My Life 2.2

 More Erections!



We were back in Sumburgh, years after we had first gone there. The airport building was now enormous, with dozens of oil rig workers filing through the restaurant and big ‘copters taking off full of them. The same two ladies worked there as when we first went but now, instead of a small counter and a back room there were big glass cabinets, long stainless steel counter, heating lights, white uniforms and smart modern surroundings.

 We get to the till.

 ‘Yes, dear.’

 Er, Ocean.. er..’

 ‘Spray?’ she suggested kindly. I nodded. She ticked the book she had. They knew our faces. Everyone else there was getting fed on the oil rig accounts, so why not us?


I stayed near Sumburgh once. The local guy said he was buying some sheep for his freezer. All around grazed sheep on the short grass.

 ‘They look nice.’ I said.

 ‘Heavens!’ He looked at me in amazement. I wouldn’t buy them here – I go up the north of the island.’


 ‘Far too polluted here...’

 I looked at the clear blue sky, felt the fresh breeze which always blew across Sumburgh from the Atlantic.

 Er, yes, I suppose so.’ I replied. He nodded sagely.



But my job was not one long holiday, oh no. Sometimes I had to work…


We were at the Hotel on Islay (pronounced Eye-La – short ‘a’). It was a lovely place – they sent me very nice Christmas cards for years after – there was a golf course, luxurious rooms. True, the bathwater was always brown from the peat, but that was part of the charm. We were testing different whiskies in the bar. At that time, there were eighteen distilleries on Islay - I think about half have closed now. Anyway, I was merrily tasting this Lagavullin, which I thought was amazing (it’s now quite popular I see – peat in a glass). Then this bloke came in.

 ‘Hello,’ he says, ‘where are you from?’ He’s a nice chap, name of Tim. We have a few whiskies, chat a bit and eventually he gets up and says goodnight. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘would you like to visit a distillery?’

 We nod vigorously.

 ‘Give them a map, will you.’ He asks the barman, who nods. ‘See you around ten? Ask for me.’

 We nod vigorously again.

 ‘He works there then, does he?’ We ask.

The barman looks at us as he hands us a map, with the location of the Bowmore distillery.

 ‘Works there? That’s Young Master Tim…’

 We smile.

 ‘They own it and most of the others..’

 We were impressed.

 ‘…and this hotel.’


Next morning we were there, on time, and had a great tour. We were conducted by a man who introduced himself as the Manager. At the end of the tour, we were led into a grand wood-panelled room overlooking the harbour at Bowmore. There was a blazing fire in the grate and sumptuous leather chairs. ‘Young Master Tim’ came forward, hand outstretched.

 You know how you get a sample when you do a tour, a little glass?

 We had a tray of bottles and heavy, cut-glass tumblers.

 Tim stayed for one drink with us, then excused himself, saying unfortunately he had to leave. We got up too, but he motioned us to sit again.

 ‘No, stay as long as you like – I’ve ordered some lunch for you. Just let yourselves out, if you don’t mind.’ He smiled and left.

 Nice bloke, that Tim!  We didn’t finish much work that day.


As I say, I had to work very hard most of the time. When I got married, I took my wife to Scotland for our honeymoon. Even then I had to work. Half a day near Newcastle, half a day near Aberdeen, across to Oban and down to Portpatrick. I even worked on my honeymoon! All I got was mileage allowance for the trip and all the hotel expenses – no extra pay! (I did book my days off in between the work – always honest, me).



 On Lewis, I stayed at a hotel in Stornoway. There weren’t any closer to the site at Port of Ness, where the gang were staying in lodgings. It was the northernmost tip of Lewis, and a 40-minute drive up the road from our hotel. Halfway up was the only place you could get a drink. It was called a ‘hotel’. With your drink you were given a plate with a manky sandwich on it, edges curling, hard. First time, I said, ‘er, no thanks…’ and my colleague elbowed me in the ribs. ‘Take it’ he commanded.

 The sandwiches sat on the table as we had a pint or two, then as we left, we put them back on the bar with a nod. For the next drinker.

 Lewis is the haunt of the ‘wee frees’ – the Free Church of Scotland. Very hot on drink and the Sabbath. The gang told me they had to wear suits when they left for work on Sunday so no one knew they were working. There was no drinking.

Port of Ness is a tiny place, not more than a few rows of houses. Up the road was a small round stone building, the ‘bothie’. Apparently (the gang told me) you went there at night and drank. You threw money into a bowl in the middle to pay for it. Men came staggering home at all hours. But it was OK. They told me that one man had told the landlady where he had been and was unceremoniously ejected from the digs – no one else there would take him either. But it was OK if you didn’t mention it. Of course everybody knew, but so long as you didn’t SAY anything about it …


But this was the same landlady who, when it was late in the evening and learning we had to go back to Stornoway to get food, bustled us into her kitchen and fed us rabbit stew in abundance, refusing any payment.  A good, Christian woman.



 At the ‘Rendez-Vous Restaurant’ in Wick, they had a French chef. For a moderate sum you got a great slab of Scottish prime steak. You could have Steak Mexico (red and green pepper sauce), Pepper Steak, Steak, Steak Diane… you get the picture. The vegetables were always carrots and peas – mixed, obviously from a tin – translated into the local accent ‘carrtsanpeas?’ as young Deidre Dunnet hefted the dish at the side of the table. Dunnet head is on the north-east point of Scotland, and ‘Dunnet’ is prevalent as a surname there.

 I liked Wick. It had a kinda charm.

 It also had my second favourite landlady of all time, Mrs Tait. In Henrietta St. I lived like a king! When we left the restaurant, been in the pub and tramped back up to her house, I knew, waiting on the table would be a pot of tea keeping warm, and a plate of banana sandwiches. She knew I loved them. She was the kind of landlady who would sew your button back on if she found a shirt lying around with a missing one.

 I’ve always been quite ‘cheeky’ (in a nice way) and motherly women were quite fond of me when I was young. (Not ones my own bloody age!!! People’s mothers, dogs and kids, they loved me. Full stop.).

At Wick, I was able to build some fancy aerials for some oil industry communication, not just stick up the old masts. I pored over textbooks, designed it all myself, and had them built. They worked fine! Phew! They were quite different from the previous ones – cheaper, easier to tune and more efficient. I have been absolutely amazed (and this was the first of those experiences) that an employer would let me spend thousands of pounds on some little project I invented. It was schoolboy heaven! (er, later on I spent millions :-) ). I wasn’t brought up that way – you know, like those guys who are assured, confident etc.    I have maintained my sense of wonder to this day at the freedom I have been given over the years.



 My first favourite landlady was Mrs Vague, of St. Just in Cornwall. I spent a lot of time down there as there was much expansion of the communications with liners like the QE2, sending signals to print the daily newspaper on board in the morning.

 At Mrs Vague’s it was all rich Cornish accent, rich Cornish food, rich Cornish cream, and good company. Lovely. I got in the habit of driving back from there after five o’clock in the evening, when the roads were clear. Then, there was no M5, no M4, no M3. All ordinary roads. Took about eight hours. But – before I left I’d nip down and buy a load of crab meat from the local crab place – ‘pound of white meat, please!’  Yummm.

 I also must mention Mrs. Macklin of Whitley Bay and Mrs. Morgan of Mablethorpe. All grand women who mothered me!


Happy Days!


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