MARK ANDERSON SMITH
First published in Great Britain by Mark Anderson Smith, 2014
This ePub edition published in 2015 by
Mark Anderson Smith
Copyright © Mark Anderson Smith, 2014
All rights reserved.
No reproduction without permission.
A catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library.
The right of Mark Anderson Smith to be
identified as the author of this work
has been asserted by him in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, incidents and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead, events or locations, is entirely coincidental.
Can’t pay! Won’t pay!
Robert Castle looked from the uncompromising placard to the slim raven haired girl who was holding it. Normally he would have given the protesters a wide berth but she was stunningly beautiful and that seemed reason enough to slow and walk towards her.
She was standing in a loose group with six, no seven other protestors; most of a similar age to himself and who had likely never even paid any tax. A small number of people were standing slightly away but most were walking on – up or down Buchanan Street – on this bitterly cold Saturday in February.
She stopped her chanting as he approached.
“Do you have time for an avowed sceptic?” He asked.
Taken aback, she frowned. “Sceptical about what? The Government’s chances of continuing to oppress the poorest in society? Margaret Thatcher’s likelihood of remaining in office?”
“Sceptical of people’s reticence to rise up and fight for a cause even when it will benefit them. Sceptical that this cause is even one worth fighting for.”
Robert saw her eyes narrow, a hint of flare in her pupils and quickly continued. “But I am open to persuasion. You look frozen though. May I buy you a coffee, or tea, while we discuss whether I should join you in this protest?”
“You want to join our protest?”
Her tone mocked him and he smiled in return.
“No. But if you will allow me to buy you a tea or coffee then I will stand here beside you for the rest of the day.”
“You don’t want to join our protest and you’re offering to stand with us?”
“I’m offering to buy you coffee.” He rubbed his hands together and gave an exaggerated shiver. “I’m offering to listen to your arguments and be open to changing my view on the Poll Tax. Regardless of whether you can persuade me or not, I will then also proudly hold one of your placards and out shout your loudest grandstander.”
“Oh, I can persuade you.”
Robert held up his right arm in invitation. “We’ll see.”
Ten minutes later Helen Phillips had warmed up enough to take off her coat but had only half drunk her coffee. Robert nursed his empty mug as he tried to take in her arguments. Eventually he had had enough and held up his hands in surrender.
“I don’t agree with you but I would vote for you.” He interrupted.
“You… What?! That doesn’t make any sense!”
Robert leaned back in his seat. “You’re passionate, you’re eloquent, you’re knowledgeable. I think you are wrong, but at the same time you have good reasons for what you believe.”
“You’ve just contradicted yourself! How can I be wrong if I have good reasons?”
“It’s not about your reasons. If everyone benefits from government then it makes sense that everyone who can afford to pays tax to provide the benefits we all receive.”
“But that is the problem – hundreds of thousands of people who can’t afford it are being forced to pay, while thousands who are richer than you or I can imagine are having their bill cut! That is not just!”
“I agree, but to say that hundreds of thousands of wage earners should have to pay nothing is not just either.”
“The rich are only paying a token as it is. Why are you on their side?”
“Because I am rich and because I want to become richer someday. Don’t you?”
“Not at the expense of others!”
“Quite right! Do you consider yourself rich?”
Helen glared at him.
“It is not a crime to be well off. It’s also admirable to care passionately about anyone who is less well off than you are. Okay, my last argument – if anyone is able to work hard and make a lot of money – why should they be forced to give all of that up to help some people who are lazy? And before you go off on one, I’m not saying that all the poor are lazy but there are some and perhaps more than even I would want to admit who could do with being forced to work.”
“There are far more people out there who are working damn hard every day and only managing to scrape a survival.”
“I accept that.”
“The poorest should not have to give up buying their children clothes and being unable to afford insurance or send their children to good schools or universities to pay such a blatantly unfair tax!”
“I accept that.”
“The rich can and should pay more.”
“I accept that.”
“We’re not asking for no-one to pay tax.”
Robert stayed silent.
Helen sat back in her seat and studied this tall, dark young man. He had listened for so long she thought she had won him over. Right up until he had started flirting with her again: telling her he would vote for her even though he disagreed with what she had been telling him. She didn’t know whether to be insulted or complimented.
He was infuriatingly arrogant and sure of himself. She was tempted to storm out but that would imply she’d lost the argument. That the time spent with him had been wasted entirely.
Had it been a mistake to leave the group? They were having such trouble recruiting people to join the protests that when Robert offered to join them it seemed worth entertaining his offer for a coffee.
Robert Castle. The name seemed to sum him up completely. A tall rugged Scot. Thick black hair that he didn’t appear able to tame. He stooped a little as if embarrassed about his height. Something she knew a little about having shot up by almost a foot from ages 12 to 13.
His eyes were clear blue yet seemed to present a paradox. There was openness there but also a guardedness. In the way he acted, in what he said, he came across as completely open and honest. He was direct, almost threateningly so but she found it a relief to meet someone who simply got to the point with such clarity.
It wasn’t anything he had done or said that suggested the guardedness so why did she see that in his eyes? Eyes that right now were studying her.
He had been right not to agree with her statement. Some of the protestors were calling for an end to Government. They resented all taxes. She didn’t want to concede but…
“Well, I’m not asking for that.”
“I accept that.”
“You are infuriating!”
“Can I buy you lunch?” Robert asked.
“At least another coffee?”
“I don’t want your money.”
“I’m offering you lunch. No strings attached. Though I should tell you that I want to invite you out for dinner tomorrow night?”
“Why are you flirting with me?”
Robert became serious. “I find you to be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen or met. Intelligent, courageous, compassionate, well spoken, did I say passionate already? I plan to ask you to marry me.”
“I couldn’t possibly marry someone who would vote for the poll tax!”
“I would vote for a more just tax.”
“Or someone I had only just met.”
“Then allow me to court you.”
“Court! Hah!” Helen laughed. “You’re a dinosaur!”
“Rumbled. I also hold open the door for ladies and, well, I was going to say fight to protect their honour but I’ve never actually had to do that.”
“Have there been many ladies?”
“I’ve had three short relationships in the last two years. I confess I’m not a virgin.”
“I’m looking for something more substantial, more meaningful.”
“If you’re looking for a virgin bride then I’m not the one.”
“In my eyes you are perfect.”
“And I would have to insist on a vow of celibacy before any betrothal…”
“Consider myself chaste.”
“And how would you keep your hands off me?”
“With great difficulty…”
Helen leaned back. “Campaign with me this afternoon.”
Robert leaned forward. “Would you accept me standing next to you shouting for a fairer tax?”
“I could live with that.” Helen nodded.
“Then I accept your date.”
Helen leaned forward, a look of mock outrage on her face and he kissed her before she could react. Standing quickly he announced: “Two coffees!” Before walking to the counter.
The whole way he had to force himself to keep from turning back to check she had not run out the door.
Helen finally dragged him out of the cafe at a little after One PM and by the time the sun had set, Robert had shouted himself hoarse.
As he walked over the summit of Newton Hill, Robert Castle saw the stag. Six feet from hoof to ear and another two feet of antler towering above it. It was only forty yards or so away from him. Robert stopped and – carefully moving one arm behind his back – motioned to Helen to slow down.
The stag was magnificent; and staring right at him. Robert ran through his options: stay where he was, remain still and hope the stag didn’t see him as a threat; back-up slowly and hope the stag didn’t charge; run, and hope the stag didn’t chase.
They were not great options.
There were no trees nearby to run for. Around him in Glen Fyne, there was simply grass covering the ground. Even the small wood they had passed earlier was only of Scottish Fir. No use for climbing and with the branches of the trees all squeezed together there would have been no way to enter the woods anyway.
“What are you looking at?” Helen asked. “Whoa, look at that!”
“Be quiet.” Robert whispered.
“But it’s gorgeous! Have you taken a photo? No, of course not, too busy admiring it. Hold on.”
She dropped to one knee and began rustling around in her camera bag.
“What are you doing? If we scare him, he’ll charge us!”
“Nonsense.” Helen pulled out her Canon Digital SLR and began adjusting the camera settings.
“It’s not nonsense. We’re in his territory and if he charges us, I…”
“It.” She said emphasising the word. “Is not scared of us. You are obviously scared of it and, frankly my dear, that is far more likely to make it charge than if we simply relax, stand here and take a few photos.”
Unable to relax but knowing Helen was not going to be persuaded otherwise, Robert waited while Helen began snapping away. The stag remained still, obviously wary of them, but also unafraid. Its head was erect, its ears straight up and despite a gusting breeze, it remained motionless.
Watching us, watching you, Robert thought. Who is the master here?
“Oh look, there are more of them over on that side of the valley.” She waved over to her right.
Robert put a hand on her shoulder. “That’s enough waving. No matter what you think about relaxing, waving at a stag on his territory is not a wise move.”
Helen gave him an impish smile.
“Can we retreat now?” He asked.
Helen hoisted up her camera bag and turned round. Robert took hold of her arm and stepped backwards, keeping the stag in view. He made it three steps before tumbling to the ground. Beneath him, he felt the contents of his rucksack crush and winced at the thought of what damage he had caused.
“What are you doing walking backwards on a hillside?” Helen was now shaking her head and laughing. “The stag isn’t going to charge us, look.”
Robert lifted his head and they both saw the stag lower its head to point its antlers at them at the same time. Looking at Helen, he saw her face whiten. He hurriedly scrambled up off the ground, grabbed her arm and shouted: “RUN!”
He didn’t look back as they crested the small hill once more and set off down the other side. It had been a lovely walk up but running down, Robert struggled to keep his balance as the uneven ground pushed his feet off kilter.
“Are you okay?” Robert shouted at Helen.
“I can hear you fine.” She shouted back. “Do you think it’s stopped chasing us?”
Robert risked a glance back and saw the stag standing above them, his, no – it’s head and antlers raised high, proudly guarding it’s territory.
“Probably. But I don’t think we should stop just yet.”
“Can we at least slow down? If one of us breaks an ankle we are not going to be escaping anything.”
“Maybe I should leave you behind then…”
Helen wrestled her arm out of his grip and punched him. “It’ll be me leaving you behind in a minute.”
She slowed down and Robert carried on for an instant until he realised she wasn’t beside him. He stopped completely and turned only to see her racing by him.
“Who’s the tortoise now?” She yelled as she passed him.
Laughing, Robert ran after her. She was pulling ahead but he forced himself to go faster until he could almost touch her. A part of his mind warned him they were going too fast. If either of them fell, they could both end up breaking a leg or arm. He tapped her on the shoulder.
“You’re it.” He shouted and then slowed.
Helen glanced back and realised he was no longer there. She slowed too and once he was sure they were not going too fast, he grabbed her and wrestled her to the ground.
“Careful of the camera.” She yelled.
“I’ll buy you a new one.” Robert kissed her before she could say anything else.
Helen resisted the first three kisses but on the fourth her mouth softened and she kissed back. Before he could kiss her again, she pulled back and looked over his shoulder.
“It’s not still chasing us is it?”
“I don’t care anymore.” Robert kissed her again.
“I really need to put this camera away.”
“I said I’ll buy you a new one.”
“With my money?”
“I have money.”
“All your money is mine, remember.”
Robert attempted to unzip her jacket while distracting her with another kiss. Helen slapped his hand away and sat up.
“Not going to happen.”
Sighing dramatically, Robert sat up. “And here I was thinking we were on holiday.”
“I don’t know what kind of holiday you were thinking of.”
“One where we get to spend a bit of quality time together?”
“Quality time doesn’t always have to mean sex.”
“We didn’t have to have sex. Just a quick roll in the hay.”
After checking it wasn’t damaged, Helen put her camera in its bag. “On a hillside? In a popular walking area? You’ll be lucky.”
Grinning at her, Robert stood up. “That’s what I was hoping.” He gave her a last quick kiss which lengthened and then turned serious before pulling away to see her sigh.
“That’s more like it.” She said.
Robert pulled his map out of his coat pocket. “Where to now then? I hoped we could make it up Beinn Bhuidhe this afternoon.”
“After all that running about? I’ll be happy to head back to the B&B and have a bath.”
“That is tempting.”
“On my own!”
“Disappointing. Ah well.” Robert studied the map. Beinn Bhuidhe was the only Munro within walking distance. He had chosen to try a different route to the one in the guide book – heading up Newton Hill from Glenfyne Lodge. If they circled round though…
“Look at this.” He said, showing the map to Helen. “If we follow the treeline round we’ll reach the Allt na Faing waterfall which takes us on the traditional route up to Beinn Bhuidhe.”
“Is that really how you pronounce it?” Helen asked with a dead pan expression.
“I Googled it. We can basically circle past the stag and the other deer and still reach the Munro.”
Helen gave him one of her amused smiles. “How many of these Munros are you expecting me to climb this week?”
Robert blew out his cheeks. He had been hoping to bag a cluster of four slightly further North before they had to head back to Glasgow but it maybe wasn’t the best time to mention that.
“You know, we have done a lot of walking so far. How about you plan the itinerary the next couple of days?”
He saw her scrunch up her eyes and give him one of those searching looks she sometimes did when she wasn’t sure she believed him.
“And what would tear you away from your ambition, Robert Castle?”
“I’m simply acknowledging that this is as much your holiday as it is mine, Mrs Castle.”
“Speaking of castles…”
Robert smiled. Their ideas of what made a good holiday often diverged completely. The thought of spending a day, or even worse – a week, walking round old buildings filled him with despair. Yet Helen loved to explore museums and castles; abbeys and cathedrals, whenever they went to a new location.
“Well, I saw in the guide book that there’s a ruined castle on the peninsula… I wondered if we could drive out there later in the week.”
“Sounds like a plan. Would you like to go there tomorrow?”
He took her arm and they set off North, in the direction of Allt na Faing.
“I would like that, yes, and maybe after that we could take the ferry across to Mull and see Duart Castle. It even has dungeons…”
Robert looked up at a blue sky with large Cumulus clouds scudding across. He kept half an ear listening to Helen as they walked but allowed his mind to drift and himself to relax and simply enjoy the walk.
Robert looked to where Helen was pointing and saw someone walking towards them. The man waved at them so Robert waved back.
“Is that a gun he’s carrying?”
“Shotgun, yes. Must be a gamekeeper.”
“I thought this was public land.”
“It is. I think…”
Robert was suddenly unsure. There had been a deer fence around the wood but that was to protect the wood from the deer. They had followed the fence round until it had started to head down slope and were now following the contour around to the waterfall. “Must be looking after the deer.”
“With a shotgun? Maybe he’s a poacher…”
“Maybe. You want to ask him?”
They both quietened as the man approached.
“Good afternoon,” Robert called.
“You’ll need to leave the estate, sir. This is private land here.”
“I thought this was public land.”
“You’re mistaken. This is a private estate.”
The man stopped about six feet away. He was holding a double barrelled shotgun, pointed at the ground but Robert noted that the man’s right hand was gripping the stock just behind the trigger guard. His left hand holding the barrel down and away yet it would not take much for him to swing it round and adjust his right hand to the trigger. Triggers, Robert corrected as he focused on them.
Helen put a hand against Robert’s arm. “We’re just heading up Beinn Bhuidhe. We’re not lost are we?” She asked.
Robert saw her smile at the man but her smile was not returned.
“I’m sorry ma’am. You won’t be able to head up any further. Now, I’m asking you nicely, you head down to the waterfall and you can take the road off of the estate.”
“Don’t we have a, what is it, right to roam now?”
“That’s dependent on sticking to normal routes and responsible behaviour. I saw you both on the top of the hill. You can’t behave like that near deer.”
“We did nothing wrong. We chanced upon the deer, took some photos and then realised a stag was ready to charge us. What were we supposed to do? Stand still and let it gore us?”
Helen’s hand tightened around Robert’s arm.
“This isn’t up for discussion. Turn around and head back down the hill.”
“Is there another way we can get up Beinn Bhuidhe then?”
“I’m not aware of routes that don’t cross this estate, now I’m not asking you and I’d rather not have to tell you again. Turn around now. Head back down the valley.”
Robert fought down a desire to laugh at the ludicrousness of the situation.
“Perhaps you could show us on our map where the estate ends?” Helen asked.
“The estate ends at the main road.”
“Wouldn’t it take less time for us to leave the estate if we just climb Beinn Bhuidhe. How big is the estate anyway? We’ll avoid the deer and be off the estate faster.”
“There you go,” Robert gave Helen a grin. “Trust my wife to come up with a sensible solution.”
His grin faded quickly as the man raised his shotgun and pointed it towards them. “You are both trespassing. Turn around and head back down to the road.”
“Robert, I think we better just go.”
“Wait a minute, you can’t just threaten us like that! What’s your name?”
“I’ve asked you, told you and now I’m warning you, turn around.”
“Who owns this estate? Is it you? Someone else?”
“Robert! Let’s go.” Helen tugged at his arm.
Robert took a step backwards. He was simultaneously terrified and furious. “Who owns this land?” He asked one more time. The man simply stared back, his shotgun steady.
Robert turned and put his arm around Helen as they hurried away. “How dare he!”
“Let’s not talk until we’re away from him, please.”
He took one more look back and saw the man, gamekeeper or something else, standing watching them. His shotgun still pointed in their direction.
“But this is Scotland. There’s never been a law of trespass! I have a right to roam, don’t I?”
“It is not as simple as that, Mr Castle and never has been. There is very little public land in Scotland. Most of it is privately owned although most large estate owners allow access to popular tourist areas. There are recognised rights of way but no-one has the right to walk wherever they want.”
Robert turned and continued his pacing back and forth in front of the Station desk. He gave the Sergeant an angry glance. “Well, how am I supposed to know where I can and cannot walk? There were no signs. There was nothing to distinguish the hill from any other that I’ve walked up hundreds of times. We walked up a hill and were threatened with a gun. I would like to report that as a crime.”
The Sergeant calmly watched Robert and then turned to a filing cabinet and pulled out a form. He confirmed Robert’s name and began writing.
“Where did the incident happen?”
Robert pulled out his map and showed him. The Sergeant took a copy and then told him to draw the route they had taken.
“Okay, please tell me everything that was said when you were stopped by the man.”
Robert recounted the conversation, uncomfortably realising he was already unsure exactly what had been said.
The Sergeant wrote everything down without comment but when Robert finished he stood for a moment, tapping his pen on the counter.
“The land you were on is private property. Based on what you’ve said a man who may or may not be the landowner asked you several times to leave private land. When you refused, he told you to leave and then ultimately threatened you with a shotgun.”
“Why did he ask you to leave the estate?”
“He seemed to think we were threatening the deer. It was ridiculous.”
The Sergeant started writing again.
“Wait, he didn’t give us a chance to explain. There was a stag at the top of Newton Hill. We took some photos but then I fell and it looked as if it was going to charge at us so we ran. That’s all that happened.”
“I see. I’m going to ask you to come and take a seat in the interview room while I call the estate owner.”
Lifting the counter, the Sergeant waved Robert through and then directed him into a small room with a desk and four chairs.
“Just wait here.”
Robert watched the door close and suddenly felt claustrophobic. The Sergeant was gone fifteen minutes by which time Robert regretted not taking a newspaper or book to read.
“Well?” Robert asked, standing as the Sergeant came back in the room.
“Please sit down.”
The Sergeant waited until Robert had taken his seat before sitting across from him.
“The estate owner has agreed not to press charges against you.”
“I’m making a complaint against him, what right has he to press charges against me?”
“His estate manager observed you and your wife and became concerned about your behaviour. Despite asking you to leave the estate several times, you refused and became argumentative.”
“Because we had done nothing wrong!”
“Mr Castle, SOAC was introduced to make it clear that both land owners and visitors to the country have rights and responsibilities. From what you have said and the estate manager has confirmed, it was reasonable for him to demand you leave the estate. If you are given a reasonable request to leave private land then you have a responsibility to honour that request.”
“You’re saying he had a right to threaten me and my wife with a gun?”
“The estate manager felt he had no choice but to defend himself.”
“Defend himself? Against what? Do I look dangerous to you!”
“Please, lower your voice, Mr Castle.”
“This isn’t right.”
“You mentioned ‘Right to Roam’ earlier. There has never been a right to roam in Scotland. I strongly advise you to read through the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know what you meant, Mr Castle. How would you feel if someone walked into your garden or home and refused to leave?”
“That’s not the same.”
The Sergeant looked as if he was going to respond then stopped himself.
“I also advise you to avoid returning to the estate. What are your plans for the rest of your stay?”
“We’ll stay away. Can I get the incident number before I go?”
The B&B was set back from the main road: an old converted farmhouse that must have once belonged to a wealthy farmer. Two stories tall and with enough rooms to have held several generations of farmers at the same time. It was painted in the same white as all the houses in Inveraray even though it stood alone in its own grounds.
Leaving the police station, Robert had sat in his car for several minutes before driving off. His initial anger at being threatened had turned to frustration at the police Sergeant’s reaction. Robert had a sense that there was something intrinsically wrong with what had happened in Glen Fyne but other than the threat of violence, he couldn’t identify what was disturbing him.
Arriving at the B&B he parked the car in the farmhouse’s vast courtyard alongside several other cars. The B&B was full as was almost every other in this small town. The good weather had seemingly brought people out to the countryside in their hundreds.
Robert had expected to meet more people earlier in the day when they attempted their walk along Glen Fyne but perhaps others had been warned to stay away. He would have to ask the B&B owner if she knew.
Letting himself in, Robert walked along the hallway, leading into the back of the house and then took the stairs up to their room. It wasn’t en-suite – they had to share a shower room and bathroom with other guests on their floor. Not ideal but since it had been the first booking available in Inveraray for these dates, they had booked it rather than spend any more hours phoning round other locations.
He paused by their room door, knocked and called through: “Only me.”
Opening the door he saw Helen sitting up on the bed, a mostly empty glass of red wine in her hand. She turned her head slowly to look at him.
“How much have you had.” He whispered after he had closed the door.
“This is my first glass.”
“Cheap date.” He replied with a smile.
“Did you make your complaint?” She asked.
Robert took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then went and poured himself a glass of the wine. “You want a top up?”
Helen shook her head. “No, I could fall asleep right now.”
“We haven’t had our dinner yet.”
She gave him a half smile and he realised she had been crying. “Helen…”
He put down his glass and sat down beside her. Putting an arm around her he gently took her glass and placed it on the bedside cabinet. “It’s all right, nothing happened. We’re safe.”
“I know, but he pointed that gun at us. I keep seeing it. Then we turned away and I thought he was going to shoot us in the back.”
Robert handed her a tissue and she dabbed her face. He thought back to their walk returning to the car and then the drive home. He had talked almost the whole way about the injustice of it, the cheek, the bloody-mindedness of the estate manager. Helen had responded, he thought, but only to what he had been saying. He hadn’t once asked her how she felt, what she was thinking.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve asked you how you were.”
“I was so scared. I thought you were going to do something stupid. Fight him, try and take the gun off him. I thought…” Helen began sobbing.
Pulling her close, Robert held her until she calmed.
“Do you want me to see if I can get some food taken up for you?”
“Okay. I’ll be back soon.”
Helen felt a lone tear fall down her cheek. She abruptly wiped it away. This wasn’t like her. She wasn’t someone who fell apart, who got hysterical.
She held out a hand. It was no longer trembling. Helen tried to remember if she had ever lost it so completely… Then stopped herself. She was going to get over this. She picked up the wine glass and took a tiny sip.
Normally Robert went off and climbed his Munro’s on his own. They holidayed together visiting places where she could enjoy architecture and art while Robert could rest, reading, enjoying the local coffee or laze on a beach.
For several years they had travelled to Europe. Time spent in Prague, Barcelona and Venice had been amazing. Then the recession hit and while they still travelled, they stayed in the UK, exploring cathedral cities and countryside. But always South of the border.
It just had seemed right to try a week in Scotland. Try climbing together. See some of Scotland’s heritage. Helen couldn’t believe she had never driven North of Loch Lomond.
They were only two days into this holiday and had planned a whole week. She wasn’t going to let this one dismal day ruin the rest of her time.
She set the wine glass back down on the cabinet. It hadn’t helped relax her. Numb wasn’t relaxed, it was dead. She didn’t want to feel dead.
Helen curled up on the bed and pulled the comforter over her. Another tear fell to the sheet below.
Robert found Mrs Jackson in her kitchen. There was a scent of herbs and lamb along the corridor and a large pot of stew bubbling on the gas stove.
“Ah, there you are, Mr Castle. We’ll be serving dinner in ten minutes.”
He smiled at her. “I was wanting to ask, we had a, uh, fright while we were walking and Helen was quite upset by it. Would there be any chance I could take some food up to the room for her?”
“A fright? What kind of a fright?”
“Well, we went up Glen Fyne this morning, heading up Beinn Bhuidhe, but we detoured a bit and got stopped by the estate manager. He refused to let us past and threatened us with a shotgun.”
“The estate manager? You say you detoured, where were you stopped?”
“Near Newton Hill, up from Glenfyne Lodge.”
“I don’t know Glen Fyne very well. It’s not a popular walking route. Most people tend to stop at the Oyster Bar or the Brewery. It seems strange that you would have been stopped though. Did the estate manager say why?”
Robert thought back to his experience at the police station.
“He believed we were behaving inappropriately near a herd of deer.”
Mrs Jackson tilted her head and frowned at this.
“No. Of course not. We reached the top of Newton Hill and a stag was there – a magnificent creature. We took some photos but when we went to leave I, uh, tripped and it looked like it was going to charge so we ran. The estate manager must have seen us but…”
Straightening, Mrs Jackson weighed up what he had said.
“This isn’t the city, Mr Castle. Landowners have a responsibility to protect the deer on their land. Visitors also have a responsibility. You can’t blame someone for doing their job.”
“But threaten us with a gun? That can’t be right?”
Mrs Jackson turned away to stir the stew. “I can understand why your wife would be upset by that. You can always report it to the police if you feel it necessary.”
“What did they say?”
Robert was beginning to get irritated by all the questions. It felt like he was back at the police station.
“They sided with the estate manager.”
Admitting to himself that Mrs Jackson had more sympathy for the estate manager herself than with them, Robert decided it was time to leave. He was about to turn away when Mrs Jackson started speaking again.
“If I remember correctly, the Ardkinglas estate used to be over twenty thousand acres. I don’t know if you were walking on that estate or not but large plots of land have been sold off over the years making dozens of mini estates. It is quite possible you were on one of the smaller estates. They often get sold off with sporting rights in which case the estate manager may have been trying to ensure you didn’t scare the deer away.”
“Why wouldn’t he have said that?”
“I’m not the person you should be asking.”
She turned back to the stove and spoke over her shoulder. “I’ll put food on two trays. You can pick them up in ten minutes.”
Robert thanked her and headed out of the kitchen. As he walked down the corridor he thought he heard her saying to herself. “Our land no longer.”
“I can collect our dinner in a few minutes.” Robert said as he closed their room door behind him.
Helen didn’t respond and he walked over to her side of the bed and knelt by her.
She made a slight sound.
“Do you want to eat?”
“Not hungry.” She answered. Her eyes hadn’t opened.
Robert looked round and found a rug on a shelf. After placing it carefully over her, he stood for a moment looking down. Her breathing was relaxed. He brushed some hairs away from her face and then left. They’d only need one plate after all.
She woke first, suddenly, which was unusual for her even when the alarm was blaring. Beside her Robert was still, his breathing slow. She turned on her back and stared at the coving which surrounded the old high ceiling. A sign of wealth when the house had been built. All those extra stones laid for no purpose other than to show how much the family had been worth. Much like their own house.
She thought back to the previous day on the hillside and shivered. Had she ever been that scared? Even her work with the homeless had never left her feeling so wiped out. Drugged up or drunk men and women who threatened violence had just become situations to handle. Not a normal part of the work but not unusual.
Yesterday she had for the first time in her life believed Robert was going to get himself killed. She had been afraid for herself but was utterly convinced that if he did not stop pushing that man he would have been shot.
She reached out a hand and felt him move. She didn’t want to wake him but wanted to hold him. To be held.
Robert turned to face her, a puzzled look on his face. “What time is it?” He asked.
He searched her eyes and then leaned back, drawing her onto him, his arms secure around her. She buried her face in his chest and allowed her eyes to fill up as the emotions she had felt the previous day rose up again.
Robert seemed to know not to ask. He just held her.
After some time her thoughts began to order themselves. She had been enjoying their holiday up till then. She determined there and then that the previous day’s event was not going to ruin their week away. Even if Robert wanted to climb another of those monotonous Munro’s… No, maybe not that but they were going to enjoy the rest of their time.
She pulled away and looked up at Robert. “Didn’t you say we could visit a castle today?”
He smiled. “You have one right here…”
She gave him a friendly punch.
“I may have mentioned it.”
She sat up and wiped her eyes. “Promise me you won’t go picking a fight with any of the locals.”
He seemed to examine her for a minute, his eyes searching hers. He just nodded in response.
Helen extracted herself from the bed and made for the bathroom. Turning, she looked at Robert.
“Do you think we can put yesterday behind us?”
Robert sat up and ran his hand through his hair. “I want to see a solicitor when we get back.”
She considered this and decided it wasn’t worth arguing over. “Can we at least not talk about it the rest of the holiday?”
She could see that he didn’t want to agree to it but he nodded. “Of course.”
“Do you think we can be ready in half an hour?”
Robert picked up his watch and checked the time. “It’s not even Six. Breakfast isn’t served until Seven.”
“We can find a cafe on the way.”
He raised his eyebrows. “This isn’t Glasgow…”
“I’m sure you’ll find somewhere…”
He didn’t look convinced but his eyes took on a distant look and she knew he was working through options. She closed the bathroom door and studied herself in the mirror. She didn’t wear makeup so there had been no mascara to run. After a quick shower it wouldn’t look as if she’d been crying.
She closed her eyes and saw the shotgun pointed at them. She forced herself to examine the scene, to accept it but also to reject it. She was not going to be controlled by fear.
Kildrein Castle was a castle no more – just a collection of old walls with a couple of stone staircases you could walk up to get a higher view of the surrounding countryside. Robert had separated from Helen and was walking around by himself, trying not to think about the previous day.
Hunger was not much of a distraction. He’d driven through Lochgilphead only to find everywhere they might have liked to eat had been closed. They’d stopped at a garage and bought day old sandwiches, snacks and expensive coffee all of which had helped but it hadn’t been the same as a full Scottish.
There were a couple of nice cafes and a decent pub on the peninsula and he intended to make up for it at lunch.
The ruins of the castle sat in a grassy field, surrounded by a dry stone wall. Robert estimated the field was less than an acre in size. Once, when considering buying a plot of land, he had paced out an acre – to get an idea of the size of land he might be buying. It was larger than he had thought.
In the end he had procrastinated over investing the £50,000 being asked. It would have involved liquidating all his investments and taking out a £30,000 loan. He could possibly have persuaded Helen to agree to it – after all it had been in a lovely village on the East coast of Scotland. Not far from St Andrews. Very posh. He found himself smiling at the thought of them both – Glasgow East-enders – living among the pseudo-rich Edinburgh commuters.
That had been what, ten years ago and of course, there had been other considerations. That took his smile away. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to shut out the memory, then felt a hand on his shoulder.
Turning and blinking, he saw an older gentleman smiling at him.
“Everything alright, sir?”
“Yes, yes, trying to get into the spirit of vacation.”
“Not always easy.” The man removed his hand and offered it to Robert. “Angus Donaldson – retiree.” He winked.
Shaking the man’s hand, Robert introduced himself. “Are you holidaying here as well?”
“Good heavens, no. I just live down the road – in Tayvallich. But I walk up here a few times a week, when the weather permits, and enjoy the quietness. At least until the tourists arrive…” He gave another wink.
“I’m here with my wife.” Robert looked around and saw her taking a close up photo of one of the castle walls. “That’s her. Keen photographer.”
“Not something I have any skill for, I confess.”
“Nor me. I just enjoy looking at the results. Have you always lived here?”
Donaldson nodded forwards in invitation and began a gentle stroll. “Yes. All my life.”
“I often wonder what it would be like to move out of the city, out to the country. But then I think I would miss all the amenities. Do you mind my asking what you do? Or perhaps did, before you retired?”
“Certainly. You might say I was a man of the land.” He gave Robert another of his winks.
Robert stopped. “A farmer?”
Donaldson realised Robert was no longer beside him and turned back. “No, no.” He gave a self-deprecating smile. “I own the estate. This castle in fact – at least, what’s left of it.” He gestured expansively at the old ruins.
“You own this?” Robert felt himself tense but forced himself to relax.
“Indeed. The castle; the land around Tayvallich; in fact, most of the peninsula.”
Robert tried to visualise the shape and size of the peninsula from the map they had looked at while driving here. “You own the peninsula?”
“Most of it. There are a lot of small plots which have been sold off to tenants over the last hundred years or so. It’s really not that large an estate. Only just over five thousand acres now. But I do have my castle.”
There was another little wink and Robert realised how irritating he was beginning to find the man’s habit.
“Do you allow people access to the land?” Robert found himself asking.
Donaldson looked confused by the question.
“To walk on. Do you allow people to walk around the estate?”
“Well, of course.” He smiled. “I’m not holding a gun on you now, am I?”
Robert didn’t return the smile and slowly Donaldson’s faded.
“Is there something wrong?”
“My wife and I were threatened by a…” Robert was going to say gamekeeper but stopped himself. “An estate manager. Yesterday. He pointed his shotgun at us and demanded we get off his estate.”
Donaldson blew out his cheeks. “Where was this?”
“On the slopes of Beinn Bhuidhe. Near Newton Hill.”
“Glen Fyne… That estate isn’t what it used to be. Large areas sold off over the years to pay off various debts. Belonged to the Campbell’s originally and has had a few owners since. I believe the City of Glasgow purchased a large portion around Lochgoilhead. All public land now. But Glen Fyne? I haven’t kept up with all the minutiae: parcels of land sold off all over the Glen.”
“So I’ve heard. Is it common for estate owners to threaten people who are on their land?”
“Well, not without reason.”
Helen put her arm through his and gave him a gentle nudge in the ribs.
“Robert! You must introduce me.”
Distracted, Robert turned to see his wife smiling at Donaldson.
“This is the most beautiful castle.” She said.
“Uh, Angus Donaldson, this is my wife, Helen.”
Helen held out her hand and Donaldson took it, placing his left hand over hers.
“Delighted to meet you, Helen. I’m glad you like my castle.”
“Your castle? You own this? It must have been magnificent in its day.”
“I’ve heard it was. Unfortunately burnt down in the late eighteen hundreds. I might be living here today if not for that.”
“Imagine that Robert, owning your own castle? Well, it is very kind of you to allow us to view it.”
“I would be happy to give you a tour.”
“That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it, Robert.” She gave him a look which did not quite match the wide smile on her face.
Helen wrinkled her nose in disgust at that little jab but offered her arm to Donaldson and he led her towards the Northern staircase, Robert following behind.
Robert opened his eyes and looked at his alarm clock: 06:07. He felt wide awake. For the first time since they had been stopped by the estate manager, he had slept the whole night. Maybe just being back in their own bed had helped.
He checked Helen but she was fast asleep. He lay there for a couple of minutes but it only allowed his train of thought to solidify and without conscious thought, he was sitting up and then trying to silently dress before heading downstairs.
The laptop whirred into life when he lifted the lid. He entered his password and stared at the screen while programs loaded. He was going to have to clear out some of the junk that was slowing it down. He opened Firefox and brought up the Google search page. Then began typing: trespass law in Scotland.
He tried a few of the top returned links and then went back to the search page and changed the search terms: right to roam Scotland.
His back was stiff from being hunched over his laptop. Robert arched his back, leaning left and right and moving his shoulders up and down. He had intended to get his head round the thoughts that were troubling him. Try and organise them; find some order in the chaos but every strand he pursued opened up new leads and the evidence was everywhere. Everywhere and yet raising more questions than it answered.
Robert adjusted his laptop and loaded up a new document. Pausing before he started to type, Robert looked over at his Kindle. He had bought and downloaded one book this morning but had only skimmed the first couple of chapters. Still, it highlighted one of his concerns. He began to type:
Who owns Scotland?
Carriage return, new line. What else, he thought.
Do we have democracy?
What do people want?
To live in peace, he mentally answered himself. To get on with it. To be able to work… He started a new line.
Why are there not enough jobs?
Why are there so many people on benefits?
Why is our country in so much debt?
Why can’t we stop our Government spending so much?
Why do we let our Government get away with so much?
Robert stabbed at the enter key at the end of that line. MP’s expenses; detention without trial; forcing through legislation that no-one voted for in spite of public protests. It was almost like Britain was becoming a dictatorship.
He took a deep breath and blew it out. So many problems. So many wrongs. The SNP claimed they were giving Scotland independence but all it would do is grant the MSPs themselves more power. As far as Robert could see, the Scottish people would gain nothing and that was why he’d joined the No campaign. But it wouldn’t matter if they won their campaign against independence. Nothing was going to change.
He stood up, then sat down. There was an idea. Almost formed but he’d lost it. Robert shook his head. If it was worth considering it would appear again.
He had sent several web pages to the printer already. He clicked save on the document he had started and sent that to print as well, then got up and put on the kettle.
He stood at the kitchen window as he waited. A dozen thoughts were fighting for space in his head. He’d only scratched the surface but was now aware of a history of Scotland that had never been taught to him in school.
He focused on the garden. It was just grass with paving where they held barbeques; some lawn furniture and a couple of fruit trees. He had never had any interest in gardening, except, that wasn’t completely true, was it?
Walking through to the sitting room, Robert studied their book shelf and found a thick hardback he’d purchased several years before. He’d bought it on the back of reading an article which suggested it was possible to provide vegetables all year round from just nine square metres of ground. The book gave a suggested plan for dividing the area into smaller raised beds.
He’d even bought a garden fork and spade only to gradually forget about the book as rain had blighted several successive weekends.
The kettle finished boiling and clicked off. Robert glanced at it then looked back at the garden. Then up at the sky. It was blue.
One hour later Robert leaned back and stretched, hoping the pain in his back would ease. He looked at the tiny plot he’d manage to dig, not even a square metre. It couldn’t really take that long to dig up a garden, could it?
He liked to think of himself as fit but obviously running didn’t do anything for the muscles he’d been using for the last hour.
The big question he’d had when he’d bought the book was whether providing ‘enough vegetables all year round’ was only supposed to be a supplement or whether nine square metres could actually provide all your vegetables for the entire year.
It didn’t seem possible but then again, in centuries past in Scotland people had subsisted on less land without the techniques and technologies available today. If it was possible to grow enough vegetables to feed your family on such a small plot of land then if every family in Scotland did so, the cost savings would be immense.
Maybe it was only possible if you had a back reinforced with iron.
He’d spent a full hour digging and redigging one square metre. The results looked like what he thought a plot ready for vegetables should look like but had he gone about it the wrong way?
He now had a pile of muddy grass clods and weeds. Would he be better roughly digging the whole plot once over and then leaving the sun, wind and rain to break up the clods before he redug it over? He decided to give it a go.
Helen woke an hour later and padded downstairs to make some tea. She found Robert’s laptop on the kitchen table next to some papers but no Robert.
She walked over to the kettle and lifted it. It had water in. She switched it on and looked up, out the window. Her hand went involuntarily to her mouth. He’s flipped, she thought. Finally lost it.
A few minutes later she carried out two mugs into the garden.
“Oh, you’re a life saver!” Robert went to kiss her but she shied away.
“Have you seen yourself?” She took in his mud smeared face, hair glistening with sweat. “What are you doing?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“That you’ve lost your mind? Maybe. You’ve never shown an interest in the garden before.”
“I had an inspiration.”
Helen handed him his mug. “What time did you get up?”
“You’ve been in the garden since Six?”
“I did some research first.”
“Should I ask what on?”
“Probably best not.”
“Just call the solicitor tomorrow. He’ll know if there’s anything you can do. You remembering it’s Sunday?”
“Mmm.” Robert looked at her, then frowned. “Church. Better get some breakfast.”
Helen surveyed the small patch of half dug soil. “How many bodies did you bury?”
“Ha, ha.” Robert deadpanned. “I’m going to grow some vegetables.”
“I see.” Helen sighed. One downside to marrying an ambitious, motivated man was the countless projects he managed to dream up. A few petered out but all of them took up time and energy. Well, life was never dull.
“I’ll see you inside.” She left him drinking his coffee and went to make breakfast.
“Should Scotland be an independent country?” Robert dropped his newspaper next to his empty plate on the kitchen table.
“It’s better than the original. Less of a leading question.” Helen smiled as Robert grimaced.
“Shouldn’t be asking the question in the first place. Waste of time and money.”
“Is that a hint that you’re regretting signing up to campaign for the No party?”
Robert leant forward and slowly banged his head on the table. “Why didn’t we stay away on holiday for another week?” He said in a muffled voice.
“Bills to pay, jobs to go to, No party to attend…”
“I wish you wouldn’t call them that.” Sitting up, he stretched then stood. “One of these days I’m going to end up shouting it out and that’ll be the end of my political career.”
“You couldn’t make it in politics, you’d end up punching someone and getting arrested.”
“Getting a medal possibly. Depends who was on the receiving end…” Robert yawned. “Can’t believe we’re back at work tomorrow. You all set?”
“Yes. What time should I prepare dinner for?”
“I’m not sure I’ll be back for dinner. If the solicitor’s available I’ll just go and see him and will need to work late to make up the time.”
“Can’t you just take some longer lunch breaks?”
“Current manager is rather rigid when it comes to flexibility. I suspect he’ll complain that I’m daring to book an appointment during working hours. Then I was thinking I’ll just head straight to the Stronger United meeting.”
“See you next weekend then…”
“I’m not doing anything Wednesday evening.”
“I’ve got that night out with my friends.”
“Ah. Next weekend then.”
Helen held out her hand and Robert took it.
“Oh well…” Robert sighed. “At least I’m not going to the Big IF this weekend.”
Helen gazed calmly at him. “Sure you still want to go? You could always drop out.”
“I can’t… Well, I could.” He held her gaze. “I’m going to go. If I don’t do something…”
“Hmm. You do enough.”
“Not nearly enough. I saw a post on Facebook last week. This guy sitting next to Jesus. He asks: Why do you allow all the hunger and violence and abuse to exist in the world. Jesus responds: Funny, I was just about to ask you that.”
Helen gave a sad smile. “I guess that sums it up.”
Robert swiped his pass on the RFID scanner and slowed, listening for the approving beep. The range of RFID appeared to be appalling though he had once read they should be able to pick up a signal from metres away. Maybe that had adverse security implications he wondered, ignoring the lifts and heading for the stairs at the back of the lobby.
He had been working in this particular company for almost four months and was already beginning to wonder if his six month contract would have to be extended. Something he would have to discuss with Jim – his manager – that morning.
Placing his rucksack – with laptop – carefully on his desk, Robert greeted April and Ken, both of whom were always there before him no matter how early he turned up; and rarely seemed to leave. He was thankful this company had chosen to give him a semi-permanent desk. Hot desking in an environment where people worked flexible hours was always a disaster: he frequently picked an empty desk only to be asked to move once the owner turned up.
He logged into the company’s network – on their computer, while waiting for his own to boot up. It didn’t take long for him to forget he had been on holiday the previous fortnight and bring himself up to speed with email discussions about the project. His suspicion that he would need to discuss the project goals with Jim confirmed, Robert sent a meeting invitation and then began reviewing the project plan.
“Do you want the project completed in the next two months?”
“Only if you can’t deliver it in the next one.” Jim looked amused.
“I absolutely could complete the project in the next one month.” Robert slid over his project plan. “Just tell me which components you want me to cut.”
Jim sat back in his chair. “What’s the problem, Robert?”
“The system is growing arms and legs. I don’t have a problem with changing the scope of the project, the specification or designs but I need you to be aware of the requests I’m getting and the implications of my acting on them.”
“What sort of requests?”
“The usual kind. I see this all the time. Because I go and speak with the business, I make them aware of possibilities. I was speaking with Peter before I went on holiday to clarify what reports his team would need from the system and while I’ve been away he’s sent me a dozen emails asking if the system can integrate with a spreadsheet his team uses; if they can use the system to track what his team does; and even if the system can produce a rota for them.”
“A rota? What has that got to do with…”
“Nothing.” Robert shook his head, smiling to ease a tension that he sensed was building up in the room. “It is normal though. We want these teams to feel they have ownership of the new system. We want to show them this can improve the situation but the flip side is that once they start to own it, they also, quite rightly, want to direct what it does. They start to see other ways it can be used to simplify their workload, automate processes. Ways you and I never considered.”
“So are you saying we should take on board what is being asked for?”
“Absolutely not. No. I made it clear when you hired me that I aim to be flexible but that you are my key stakeholder. You are the one investing in this project and you have the ultimate say in what is delivered. I need you to look at what is being asked for, look at the impact I think it will have on development time and decide whether the additions are more important to you, to the business as a whole than some of the original plans.
“I can complete the original project as agreed by the original deadline. Or I can complete a revised project by the original deadline. Or, and this is at your discretion, you can accept some or all of the additional requests and we can extend the project deadline. I would always recommend that if you choose the third option that you get a funding commitment from the requesting teams. I find being asked to pay for their requests has a way of clarifying what they are really interested in.”
Robert tapped the project plan. “I’ve added in all the new requests and placed them on the plan as lowest priority. I’ve estimated how long I think they will take to complete. Currently this adds another two months to the plan.”
“I see.” Jim looked away towards the glass wall, staring out into the open plan office. “You know, I had a feeling when I hired you that you’d turn out like every contractor I’ve ever met. Only interested in extending your contract as long as possible.”
Suddenly very conscious of his body language, Robert sat up straight. “If you would like me to deliver the original requirements by the original deadline I will do that.”
“Did you suggest to Peter what you could do for him?”
“He asked me if the system could help with several issues his team is having. I told him there may be scope to help and that he should discuss these issues with you. Did he do that?”
“He hasn’t said a word.”
“I’ll forward on his emails.” Robert waited for a response but Jim seemed to be waiting for him. “How would you like me to proceed?”
Jim pulled the project plan towards him without looking at it and folded the A3 sheet in half. “Leave it with me.” He said.
“There’s one more thing.” Robert told him.
Jim narrowed his eyes.
“I’ve arranged an appointment with my solicitor for an hour this afternoon. I’ll work late tonight to make up the time.”
Jim took a sharp breath. Robert waited, wondering if he was about to witness an outburst but Jim just grunted in acknowledgement.
Robert stood. “Thank you for your time.” He walked out, wondering what had just happened.
“I hate style sheets!” Helen glared at her computer monitor, then realised her boss was staring at her. “Sorry.” She said, turning to him.
Stephen Alwyn raised his eyebrows. “Cup of tea?”
They got up, walked two metres over to the office tea trolley and Stephen filled the kettle from the sink. He asked Sylvia if she wanted a cup too and the sole three employees of Glasgow Homeless Shelter stood round waiting for it to boil.
“Problems with the website?” Stephen asked.
“Style sheets were supposed to make websites easier to manage but even after six years of working with them I still get confused. I really need to properly document everything but never seem to find the time. I’m not a coder, never wanted to be one. Give me a poster to design and I’ll be in my element but this…”
“The website’s really good though.” Sylvia said.
“Thanks, but it needs constant updating or it will start to look out of date. If I knew more about server side scripts… Sorry.” Helen saw Stephen rolling his eyes and Sylvia start to lose focus. “If I could figure out a way to build a template maybe I could cut down on a lot of the work.”
“Could we hire someone in?” Stephen asked.
Helen shook her head. “We don’t have the budget. Even a junior contractor would clean us out and I doubt a junior contractor would have the knowledge to create the sort of system we need.”
“Could Robert…” Stephen began to ask but tailed off.
“It’s not his area. Databases sure. If this was an application, definitely but he never went down the web route. No, I just need to get my head together and figure it out.”
“Mr Castle, take a seat.” Mr Armstrong gestured to a chair in front of his desk and walked round to his own. “Now, how can I help you?”
“There are a couple of things I wanted to ask your advice on.” Robert opened a leather folder he had brought with him containing his notes. “Helen and I were walking in Argyll last week. We were accused of trespassing by someone I believe was an estate manager and then he pointed a shotgun at us and demanded we leave the property immediately.”
Armstrong pulled a yellow legal pad in front of him and began making neat notes. “Had you climbed over a wall or fence?”
“No. We parked the car on the main road, on the grass verge. Got out and started walking up the valley.”
“Oh yes. A lovely area.”
“It is. We, well, I wanted to climb some of the Munros around the valley and we started up one slope towards Beinn Bhuidhe, but we ran into a stag and surprised it and ended up retreating back down.”
The solicitor smiled. “Surprised a stag? Did it chase you?”
“Well, it lowered its antlers and we didn’t look back once we started running.”
“I see. Go on.”
Robert wondered how the man could write so quickly and yet produce neat notes. “We tried another route up Beinn Bhuidhe and were maybe a third of the way up the slope when we saw a man approach.” Robert described the encounter, checking his own notes of the incident as he spoke.
When Robert finished, Armstrong sat back and studied him. “And you came to see me because?”
“Because we were threatened. By a man with a gun. I can see no justifiable reason why he would have needed to point a shotgun at us. We didn’t threaten him in any way. We would have left, I just wanted to find out why we had to leave and who it was that owned the land.”
“You said you reported this to the police. What was their response?”
“They almost charged me. They called the estate owner who accused us of behaving irresponsibly. They advised me to stay away from the estate.”
“Do you feel the police should have responded differently?”
“He pointed a gun at me. I thought that was illegal.”
Armstrong shook his head. “I’m no expert in criminal law but I’ve had some dealings with trespass in the past. There are differences even between the rights of a home owner and a land owner in this regard. A home owner may defend him or herself, with a licensed firearm if they own one. But it is still possible to be arrested for pointing a gun at someone, even if you are in your own home.
“If you are on private land however, land which you own or – in the case of an estate manager – you are responsible for, it is not considered by law to be unacceptable to enforce your rights with a firearm.”
“But how were we to know that was private land?”
“That is a good question. If there were no fences; no walls, then you had no way of knowing you were trespassing. It would have been polite to ask you to leave. Sensible to have answered a few questions, to explain why you were not allowed there. But, and this is where the law is very clear – once you were asked to leave, and you refused to do so, the land owner is allowed to use reasonable force to evict you.”
“Even shooting us?”
“He did not actually shoot, did he?”
“Pointing a gun can be considered reasonable force. A warning if you like. Not nice to be on the receiving end but better than being shot without warning.”
“Is there anything we can do?”
“In my opinion – you did the right thing in asking the questions. However, you had no right to the answers. Unfortunate but true. You also did the right thing in informing the police – but no crime had actually been committed. However, if you have been accused of behaving irresponsibly on private land then without proof that you were not, it is simply their word against yours. You may have been fortunate to get away with a warning. If the estate owner had decided to press charges it could have been very costly even if you managed a successful defence. I’m sorry, but I would not advise taking this further.”
Back in the office, Robert found another email from Peter waiting for him. He forwarded it onto Jim after a quick read. It was a typical email and Robert wondered briefly if Jim felt threatened by Peter.
Peter managed several teams himself, all of whom used the system Jim had brought him in to modify. He had been part of the original working group that had agreed the specification but having read through some of the minutes, Peter had wanted to go further than the agreed plan. The proposals he had made all were backed up by analysis into cost savings that would result. Even head count reduction in his own teams which was not something Robert usually found managers willing to consider. Usually managers protected their own territory fiercely, suspecting – probably correctly – that any head count reduction was likely to result in them losing a degree of power or income.
He had forwarded Peter’s email on as he’d told Jim he’d do but Robert thought he would need to speak to Peter directly rather than just writing back. He picked up the phone.
“Thanks for seeing me this afternoon.” Robert pulled a chair over to Peter’s desk and sat down, conscious they were in a large open plan office with Peter’s teams surrounding them. He lowered his voice. “I met with Jim this morning. He made it clear to me that he wants the project to stay on target to complete in two months.”
“And no diversions from the plan…?”
“He said he would look over the additional proposals but I got the impression the goal is fixed.”
“I’ve been trying to set up a meeting with him for a couple of weeks now but his calendar is permanently full and he won’t pick up my calls or respond to my emails.”
“Have you tried seeing him in person?”
“Walked down to his desk a couple of times but he wasn’t there.”
Robert spread his hands apologetically. “I think your proposals are worth tackling but ultimately I’ve been employed by Jim and he, how do I put this… He expressed concern at the idea of changing the project specifications.”
“I’ve heard his attitude described in more colourful terms. Well, thanks for trying. Maybe we’ll have to get you back after your current project ends.”
Robert stood. “I’d be glad to work with you. You have my estimates and business plan? If you need me to put together a revised estimate based on a standalone project I can provide that in my own time.”
Pulling up outside the community centre, Robert noted the four cars already there. The usual suspects: Colin; Martha; Abed; and June. It was likely Allan was also there having only had to walk across the street.
This was confirmation their holiday was well and truly over. No more castles to walk round, no more hill walking, back to work this morning and now: Monday evening and the weekly meeting of the ‘Stronger United’ campaign. The No Party as Helen had taken to calling them.
She had joined him once, on the first meeting. Smiled, nodded, left afterwards and once safely out of range had vowed never to return. “I volunteer at the Shelter twice a week and if I had time I’d be there a third night. One minute spent there is more useful than that entire pompous disgrace of a campaign!”
He had almost stayed away himself but before the week was out he had found himself wrestling with the conviction that if he did nothing to prevent the attempt to dissolve the Union, he would never be able to live with himself. Certainly he wondered if he would find himself unable to stay in Scotland and that was something he couldn’t bear to contemplate.
Robert shook his head and walked through the door.
“Robert! Good to see you back.” Colin was hovering near the entrance and immediately offered his hand.
Greeting Colin, Robert wondered if he was there to welcome strangers or turn them away. “I was only away a fortnight.”
“A lot can change in two weeks!”
“Well, no. But it could.”
Robert smiled and clapped Colin on the shoulder before making his way to the main room. Seven chairs were pulled round a large table. Allan was there as were Abed, June and Martha. He said hello and sat down.
“First order of business.” June said. “How was your holiday?”
Robert hesitated and then decided to share the events of Glen Fyne.
“…The rest of the holiday was uneventful.” He finished up by saying.
The others just stared at him.
“He tried to shoot you?” Martha asked.
“No, no. He pointed a gun at us. He threatened to shoot but that was all.”
“Hardly all.” Colin said, joining them at the table. “You’re lucky you kept a cool head on you.”
“Helen was the cool one. I’m not sure I handled the situation as well as I might.” Robert shook his head ruefully. “It has made me think though, what is it we are fighting for?”
“We’re stronger united!”
“To preserve the Union.”
“We need each other.”
“Yes, absolutely, yet why is it that I was not able to walk up a hill in my own country? If we win the referendum that won’t change.”
“This isn’t about petty issues, Robert.” Allan spoke for the first time. “Independence for Scotland will set us back decades.”
“I’m suggesting that while their arguments are flawed, the Yes campaign have the positive bias in their favour. They are fighting for something.”
“But we are fighting for something.” Martha frowned.
“I think we need more. I value living in the UK, being part of Britain as much as everyone here but it has been a long time since this country deserved to call itself Great.”
“You sure that man didn’t bang you on the head while you were up that mountain.”
“I’m pretty sure, Abed. I had a lot of time to think and to be honest, I’m not sure we’re going about this in the right way.”
“Let’s talk about this later Robert.” Allan said firmly. “We’ll bring you up to speed on what’s been happening while you’ve been away and get on with the agenda.”
Robert nodded politely and fixed a smile on his face while Allan got on with the meeting.
“You need to get your focus back, Robert.” Allan said in a low voice as they stood at the side of the room.
The others were returned to the table after making teas and coffees while Robert had stayed standing, Allan then joining him.
“And why is that?”
“We are going to struggle to win this campaign if we don’t remain focused on the goal.”
“And the goal is to keep things the way they are?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“I don’t like the way things are now. Millions unemployed. Millions more trapped on benefits. Government chipping away at my rights while increasing the tax burden. Landowners still have more rights than the common man: the rich laugh and hide their money away while the rest of us pay for their excess.”
“Maybe you should join the Socialists.”
“I’m already a card holder.”
Allan gave him a double look. “You are joking, right?”
Robert took a sip of his coffee and decided not to answer. “What does it matter when all we want is to maintain the status quo?”
Allan sighed. “We need you to believe in what we’re fighting for.”
“I’m trying to, Allan. Trust me.”
Instead of taking the turning for home, Robert headed straight on towards the river. Parking, he sat in the car for a moment before getting out and walking towards the river bank. Ahead of him, the lights of luxury apartments shone brightly. To his right the Casino was lit up with neon while to his left the millennium bridge stood out, reflecting pulses of light from passing cars.
It wasn’t his favourite view but it was Glasgow and it was a far sight better than the views of his childhood when the whole world was grey by day and black by night.
He loved the country but would never leave the city. Too much life here. Too much buzz. The country would never be enough and yet…
There had been a time before Glasgow and he had never forgotten. Playing up the hill; climbing rocks and trees. Trying to dam the burns that flowed slowly in summer and never quite managing it no matter how many stones they threw in. If he had stayed… If they had not been forced to move…
He looked up at the sky. No clouds but he couldn’t see the stars.
Robert got into his car and drove back to Helen.
“You volunteering tonight?”
Helen stopped washing the dishes and turned to Robert. “Every Tuesday and Thursday for ten years and you still ask me that?”
“Got to have something to talk about. You were quiet tonight.”
“I’m having problems with the website. It’s just grown so big, I can’t keep track of the pages. I’ve got too many style sheets and I’m in danger of making changes that will affect something without me realising. How do you deal with stuff like that?”
“Lots of lists. Long documents. Even then though, it still takes time to check through implications of making a change. The bigger a system gets, the more permutations. I don’t find it easy either.”
Helen arched her back to stretch before continuing washing. “I do enjoy working with the website. I like the way it looks and we get good feedback through it but all those promises that design would get easier seem to be no closer to reality.”
“Can’t you use a package like WordPress? That’s pretty much all done for you.”
“Maybe I’ll have to. Maybe I’m just too attached to the graphics I’ve designed for the current version.”
“Graphics and images you can re-use. But…” Robert stopped to think. “You’ve said before you don’t have time to really look into it. Then there’s the technical aspect, you do have some custom stuff you’ve had developed in the past. I presume you wouldn’t want to lose that. Then there’s the financial side. You still need to integrate with the bank to collect donations. You almost need your own version of WordPress for charities.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen. We only get funding to pay for our salaries and the office. We can’t take money out of the donations we get to pay to develop a new website.”
“What if you didn’t have to pay?”
“Are you volunteering now?”
Robert laughed. “No. Of course not. There’s a site I’ve been wondering about using myself, allows people to offer a service paid for by the hour.”
“Do I need to start monitoring your Internet usage?”
“Not that kind of site! More of bidding site…”
“Not sounding any better.” Helen deadpanned.
“A cross between an auction site and a job site. A company says they need a database developed and people bid to do the job at Ten pounds an hour or Thirty pounds an hour.” Robert paused to see if he was going to get any more flak but Helen was studiously examining her nails.
“I’ve considered using it but haven’t had a project that it seemed relevant for. Basically individuals can advertise their skills and individuals or companies can post jobs or projects and get people on the site to bid for them. I’ve seen all kinds of stuff from people wanting help leafleting to companies wanting a quick website put up, or help with a coding problem. I’m sure there are even rich kids wanting someone to do their homework for them.” He smiled.
“We’d still need to pay though.”
“I’ll donate a hundred pounds.”
“I’d rather the money went directly to the homeless.”
“Ungrateful wench!” He flicked her with his tea towel.
Helen retaliated with a spray of soap suds and Robert backed off.
“Okay, look at it like this. If you can get help to simplify your website then it frees you up to spend more time on marketing and design.”
“Nobody’s going to create a new website for a hundred pounds.”
“You never know. Why don’t we try it and if you get no offers you’ve lost nothing. In fact you’ll have gained a hundred pounds that can go straight to your shelter.”
“Okay. You’ve sold me.” She kissed him and quickly turned back to the pans giving him a look. “Volunteering tonight.” She said firmly.
“Don’t be out late.”
Robert headed out into the garden after Helen had gone. It was another fine evening. He bent down and picked up a clod. The earth was crumbling. He was able to break it up and pull out the grass and weeds leaving most of the soil to fall to the ground.
Looked like a rough first dig had been a good idea. He went and got the fork.
Half an hour later his back was sore again from bending and pulling out weeds and grass. He stood straight and stretched his back. He was going to have to decide what to plant. Peas for definite. Maybe carrots. He would have to check the book to see what was best.
He set to again, trying to see if there was a way to avoid bending as much. He got into a rhythm of digging, casting the weedy clods to one side to deal with later.
How did his ancestors cope, breaking up the hard soil, digging with poor quality tools? He tried to imagine working on a narrow run-rig plot hundreds of years ago but couldn’t picture it. What must it have been like to have been scraping a life, trying to create a future and then to be evicted, forced to move from the country into the dirty city? Tens of thousands of Scots, all thrown off their land, well, technically even then not their land. Land that they had to rent at increasingly high rates from a few who had been lucky enough to be born in the right family or who had fought, bribed or stolen their way into power.
Had there ever been justice in Scotland?
Robert reached the end of the row he had been digging and surveyed the plot. He was not even half way. He decided to stow his tools away and called it quits while he could still move.
Once he’d washed and made himself a fresh coffee he posted the advert for Helen’s charity. He took his time over it, giving as much detail as he could. He gave his credit card details and authorised £50 into escrow – to be held as proof of his intention to honour the contract, with the rest to be paid upon successful completion of the project.
Robert knew there were developers out there with ready-made templates. Ones that might only need a bit of tweaking to be suitable for Helen’s needs. There was a time when he’d have been reluctant to part with £100 for something bought off the shelf but years of developing his own applications had taught him to respect the amount of time that would have gone into those creations.
If someone was able to resell the same piece of work to multiple buyers, more power to them. It was no different to a musician selling an album.
That done he got his Kindle and continued skimming through his book. It didn’t take him long before he set the Kindle aside to load up Google and start pursuing a new line of thought.
By Nine P.M. the kitchen table was strewn with paper. Printouts from websites; reports and statistics. Robert was about to load another ream of paper into the printer but stopped, sighed and sat back down. Where was he going with this? He had a sense he was missing something but couldn’t pin it down.
He pulled over his Kindle and continued reading.
Helen came home at Ten P.M. to find Robert engrossed reading his Kindle. “Did a bomb go off while I was out?” She asked, looking at the papers on the table.
“Hmm?” Robert looked up.
“Depends.” He shook his head, frowning. “It’s long, detailed, mostly harrowing.”
“Want some cocoa?” Helen said with a wide fake smile, walking over to the cupboard.
“No. Yes. I don’t know.” He stood and stretched. “How was the evening?”
“Quiet. Only had ten men in. It’s getting warmer. And Andy said that Joe had found a place to stay!”
“Great. Would I ever have met Joe?”
“You must have. Tall guy. Skinny as a beanpole with a shock of white grey hair. Cocoa. Decide now.”
“Yes.” He sat back down and picked up the Kindle.
“What’s the book?”
“It’s an investigation into how Scotland’s land came to be owned by the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor.”
“And the papers on the table?”
“Land ownership, unemployment, government corruption.”
“Should I be worried?”
“No. I just need to work this through. The incident, I know…” Robert held up his hands. “I don’t want to keep going over it but it seems to sum up a whole lot of injustice.” He leaned back. “Before you came in, I was reading some of the history of why the author wrote his book. He has a website as well: Who Owns Scotland. The BBC even backs him up, apparently over fifty percent of Scotland is owned by a few hundred people.”
“Hasn’t it always been like that? You had the Lairds and the tenants. I’m sure we did something about the Run-Rig system in history at school.”
“Maybe it’s been like that for hundreds of years, but it can’t have always been like that. There weren’t always Lairds. Weren’t even always kings.”
“But now you’re talking thousands of years ago. Celts and Picts time. That’s not really relevant to today.”
Robert shook his head. “No. I think it is relevant. Why shouldn’t it be relevant? How did we get from there to here? I mean, how can one person own ten thousand acres? What do they do with it?”
“Farmers own that much and they do a lot with it.”
“Okay: farmers. Farmers might own a lot of land – but do even they need that much?”
“And most of Scotland is worthless land anyway. Rock or steep mountain-side. What would anyone do with that apart from walk or climb it?”
“That’s not the point! Well, maybe it is – if one person owns the land and refuses access then no-one else can walk or climb on that land.”
Helen just raised an eyebrow in response.
“Okay, I’m getting wound up again. I admit it.”
“Did you think about anything else the rest of our holiday?”
“Hmmm, I’m sure there must have been one or two distractions…”
“Cocoa! Sleep. Those are my priorities right now.”
Robert closed his laptop screen and watched the hard-drive light change from green to slowly flashing amber. “Is the cocoa ready then?”
Helen nodded. “Just going to mix it in.”
“Maybe we should drink it up in bed.”
“You sure you wouldn’t rather stay and carry on your research?”
“There’s always tomorrow.” He stood and walking over to the stove gave her a hug.
“You need to post that ad on your website tomorrow.”
“I already did that.”
“You did? Show me.” Helen pulled away and moved round his laptop.
Robert opened it back up, waited for the operating system to reload; brought up the job auction website and logged back in. “There.” He let her read it.
“You really think someone is going to offer to build me a complete server side template for one hundred pounds?”
“You don’t ask, you don’t get. Now, are you coming to bed?”
Robert gave Jim till Thursday to respond to his request for feedback. He had begun developing some reports and used the excuse of emailing drafts to Jim to also ask if he’d reviewed Peter’s requested design changes. By the time he went home, Jim hadn’t responded.
There was no response on Friday morning either. Just before lunch, Robert decided a face to face might be better. He logged off and went to see if he was at his desk.
“Hello Jim, do you have five minutes?”
Jim turned and frowned at Robert. “No.”
Taken aback by the abrupt response, Robert persisted. “Did you get the report drafts I sent?”
“Have you had a chance to review them?”
Jim began drumming his fingers on his desk. “Not yet.”
Robert acknowledged that with a nod.
“When do you think you will be able to give feedback on the design of the reports?”
“I thought we’d agreed all the designs.”
“Yes, but I often find it helpful for clients to review the drafts. At this stage it is less likely to delay the project if you decide you want something changed.”
“I was quite clear in my specifications. Are you saying you didn’t understand them?”
“There is always a degree of interpretation. I would simply like to give you an opportunity to confirm the project is on track.”
“That’s what we’re paying you for, isn’t it? To manage the project.”
Inwardly Robert groaned. If this was Jim’s attitude it explained part of his response. He’d seen similar attitudes before, a sense that employing a professional absolved one of the need to monitor progress. That there was no time cost involved in assigning a project to someone else. If he could not persuade Jim to spend time now then it was highly likely he would find some fault with the way the design had turned out even though he could have prevented it simply by reviewing the design now. He decided to change tack.
“How about the design changes based on Peter’s requests?” He asked. “When do you think you can review them?”
“I don’t see any reason to change the direction of the project at this stage. Peter should have been more involved at the start.”
Robert resisted the temptation to push any more. “I recommend you do review the drafts and I’m happy to take the time to answer any questions you might have. Thank you for your time.”
He turned and walked away. He would keep trying to speak with Jim but was now wondering whether he needed to flag the situation up with Jim’s line manager. It was a last resort but with less than two months until the project deadline, there wasn’t time to risk developing a design that could be rejected at the last minute.
Weeds were everywhere, tangled white threads that he couldn’t separate. Robert tugged and pulled but the pale cords resisted. He took his shovel and tried chopping them. The roots severed and he pulled a huge clod loose. Tendrils dangled from the muddy earth. He tried shaking the clod to free the earth but the soil was too damp. He had to throw the clod to one side.
He took the garden fork and tried again to break up the soil. The fork just got entangled. He could only cut out sections of turf and throw them away.
Robert gradually became aware he was dreaming but kept his eyes closed, confused by the dream. The garden hadn’t been that difficult to dig. Hard work but the turf was relatively free of weeds.
He came fully awake. He’d managed out in the garden on Friday night but it had rained most of the weekend. What was he doing dreaming about weeds? He had only managed to dig half the plot over. Still a lot of back breaking work to go. Maybe he would buy some seeds. Might give him some much needed motivation to keep going. The forecast was uncertain for the next couple of days. He might need to take whatever dry weather he could to finish.
He looked over at the clock. Almost Seven. He reached over and kissed Helen then got up.
Robert tried to call Jim a couple of times during the day on Monday; then again on Tuesday and sent another email asking for feedback. He knew he could just leave it but there was a part of his professional nature that insisted on getting sign off for the next crucial stage of the project.
He checked the time. Approaching Five PM. Maybe now would be a good time to drop in on Jim.
“Jim!, Hi, I’ve been trying to speak with you.” Robert caught up with Jim as he walked towards the lift, on his way home.
“I’m finished for the day.”
Fixing a pleasant smile on his face, Robert continued to walk alongside Jim. “I can see that. I’ll walk you out.”
“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
They reached the lifts and Robert waited as Jim pressed the down button. “Have you reviewed the designs I sent you?”
“I thought we’d discussed this.” Jim looked up at the floor indicator, sighing audibly.
“I haven’t had any feedback from you. I appreciate you are busy but I need to warn you that this is your last chance to change the design before I start developing.”
“I’m well aware of that and as we already discussed, I’ve already made the specification quite clear.”
There was a chime and one set of lift doors opened.
Jim held up his hand as Robert made to walk in. “I don’t need you to accompany me down. You assured me you could deliver the project. I expect you to do so. I really don’t think we need to keep discussing this.”
Robert stood there in shock as Jim got in the lift and the doors closed.
“I keep thinking I must be missing something.”
Helen nodded, amused at Robert’s annoyance.
“Does he really believe he doesn’t need to have oversight of the project?”
“You’re asking the wrong person.”
“Do you meet people like that?”
“Maybe I’m married to one of them…”
“Ouch! Please tell me you’re joking.”
Helen gave him a mischievous smile and waited until he shook his head. “I think you should just forget him. You’ve done your best to contact him, to ask for him to look at the project. There’s nothing more you can do.”
“It goes against the grain. My whole working life I’ve tried to head problems off before they start. But this guy just isn’t interested in working with me. The IT industry is full of stories about projects that failed, often because the business and the developers failed to keep talking to each other. And I get the feeling he’s the type of person that will conveniently forget he was the one who failed to act.”
“Is it really that big a deal? You must have worked with dozens of different people over the years.”
“Ever since the recession I’ve been wary. There hasn’t been the glut of jobs we had before, what, 2007? And every single interview they always focus on your most recent role. But even with that, it just feels wrong to let a project go South because of one person. Jim might have employed me but it’s his company that is paying for me.”
“Well, I don’t think you should worry. What if you reach the end of the project and he’s delighted with the results?”
Robert gave her a look and shook his head.
Robert gave Jim until Noon the next day to see whether he would respond to his last email and then pulled up the staff directory on the Intranet. Jim’s line manager was listed as Alastair Johnson. He quickly dialled the extension. To his surprise, the call was answered almost immediately.
“Alastair Johnson.” The tone was brisk, distracted.
“Hello Alastair, this is Robert Castle. I’m working on a project for Jim… I was wondering if I could get ten minutes of your time?”
“Certainly, give Carol a call and she’ll book you in.”
Another hour digging that evening and Robert began to believe he was close to finishing. He stopped before his back started to really hurt and put the tools away. Walking inside he saw Helen writing at the kitchen table.
What are you doing?” Robert looked over Helen’s shoulder to see several lists in neat handwriting spaced out over an A4 pad.
“You haven’t forgotten about next weekend have you?”
“Me… Forget?” He went to wash his hands. “Remind me.”
“My birthday on Saturday…”
“Oh that. I hadn’t forgotten that.” He got himself a mug out of the cupboard.
“We’re having the Tanner family over for a barbeque.”
“You want one?” He held up the mug.
“Yes. I remember. Big do.”
“And then we have Karen and Julie over on Friday night and Gordon and Penny on Sunday…”
Robert turned to look at Helen. “That’s all next weekend?”
She gave him an exasperated look.
“Friday, Saturday and Sunday? Whose idea was that?”
Robert leaned back against the units. “My idea? I suggested having all our friends over on three separate nights? What was I thinking, I mean…” He hurriedly added seeing Helen’s expression. “What a wonderful idea! No, I can’t do it. What was I thinking?”
“You are unbelievable!”
“I’m sure it will be wonderful. We can get divorced the following Monday.” He put the kettle on to boil and went to sit down beside Helen. “Show me your plan…”
Robert had requested Carol book a room for his meeting with Alastair but walked up to Alastair’s desk a couple of minutes before and introduced himself.
“So, how is the project going?” Alastair asked as they walked into the meeting room.
Robert waited until he had closed the door and they’d both sat down.
“The project is going well however I asked to speak with you as I’m concerned about Jim’s approach to managing the project.”
Robert paused to see if Alastair would want to interject but he seemed content to listen.
“I was brought in to develop a new system and as such I’ve been managing the project, however I know from experience that it is important for the business to have regular input and to have the opportunity to direct the design. I’ve been trying to get some feedback from Jim but he has refused to meet with me and has not responded to my emails.”
“Jim does have a full schedule and a large team he’s responsible for.”
“I fully accept that and am not asking for a lot of his time, but this project has a fixed deadline and the further I progress the harder it will be to adjust if there are any changes identified.”
“So, what are you asking?”
“My advice is that someone from the business reviews the designs at this stage to ensure you are happy with the direction I’m taking. While I’ve interpreted the specifications based on my experience, I need to advise you of the risk that my interpretation may be different to Jim’s.”
“Does that happen often? Your interpretation being different to a clients.”
“There are usually small areas of difference and those can all be captured through regular review, but I have a couple of times had larger differences in understanding.”
“Should I be concerned?”
“Not at all. In those cases if I hadn’t regularly checked that the direction I was taking the project was in line with the clients expectations it would have had a significant impact on the project. But I did check and because of the way I manage my projects I was able to accommodate change and still meet the deadlines.”
“And you wanted to speak to me because…”
“If no-one from the business is available to review the progress of the project I will carry it through to completion based on my original understanding. But I have a responsibility to advise you there is an increased risk without business oversight.”
Alastair considered Robert, tapping a finger on the table. “Very well. Leave it with me.”
The volume and sharpness of tone made Robert start and he looked up, mind still half on the report he was developing. Jim was walking up to him. Several people had turned round to look.
Robert eased out of his chair and stood, sensing he didn’t want to be seated when Jim got near.
“Come with me.”
Jim turned abruptly and Robert hesitated, then turned and logged out of his PC. Jim turned and scowled when he saw Robert wasn’t directly behind him.
“Hurry up then!”
Robert followed, pacing himself. It had to be about the meeting he’d had with Alastair. Not quite the reaction he’d hoped for but at least Jim was talking to him.
Jim walked past several occupied meeting rooms until he found an empty one. He held the door as Robert walked in then shut it firmly.
“Take a seat.” Jim told him.
“After you.” Robert replied.
Jim did a double take. He remained standing. “Who do you think you are making a complaint behind my back?”
So it was about his meeting with Alastair. Robert drew himself up.
“What are you referring to?”
“Are you denying it?”
“You’re assuming I know what you are talking about. I would like to know what you’re accusing me of before I respond.”
“You went behind my back to Alastair Johnson and complained I was not managing the project.”
“That is incorrect.”
“Don’t tell me that’s incorrect, I’ve just had Alastair question me about the project and he made it quite clear you raised the complaint.”
“I warned Alastair of the risk to the project without regular review. I explained that you had refused to meet with me to review my progress. Since you refused to meet with me on numerous occasions I had a responsibility to the company to flag the situation.”
“Well you don’t need to worry about it anymore, you’re fired.”
Robert swallowed. Of all the outcomes he’d expected, this hadn’t featured as an option. “You can’t fire me.”
“I just have. Clear your desk. I’ll have you out of here in the hour.”
“No, I meant you can’t fire me because you don’t employ me.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve signed your timesheets for the past four months.”
“I’m employed by my own company, not by you. You cannot fire me. If you no longer wish to use my services you are contractually obliged to give me one week’s notice. I have not breached the terms of the contract in any way and you have no right to breach the contract so, like it or not, I’m here for the next week.” Robert took a deep breath. “However, I recommend you reconsider your decision. Terminating the contract leaves you with an unfinished project that will take a new developer time to pick up. You guarantee increasing the cost of completing the project and delaying delivery. Or risk having wasted the expenditure up till now.”
Jim’s face grew progressively more purple as Robert spoke.
“Clear your desk, I’m calling security.”
“I’ll await instructions from the agency.” Robert responded stiffly.
Jim opened the door and left leaving Robert to gather his thoughts.
He pulled out his phone and speed dialled the agency while walking back to his desk.
“Hi, can you put me through to Nina?”
He sat back down and logged in one handed as he waited to be connected.
“Nina, hi, this is Robert Castle.”
“Oh, hi Robert. How are things going?”
“Not good. I’ve just been fired.” Robert talked her through the events while he also began forwarding copies of the emails he’d sent to Jim to his company email address.
“He wants me off the premises in just under an hour.” Robert finished. “Can he do that?”
“I’ll need to check. Can you hold?”
“Sure.” Robert finished copying evidence of his attempts to speak with Jim and considered if he needed to do anything else in case he was ejected from the office. He opened a new email and began copying contact details for Alastair and his other main contacts on the project into the body of the email. That done, he sent it.
Robert had heard horror stories of dismissals in England where you were marched out of the office then and there, not even able to carry your personal effects out with you. These to be shipped to your home. He didn’t think Jim could simply have him escorted from the building, not unless he was to make up some allegation of serious fraud or misconduct but he would have to have some proof of that, wouldn’t he?
Nina came back on the line. “Robert?”
“I’ve spoken with a colleague and if you are asked to leave you have to go.”
“Even though I’ve done nothing wrong?”
“They have to give you one week’s notice which you’ll get paid for.”
Robert sighed. “It’s insane.”
“You haven’t been fired yet. You’re right that they need to contact us. Maybe it will just blow over when Jim contacts HR. Just keep your head down this afternoon. If you’re asked to go into any more meetings then request that I’m present. But if they tell you to leave the premises then just do so. You maybe should come straight here and we can go over the situation properly with you.”
Robert promised to call if there was any more news. He put the phone down and stared at his monitor for a while, gradually aware of the glances from the people around him. He had been totally focused on the call and had forgotten he was in an open plan office.
Wincing, he pulled out his notepad and stared at a blank page. If no-one else had heard about the problems he had with Jim then it would be all over the company before the end of the day. All it would need would be one person passing on that bit of gossip in Jim’s hearing and security might be throwing him out the door even sooner.
He started writing: Next steps…
If he was given a week’s notice he’d like to spend the bulk of that time working on the documentation to ensure that anyone who came onto the project after him would understand what he’d been doing and had been planning to do. It was galling to think that someone else might be paid to finish off his work and receive credit for his design but that was a risk that came with the territory.
There was no point in carrying on any development. Without any guidance from Jim, it would just be a waste.
He’d need to call round the agencies, make them aware he was immediately available. Immediately hopefully being a very temporary situation.
He still had his SRAID token so in theory could log onto the systems network from home.
He sat back, doodling in the lower right corner of the page. His mind was blank. Was there any point in planning when he didn’t know if he would be working for minutes or days. He wanted to get up and walk about but felt he had to stay put, waiting for someone to come and tell him whether he was leaving or staying.
He had to tell Helen, but didn’t want to do that in front of the office gossips. Shoving his pad in his rucksack, Robert stood and walked towards the stairwell. The usual haunt of contractors – and sometimes employees – when hustling for new work.
He dialled her office number only to find it was engaged. He hung up without leaving a message. He considered texting her but decided against it. He needed to speak with her and not with the threat of someone rudely interrupting him. He’d have to wait until they were both home.
He walked back, scanning his pass against the reader to enter the office and headed to the drinks dispensers, looking ahead to see if anyone was hovering near his desk. No-one. He took a plastic cup and filled it with chilled water. Millions of people doing the same thing every day, maybe billions of cups worldwide. All of them destined for land-fill. Or were they actually recycled? Robert doubted that all the carefully sorted bins were eventually turned into usable materials. But what did he know…
He walked slowly back to his desk. Sitting down he realised he’d left the computer logged in. I’m losing it, Robert thought. Get a grip!
He checked his email. Some corporate messages but nothing relevant to the project. He pulled out his mobile and checked his company email. Nothing new. He looked at the time: 15:13. He hadn’t checked when Jim had stormed off. He looked at the sent emails and saw the timestamp: 14:48. It hadn’t even been half an hour yet.
He could just get up and walk out. That would solve the problem. Except they would then have a legitimate right to fire him. No. The ball was in Jim’s court even though Robert wished he could make a decision one way or the other.
The call came at 16:45. Robert hurriedly answered his mobile and heard Nina’s voice.
“I’ve received an email. They’re terminating your contract and giving you one week’s notice. Not even a full week. Your last day will be Thursday next week. I’m sorry Robert.”
“Does it say what I’m supposed to do? Am I still reporting to Jim?”
“No, there’s nothing. I’ll ask HR.”
“Fired! What do you mean fired? What did you do?”
Robert put his hands up defensively. “I’ll tell you the full story, okay? Just let me start at the beginning.”
Helen looked around the kitchen and shook her head. “Make me a cup of tea. I’m going to get changed first.” She gave him a hard look then left.
“Could have been worse.” Robert murmured to himself.
“I heard that!” Came Helen’s voice from the hallway. “I’ve not finished with you yet.”
“Didn’t you try to apologise? Say sorry?”
“It was a lost cause.”
“You don’t know that.” Helen threw up her hands. “Robert Castle, you are the most stubborn, pig headed man I know. I can just imagine you winding him up. It’s a wonder he didn’t punch you.”
“That’s what I did wrong. I should have wound him up more and then he’d have been fired and I’d be sitting on a nice damages claim.”
Helen gave him a sharp look and Robert grimaced.
“Okay, maybe inappropriate.”
“Have you thought how this is going to affect you? Will you even be able to get another job?”
“The contract ended. I don’t need to say any more than that.”
“The famous Castle honesty?”
“I don’t need to volunteer information. If I’m pressed I say what happened. I had no choice. If I’d done nothing…”
“You’d still have had a job!” Helen interrupted.
“If…” Robert continued. “If I’d done nothing there was a real risk Jim would have found fault with the direction of the design and blamed me for it. Either way I was looking at a no win situation.”
“Job beats dole queue any day.”
“I’m a professional…”
“An unemployed professional.”
Robert groaned. “Are you going to attack me all evening?”
“And all day tomorrow and the day after that. You better get a new job quickly or you’ll have to suffer my wrath.”
“Okay, I’m ordering take out. What do you want?”
“How can you afford take out?”
Robert stared at Helen and then burst out laughing. “Are you trying to wind me up?”
“Is it succeeding?”
“Serves you right. I was hoping to unwind after a stressful week and you have to go and dump this on me.”
“You need to eat. What do you want?”
Robert went and ordered then put the kettle on. It was going to be okay, he told himself. He had stockpiled cash in a savings account in case there was another recession. With Helen’s meagre income they could easily survive a full year, maybe even more if they radically cut back on their expenses. No more take outs after this one. It wouldn’t come to that though, would it?
He only needed one more contract and maybe could even do something pro bono. Employers looking for a contractor usually concentrated on the last contract and while they wanted to know about the last few years, they were not all that likely to ask awkward questions about the second last contract.
Even if they did, what he’d said to Helen was right. In the long run it was better to be known for doing the right thing even if it meant difficult consequences. He could prove that by delivering documentation during the next week.
The kettle boiled and he made tea for Helen and decaf for himself. Carrying it through he set the tea in front of Helen.
“I’m sorry.” He told her and waited until she was looking at him. “I’m sorry I dumped this on you. I’m sorry I got fired. I honestly don’t think I could have done anything differently but… I don’t know.”
“Are we going to be all right?”
Robert nodded and then had to set his coffee down quickly as Helen reached over to hug him.
“We’re going to be all right.” He told her.
“Do you have to go away this weekend?”
Robert grimaced. The Big IF. He’d forgotten all about it…
Rain drizzled down and Robert shivered. He stood alone. Back from the stage in Belfast Botanic Gardens with groups of people huddled under umbrellas dotted about. Most gathered under a huge spreading oak at the far left.
He’d chatted with people on the bus down to Ayr and then across on the ferry, but now he was here he just wanted to be alone, to think and observe.
The turnout was poor, nothing like he’d seen in footage from the previous week in London. It didn’t help that they’d had to come over to Northern Ireland he supposed but even then he’d hoped there would have been more people locally willing to turn out. Didn’t people understand how simple it was?
Speaker after speaker paraded out on stage to preach the message that there was enough food in the world for everyone, if only the food was shared out to everyone. Robert had signed up months before to go, believing the simple message was worth supporting. Hundreds of millions of people – many of them children – still starving in a world rich with food.
Hunger was the most basic of problems and potentially the easiest to resolve. Entire countries could eradicate hunger by choosing to feed their people before exporting food.
Except the message that was beginning to come across, in-between the support bands and choirs and comedians, was that the problem was only one of many interconnected issues. Debt; taxation; land grabs; opaque laws… All combined to make it more likely the poor would starve. Cut one head off the hydra and risk another two growing in its place.
And here I am, Robert thought. Standing in a wet field. Cold to my bones. What difference does it make that I came here? What difference to those photos of starving families in some Asian or African or Central American country?
Who was I kidding?
“Belfast.” Helen poured herself some more tea. The seats weren’t terribly comfortable in the cafe but they did serve delicious cakes.
“Is he working over there?”
“No. He’s at the Big IF event.”
“Is that something to do with Stronger United?”
“Haven’t you heard of it?”
“Can’t say I have.” Karen cut her cake with fork and took a small bite.
Helen looked in bemusement at her friend. “I would have thought everyone had heard of the campaign by now.”
Karen shook her head. “So, if it’s not Stronger United… How does Robert have time for all this?”
Helen sighed. “Good question. I’m just as bad. Some weeks go by and we hardly see each other.”
“Are you okay? I mean, together?”
“Yes. Just too busy. I can’t complain. I keep thinking that I need to cut back but there’s nothing I’m doing that I would want to give up.”
“It’s not healthy.”
“I still have time for my friends. You are coming over next weekend, aren’t you?”
“Of course, wouldn’t miss it for the world!”
On the ferry back from Northern Ireland, Robert stood in line at the bar. He desperately needed a coffee. The day trip hadn’t been a total waste. He’d enjoyed most of the acts that were supporting Big IF. Any excuse to listen to good music would do.
There had been a buzz on the bus back to the ferry. He’d listened to the conversations around him and heard hope that they were making a difference. The G8 were listening. They had promised to act.
He turned to a lady standing beside him in the queue. “How do you think the day has gone?”
“It’s been great.”
Robert gave her a questioning look.
“You’re not convinced?”
“I was expecting more.”
The woman appraised him. “Is this your first event?”
“Yes. Signed up on a whim. I believe in the message but am not sure this is the way to change things.”
“I’ve been attending these sorts of events for thirty years. World problems aren’t changed quickly.”
“Are you a member of one of the organisations here?”
“No. I know many of the people and we’ve campaigned together on many events but I’m a free agent.” She smiled.
“So why great?” Robert asked. “What did you see that I didn’t?”
“You have to see the wider picture. There have been increasing numbers of people getting involved since the Jubilee 2000 and Drop the Debt campaigns started. Government is slow to respond and sometimes it feels like we take two steps back for every step forward but the more aware people are, the more support we get. Also, look around you… There are a load of younger people with us. Some of us have been fighting since the 1970’s. We are desperately in need of a new generation to pick up the torch and I’m seeing the beginnings of that here.”
Robert looked without really paying attention. He had noticed a wide age range on the buses. Teenage girls who seemed unable to stand still; young men and women; but the majority were – he suspected – older than him and then mostly women.
“Why so few men?” He asked.
“You’re asking me?” She smiled.
“So do I…”
Robert gave her a wry smile. “Work defines me. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. It’s a struggle to put much energy into a cause.”
“Kind of a weak reason.”
Robert laughed. “Maybe we just don’t care. Maybe women are more compassionate. Maybe men need to do something…” He stopped as something clicked. “That’s got to be part of it. Offer a man the chance to build a school in Africa or dig a well and he’ll raise the money and go. Ask him if he wants to attend meetings or fund raise and chances are he’ll be too busy. Same guy, same day, two completely different results.”
He looked round and saw he’d allowed a gap in the queue. He moved closer to the bar then introduced himself. The woman’s name was Ellen Prasser.
They ordered drinks and Robert bought a sandwich then sat down at a table.
“What do you do?” Ellen asked.
“IT Contractor. Soon to be unemployed.”
“You’ll have plenty of time to get involved with campaigning then.”
Robert winced. “I’ve been helping out with one campaign but I’m not sure I want to put any more time into it.”
Robert took a bite of his sandwich and sip of his coffee before answering. “Stronger United.”
“I’ve not heard of them.”
“They… We’ve been campaigning to stay in the union with Britain.”
“You don’t believe in independence then?”
“I believe that for all its faults, Scotland has done well out of the existing union.”
“But you’re not quite convinced enough to keep campaigning?”
“Embarrassing to admit.”
Ellen shrugged. “Sometimes we want to believe something so much we struggle to see the reality.”
“What way are you planning to vote then?”
“I’m independence all the way.”
“And do you struggle to see the reality?”
“I’m sure I do.” She smiled wistfully. “Twenty years ago I wouldn’t have believed it possible that Scotland could break free. I hate the idea of big government. I really hope that independence means we can move decision making out to where it actually affects people.”
“I’m in favour of that.”
“I think big government wastes so much money. We can trim it right back. Only provide what is really needed and reduce the tax burden.”
“I agree with that as well.”
“Why on earth would you campaign for Stronger United then?”
“I don’t believe the SNP share your vision. I know, I know… The referendum is not about the SNP but can you admit that they’ll be the ones negotiating with Westminster in the event of a Yes vote?”
“Of course they will. That’s their right. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t even be having this referendum.”
“Do you think the SNP are going to vote themselves onto a smaller pay packet? Give up their decision making powers to you and me?”
“They’ll have to. That’s why I’m voting for independence.”
Robert took another bite of his sandwich and sat back, warming his hands with the coffee. “I think that if that’s what you mean by independence, you’ll find the fight for independence will only begin if you win the Yes vote. I can’t see the SNP shrinking government. They’ll just let Europe deal with most of it and claim they have a smaller government but in reality it will be just as big and twice as hard to understand with all our laws made in Europe, not Scotland.”
“You really distrust Europe so much?”
“Big, unaccountable government. You’re saying you do trust them?”
Ellen pursed her lips. “If it wasn’t for Europe we wouldn’t have human rights legislation.”
“We had the Magna Carta a thousand years before the EU. That was justice. Human rights laws have just been an excuse for some people to abuse the system.”
“Try telling that to innocent men and women who were unjustly imprisoned.”
“Injustice is wrong and it still continues to happen, even with human rights legislation. There was an appeal process before and still is one now. All the human rights legislation in the world will not stop people making mistakes and refusing to admit it when they’ve done so.”
“I’m going right off you.”
“All my friends say that. What next for Big IF then?”
“This is the last event. We were all focused on the G8. But there will be other campaigns, you can count on it.”
“Bring it on!”
Robert left the office sharp and took a detour on his way home from work on Monday. He’d spent a couple of hours on Sunday completing digging the plot and was now happy he was ready to begin planting. He’d been to the garden centre before, for their coffee and cakes. Never to buy anything for their garden but he’d seen the stands of seed packets.
He took his time looking at the packets. All of them seemed to promise colourful, healthy vegetables. How many would actually thrive in Scotland was another matter. He’d occasionally watched snippets of Beechgrove Garden which was set in Aberdeen and heard the end of Gardeners Question Time on the radio and knew it was possible to have a successful garden but how many years did it take to get the soil just right or learn all the tricks?
He’d read more of his gardening book and knew that peas and beans were a good bet. He fancied getting carrots but they seemed to need a sandy soil and he didn’t think their soil was. Still, why not try them? He picked up a packet. He found some sunflower seeds and sweetcorn. He was fairly sure he’d seen sunflowers in other people’s gardens and he was curious to see whether sweetcorn could work.
At the end of the row of stands were shelves with seed trays. He hadn’t considered planting the seeds indoors and then transplanting seedlings, but maybe he should. He picked up a couple of large trays with individual sections. Then he checked the price and put them back. Could he justify that much money on fairly flimsy plastic?
He kept looking and found what seemed to be biodegradable pots. Reading the label it said the pots could be planted directly in the ground allowing the roots to grow through them. Helen would like the idea of that. He picked up a couple of packets noting the price was even higher than the plastic trays had been.
“Waste of money those things.”
Robert turned to see a man, his thick black beard threaded with wisps of grey. “What’s that?” Robert asked.
“You can just use toilet roll holders. Cut them in half. It does the same job and you don’t have to pay a penny.”
“The cardboard tubes?”
“That’s right. Fill them with compost and put a seed in and when it sprouts you can just plant it straight in the ground. Acts as a barrier to some of the insects as well.”
Robert looked again at the price and put the pots back on the shelf. “Thanks.”
“You should try onions as well. They grow really well in our climate. Those can just go straight in the ground.”
“Onions, huh? From seed?”
“You’re probably a bit late for that. I just buy packets of baby onions. You can get a couple of hundred for a few pounds.”
“Not sure what I’d do with a couple of hundred onions.” Robert had a picture of his kitchen decked out like a French farmhouse with weaves of onions hanging from the ceiling.
“Give them away.” The man suggested. “Do you have an allotment?”
“No.” Robert laughed. “Just a small plot in my garden. This is the first year I’ve tried growing anything.”
“I’ve got three acres outside Glasgow. Potatoes, cabbages, marrows, you name it, I’ve probably had a go at growing it.”
“Three acres? That’s a small farm!”
“Keeps me busy. I retired seven years ago. Keeps me fit and gets me outside. I love it.”
Robert asked: “How much food do you produce, I mean, three acres, that must be more than enough to provide food for yourself all year round, right?”
“Of course. I sell most of it.”
“I’ve been wondering, how much land do you think I’d need to be completely self-sufficient?”
The man looked at Robert with a quizzical expression. “You’re not one of those nutters are you?”
Taken aback, Robert didn’t know how to respond.
“Depends what you mean. Are you a survivalist? Do you want to live off the grid?”
Robert shook his head. He had a vague idea of what a survivalist was but living off the grid…
“You need some meat in your diet if you’re living in Scotland. It’s too hard to get all the nutrients you need just on the sort of vegetables you can grow here. Unless you’re planning on using greenhouses?”
“No, no greenhouses. And just vegetables. It’s just out of curiosity really. I’m not planning on trying to survive on my own.
“ You need a fair bit of land if you were to keep animals but if it’s just vegetables… You can produce a lot in a small area, if you’re willing to work at it.”
“How small? Say for two people.”
The man looked away and rubbed the back of his hand underneath his chin. “Just as a guess, no, wait… Allotments used to be 300 square yards. That was for a family of four. Halve that for two people.”
Robert did the calculations quickly in his head and gave a long slow whistle. “I’m only working on nine square metres. That would be fifteen times as big… I’d need a tractor!”
“Only to begin with. Once the soil has been turned over once, it’s easier to work with. Anyway, I’ll leave you with one last tip.” He tapped his nose and moved in close to Robert. “Urine.” He said in a low voice. “Don’t tell anyone but it’s one of nature’s best fertilisers.”
Then he turned and walked off, ambling slowly through the centre.
Robert looked round to see if there were some hidden cameras and a presenter waiting to jump out at him but he was alone. He found a packet of baby onions and headed for the checkout.
“What are you doing?” Helen had hoped to find Robert cooking dinner but instead it looked like he’d emptied the recycling bin all over the kitchen table.
Robert grinned at her. It didn’t help her mood. “Had you thought about starting to cook?”
“In a minute.”
“I’m hungry now.”
“Ten minutes then.”
“That’s even worse! I’m going upstairs, call me when you’re done.”
“Don’t you want to see what I’m doing?”
Helen walked out without answering. What was with him? All that research he was doing was driving her a bit crazy. Then there was his sudden mad obsession with the garden. Which, okay, that could be good longer term but did he have to spend every evening out there? And now he was bin raking in their kitchen…
Five minutes later she was curled up in bed, trying to concentrate on a novel, when Robert walked in with a plate and mug.
“Tea and toast, just to keep you going.”
She sighed. “Thank you.”
He sat and waited while she ate. She demolished one slice and then took a sip of the tea, almost immediately starting to feel better.
“What were you doing?” She asked.
“Making seed trays. I stopped off at the garden centre on the way home and was going to buy some but the price was horrendous. Then this guy started giving me advice… But that’s another story.” Robert shook his head. “Apparently you can use the cardboard tubes from loo rolls as biodegradable plant pots. And we chuck out plastic trays all the time so I’ve saved a few and am going to create my own recycled seedling nursery.”
“Why is it so important to you? You’ve never had an interest in the garden other than keeping the lawn cut.”
“You’re right.” Robert rubbed a hand through his hair. “I need to do this. The more I find out about what we’ve lost as a nation when we gave our land away, the more I feel a need to reconnect with the land. I thought you’d be happy, always encouraging me to recycle and think about the environment?”
Helen didn’t know what to think. He was right but the change had been so sudden and… “This all started after the incident. Everything you’re doing keeps reminding me of that man… Why do you need to do this?”
Robert stretched out his hand to her and she grasped it.
“I’m sorry, Helen, I… I’m trying to turn my anger at what happened into something good. I’ve found working in the garden has allowed me time to think. There’s been times when I’ve been stressed when I’ve gone out on long runs. It’s the same thing. Doing something physical, getting outside. It helps.”
“Are you saying I should be gardening too?”
Robert studied her. There were times when she hated that, not knowing what he was thinking, feeling like she was being judged.
“I think we’re similar in a lot of ways.” He said eventually. “I think we both benefit from exercise. Both benefit from getting outdoors. We’ve both been stressed by work, both shaken up by the incident. If there’s something you want to do, something I can help with then tell me.”
“Don’t try and manipulate me.” Helen told him, a surge of anger flooding through her.
Robert withdrew his hand. “I’ll have the dinner ready in half an hour.” He said.
She couldn’t read his face. He left without waiting for a response.
Helen turned back to her book, hoping to distract herself. She read the same page three times before giving up.
Robert had tidied up by the time she came downstairs. He was stirring a pot of soup and had bowls and plates and bread on the table. Helen curled an arm around his waist.
“Sorry.” She said.
“It’s okay. We’re both under a lot of pressure.”
He pressed his hand over hers and reached round for a kiss.
Helen extracted herself and sat, looking round the kitchen. She saw a pile of trays and yoghurt pots. “Is that what you’re going to use?”
Robert looked round and checked where she was looking. “Yes. Should be able to set those in some of the windows.”
“Did you buy compost?”
Robert looked blank. “No. I was just going to use earth from the garden.”
“Might have been better with compost. Should be okay though. What seeds did you get?”
“Peas, beans, sweetcorn, sunflowers and carrots.” He ticked them off on his hand.
“How about canes?”
“To hold up the peas, beans, sweetcorn and sunflowers…”
“Oh. No, I didn’t think of that.”
“You only need them when you plant the seeds or seedlings outside. We can get them later.”
“I was wondering about planting half out now and half in the trays. I don’t really know if it makes much difference.”
“Some seeds you have to sow straight into the garden. I’m not sure which though.”
“I better get reading.”
Helen wandered over to the counter where the trays were and saw the packets of seeds. “Onions?” She asked.
“Oh yeah. Forgot about those. Apparently they grow well.”
“Two hundred? We don’t go through that many in a year.”
“I’m sure we’ll find some use for them. Soup’s ready.”
Helen sat down at the table. “Do you think you can have an evening off from, well, everything?”
“Don’t you have stuff on?” Robert set a full bowl of lentil soup in front of her.
“Okay. No gardening, no research, no job hunting.” Robert sat down with his own bowl. “What do you want to do?”
Helen sighed. “I might just go to sleep.”
She looked at Robert. “It’s not funny!” Then she had to laugh with him.
Robert parked next to Abed’s car. They’d agreed to meet in this school car park and leaflet drop in the immediate neighbourhood. He got out and greeted Abed and Martha who were both standing at the rear of Abed’s car, arranging bags.
“Two hundred leaflets each. 1,200 households. Should only take us a couple of hours at most.” Abed said.
“Depends how fast we walk.” Said Robert.
“And how many people we stop to talk to…” Martha interjected.
“I like finding out what people think.” Robert replied.
“We’re trying to persuade them to vote No.”
“I don’t think we’re likely to succeed if we’re not willing to understand what people think.”
Martha waved that thought away. “People can make up their own minds. We don’t have time to speak to everyone.”
“We have to engage with people. Have to be willing to explain why we believe in the Union. There are people out there who need to hear that argument from a person, not a leaflet.”
“I wish we had the time, Robert. I really do.” Martha handed him a bag. “Colin, June and Allan should be here soon. We’ll go out in pairs as usual.”
Robert nodded and went to get his rucksack from the car. 200 leaflets were not a lot but he wasn’t going to carry a shopping bag around the streets, especially one with the Stronger United logo emblazoned on it. Even before he’d started having doubts about the campaign he’d been aware it wasn’t always a welcome sight.
The others arrived and Robert paired up with Martha. They had six streets to cover. Robert preferred taking one side of the street each but Martha preferred leap frogging. “Means you can still talk to each other.”
Meant there was less chance of Robert actually knocking on a door to see if someone wanted to chat, he suspected but agreed without complaint.
The first street was quiet. A long street with a mix of short terraces and semi-detached. They went up one side and then doubled back down the other before heading along to the next street. Robert checked the map as they walked.
“We would be better splitting up for the next one. If we leap frog up and down we’ll just have to walk back along to get to the next street.” He showed Martha.
“Very well.” She conceded.
Robert thought he detected a hint of annoyance but ignored it.
He thought he was making better time separating, not getting in each other’s way, until someone opened their door as he walked up the path.
“Hello.” Robert smiled at the man. “I’m delivering leaflets for the Stronger United campaign. May I ask what your views on the referendum are?” Take that Martha Cunningham, he thought to himself.
“Won’t make a blind bit of difference.” The man said. “We’ll just exchange one lot of crooked politicians for another.”
“I’ve been thinking the same thing.” Robert confessed. “I believe in the Union but I can’t say I like the status quo.”
“Why are you out campaigning then?” The man laughed.
Robert held his hand up to his mouth as if to hide what he was saying and spoke in a stage whisper: “Good question. Don’t tell the lady over there…” He nodded towards Martha who was giving Robert impatient glances.
“I doubt you’ll get much interest here.” The man said.
The man screwed up his face. “Apathy. I know some of my neighbours didn’t even vote in the last election. Can’t say I blame them. Ten years of Labour was no different to the Conservatives before them and then the Conservatives get in and they say they’re just going to continue Labour’s policies. What’s the point.”
“So, what can we do?” Robert asked. “How can we encourage people to get involved?”
“You can’t. We aren’t involved. No matter what we vote, the moment they’re in power they do what they like. Anyone who says you can make a difference in politics without actually being a politician is flat out lying.”
Preaching to the converted, Robert thought to himself. Might as well give up now. He gave the man a half-hearted smile. “May I ask if you plan to vote in the referendum?”
“Of course. I’m Yes all the way. Don’t care if that offends you.”
“It doesn’t. I’d rather everyone voted. Would you like one?” He offered a leaflet.
“No.” The man shook his head, grinning at Robert.
Robert said goodbye and headed to the next house aware Martha was now several ahead of him. He posted leaflets through the doors and caught up with her sooner than he thought, then realised she had slowed down.
“We don’t have all night, Robert.” She called.
He waved in reply and gritted his teeth. He didn’t think he’d mind leaflet drops if he had more time to speak to people. It was fascinating hearing other people’s views. Finding out why they thought how they did.
They finished the street and walked along to the next one. They were able to leap frog again and made quick progress up and down the shorter street.
Robert thought he felt some spots of rain from a grey and overcast sky but it remained warm and otherwise dry.
They started up the last street when a couple of teenage girls came out of a house they were approaching. They both looked to be in their late teens so Robert offered them each a leaflet. Martha continued on, huffing loudly as she past him.
“Will this be your first time voting?” Robert asked.
“Stronger United, huh?” One of the girls asked, scanning the leaflet quickly and Robert just as fast.
Robert noted the other girl looking away as if embarrassed or bored. He couldn’t tell which.
“That’s right. Have you decided how you’re going to vote?” He asked them both even though one wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“Don’t get her started.” The bored one said, shaking her head.
“Not for the SNP, bunch of unmentionables.” Her friend said with genuine anger.
Robert was taken aback.
“Would you like to remain in the UK?” He asked.
“Of course! I’m going to be in Team GB. Can’t do that if they split us up.”
“What’s your sport?”
“Hockey. I’m too young to compete in the Commonwealth Games but I’m aiming for the Olympics in 2016.”
“If I play devil’s advocate, you could still compete in the Olympics for a Scotland team.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be convincing me to vote No?”
Robert shrugged. “I want to know what people think.”
“I think we’ll be lucky if we don’t have a civil war after the referendum.”
Robert choked down a laugh. “That’s a bit extreme, don’t you think?”
“You see what’s happening in Ukraine right now. You really think England are just going to let Scotland walk away without trying to stir up some trouble? No way are they going to let us keep all the oil the SNP keep banging on about. No, too much money there.”
Her friend pulled out her phone and started swiping the screen.
“The SNP don’t even have a mandate for the referendum.”
“They did get elected promising one.” Robert couldn’t help himself.
“Yeah, and you know how many people actually responded to that white wash consultation they had?”
Robert did but didn’t interrupt. She was fascinating him.
“Less than one percent, yeah Chantelle.” She said to her friend. “That’s how much Scotland wants independence.”
Chantelle shook her head.
“All my class say they’re voting Yes but when it comes to polling day, how many of them will be too busy doing their nails to actually get out and vote? All this referendum is doing…” She rounded on Robert. “Is dividing us. You got young versus old, rich versus poor, might as well be black versus white…”
“You can’t say that, Tara. That’s racist!” Chantelle piped up.
Tara ignored her. “You got to remember Ukraine.” She told Robert. “It don’t matter which way we vote, a huge chunk of people are going to be mad one way or the other. And the way some of them keep insulting each other, it’s like they’ve completely forgotten we’ll have to live in the same country afterwards. I’ve had friends tell me that they’re going to kick out everyone who voted No. What kind of country is that going to be? One where you’re going to get bullied if you disagree with them. No… bunch of losers the SNP are, and all their supporters. Just full of hate. Not you Chantelle, you know who I mean.”
Chantelle sighed. “Are we going or what?”
“I’ll keep this.” Tara said to Robert, a wicked grin appearing on her face. “Post it on the college notice board. That’ll wind them up!”
Chantelle pulled her hand and Robert watched the two of them walk away. He shook his head and turned to see Martha was walking back towards him.
“I don’t want to hear it, Martha.” He said to her abruptly. “If you don’t like me canvassing opinion, don’t choose me as a partner.”
He could see her shock but ignored it. “Did you finish the street?”
“Don’t talk to me like that.” She responded after staring at him for some time. “It takes two or three times as long to finish a leaflet drop if we stop to talk to people.”
“If we aren’t willing to speak to people we aren’t going to win the referendum. The Yes campaign are going all out to win over hearts and minds. Can we really say we believe in our cause if we’re unable to even have a conversation with people.”
“Not all of us are good at speaking to people.” She said and began to walk back up the street.
Robert followed her. “What do you mean?”
She gave him a disgusted look. “It’s so easy for you. You strike up conversations with anyone you meet. I get tongue tied. I never know what to say.”
“You manage fine with me, with the group.”
“You’re my friends. At least, I thought you were.”
While he was mulling this over, a car pulled up outside a house they were passing and Robert stopped. “I’ll catch you up.” He said.
Martha didn’t reply.
Robert stopped to talk to two other people before they had finished. Less than he’d have liked, but he knew knocking on doors would have been just rubbing it in Martha’s face.
They didn’t speak to each other as they finished the drop and headed back to the car. Robert was quite glad for the chance to think. Maybe if they were making an effort to persuade people, to find out what would encourage them to vote No, he would feel more enthused about the campaign. But what he couldn’t admit to Martha was that if he believed the SNP had actually been good for Scotland, he would probably be campaigning for a Yes vote.
He still believed the Union was a good thing, still believed that a union solely with Europe would be a disaster for Scotland but his doubts about the referendum just got bigger. He’d heard two stark opinions. Were they the real choices facing the Scottish people? Apathy and resignation or a country filled with hate and division? There had to be a better way.
His last few days in the office had dragged. Robert hadn’t seen Jim once. While he couldn’t think how else he could have handled it without compromising his ethics, Robert did feel responsible for what had happened. He’d built a solid reputation on being able to understand requirements and deliver successful projects. There had been conflicts before but nothing that had escalated so quickly.
Part of him had wanted to challenge Jim. To seek him out and tell him how his refusal to engage with the project had been such a risk. But he kept a lid on that. Just keep your head down for a few more days, he had told himself.
He’d avoided sending emails choosing to see others who had been involved with the project in person or to call them rather than putting something in writing that he might need to share with Jim. He avoided gossip but when asked directly what had happened he gave his side of the story. There didn’t seem any point in covering it up.
And now it was his second last day. The documentation was up to date and he had written up a proposal for how he thought the project should continue.
Without any communication from Jim he would be within his rights to kick back and relax for the last few hours but…
Robert drummed his fingers softly against the keyboard for a moment and then opened up a new meeting invite. He included both Jim and Alastair and titled the meeting Project handover.
He looked at the times both Jim and Alastair were available. There were slots both in the morning and in the afternoon. Tempting to select the afternoon. He chose morning, then booked a room and added it to the location.
He added links to the documentation he had created on the network and attached the proposal. Then he clicked Send.
Robert stretched, locked the PC and went to get a coffee.
It was still overcast with a rare muggy heat that evening. After they’d eaten, Robert went out to the garden, armed with his seeds and trays. He’d read more of his book and realised that a nine square metre plot was too big without a path through the middle.
He didn’t have any spare paving stones so he decided he’d just avoid seeding a narrow gap. He could change it the following year.
He marked out squares using small stones and planted half his peas, beans, beetroot and all of his onions, leaving entire squares untouched for the sweetcorn and sunflowers and the seedlings he hoped to grow indoors.
Then he filled his halved toilet rolls with earth, placed them on the trays and stuffed seeds down inside them. He still had seeds left over so carried the packets and trays back inside.
“I hope you’re not going to get earth all over the house.” Helen told him.
“Just in every window sill.”
Robert had booked the room for a longer slot than the meeting invitation. He turned up 15 minutes early and politely waited for two people who had made use of the room to leave.
He had printed out copies of the project proposal and a summary of the project documentation. He didn’t need to review it but scanned it, wondering: if he had more time would he make any additional changes. Nothing came to mind.
The allotted time for the meeting passed by. Robert started jotting down some thoughts on his research into Scotland’s history and the UK economy.
He checked his watch. Ten minutes late.
He kept writing, trying to keep his mind occupied.
Fifteen minutes. Robert was glad he’d only scheduled half an hour.
Just before twenty past the hour, Jim walked by the room, did a double take and opened the door. “I cancelled the meeting.”
Robert stood slowly. “I didn’t receive a cancellation.”
“I sent it before the meeting.”
How many seconds before… Robert told himself to remain calm. “I see.”
“Didn’t seem much point as you’ve provided all the documentation.”
An opportunity to clarify, Robert thought. Your last chance to ask any questions. He couldn’t think of an appropriate response so kept silent.
Jim came fully into the room and held out his hand, a confident smile on his face. “No hard feelings.”
Robert stared at the extended hand. Instinct dictated he shake hands. Culture… tradition… He looked from the hand to Jim’s face. Jim was looking at him expectantly, as if Robert was perhaps a slow, slightly stupid child.
Robert turned away and gathered up his documents. Was the right thing to do just accept humiliation? Accept the other guy had all the power and there was nothing you could do about it? He didn’t know, but there were lines he just wasn’t willing to cross. He looked up at Jim. He would forgive Jim. Find a way to accept that he could have handled the situation better. But he would not shake the man’s hand.
“If you have any questions, I’ll be at my desk.” Robert told him.
Jim withdrew his hand slowly. “You are an arrogant piece of work, aren’t you?”
Robert walked up to Jim. “Excuse me.” He said.
“I said, you are an arrogant piece of work, aren’t you.”
There was silence in the room as Robert studied Jim. Fleeting memories of off-hand comments he’d made during meetings, belittling colleagues. His lack of interest in studying the project design that Robert had initially put down to Jim being too busy. And now the final insult…
Robert nodded at the door. “No. I meant, excuse me.”
Robert could almost feel a wave of hatred as Jim held his ground in front of the door. Long seconds passed until Jim finally made a small step to the side, barely leaving Robert enough room to open the door.
“Don’t bother asking for a reference.”
Robert held his peace while carefully extracting himself from the office. He walked away without looking back, all the while wondering if Jim could be psychotic enough to turn violent.
Returning to his desk, Robert pulled up his email and began to compose a final message to the agency. While he’d avoided sending internal emails during his last week, he’d made sure to send at least one to the agency every day, providing proof he’d been in the office. He wouldn’t put it past Jim to “forget” to sign his timesheet. He thanked Nina for her help and advice and promised to call her the following day.
He looked at the PC clock. 10:42. It was going to be a long slow day.
Helen walked into the kitchen to find Robert cooking. “Are we celebrating?”
“Hi.” He turned to kiss her. “Nothing to celebrate.”
“You don’t have to work with that man anymore.”
Robert closed his eyes and sighed, long and slow. “Well, there is that.”
“You have a few days off.”
“Which I’ll be spending chatting up agencies and scouring the job sites.”
“And I should hope so too!”
“We need to vote tonight.”
“Ah yes. After dinner?”
Robert ate quickly, lost in his thoughts. He knew it was normal for him to feel exhausted at the end of a contract, having put all his creative energies to use, but tonight he just felt drained without any of the satisfaction of having completed a project.
“Who are you voting for, then?” Helen asked.
When Robert told her she threatened to tear up his voting registration card. “You can’t vote for them, they’re racist!”
“That’s just media lies and a few oddballs. It’s not racist to want to control immigration. And anyway, they’ve been quite clear they would let people in from all over the world, as long as they have something to contribute.”
“Of course not. We couldn’t afford the benefits bill.”
“People don’t come here for benefits, they come here to work.”
“Okay, I’ll concede that most people do come here to work. And most people who come are well educated and contribute a lot. But I still feel we need to control our borders.”
“Well, I’d let everyone in. If someone wants to come, they can.”
“And our benefits system will collapse.”
“Nope.” Helen said. “We’d fix the benefits budget and share it out equally to whoever needs it. If there’s more people everyone would get less.”
Robert barked a laugh. “That’s…” He searched for words. “That’s genius! Or insane. I’m not sure which but I love it. How long have you believed that?”
“I just made it up.”
“I think you might have riots on your hands if you were in charge but that’s an intriguing idea.”
They walked to their local primary school and voted in the European elections.
Robert woke at his normal time. Heading downstairs he set water to boil before grinding coffee beans. He filled the coffee pot and left it to stew while he made toast, then made a pot of tea for Helen.
Helen joined him a few minutes later. Yawning, she ran a hand round his shoulders as she walked by him.
“Do you have a plan for today?” She asked.
“Fire up the laptop and start calling agencies. I emailed most of them yesterday afternoon but it will be best to follow up with a call.”
“Are you remembering we have guests tonight?”
“Are you planning to spend any time tidying up…?” Helen gestured at the piles of paper that had taken over their kitchen.
Robert looked round and inwardly groaned. “Consider it done.”
Helen gave him a look. “We have everything we need for tonight’s meal. I’ve ordered in groceries to be delivered tomorrow afternoon for the rest of the weekend.” She put her hand out to him. “You could just take the day off… Sure…” She said looking round. “Tidy up in here but you don’t have to spend the whole day trying to find a new contract. Right?”
Robert took her hand. “I’ll probably be able to relax better this weekend if I’ve made a start. But you’re right. I don’t have to spend the whole day job hunting.”
By Eleven, Robert had called half a dozen agencies and received calls from two others in response to his emails from the previous day. There was one promising lead and he’d updated his CV and emailed it in.
He made himself a new pot of coffee and studied the piles of paper that were cluttering the surfaces. Print outs from websites mostly, arranged in piles according to subject matter:
Other random topics that had caught his eye while he had been researching.
He picked up one sheet and started skim reading. UK Government regularly ignored public responses to consultations. If politicians continually failed to take account of people’s views, what was the point in having politicians at all?
He laid the sheet down and looked at another. The richest ten percent in the UK collectively had access to enough wealth to pay off the National Debt three times over. If they could be forced to pay off the National Debt then £55 Billion a year in interest payments could be channelled to provide full employment at a living wage.
He took a slow, deep breath and laid that sheet back down.
Wandering over to the first pile he’d started on land ownership he looked down at a single quote he’d found on the Internet: “The entire population of the world subsists on just six inches of soil.”
Robert poured himself some coffee and stood at the kitchen window looking out into their garden. He hadn’t dug that deep but was sure the soil went further than six inches down. Yet the soil had not been loose. It had stuck together, been hard to separate. More like clay than sand. Or was that just an average. Six inches across the whole globe. How many mountain tops had he walked on where the top had been bare rock and the grassy sides could easily be damaged revealing how little soil existed in the slopes.
There were too many facts and figures floating round in his head. It all meant something but what was he to do with it? It wasn’t going to help his ambivalence over the Stronger United campaign. Wasn’t going to help him find a job or help him rest.
He had lunch then decided to clear the papers from the kitchen. He had nothing else to do to prepare for the weekend until that evening. He’d bought Helen her present – tickets to the ballet – the previous month. He would go with her and make every effort to enjoy it. The food was arranged, guests were invited. It would be a welcome relief to enjoy several evenings with friends.
By Three PM he was satisfied the house was as presentable as it needed to be. He donned his boots and went to survey his plot. A couple of starlings were pecking at the soil. He waved them away and crouched. He had no idea how long it would take for shoots to appear. Did he need to get nets to keep the birds off and protect the seeds? He didn’t know.
He looked up. The clouds were starting to clear. It was turning into a nice day. He got out a deck chair for himself, sat and allowed his thoughts to wander.
She found him dozing in his chair. Helen gently shook him awake.
“You’ll get sunburn.”
“Was I asleep?” He blinked heavily and yawned. “Can’t believe it. I was just thinking it was getting warm enough for a cold beer. How was your day?”
“Busy as usual. I see you tidied up, thanks.”
“Start of the big weekend then. Are you excited yet?” Robert put a hand up to his mouth as he yawned again. “Sorry.”
“Still got tonight’s meal to prepare. I might start to relax after that.”
“Well, I’m second cook and chief bottle washer so just start giving the orders.”
She squeezed his shoulder. “I’m going to shower.”
Standing in front of the mirror she examined her face. Lines were becoming more pronounced but nothing to really show she was about to turn Forty. She watched a tear roll down her cheek, put a hand to her stomach. Not what she would have chosen but what could they have done.
She straightened and blinked to clear her eyes. This was her weekend. She was going to enjoy it. Turning on the shower she began to review her mental list of tasks to do before Karen and Julie arrived.
“I wasn’t much interested in Geography at school but since the incident with the estate manager I’ve found myself researching land ownership.”
Julie put down her wine glass and sat back. “Geography’s a broad subject but I don’t think they deal with land ownership.”
“They should.” Robert gestured with his own glass. “I remember being taught meaningless facts about the run-rig system but nothing about why Scotland was carved up as it was.”
“That sounds more like History. How much wine have you had?” Asked Karen.
“Not enough.” Robert stood and picked up the wine bottle. “Anyone?”
Julie held out her glass for Robert to top up and then Helen did the same.
“A Dutchman, a Dane and an Arab walk into a bar… Could be the start of a joke, right? Get this: There is a Dutchman, who owns 80,000 acres; A Dane, the guy who runs the Lego corporation no less who owns 50,000 acres and an Arab who owns the 15,000 acre site where Highland Spring mineral water is produced. Almost 150,000 acres owned exclusively by three non-British nationals.”
“So…” Julie raised her eyebrows.
“Why do we allow land to be sold outside the UK? Our land is all we have. If we sell it, we don’t have a country anymore.”
“That’s a bit extreme. We have friends who own property in Spain and even Eastern Europe.”
“Certainly, so do we. But most countries limit the amount of land that can be sold. We don’t even have a national register for land sales that can be searched online. No-one can actually state how much of Scotland is owned within the UK. But some people have tried to find out and they’ve been able to show three million acres are owned by non-British nationals.”
“Foreigners you mean?”
“Are you going to tell us you’re anti-immigration now, Robert?” Karen joked.
“I’m all for people moving about. I just don’t think we should sell off something that can never be replaced.”
“How big is Scotland?”
“Just under twenty million acres.”
“So we’re talking fifteen percent. It doesn’t seem that much.”
“If someone walked into your house and took fifteen percent of your jewellery, or hacked into your bank account and took fifteen percent of your savings, would that seem like much?”
Karen laughed. “Not of mine. Julie might feel the pain though!”
“Hey! I inherited most of that jewellery.”
“Why didn’t we inherit the land?”
“I guess because our parents and grandparents never owned it in the first place.”
“But why not? Who did own the land in the first place? Why did the first person to claim a million acres have the right to that land?”
“Because they were bigger and stronger and managed to kill more people than anyone else.”
“But is that a history that we want to accept? Just because a few people managed to grab all the land for themselves a thousand years ago do we have to keep living with the consequences?”
“I’m not sure what you can do about it. Steal it back?”
“I came across an Office for National Statistics analysis this week.”
“I thought you were giving this a rest.” Helen piped up.
“Maybe it was last week, anyway, half of all households in Scotland receive more in benefits than they pay in taxes. Most of our fellow countrymen and women had no choice about where they ended up. Evicted from crofts; forced into slums; moved out into the New Towns. They never had a chance to make anything of their lives. But someone got rich selling those three million acres. I would love to know how much that land went for.”
“So…” Julie drew out. “Robert. How is the Stronger United campaign doing?”
Robert looked down at his wine glass, picked it up and swirled the contents. “I’m thinking of packing it in.” He looked up at Helen.
“You mean the Yes campaign has finally convinced Robert Castle?” Julie gave a mock gasp. “Hold the phone! Referendum result is in the bag!”
“No, definitely not. I still dread to think what the SNP will do to Scotland if they gain complete control.”
Karen leaned over. “So let me get this straight… You’re not voting No and you’re not voting Yes? After all you’ve said about people needing to be involved?”
“I didn’t say I’m not voting. I don’t think I can support the Stronger United campaign anymore.” Robert sighed. “I think the whole of Britain needs a radical shake up. But the SNP are not offering independence, they’re offering a union with Europe. They’re offering a shared currency with the UK. They’re offering the same style of undemocratic government.”
“And how many times do we have to repeat the argument, the referendum vote is not a vote for the SNP, it’s a vote for the chance to determine our future.” Julie couldn’t keep the exasperation out of her voice.
“But what future?” Robert asked. “How can you say we can determine our own future when it won’t be us determining it, it will be 128 men and women deciding for five million?”
“Our MSPs are democratically elected.”
“That’s not democracy. It’s not democracy when my MSP ignores me and hundreds of other constituents and votes the way he or she pleases. It’s not democracy when the Scottish Government ignores the results of numerous consultations or introduces legislation that wasn’t in their manifesto.”
“Maybe that’s enough politics for one evening.” Helen tried interjecting.
Robert leaned back. “I’m sorry. I just get obsessed.”
“You have to know when you’re beat…” Karen said with a sly wink at Julie. “Though, Robert… You should consider standing for election yourself if you feel that strongly about it.”
“It would have to be as an independent. I don’t think there’s a single…” Robert caught Helen’s eye and stopped himself.
He got up and brought back another bottle of wine. As he offered it round he looked questioningly at Helen. “One more question?”
Helen declined the wine. “Just so long as it doesn’t lead to our guests…” She emphasised the word. “…taking offence.”
Robert set down the bottle and looked intently at Karen and Julie for a moment. “Okay, lets wipe the slate clean, maybe have some fun with this. If you ruled Scotland – and I mean like a king or queen, absolute power – what would you change?”
“Everything!” Julie replied instantly.
Karen gave her an amused glance. “You mean no government, right? I could make the decisions?”
“Yes. But you would be answerable to the people, just like any dictator…”
“Better make sure you establish an army then, Julie.” Karen said.
“We wouldn’t need an army, we’d be a full member of Europe.”
“Which doesn’t currently have an army…” Helen reminded her.
Robert held up his hands. “You’re assuming Europe would accept Scotland into membership, you can only have what you have the power to change.”
“Well, that’s no fun!” Julie responded.
“Just rephrase your statement, maybe: I would apply for membership of the EU.”
“I’m not sensing I have absolute power in this game.”
“You do within Scotland. Okay, let me have a go. I would establish full employment.”
“And how would you do that? Wave a magic wand?” Karen asked.
“Good question. How would I do that…” Robert winked at Helen. “I would introduce conscription, then I’d have my army.”
“And who are you planning on attacking?” Julie scoffed. “England?”
“How about poverty? Idleness? Attacking the benefits culture.”
“Sending young men to die is NOT the way to solve those problems.”
“But why do you assume an army will be used to fight?”
“What else is it going to be used for?”
“After the second world war ended Britain had conscription for years. Young men were trained to fight, yes, but they were also given discipline, they were taught real trades that they were able to use when they had served their time. Can you imagine the impact on our society if we took the unemployed neds off the streets and taught them to respect themselves and each other? Taught them discipline and gave them a trade?”
“You could do that with training schemes.” Julie protested.
“The government has been trying that for decades and has failed at least two generations with that argument.”
“Well, you’re not king in MY Scotland… I’m implementing a training scheme.”
“Ha!” Robert grinned. “Fair enough. What else? Karen?”
“Full employment sounds good. I would lower taxes. Maybe get rid of VAT.”
“Wait a minute.” Helen interrupted. “What would you cut from government spending to fund getting rid of VAT?”
“Why do I need to cut anything? I’m queen, right?”
“You’re just going to print money?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“You won’t be queen for long when your subjects can’t afford to pay for anything. So, what would you cut?”
“Okay, I have full employment now so I can cut spending on benefits!” Karen held up her hand for Julie to high five.
“I’m not convinced the two will balance but… My turn.” Helen thought for a moment. “Homeless shelters in every town. Nothing fancy but they need to be warm and safe.”
Robert reached over and took Helen’s hand. “Shelters for the homeless. Maybe can take that out of the MSP expenses budget… No need for duck ponds in Scotland, right? Julie…”
“What time is it?” Helen roused herself as Robert sat on the bed, balancing a tray.
“Ten AM. Tea?”
“Why so early?” Helen lay back down and closed her eyes.
“You ordered the groceries. Personally I’d have picked a later time slot but…”
“You don’t need me for that.” She mumbled.
“I don’t see why I should have all the fun. Anyway, I have your present here.”
Helen opened one eye and looked suspiciously at Robert.
“Happy birthday!” He leaned over and gave her a kiss.
Helen lay still. “I don’t want to be Forty.”
“It’s not that bad.” Robert drank some coffee. “I have pastries. Maple and Pecan or cinnamon swirl.”
“It’s too early for pastries.”
Robert smiled down at his wife. He loved the way she looked in the morning. As if a night’s sleep transported her back in time. He adjusted the tray and tucked into a pastry.
After a few minutes Helen gave a fake groan and shuffled herself up. “You’re not going to leave me alone, are you?”
“It’s your birthday. You don’t get to sleep in.”
“Grrr.” She took the offered tea and took a sip. “So, where’s my present?”
Robert handed her a large envelope.
“You didn’t get me a gift card again, did you?”
“Would I do that?”
“You did last year!”
“You asked me to.”
Helen put the tea back down on the tray and slit open the envelope. As she pulled out the card two tickets fell out. She picked them up and looked at them with a puzzled expression.
Robert realised he was holding his breath and told himself to relax.
“What are these?”
“Tickets to the ballet.”
Helen looked at them for a while longer.
“You bought me tickets to the ballet?”
“You mentioned it a couple of months ago. Is it okay? I could get you something else…” Robert realised Helen was crying. He put the tray onto the floor and moved over to hug her. “What’s wrong?”
“You hate the ballet.”
“Hate’s a strong word.”
“‘Never want to see men dancing in tights ever again.’ That’s what you said after we went, what, twenty years ago!”
“I figured I could always close my eyes… I promise I won’t complain. I won’t make fun of them. I’ll be on my best behaviour.”
Helen leaned over and hugged him, pulling him in tight. “Thank you.” She whispered.
“You’re worth it.”
“Don’t talk to me about it, foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs. No wonder unemployment is as high as it is.” Steve Tanner said.
“That’s not what I’m saying.” Robert adjusted a steak on the barbeque then took a sip of his beer. “I don’t have a problem with people coming over here to work. We export a ton of our own people abroad and they do very nicely for themselves.”
“There aren’t enough jobs to go around.”
“It’s more than that. There are jobs but they don’t pay enough. I couldn’t live on minimum wage. I don’t know how anyone could.”
“How can there be enough jobs if unemployment is so high? That can’t be right. What is unemployment now? Three million?”
“In the UK. In Scotland it’s only around 180,000.”
“Is that all?”
“Yeah, but it’s an artificial figure, more people are on benefits.”
“Still… 180,000. I doubt there are that many jobs available.”
“Probably not. Need to bring back conscription.”
“You planning on starting a war?”
“That’s how they’d have solved the problem a hundred years ago. Kill off a million young men and your unemployment problem is solved! I think the steaks are ready, you want to round up the kids?”
Steve shouted and his three kids came running. Robert doled out crispy sausages in rolls and burgers in buns then sent them over to the table where Helen was sitting with Kathryn.
“What happened to your garden.” Kathryn asked innocently.
Helen looked away, her hand hiding her mouth.
Robert shrugged and grinned. “Finally decided to see if I could grow some vegetables.”
“What brought that on?” Steve asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. Midlife crisis maybe. Stress of getting fired from my job last week…”
“Nothing to do with the research Helen tells me you’ve been doing?” Kathryn asked.
Robert looked over at Helen who was focusing all her attention on the children. “Well, come to mention it, did you know the whole world subsists on just six inches of soil?”
“Interesting fact, Robert. But why does that mean you decided to tear up your lawn?” Kathryn gave Steve a knowing look.
“I have been doing a lot of research. The more I read up on what is happening to our country, the more problems I find. You look at the economy, at how the government is mismanaging the money we pay in tax; how the poor are being brutally squeezed… Then trace it back to laws that were passed hundreds of years ago that were patently unjust then but have been allowed to determine how we live today.
“You know, I’ve spent four months working on a project where the guy who hired me couldn’t even be bothered to check whether he was happy with the direction I was taking. I earn a good living from these contracts but sometimes I wonder why companies are so willing to spend money but so reluctant to ensure they get good value from it. Why don’t people care? We are so inefficient. We waste everything: food, electricity, plastic. Then I re-read that quote and thought: I’m no different. I use disposable cups at work. I buy mangos from India and grapes from Brazil.”
“The lettuce is from Stirling and the beef is from Aberdeen.” Helen interrupted.
“You keep me on track.” Robert took a bite of his steak.
“I’m still not hearing a reason for the lawn…”
Robert leaned back, frowning at Kathryn, and set his plate on the table. He had to admit, he didn’t really know why he felt that urge to dig the lawn. But there would have been a reason. There was always a reason, even if he didn’t always know at the time what that was. He kept thinking. “I felt I had to do something. I’ve been reading all these articles on Scotland’s history: how the land was stolen; who owns Scotland now, and yet my only connection to the land is walking it.”
“That’s more than some.” Helen said.
“You’ve even dragged me on a couple of hikes.” Steve reached over and took a handful of crisps.
“But is it enough?” Robert asked. “I have no idea what it means to provide for myself. I’ve never spent time weeding or watching plants grow.”
“Now there’s a hobby for you! Watching plants grow…” Steve laughed. “Better get some tall beers in!”
“Anyway, Steve… I decided I needed to experience growing my own vegetables.”
“He just made that up, didn’t he.” Kathryn said to Helen.
Helen looked puzzled and turned to Robert. “You didn’t, did you?”
Robert took his plate back. “No. Though I didn’t exactly know why I dug the garden at the time.”
“Told you, he made it up.”
“It sometimes takes me a while to know why I want to do something.”
“That’s not really something you want to admit, Robert.”
“Studies have shown that our subconscious can often resolve decisions faster than our conscious mind.”
“Bet that goes down well at the job interviews!” Steve clapped Robert on the back. “This is good steak, good beer, good company. Happy birthday, Helen!”
After they’d eaten too much and topped it off with cake, Helen and Kathryn took the kids inside to watch a movie. Robert stayed outside to tidy up and Steve joined him after a minute with a couple more beers.
“Dishes will still be here tomorrow, right?” Steve clinked Robert’s bottle.
They sat drinking for a few minutes, Robert admiring a growing sunset.
“Tough break on the job.” Steve said. “You got anything else lined up?”
Robert sighed. “Not yet but something will turn up. It always does.”
“So which party did you vote for on Thursday, the sleaze balls, the tossers or the nancies?”
“You missed out a few there. I chose my favourite colour.”
“Ha! Now that’s just about as good a way to choose between them as any.”
“Did you hear, two thirds of people didn’t bother to vote?”
“That’s normal, isn’t it?”
“How can it be normal?” Robert stood and walked over to his plot. “Did you and Kathryn vote?” He asked looking back.
“Of course. Red all the way!”
“Did you know the Government passed their gagging law this week. Hardly a mention in the news and yet we’ve just moved a whole lot closer towards totalitarianism. Two thirds of people don’t vote. We’re sleep walking our freedom away.”
“So you’ll be voting Yes at the referendum then.” Steve grinned.
“It wouldn’t be enough.”
“How do you mean?”
“The SNP appear to be ideologically no different to Liberal Westminster. You told me about that GIRFEC bill. I hadn’t even heard of it and now it’s law. Apparently they’re planning a similar bill for England. You know, some of the laws the Governments on both sides of the border have passed makes me think of laws that were passed in 1930’s Germany. Taking away our right to protest; telling parents the state is now responsible for their children.”
“So, what are you going to do Robert? Start a revolt?”
“Revolutions are a bloody business. I don’t think Helen would let me…”
“They managed to avoid killing anyone in Iceland.”
“The revolution in Iceland.”
“When did they have a revolution?”
“Couple of years ago, maybe longer…”
Robert took a pull on his beer and looked questioningly at Steve. “You’re making it up, right? There wasn’t a revolution in Iceland.”
“Sure there was. Wasn’t anything on the news about it. Probably didn’t want to give us any ideas.”
Steve was going to reply when Helen and Kathryn walked out.
“Not tidied up then?” Kathryn asked. “Men, what can you do with them?” She nudged Helen and laughed. “We are going back inside and opening another bottle of wine. Robert, it’s your wife’s birthday so…” She made a circular motion with her finger, pointing at the table. “I seem to remember you saying you would clear up…”
She took Helen’s arm and led her back inside.
“How much has she had to drink?” Robert asked once the women were out of earshot.
“I think we’ve got some catching up to do. Come on, I’ll help you get the plates inside.”
It was midday before Robert woke. He lay still for a while, aware the room around him wasn’t entirely steady. It had been a good evening, joking with Steve and Kathryn and their kids until late.
He wanted to turn round and go back to sleep but they had Gordon and Penny coming round that evening to finish the weekend off and Robert had promised to clean the place up. And from what he remembered of the night before, there was a fair amount to do.
Gingerly easing himself out of bed he checked on Helen before pulling on a dressing gown. He probably could dance right next to her and she wouldn’t wake. Not that he could dance right now…
Once in the kitchen, Robert pulled out a frying pan and started heating up some bacon. A good breakfast would help clear his head. He retrieved his laptop while waiting for it to cook and Googled “Iceland Revolution” to see if Steve had just been winding him up.
No, there were plenty of sites all with bold headlines about an event that had apparently been ignored by the UK media.
He read some of the articles while he ate his breakfast and then read some more.
Eventually he got up, the thoughts prompted by the articles making his head spin more than the previous night’s excesses. He loaded the dishwasher and started washing the pans.
“That was an amazing meal! Thank you, Helen.” Gordon leaned back in his chair and smiled contentedly.
“It certainly was!” Penny stood from the table to join Helen in clearing the dishes away. “Let me help you.”
“It was a team effort. In fact, Robert may have cooked the whole thing.” Helen confessed. She whispered to Penny: “I’m not entirely sure I’ve recovered from last night.”
“It’s not every weekend you turn Forty. You’re entitled to let your hair down at least once a decade.” Penny told her.
“What on earth possessed you to have three separate events?” Gordon boomed. “Three times the effort when you could have had us all round at the same time.”
“Strangely enough that was Robert’s idea.” Helen cleared the last plate from the table. “Thought it would give us a chance to spend quality time with all of you rather than rushing round all evening. And you know what, he was right.”
“Good man, Robert. You didn’t end up doing the dishes I hope?”
“That was part of the deal.”
“Letting the side down there.”
“Shall we head through to more comfortable chairs?” Helen asked.
“Perhaps I could offer you a brandy… or a malt?” Robert said to Gordon.
“A malt would be excellent.”
“Gin and tonic, as always.”
Robert led the way and got glasses out. He served Penny and Helen, then brought out a bottle of single malt. “Will this suffice?”
Gordon nodded his approval and Robert poured two healthy glasses, no ice, no water.
“Good man!” Gordon said as he took the glass. He smelled the aroma, then took a small sip. “Hint of peat and salt. A smoky finish and very smooth. Slange!”
Robert toasted him back and took a sip himself. He hadn’t had this particular malt in two decades and had taken the opportunity to buy a bottle while they were on holiday. It was still one of his favourite whiskeys.
“Forgive me, Helen if I talk politics for a bit?”
“If you must, Gordon. Robert hasn’t talked about much else this weekend.”
“Do you think you’ll be able to protect the Union come the referendum?”
Robert glanced over at Helen who had pursed her lips. “I’ve actually started considering resigning from Stronger United.”
“Turning traitor, Robert!”
“Gordon!” Penny scolded.
“Sorry, love. Still, that’s a blow. Who’s going to fight for the No campaign without you?”
“I was hardly a leading light. Perhaps you should take my place?”
“I’ve no desire to be centre stage. I’ve never understood why you didn’t offer to do more. You’ve experience of public speaking.”
“In church. Preaching to a friendly audience. Not quite the same as trying to rouse a rabble or convince sceptics.”
“I would have said the opposite and from what I’ve seen, you’ve got the skills to do both.”
“Well, I think my views on politics have become soured throughout the campaign.”
Gordon took another sip and studied Robert. “I was planning to invest quite a lot in the Stronger United campaign. Honestly, do you think the Yes vote could win?”
“It’s still too early to say. Some people are keeping quiet. That could be because they’re planning to vote No and don’t want the aggro they’ll get from Yes supporters. Others are apathetic. I’ve spoken to a few people who are not even planning to vote. They just don’t think it will make a difference.”
“Can people really believe that?” Penny asked.
“Apparently.” Robert shook his head. “But I think the referendum has become part of the problem for me. Stronger United are pushing to remain strong in Britain…”
“And I hope enough people see the sense in that.” Gordon interjected.
“While the Yes supporters are pushing the idea that we can determine our own future, but I’ve come to believe that both sides are ignoring reality.”
“Careful now, Robert. I’ve never been one to stick my head in the sand.”
“Do you believe the current political system is good for all people. Not just for you and me, but everyone in this country?”
Gordon thought for a minute, beginning to frown. “I’m a capitalist through and through. You know that. I would cut back the welfare state. Make people go out to work. I think we’ve created half the problems we’ve got in this country by persisting with the lie the state can and should support people. But… No, I don’t think Government can solve the problem. Politicians are too dependent on popularity. Too unwilling to make the hard choices the country needs.”
“Would you let people starve?” Helen asked Gordon. “If you could change everything? Would you let children suffer, make people homeless just to prove a point?”
“Of course not.”
“Helen would.” Robert couldn’t resist.
“I would not!”
“Not what you said the other day… How did you put it, ‘I would set a fixed welfare budget and it would be shared out to whoever needed it.’”
“People wouldn’t starve!”
“If we had ten million immigrants sharing a fixed pot I’m not sure how you’d avoid that.”
Penny and Gordon exchanged looks.
“We wouldn’t get ten million immigrants because long before that they’d know there would be no money for them.”
“I’m winding you up.”
Robert laughed as Helen glared at him. “Okay, I’ll stop. But Gordon, I agree with you. Politics is broken, from parliament right down to local councils. There are massive problems in Scotland and in Britain as a whole right now and not one of the political parties has the answers.
“If it was up to me I’d cancel the national debt; use the interest saved to fund enough jobs to create full employment. I’d seize back the land stolen from the people hundreds of years ago and settle people on it. Give them a chance to create their own future. I would get rid of the welfare state by making it irrelevant. Provide enough jobs that pay enough that every person that is willing to work hard can earn a decent living.
“That’s what I’d do if I was in charge.”
The room was utterly silent when Robert finished and he looked around at Helen and Penny’s shocked faces.
“Did I get a bit carried away?” He asked.
“Bravo!” Gordon cried out. “Now that is the Robert that should have been campaigning. So, how are you going to vote in the referendum?”
“I honestly don’t know. If I thought we could remake Scotland like that, I would vote Yes.”
“Maybe I would as well.” Gordon seconded.
Robert went through the motions on Monday, applying for three roles he found on job sites and calling round half a dozen agencies. He watered the plot which was starting to look a bit dry and also the seedling trays, none of which were showing any signs of green.
That evening he and Helen collapsed in front of the TV to watch a movie. Neither felt like talking or doing anything else.
The house phone rang and Helen suggested they ignore it but Robert got up to answer it.
“Robert!” He recognised Gordon’s voice. “Are you watching the news?”
“No, just having a night off…”
“Turn on the news now! Call me back.” Gordon hung up.
A strange feeling in his stomach, Robert walked back into the sitting room.
“Who was it?”
Robert didn’t answer. He changed the channel on the TV and searched for BBC News.
“Robert?” Helen asked again.
He said nothing as he saw the headline: First Minister missing, feared drowned.
Robert fished his mobile out of his pocket and called Gordon.
“Are you watching?” Gordon asked.
“The First Minister?”
“It’s worse than that. We need to talk!”
To be continued…
Buy Book 2 now or save 25% and buy the complete trilogy
To my wife and children, thank you for your patience through the long evenings and weekends when I’ve lost myself to another world.
To Andrew, if you hadn’t sent me on that business trip I may never have come up with the idea for this novel – thank you!
To the volunteers at National Novel Writing Month, without you my first draft may never have been. May you continue to inspire people to produce messy first drafts and amazing works of art. Thank you.
To David MacKenzie for a perfectly designed cover, thank you!
To the wonderful people who run CAP Money and CAP Debt – you have helped our family to get control of our finances. Thank you! They can be contacted through
To Michael and Dot, your generosity in sharing your time and knowledge is an inspiration. You have created your own Grand Design in your Zero Carbon House. Thank you for answering my many questions and your kindness and hospitality.
To Allan and all at Strathkelvin Judo who shared their knowledge. Thank you.
To Frank, you have continued to provide invaluable advice and support. As a life coach you have asked the right questions and given advice that has enabled me to progress faster than I thought possible. Thank you.
To Frank, Peter, Mary, Joy and Norrie, thank you for your insights and help while proof reading the final drafts. All mistakes are mine alone! (If you as a reader do find any mistakes in this version – email me at [+ [email protected]+])
Finally, to you… Thank you for reading this book. I hope you enjoyed it and would love to hear your feedback – email me at [+ [email protected]+] and review the book on Amazon.
Born in Aberdeen, raised in the Shetland Isles and currently living in Central Scotland, Mark Anderson Smith has seen Scotland transformed since oil was discovered under the North Sea. Having lived in England for ten years and worked from 1999 till 2001 in Central Asia he has a unique perspective on what it means to be a Scot at home and abroad.
His two years in Central Asia were spent in the Republic of Tajikistan, a new country that declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Instead of resulting in freedom, independence led to a five year civil war – the consequences of which can still be found today.
Yet despite seeing the destructive power of a country that tried to tear itself apart, he also saw people willing to forgive, willing to work together, willing to fight for the future – without resorting to violence.
As if writing a novel wasn’t enough, Mark has 100 goals and you can read about his successes and failures on his blog.
Mark enjoys walking Scotland’s mountains and climbing; and will gladly debate the merits of union or independence with anyone.
Mark would appreciate your feedback: [+ [email protected]+]
The Great Scottish Land Grab Book One
The Great Scottish Land Grab Book Two
The Great Scottish Land Grab Book Three
The Great Scottish Land Grab The Complete Trilogy
The Great Scottish Land Grab The Complete Trilogy
100 Crazy Ideas to Fix The Economy
At times subtle and profound, at times breathtaking and exciting. Described by some as an easy read, by others as making you want to shout at your screen. For one day the world held its breath as Scotland voted on whether or not to leave the UK. Politicians from the heart of Washington DC to the Kremlin were in terror that the decision would go the wrong way. Full of optimism and hope, this novel explores what could have happened and for some readers, imagines what still could be - an independent country, where the politicians are silenced and the people have a voice... “In the land of fiction, independence is real. In the real world, Scotland has said no. But in the land of fiction, the Scots have gone one step further and have voted for a land grab as well as independence. Robert Castle intends to fulfil his promise to the Scottish nation, no matter what the cost. Yet again, Mark Anderson Smith has made the improbable believable. Indeed, after reading this, I thought independence would happen! Alex Salmond may have gone but there may be a real Robert Castle out there. Watch out Westminster - according to Mark Anderson Smith, it ain't over yet!” Joy Kluver “Was looking forward to the second book in the series and it didn't disappoint. Found myself wishing that Scotland's future could really be like this. Another cliffhanger ending, that leaves you wanting to get book three as soon as it comes out.” Mary Douglas “This book was excellent, very interesting and well put together. I couldn't put it down and it certainly made me think. Well done looking forward to book 3.” Susan McGrory “Five Stars. Can't wait for the next two books Subtle and profound.” Moira Currie Product Description When Robert and Helen Castle decide to take a walking holiday in the Scottish highlands they expect stunning views, peace and quiet, but instead end up facing a lone man armed with a shotgun. Forced off the mountain, Robert determines to get justice but finds he has no rights. Faced with the fact Scotland’s land does not belong to its people, the deeper Robert looks into Scotland’s history the more troubled he becomes. News that the First Minister of Scotland is missing, with only four months until a referendum on Scottish independence, challenges Robert to decide whether he will fight for Scotland’s future. Sensing that the theft of Scotland’s land over many centuries has robbed the people of their opportunity to be independent, Robert fights for a modern day land grab – to reverse the clearances that stole Scotland’s land from the people. Helen fears that politics could destroy Robert and their marriage. As the campaign intensifies she faces some of the hardest decisions of her life. Robert has a vision for a future Scotland but his determination to win this battle threatens to drive him and his wife apart. Unknown to him, there are those who are determined that he will not win and who will go to any lengths to protect the status quo. Imagine a country without politicians, a country governed by the people, for the people. Imagine Cafe Politics and government by referendum where having your say on government policy is as easy as voting for your favourite contestant on The X Factor. The Great Scottish Land Grab is a vision of democracy, a blueprint of hope and optimism. Serialized over three books during the summer of 2014, this is Book 1 of The Great Scottish Land Grab.