"Er, excuse me, I am supposed to report to staff department at 9 o'clock." I said in that terribly polite tone one uses on the first day in a new job. I had battled my way through a pair of ancient swing doors into a dark green marble-walled, marble-floored and marble-ceilinged vestibule. One of the walls had a hole in it through which peered a pair of spectacles.
The reply came as rather a surprise. Not that I really expected the little gentleman to say "Och, laddie, jest yoo be waiting there fra wee while," but I did expect a little tartan flavouring. "If you would like to take a seat, sir, I'll ask someone to come and collect you." said the spectacles.
I sat down and stared at a magazine called SMELSA or something like that and spebt ages trying to figure out what the title meant. Just as I had given up hope and was reaching for what could have been a gaelic edition of the Financial Times, a gentleman came bustling down some plush red staircase and remembered my name at me.
"I'll take you to the department where you'll be working," he said.
"Good morning," said I, which seemed a pretty stupid thing to say in reply but it wasn't a bad morning for the time of year and it didn't matter anyway as He Who Came Down The Red Stairs was half way towards some more swing doors.
When he opened them I realised why there were so many doors about. Behind them the carpet came to a grinding halt and ahead stretched a long narrow corridor, painted a digusting shade of yellow or brown, and no more Red Stairs anywhere.
Bustling Man suddenly dived into one of the doors which, luckily, opened at about the same time. I expected to see one huge desk with a tiny one nearby, the former occupied by a quill-penned, bespectacled, dusty Thin Man and the latter covered in leather-bound ledgers, topped by a tea caddy with a sinisterly vacant expression on the seat behind. It wasn't that bad at all. there were a number of leather-bound ledgers here and there, and it did take a minute or two to wind my way around a maze of desks, but it didn't seem a bad place to start office life.
The Departmental Manager had practically stood to attention when Bustling Man walked in. "Must be something to do with the Red Stairs," I thought. However, despite seeming to do something nasty to his knee in the process, he smiled pleasantly at me before muttering something about St. Patrick.
He went on to tell me all about the Computer and what it didn't do - therefore what I had to do. I couldn't remember whether I'd said Good Morning but as he was doing such a good job explaining how The Computer didn't I thought it best to look intelligent.
the rest of the day was spent shaking hands with Mister M and Mister A and Miss T and Miss M, who later turned out to be Freds and Berts like the rest of us, trying to find room for an extra desk, dicovering where the canteen staff hide the roast beef and staring at some green stripes on white paper with black blotches here and there. (I later doscovered that this was Computer Print Out paper, not new wallpaper as it had looked like it might have been.)
Just as I had learned which way up the main File Interrogation (Vee hav vays?) Schedule should go, the place caught fire. At least, I thought it had caught fire. Everyone disappeared in a way not unlike those girls on a David Nixon programme. "Ah, it must be quarter to five," said I. It was. (Why on earth the bother with the Big Ben rehearsal every Monday morning I do not know as it seems abundantly clear that everyone knows exactly how to get out and to do so extremely quickly already.)
As i went out I glanced up at the Red Stairs. Bustling man was coming down, accompanied by Big Tall Smiling Man. "Of course," I thought, "must be another way to the canteen. Wouldn't believe they were the chefs, to look at them, though." I soon learned that they weren't but it was an interesting thought at the time.
Actually the canteen deserves some mention. Not because it was all that exciting, but it was the only other place I had been all day. It was Upstairs - hard grey stoney ones for the likes of normal staff. But there was no haggis. No haggis. I mean, after travelling 400 miles for a job bring in not much more than £2.50 for each mile in the forthcoming year, there really should have been haggis.
Summer 1973 Two years after starting my first full-time job in Edinburgh, I wrote this article for SEMLAS the Society's in-house magazine.