1985

Edinburgh: More than just a festival

6 August 1985 British Airways 5662 Birmingham to Edinburgh
8 August 1985 British Airways 5669 Edinburgh to Birmingham

So it was that with the dawn of a new month came a revelation. The work that I had already done on the project was not acceptable when done in Birmingham, so I was now to be sent to Edinburgh. If that sounds like a punishment, so much the better. I certainly got the impression that this was what the company was trying to do. More likely, they were trying to keep the consultant from the Edinburgh office with the company. He had already been down to Birmingham to see me on numerous occasions in the meantime, but you don't get to read about that because this is my story, not his.

Travelling by rail to London, I had already noticed that I tended to be in the head office earlier than I generally got to my own workplace, but it never occurred to me that the same would also be true of flying to Edinburgh. Check-in was at an uncivilised hour in the morning, closely followed by a flight of nearly an hour and a lift from the airport to the office by the same person I mentioned earlier. This put me in the office half an hour before nine. On this, my first flight on the route, nothing of note happened.

The only thing I remember particularly was an item on the breakfast menu. Now it may be that I have the wrong upbringing, or simply that my parents didn't like them, but this was the first time I ever came to eat these small, juicy things with tiny pips. They were called kiwi-fruit, and often seemed to be served for breakfast on flights. However, it would be a long time before I ever consumed one while I was on the ground.

Perhaps a warning is necessary here. My memory fails a little, and it may be that I will attach incidents to one flight on this route which actually relate to another journey on the route. Please bear with me: all the events described did happen, it is just that we can't be sure about the dates.

Anyway, I worked hard on the problem, and was almost at a solution when time ran out. Never mind, I could work further at my own office, and then come back to Edinburgh. The flight back was not exciting either, except as much as flights always are. The only problem was that the flight leaves late, so that it is necessary to work late, and then spend some time in the pub before going to the airport. If the flight is delayed, then it might even be necessary to spend time in the bar there too. Look out! You probably know that a Scots measure is one-fifth of a gill where an English measure is one-sixth. However, this place serves one-quarter of a gill, and has a large notice over the bar to this effect. The first time I was there, I didn't notice this until after I had ordered a double. This, south of the border, therefore, would have been a triple, so that I was quite relaxed on arrival home.


16 August 1985 British Airways 5662 Birmingham to Edinburgh

By now, things were not going well. The project I was working on was behind, and the manager of the Edinburgh office, never a man who takes the blame, and whose staff are always beyond reproach themselves, needed a scapegoat. Who better than an Englishman, sufficiently inexperienced not to know yet all the rules about covering yourself? Never mind, we'll call him to Edinburgh for a spell, not caring whether he ever gets home. The worst part of the journey was getting off the aeroplane, and that is why, on this occasion, we have no return flight listed.

Another complication is that at this time, we were right in the middle of the Edinburgh Festival. This meant that nearly every hotel was full, and it was not possible for me to stay in the hotel I favoured. This hotel is the Ellersley House Hotel. Perhaps I should take the opportunity to mention two or three places to eat, all centrally located. These are Rock Bottom, if it is still in business, where all the dishes and decor are inspired by the film actor Rock Hudson. At the time, the name was quite amusing, but since his demise, perhaps the name is a little unfortunate. Desperate Dan's Restaurant, which serves steaks in three sizes, man-sized (ten ounce), Dan-sized (fifteen ounce) and Desperate-Dan-sized (twenty ounce). Even man-sized was enough for me.

Anyway, on this occasion I was placed in a very small hotel, not of the standard to which I was accustomed, whose most notable feature was a cuckoo clock in the bar.

There were a couple of advantages in being in Edinburgh while the festival was on. I got to see some shows and things that otherwise would have passed me by. Among other things, I saw an unusual play which got some acclamations before disappearing into amateur repertory, called When I was a girl, I used to scream and shout. I bought my ticket for the theatre at the last moment, and was warned that the seat, the last one in the hall at all, had only a restricted view. To be precise, I found I was sharing my seat with a load-supporting pillar. They weren't joking about the view, but it was better than nothing.

Another thing which caught my interest at the festival was a book written by one Harry Horse, and called, if I remember correctly, The Ogopogo. Sadly, I cannot now recall what it was about, but wish I had bought it. It was a children's story book.

In the absence of a reservation, I travelled home by train. This was a very long journey: over seven hours compared with less than one by air. It was a horrible journey, but made it crystal-clear why companies prefer air travel and are prepared to pay for it too. My time was more expensive than the difference in the fares. Not only that, but on a flight you do get food and drink. On this train, you did not.


26 September 1985 British Airways 5662 Birmingham to Edinburgh
26 September 1985 British Airways 5669 Edinburgh to Birmingham

Now this was a much more promising day. Even though the route was the same, the environment was entirely different. For a start, it was smokier. In those days, you had a choice because internal flights allowed smoking. It was unusual for me to choose a smoking seat, but this was generally because I do not smoke, and rarely travelled with anybody else. However, on this day I was travelling with a colleague who did smoke, on a journey to demonstrate a new product to a client in Dundee. Admittedly the product still had one or two problems which we hadn't ironed out, but in general it was reasonably good. The only problem was that our prospective customer was in Dundee, and Dundee is not Edinburgh. In fact, it takes longer to drive from Edinburgh to Dundee than it does to fly from Birmingham to Edinburgh.

Worst of all, we had to contend with a business lunch. I hate the concept of the business lunch, because it entails lots of time, a valuable resource when you are a long way from home, a lot of unnecessary eating and drinking at high prices, a lack of opportunity to take a break and consult with your allies (your company members, not the prospective customer). From my own point of view, the worst part of it is that you never get a chance to be yourself, but have to be polite and courteous to people all day long. I am always more exhausted at the end of an hour of being nice than I am at the end of a full day of solid work. Yet on this occasion, nothing went too dreadfully wrong, and I was able to return happily to Edinburgh, secure in the knowledge that the salesman was sure he would close the deal at his next meeting. That doesn't prove anything, because salesmen always seem to be like that.

Another unusual feature of these business lunches, which has always fascinated me, is the fact that the salesmen and the clients often drink quite copiously on these occasions, whereas the technical staff stay stone-cold sober. Presumably this is because they have to talk detail intelligently, or at least intelligibly, after lunch.

The return flight was fairly quiet. I remember after we'd had a couple of drinks that we were speculating as to why there were no aeroplane shaped holes in the clouds. Through a blur, my colleague explained that this was because clouds have immense recuperative powers. Who am I to argue?

So ended my first year of flying, a distance of just two thousand five hundred and twenty-three miles. However, I had the taste for air travel now, and next year would be different.


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