DOWN MEMORY LANE

Started new job at Helensburgh & Gareloch Times

24 November 1971 — Editorial Assistant

Helensburgh

Helensburgh 9

The Helensburgh and Gareloch Times office in West Princess Street, Helensburgh.

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Stuart McKInlay, journalist

By Stuart McKinlay

My big break: I was considering a career in journalism, but the rector of Vale of Leven Academy said: “Ye cannae dae it. Naebody fae the Vale gets tae work furra newspaper.” But then, my girlfriend reluctantly announced her pregnancy and I was in a funk.

I phoned the proprietor of the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times, whose shapeless six-page newspaper sold only on its nostalgic appeal: The headline typefaces were selected to meet the squeeze demanded by loquacity, or running from ten words into a second deck of two words, with one monochrome picture per edition, taken with a prototype Polaroid camera.

The product of these speculative efforts was committed to a backroom Edwardian Centurette cracked flatbed flying press which only a singing drunk called Rab could cause to work.

Walter Bryden, the patrician caretaker of old Helenburgh meticulously husbanded money, told me to see him on a Saturday morning at his office at Macneur & Bryden’s newsagent and stationery shop opposite Helenburgh Central railway station.

He was squeezed upright into a cubby-hole against a sloping desk-surface, conducting the affairs of his imagination with a chewed pen which he waved in time with some internal aria. He knew little of newspapers and I knew less, which impressed upon him his superiority on the subject, but he was quickly exhausted with it. He was relieved I knew nothing of football and the conversation evasively, seamlessly elided to choral music. He was a patron of the arts in his careful way, it became clear.

My mother was a choir member, often singing solo despite her terror of nerves seizing control of her diaphragm, and opera was often practised in the house, and even works of more popular appeal, Gilbert & Sullivan, for example, the Gondoliers, Dance a cachuca, fandango, bolero; I was familiar with the sounds he heard in his head in the dusty remove of his tiny refuge from the affairs of the aged shop and its wittering ladies of some maturity who served the occasional customer looking for pen nibs or Quink or quarto folders.

I had not written to him, but phoned in my panic in answer to his tiny, frugal advert seeking an editorial assistant. With Wagner (maybe) sending blood to his head, Start on Monday, he cried, then a whiff of D’Oyly Carte (maybe) Your qualifications are second to none and your letter of application a model of its kind. (The Very Model of a Modern…) “But,” I tried to say, “I didn’t…write.” Monday, he cried, Old Bean, Monday.

Thus, I got my first job in journalism writing reviews of Helensburgh Choral Society, and Helensburgh Oratorio Society, respectfully critical but carefully favourable as Walter glowed in praise from his friends. In the time-honoured tradition of newspapers, I got my first job because somebody didn’t get their facts right. It was a case of mistaken identity. Walter hired the wrong man.

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