I left school in the summer of 1949 and found my first job within two weeks. I was taken on as a junior clerk by the investment company, Baillie, Gifford & Co. of 3 Glenfinlas Street, Edinburgh. They managed various investment trusts and it was reckoned I would get on if I `stuck in`. All this followed my interview with the company`s Mr Clunie. I was taken to the office by my father on the Saturday following my last day at school. There he left me to my own devices, a schoolboy taking his first tentative step towards adulthood. Mr Clunie was the epitome of a kind and considerate individual. I was immediately put at ease. The job was mine.
Although living in Leith, there were many modes of transport to choose from for commuting. The No 5 bus would take me via Stockbridge. The Nos 2 and 16 tramcars via Leith Walk, George Street and Princes Street, and of course the train from the Leith Caledonian Station to the Edinburgh Caledonian at the west end of Princes Street.
The benefit of the train was that I had a seat in the same compartment that I shared with the same regular passengers. We got to know each other as time went by. However, to catch the train I had to walk about a mile in each direction, morning and night. This meant an early rise at the same time each day in order to do so. With the bus running at 5 minute intervals, I later opted for it.
Baillie, Gifford and Co was situated in two large town houses of four storeys each. These were adjacent to each other and had connecting doorways on each level.
I was set to work in the Company Cash Room along with three other persons. Mr Samuels was the head of the department with his depute Mr Tom Robertson. I sat opposite a young clerkess, Diana Fraser. She was eighteen years old and we became very close, not in the romantic sense, but rather as a brother/sister relationship. This did not stop me from being in love with her, but she was unaware of this side of the relationship. Anyhow she was engaged to be married. Puppy love indeed!
Her boy friend, John Dick, used to drive an open topped MG and occasionally picked her up from the office with it. John came from Lochgelly where he worked for his father in producing the tawses for schools. Dicks of Lochgelly were the main manufacturers of this leather discipline enforcer for school miscreants at this time.
Our office was at the rear of the building and was very dark. We had to have our fluorescent lights on all day. The working conditions reminded me of the Dickensian clerks as depicted in some of his novels.
My first job each morning and last thing at night was fetching and returning ledgers from the large safe in the basement. These were loaded into a `dummy waiter` and hauled aloft by means of rope and pulleys.
My main task was making out cheques and writing up ledgers. No computers at this time. We had a simple calculating machine, the Brunsviga, that we shared in the room. Like an old cash register, it was operated by little levers that set the numerals and then calculated by whirling the side handle clockwise or other. I suppose it was the ultimate at the time. I was very slow in the use of it, but Tom Robertson could operate it at a speed that amazed me.
The cheques that I had filled out then had to be signed by one of the company partners. Mr Milne or Mr Dawson, both sharing an office, were usually the ones who did the signing. Later I would take them out and about Edinburgh to various offices for second signatures by directors of the particular investment company. Each day I had to do this. Not that I complained, for it allowed me to escape the confines of the office. My route took me from Charlotte Square to St Andrew Square, taking in Castle Street as well as Albyn Place. I had it planned so that I could stroll leisurely back along Princes Street. I walked the whole route.
I cannot proceed without first recounting an episode that still embarrases me when I thnk of it yet. One afternoon I called in at an office in Castle Street to seek out the signature of Mr Smyth ("The name is pronounced as in Smith" , he would impress on me.) He was a director of the Scottish Mortgage Investment Co. I don`t know what I was thinking about, but I entered his office munching on an apple.
Now Mr Smyth was an elderly gent, and he used to chaff me about the Hibs. At the time he did not mention the apple.
When I got back to Glenfinlas Street, I was summoned to Mr Milne`s office. He had heard from Mr Smyth about the apple, and I was chastised severely. I have never forgotten this to this day. Anyhow, I did take some stick from my officemates for this. They would not let me forget it in a hurry.
(As a test of my memory, I recount here the names of the ten companies Baillie, Gifford were secretaries of: Scottish Mortgage and 2nd Scottish Mortgage; Edinburgh and Dundee and 2nd Edinburgh and Dundee: Scottish Central; Scottish Capital; Friars; Abbotts; Monks; Winterbottom.)
I was a fervent football fan of Hibs and attended their games almost every week without fail, first or second eleven. I was very lucky for Mr Gifford of the company was also a Hib`s fan. He had purchased two season tickets for the centre stand for Easter Road that he used occasionally, especially for first team games. He made it available to staff members when he didn`t require it himself. I was given it on occasions, sometimes first team, and every second week for second team games.
T J Carlyle Gifford would occasionally summon me to his office to ask me about the game the previous Saturday. He was a very nice old gentleman and I felt really comfortable in his presence. He only occasionally turned up at the office but I dont think it caused any undue concern among the staff when he did. At least as far as I knew. He was well liked and was always referred to as TJ but not to his face, I hasten to add. Familiarity only stretches so far. (At the time I was not aware how important a personage he had been in the war. Maybe just as well.)
The company dance was a highlight of the year. It was held in the Paulenas Ballroom in Slateford Road. I was advised I should take dancing lessons before attending. This I did at the Central School of Ballroom Dancing in the South Bridges. I only got the rudiments of this form of dancing, but to this day I still pride myself of being able to get around the floor performing the waltz or quickstep.
Each employee was entitled to take a partner, but as I did not have a girl friend I elected to take a mate. We were both still too young to partake of alcohol, so the evening became a bit of a bore for us.
The annual golf trip to Kilspindie was another outing open to us all. I borrowed a set of golf clubs for the day but am afraid I stopped counting strokes after 100. I think I got to the turn in this amount. I have never played golf again.
It wasn`t unusual for a few of us to stay back after 5.30 in the evening to play `shove ha`penny` on one of the desks in the Company Room. We used to organise a league and played it over a period of weeks. It always took place on Mr Campbell`s desk, it being the biggest. I can still rhyme off the participants. John Donoghue, Ted Plumb, John Wilson, Eddie Buchan, and me. Mr Campbell always left us to carry on. The ladies in this particular office would also depart, they being Miss Cruikshanks, Miss Jessop, and Miss Jamieson, all elderly in my young eyes..
I suppose it was being the youngest in the office that I was continually being tormented by the ladies, especially those in the typing pool on the top floor. I think there were ten of them in total. My duties would take me to the pool
several times a day. On each occasion I would be subject to questions on girl friends, et al and they could see I was a bit embarrassed. This only encouraged them all the more. I used to beat a hasty retreat. Oh the innocence of it. Given a few years more and I don`t think they would have tried it on with me. I might have taken them up on it. If I should have been so lucky!
On one occasion I had to take some copy up for typing late in the day. The head typist was right up to her eyes in work. She was almost ready to explode. On returning to my office I met Charlie McDonald, the head of the Company Room. I exclaimed that the typist had been hot and bothered. The wrong words. Charlie said he should have delivered the copy himself in that case. What a guy!
Another office on the ground floor dealt with tea plantation management. This was occupied by four female staff. I used to love going in there for a chat.
A well known character about the office was the commissionaire. `Serge` was all we knew him by. He had lost an arm in the war but this did not prevent him going about his business. He was always to be found in the post room where he helped the girls with the mail. I think it was he who took the outgoing correspondence to the post office in Hope Street.
I was really getting used to office work and was hoping for advancement in my career and a salary increase. I was earning £72 per year. Not much considering I earned more in wages and tips during my stint as a milk boy.
Alas, events took on an ominous look. In February of 1950 I developed a lump on the left side of my neck. At first it was only slight, but it was noticed by Diana. She said it looked like I was getting the mumps.
My mother took me to the doctor who prescribed me a course of iron tablets. This had no effect and the swelling was increasing all the time. I was now becoming very self conscious of it. I was too young to be concerned at what it might be. I worried more about how I looked. I used to wear a scarf tightly wound around my neck to disguise it.
Anyhow, I was referred to Leith Hospital where they diagnosed a tubercular gland. I had apparently caught this from drinking unpasteurised milk.
The specialist, Mr Barron put me on a daily course of sun ray treatment that I had to endure for three months. I was as red as a beetroot with all the exposure. By this time the lump had grown brick hard and was very disfiguring. Again, I never at any time worried about my long term prospects other than could it be got rid off. I was assured this would be done but only by an operation. On hearing of this in the office, Charlie McDonald, head of the Company Room, sent for me. He told me had undergone the same operation years back, and showed me the scar on his neck. He assured me I had nothing to worry about.
At the beginning of June, I was admitted to Ward 4. Four days later I was operated upon. Within two days of the operation I was up and about. My head was completely swathed in bandage and when the time came for it to be removed I asked for a mirror.
The nurse was at first reluctant but then relented. She warned me it would not be a pretty sight with all the stitches, clips and dried blood.
I sat up in bed and waited impatiently as the wrappings were removed. I must say I was a bit taken aback, but the lump had gone.
I was to remain in hospital for the next three weeks. The ward was a `Nightingale Ward`, that is very high ceilinged with more than thirty beds in it. Most of these were occupied by elderly male patients. I was the youngest in there.
As a result I assisted the nurses in running around fetching and disposing of bed pans. As well as that, I also made up swabs that I delivered to the theatre. I delighted in being able to do this.
It was during my spell in hospital that I developed my interest for crosswords. It has never left me. Also at this time. the war in Korea broke out.
After the three weeks I was eventually discharged but had to report on regular occasions to have my wound checked out. Ironically, I was no sooner home than I was pining to get back. I missed all the company I had just left. I was really homesick for the ward. I envied all the patients I had left behind.
My parents had gone off on holiday to the Isle of Man having been assured of my well being. I went to Gilmerton to stay with my auntie Peggy and her family. Lo and behold, I was no sooner there than I developed a nettle rash. I suppose it was because I was in a rundown state following my operation.
I returned to work after six weeks and was the centre of attention for awhile, especially among the girls. I did have a fancy for one, Cynthia but it never got beyond that.
However, my heart was not really in office work. After a few months I had made up my mind that I was going to join the Royal Navy Boys Service.
My parents were not at first keen on the idea, but soon relented. I was booked to appear at the Royal Navy recruitment office in Hanover Street in February 1951 for various tests that included a medical. I was over the moon at this and could not hide my enthusiasm for it. I told everybody about it and how I was hoping to join the Fleet Air Arm as an articifer.
Time came when I appeared at the recruitment office along with about a dozen other boys. We were full of hope and great expectations.
The morning session dealt with general knowledge and adaptability tests. In the afternoon it was time to face the doctors.
My turn came, and my recent operation was mentioned. On examination, the doctors frowned and explained that due to some muscle being taken out from my left shoulder, this had left me with a degree of disability. As a consequence, I could not be passed fit for service. I was thunderstruck. This was an experience I had never encountered before in my sixteen years.
Seeing the others passing through successfuly, and after our previous excitement, my heart was in my shoes. It was hard not to show my feelings. I could not get dressed and out of the place quickly enough.
I caught the tramcar home and found my parents were out. I threw myself on the armchair and sobbed out aloud. I felt my whole world had come crashing about me.
"Why me?" I was in an inconsolable state. Barely left school and now being cast as a reject. Even to this day, fifty years on, as I write this the pain of rejection can still be felt.
Then it occured to me, how could I face my fellow office staff after all my bragging about my future life in the Royal Navy? At first I coud not face going back. When my parents returned they were as sympathetic as I could expect, but deep down I suppose they were relieved at me not leaving home.
I returned to work on the following day determined to put a brave face on it. When asked how I got on I faced them with the facts. Not one was out of sympathy with me. I did confide my true feelings to Diana and she truly understood.
My time in the office was about to come to an end. I had resolved that I would go to sea in one way or another.
With this in mind, I sought out a job with Henry Robb, Shipbuilders, Leith. I thought if I could qualify as an engineer, I could get to sea in that capacity.
Unfortunately, engineering vacancies were not available at the time, but if I started as a ship`s plumber, then I could possibly switch over at a later date. I accepted this and as a consequence I began in the Yards in March 1951.