Dorothy - A Scottish Lassie
Will Charles come back to this misty land of glens, mountains and fast flowing rivers for his true love?
Chapter Two - Dorothy
My Life at 16years old
The taxi was just about to pull away when I rode up on my bike. I barely had enough time to say goodbye to my mother and little brother, never mind let it register that they were leaving – for good.
Stunned, I parked my bike in the stair well and walked up the three floors to our two storey flat on the top floor. My sister explained that mum and A.J. were taking the train to Bedford to join her new husband.
My sister reminded me that I had known this was going to happen, but I had not taken my mother’s speculated plans seriously. Leave the three of us in this big, rather grand, flat with 8 rooms, 5 fireplaces, full kitchen and full bath- room for us to clean and look after?
We were all working full-time jobs. My brother was trying to get his degree in engineering at night school and I was furthering my secretarial skills taking classes in shorthand, typing, book-keeping and business economics.
My sister worked day and night shifts as a movie projectionist. This was a man’s job and was quite arduous for a young woman of average build and strength so she
was exhausted at the end of her working days.
Needless to say, nothing was running smoothly. No matter what we did to try to keep up with: cleaning, laundry, shopping, meals, schoo-work, personal hygiene, all were short-changed.
Cleaning large fireplaces of soot, ashes and dirt was a gargantuan task in itself on top of washing the 63 steps leading up to the flat, for which we were responsible on a rotation basis.
Instead of trying to boil water to fill up the bathtub we just used cold water for our baths.
My trusty bike took me to work daily as a clerk-typist. Lunch time was used to type manuscripts for extra money. Night-school classes were straight after work, so there was never any consideration made for eating or sleeping.
This continued for about a year, but everything about my life deteriorated including my health and I knew something had to change.
It turned out to be a change of career – instead of improving my secretarial skills, at 17 years old, I would venture into hotel management.
A position at a large very old hotel became available for which I qualified.
In 1955 employees of very large hotels still lived in the hotel. The chambermaids, and wait staff all lived in dormitories on the lower levels, but the management
staff had a suite of rooms on the top-most floor with scullery, full bathroom and daily maid service.
As a very junior member of the management staff there was so much for me to learn besides the office procedures.
Life was now governed by a very strict set of rules regarding dress, speech, manners and decorum.
Only black or white blouses, skirts, sweaters, shoes, dress or suit were allowed – never slacks and only seamed stockings.
Correct names must be used when addressing colleagues and guests – never first names.
Guests could be ‘Your Grace’ or ‘Your Ladyship’. Colleagues were Miss Tayloror Mrs. Thompson – not Jean or Betty.
The use of the local vernacular or slang was forbidden – correct Queen’s English only.
Be gracious and helpful to guests and colleagues. Always be solicitous to guests and always offer extra help.
The Dining room was a minefield for errors. Full table settings for every meal for which every spoon, knife, fork, plate, glass, napkin, serving utensil, jug, pot, bowl or serving plate had a purpose. Fish knives are different from meat knives or butter knives. Where the dessert forks, spoons are placed. A sherry glass is not the same as a port glass. Beer and soda glasses were kept in refrigerator.
Friends and associates were vetted for suitability. Leisure activities were scrutinized by superiors.
Nothing escaped the Head Porter. The porter’s desk was immediately inside the front door and it was their job to monitor every person coming in or going out of
the hotel. I knew reports were made to my boss about my behavior, how I dressed and who I was with.
Clothes and personal effects in my room had to be neat clean and orderly at all times as reports were made to my boss. Even my jewelry was vetted by superiors – no earrings.
An Hotel’s wine cellars is an important feature to the Aristocracy. The wine bins were kept behind the office and was a continuing learning experience. The finest beers, sodas, spirits, liqueurs, coffees, teas, cocktails all had to be studied - how
to prepare and serve each. Pink gin anyone?
The chef wrote out the menus which were changed monthly. It had to be written correctly in French and created by mimeograph and printed on parchment inserted into huge leather folders. This was an opportunity to use the French I learned in
school for three years.
Working at the front desk in a large centrally located hotel in Edinburgh was not just meet and greet the guests. All the book-keeping, including the night audit, was done by the management team.
Gigantic sheets of tabulating book-keeping
ledgers were spread all over the large desk. All entries were made by hand with a pen dipped in ink. Pounds, shillings and pence all calculated and balanced every night with no adding machines.
There was not much time for a social life for me any more, but I loved it.
Learning the hospitality trade and the challenging book-keeping, in a very prestigious environment was the best apprenticeship I would get.
The guest rooms at this hotel were all unique, no two rooms were decorated the same, with beautiful designer furnishing and fabrics.
Floral arrangements were all over the public rooms and were always kept pristine and filled. The elderly guests would congregate in the lobby lounges for afternoon tea or after dinner coffee.
The place was filled with antiques, including the guests. It was like a retirement
home for wealthy widows and widowers. Every evening there was a parade of long term residents on their way to the dining room in their evening clothes – each with their own table – no hobnobbing amongst the elite.
The lift (elevator) was antique too, it was one of those cages with decorative wrought iron
doors and clanging expanding metal interior doors. I could run up the stairs faster than the elevator.
The quiet elegance of this lovely old hotel was perfect for a young girl who needed a more secure life. I was now living in a beautiful Adams building in the best neighbourhood in Edinburgh.
Not only did I not have to clean a large flat, but now I had maids and waiters, even the very strict bosses and colleagues, looking after me and it was a big adjustment.
My health, general appearance and my demeanor all improved. I got to eat three very fine meals every day and any amount of tea, coffee, snacks any time – even breakfast in bed sometimes. I never had to do the dishes or clean the kitchen. BUT – not much money.
One day two young men came to the front desk looking for accommodation, but as the hotel was full I was charged with finding them rooms in one of our overflow hotels. I took quite a lot of time with them (two handsome young men, why not?).
Helping walk-ins like this was an every-day occurrence and when they left I did not think any more about them.
When I was in The Manhattan café, which is very close to the hotel, with my cousin’s wife and her little girl (my God-daughter),
I saw the young men and asked them in passing if they got their accommodations. They acted like they did not understand the question, possibly because of my Scottish accent. They asked us to join them, but we declined and left.
One of the young men (the one with the golden tan, sincere blue eyes, sparkling white teeth and pale blond hair) came back to the hotel, went to
reception and asked to speak to the “young short girl”.
A call was made to the dining room to tell me that an American was in the lobby looking for me. This could mean trouble because American military stationed near Edinburgh had a bad reputation and I was forbidden to go out with Americans.
As I approached this young, handsome man, standing by the Adams fireplace in the lobby I was not happy. I asked him angrily “What do you want?” He explained that he was leaving the next day, but he wanted to take me out for a meal to thank me
for being so kind and helpful.
I took one look into those sincere eyes and said “yes”. We made arrangements to meet that night outside the hotel at 6:00 pm.
As he walked all the way through the reception lobbies across the highly polished, beautifully carpeted floors and out the front door I was thinking to myself – this should be a bit of an adventure.
Back in the office my boss asked me what the American had wanted so I told her.
She asked me if I had accepted and I knew I had to put it this way:
“ I told him I would have to ask you first – do you think I should go out with him?”
She smiled and answered “When he asked for you, I asked him if I couldn’t help him and he told me what you did and that he wanted to thank you, I think he is very nice, very polite and you can go out with him” – (she was probably smitten with the
same blue eyes) which was fine, because I had already accepted.
A play about a popular radio character “P.C. 49” was on in Edinburgh at the Playhouse that evening, so we went there, and it was hilarious.
Friends of mine seemed to pop up everywhere so my boyfriend would find out I lied
when I left a message for him that I had cancelled our date that night.
We had a lovely evening. As we walked back to the hotel my new foreign friend told me a little bit about himself. He was in the USAAF stationed in France had been travelling in Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and had more recently had been working in Libya where he had been to some Roman ruins which he said were truly amazing.
Like ships that pass in the night – I thought I would never see this interesting, world traveller again as he was leaving Edinburgh the next day.
When I got back to the hotel I had to tell my co-workers all about everything.
They warned me about American military personnel, about going out with men no one knew anything about and about silly romantic dreams.
Everyone on the Management Team took it upon themselves to mother me.
Besides being quite young I was not very big – probably from all the years of not looking after myself and hardly ever eating.
It seemed that they were all much older, taller and bigger than me so I was called “Small Child”, a nick-name given to me by the accountant, one of my mentors.
The accountant, who was the oldest person on the staff, taught me all about the
cutlery, utensils, glasses, names and pronunciations of everything to do with dining.
She also taught me a lot about how a young lady should behave and why.
When she noticed I was seeing a lot of this American tourist she told me to think very carefully and realistically about any future relationship with someone so different, such a different background than my own, a background I knew nothing about – and who didn’t seem to know if he was staying or going and was generally unverifiable.
Every day for the next few days I would get a telephone call from “The Yank” (as everyone at the hotel called him, telling me that he and his buddy had decided to stay a little longer in Edinburgh.
Because I worked different shifts I was available during the day to act tour guide and show off my home town.
I now realize how impressive Edinburgh is to visitors, but at that time it was just ‘home’ so we went to all my favourite places; The Chamber Street Museum, The Royal Scottish Academy, the Scottish National Gallery and the Botanical Gardens.
Arriving in Edinburgh by train people come up out of the Waverley Railway Station right on Princes Street it is a ‘WOW’ moment.
You are right beside the imposing Balmoral Hotel, on your left is the huge intricately built monument to Sir Walter Scott and towering above looking down on the whole city is The Edinburgh Castle.
Venues and attractions are not spread all over the city as they are in Paris, Rome and London. Princes Street and the gardens, The Scott Monument, The Floral Clock, The Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and ruined abbey, St. Giles Cathedral, medieval Edinburgh and The New Town are all quite close to each other in walking distance.
There is so much more that is accessible by bus. Edinburgh has the best transportation system in Europe. Buses can take you all around town for a reasonable charge and even further afield. St. Andrews or into the Trossachs can be reached by bus or train from central Edinburgh.
When I think about it now, how beautiful Edinburgh was and how it must have appeared to this young farm boy. He had seen a lot of grand European cities; Frankfurt, Heidelberg, London and Paris, but that spring in Edinburgh it was glorious. I was seeing my city through his eyes.
The flower beds in all the parks and gardens were blooming at their peak.
The Floral Clock is so unique with flowers on the hands as well as covering the large face with roman numerals all outlined so cleverly with flowers.
Baskets of flowers adorned windows and posts everywhere and every corner in the New Town was bedecked in flowers or flags.
Music was being performed in the big stage down in Princes Street Gardens and we’d spot bagpipers on the street in full regalia just waiting to be listened to and photographed.
On top of that it was the time of the year that the Edinburgh University Students made their big appeal for donations for their charities. Students could be seen all over Princes street accosting everyone, citizens and tourists alike, by shaking a metal tin and asking for coins.
To enhance their appeal, they wore bizarre costumes, formed teams to prevent passage until a toll was paid, act like highwaymen and shout “stand and deliver”.
Edinburgh was at its best, spring time - no wonder these two young men wanted to stay longer instead of heading back to France.
Maybe American Airmen were different from the US Military men I was being warned about. My new friend always acted like a gentleman and was never aggressive.
I even let him kiss me as we walked over the Dean Bridge. As a matter of fact he was kind and polite to everyone we came in contact with.
He asked me to take time off work and spend more time with him. When I told him I couldn’t do that he really surprised me when he said;
“Well, after I return to base, I will get more leave and come back to see you and meet your family”.
Of course I did not believe him, a young man, a tourist, in the Air Force, who would? I said to myself “yeah, right”.
The last time I saw this handsome stranger was in McVities Restaurant and Bakery. McVities was a very large complex which had more than one entrance and two or three floors for restaurant, bakery and shop.
We had had a meal and I excused myself to go to “The Ladies ”. We had finished our meal and maybe he thought I said I would return to the table. I thought he said he would pay the bill and meet me outside.
I came out of the Ladies Room and waited and waited, but saw no sign of him so I went outside and waited again, but there was no handsome young man waiting there.
I went back to the office for my shift at work and I thought – “oh well, he is just an American tourist with big talk - here today, gone tomorrow”.
My heart was not broken, I was too sensible for anything like that, but I felt very let down. I really like this southern gentleman with the sincere blue eyes.
I did get a phone call from him before he left Edinburgh. When he told me he was going to come back to see me in a few weeks I gave him my name and address and told him to write to me when he knew his plans – right. Eh?