FOR various reasons, I’m reminded of my very first day in newspapers – a long time ago in an environment far, far away.
The 20 year-old version of me went up to the main entrance of the nine-storey tower block which was home to the Daily Record and Sunday Mail. I’d got the train in from Cumbernauld, and, terrified I’d be late because I wasn’t sure how long it would take to walk, I spent the last money I had on a taxi.
That had already been a special moment. I’d jumped into the hack and said, “The Record, please,” like I did it every day. The driver replied, “The Daily Record?” I told him he was right. “What are going there for?” he asked. “I’m going to my work,” I said. He was impressed: “That’s no’ bad for a young boy, is it?”
By the time I left the paper, sadly, the average cabbie’s response was more like: “That’s no’ the paper it used ti’ be.”
So there I was, staring up at this enormous building. Behind me, the River Clyde; in front of me, a career I was going to love so much I still refuse to let it lie down despite the industry turmoil which surrounds all us paper hacks. A number of golden lions, representing the editorial department, stared down at me with long flowing locks and a look of importance.
I went in the main entrance to be greeted by a man in a smart black uniform and peaked cap. “Good morning, sir,” he said. “Are you here to buy a copy of one of our newspapers?”
“No,” I replied. “I’m here to start work.”
“And which of our titles will you be working on?”
Here I went. “The Record,” I said with a kind of stuttered breath.
“The Daily Record,” he said. “Well, sir, can I suggest you use the rear entrance from now on? All the best ones do.”
Misunderstanding, I apologised. “Not at all,” he said and told me his name. “You’ll be sure not to end up in a lift with one of the high heidjins if you use the back door. And if you want to see me, I’ll be here when you finish, and they won’t.”
I decided to take his advice that very day, and as long as that building stood I entered by the back door and left by the front every day I knew he was working. His official title may have been ‘security guard’ or ‘doorman’ but he was much more than that. Everyone seemed to be much more than everything then.
So I went round the side street, where the loading bays sat waiting to receive Daily Record lorries, which would fill up with Daily Record copies and take them to every corner of Scotland, every night, never mind the weather. They even got papers to the Highlands when snow closed the roads. Everyone tried to be much better than everything.
The guard at the back door was equally friendly. He shook my hand, welcomed me on board, phoned up to the third floor to tell them I was coming and took me to the lift. As I stepped inside he said: “Remember, son, they all started like you – there’s not a man of them is better than you, unless you let them be.”
Just before the doors closed, a figure appeared from the street. He was big, he was slow, he was struggling, and I held the lift while telling the guard: “I’ll wait for him.”
“Mr R,” the guard nodded.
Mr R took his time – he couldn’t not. We helped him into the lift and he leaned against the back wall, peching and wheezing. The door closed.
“Third floor,” he said.
“Yes, me too,” I replied, then added, “Sir.”
“What are you going there for?” he asked me.
“I work there. Or at least, I’m starting today.”
“On which newspaper?”
“The Daily Record.”
He harrumphed. “Well, I’ll tell you something, young man. If you’re going to work on the Daily Record, you have to learn to be proud with the proudest of world leaders – and humble with the humblest of housewives.”
I nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
“And get your hair cut.”
I paused. How I reacted could affect everything. But I was about to start work on Scotland’s biggest newspaper, and I had strong feelings about the subject. I’d begun growing up through the discovery of rock music, and the camaraderie felt among those who knew it mattered to them and didn’t matter to other people, and that made them special, and that made them belong.
It was time to stand up.
“Well, Mr R,” I began, a little squeakily, “I would say this: there are world leaders and there are housewives. And there are janitors, and teachers, and journalists, and taxi drivers, and security guards, and everything else. And some of them have long hair. They should be represented by the Daily Record. And they should be represented in the Daily Record.”
The lift doors opened onto the editorial floor – a place I was going to spend many long, difficult, angry, bewildered, stressful, exciting, hilarious, unforgettable, character-building hours.
Mr R pushed past me. “Maybe, son. Maybe,” he said.
I later discovered he’d marched into my chief’s office that same day and said: “You keep that boy. He’s good. But if he ever cuts his hair, sack him.”
I eventually started calling it the ‘Record’ and I eventually stopped worrying about being late, as long as the paper was never late because of anything I did or didn’t do. The guards eventually became no more than guards, and indeed the world seemed to become less of everything. The nine-storey building went too, although one of the golden lions survived and is kept in hiding, thanks to a last-night raid with a stolen spanner.
But I have always had long hair.
Martin Kielty is a freelance journalist and author of ten books on Scottish history and rock music (see www.martinkielty.com). He has spent 20 years working on national newspapers.