Goodbye to School Hello to Work, Part Seven

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

This time: Frank the KP, much excitement amongst the girls, a skiing update and the end

Gregor was half right, Frank asked to borrow money from Doug during lunch on Sunday. He said no and told him to see Miss Brown for an advance on his wages. He tried the same on with Scott who told him where to go. He must have got the message as he didn’t ask me. He still managed to be in the bar on Sunday night. I could see him from the lounge in the hotel chatting to whoever would listen and cadging drinks from them. Eventually Angus took him to one side and told him to stop it and to buy his own drinks.

On Monday, Gregor wanted to know if he was right. I confirmed that he had tried Doug and Scott but both said no. Gregor smiled and said “We’ll need to watch that one”. Since I had been there I had begun to notice that not only was Gregor the porter he was also the person Miss Brown relied on to sort out anything that cropped up.

Frank must have taken Doug’s advice as during the morning we heard him talking to Monica and then Miss Brown. We were sitting in the lodge drinking tea and could only hear muffled voices. “Open the door laddie”, I got up and pulled the door open so Gregor could hear more clearly. He listened and then got up and went out. I stayed where I was. It didn’t matter to me one way or another. Gregor returned leaving the door open. Frank was still at the desk. “She’s going to give him some money” he said. “I wouldn’t give him a penny. He’s got a bed and food, he doesn’t need any money. I suppose whatever she lends him Angus will have it in the cash register later.”

Life was settling into a routine with work and days off, although I was only in my third week everything felt familiar. I was managing to live off the tips I picked up so my savings were going to get a boost. Days off could be a drag if it was raining but when the sun shone it was great.

With my day off on Tuesday, I used it to sort out my laundry, tidy my room and change my bed. I explored more of the village and found out there was a site for scouts to camp further up the hill at the back of the hotel. However there was no one there just now. I was coming back into the hotel from the shop around 15.30. Sheila called me over and asked if I would do her a favour. Can you go to the girls block and shout out that Sam will be here at 16.30. “Who’s Sam” I asked. “He’s the one person all the girls want to see. He is a travelling salesman. Be in the staffroom when he’s here and you will see.” I walked over to the girls accommodation, I had never been in. There was a large sign on the door reading “Females Only, No admittance to males unless accompanied by Management.”

I pushed the door open and stood by the entrance and shouted that Sam would be here at 16.30. I repeated it and was asked by a voice that I couldn’t see what I had just said. I repeated it for the third time and got a “thanks” back.

Curious about all this, I decided to be there at 16.30. I was sitting outside the staffroom from about 16.15 and not long after there was a steady trickle of the females heading into the staffroom. The curtains were pulled back and the lights put on. Looking inside, it was the brightest I had seen it, it showed how threadbare the carpet was and the worn out furniture was. By 16.30 there must have been around fifteen to twenty inside, some standing, some sitting and a couple waiting outside. Not only the chambermaids, but some of the waitresses who lived in the village were there. Around 16.45 a battered old grey Morris 1000 van came into the car park and stopped near the staffroom. There was a cheer from inside. An Indian man wearing a turban got out and moved towards the door. “Hello ladies”, he called out in a voice that was a mixture of Asian and Glaswegian accents. “Give me five minutes and I will be ready.” He returned to the van and took the biggest suitcase I had ever seen out the back. Someone had pulled two tables together and he struggled to get the suitcase up on to the tables. Cardboard boxes were brought in and sat on the floor next to the tables. He opened the case to gasps from some of the assembled crowd. I moved inside to find out what was happening. The suitcase was full of blouses, ladies pants, knickers, stockings, tights and anything else ladies would need but couldn’t get in a small village. The boxes had shoes in various colours, styles and sizes. He then brought in another case that was filled with toiletries. He sat on a chair at one side of the table and let everyone have a good look. “Many new items today for you ladies” he said. There was a fairly orderly queue to see and buy everything on sale. He was doing a roaring trade. He had a money pouch round his waist which was a lot fuller when he left than when he arrived. As the last ones left the case was by now half empty. He turned to me and asked if I wanted anything. I asked him if he had a transistor radio. He said no, but would bring one next month. I then asked if he had any watches. “Only ladies”, he showed me one similar to the type nurses have pinned on their uniform. I asked the price and agreed the sale I also had some soap, shampoo, toothpaste and batteries for my shaver. The batteries turned out to be Chinese rubbish but everything else was ok. The watch I would just put in my pocket. With that he closed the case, put everything back in his van and was about to go. Curious, I asked him if this was his full time job. He said he came out from Glasgow every day to hotels like this in the country where there were no shops. My brother looks after our shop in Glasgow. With that he was gone with the promise to bring a radio next time.

In the bar that night, Doug asked me if I wanted to be part of a group that were going for a midnight swim later in the week. “You must be f*cking joking”, I said, “Do you know how cold that water is. Its bloody cold during the day so f*ck knows how cold it would be at midnight.” “I’ll take that to be a no then” he said. “Look, I’m up for most things but that is just plain dangerous, I’ve been in the loch with a wetsuit on and I still felt like I was freezing, my bollocks were like shrivelled walnuts when I got out. Whose crazy idea was it?” “I’m not sure” he replied. I asked if he was a strong swimmer. He said he wasn’t. “Then don’t do it, if you get into difficulty, once you swim away from the shore, no one can see you”. He seemed to take in what I said and looked a bit deflated. “Tell anyone else that’s thinking about it to not do it. Say to them to go down to the loch during the day and to find a shallow bit and see how long they can stand the cold.” It wasn’t mentioned again, instead there was talk of another party being held in the staffroom on Saturday night.

With Gregor off, it was a long day on Wednesday, there was not much free time but tomorrow is my day off. Marion was off as well and we agreed she would join me down at the ski club later. After breakfast and having secured two packed lunches from Maggie I walked round to the shop.  On my way back Gregor was standing outside in the sun. “What have you got planned for today laddie.” I said what I was doing and he followed up with “are you taking that bonnie lassie with you.” I nodded and he finished off by saying to take care behind the boat.” In the stillroom, I picked up the two packed lunches in exchange for two bars of chocolate this time, and went back to my room, Marian was waiting for me. She was sitting near the door of staff room, I gave her the lunches and went to get my stuff for skiing. We walked down to the loch, not saying much. Marian sat where she had been last week and watched. I wasn’t concentrating enough and the result was I spent more time in the loch rather than on it. It wasn’t until we were about half an hour in that things started to come together. I was now able to swing quite far out to the side of the boat and then back in across the wake and out to the other side. On one of the times I didn’t make it across the wake, Danny said to try to come back at speed, turning my whole body towards the wake. He said that the skis would then follow and I change direction with the skis pointing the way I was going. Trying this was a game changer. The speed increased dramatically so that instead of drifting back into the wake I was going across it at right angles. “Remember to use your knees as shock absorbers” shouted Danny. The results were great, I was able to swing from one side of the boat across the wake and out the other side faster and easier. On one of the tries I was going so fast as I hit the wake I lifted momentarily into the air. Danny spotted this and gave a thumbs up.

Lesson over, Danny said that if the speed increased as I hit the wake, I should be able to jump right across it. “That’s the goal for next week. Quickly changing and hanging up the wetsuit I went over to see Marian.

We had our lunch where we had been sitting the week before. Eventually I suggested we should head back. It was about 14.30 by my new watch. We went our separate ways when we got back, Marian had things she wanted to do, I wanted to soak in a bath. I saw Marian again when we were having dinner.

Once dinner was over, we were back outside. I asked Marian if she had anything planned for this evening. “I’ve got to write home tonight, but I’ll find you later.” I went into the staff room to wait for “Top of the Pops”. I was the only one in there. A few more drifted in to watch. I went to the bar as soon as it was over, it was still quiet with only a few locals and a couple of chambermaids in. I could see round into the lounge and it was quiet in there too. I ordered a pint and went outside. I walked round to the front of the hotel and sure enough Gregor was standing outside with a similar drink. “What are you doing laddie”, “Having a drink in the fresh air, same as you are”, we chatted for a while and with us both having finishing our drinks, I went back into the bar and I sat on the stool that had usually been occupied by Eck. The bar door swung open and Helen, followed by Marian came in. Having had a couple of drinks, We left and went for a coffee, the kitchen looked normal, everyone was working away, Charles in his little office, Scott and Doug on the pans and Frank washing the pots.

We took the drinks over to the staffroom. The TV was still on and there were four or five watching. We sat at the back of the room chatting.  When our coffees were drunk I said I wanted an early night as I was worn out. We left the staffroom and as we kissed good night I had no trouble getting off to sleep, it was the waking up that might prove difficult.

I was now well settled in and with a girlfriend things were looking good. Life for that summer revolved round work, Marian, the bar and skiing. Each of the parts I enjoyed for different reasons. Work for the money and experience, Marian for obvious reasons, the bar for a place to socialise and to meet people I never would have had I stayed in Dundee. However the highlight of the whole summer was water skiing, it was something I had only seen in the Firth of Tay while at home. I never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to try it. I progressed well during the summer and by the time I left I was able to ski using just one ski which allowed faster turns and much more manoeuvrability. It was to be around five years before I had the opportunity to ski again when I was working in Norfolk.

I had planned to leave at the end of the first week in September to give me a week at home before I started college. I was finishing on a Saturday along with some of the other staff. From then on the season would start winding down until the hotel closed at the end of October. There was to be a party on the Saturday night. A mixture of a general party and a leaving party for those going. I worked with Gregor during the day and he had been his usual self, when he came back on at 20.00 to relieve me for the last time he said to hang on a few minutes. He went off into the lounge and came back with two pints, we went off outside. I was standing outside for the last time. “I’ve enjoyed working with you laddie, and if you want to come back next year there will be a job for you. I hope you do well at college.” I replied that I had enjoyed being at the hotel and thanked him for all the advice and help he had given me. “Finish your drink, and go and get as drunk as you like as you won’t be working in the morning.” We shook hands and parted at the front of the hotel. That was the first of many handshakes and kisses that night. The party was one of the better ones. At around 01.00 Marian and I left. We had talked about this moment many times before, we could have sworn undying love for each other, we could have promised to write, but both of us knew and accepted that by tomorrow morning, it would all be over. However, there was still the rest of the night…

In the morning, I finished packing my rucksack, stripped my bed and left my waistcoat and tie on the back of the chair. I walked down through the yard and onto the road for St Fillans. I looked back round at the hotel for the last time, I walked down past the ski club, I looked across at the jetty and thought of all the fun I had throughout the season, I crossed the road and started thumbing a lift.

I was back home by 17.00. Back to reality. Back to the old rules.

I always promised myself that I would go back to visit the hotel, but the opportunity never arose and in 1983 following a serious fire, the hotel was demolished. There is now a small housing development on the site.

With a week off, I met up with friends I hadn’t seen all summer, some were now working having left school, others were getting ready for college or university. There was paperwork from college at home with the details of the course, start time, where to be and what to bring. Kingsway Technical College, 09.30 Monday, Catering department and with pens, pencils an A4 pad and a loose leaf folder. Everyone for the course was there on time, in total there were sixteen of us, four lads, Angus, Craig, Ian and myself and twelve girls. The odds were very much stacked in our favour. It was a two year course with the summer to be spent working in a catering establishment for experience. I had a waiter’s job in The Highland Hotel, Strathpeffer. However that is a tale for another time.

Looking back now, the experience of working away from home, at a young age, in an environment where you are going to meet people from all walks of life is something that could never be taught in school or college. All life is to be found in hotels, bars and restaurants, especially where there is live in accommodation. I have met kind and generous people and I have met people who are deeply disturbed and others who are violent. Would I have let my own children do it?, the answer to that is no. Fifty years ago life was simpler, young people were more mature for their age than today. Our parents were much less risk averse than the parents of today. My parents certainly didn’t have any cotton wool to wrap us up in, and I’m glad they didn’t.

© 10210ken 2023