Escaping the education system, I furiously applied for various jobs. Anything would do until I was ready to apply to become a pilot.
Window cleaner, but I was too young. Paperboy, but I was too old. Then I realised what a cushy job shop staff had. So I began applying to shops.
And did I not get a reply from a furniture shop to come for an interview for a sales vacancy? That caused me blind panic. My anxiety was the kind Mrs X has now – I had nothing to wear. How could I go to an interview to sell three-piece suites, carpets and beds in a T-shirt with The Man Who Sold The World across the chest?
A David Bowie song, it was brought to the world’s attention by Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lawrie, or as we knew her, Lulu. Oh m’eudail.
I know, Lulu, eh? What was I thinking? I needed a suit, that’s what I was thinking. Before the big interrogation, I visited Hepworths, the tailor right in the centre of Stornoway, but they were a bit, er, you know, traditional.
I was cool. I liked Lulu. I needed something groovy. And there it was in the window of rival threads-vendor Burton.
A window was a window back then. No weather windows, transfer windows or even software created by Mister William Gates.
On the corner of South Beach was the Burton outlet. Before tycoon Sir Philip Green got his mitts on the company, it had this unlikely window not near, but on, the corner. There, behind the glass, was my heart’s desire – all purplish and crimpleney. I had to have that suit.
Gimme a break, this was the age of glam rock. With matching platform shoes, I would be Noddy Holder, Bernera-style. Closer to the interview date, I kept checking that window. Still there.
Eventually, birthday money and kindly aunts meant I was able to snatch the crimplene creation and the job became mine.
I slept in on my first day. Oops. The manager warned me to get up earlier. So, straight after work, I shot round to the emporium of Murdo “We sell everything” Maclean’s and asked for a potato clock.
The assistant said: “I don’t know what a potato clock is.”
I explained I had started a new job and my boss told me work starts at 9am sharp. He said I’d have to get a potato clock.
I will always remember the look of sheer pity on the face of that shop assistant.
She thought about what I had said. She then nodded, smiled very sweetly, took me gently by the hand and pointed me helpfully in the direction of Lewis Crofters. They just guffawed, very loudly. Obviously.
My floor-walking career lasted for a year or two before I took off to the RAF. All suits provided there.
Returning home one year, Burtons was gone and the window where I eyed my garish garment was bricked up.
It eventually became a turf accountant’s shop where the nags and the odds well suited the late kindly bookie, Donnie Campbell.
Now up for sale, the property is mentioned in a planning notice saying the unusual corner window is to be reopened, repurposed, de-bricked.
Is there such a word? There is now. Deep joy.
I have no idea why I’m so nostalgic about a hole in the wall. It was just part of old Stornoway, part of the streetscape and part of my growing up as I emerged from my cocoon and became a man. Heck, that sounds poncey.
Like having a haircut, just when you are finally Noddy Holder again from 1970s screamers Slade.
Since the lockdown began, I’d not had a haircut. I was a bit shaggy. I’d not even stepped on the scales. So the other day, with shearing about to recommence, I decided to weigh myself for the first time in months.
Wow. Who knew hair weighed so much?
Also in that decade, two would-be entrepreneurs from Leverburgh were walking past another Stornoway shop window. A sign said simply Suits £2. Shirts 25p.
One Hearach winks and says: “We’re going to make our fortune here. Come on.”
They go in and one asks: “Can we get 50 suits and 50 shirts, please?”
The lady behind the counter looks at them and asks: “You two boys up from Harris, are you?” They tell her they are and ask how she knows.
She replies: “Probably because this is the dry cleaners.”