Friday, April 18, 2014

A good Good Friday wander in Eshaness

Eshaness Lighthouse

Broch, Loch of Houlland

The Lighthouse has landed

Hols o'Scraada

Right, ah'm aff!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

2020: The Scottish Detective. Chapter One - The further north you go

By Tom Morton

New Scotland, 2020: A deadly place for a detective...

June, 2020. Detective Edward Jenner is sent north to his native, now-independent Scotland to carry out what at first seems like a straightforward arrest and extradition. But with Scotland in political and economic turmoil and Jenner's lost Clydebank family in disarray, the case goes horrifically wrong. And Jenner gets the blame.

On the run, a foreigner in his own chaotic land, Jenner's desperate battle to find out who has scapegoated him, and why, takes him from one end of Scotland to the other, and into every level of its society. 

And he realises more than one nation's future is at stake...

Chapter One: The further north you go

The northbound queue at Gretna was two miles long, according to EBC Radio Cumbria. Jenner was approaching the Penrith junction on the M6 when he heard the Invernessian tones of the announcer: Those extended, nasal vowels. Penraaaathhh. Another expat, he thought, another refugee lurking just across the border, adding their glottal stops to the English Broadcasting Corporation, dealing with the hate mail from outraged-of-Keswick: they come here, those Jocks, stealing our jobs, making our traffic bulletins incomprehensible. Offending our elderly with their under-kilt nakedness, their see-you-Jimmy headbutting rudeness. And that was just the journalists.

He’d been a copper in Manchester long before the beleaguered Edinburgh Government, near-bankrupt, its EuroGroat in freefall against the pound, sickened of watching tens of thousands Maccitizens stream south every month never to return, had closed the border. It had been an impressive feat. Like the Berlin Wall going up, someone had commented on the TV, only without the landmines and the killing zones. Guns, though. There were guns. That had been an early change for Police Scotland, and the new Scottish Border Protection Force had inherited their dull grey plastic Chinese imitation Glocks and flat black facsimile Heckler and Kochs. HKS, the Manchester armed support unit guys sneered. Stands for Hong Kong Shite.

The joking aimed at Jenner had turned from good-natured slagging involving ancient Russ Abbott lines (Thank God, lately his carrot-red hair had begun, probably in some psychosomatic response, to fade to a dirty white) to something less forgiving. You bastards. Fuck off back to Jockland. He would open his mouth read someone their rights, and the barrage of abuse would begin. Haggisfucker. Sheepshagger. Did no-one shag sheep in Norfolk anymore? And  surely those Suffolk ewes had a certain je ne sais quoi? And much worse. He had even tried modifying his accent, but had hated the thought of sounding like Denis Law, all half-baked, twanging, Americanised cor-luvva-ducks with those sudden descents into the rattling native caw, or lilt, or whine. Like Lulu. God, Marie McDonald McLaughlin Lulu Laurie  was even worse. One minute she was Princess Margaret, the next  Flora Macdonald. If Flora Macdonald had come from the Gorbals, via some cheap finishing school in Motherwell.

So his hair lost its Celtic Jaffa hue, and he allowed his basic Weegee to become modified only to a reasonably coherent clarity. More Jim Naughtie  than the grating Perthshire poshness of Andy Marr or Ewen McGregor. He’d heard all three were finally applying for full, one-country English passports now. They were clamping down on the dual nationality thing. The rumour was you could buy a Scottish passport on eBay. Through a broker in Macau.

His mobile burred. No international roaming charges, not yet. A few miles to go and the Tartan Vodafone police would start charging him extra for daring to venture into his native land. Native not so long ago, anyway. These days he was a naturalised Englishman, saved from the endless administrative hoops recent Caledonian immigrants were being put through by that red-type birth certificate. Truly, an accident of birth. His parents had been driving home from Glasgow up the M6 when his mum’s waters broke, completely ruining  the orange striped velour front passenger seat of their Austin Allegro. Carlisle Maternity was handy. Now mothers-to-be from Scottish border towns like Wigtown or parts of Berwick had to obtain special ‘birthing visas’ from the Edinburgh Government in order to get specialist treatment in Carlisle or Newcastle. And their health insurance had to be top notch and properly paid up. Or they could just be rich. The former NHS had been sold off in Scotland to BUPA, and a deal with what was left of the NHS in England, now owned by a private equity firm with Middle Eastern antecedents, meant every cross-border operation was cash, card or 24-carat electronic data assurance.  It was a good reason to stay with the police. A pension, health cover for the entire family he didn’t have. Security. There was always a call for experienced filth.

He shouted at the iBerry in its dashboard cradle, hoping that for once the voice recognition software would work. It did. Maybe because he was getting near Scotland. Maybe there was some electronic accent sensor in the masts up here, or the tab itself. The boffins at AppleSoft were unpredictable. Sometimes they liked to play little software jokes. Some homesick,  headhunted Bellshill nerd programming in a vernacular-recognition algorithm. Maybe...

    “Inspector Jenner?” The compressed, digital voice was cultured upmarket SuperJock, private school, Fettes or somesuch. New Club nasal.
    “It’s Macleish. Edinburgh. I presume you’re on the road. Your Superintendent told me you’d had decided to take your own vehicle. Unnecessary. And of course the number plate identifies you as…an interlouper, as they say. And there’s the tourist tax at Gretna.”

Interlouper. Border jumper.  From the Scots word ‘loup’ meaning leap. ‘Louping’ was used to describe someone infested with fleas. In the early days of New Scotland ‘Interlouper’ had been a word used about English students, as they flocked north to take advantage of  an absence of tuition fees. Then, as the initial flush of nationalistic euphoria faded and the economy began its precipitous dive, the term had become something much more savage. Interloupers were carpet baggers, moneyed Englishmen and women heading north to buy up property and businesses dirt cheap, welcomed by a  desperate government with tax breaks and incentives. All skimmed off the Chinese money. Macleish was right, the little St George’s Cross on the new non-Euro English plates was likely to be a provocation. 

    “I wanted my own transport. Relatives to see, that kind of thing. I’m just coming past the Lake District.”
    “Lovely. You know we have a car earmarked for you. Something decent. Anonymous. And if it’s duty free you’re thinking about, we’ll find a way to ship whisky, haggis and any valuable tartanry you feel the need of south. A few haunches of radioactive venison.” The voice emitted a single dry laugh.

Jenner said nothing. He had indeed been planning to load the old Mondeo with booze and fags  in the Gretna FreeZone for the trip back to Manchester. It would buy some relief from his smoking colleagues’ idea of banter. Maybe. As for dead deer, he preferred his meat marbled and fatty. Those Glaswegian genes. Deep-fried Bambi: now there was a thought.
    “Anyway, Inspector. We really need you here as soon as, and there’s no easy way to circumvent the border controls.”
    “A66 and then either Hexham or the A1?” He was too late for that. The Lake District and Penrith junction was blurring past as he spoke.
    “No. And forget farm tracks and side roads. Locked gates unless you actually are a farmer with a key. Park up at the Southwaite Services. I’m presuming you’re relatively light in the luggage department. There’s an emergency helipad and we’ll send a chopper for you. A nice English Westland.”
    “I’m sure a Chinese or Russian one would have been fine. At least they’re newer.”
    “Ah. But much less comfortable. Rugged. But they have to be, what with their propensity to land...heavily. Anyway. I will see you, let’s see...a late lunch? Prestonfield House has the only official helipad in central Edinburgh, and I’m sure they can set aside a private room for us.”
    “Do they do a deep fried pizza there?”
    “Hmm…I’m sure they could humour you if you so desired, Inspector. Missing the culinary delights of your former west coast haunts?”
Jenner could almost feel the glutinous, hyper-heated sponginess and sour fat of a deep-fried pizza from the Ritz chipper in Clydebank filling his mouth with its healthy glow.
    “You know what they say, Mr Macleish. you can take the man out of Scotland, but you can never remove the lipids from his arteries. I’ll see you at Prestonfield. Tell them to get the tempura batter mixed.”

***   ***   ***

If the venerable Westland Whirlwind Jenner found himself in was more comfortable than one of the 10 Zharbin Z19s just delivered, infamously, to The Scottish Defence Force, he shuddered to think what they were like. The much-publicised arrival of the Chinese helicopters - versions of an obsolete French design  - had resulted in an enormous outpouring of gleeful vilification from the English media. The Edinburgh parliament, now heavily dominated by the party formed by uniting the former SNP and Scottish Conservatives, known as National Deliverance, had, it seemed, obtained the choppers in a contra-deal involving the Chinese national oil corporation: three blocks in the long-surveyed but  newly discovered-to-be-viable Hunterston fracking fields off Millport. Plus an additional , pregnant panda for Edinburgh Zoo to add to the small family already there. The English Mail had gone berserk.  Gloatingly so, when the helicopters finally  arrived and were immediately been grounded by a lack of European certification. 

This juddering machine carried the Thistle-and-Saltire insignia of the SDF, and was clearly, from the patches of yellow air-sea-rescue paint, an RAF remnant.  Its worn interior smelling of hot oil and rotting rubber foam from its split seats, the chopper banked over the Scottish Parliament building, which still only made visual sense from the air, as most computer-modelled idea- heavy architecture did. Its clever shapes and doodles were now festooned in scaffolding and billowing white plastic sheeting. Jenner had heard that in the old, devolution days, all repairs had been carried out at night in order to keep them secret, and that maintenance costs had been running at tens of million a year. Pounds in those days. Now, all pretence had gone and the leaking, decaying building , rife with rotten concrete and rusting steel, was being rebuilt. No-one knew how much it was going to cost. Or nobody was saying. Work was evidently continuing, despite the much discusses economic problems. Maybe the Chinese were helping.  The ‘special chow mein relationship’, as the Mail had it, going back to those early golfing and panda love-ins between the SNP and Beijing. 

The New Scotland Government was back meeting in its immediately post-devolution, temporary Home, the Church of Scotland Assembly Rooms on the Mound. Jenner  had a sudden pang, remembering the old pubs around there, up from the High Court. The Jolly Judge, devoid of TV, music or anything but the muffled murmur of  upmarket Scottish voices. Why had he been there? Dragged along by that old tosser McGlinchy, to meet the Crown Office team after one of the big gangland trials of the Noughties. The ones shifted to Edinburgh from Glasgow to try and achieve some kind of witness security. The ones where police paper kept getting mysteriously lost. The Henderson and the Cushenden clans, the Phillips and the memorably-named MacSmiths. The tribes that ruled huge swathes of  Glasgow schemes, those vast arrays of 60s council housing, sporadically upgraded, that surrounded the Dear Green Place, Glaschu. Glasgow.

But this was Edinburgh, Embra. They followed the flank of Arthur’s Seat down into Prestonfield’s sumptuous gardens, the beautiful old mansion house briefly visible as they settled  onto the landing pad. As the rotor blades whumped to a stop, Jenner imagined the sound of bagpipes from the Royal Mile mingled with desultory construction noises from Enric Miralles’ posthumous monstrosity. And monstrosity, from ground level, it truly was, undoubtedly worsened by the signs of renovation and repair. Jenner remembered it back in the old, devolved day, looming like some Butlins Beachcomber Bar on steroids, or a twisted Picasso version of Scottish traditional themes. A castle on a top of a croft house after an earthquake. 

Prestonfield, though, was rather lovely. Jenner had never been there, but had checked it on his iBerry and now knew it to be a five-star hotel favoured by the wealthiest of the Interloupers, foreign magnates keen to exploit the opportunities offered in Europe’s only ‘haggis republic’, and politicians or civil servants seeking discretion and luxury. A potent combination. 
A neat, anonymous young man , typical of the civil servile class on both sides of the Tweed, escorted him through the gardens, which were bathed in the windy sunlight of an Edinburgh June, to the hotel. He entered the sumptuous hush, the dark wood and deep, whispering carpets, to be guided to the lift and up to a small, hastily rearranged conference suite. It had the typical stacking chairs, all red velvet and plastic-coated steel, of a place where heavily incentivised sales teams spoke of targets, territories and  annual totals. A single round table bore a white linen cloth and a selection of somewhat disappointing sandwiches. Behind it sat the man who could only be MacLeish.

He rose, affable in immaculate, slightly over-cut pinstripe suit, flamboyant red hanky in the breast pocket,  New Club tie, silver hair coiffed to widow’s peak perfection. That Fettes voice. Or Glenalmond. George Watsons. Loretto. Hogwarts.

    “Ah, Inspector Jenner. How lovely to have you back amongst us. We have a murderer for you to apprehend, as you were probably told. Tea? Highland Spring? A lunchtime Glenlivet? I so feel the 12-year-old is a fine daytime dram.”
    “Whisky for the prodigal, I think. No water.”
    “Ah, keen to encounter the fusel oils in all their original potency! And why not?” He poured two substantial measures into heavy cut crystal tumblers, handed one to Jenner, and raised the other in a toast. “To murder,” he said. “May it never flourish.”

     Jenner lifted his own glass. “And may those responsible be quickly identified”
    Macleish gave a small laugh. “Oh, I don’t think in this instance, we should have any problems on that score. You see we already know who. And we know where they are. We just need you to do the, ah, collar-feeling. Pick them up. We need you to do that, a fine Scottish detective.”
    “But from England,” said Jenner, feeling the nip of the alcohol on his tongue.Indeed, naturalised English. I have the passport.”
    “Indeed. From England. That, Inspector, is the point.”

Next: Chapter Two: Fables of the Reconstruction