace in it but I wasn’t sure. I introduced myself, “At least you’re on time, come with me.” He led me across reception to a door, with “PORTER” in gold lettering, which he opened and ushered me in. It was the “porters lodge”, a place where anything and everything might be if someone took the time to look. He opened a wardrobe which was full of tartan waistcoats and ties. He sized me up and picked what turned out to be the right fit from the row of waistcoats. “Put these on” he said passing me a tie and the waistcoat. While I was doing this he said he would take me on a tour of the hotel. “Pick up that notepad and pen” pointing to a bureau next to the wardrobe. I thought this might be for me to take notes. We walked up to the top of the main staircase and along one of the corridors. He stopped outside one of the rooms. “Write the room number down on the pad“ he said, “now put it in one of the shoes on the floor outside the door and pick them up. We did this along all the corridors and between us we ended up with six pairs of shoes. Back in the porter’s lodge he passed me an apron that was hanging on the back of the door. From a cupboard he produced a comprehensive shoe cleaning kit. There were polishes in many colours, clothes that had been used to apply the polish. Buffing brushes, brushes to remove mud and even a suede brush.

“Off you go then laddie, first job of the day, clean the shoes”. With that I was set to work cleaning six pairs of shoes. At home, dad was the person who cleaned shoes. I had seen him do it plenty of times so knew what to do. Matching the polish to the shoe was the only difficult part. Nearly all were black, there was a dark brown pair and a light mustardy colour pair that I left as I wasn’t sure which polish to use. Gregor returned with a pile of newspapers. These have to be delivered by 08.30 when breakfast starts. I said about the mustardy coloured shoes and he got out a clear polish. “If nothing matches then use clear”. “Are the others OK”. He cast a critical eye over them and just nodded. “Get them back to the rooms then come back for the papers.” I hurried round dropping the shoes back off. Back at the lodge, I picked up the pile of newspapers, each one had a room number on the top corner, it was just like a paper round except smaller and drier. That done I returned to the lodge. Gregor was stirring a pot of tea and there were two mugs. “Time for a drink laddie”. He said there was a lull just now while the guests had breakfast, then it was suitcases down from the rooms that were leaving. Above the door were a set of bells that had various departments written underneath. “Reception” was the first followed by “Front Door”, “Kitchen” “Housekeeping” and “Annexe”. “When the bell rings we respond” he said. “Where’s the Annexe” I asked.

“It’s a small building joined on that has Miss Brown’s flat and four more rooms that are used when the hotel is full.” Tea drunk, we headed back out, me carrying the tray with our teapot and mugs. Gregor led me to the stillroom, this time I got there from the front of house rather than the backway Scott led me the previous night. In there was Maggie, a small elderly lady probably around sixty. She had a girl helping her. Both of them were getting silver tea and coffee pots ready for breakfast. “This is, what’s your name again laddie”, “Ken”, I replied. “This is Ken, the new porter.” This was repeated many times that day, sometimes he remembered my name, other times he didn’t. The housekeeper was a friendly woman who was Gregor’s wife. They looked an unlikely couple, they had a house in the village and had been working together at the hotel for many years.

The bell from reception had been ringing while we went to the stillroom and as we passed back by reception we were called and given a list of the rooms with luggage to be brought down. “Right laddie, you do the top floor and I’ll do the first floor.” Off we set, each with a list of the rooms. The luggage was to be left by reception near to the front door. The notepad came back out again to write the room numbers and leave with the luggage in reception. When I finished my list, Gregor had only brought down luggage from one room and said he had been called away and could I bring down the rest from his floor. Once their bill had been settled Gregor would suggest to the guests that they should bring their motor car round to the front and the luggage would be loaded for them. When this happened, I was tasked with loading the luggage while Gregor chatted to the guests, asking if they’d had an enjoyable stay, where they were off to and wishing them a safe journey. It took a time for me to figure out that he was sweet talking the guests for a tip which went directly into his pocket.

Once all the portering duties were complete it was time for breakfast in the stillroom. Suitably refuelled we walked out the front doors and he showed me where the guests could park their “motor cars” as he called them. There were a few spaces on the roadside at the front, however the main carpark was up by the staff block and the laundry. We walked up the slope to the laundry and went in, it was very noisy, there were four industrial washing machines and two huge tumble driers. Again I was introduced but there was so much noise, conversation was difficult. There was a woman in charge and two girls helping her. One of the girls, I had seen her at the party, now had a plastercast on her right arm. I found out later that she had opened the tumble drier as it was still going round and had tried to pull something out, her arm had been caught in the machine and she was knocked over, breaking her wrist.

Out of the laundry and across towards the accommodation block. The car park was on a slope and the difference in height between the top and the bottom allowed enough room for storage rooms to be under some of the male and all of the female block. Under the male block was a large walk in fridge and freezers. Under the female block were the beer store and the wine racks.

Back into the hotel and we headed for the kitchen this time. Scott and Doug were working away preparing lunch, Eck was washing pots. Gregor knocked on a half glass door at the far end of the kitchen, “Charles, this is the new porter”. Charles the head chef just looked up from where he was writing and then returned to what he was doing. “Here is the lunch menu” he said handing over a sheet of paper. “We take this to reception to be typed up”. We finished up in the dining room where the waitresses were setting up for lunch. More introductions and more names to try to remember. “Another drink now and maybe a biscuit or two”, we returned to the still room where another pot of tea and a plate of biscuits appeared. As we were drinking, I went to ask a question, “not now laddie, I’m enjoying a cup of tea, ask me again when we are back in the lodge.”

It’s now about 11.30 and we are back sitting on two old armchairs in the porters lodge. “What were you going to ask me laddie”. I wanted to know what hours I would be working. He thought for a moment and then said slowly. “Start at 07.00 until 12.00 then 16.00 until 20.00, but you might have to work longer and later if we are busy.” What hours do you work” I asked. “All the hours God sent, but here I work from 08.00 until 16.00 and from 20.00 until 22.30.” “What about days off”. “Tuesday and Thursday for you Wednesday and Sunday for me”, he then added that on his days off I had to be available if required between 12.00 and 16.00.

I sat there trying to work out how many hours a week it was but gave up in the end. At 12.00 he said for me to go and get some lunch. Lunch was served in the stillroom with pots having been brought up from the kitchen. It was help yourself, today it was a beef stew, mash and vegetables with apple crumble and custard for dessert. There was milk, tea, coffee or water to drink. Some of the chambermaids were already eating and I sat down and joined them. The chatter was mostly about their jobs, the guests, clothes and me. Some I had already met and had told them about myself, for the rest I had to repeat everything again. Lunch over I was heading back to the lodge thinking that I was finished until 16.00. I saw Gregor who disappointed me by saying that I should carry on with him today to see how it all works. While lunch was being served we busied ourselves around the main entrance, greeting diners and show the way to the restaurant for those that hadn’t been before. At the front of the hotel there was a sun lounge where coffee could be taken after lunch. Another duty was to keep this area tidy and to clear away after the guests had finished. Ashtrays to be emptied and tables polished. The same had to be done in a second lounge off reception. Time passed quickly and from about 15.30 new guests started to arrive. Suitcases out the car and into reception. Once the room had been allocated, carry the suitcases up to the room. Some people travelled light, others had suitcases that felt like there was a body inside. Gregor encouraged me to carry the luggage to the rooms, “You’ll get to know the hotel better by doing that”. Unexpectedly there was quite often a tip once the suitcases were carried up. Nothing like the James Bond films where paper money is tucked into a top pocket. Just a steady trickle of small change which was to become my beer and fags money. On my return to reception Gregor would ask me if I had be given a tip, “No” I would reply or say just a few coppers. Having seen him working the guests on departure and getting tips which he pocketed and didn’t share, I thought, “you’re not getting any of mine”. The staff evening meal was served from 18.00 for half an hour. Tonight it was new potatoes, pork pie and salad, a loaf of bread and a dish of butter were also on the table. If you wanted a hot drink, it was make it yourself.

At 20.00 Gregor said to finish and that tomorrow, which should have been my day off, was a 07.00 start, he would be in at 08.00. “Shoes then papers laddie”. I walked back out through the hotel and over to my room, took off my shoes and socks followed by my waistcoat and tie and slumped down onto the bed. I must have lain there for about half an hour in complete silence. It had been a busy day with a lot to take in. I lay there thinking if I had done the right thing by coming here and working for the summer, I only knew Eck and then only through a friend, the others were all friendly enough but I wasn’t sure. I decided to give it to the end of the week before I thought about it again. I got up, stripped off, wrapped a towel round me and headed for a shower. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a casual shirt and headed into the staff room. It was dark and there were a couple of chambermaids watching TV. I said hello to which one waived and one returned the greeting. They were watching a play through the snow on the screen. I sat in a chair next to them and tried to follow what was happening. They were both watching intently and only when the program ended did they turn to me. “You’re Ken the new porter aren’t you,” said one of them. “I’m Maureen and this is Helen.” I said that I would try to remember their names but asked that they forgive me if I get them wrong. Helen got up and put the lights on. “You’ve caused quite a stir today” she said as she sat down again. “You’re the first new person we have had here for ages”. I said I had been at the last party and decided to come and work here. I asked them what there was to do in the evenings and days off. This time it was Maureen who spoke. “There’s the bar, that’s where most people end up. During the day you can swim in the loch or walk in the hills. You can get the bus into Callander to go shopping. That’s about it.” I thanked them and said I was going to have a quick drink before bed as I was up at 06.00 in the morning. I asked if they wanted to join me but they said no. The bar was quite crowded and I could see Scott and Doug the chefs. They were easy to pick out as they were still in their whites. Eck was sitting on a bar stool not noticing anyone, a couple of the chambermaids were also in. I made for the bar where the chefs were and ordered a pint, I asked the other two if they wanted a drink. Doug said “no thanks” and said not to offer to buy drinks for anyone. He went on to explain that it can cause a bit of trouble as everyone drinks at different speeds and some will only have one drink so it’s best just to buy your own. “No one will take offence if you don’t offer to buy a round”. With that, I finished my drink, bid them good night and headed for bed. Alarm set for 06.00 I went out like a light.

Next time: Working on my own, hippies and the loch.

© 10210ken 2023