© Suzanne Myers
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The bus rumbled around hairpin bends, past dank green fields and tumble-down conifer plantations, bringing Professor Jeremy Thorn ever closer to the village of Kelty. He had not been to this part of the British Isles before and so was intrigued by the landscape. His foot kicked the air and he fiddled with the bus ticket until it disintegrated.
“Kelty, next stop,” the driver called out. Jeremy pulled his rucksack from the luggage rack and stumbled to the front of the bus. Stepping out into the tiny village he looked to the right and left, wondering where this ‘important museum’, this ‘potential centre of Scottish archaeology’, could be.
Opposite was a pub, out of which spilled a group of Vikings; long-haired, daubed in war-paint, dressed in tunics. It was a novel welcome, Jeremy thought, but they did not see him, preoccupied as they were with their own rowdy banter.
Jeremy had considered going into the pub for a pint, but he knew he was expected by the enthusiastic young lady who had emailed him, and he did not want to keep her waiting. He spied a shop near the church, so he decided to walk up the High Street towards it.
Soon Jeremy saw a sign for the Kelty Museum. His first impression was that it resembled a domestic dwelling rather than a place of historic collection. He swept a hand through his unruly brown hair, capturing it behind his head in an elastic band. A good first impression was important, and a ‘pony’ was the tidier option. Rucksack slung over one shoulder he made his way toward the entrance where a young woman stood.
“Hello, is it Professor Thorn?”
“That’s right. Katie, I presume?”
“Awesome,” she gushed, “I’m so pleased you could come.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” he said, shaking her hand, “I’ve not been this far north before.”
“Then you’ve a lot to discover. I’ve booked you into the pub over the road for the night. Do you want to go there first - put your bag down and freshen up?”
“No, no, let’s crack on.”
“How long are you staying?” Katie asked.
“I’m booked on the bus back to Glasgow tomorrow afternoon so precisely twenty-four hours. They’re a bit leery of away days at the British Museum. Belt-tightening everywhere, I’m afraid.” Katie turned her ring-pierced mouth down.
“Yes, I know. We’re all in the same boat. Come on in,” she said. Jeremy eagerly followed. “This is our receptionist, Sarah.” Polite nods were exchanged. “The director will be joining us tomorrow but this afternoon I thought I would show you around and let you get a picture of what we’ve been doing.”
“Top class,” said Jeremy.
Katie smiled at his expression. She had known of him since her student days when he was often quoted by her tutors. She never imagined that she might one day meet him. It was eight months since she had sent the email inviting him to visit their museum. She had gone to great lengths to make it clear that this was no ordinary provincial museum, no collection of tat that no one had the heart to throw away. On the contrary, this was a place that might soon become a centre of archaeological importance if only they could get the funding. The recognition of experts ‘such as himself’, she had written, would help in this effort. She had sent the email in hope, adding that she had read and admired his works; ‘The Beaker Collection of Wiltshire,’ ‘The Amesbury Archer’s boy’, ‘Hidden Stones of Stonehenge’ ‘The mystery of the Ring of Brodgar’. Two weeks later the reply popped into her inbox. It was a ‘Yes’. She was ecstatic.
“Follow me,” Katie said, and they began a well- rehearsed tour of the Kelty Museum. With its beginnings as a manse that was turned into a visitors’ centre in 1997 for those who came to see the remains of Scotland’s largest timber circle (now gone), followed by its gradual evolution into this tiny parochial museum, there was plenty of history to be covered in the afternoon. The contents of the museum were displayed in a small room. Jeremy imagined it was where the local preacher held his parlours. It seemed to Jeremy’s expert eye that there was a lot of genuinely old material that had been uncovered in the locality. They paused in front of a Beaker type pot from Upper Largie, found in a grave without a body and thought to have been brought to Scotland by a continental immigrant perhaps travelling in the area drawn by copper deposits. ‘This was at a time when metal working was just beginning to make an appearance in Britain and Ireland’ the caption read.
“Surely with our new technology we could return to this site and find the body,” Jeremy suggested enthusiastically. Katie looked sheepish.
“We could have but I’m sorry to say that it’s now a gravel quarry.” Jeremy was scandalised, “How is it that quarrying could take place where archaeological remains like this have been found?”
“The land belonged to a local building firm,” Katie explained, “Once they had allowed the archaeologist to finish their survey they took it back and got on with their quarrying.”
“I see. Is this the Beaker you mentioned in your email?” he asked, peering into the case.
“No, the most recent discovery is an amazing Neolithic Beaker pot. That’s the reason for the fundraising. We want to create a place for its display, you know, climate controlled and that costs money.”
“Where is it at the moment?”
“It’s in the basement. I hope you don’t mind waiting until tomorrow to see it only it is very precious, and the director wants to show it to you herself.”
“No problem. What’s this?” Jeremy pointed at an impressive collar of polished beads.
“It’s a necklace made of Jet.”
“Surely it’s not from round here?”
“Yes, found in a woman’s burial but the nearest place for jet is 300 miles away in Whitby.”
“Yes,” Katie confirmed, “another traveller perhaps, who ended her days here.”
“Like the Amesbury Archer at Stonehenge,” Jeremy offered.
“Both sacred sites,” said Katie, delighted to be trading theories with her hero, “where people would come to worship or find a cure?” They both gazed in at the necklace, each lost in their own imagining of this ancient woman, travelling to this place in hope of something miraculous.
“And that’s where my tour ends.”
“But what about the Glen?” Jeremy enquired. “What about that henge you mentioned?”
“Yes, the original wooden henges have gone but one of the sites has been marked by a stone reproduction. If you fancy a walk I could take you to see it.”
“Yes, please. I have a particular interest in henges.”
“OK,” said Katie, “Let’s go.”
Jeremy followed Katie out of the museum and down into the glacial valley that was lush alluvial green with a clear river running through it. On a site no more than a mile away the remains of the henge stood, so much smaller than its Avebury cousin but still impressive.
“What a beauty,” Jeremy marvelled, beginning to feel that familiar buzz he had when seeing a new monument for the first time. “You know they were thought to have been constructed on the lay-lines of the Earth: places of particular resonance, so even thought the construction is new the place is what matters.”
“Owe, I see,” said Katie but her attention was elsewhere. She had spotted a car approaching. Jeremy had seen it, too, since it was moving at an indecent speed given then nature of the environment and the rough, unmade-up road.
A battered Land Rover screeched to a halt. Out of it stepped a grizzled man in a kilt. He strode purposefully past them and paced around the site. As he walked his sporran made of a badger’s head with teeth bared, bounced on the swinging tartan cloth.
“I not sure what is more fearful; the man or the sporran,” Jeremy said in a low voice.
“Or what is beneath the sporran,” Katie added to Jeremy’s surprise, “I mean weaponry,” she clarified.
“Jeepers and I though this was a quiet back water,” said Jeremy.
“Still waters run deep,” Katie said and then as the man had finished his circuit of the henge and was approaching she nodded. He nodded back, returned to his car and accelerated away, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake.
“What was that about?” Jeremy asked.
“He’s the land owner. He doesn’t much like what we are doing.”
“He’s concerned about the increased numbers of visitors. He thinks they’ll be blocking up the roads and spoiling the peace. Sometimes it feels like we are fighting an up-hill battle!”
“I see,” said Jeremy, “Can he stop you?”
“The sites in this glen have been accessed by visitors for long enough to have created a public right of way. Of course, in times past it was just the odd enthusiast who would come. Now, if everything goes to plan, there will be a lot more visitors. We are trying to negotiate with him, and the other land owners but it’s a rocky road.”
“So, is this the only henge in the area?”
“It’s the only one still visible. The remains of a much older and larger timber circle were quarried away where the beaker was found.”
“I’d like to go there and see where it was.”
“I’d love to take you but the place is fenced and guarded. We would not be welcome.”
“I get the picture,” Jeremy sighed. “Well, I’ve probably absorbed as much as I can for the moment. It was an early start this morning.”
“Sure. Take that path past the standing stones. It’s a short cut to the pub.”
“Would it be alright if I join you for dinner tonight at about seven?” Katie asked.
“Of course, that would be lovely.”
“Awesome. I’ll see you then.”
Jeremy made his way back to the local watering- hole past some intriguing standing stones, only to find that same band of Vikings coming out as he was going in. They still didn’t seem to notice him, and he found himself jostled and pushed aside by men who spoke in an incomprehensible Nordic language. When he reached the bar, he gave his name to the barman who looked as though he had been exhausted by his recent customers.
“Ah yes,” he said looking at his computer, “You are expected. It’s Room 2 and there’s a table booked for seven o’clock.”
“Fine,” he said, receiving the key, “I think I’m ready for a pint now.” He pointed to a local brew.
“Fyne’s Finest,” the bar man said as he drew it down. “Brewed on the shore of Loch Fyne with water from the glen.”
“When in Rome…” said Jeremy, “I say Rome but who were those warriors? I had to fight my way in. Anyone would think we were in Scandinavia!”
“The Viking re-enactment group. Yes, a scary bunch, not to be messed with, especially when they’ve had a drink. You here on museum business?”
“Just visiting to see the work.”
“I’ve been reading about it in the local paper; brewing trouble.”
“Yes, even the car park they are asking for is huge!”
“Won’t it bring people here?” Jeremy suggested, “That’s got to be good for you.”
“I don’t mind a bit more business,” the barman agreed, “but this will flood the town. They are talking about people from all over the world coming to see this pot thing. I don’t see why they don’t just get it displayed in Glasgow.” Jeremy was interested in the passion of the man’s objection,
“You seem well informed.”
“I read the local paper, that’s all.”
“Of course. Well, I suppose they believe that the artefact belongs here, that it is part of Kelty’s history.”
“But it’s not even that! It was supposed to have been brought here by a foreigner!”
“One of them maybe but not the oldest,” Jeremy corrected him, “I don’t think they know who brought that and now they never will because the place where it was found is a quarry.”
“Well, the place was only ever intended to be a visitors’ centre for people who came to see the monuments in the glen. I’d like things to stay as they are.”
Having finished his pint, Jeremy retreated to his room. He sensed that the barman wanted to continue discussing the problem of the museum, but Jeremy did not want his mind swayed either way about the pros and cons of the ambitious venture the museum was pursuing. After all, he was their guest. He had, however, decided that the whole place was too interesting to be dealt with in a day and so had resolved to try and arrange a longer stay in a more neutral place. He lay on the bed, took out his iPad and searched online to see whether there was anywhere he could stay nearby. A bothy located on an island in Loch Fyne popped up. It was apparently accessible by causeway or canoe. He scrolled through the pictures and was impressed at the beauty of the location with views across to Arran. This was worthy of consideration, he thought, and the nightly rate was not bad either. He sent a text to the host, found out that it was available and booked it for a week.
Jeremy then sent a text to his department to say he would be ‘Out of the Office’ for the next week. He knew it was a little irresponsible. After all, no preparations had been made for his absence, but he had recently been gifted an excellent personal assistant, Mandy, who he knew would ‘hold the fort’ for him. Jeremy rarely took holidays. He was anyway lucky enough to enjoy a great deal of time out of the office on field trips and digs. There were many sites that he was required to visit because, after twenty years working in his field of Ancient British archaeology, he was one of the most respected authorities in the country on the subject.
His phone beeped, announcing the arrival of a text from Mandy. It read:
‘What about the meeting with Triton on Tuesday?’
Jeremy had been so distracted by the Kelty business that he had completely forgotten about an awkward major sponsor of a special exhibition that he was organising on behalf of a colleague recently sacked. The BM would be livid if his absence caused the funding to be withdrawn but Jeremy had a feeling that this too was an important opportunity that had to be taken.
‘Try and rearrange for next week, Mandy. Tell him I’m dealing with family issues, please.’
There was a long pause. He could only imagine Mandy turning over in her mind the wrong he was asking her to do for him. Finally, to his great relief the response came. ‘Will try! M’.
“Cripes!” Jeremy exclaimed, suddenly noticing the time. He dashed into the bathroom to take a shower before dinner.
Katie was at the bar when Jeremy came down from his room. A pint in hand, she was talking to the barman.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he said, noticing that pink glitter had been sprayed into her spiky blond hair and blue lip gloss brightened her pierced smile. She also had a jewelled piercing on her nose that he had not noticed earlier. This was clearly ‘out of office’ wear; very ‘ancient Briton’ he thought with approval.
“No problem,” Katie said as she circled her glass on the bar, “What are you drinking?”
“Fyne’s Finest, please.”
There were a couple of other people in the bar, but it was decidedly quiet. A fire had been laid in the fireplace but not lit. The decor was slightly shabby with tears in the leather that clad the chairs and moth damage to the curtains. The floor was wooden planks that moved as they carried their drinks to a table where they could sit down.
“Sometimes we feel so cut off from the rest of the archaeological world,” Katie began, “Being such a wee place in such a remote location.”
“I think our barman wants it to stay like that.”
“Ned’s been talking to you has he?”
“I can see his point in a way. Why would you want coach loads of visitors detouring around here to see the museum?” Katie looked crestfallen.
“I don’t think of it in terms of ‘coach loads’,” she explained, “I doubt whether most people would be that interested.”
“That’s not fundraising talk!” Jeremy said.
“Whoops,” Katie giggled, “You’re quite right.”
“Have you been to the new visitors’ centre at Stonehenge?” Jeremy asked.
“I went to Stonehenge when I was at school. There wasn’t a visitors’ centre then.”
“No, it opened in 2013. I was involved in its set up, as a consultant. I mean, it is great because it herds the masses into an organised system of viewing and it makes money for English Heritage and The National Trust, but the place is ruined.”
“How do you mean?” Katie looked worried.
“Well, I understand that people want to see it as a ‘Wonder of the World’ but it is so busy!” Jeremy explained.
“Are you against the commercialisation of our heritage then?”
Jeremy grimaced as he considered this rather formal question that sounded so odd coming from Katie.
“I just think it’s a pity. Something is lost. After all, it belongs to all of us like the landscape. It should be protected but not like that. A lot of people can’t afford the cost of the ticket?”
“Fair point,” Katie conceded.
“And now, with the increased traffic they want to put the road underground and, of course, the archaeologists are against this because of the potential damage to undiscovered artefacts.”
“Plus ca change …” Katie summed up and perused the menu.
“Is this your local?” Jeremy asked as he noted a few more people had come in.
“Not really. I have a house in Crinadd on the canal, so I tend to use the bar at the Crinadd Hotel. Have you been to Crinadd?”
“No but maybe I’ll get there. I’ve decided to stay on. I’ve booked myself a little cottage for a week and I’ll do some exploring.”
“Very sensible. After all, you’ve come a long way. There’s a guide book on the archaeology of the whole area. I’ll give you a copy tomorrow. It’s just been published to promote our cause.”
“Great. I think I’m going to have the mussels.”
The evening passed sweetly enough, and Jeremy listened as Katie outlined her ascent from student of archaeology in Aberdeen to her current role. He was interested to find out how little field work was required these days to qualify. It seemed that there was more emphasis on the ability to unearth the electronic records via computer, thereby becoming something of a specialist without dirtying the hands. By ten o’clock Jeremy was flagging.
“Is it a long drive back to Crinadd?”
“Twenty minutes. I cut across the moss, which can be very long and dark.”
“That doesn’t sound so good.”
“There’s a full moon tonight so it won’t be as bad as all that, but I probably had better get going. What time would you like to start tomorrow?”
“Ten o’clock,” Jeremy suggested, thinking that now he was officially on holiday a lie in would not go amiss. Katie paid the bill on the museum’s behalf and bid him ‘goodnight.’
After a hearty breakfast, Jeremy made his way back to the museum. By ten o’clock there was already a buzz about the place or rather about the café that was clearly popular with the local ladies. Katie was waiting in the reception.
“The car park is almost full,” Jeremy commented, raising his brows, “and yet there is no one in the museum.”
“It’s the café users,” Katie admitted.
“But surely that is a problem for you, isn’t it? If people coming to the museum find they can’t park because the car park is full of café users, they will drive on.”
“The café does a lot to pay for the museum and it’s a community benefit.”
“So is the museum - an educational benefit. It should take priority.”
“That’s why we need a new car park. Come and meet our director, Helen.”
Jeremy followed Katie through the empty museum shop and up some stairs to the director’s office. A woman in her thirties, plump with a porcelain complexion greeted him.
“Welcome to our little museum,” she said, offering her hand in welcome, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here yesterday.”
“No problem. It gave Katie a chance to fill me in on some background.”
“Yes, in preparation for this,” she said, presenting her exhibit. On a table by her desk the Beaker pot had been put on display.
“So, this is the crown jewel,” Jeremy said, reverentially approaching the earth coloured fragments of a Bronze Age Beaker pot.
“It’s probably the oldest Beaker in Britain,” said Helen, flushing with pride.
“It may well be,” he tentatively agreed, “So you think it should stay here in Kelty?”
“There are so many archaeological remains here,” Helen explained, her green eyes flashing. “If we could centre the publicity around this piece then the Kelty museum could be transformed into a hub.”
“A hub?” Jeremy’s eyebrows lifted.
“Academics would come from all over the world...” Helen went on, “Why send it to Glasgow to just be part of a larger collection? Here it is in the context of where it was found. It has a story and so it will come alive – as long as we don’t allow the place to be turned into gravel quarries.”
“Is there a chance of that happening?”
“A local construction company opened up the site for our excavations, but so far we haven’t been able to stop them continuing with their quarrying.”
“I suppose they would argue that the local economy is sustained by the employment they provide,” Jeremy suggested.
“Yes, of course, but they could bring raw materials from elsewhere, dug from ground that is not littered with archaeological relics.”
“I know I’m being Devil’s Advocate here but that would add cost for which they would expect to be compensated. Have you included a compensation sum in your fund-raising effort?”
“Certainly not!” Helen replied tetchily, “I’m just saying that the government should stop them working these areas.”
“With respect, by the time the government decides to do that the sites will have been worked over and ruined.”
“There is another site, too, which could be full of remains and they are keen to get on with working it.”
“Yes,” he acknowledged, “Katie told me.”
Jeremy felt glad that he had begun to apply a little worldly wisdom to what was a worthy if slightly idealistic cause. He would not have considered himself particularly gifted in this department but in his career, he had probably come across situations that had enabled him to think ‘outside the box’ and he suspected that Helen was rather too ‘inside the box’ for the museum’s good. She told him that she had started her career at Salisbury Museum.
“Ah, I know it well. Funny I’ve not come across you before. I was there researching my book a couple of years ago.”
“On the Amesbury Archer?” Helen said.
“That’s the one.”
“The only other Neolithic Beakers in Britain are in Salisbury.”
“So,” Jeremy said, “You’ve brought your expertise here.”
“That’s the idea. Salisbury had quite a mixed collection in those days,” Helen explained, “We had stuff we didn’t know much about like chalk plaques and clay tablets.”
“What sort of clay tablets?”
“There was one with pre-Egyptian hieroglyphics on it.”
“Astonishing,” Jeremy exclaimed, “Where did it come from?”
“Dug from the ground where the Amesbury Archer was lying,” Helen said.
“What was it doing there?”
“We didn’t really know.”
“And more pertinently, how is it that this is the first I’ve heard of it?” Jeremy was aghast. “I’m supposed to know about such thing!”
“It was hidden away,” Helen confessed as if she were guilty of a deception.
“Was it translated?”
“Not as far as I know. We used our resources on the objects that were part of the Ancient British story, like the Amesbury Archer.”
“Found buried with his bow and arrows and a Bronze Age Beaker.”
“He was probably a travelling craftsman …” Helen offered her theory, “Same as those who ended up here.”
“Why do you think they came here?” Jeremy asked. He knew it was a contentious issue. He knew what Katie thought but he was interested to hear Helen’s view. “Was it to gather metal resources or was it a marketing mission to sell their wares?”
“For the copper resources?” she suggested with some confidence.
“Ah yes,” he conceded. “That is probably it.”
The meeting was cut short by thundering footsteps on the stairs and the sudden arrival of those Vikings again with their long hair, face paint, tunics and, this time, horned helmets.
“I’m so sorry,” Helen gasped as though surprised by the invasion. “I’d completely forgotten that I have a meeting with the Viking festival team.”
“Jeepers!” Jeremy exclaimed, “They’re a fearsome bunch alright”
“They’re a re-enactment group,” Helen explained, “We are trying to put Viking material in the shop during the event.”
“Well, thank you for showing me the Beaker.”
“My pleasure,” Helen managed to say before she was lost behind the troupe who seemed again to jostle and push Jeremy out in to the corridor. He was sorry not to spend more time discussing his favourite subject with this intelligent and feisty woman, but he was also looking forward to beginning his holiday.
On the way out, Jeremy met Katie who was clearly waiting for him.
“Are you impressed by our little enterprise?” she asked.
“I certainly am, and I will do all I can to help you in your efforts to raise funds. Count me in as a ‘friend’ of the museum.”
“That’s awesome,” Katie said, handing him a book entitled, ‘Paths of Kelty.’
“A little ‘thank you’ gift - the guide book I told you about. Also, we are planning a fundraising event in London soon so perhaps I could invite you to be our star attraction.”
“I would love to be there,” Jeremy said, popping the book into his rucksack. “We’ll keep in touch. Now, how I do I get to Lochahead and, more particularly, to Caseron where my holiday cottage is located.”
“It’s the Glasgow bus,” said the ever-helpful Sarah.
“The one I’m already booked on?”
“Yes,” she said, “It stops outside the pub in fifteen minutes.”
“Cripes, just time to pick up some supplies at the grocers over the way. So goodbye sweet ladies, until we meet again.”
It was a swift bus that travelled the winding road along the west coast. It stopped to pick up passengers in the town of Lochahead and shortly afterwards the driver announced that they had arrived at Caseron. Jeremy alone stepped off the bus. He followed a track until he saw the waters of the loch. Another mile along a path through gorse and there was a pontoon. Against the rocks, well up from the tide’s reach, was a small fibre hulled rowing boat. This had been described by the owner as his transport. He pulled it along the pontoon until it was floating then he stepped carefully in with his bags of shopping. He used an oar to push the boat out into the deeper water and then began to row.
The loch was calm, so the traverse was not difficult. The water was so clear that Jeremy could see the weedy fronds waving. The crossing took no more than fifteen minutes at the slow pace he had adopted so that he missed nothing. He breathed deeply, tasting the fresh salt tinged air in his mouth and feeling the invigorating freshness of this far-from-London location. Two hefty oar strokes landed the flat-bottomed vessel onto a pebble beach where he was able to clamber out onto his island without getting his feet wet. The rucksack and shopping off-loaded, he picked the boat up and carried it well away from the water line. There he left it, bottom up with the oars stowed underneath and he began his climb.
At the top of the hill, in a circle of trees, a small stone-built cottage stood. It had a slate roof and was single storey. Jeremy gasped with delight when he saw it. This was even better than the pictures. He went around to the front door and put down his bags with some relief. He then sat on the low wall for a moment to catch his breath and take in the view down the loch. The sun- drenched afternoon beautified the scene; the waters dancing with diamonds under a limpid blue sky and the bracken bright emerald. He could not believe his luck.
Recovered sufficiently, Jeremy set about finding the painted stone under which he had been told the key was hidden. While he was on his hands and knees searching a text pinged into his mobile from Mandy: “Triton raging but booked in for next week. Doesn’t seem to know what family means… Leaving it to you to explain. M” Jeremy raised his eyebrows. He knew that Mandy must have had a bit of a battle with the billionaire with aspirations to make his mark in history. Jeremy was a little out of his depth dealing with him, but the director seemed to think it was a good idea. To Jeremy this Beaker business was far more interesting and he was prepared to risk a dressing down if that was the price he had to pay for staying-on.
Jeremy found the key under a painted rock, as instructed. He opened the front door and peered into the small kitchen. It was dark because wooden shutters protected the windows, so he put his bags on the kitchen table and went back outside to see if he could open the shutters. They were locked with tiny padlocks the key to which he found on the same ring as the door key. There was one other key, whose use was a mystery. He opened the blue painted shutters and pinned them back against the grey stone walls. Returning to the kitchen he found it flooded with golden light. He felt he had died and gone to heaven.
As Katie drove home that night she felt a little sad that the excitement of Professor Thorn’s visit was over. Helen had been in a meeting with the Viking re-enactment team all afternoon, so the end of her working day had come without them having had a chance to talk. Some of what the professor had said had given her inspiration and some a feeling of dread. It was his criticisms about the café that had touched her the most. She wondered to what lengths they would go to bring their museum into the limelight. Could they risk alienating the community even for the greater good? It was a difficult question in view of their divergent priorities. There was so much still to do if they were to secure the funding they needed for their development. It was a daunting task. She then noticed to her right on the hillside the silhouette of gargantuan earth moving machinery. She recognised it from that first quarry. It was as though it had now been moved into place, ready to begin work on the second site; the site that had not yet even been surveyed for archaeological remains. The vision was disturbing enough for her to stop her car and take a picture to send to Helen who needed to know about this unwelcome development as soon as possible.
A local newspaper was on the mat as Katie let herself in to her house. She picked this up and went into the kitchen to sort out something for supper. There was not much in the fridge since, with all the excitements of the week, she had not had time to shop. She did, however, find a pot noodle so she put the kettle on. As she waited for the water to boil she sat down and looked at the front-page headline:
“First Minister Coming to Lochahead.”
It was not that unusual for Feranta Fish, Scotland’s First Minister, to visit the west coast. She seemed to like the place. Katie read the small print, which said she was to be accompanied by a representative from Europe who was coming unofficially in response to her bid for Scotland to be allowed to stay in Europe even though England was leaving. The next line explained that she was to attend an opening of a new housing development. This was built by the construction company who had paid for the excavations that had unearthed the fragments of Neolithic beaker. Now poised to exploit the second site, Katie knew they would be hard to stop unless… unless… her hands came down flat onto the kitchen table as an idea hit her like a thunderbolt …. unless they could get Feranta Fish on side!
The kettle boiled. Katie stood to pour water into her pot noodle. It was an opportunity not to be missed but how would she do it? Could they hold a protest, she wondered? What about a silent protest with placards? ‘Yes,’ she said out loud to herself. At the very least the local press would be there but perhaps the TV, too, or they could circulate the news via Twitter? It might ‘go viral’ and then their little world would be watched by the big world and perhaps their fundraising efforts would skyrocket! What a great idea, she said to herself. The event was at 2pm the next day and she had to be ready, so she began thinking up slogans to put on the placards.
After very little sleep, Katie was in work early. She was there before the receptionist or the director had arrived, which was unusual, but there was a lot to do. She went into the education room to start making the placards. They often had school groups at the museum, so they were well supplied with large sheets of sugar paper, stencils, paints and all the paraphernalia needed to be sure that junior aged children had a good time. She had some rigid cardboard that they had bought in so that the last groups to visit were able to make visors and shields for a ‘Brave Heart’ learning session. These sheets would be good enough, she decided, if they were attached to broom handles with duct tape. The cardboard was white, so she opted to paint her slogans directly onto it. She opened her laptop to review the slogans she had come up with the previous evening. After a couple of glasses of Iron Brew, she had felt quite inspired. Things never seemed as easy in the morning...
‘Stop Destroying our Past’
‘No More Quarrying’
‘Save Scottish History’
‘Dig to discover, not to destroy’
‘Save the Sands of Time’.
She wondered how many placards she should make. It was difficult to know who would join her in protesting. Helen, she thought, might but if Sarah came they would have to close the museum and that would mean a day’s earnings lost. She decided to make three boards with a different slogan on each side. That neatly used all six slogans, so she would not have to choose between them. She was well on with her work when Helen appeared at the door.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m creating a protest.”
“So we can draw our plight to the attention of the First Minister who is in town today.”
“Really?” said Helen, “Our plight being?”
“That we don’t want our special sites quarried.”
“Well, I agree with that. I can see your friend from London has inspired you.”
“Yes,” said Katie, “and he is right. We have to make our voice heard locally first before we can expect to be heard globally!”
“Wow, Katie the militant!” Helen cheered.
“Are you free to come, too?”
“I think I should,” Helen said, “What time is it happening?”
“Two o’clock in town.”
“Ok, count me in … “
“Did you get the picture I sent of the machinery?”
“Yes, what a shocker! It’s like they are taunting us, don’t you think?”
“Just like that,” Katie agreed. “This protest will show them we are prepared to fight back!”
Jeremy was woken in the morning by the sound of voices. He wondered where they could be coming from in this quietest of places. Looking out of the window he saw a wooden boat, under sail, rounding the headland and coming into the bay. It was a fishing boat and the crew must have been gutting fish as a stream of gulls followed, diving into the bay where the waste was being tossed. Jeremy dressed hurriedly and went outside to follow this spectacle. He watched as the boat set anchor at the mouth of the inlet. A rowing boat, clinker built, was coming out to meet it with four men on the oars. The cargo of fish in wicker baskets was lowered in to the smaller craft and finally the crew disembarked, having taken the sails down and closed the hatches. An intriguing scene, Jeremy thought as he returned to the cottage to prepare some breakfast for himself.
It was a fine day with light filtering down through gaps in the clouds. Jeremy put a chair outside so that he could eat al fresco. He was glad he had taken the trouble to shop before he arrived at this, rather remote, holiday location because he did not anticipate getting away very soon. It had been a busy couple of days and he needed time to digest all he had been told so that he could make a useful contribution to the Kelty Museums’ bid to become a World Heritage Site.
The cottage had a small garden, defined by a low wall inside which gravel inhibited the growth of bracken; abundant beyond. A statue of a mermaid formed the centre piece of this courtyard. She had a tress of long twisting hair and held a conch shell in her hand. The stone from which she had been hewn was white but grey lichen had begun to grow, giving definition to the scales of her tail and colour. Jeremy sat close to her, as though keeping company with this fantasy figure whose expression was kindly if somewhat remote. He sipped his coffee and bit into a piece of toast while gazing out across the grey green expanse of water between his island and the shore of Arran. In the time he was observing, a trawler crossed the loch, followed by a cargo ship, carrying a load of timber, he guessed, from Rishaig pier to Port of Glasgow. There were gulls wheeling over his island en- route from the neighbouring flat island where they were nesting. His phone rang. He checked the caller and saw that it was his friend and ex- colleague, Tim Fiddler, so he took the call:
“Mandy says you’ve gone AWOL!” Tim said.
“Well, not really. I’m just taking a few days holiday. I’m on the west coast of Scotland, visiting a museum so I thought I’d extend it.”
“Have they replaced me yet?” Tim asked.
“Not as far as I know. You’ll be a hard act to follow.”
“Spare me the sarcasm.”
“I mean it, “said Jeremy, “Although I am glad to have inherited Mandy, but I’m not so keen on having to deal with Triton. Want a bother he is! I do miss you. Are you looking for other jobs?”
“Yes, but nothing’s cropped up yet.”
“Did you know that they have a pre-Egyptian hieroglyphic inscribed clay tablet at Salisbury Museum, found locally? They could probably do with someone qualified to translate it.”
“Yes, the director of the museum here mentioned it. She used to work there.”
“Right,” said Tim, “I’ll give them a call. When are you back?”
“End of the week.”
“Do you mind if I say that we have worked together?”
“Not at all but please don’t tell them about our last project.”
“Not a word. I’ll let you know how it goes… and good luck with Triton.”