A chip off the old block
On December 6, 1965, a 16-year-old Roy Bremner started an apprenticeship with John Hood and Son in Dingwall.
Little did he know then that five decades later he would be celebrating his 50th anniversary with the same company. To mark this major milestone, we caught up him to speak about his career so far.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST JOB?
My first job when I left school, I worked with the state control. All the
bars around this area were all run by the government. I worked in the
stores there. You would just deliver alcohol and stock up in the shop.
This area from Invergordon right round to Cromarty, all the bars were run by the government. It was the same in Carlisle and in the Arran area. It was the ammunitions down in Carlisle during the war.
In this area it was the naval base in Invergordon. I think it was just to make sure all the troops were behaving themselves.
HOW DID THAT JOB COME ABOUT?
I used to live about the stores there. We just lived about the shop and I was always in there after school and I worked there for about four months. I was 16.
DID YOU HAVE ANY CAREER ASPIRATIONS THEN?
No I didn’t have anything in mind at all.
WHAT DID YOUR PARENTS DO?
My mother before she married she used to work at the paper shop at the railway stations and my father worked for the Ross and Cromarty District Council. He used to work in the roads department.
SO WHERE DID YOU GO AFTER THE STORES JOB?
I was told about them wanting someone at John Hood and Son so I went round and had a quick interview and next week I was working there.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHY YOU WENT FOR THE INTERVIEW?
Well my father came home from a meeting and said the owner was looking for an apprentice. I didn’t really have any interest in that trade before.
WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO DO AS PART OF YOUR APPRENTICESHIP?
Well I started off as a letter cutter on headstones so it was just the first few months I was just practising on scrap pieces of marble, cutting letters and making sure you got it all right. I was doing other jobs too like painting stones.
WERE YOU A NATURAL AT IT?
I think so, aye.
WHAT SORT OF SKILLS DO YOU NEED FOR THAT JOB?
Just patience. For the first 20 years I was cutting letters by hand with a hammer and chisel. You had to have patience but you are doing a different letter all the time. It’s not very often that you’d get two letters the same so your hand is moving differently all the time.
AND WHEN YOU STARTED DID YOU EXPECT TO STAY THERE FOR SO LONG?
I just wanted to stay and I wanted a job. I started off with a five-year apprenticeship and then I just carried on from there.
SO WAS IT ALWAYS THE LETTER CUTTING THAT YOU DID?
It was mostly letter cutting I was doing. In the winter we are inside the hut cutting letters and in the summer you are out putting additional subscriptions onto headstones in the cemeteries.
AS PART OF YOUR JOB DO YOU SPEAK TO CUSTOMERS ABOUT WHAT THEY WOULD LIKE ON THE HEADSTONES?
I do that as well. I go into the office when staff are not there.
WHAT’S THAT LIKE? DO YOU FIND THAT PART DIFFICULT?
You just get used to it. Quite often you can have a laugh and a joke with them. Just to break the surface.
HOW MANY PEOPLE WORKED THERE WHEN YOU JOINED?
It was the boss, the boss’s wife was in the office and myself.
CAN YOU TELL ME A BIT ABOUT THE COMPANY’S HISTORY?
John Hood and Son was a family from Wick and they had a place in Wick, Thurso and Dingwall. In the late Sixties the boss Peter Bain bought over the firm and just kept the name because it was a good name. He finished off my apprenticeship there.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITE MOMENTS FROM YOUR
50 YEARS AT JOHN HOOD AND SON?
No I feel that you’ve got to give the same job to each person so you don’t have a favourite thing. These jobs are all important.
IS THERE ANY DESIGN ELEMENTS TO THE JOB?
I do put designs on stones but all the work is pretty much done by computers now. You stick the template onto the stone and you now sandblast it. But I do designs on stones, deep carving with the sand blast so I can do that.
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE WORKING WITH THE DEVELOPING TECHNOLOGIES? WAS IT AN EASY TRANSITION?
Well the main thing was that for the first 20 years I was doing the cutting by hand then after that the stone was put onto a table and we used a pantograph. We set the letters onto a tray line by line and a needle goes into the letters and a cutting tool follows the letters onto the stone. We did that for about 15 years.
For 20 years I was sitting down, cutting letters then after that I was standing. From sitting to standing for a few years I was actually in pain. Then after that it went onto the sandblast. The template is stuck onto the stone and you pick the letters out.
The chisel process definitely took longer. If it was a big inscription a chisel could take about two days to do it. Where as with now it would take about five hours.
YOU REACHED YOUR 50th ANNIVERSARY ON DECEMBER 6, 2015. HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE IT?
My boss gave me something, which was very much appreciated.
SO WHY DO YOU THINK YOU’VE STAYED THERE FOR SO LONG?
I stayed here because I had a job. I had opportunities to go elsewhere, people wanted me to join the aluminum and smelting trade in Invergordon but just after they asked me, it shut. So I wasn’t really interested in moving anywhere else. I had great job security here.
HAVE YOU ENJOYED YOUR 50 YEARS THERE?
It’s like everything else, it has its ups and downs.
WHAT’S THE FUTURE FOR YOU? DO YOU HAVE ANY RETIREMENT PLANS?
I’ve started going part-time now. I don’t want to give it up. I feel if I just gave it up, I don’t want to go to the seed.