My regular readers will know that I have a special affinity for Scotland. I’ve always believed in hedging your bets as I’m English, Debbie’s Welsh, we got married on Saint Patrick’s Day and we like holidaying in Scotland… So it was only natural that back in 2006 when I was a full-time Executive Partner I had a cluster of CIO clients in Scotland.
These were Andrew Unsworth at Edinburgh City Council, Mike Traynor at Registers of Scotland and last but not least, Terry Trundley at Fife Council. Typically I’d fly up to Edinburgh the day before my first meeting, usually with Andrew or Mike, staying in Jury’s hotel just apposite Waverley railway station. I’d have dinner on my own in a lovely French restaurant just up the road from the hotel in a place called La Garrigue in Jeffrey Street.
After finishing work the next day, I’d take a quick taxi ride to return to the airport where I’d hire a car from Enterprise to drive up to see Terry in Fife, driving over the Forth road bridge, which had a toll at the time I seem to remember. I’d often ask for an automatic hoping that somehow that would get me a free upgrade to a Mercedes from the rather small car I normally booked. The ploy worked sometimes! 😀
I enjoyed working with all three clients and their teams, but I have a special memory of meeting Terry for the first time in Markinch. He didn’t buy the service but inherited it from the triumvirate that were running IT in the absence of a new Head of IT being appointed. They became his new direct reports as Terry was appointed an interim and I became a part-time member of his team over time.
Terry’s home was still in England in those days so he stayed in the local Balbirnie House hotel during the week and suggested I do the same on my next visit. So in December 2006 I flew up as usual to see Andrew initially and managed to get Debbie’s Christmas present of a DKNY designer handbag from Jenners in Princes Street.
Arriving at the Balbirnie House hotel in time for dinner with Terry, we turned in for the night about 10pm. The hotel was very busy as I believe there was a big Christmas party going on that night with loads of people dressed formally for the occasion.
In any event about 11pm the fire alarm went off and I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed thinking “not another false alarm please” and sure enough just as I had finished dressing it went silent.
Grumbling under my breath I returned to bed only for the alarm to go off again about ten minutes later. This time was different though, not only did it not stop but I could smell smoke and on opening the door the sight of smoke and flickering flames could be seen down the stairs.
Luckily for me after grabbing my laptop and putting on my shirt, trousers and shoes, one of the hotel managers came to the door pointing out the safe exit route which I gratefully accepted. I had my mobile with me as I headed outside to the meeting point but just got Terry’s voicemail as the fire engines started arriving.
The night was very cold I seemed to remember but I didn’t look as cold as many of the female guests in their party dresses did. Eventually we were led into some kind of building away from the main hotel where drinks and snacks were laid on. This is where I found Terry tucking into a complimentary bottle of wine so I joined him while wondering what had become of Debbie’s Christmas present and the rest of my clothes and other belongings.
Eventually it was decided we’d have to wait until morning before we could safely re-enter our rooms so we were evacuated together in a taxi to a local B&B. I had no shaver with me, smelt of smoke, so looked pretty rough in the morning when we went back to the hotel to pick up our belongings before heading into the office.
My suit and Debbie’s present were too badly smoked damaged to be salvageable but fortunately Gartner’s insurance covered me. It later transpired that multiple fires had been started by an arsonist, a disgruntled ex-employee who was later convicted and sent to prison!
A night to remember for sure but one that cemented a firm relationship between the two of us and resulted in me staying in Terry’s house on a number of occasions when he was made CIO at Fife full-time and moved to Scotland.