I thought I might delve a little deeper into my remark in yesterday’s post concerning the time I wanted to be an architect, to when it was abruptly halted after a fire in the centre of Glasgow. It’s an interesting tale.
I was on a work experience week at Scottish Homes in Glasgow many years ago, during my 4th year of high school in fact. It was an interesting week spending time with quantity surveyors, architects and printers for one of Scotland’s largest property developers. Their office was based in Bothwell Street, Glasgow, which ironically, although I wouldn’t know it until several years later, sat directly across the road from the company where I would get my first full-time job.
So there I was in my little grey suit, jumping on the bus to and from Glasgow for one whole week to “work” for Scottish Homes. It was an exciting time. On the second last day of my visit I was working with the printers. These guys worked the massive machines in the basement that took the architect designs and transferred them into blueprints. The method was: take the original drawing and placed it on top of another sheet of paper, yellow in colour because it was layered with sulphur. These sheets should then be passed through the machine and come out the other side as a blueprint. It was essentially a large scale photocopying machine.
Due to the presence of the sulphur, the room stank. After being shown how to carry out this task, the guy who was charged with me left me to a pile of side elevations and ground plans, with two instructions: “1) When the smell of the sulphur gets too much and you start to feel sick, go upstairs and take a break. 2) Don’t turn the machine off, just turn it down to its lowest level and leave it like that.”
Fair enough. After about an hour and a half the headache he promised began to take hold. So I did as he said and turned the machine down then headed upstairs. I bought a Coke and drank it outside before heading back in to where I was met by Ken Collins, the architect I had worked with earlier in the week. He said he had a task for me so I joined him on the fourth floor for the rest of the afternoon.
Half an hour later the fire alarm sounded. Heads turned and discussions grew louder as the architects searched for anyone who might know of a planned fire alarm test, so they could ignore it and carry on as they were doing. But it wasn’t a test. This was made evident when one of the head honchos barged into the office shouting: “Can you arseholes not hear that alarm? Get the fuck out—there’s a fire!”
So out we went through the fire escape that led down the back of the building and out through a side door. The door also led past the secretary’s office on the ground floor, and on looking in I could see the room had already filled with billowing smoke. It appeared to be coming from the basement and was creeping into the lift cavities and other side rooms leading off the main reception area. Outside, the smoke was less evident as more people arrived from inside the building. They all looked pissed off to have been disturbed and questions were already being asked as to what had happened.
The sirens of approaching fire engines and ambulances echoed through the tall narrow streets of Glasgow as I began to entertain the idea that perhaps the fire had something to do with the machine I’d been working on.
I started to get nervous.
I got more nervous when a middle aged black woman was carried out on a stretcher suffering from smoke inhalation. And when I overheard someone say the stationery cupboard had caught fire because someone never shut down the printing machine, I just about dropped my load where I was standing.
I got really nervous.
This was about as bad as it could get. I began to imagine the scene from the back of a police car as I was hauled off for arson, or worse, winding through Glasgow to the station, where Taggart would be waiting to interrogate me through gritted yellow teeth.
After a couple of hours we were allowed back into the building but the basement and half of the ground floor remained cordoned off. I didn’t get much done for the rest of the week. Most of my time was spent fending off the slagging I was getting from two school chums who were also taking their work experience there, and internally questioning the wisdom of having a stationery cupboard in the same room as a red-hot sulphur printer.
Nobody at Scottish Homes said much to me for the rest of the week, and my school never mentioned it. Word spread throughout my home town but nobody clicked that the story that it was because of me might be true.
By the time I starting working as a graduate in a full time position for the company across the road, Scottish Homes had moved. These days I think it’s a Wetherspoon’s pub, but every time I walk past it, to this day, I can still see the image of the middle aged black woman being carted out the side door on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over her face.
And that’s the story of my work experience week and why I had to give up any notion of ever being an architect.
Today’s the last day of my GDR period. Time then, for my final monthly wrap up. My annual one shall follow thereafter.
* Polish and complete final draft of GREENER IS THE GRASS – not quite complete; aim to finish during the book festival.
* Write one new short/flash story – done; under edit
* Catch up on short/flash story backlog (16 not done from previous) – not done
* Re-submit any rejected/recalled short stories – done
* Submit to selected fiction/poetry competitions – none this month
* Write at least one poem per week – all done, plus way more during free writing sessions
* Catch up on backlog – almost go there, but not quite
* Stay on top of RR submissions – done
* Layout RR issue 12 – IP
* Expect site update requests from photography client – client shoot updates made; front page redesign pending working out the code needed
* Keep all my websites updated and relevant – done; some small amendments made
Reading & Learning
* THE GRAVE TATTOO by Val McDermid – complete
* THE PAPERS OF TONY VEITCH by William McIlvanney – complete
* MAN IN THE DARK by Paul Auster – complete
* THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus – complete
* FLESHMARKET CLOSE by Ian Rankin – complete
* THE ISLAND by Victoria Hyslop – complete
* THE LAST EXILE by EV Seymour – scrapped
* AMERICA LIBRE by Raul Ramos – IP
* THE KENNETH WILLIAM DIARIES by Russell Davies -IP
* Complete 2009/10 Annual GDR Review – almost complete
Things That Turned Up
* Major PC problems for a client ripped out several days from my schedule
Submissions Activity Summary
PAINT Sent to Streetcake
DAFFODILS Sent to Short Talk (Audio)
THE GREEN BRIDGE Sent to Dark Tales Short Story Competition
REGRETS Sent to Dublin Quarterly
AMANDA AND JOE Sent to Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Competition
THE ENGLISH TEACHER Sent to Frome Short Story Competition
CITIZEN’S ARREST Sent to Words Magazine s/s Competition
A POINT OF VIEW Sent to Contrary Magazine
FOREIGN OBJECT Returned by Streetcake
OFF THE GROUND Sent to Everyday Fiction
A WRITER’S HELL Sent to East of the Web
SAMSON THE GREAT Sent to Libbon
LETTING GO Sent to Open Wide Magazine
BRIEFS Sent to Eclectica
WHISKY SNATCHING Sent to Wheelhouse Magazine
SCAR TISSUE Sent to The Arvon International Poetry Competition 2010
SCOTLAND NEGLECTED Returned by Every Day Poets
DISPOSABLE PEN Sent to Aquillrelle Publishing Contest
MOLE ON LEITH WALK Sent to Aquillrelle Publishing Contest
THE FINAL NAIL Sold to Every Day Poets
LIMBO Sent to Strong Verse
Amazing how these experiences stay with us and influence us for years, isn’t it?