Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Memoirs of a Fisherman's Son - Part 4, Chapter 14

Chapter 14

'Civvy' Street Once Again'

A) Edinburgh
After practically seven years in uniform, the transition to life as a student/Apprentice was one which I viewed with some apprehension for I knew it meant that my whole way of life was going to be utterly different. I think if I had not been married to Wilma I would have gone out to join Bill Garrish in Okenaga Valley in Vancouver and become an apple farmer. But Wilma was my saviour: we could now get to know one another in ways not possible while I was in uniform, do things together, plan for the future and more than anything find out if we really were 'made for one another' as we had so often whispered during our all too short times together after marriage.

My pre-war landlady 'Granny Kenzie' found us a room in Bruntsfield - £2.10/- a week rent for a bed/sitter with use of the kitchen until 6.00 p.m. in the evening. Housing accommodation at that time was at a premium with young couples like us swarming in to Edinburgh. So we were lucky. Granny Kenzie gave us a kettle in which to boil water. Our ration allowance had risen only to a saucepan. Soon after we were installed Wilma developed what the doctor diagnosed as 'flu'. When she recovered I took her for a walk across the Meadows over to Arthur's seat which we were to climb 'straight up' on the north west side - the steepest. For me that was a 'mere bagatelle' and I must admit I gave no thought to the fact that my young wife had none of the training which had made my body 'as hard as nails' (and a deep brown all over after all the Middle East sunshine). Not only was (perhaps, still is) the face almost perpendicular but sandy too so it was with considerable difficulty and sheer determination that we reached the top.

A few days later Wilma was diagnosed as having appendicitis and rushed in to the Royal Infirmary for the necessary operation. On the Saturday following I saw an advertisement in the Evening Express inviting applications from young couples the wife to act as housekeeper to a retired Minister and the husband to have the use of the library if so required. I applied and gave as our referee the name of Revd. Willie MacDonald of Palmerston Place Church, our Minister. On Monday dear Willie was visiting Wilma in hospital (husbands not allowed on Mondays!) and congratulated her on being selected to be housekeeper for the Revd. Doctor John Campbell formerly of the Tollbooth St. John's Church, Lawnmarket. Apparently Doctor Campbell who had found himself with dozens of applications on the Monday morning, liked the one by the fellow who named his minister as referee, phoned Willie and was told that if he could get Wilma Cameron to come as housekeeper he would be the best fed Minister in Edinburgh. Wilma knew nothing of my letter of course and when I arrived at visiting time on the Tuesday evening had to make due apology. How could she possibly cope with looking after a large manse - she was only 21 - and cook for a Doctor of Divinity!

It was not long though before we moved in to No. 9 Chalmers Street, a twenty minute walk to office and University. Wilma was actually to be paid ten shillings each week and we had no rent to pay. We thought ourselves immensely fortunate.

My pre-war employers Kinmont & Maxzwell had joined, following dear old Nimmo's death, with another firm and I found myself an apprentice with Simpson, Kinimont & Maxwell W.S. in 11 Albyn Place, Edinburgh. Mr R.W. (Bertie) Martin was a partner and I was to work for or with him. I shared a room with Bertie's nephew, Rodney Webster, a first year apprentice who was to be my side-kick! My salary was, as in 1939, ten shillings per week!

On reporting to the Old Quad (University) in late March 1946 I was asked to attend a meeting wit the Dean of the Law Facility Professor Matthew Fisher Q.C., early in April when he would meet and address ex-servicemen like me who wanted to continue their studies. There were over 70 of us at that meeting - all ranks from Private to Brigadier. The Dean's main message was that the University did not have the staff to cope - so many had been killed or were yet to be released. His advice to those of us who were married was to go for the Solicitors Professional Examinations. He could arrange for us to have 'crammed ' courses in subjects we had not covered before the war in the B.L. curriculum; this could be achieved by June 1947. At the same time we were advised to do the School of Accountancy correspondence course in the required subjects (at our own expense!). This is what most of us decided to do as, being married men with wives to support, we could not afford to wait to graduate in July 1948. In those days it was not the done thing for the wives of Solicitors to work! For the next fifteen months I had to work at the office, attend law classes twice or sometimes three times in the day and work for a large part of the night. Doctor Campbell's library was a tremendous help: I would resort to its silence with my books and packet of 20 cigarettes and work 'like stink' until exhausted. Meantime Wilma attended 'make-do-and-mend' and cookery classes which have stood her in good stead over the years.

At weekends we spent most of our time doing things together, cinema, theatre, walking, exploring Edinburgh and its environs and generally enjoying life to the full.

The government gave us a grant of £102 (they might have made it £2 a week!) which greatly helped to keep us solvent. Wilma's cousin Mary Wiseman worked as Cook in a University residence nearby and she used to join us for outings. We took her to a Gaelic society which met monthly in Leith and there she met with the man she was subsequently to marry, the late Donnie MacMillan. Jim Scott used to come through from Glasgow on his motor bike and Bill MacIntyre (the doctor who had nursed me in Bergen-op-Zoom) came from Coatbridge. One night when Doctor Campbell was in Aberdeen-shire visiting his two sons (both ministers) we had, with his agreement, a wonderful party to which all our friends were invited. A few days before the party one of my Army drivers spotted me in the street, stopped his truck (he worked for the Canongate brewery) and on hearing of the proposed party offered to help with 'some beer'. A firkin of beer was delivered to the Manse and old Jim Salton came and 'spieled' it - in other words he set it up on its side in a walk-in cupboard off the drawing room, drove a wooden tap in at the bottom end and made an air hole in the bung on what was now the 'top' side. A firkin holds nine gallons: by next morning the barrel was empty and none of us were really beer drinkers! But we had a night to remember.

Once a year Doctor Campbell entertained all the Ministers on the General Assembly Library Committee ( he was over 80 but still very fit and able for that task) and Wilma had to act as baker, cook and hostess to a great company of divines.

Mrs MacKenzie used to enjoy his Company and often after a Saturday evening meal we would all sit down to play Monopoly. Inevitably Doctor Campbell won even if it meant playing after the Sabbath had begun: in other words midnight. He just loved having loads of money and all the properties. Mrs MacKenzie was never very sure if it was right to play on Sunday! She was always assured that the Almighty would not hold it against her!

In Edinburgh Wilma and I attended Palmerston Place Church without becoming involved in any activities. We did help out when we could at the People's Palace in the Cowgate. Conditions there seemed to have improved greatly as compared with pre-war days but the Warden Mr Lochore by this time authorised to use the 'Rev' before his name, and his good lady were still at the helm helping the down and outs most wonderfully. The man was truly a saint!

My Inverness 'Master' D.H. MacDonald had met me on several occasions during the war when he was in London to see a Harley Street specialist and had told me he wanted me back as Junior Partner in Davidson Scott & Co. when I qualified after the war. Later on he met Wilma and myself in Inverness and took us to see a house he owned at the Kenneth Street end of Greig Street and on the North Side. This house was to be ours : it was an easy walk across the Greig Street Bridge to 42 Union Street. How we looked forward to that. In those days this was a gift beyond one's dreams.

But 'the best laid schemes o' mice and men' as Rabbie Burns said 'gang aft agley'. In April 1947 D.H. passed away after a short illness. His partner John McBean had of necessity to acquire another partner at once. He did, and so I was one of the many who did not have a relation, father, uncle, cousin etc. in a law firm. There was only one thing to do and that was to convince some employer, any employer, of one's worth. For Wilma and myself D.H.'s death was a grievous blow, yet somehow we knew the good Lord would come to our aid.

I passed all the necessary exams with the proverbial 'flying colours' but no degree as that had been dropped. You can imagine how pleased by dear Wilma was when I came home one day in July 1947 and told her she was now a Solicitor's wife. Her folk and mine had to be told at once: naturally they were delighted.

Bertie Martin told me my salary would now go up to £200 a year - less than £4 her week. I applied for and obtained a post at £400 p.a. as a Conveyancer with Edinburgh Town Council with whom our pre-war Managing Clerk, Duncan McDonald, was now employed. I hated that job: - the head of the department was far too pernickety for words. The Depute Town Clerk, William Hutton, was appointed (in March 1948) Deputy Chairman of the South West Scotland Electricity Board in Glasgow. Very soon D.L.M. and a Committee Clerk, Alfie Gordon, disappeared on joining the said S.W.S.E.B. When an advert appeared in the paper for a Legal Assistant with said Board I applied. An interview in July passed off with no reaction: This was followed by a request for my presence for a second interview in late September. Seven of us were called but because I was the only one who admitted to having studied the Town and County (Scotland) Act 1947 while it was going through Parliament the Secretary, John Meek said the job was mine. We moved to Glasgow towards the end of November 1948 with seven cases and one cat's cage! Doctor Campbell was distraught but understood my position very clearly. Our 2-1/2 year stay with him had been, and remains in our memories, a most happy period in our lives together. I have always been indebted to Wilma (even if I haven't said so before, Darling) for her understanding and forebearance during that time of hard study, when I first opened 'The introduction to the law of Scotland' by Gloag and Henderson in 1947. I could understand not one sentence of the opening chapter! I had to read the whole book twenty times in order to assimilate the knowledge it contained. After all my mind had been concentrating for seven years on 'matters ballistic'.

B) GlasgowLittle did I know it but by moving to the S.W.S.E.B. I was moving from one pernickety situation to an even more hair splitting nit-picking environment. It had never occurred to me who had always been one for accuracy that there were people in the profession who could be over precise - if you can get my meaning. Seems to me this attribute stemmed from the Chairman whose previous post had been that of Engineer to Dumfries County Council : he himself was a Yorkshireman.

All I will say is that I tholed it and worked hard - too hard indeed. Five years were to pass before I was allowed to have an assistant. The Manager of one of the Board's Areas needed an Area Secretary in 1951 and wanted me to move over to his organisation in Hamilton. On hearing this the Secretary, John Meek, (whom I later came to respect and indeed love) asked me to stay at Board H.Q. where I would always have a higher salary than any Area Secretary. And so I stayed.

When the industry in Scotland was reorganised in 1954 the Board realised they required one large office to house their Head Office staff in place of the several offices occupied throughout the City of Glasgow.

Several abortive attempts were made to secure suitable property and then a colleague who lived in Netherlee came in with the news that the Dexter Raincoat factory was up for sale. After some tentative viewing by the Chief Officers 'wee Alex' was instructed to 'try and buy it'. I was to do this as secretly as possible! What I did was to ask the District Valuer to join me for lunch in some Glasgow cafe. (I would have to pay out of my own pocket in those days!) We did not employ the D.V. but as he always acted on behalf of local authorities we knew one another. When I broached the subject of the Dexter Raincoat factory he revealed (1) that Weirs of Cathcart were after it and had offered £275,000 and (2) the Corporation of Glasgow wanted it and he had valued it at £250,000. After this I proceeded to Cathcart, saw Mr Forsyth, drank tea with him and 'tentatively' suggested £350,000. He was very agreeable, asked me to go away and bring back proof of my authority and if possible an offer. Never had I seen matters move so quickly, in S.W.S.E.B. By next day the missives had been concluded. It took months to modify and adapt the factory for office purposes and to lay out car parking to meet the needs of about 500 staff, most of them engineers.
Now I was, I suppose, being recognised! A letter from the Personnel Officer reached my desk informing me that I was now -wait for it - Principal Assistant Secretary (Legal, Estates and Wayleaves); my salary would be equivalent of a Principal Assistant Secretary in the Civil Service and my room in Cathcart House as it was now to be called would be number 8 on the first floor!

That post I held until I retired in 1977 but during my final year I acted as Secretary of the Board and received the appropriate Salary for that appointment. The last seven years of my service in the Supply industry were the happiest of all my 30 years and I revelled in the authority and freedom which made life so pleasant.

I do not intend to deal at length with my 'job' during all those years in Glasgow but have endeavoured in Part V hereof to tell some of the tales which have been enjoyed by so many friends and groups of ladies and of gentlemen since I retired to Nairn. Hopefully those who read these memoirs will also find enjoyment in doing so.
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