© 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 prepared to leave 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 burly men, long-haired, daubed in war paint, dressed as Vikings with chains and daggers over tunics. It was a novel welcome, Jeremy thought to himself, but they did not see him, preoccupied as they were with their own rowdy banter.
Jeremy considered going into the pub for a pint, but he found the company off-putting. He also 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, so pleased you could come,” she gushed.
“Thank you for inviting me,” he said, shaking her hand, “I’ve not been this far north before.”
“You’ve a lot to discover then. 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. As you see, I travel light.”
“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 wary 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 as Katie continued. “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, slightly charmed by his quaint 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 ground to be covered in the afternoon. Jeremy was transfixed as Katie walked him around. 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.”
“Jeepers!” exclaimed Jeremy, 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.”
“That’s semi fossilised wood!” Jeremy said, astonished. “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, eyes twinkling with engagement, “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.
“Indeed,” he concluded with a sigh, “Well, I’ve probably absorbed as much as I can for the moment. It was an early start this morning.”
“Would it be alright if I join you for dinner tonight at the pub?” Katie asked.
“That would be lovely.”
Jeremy made his way back to the local watering- hole only to find that same band of Vikings coming out as he was going in. They didn’t seem to notice him, and he found himself jostled and pushed aside by the 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 worn out by his recent customers.
“Ah yes,” he said, “You are expected. Here’s your key. It’s room 2 and there’s a table booked for seven o’clock.”
“Splendid,” said Jeremy, “But I’ll have 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 where they have the facilities.”
“Fair point,” Jeremy conceded, interested in the passion of the man’s objection, “You seem well informed.”
“We share a cleaner.”
“Ah, well I suppose they believe that it 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 visitors to the monuments in the glen. I like things as they are.”
When he had finished his pint, Jeremy retreated to his room. 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. 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 price was not bad either. He sent a text to the host to find out if it was available and within minutes he had 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. ‘I’ll 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 as though it had seen better days. Drinks in hand the two went to a table to 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 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 remains.”
“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.
The two archaeologists passed an interesting morning together and Jeremy found Helen touchingly earnest in her concern for the very things that concerned him. 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, with the waters dancing with diamonds under a limpid blue sky and the bracken almost emerald green. 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.
“Ah, Bingo!” he exclaimed as his hand alighted on the rock under which lay the key. Jeremy opened the front door and peered into the small kitchen. It was dark because wooden shutters protected the windows. 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 to do 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. It was a disturbing enough sight 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.
On the mat as Katie went in to her house, was the local newspaper. 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 whose quarrying 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 wine, 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!”
By the time Helen and Katie got into town there was quite a gathering. The new housing was outside the town on reclaimed coastal margin. There had been protests from the beginning since the land was viewed as a special habitat by Scottish Natural World Heritage who had done all they could to stop it being used for building. There were dragon flies and great crested newts to consider, waders and fish nurseries but the builders went to court and won.
“We’re not going to be the only protest,” Helen pointed to a small group of environmentalists who were still fighting their corner.
“Oh yes. I’m pleased it’s not just us,” Katie said, “Turning to EU environmental law is not an option for them anymore. Time to pick your placard.” She opened the boot so that Helen could consider the choices.
“I’m going for ‘Save Scottish History’ so people know what we are about.”
“Owe, I’ll take ‘Dig to discover-Not to destroy.’ It’s a clear message.”
Helen led the way towards the gathering. In the centre of the crowd Feranta Fish was shaking hands with the new owners of the properties as they were introduced by Mr McTavish, MD of the building company. She was then handing them their front door keys. There was a lot of emotion in the air because these recipients had never owned a house before. It would be their family’s future, and this had been secured with the help of government and EU money. The European representative was wearing a sash with the circle of gold stars on a blue background. He was the next to shake hands with these happy folk, giving them each a small lapel pin of the EU flag. Most in this part of the world were pro Europe and it was on such occasions that the feeling was reinforced, now in a bitter sweet sort of way.
When the niceties were over Ms Fish went on to meet the crowd. She must have seen the protesters, but she focussed on pressing the flesh of the general onlookers of which there were a fair number. Lochahead was a busy town for this part of the world but not so busy that the public did not have time to stop and look when there seemed to be something going on.
“Are you going to try and say anything?” Katie asked Helen.
“I think our placards say it all,” Helen replied. McTavish has seen them and Feranta, too. “Look, her assistant is coming over.” It was true.
“The First Minister has asked whether you would like to come to the reception at the church hall, so she can have a word about your concerns,” he said.
“Thank you very much,” Helen replied. “We’ll do that.” He went back to report his success and then approached the protesters from SNWH. This was definitely a ‘meet the people’ mission so that Ms Fish could be said to be inclusive in her interests.
Just then Katie’s eye was caught by Jeremy who was hovering at the periphery of the gathering, clearly wondering what was going on.
“Professor Thorn! Professor Thorn!” Katie called, her arm raised and hand waving. He spotted her and came over.
“Fancy seeing you here! Protesting!”
“It was Katie’s idea,” Helen explained, a little embarrassed. She was after all an academic and that is how she would have wanted to appear to this eminent Professor, “We are not exactly protesting but rather raising awareness.”
“Good for you,” he said as a man with a camera arrived.
“Can I take a picture, Miss?”
“Who are you?” Helen asked.
“Then, yes, of course. You know why we are here?”
“We covered the problems with the quarrying a couple of weeks back. Didn’t you see the article?”
“I did,” Katie chipped in. “I do the PR. I was the one who sent you a picture of the Beaker bits.”
“That’s right but this is no quarry.”
“No but these buildings have been built with sands and gravel from the site where the Beaker was found. It should never have been quarried after such an important discovery.”
“Ok, that’s the story,” the reporter said, “So you don’t care about the provision of housing for the local families?”
“She didn’t say that,” Jeremy interjected, looking a little irritated, “Sands and gravels can be brought in by boat. There’s a port at Rishaig and so it’s not difficult, it just costs more than sourcing it locally and there should be higher considerations than economics.”
“That’s right,” Katie said as her confidence rallied.
“And who are you?” the reporter asked Jeremy.
“I’m here from the British Museum - Professor Jeremy Thorn, Head of the Department of Ancient British Archaeology. I am supporting the Kelty Museum’s bid to become a World Heritage Site.”
“We are about to go to the reception and put our points to the First Minister,” Helen added.
“That’s brave,” the reporter said as he stepped back and took a couple of shots of the two women with their placards. “Shall I include you?” he asked Jeremy.
“Yes, why not?”
“Why not indeed,” the reporter said, taking a wide angle shot. “I might have a front-page story here.”
“I hope so,” Helen beamed with surprised delight. Their struggle that had, so far, been rather up hill was suddenly being given a boost.
When the reporter had moved on, Katie turned to Jeremy,
“How are you getting on at Caseron?”
“It’s an intriguing place,” he said.
“Why do you say that?”
“It seems to be lost in a bit of a time warp.”
“Really? I’ve not been there but I imagine it has a lot of history going on.”
“You could say that,” Jeremy replied. He chose his words carefully since he did not want to alarm Katie who would no doubt think him mad if he really told her what had happened. A mad professor was not what the Kelty Museum needed to further its cause, so he decided to keep the other little drama to himself. He was, however, fairly rattled by the events of the morning, which is why he had felt the need to come into town. Fortunately, the sea had been calm and he was able to row across the bay without too much difficultly. He just hoped that the weather would not take a turn for the worse before he returned.
“Are you going to come to the reception and help us argue our corner with Feranta Fish?” Helen asked. Jeremy was flattered. He liked to feel part of a team.
“I might as well. After all, I came here to get involved and this is a great opportunity.”
“I hope so,” she said.
There were few meeting places for a large number of people in Lochahead, but the hall of the Church of Scotland in the High Street was one of them. There were about fifty invited guests who, after the street event, made their way to the reception.
“Shall we leave the placards in the car?” Helen asked.
“I think it would be better to take them with us. Then we’ll be recognised in the room. Here, you take the third one Professor,” Katie proffered the remaining placard.
“Call me Jeremy, please,” he said, taking it. “I haven’t done anything like this since I was a student.”
“I have never done anything like this before,” Helen confessed. Katie smiled.