Goodbye to School Hello to Work, Part Five

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

This time: Fallout from the lock in and Eck’s sudden departure

I was woken by the alarm going off at 06.00, I opened my eyes and immediately closed them again. I lay there for a moment with the alarm still going off and reached out from the bed with my eyes still closed fumbling for the alarm clock. Having found it I managed to silence it. I pulled myself up in bed still with my eyes closed and tried to open them again. My whole head was swirling. I forced myself to swing my legs over onto the edge of the bed and sat there. My head felt like there was a herd of elephants going round and every so often one of them was kicking my forehead from the inside. It was a hangover from hell and I was going to have to get up and work my way through it. I grabbed a towel and headed for a shower. Scott who was on breakfast duty was already in there and I went into the next shower. “How do you feel” I called to him. There were only two words in his reply, “f*cking sh*t.” Scott finished and was out his shower with a towel wrapped round him, I joined him shortly after. We both looked rough, there was no way I was going to be able to put on a happy smiley face for the guests this morning. I returned to my room and the temptation to lay back down on my bed was greater than the need to get dressed and go to work. After another ten minutes I made a move to get up and dressed. The air was still a bit chilly from the night before, however the sun was shining and that made me half close my eyes when I first went out. This only made the thumping worse.

In the stillroom the noise of the pots being made ready, went straight through my head. Maggie and Vivian were both busy and I made myself a cup of coffee. I had a few sips before taking it to its hiding place. As I was leaving, Vivian came up to me and said that we needed to talk, “what about?”, “last night” she said. I had to think what she meant. In reception Sheila passed me the key to the front door and said “God you look rough, did you get drunk last night”, “Yes” I replied with a sigh in my voice. “You’ve got an hour before Gregor is here to sort yourself out. Get some coffee down you, your eyes look like piss holes in the snow.” I unlocked the doors and headed upstairs for the shoes. Seeing some of the chambermaids, they looked just as bad as I did. Fortunately there was only one pair of shoes to do. With the newspapers over my arm, I returned the cleaned shoes to outside the room where I had found them and delivered the papers. I got the brush and swept out the front entrance. This time the fresh air felt a bit better and the sunshine didn’t hurt my head as much. I had finished my coffee and made another stronger one and returned the cup to its hiding place. I headed into the gents to have another look at my face. It didn’t look good. I washed it again, this time in cold water which was a slight improvement. I straightened my tie and tried to look as smart as possible. Back in reception I said to Sheila that I was going outside to get some fresh air. I took the hand brush with me so that when Gregor arrived, I would look like I was working and he may not notice how bad I looked. Just before 08.00 I could see him striding up the road towards the hotel. “Morning laddie” he said as he walked past me. I returned his greeting and carried on with my half-hearted brushing. Trying to sort out things in my head was difficult. Gregor’s parting words last night had been that he wanted to talk to me today and earlier Vivian had said she wanted to do the same. Gregor’s talk would probably be a telling off for not doing something correctly. I tried to think what Vivian wanted. I went over as much as I could remember about last night, then it came back to me, she had grabbed me as we headed back and pushed me against the wall and started kissing me. “What was that all about” I thought to myself. Surely her “I need to talk to you” would be about that.

“Laddie come here” brought me back to the here and now. Gregor was calling and I headed inside. He was by reception and he handed me the list of rooms to bring the luggage down from. “You look worse for wear laddie, did you have too much to drink last night”. “I may have done” was my less than honest reply. “I’ll talk to you later about that as well then.” Three chats to be had now today I thought as I climbed up the stairs.

I couldn’t face a cooked breakfast and had dry toast and another cup of coffee. Others round the table had faces similar to mine. Some were vowing never to let it happen again, others were just getting on with it. Vivian who didn’t appear to have a hangover was having her breakfast said to me to follow her outside when I had finished. I headed out a few minutes after she had gone and was met by her at the back door. “What happened last night” she whispered, “wasn’t meant to happen. I got carried away, I’ve got a boyfriend back in Stornoway and I shouldn’t have done what I did. Can you forget it ever happened and not tell anyone about it?” I said I would. We left it like that, I headed back inside and she carried on to the laundry with a pile of used tea towels.

One down two to go. “Lounges now laddie” said Gregor and I went into the lodge to get the cleaning kit for the tables. There were a couple of guests still drinking coffee in the sun lounge, I cleared the other tables and headed into the main lounge to lend a hand. The place was empty other than Gregor who had picked up a newspaper and was reading the front page. “I heard you’ve been trying out the water skiing laddie.” Does everyone in the hotel know I thought? “Who told you?” “I heard the owner’s wife talking to Miss Brown. She said that she had seen someone on the loch and stopped her car in the ski club car park to watch. She recognised you when you came ashore. I’m not sure about these two down there laddie, you take care.” I assured him that I was just trying it out and couldn’t afford to be involved with the club. Gregor must have told his wife who in turn told the chambermaids who will gossip about anything.

Two down, one to go. It wasn’t until later when we were sitting in the lodge with his mid-morning pot of tea that the subject of my hangover was raised. “Now about last night laddie, it’s not for me to say how much you can drink or how drunk you get, what you do in your own time is up to you. When you come in with a hangover the next day and look like you do and it affects the way you work then it does concern me. I’m not going to lecture you on the evils of drink, that’s for you to find out yourself. All I will say is that you are p*ssing your money down the toilet. When you have work the next day don’t get drunk the night before. Now laddie, pour me another cup of tea then we’ll get back to work.”

I was off at twelve and had some soup for lunch, I asked Maggie if I could borrow a Thermos and filled it with coffee and took a mug with me over to my room. I lay on the bed and drifted in and out of sleep, my head was now much less sore than it was earlier. At around three I got up and had another shower to try to clear my head. It didn’t work. I got dressed ready for the evening shift and sat out on chair by the staff room. Vivian came out the back door and before going to her room she came across. “You understand about what I said earlier” I nodded and she seemed relieved. I said jokingly that if she wanted a repeat performance I was available. She turned and hurried off to her room. Scott the chef came out from his room and joined me, “How’s your head” I asked him, “still f*cking sore” was his reply. Eck who had also been at the lock in walked up from the kitchen. He didn’t look any the worse for the amount he must have drunk, but then he probably was just keeping his alcohol level topped up. He looked over to Scott as he passed, shouted at him “You’re nothing but a f*cking b*stard,” and carried on walking into the staff block. “What was all that about” I asked Scott. “Chef said for us to sort out the big walk in fridge after service and there were a load of steel trays the Eck needed to clean before he could finish. “I think he blames me” said Scott. We both settled back down and said nothing. Just before 16.00 I left Scott and walked down and round to the front of the hotel. There were some guests just arriving so I collected their cases as I went in the front door. Gregor was standing by reception talking to Monica who had replaced Sheila. He looked across at me with the cases, “how are you feeling now laddie”. I replied that I felt much better than I had done earlier on. “Good, it will be a busy one this evening.” He wasn’t wrong, I never stopped all evening, between taking up suitcases, keeping the lounges clean and going between the two kitchens it was 20.00 before I knew it. Gregor arrived just as it was quietening down. “Has it been a busy one” he asked. I nodded in reply. “You look almost back to normal, don’t forget I am off tomorrow so you are on your own. As it’s Sunday you can have a lie in and start at 07.30. I said I would see him on Monday morning. Instead of walking out the front door I went via the stillroom and stopped for a drink. It was quiet in there but the kitchen was still going. They were getting everything ready for the regular Sunday night cold buffet. The smell of roast meat was delicious. There were also whole salmons being poached. All three chefs would be working late tonight and then until the end of lunchtime service tomorrow. By that time all the prep would be done for the buffet. There was no cooking done on Sunday evening so there were no chefs on duty.

Eck was washing up pots and trays in a deep sink and didn’t look too happy.

I sat there with a cup of coffee enjoying the quiet. I had about a £1.00 in my pocket from the tips I had received today, however the thought of a drink didn’t appeal to me. I sat there in the stillroom watching them working away in the kitchen. There wasn’t a lot of conversation. Each seemed to know exactly what to do. I was still there at 21.00 when a couple of the chambermaids, Helen and Mary, came and made themselves drinks one opened a cupboard and took out a packet of biscuits and they both sat down at the table. As we got talking they wanted to know about my time on the loch. “Why the great interest in me trying to water ski, hasn’t anyone else had a go.” “As far as we know you’re the first one.” I asked if the lock in last night was a regular occurrence. “Most Friday nights said Helen.” “I had a hell of a hangover this morning” I said to them. “That’ll teach you” said Mary. We sat there until way past 22.00. The chefs and Eck had finished in the kitchen and I thought at least Eck will be in the bar. Helen and Mary got up to go and I said I would join them as they walked back. Helen washed up the three cups and went to put what was left of the biscuits back in the cupboard. “I’ll look after them” and took the packet from Helen. I followed them out the back door and across to the rooms. The TV was on in the staff room but there was nobody watching it. I said goodnight and went into my room. Clock set, I was asleep within minutes.

Sunday morning was much quieter than the others. Gregor or Monica had left a card on reception stating that there would be no shoe cleaning service and Sunday papers could be collected from reception after 09.30. That must be why Gregor said it was a 07.30 start. I made Monica and myself a coffee. There was only Vivian in the stillroom getting everything ready for breakfast. She chatted away as if nothing had happened on the Friday night.

It was a slow morning, there weren’t many departures and I only had 20p more by the time everyone had left. I went out to do the sweeping and the early morning mist had now turned to drizzle. I carried on as there wasn’t much else to do. The lounges had hardly been used so there wasn’t much to do there either. I made more drinks for the two of us. I found an umbrella in the lodge and left it near the door in case it was needed. At 12.00 I told Monica I was off but if she needed me I would be in the over in my room. Lunch was roast beef, mash and veg. There was ice cream for dessert. Looking down on the kitchen from the stillroom the three chefs were still busy. For once there was no noise from the laundry, closed on Sundays. I had found out when I came up for the party a few weeks ago that the shop was also closed on Sundays. There wasn’t anything to do. I had brought with me a copy of the News of the World that had been left in reception. Time to read about randy vicars and politicians. The staff room was the busiest I had seen it. The TV was on and there was a film showing but as usual it looked like it was snowing, only the sound was clear. With it being a wet day, no one had ventured out anywhere. There was not much conversation with most people reading a book or a magazine. A couple of others were writing letters. At around 14.30 I left and went to my room. It could do with a tidy, there was still the carrier bad from my packed lunch on Thursday, an empty pop bottle and a few empty cigarette packets. This done I decided to check my wallet to see how much money I had left. I wouldn’t get paid until next Friday as it was a week in hand. I still had just over a £1.00. With the tips I hopefully would collect I would have more than enough to see me through until payday. I had my Post Office savings book with me and I decided to save my wages and see if I could live off my tips.

Back on at 16.00 it was Sheila’s turn on reception. It was still very quiet however around 18.00 the pace started to pick up. The hotel owner and his wife together with Miss Brown were going between the kitchen and the dining room with all the food for tonight’s buffet. I was roped in together with a couple of the waitresses. We were carrying trays of food down to the forward kitchen where it was then taken out and set up on the row of tables covered in crisp white tablecloths. I found out later that Charles the head chef had been across in the afternoon with Miss Brown to give her a list of everything that had been prepared for tonight. She was now in the kitchen taking trays out of fridges and laying them out ready to be carried down. Centre piece of the buffet was a pigs head covered in a black tar like substance and with a red apple in its mouth.

Once the buffet had started I was back and forward to Miss Brown in the kitchen. The owner’s wife was in the forward kitchen making sure everything was presented correctly before it went out. The main man was behind the buffet in a suit and a chef’s hat. He was a big man, probably six foot six and looked like he may have been a rugby player. He had a commanding presence carving the meat and laughing and joking with the guests. Once dinner was finished I was flitting between the lounges and helping out with everything going back into the kitchen. All the empty trays were piled up in the sinks ready for Eck in the morning. Any meat that was left Miss Brown ensured went back into the fridges no doubt to become tomorrow’s staff meals.

The bar shut promptly at 22.00 and any customers left, quickly disappeared. The owner went round afterwards thanking everyone for their hard work. On seeing me he asked how the skiing was going. “Early days yet”. I replied.

It was 22.30 before I was walking back. I had locked the front door and put the key in the drawer. Back outside, the earlier drizzle was now a more persistent rain and I ran across to my room.

I had completed my first week and I felt quite satisfied with the way it had gone.

The next morning the rain had gone, there was a hazy sun in the sky and it smelled fresh. With the doors opened I climbed up the stairs to see what shoes needed doing. With all the wet weather yesterday there must have been twenty pairs outside the doors. A couple of rooms had two pairs, one ladies and one gents. I carried some downstairs and found a box to go back and collect the rest. The bell rang to let me know the papers were done but I still wasn’t half way through the shoes. By the time Gregor arrived I was just finishing off the shoes and piling them into the box to take them back. “Morning laddie, have you forgotten to do the papers” he wanted to know. I told him how many pairs of shoes I had done and that as soon as I had delivered them back I was doing the papers. “Well, no time to stand about talking, you best get on with it.” As soon as I got back down the stairs, he took the box from me and handed me the papers. Back up the stairs to drop off the papers and then it was onto the luggage. It was nearly 09.30 when I got a chance to get some breakfast.

Two things then happened. While making a bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee I saw the girl that I’m sure I was chatting up at the party a few weeks ago. I said hello to her and that I hadn’t seen her around. “No”, she said, “I saved up my days off and went home for a week. You must have arrived as I left”. “I’m sure I remember you from the party.” She blushed and looked away. Just then there was shouting in the kitchen. Raised voices were nothing out the ordinary as in the heat tempers can be a bit short, but this was something different, the tone of the shouting like nothing we had heard before in the kitchen. Everyone in the stillroom stopped and looked towards the kitchen. Eck was shouting across the kitchen at Doug, “I hate you, you f*cking b*stard. You’re all f*cking b*stards. Look at the f*cking mess you’ve left for me, b*stards.” Doug started to open his mouth to say something when “Eck picked up a silver salver and threw it across the kitchen towards Doug. It flew like a flying saucer and missed Doug by a mile. It didn’t miss the window and went straight through the glass and ended up outside. “F*ck you all” he shouted and walked away from the sink and out the door. The noise had reached the front of house and Miss Brown and Gregor had arrived just as the salver went through the glass. Miss Brown stood there open mouthed. Gregor being more practical told everyone to get back to work. Miss Brown said to Gregor to go and find Charles the head chef. He was still at home, he lived in a bungalow just across the road from the hotel and Gregor set off to get him. During all this Scott had been in one of the fridges and only came out when it had all gone quiet. Doug was standing in the same spot he had been in when it all kicked off. Scott looked at the broken window and then at Doug. He called across to him to see if he was OK. Doug nodded but hardly moved. A few minutes later Charles arrived and his first words were “What the f*ck is going on”. Doug tried to explain what had happened but before I could hear any more I was called away by Gregor. “Go across and see what Alexander is doing and tell him Miss Brown wants to see him.” “What, me!!!” “Yes you, now go on.” It was the first time I had heard anyone call Eck by his full name. Going across to his room I saw him head towards the road with a suitcase, he still had on his apron. I called over to him but he just carried on walking telling me to “f*ck off” as well. No point in pursuing him I thought and I walked back round to the front of the hotel. Gregor was in reception, Miss Brown was sat behind reception white faced. “Where is he then” asked Gregor. I beckoned him to follow me and we both walked out the front door to see Eck walking down the road towards St Fillans. Weeks later, speaking to my friend Graham who knew Eck more than I did, he had returned to Dundee for a short while and then moved south.

We turned back in to reception and Gregor told Miss Brown what we had both just seen, she looked quite relieved.  “Come with me laddie”. Gregor and I headed out the door and round to the back of the hotel. He unlocked a door that opened up to a small workshop with all the tools one would need for doing odd jobs. He gave me a hammer, some bits of wood and a box of screws. He carried a brush, a plastic bucket and a screwdriver. He looked at the broken window from the outside and said for me to put the tools down and to pick up the bits of glass on the outside, he went into the kitchen with the hammer. Fortunately there was very little glass on the inside. Gregor knocked any loose bits out of the frame towards me. Once the frame was almost clear he asked me to bring round one of the pieces of wood, the screwdriver and screws. “Hold the other piece of wood up to the frame and I will screw this one on the inside to your one on the outside.” The screws were too long and poked out on my side but that didn’t matter. After about half an hour we were finished, all swept up and tidied away. We were way behind where we should have been and the lounges only got a quick clean. The windowsills outside could wait for tomorrow. In the stillroom making coffee, I looked down into the kitchen Doug was now washing the pots, Charles was out his office and preparing lunch. Back in reception Miss Brown asked me to go across and check Eck’s room to see if he had come back. I doubted it but walked over to look. His room was further down than mine, the door was partially open, “Eck”, I called out as I knocked on the door, there was no reply, I gingerly pushed the door open. The first thing that hit me was the smell, it stank of stale beer and sweat. Going into the room the smell was stronger and the room looked like a tip. There were empty beer can strewn across the floor, on the chair and on the bedside table. I quickly got out and closed the door behind me. Reporting back I found Gregor, Charles and Miss Brown who were now sitting round a table in the lounge. They listened to what I had to say, Gregor asked me if I had seen the key for the door to Eck’s room. I replied that I hadn’t. I returned to reception and Sheila wanted to know all that had happened, I quickly filled her in with everything that I knew and had seen. She looked at me open mouthed. By now it was after 12.00 and I should have been having my lunch but I waited until Gregor came out the lounge. I asked him if he needed me to stay. “No laddie, I’ll see you at 16.00”.

Lunch was a quiet affair with everyone talking in hushed tones. There were glimpses over to the kitchen and then back again. I was asked several time what I had seen and repeated the same as I had told Shelia.

Sitting outside the staff room later reading a paper I saw two of the chambermaids walking from the hotel with two laundry bags, a bucket and mop and a basket full of cleaning materials. They had their hair tied up and were wearing rubber gloves. I watched them go in towards Eck’s room. About thirty seconds later one was them was shouting in that lovely west coast accent “what a f*cking mess”. One of the laundry bags was thrown out the door with all the bedding and towels. The other was being filled with all the beer cans and anything else that had been left. This in turn came clattering out the door to be left by the side of the first bag. A few minutes later the mattress followed. They spent about forty five minutes in total cleaning up the mess. They came out looking hot and very fed up. I said I had a couple of cans of Coke in my room and did they want them. They nodded and I went off to get them. The corridor smelled strongly of disinfectant. “What a bloody mess he left” said one. The other nodded as she opened the can and started drinking. Miss Brown could be seen heading across and she went straight into see the room. She came back out and asked if the key had been found. One of the girls took the key out of her apron pocket and Miss Brown thanked her and walked off. They dragged off the rubbish and came back for the mattress which they put behind the laundry out of site.

Just after 15.00 Vivian came out the back door. I called over to her and she changed direction and headed my way. I asked her if she was OK to which she nodded. “Who was the chambermaid that came back today from the Isles”. “That’s funny, she asked me who you were. You were with her at the party weren’t you?” “I think I was but I couldn’t really remember”. “Her name is Marian, she doesn’t have a boyfriend, but if you keep chatting to her, she might.” “Am I in with a chance then” I wanted to know. “I don’t think she will push you up against the wall and start snogging you, but then you never know.” She laughed and turned away to go into her room.

That evening there was another kitchen porter working away. He was the person who filled in on Eck’s days off. He was going to work full time until a replacement was found. He lived in the village and his mum was a waitress in the restaurant.

When Gregor came back on at 20.00 he thanked me for what I did this morning.

It was my day off tomorrow and I was looking forward to it.

Next time: Days off and the new kitchen porter.

© 10210ken 2023