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BLOG: The Night a Nee Naw Came to SAW

Ayr Writers’ Club swept the board once again at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference 2024. Celebrations, presentations of awards, fine dining, and a brilliant guest speaker, Alan Bissett, brought the evening to a close. Some retired to bed, others made their way to the bar.

As the clock struck midnight I was woken by red flashing lights, the fire alarm screeching and an automated voice: ‘Fire, fire. Please evacuate the building.’  Staff were banging on the bedroom door, ‘Get out, get out’. I pulled my jacket over my pyjamas and fled through the fire escape into the cold night air.

A large crowd had gathered at the front of the hotel, some still in their finery, others in dressing gowns and pyjamas.  Teeth chattering, we eventually met up with our colleagues from the club.

Fire engines, their lights flashing, zoomed past to the far end of the hotel where smoke was billowing out through the air vents.  The linen room was on fire.

Folks were on their mobiles calling home. Carrie was baffled her husband did not answer his phone. I had to remind Carrie that it was 12.30 am, after all.

Linda B had been nursing a large gin and tonic when she had to flee the building leaving her trophies on the bar table. Freezing in her party dress, and balancing on her fancy shoes, she welcomed Janice’s suggestion to take refuge in her car along with Maggie M who was frozen to the spot as the wind whipped up her delicate blouse. However, the warmth of the car only lasted five minutes as they were told they needed to be outside for the roll calls.

The hotel provided foil capes for warmth which were greatly appreciated. Fiona Mc was cosy as she gadded about in Helena’s housecoat and Palo’s scarf.

There was some hilarity when a line of firemen passed by and Greta chanted ‘Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, and Grubb. The cold air was getting to her.

After an hour we were all starting to turn blue with the cold. Fiona Mc suddenly said her legs had gone, and she needed support. I propped her up against a stone pillar at the foyer of the hotel.  Grateful for the help, Fiona was back in good spirits looking like a Greek caryatid supporting a pillar.

After a while I called on the hotel staff to provide a chair for Fiona, so she was allowed in the foyer where a young barman provided a high bar stool. She grimaced as she heaved herself into position with her legs dangling.  Carrie realised that with my 2-week-old new hip, I also needed a seat.  Soon Fiona Mc and I were the star attraction: ‘two craws’ dangling on bar stools.

Whilst young staff took the roll call, the general manager took control of the situation. Staff in high viz vests and firemen swarmed the foyer. At last, we were told we could go back into the building, but only to the lounge and dining area not to our rooms. It was around 2 am when we got hot chocolate and cups of tea.

The piercing alarms could not be switched off due to residual smoke in the corridors.  The lounge was packed with bodies, many draped in tin foil. It looked like a gaggle of turkeys basting in the oven. Funnily enough, turkey was on the lunch menu the next day.

Whether it was the shock of coming into the heat from the cold, or adrenaline, but a level of giggling hysteria seemed to take hold.

Carrie, still giddy from being at her first SAW conference, thought the situation was hilarious as she and Linda snapped photographs of themselves and sent them to family members. I think she even suggested we all go on holiday together.

Linda, a true fashionista, refused to take off her high heels in case someone stood on her toes. Meanwhile, Fiona Mc was in great form, laughing, telling jokes, and taking photos of random strangers. She befriended four lovely girls beside us who were on a spa break, one wearing a bathrobe and a bunnet.  Some of us could hardly think straight as the piercing alarm was still ringing in our ears.  Fiona leaned over and whispered, ‘The advantage of having a hearing impairment – what alarm!’

At 2.45 am, we were allowed to go back to our rooms. Some folk, like me, had left the room key behind but were assured a staff member would take us to our rooms.

A handsome, burly fireman walked me along the long corridor, helmet under his arm.  He opened the door and, as I stepped into the room, the blood rushed to my ankles (I was wearing cropped pyjamas) and the brain fog cleared. As I came to my senses, my fireman had mysteriously disappeared and in his place was a young barman bidding me good night.

Damm – I think I quite liked having hypothermia.

Marion Husband

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