The opening section of my new novel The Summer Stance, about a family of tinkers (Travellers) who live in a lawless housing scheme in Glasgow and who decide to take their matriarch to their traditional summer stance in the Highlands, so that she can die in the place she adored. However, their move leads to prejudice and violence.
The Summer Stance, paperback by Thunderpoint Publishing, is available from bookshops and Amazon at £7.99.
A Kindle version at £1.99 is available from Amazon.
OneThe The convoy of five caravans led by a motorbike passed through Speyside in the July afternoon of 2009, the remnants of the old Caledonian pine forest straggling below mountain slopes served by chairlifts. A stag limped away at the sound of the backfiring exhaust. The previous winter it had been ambushed by an Italian syndicate with lethal repeating guns in a high corrie. The convoy passed Aviemore with its chalets and barbecue pits and went through the high pass of Sloc nam Muc (Hollow of the Pigs), where wild boars had roamed in the time of heroes. An eagle out of the Monadhliath Mountains rode the thermals as it watched the convoy coming through the glen. The motorcyclist was overtaken by other machines, new models of Yamahas, Ducatis and BMWs ridden by elderly men who had salivated over DVDs of the film Easy Rider, but who hadn’t been able to afford bikes until they were made redundant or retired early. Exhausts blasting, they reached the ton on long straights, but slowed down too late for the looming bend and broke their necks, or killed the occupants of oncoming vehicles.
The motorbike leading the convoy of caravans was a classic machine, a Triumph Bonneville of 1959, with a sidecar which was occupied by a woman in Ray-Ban sunshades and black leathers, a transfer of the Glasgow singer Lulu plastered to her helmet. The rider of the Bonneville was careful to stay within the 70 mph speed limit, to let the elderly bikers, low on testosterone, but high on the octane of illusion, roar past. The Bonneville turned off on to the loop of old road where drovers had grazed their cattle on their way to southern trysts and which had been left as a halt for touring buses to film the panorama.
The radiator of the leading vehicle, a Bedford van, the name of its previous owners visible under a white wash, was boiling. Blue jets were lit under kettles in the caravans and while they sat in the sun drinking their instant coffee, waiting for the radiator to cool, the motorbike rider opened the front door of the van and lifted out an old woman the size of a child. She had her arms round his neck as he carried her to the shade of a dyke, settling her down tenderly and kneeling beside her with the mug of tea.
The two greyhounds that had been slithering around the back of the Bedford were lapping the burn with noisy tongues. The sidecar passenger appeared from the bushes, zipping up her leathers. She kissed the rider on the cheek, took out a cigarette and tossed the packet over her shoulders. He retrieved it and pushed it down between her breasts.
He carried the old woman back into the van, kissing her forehead before settling her in the seat, leaving the belt off. The cooled radiator was filled with peaty water from the burn before the motorbike turned out on to the highway.Two hours later they turned west, entering a glen, the roofs of the caravans scraped by the overhanging hazels as they swayed round the bends on the narrow road. The river, whose Gaelic name meant grey, perhaps because it reflected the clouds, was dark as it flowed through the tight ravine.
The motorbike’s indicator was winking. The convoy turned off, crockery rattling as the caravans went through the open gate and bumped across pasture. The motorcyclist lifted the old woman out of the van and carried her to the standing stone by the river.
‘We’re here at last.’
He put her hand on the stone and she ran her fingers down it as if she were feeling the spine of a lover.
‘I was married at this stone.’
He carried her back to the caravan where her daughter-in-law Maisie made her strong tea from a kettle drawn from the river. Before departing for Africa a cuckoo in the glade on the other side of the flow was calling for the last time, as if asserting its intention to return to the same secluded place as the men collecting windblown branches. They soon had a fire going in the centre of the pasture and carried their supper plates from the caravans, sitting round the blaze with the kids and the boisterous dogs. The old woman was in her wheelchair, with a shawl round her shoulders, toasting her toes, breaking with ancient arthritic fingers the sparse food on her plate on her lap as she reminisced in Gaelic to the gathering. The others understood Gaelic, but had never used it in the city because they wanted to be absorbed, their tinker roots torn up.
‘I remember one day we came through the glen, it was so hot, the horses would have drunk the river dry if they could,’ the old woman was reminiscing in the language to which she had been loyal since infancy, with Dòmhnall the only one who was listening intently.
‘Our horse looked as if he was going to collapse with sunstroke. Do you know what Seanair (grandfather) did? There was a party of fancy people from a big car having a picnic, with bottles of wine cooling in the river. They had fallen asleep because they had drunk so much. Seanair crept up and took a straw hat off one of the heads. He cut holes in it for the ears and put it on the horse’s head. We laughed all the way here. Oh those were the days.'