Quibbles and Bits

Me and Kenny Dalglish

I was born in Glasgow, Scotland.  At age 10 my family moved to Leeds, in England.  Three years later we moved to Leicester … my father and brother still live there.  By age 22 I had graduated from University and accepted a job in in the high-tech laser industry in the sleepy holiday town of Paignton, Devon.  By that time my Scots accent had long since been replaced by something relatively nondescript, more identifiably English than anything else, but without any obvious regional inflection.  At age 33 I moved to Montreal, Canada, since when my accent has taken on a mid-Atlantic character which Canadians consider to be English, the English consider to be Canadian, and Americans usually assume is Australian.

Some time in the very early 1980’s my job required me to purchase a quantity of ultra-high purity Tin – 99.9999% pure, or better.  Where on earth would you find that sort of thing?  This was long before the days of the Internet, and so the best approach was that you would track down an appropriate trade magazine full of advertisements and send off for a selection of catalogs which in due course would arrive in the mail.  This was made easy by the inclusion in the magazine of a tear-out postcard containing hundreds of check boxes, each one with a number corresponding to an advertisement in the magazine.  So you would fill in your name and address, tick the boxes you were interested in, and post the card.  Two weeks later a collection of catalogs would start arriving.  Having consulted the catalogs, you would see who offered the product closest to what you wanted, and phone them up.

Far more interesting, though, was to fill in the card in the name of one of your colleagues.  You would then randomly tick as many of the boxes as you thought you could get away with, and observe from a safe distance the deluge of a response that this would bring two weeks later.  Even better was to modify the name of the person on the receiving end.  For example, my pal Paul Martin became Professor Sir Paul Martin-Moo (managing director), and in this guise actually ended up on some kind of mailing list.  He received mail from all sorts of people addressed to Professor Sir Paul Martin-Moo (managing director) for years afterwards.  One firm even sent a deputation of executives all the way from London (3-4 hours by train) to visit him because one of the boxes I had randomly checked against his name apparently corresponded to “I have an immediate need to purchase a large quantity of Office Furniture”, and they decided that they could best close the deal if they arrived unannounced, in force, in person.  Needless to say, they went home empty-handed, not to mention red-faced.

Other aspects of technology were also simpler in those days, like telephones.  You could take two adjacent desk phones and unscrew both their earpiece and mouthpiece covers, which would allow you to pull the actual transducers a few inches free of the handset while still wired up.  You would then mate the earpieces of each with the mouthpieces of the other, holding them in place with elastic bands.  Next, you dial two different numbers on each of the two handsets, and when the parties answer they are effectively connected to each other … and as a bonus you can hear the conversation quite clearly.  English people are usually very polite, and will rarely be so crass as to demand of the other why they called.  So the phone call can proceed for quite a long time, as the parties exchange pleasantries while all the while waiting for the other to get to the point.  The challenge involved submitting two numbers to dial, with the winner being the person whose call lasted the longest.  And there were bonus points if the call ended with both parties still thinking the other had initiated the call.  Another fun game was to find two managers who hated each others’ guts (and boy, we had plenty of those), and connect those to each other.  This served to raise their smoldering resentment up another notch as each assumed the other was engaging in passive-aggressive warfare.  Still another was to announce as soon as the parties answered “Please hold for Mr. Evans” (Mr. Evans being the name of a very senior manager), and see how long you could get them to sit there, wondering if they were about to get a carpeting.

We enjoyed pranks that exploited some of the company’s Dickensian and archaic rules, one of which was that the company would not permit outside telephone calls to be placed from within work areas containing hourly-paid employees.  But if you were senior enough to have a desk, you could place an outside call from your desk phone.  In my part of the factory we used clean rooms, which were located quite a tedious walk from the desks, and once there you had to change into head-to-toe bunny suits to enter.  All in all, it was quite a palaver.  So, from the safety of your desk, you would make an outside call directly to the company’s switchboard, and ask to speak to someone who you knew was in the clean room, and had preferably just arrived there.  Obviously, they wouldn’t pick up, and the call would bounce back to the operator, with whom you could leave a message requesting the recipient to call a certain number.  The operator would then page the person over the intercom.  Normal etiquette required a paged person to call the operator promptly and receive their message.  But having done so, the rules then prevented him from calling the number on the message from inside the clean room.  So he would have to exit the clean room, change out of his bunny suit, and make the trek to his desk at the other end of the building.  There, finally, he could make the call from the approved confines of his desk, and would find himself connected to a public service help line, offering useful pre-recorded advice on contraception, venereal disease, or dealing with homosexuality.

All of which is quite beside the point.  Where the hell was I … ?

Oh, yes.  So there I was, catalog in hand, phoning a company called Johnson Matthey Metals, and found myself speaking to a salesman by the name of Savage, who spoke with a clear Scottish brogue.  I was looking for high-purity Tin, six-nines if he could do it, seven-nines if possible.  Yes, he could provide that for me.  I only wanted a small quantity, was that OK?  Yes, that was fine.  What was the price?  The price was acceptable … and he could deliver it from stock.  Our business concluded, all I had to do was hang up and place my purchase order.  But before we hung up, he had one last question for me.

Mr. Murison, before you go, I was wondering if I could ask you a personal question?

That depends what it is!

I was just wondering whether I’m detecting a trace of Scots in your accent?

Actually, I suppose that’s quite possible.  But I left Scotland when I was ten, and I didn’t think I still had any accent left.

It’s just the way you say certain words.  I just got the feeling that maybe you were also a Scot.  If I might ask, what part of Scotland are you from?

Actually, I’m from Glasgow.

That’s where I’m from.  What part of Glasgow?

I lived in Springburn, then before that in Bearsden, and before that in Dalmarnock.

Really?  I lived in Dalmarnock too!  Where in Dalmarnock?

Ardenlea Street, way back in the day.

It was a street called Ardenlea Street.

There was a stunned silence on the line …

That’s such an amazing coincidence.  I lived on Ardenlea Street too.  What was your address?

I should point out that Ardenlea Street, like most of Glasgow at that time, comprised two rows of red sandstone tenements.  Each tenement comprised a “close” which was a passageway with a staircase, off which you could access several different apartments.  Only the “close” itself had a number.  Ardenlea Street, I believe, was a short cul-de sac.

I can’t really remember the address.  But it was the first close on the left.

That’s number nine.  I can’t believe it … that’s where I lived.  When were you there?

It would have been about 1955-58, that sort of timeframe.

That’s exactly when I lived there.  We must have played together as kids!

I suppose we must have done, then.

So you must remember Kenny Dalglish.  He lived there too.  We all played together.

King Kenny, with a strange bedfellow.

For those who don’t recognize the name, Kenny Dalglish is the most famous Scottish Football player (i.e. soccer player) ever.  An absolute legend, known mostly for his career as player and then manager of Liverpool.

As I hung up the phone, I couldn’t help but wonder if I had been the subject of an elaborate prank, since, looking back on the call, he did appear to have led the conversation.  Kenny Dalglish indeed!  So I called my mother later that day and relayed the conversation to her.  I asked her if she remembered anybody called Savage who lived in our close in Ardenlea Street.  Indeed, she did remember a Mrs. Savage who lived directly upstairs from us.  And there was a Dalglish family too who lived two or three closes along.  Very interesting, although neither Savage nor Dalglish are uncommon Scots names.  But finally, some years later my brother reported seeing Kenny Dalglish on a TV show called “This Is Your Life” where it was confirmed that he did indeed live on Ardenlea Street.  So no prank, then!  And all because a salesman thought he recognized a hint of a Scottish accent.

I went back to Glasgow in 2012 to see some of the places of my childhood, and looked forward to seeing Ardenlea Street since, according to Google maps, it was still in existence, unlike almost the entirety of the Glasgow I remembered (which had been literally razed to the ground).  I was going to raise a silent toast to Mr. Savage … not to mention Kenny Dalglish.  Sadly, I arrived to find that it had just been demolished to make way for an athlete’s village being built for the 2014 Commonwealth games.