From “Willick o’ Pirliebraes” by David Sinclair
In January 1973, the Occidental Group discovered oil in a North Sea block about 130 miles east of Orkney. About the same time, the Orkney County Council realised that Orkney could well become involved in the recovery of North Sea oil and, by means of a Provisional Order, designated certain areas of the county as being suitable for oil-related development. These ‘designated areas’ were mainly around Scapa Flow, and included Lyness, Fara, and the north side of Flotta from Roan Head to the Amer Road.
When the Occidental Group had drilled sufficient appraisal wells to ensure that their field had commercial potential, they decided to bring the oil ashore through a pipeline laid on the sea-bed and began looking around for a site for an oil-handling terminal. Scapa Flow seemed the ideal location and after consultation with the County Council it was agreed that Flotta met most of the operational requirements.
One day in late July 1973, a party of Occidental representatives arrived on Flotta to begin negotiations for land on which to construct the terminal. During the few hours that they were on the island, they met several of the people who owned land within the ‘designated area’, including Willick o’ Pirliebraes, and made an initial offer of around one thousand pounds an acre. As the Council had given the local people no hint of the proposed development, the oilmen’s visit came as a complete surprise, but the news quickly spread throughout the island and triggered off emotions that ranged from bright optimism to dark envy.
“Willick should hiv been here bae noo,” Jimmick o’ the Tooer said that evening, as he peered out through the shop window for the twentieth time. It was after ten o’clock and he and Tammick o’ Quoys were waiting in the little shop at Lairdy for Willick to arrive with firsthand news of the oilmen’s visit. The pair had completed their purchases an hour before, but when Davick o’ Lairdy told them that he was expecting Willick in to collect some fresh meat that he had ordered, they made up their minds to wait until midnight if necessary.
“Ach, he hid a good load o’ bales on the trailer whin wae passed him on wir wey doon here,” Tammick o’ Quoys said. “Hid’ll tak him an’ Maggie a while tae git them aell packed awey.”
“He’s bound tae be doon the night, becase Maggie’ll want tae git her maet in the pot afore hid goes bad wae this warm wather,” Davick pointed out. He was sitting on an upended apple box behind the counter and although he gave the impression of being utterly relaxed, inwardly he was just as impatient as his two customers were for Willick to come through the door.
“Willick’ll soon be changin his maet order fae mince tae rump steak,” Tammick grinned.
“Mibbe he’s hivvin a champagne supper the night tae celebrate his winnfaell, an’ that’s why he’s late,” Davick suggested.
“Faith, he’s welcome tae hid,” Jimmick said. “For hid’s no’ great stuff.”
“Whin did thoo taste champagne?” Tammick asked.
“I tasted hid at a waddin in Aiberdeen wance, bit tae me hid jist tasted lik cider.”
Several years before, Jimmick o’ the Tooer had worked on a farm in Aberdeenshire for a spell and was constantly making references to his experiences there and the characters he had known. For this reason, he had been christened ‘Bonaccord’ by Willick and was usually referred to by that name behind his back.
“If hid disna taste great, whit wey dis aell the gentry drink hid?” Tammick asked.
“Thoo might as weel ask why they aet caviar,” Jimmick replied. “Becase hid disna taste great ither.”
“Dinna tell hiz that thoo got caviar at this waddin as weel.”
“No, but I kent a Pole on the next fairm that hid tasted hid an’ he said that hid tasted warse than raa lapster berries. The only raeson the gentry aets hid is becase hid’s aafil scarce an’ costs a lock o’ money so they think hid’s a kind o’ status symbol.”
“Beuy, tho’ll hiv tae start keepin aell yin fancy kind o’ stuff in thee shop whin the American oilmen comes here,” Tammick said to Davick.
“Aye, Ah’ll hiv tae git stocked up wae frankfurters an’ cans o’ Coke than, I doot,” Davick agreed.
“I still kinna believe that the oilmen’s thinkin o’ startin up here,” Jimmick said. “I aelwis thowt they might yeuse the tanks at Lyness if they fann oil oot west o’ Hoy, bit I niver thowt they wid want tae come here.”
“Thir for comin here aelright,” Tammick assured him. “Becase as I said afore, Geordie o’ the Brae wis aff at Whanclett gittin a coo bulled whin the oilmen arrived there an’ he haard them sayin that they wanted tae buy aell the grunn fae Whanclett tae the Amer Road right awey. Willick’ll be able tae tell hiz the rights o’ hid whin he comes becase he wis balin hey at Craawell an’ the oilmen gaed along him whin they left Whanclett.”
“An’ thoo says that thir offerin a thoosan pound an acre?” Jimmick asked for the umpteenth time.
“Weel, that’s whit Geordie o’ the Brae telled me,” Tammick said. “His story wis that Willick hid been offered twael thoosan for Craawell bit he didna accept hid becase he wanted time tae think things ower.”
“Beuy, if they hid offered me a thoosan pound an acre for the Tooer I wid hiv telled them tae write oot the cheque right awey,” Jimmick said. “An’ I wid hiv thrown in the wife as weel for yin kind o’ money.”
Tammick said nothing, but grinned at the idea of Jimmick throwing his wife anywhere as she weighed about sixteen stones and stood a good three inches higher than Jimmick.
“I hear the soond o’ a motor,” Davick said. “Is this Willick comin at last?”
“Aye, he’s jist turned doon the road,” Jimmick said. “Noo wi’ll git the story right fae the horse’s mooth.”
A battered old van pulled up outside the shop and Willick emerged from it with a shopping basket in his hand. He strode into the shop whistling a lively march tune and beating time on the basket with his free hand.
“Aye, men,” he said, after banging the basket down on the counter in time with the last chord of his tune. “Hid’s been a grand day.”
The men murmured their agreement with this remark, and Willick took a notebook out of the basket and laid it on the counter in front of Davick. When the shopkeeper made no move to serve him, Willick looked around at the other two customers and said, “If Jimmick an’ Tammick’s no’ in a hurry, I wid lik me errants right awey.”
“Whit wey are thoo in sick a rush the night?” Jimmick asked. “Did thoo no’ git aell thee bales inside?”
“Oh, aye. Wae hiv the bales in bit I hiv wan or two things tae discuss wae Maggie afore bedtime.”
“Whit dis thoo hiv tae discuss wae her that kinna wait till the morn?” Tammick asked, winking behind Willick’s back.
“Oh, this an’ that,” Willick said off-handedly.
“He’s no’ gaan tae gae any secrets awey.” Davick rose and began fetching the groceries that were listed in Willick’s notebook.
“Did thoo git aell thee hey baled the day?” Willick asked Jimmick.
“I hiv twa acres tae bale yit bit hid’s no’ been long cut” Jimmick replied.
“Weel, wir’s is aell baled an’ inside noo,” Willick said.
He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Beuy, hid’s ward wark handlin aell yin bales.”
“If thee hey’s aell in, thoo’ll be thinkin o’ takkin a holiday noo,” Tammick remarked.
“Ah’ll no’ be deuin hid,” Willick said. “I aelwis maintain that fock whar enjoys thir wark his no need o’ a holiday.”
“Hoo are thoo gaan tae spend aell this money tho’ll be gittin fae the Yanks, than?” Tammick asked. He decided that if Willick was going to be reticent about his dealings with the oilmen, the only way to get information out of him would be by shock tactics. “I haard thoo wis offered fifty thoosan for the grunn at Craawell.”
“That’s a dashed lee,” Willick exclaimed. “They only offered me –“ He stopped when he noticed out of the tail of his eye that Jimmick had leaned forward with his mouth hanging open. “Hid’s nobody’s business whit they offered me.”
“I ken exackly whit they offered thee,” Davick said.
“Becase they cam along here on thir wey back tae the boat.”
“Whit wis they deuin here? Thoo his no grunn at the ither side o’ the Amer Road.”
“They cam along here for some cans o’ Coke afore they left,” Davick said in what he hoped was a convincing tone. Much to his regret, he had not known of the oilmen’s visit until they were back in Kirkwall, but by giving the impression that he had inside information, he hoped to draw Willick out. “Whin I telled them that I wis a District Cooncillor, they lat me ken aell thir plans.”
“An’ whit is thir plans?” Willick asked. He was not entirely convinced that Davick was telling the truth, but the Americans had been very talkative and it was just possible that they would confide in a District Councillor.
“Ah’m no’ at liberty tae divulge thir plans becase they said I hid tae traet wir conversation as confidential,” Davick said, and got an admiring look from Jimmick.
“Dirt,” Willick said. “If thoo kent thir plans thoo widna be aback at tellin them.”
“I ken that they offered thee a thoosan pound an acre for Craawell, bit thoo widna accept thir offer until thoo spok tae Maggie aboot hid,” Davick said.
“I niver said I hid tae spik tae Maggie aboot hid Willick said angrily. “I can mak up me own mind.”
“I ken thoo didna actually say tae them that thoo wanted tae spik tae Maggie aboot hid, bit the big American said that wis the impression that thoo gaed him,” Davick said, assuming that one of the visitors would have been taller or perhaps more heavily built than the others.
“Ach, yin big whalp wis jist a yap o’ dirt,” Willick said, and Davick knew that his shot in the dark had been accurate.
“An’ did they really offer thee a thoosan pund an acre for Craawell?” Jimmick asked.
“Aye, somethin lik that,” Willick replied.
“Mind ye, that wid be a bargain as far as they wis concerned, for I ken a fairm in Aiberdeen that the oilmen paid ower tae thoosan an acre for.”
“I dinna believe that North Sea oil wis even haard o’ whin thoo wis in Aiberdeen,” Tammick said.
“This didna happen whin I wis there,” Jimmick explained. “Bit I read aboot hid in the paper earlier this year an’ I minded the place fine. Hid wis –“
“Niver mind whit happened in Aiberdeen Tammick interrupted. “Hid’s whit’s gaan tae happen here that wir interested in.” He turned to Willick and asked, “Are thoo gaan tae sell thee grunn at Craawell tae the Yanks, than?”
“Oh, Ah’ll sell eventually, but in the meantime Ah’ll mak oot that Ah’m no’ keen on sellin an’ than thi’ll offer me more.”
“That wid seem tae be soond business policy.” Davick nodded and then asked, “Whit exackly did they say whin they first spok tae thee?”
“Best kens,” Willick replied. “Thoo sees, I wis balin hey aff there at Craawell whin I noticed aell this men wanderin aboot on Whanclett’s hill an’ stoppin ivery noo an’ than tae look at a chart. I didna pay muckle heed tae them becase me owld baler wisna wirkin very weel an’ I wis watchin her aell the time in case shae start pittin oot lowse bales. Anywey, the next time I saa them, they wis aell stannin at the feet o’ the lann whin I cam doon the row wae the baler an’ if I hidna shouted an’ shafted me nave at them tae git oot o’ me road, some o’ them wid hiv haen through the baler an’ hid wid hiv been the feenish o’ her.”
Willick’s listeners laughed as they pictured the oilmen scattering when the irate Willick bore down on them with an all-devouring baler in tow, and Davick said, “Mibbe hid’s jist as weel that thoo disna ken whit thir first words tae thee wis.”
“They didna look at aell plaised,” Willick went on. “An’ than whin I paid no attention tae them an’ turned in tae go up wae anither row, wan o’ them cam tearin efter me an’ shouted somethin. I couldna hear whit he wis sayin for the soond o’ the baler so I jist cairried on, becase bae this time hid struck me that they wis likely men lookin for grunn for an airstrip noo that Longhopp his een, an’ I kent fine that me grunn wis no yeuse for that becase o’ the slopp that’s on hid. Hooiver, this filla kept on chasin me, so whin I cam tae the head o’ the lann I stopped tae gae him a piece o’ me mind for humbuggin me. Afore I got me mooth open through, he shivved a caird in me hann an’ as soon as I saa ‘Petroleum Corporation’ on hid, I tummelled tae hid that he must hiv somethin tae deu wae this North Sea oil wir been hearin aboot.”
“Wis he a Yank?” Jimmick asked.
“I think he wis,” Willick frowned. “Bit Ah’m no’ right sure. Thoo sees, they aell spok lik Yanks, bit Ah’m pretty certain that some o’ them wis pittin hid on.”
“Whit happened efter thoo got the caird?” Tammick asked.
“Weel, hid took this filla a while tae git his winn back, becase he wis fairly machless wae runnin efter me, bit than he asked me if I owned the grunn there an’ whin I said I did, he said that his company wis interested in buyin hid. I wis kinda taen aback an’ didna say muckle, bit than the rest o’ the men cam up the lann an’ efter they hid asked hoo I wis keepin, an’ hoo me wife wis keepin, an’ hoo many bairns I hid, they said whit a bonnie peerie island Flotta wis, an’ than they said that they wanted tae buy aell the grunn in the designated area. They asked me if I hid a proper title tae the grunn at Craawell an’ whin I said I hid, they offered me a thoosan pound an acre for the twael acres there.”
“Whit did thoo say tae that?” Jimmick enquired.
“Weel, me first reaction wis tae say, ‘Ah’ll tak hid’, bit than I thowt I wid need tae spik tae the ither eens that hid grunn in the designated area in case some o’ them hid been offered more, so I telled them I wid need time tae think hid ower.”
“An’ are thoo spokken tae any o’ the ither eens yit?” Davick asked.
“Aye, bit they wis aell offered the sam. Thir gaan tae git a laayer oot fae the toon an’ hiv a meetin next week bit I said that I widna be at hid. I dinna trust laayers, so Ah’ll dael wae the oilmen mesel.”
“Did they say whit they wanted the grunn for?” Tammick asked.
“Thoo’ll better ask Davick aboot that,” Willick grinned. “He’s the een that they telled aell thir plans tae, bae his own tale.”
“Ah’m no’ allooed tae say whit thir plans are,” Davick said. “Bit I dinna suppose that thir’s anything tae stop thee fae tellin whit thir for deuin.”
“They made no secret o’ hid tae me,” Willick said. “They telled me that they wanted aell the grunn in the designated area tae build tanks on, bit tae begin wae they jist wanted the grunn at Whanclett an’ roond the head o’ the bey as far as the Amer Road.”
“Hoo many tanks are they gaan tae pit up?” Jimmick asked.
“Five great big eens tae begin wae, bit eventually thi’ll hiv twenty-five oot along Golta. Hid’s no’ only tanks that thir for buildin, becase thir gaan tae hiv whit they caelled a process area, an’ offices, an’ wirkshops, an’ a camp, an’ Best kens whit aell.”
“Thi’ll hiv tae build a pier teu for the tankers that’s takkin the oil in fae the oil field,” Jimmick said. “The oil’s no’ tae come in bae tankers,” Willick said knowingly. “Hid’s tae come stright in here fae the North Sea through a great muckle pipe.”
“Thir layin pipes lik yin in Aiberdeenshire that’s tae tak the gas fae St Fergus right doon through Scotland,” Jimmick said. “An’ they trained weemin tae weld the pipes taegither, becase they wis smaeller than men wis tae craal aboot inside the pipes.”
“Thi’ll better no’ pit thee wife inside this oil pipe in case shae blocks hid an’ they niver git the oil ashore,” Willick said crushingly.
Jimmick grinned sheepishly and said, “Thi’ll need a pier for the tankers that’s takkin the oil awey though, will they no’?”
“Naa.” Willick shook his head. “Thir gaan tae pipe the oil tae twa moorin tooers oot in the Flow, so the tankers’ll no’ need tae come in tae Flotta at aell.”
“That’s a peety,” Tammick remarked. “I thowt wae might hiv gotten some duty free fags aff o’ them.”
“Hoo many men’s gaan tae be wirkin here pittin up this tanks an’ stuff?” Jimmick asked.
“They said thir wid be aboot six hunder men here buildin the terminal, as they caelled hid, an’ than hid’ll tak aboot ighty o’ a permanent staff tae operate hid.”
“I winder if thi’ll gae jobs tae any o’ hiz?” Jimmick said. “I ken that in Aiberdeen the labourers are gittin ower a hunder pound a week fae the oil companies.”
Willick looked incredulous. “A hunder pound a week? Beuy, thir’s no’ a man in this country wirth that kind o’ money, unless he’s the Prime Minister.”
“Jimmick’s right,” Davick pointed out. “Thir’s men wirkin for the oil companies in Shetlann that’s gittin that kind o’ money.”
“Whit’s the name o’ the company that’s wantin tae buy aell this grunn in Flotta, than?” Tammick asked.
“Thir caelled Occidental,” Willick replied. “Whin I saa yin man’s caird, I thowt on an ox an’ a dentist so that I wid mind hid on.”
Davick made a note on a paper bag that was lying on the counter and asked, “Whin are they comin back here?”
“I thowt thoo wid hiv asked them that whin thoo wis spikkin tae them,” Willick countered, and when Davick shook his head he went on, “Whin I said that I wanted time tae think things ower, they said that they wid be in touch fairly soon.”
“Thoo’ll hiv a lock o’ tax tae pay on that twael thoosan pound if thoo accepts thir offer,” Davick said.
“On me wey home fae Craawell, I stopped at the phone box an’ spok tae wan o’ yin accoontants in the toon an’ he said I widna hiv Capital Gains Tax tae pay if I bowt more grunn wae the money.”
“Ah’ll lit thee hiv the Tooer for twael thoosan,” Jimmick offered.
“Ah’m no’ right sure yit whit Ah’ll deu wae the money bit Ah’ll certainly no’ be gaein hid tae thee for the Tooer,” Willick said emphatically. “Of course, Ah’ll likly feenish up wae a lock more than twael thoosan, becase I expect the Yanks tae increase thir offer.”
“Whar wid hiv thowt anyeen wid be daft enough tae offer that muckle money for a piece o’ grunn in Flotta,” Jimmick remarked.
“That’s a piece o’ good grunn, Ah’ll hiv thee ken.” Willick scowled at Jimmick. “If I sell hid, Ah’ll hiv tae pit awey aboot five kye.”
“Bit I thowt thoo said thoo wis gaan tae buy more grunn wae the money,” Jimmick said. “So instead o’ pittin awey kye, tho’ll hiv tae buy eens in.”
“I didna say I wid be buyin grunn in Flotta. Ah’ll likly buy a place on the Mianlann an’ pit a manager in hid, for I hiv no intentions o’ laevin Flotta mesel.”
During the silence that followed this remark, Willick pulled out his pocket watch and said, “My mighty, is that the time? Ah’ll hiv tae git up the road. Hoo muckle dis me errants come tae?”
“Two pound nineteen, please,” she shopkeeper replied. “Bit that’s no’ muckle tae a weel-aff man lik thee.”
“Beuy, hid’s plenty, for Ah’m no’ gotten any money yit, mind on.”
Willick took a purse out of the breast pocket of his bib and brace overalls and carefully counted out the exact amount of money on to the counter. He tossed his goods into the basket, hooked an arm through the handle, and with a cheery, “Goodnight, beuys,” took leave of his three friends.
When Willick arrived home, he found his wife sitting writing at the kitchen table. She was surrounded by mail-order catalogues, old copies of the ‘Exchange & Mart,’ and a school atlas that was open at the map of the Mediterranean countries. Somewhat disconcerted that his supper was not ready, Willick dropped the shopping basket in the middle of the table.
Maggie started and glared up at him. “Thoo great clumsy whalp,” she snapped. “Thoo’re made me mak a feul o’ this letter.”
“Whit the mischief are thoo deuin writin letters at this time o’ night for?” Willick demanded. “I thowt me supper wid hiv been ready.”
“Weel, thoo kens whit thowt did,” Maggie retorted, ripping her partly written letter from the writing pad. “Thoo’ll git thee supper whin Ah’m feenished writin this letter ower again.”
Willick picked up the letters that Maggie had already written and read out the addresses. “Kirkwall Engineering Company, an’ London Electrical Appliances, an’ Hellenic Cruises Limited. Whit are thoo writin tae aell yin firms for?”
“Ah’m askin for the up-tae-date prices o’ lightin plants, an’ washin machines, an’ Mediterranean cruises.”
“Are thoo taen laeve o’ thee senses?” Willick spluttered. “Wae hivna the money tae spend on luxuries lik yin.”
“Mibbe wae hivna the money noo, bit Ah’m jist makkin ready for the day whin wae git the money fae the oilmen.”
“Thoo might as weel pit yin letters in the fire,” Willick said, throwing them back on the table. “Becase if I hid twael thoosan in me hann right noo, Ah’m dashed sure I widna be thinkin o’ spendin any o’ hid on yin lock o’ bruck.”
“Jist stoop for a meenit an’ listen tae whit I hiv tae say.”
Maggie had gone pale and her eyes glinted dangerously. “For seventeen year noo wir wrowt here wae paraffin lamps whin ither fock hid electric light, an’ Ah’m hin tae wash thee sharny breeks bae hann whin ither weemin hid washin machines. Ither fock goes awey sooth for a holiday occasionally bit the only brak wae hiv is a day at the County Show or mibbe twa oors in Stromness on the last day o’ Shoppin Week. Ah’m pitten up wae hid aell this years becase wae niver hid muckle money, bit noo that wir gaan tae be rich Ah’m gaan tae hiv aell me needs.”
“Bit Ah’m explained tae thee the day aelready that wae hiv tae buy anither fairm wae the money or wi’ll hiv a normous o’ tax tae pay,” Willick said in a conciliatory tone.
Maggie jumped to her feet and began gathering up the papers and catalogues. “Dorrin tak thee an’ thee fairm,” she said, close to tears. “Even if the taxman taks half o’ the money, wi’ll still hiv six thoosan tae spend. Whiniver wae manage tae save twa-three pound, thoo goes an’ buys a new implement or pits an extension on the byre, an’ thoo niver thinks o’ spendin money on the hoose or on something tae mak life any easier for me. Ah’m seeck fed up o’ ither weemin hivvin grand hooses an’ aell kinds o’ labour-savin machines while wae live here lik somethin that’s jist come oot o’ the Ark.”
Stunned by his wife’s outburst, Willick stood gaping as Maggie elbowed past him with the pile of literature an dumped it behind one of the fireside chairs. He swallowed and said, “Bit Ah’m tried me best tae be a good man tae thee aell this years an’ I thowt hid wid mak life easier for thee if wae fairmed in a kind o’ modern wey.”
“I wid be a lock happier if wae lived in a modern wey,” Maggie sniffed. “Instead o’ hivvin a concrete midden steath, I wid far sooner hin a bathroom so that I widna be affronted whin wae hiv strangers at the hoose. Hoo dis thoo think I feel whin they ask whar the bathroom is an’ I hiv tae shaa them tae yin owld shed wae the bucket in hid?”
“Ah’ll deu somethin aboot a bathroom tae thee as soon as wae git by wae hervest,” Willick promised.
“Thoo’re been sayin that for the last ten year.” Maggie pushed past Willick again on her way to the dresser. She began to lay the table for supper while Willick stood gazing around the kitchen.
Eventually, he asked, “Did thoo look oot the title deeds for Craawell whin I wis at the shop?” Because of his mistrust of the legal profession, Willick kept his titles and dispositions in a tin box under his bed. The box also held insurance policies, birth and marriage certificates, a £5 Premium Savings Bond and two half-sovereigns.
“Thir lyin on the mantelpiece,” Maggie said shortly.
Willick picked up the long envelope and sat down beside the fire to peruse the document that was inside.
After a few minutes, he said, “Dash hid, I aelwis thowt thir wis twael acre at Craawell, bit accorn tae this hid’s only eleven point nine or thereby.” He frowned for a moment and then went on thoughtfully, “Of coorse, ‘or thereby’ means that the man whar measured hid in the first place is no’ been very exact, so likly hid’s twael acre right enough. Wae wid be safe enough tae caell hid that, dis thoo no’ think?”
“Caell hid anything iver thoo wants.” Maggie replied. She poured boiling water into the teapot and said, “There’s the tea in, so thoo can hiv thee supper whiniver thoo wants.”
“Hid’s aell doon here in black an’ white that Craawell belongs tae hiz, so noo hid’s jist a maitter o’ seein hoo muckle the oilmen’s prepared tae pay for hid. Thoo niver kens, they might increase thir offer tae twenty thoosan if I mak oot that Ah’m no’ that keen on sellin hid.”
“Mind an’ pit a cover ower yin things on the table an’ pit oot the cat afore thoo comes tae bed,” Maggie said, going towards the door. “On second thowts,” she added, coming back and picking up the large tomcat that was sleeping on the sofa, “Ah’ll pit him oot mesel, becase thoo’re so obsessed wae gittin this money that thoo wid likly forgit, an’ he wid be in the milk jug afore mornin.”
Willick looked towards the table and saw that only one place had been set. “Are thoo no’ hivvin supper?” he asked.
Maggie did not reply, but hurried out with the cat under her arm. She slammed the door shut behind her with a force that made the dishes in the dresser rattle and woke up the old collie that was stretched out at Willick’s feet.
Willick sighed and, looking down at the dog, said, “They say that money’s the reutt o’ aell evil, beuy, an’ Ah’m beginnin tae think hid’s true.” As the dog yawned and went back to sleep again, Willick shook his head and murmured, “Beuy, thoo disna ken hoo lucky thoo are, lyin there wae no’ a care in the world.”
Three weeks later, Willick was in the barn repairing a stack net when Maggie poked her head round the door and said, “Thir’s a man in the hoose wantin tae spik tae thee.”
“Whit kind o’ a man?” Willick asked.
“I think he’s a Yank bae the wey he spiks, bit that’s aell I ken aboot him.”
“He must be an oilman, than,” Willick said, and followed Maggie into the house.
A tall man wearing a sheepskin jacket rose from the sofa and shook hands with Willick. “Joe Robinson from Occidental,” he drawled. “Nice to see you again, Bill. How are you?”
“No’ so bad, thanks,” Willick replied, recognising the talkative American that he had met three weeks before.
“And I take it that this is your good lady,” Joe said, shaking hands with Maggie.
“Aye,” Willick grunted. “That’s her.”
Joe’s head almost brushed the ceiling as he looked all around the kitchen. “What a swell little place you’ve got here,” he said.
“Hid’s no’ so bad,” Willick agreed, ignoring the sound of Maggie clearing her throat at his back. “Sit doon there aside the fire, for I expect thoo’ll no’ be yeused tae this cowld kind o’ wather wir hivvin.”
Joe and Willick sat down at opposite sides of the fire, and the American watched intently as Maggie put a few peats in the black range. “Say,” he said to her. “Is that peat you’re burning there?”
“That’s right,” Maggie replied. “Wae burn nothin else.”
Joe stared for a few moments at the fire blazing up behind the bars of the range and said, “Gee, I’m really fascinated by the way that stuff burns and I just love the smell it gives off.”
Maggie gave him a strange look and sat down on the sofa. She sniffed quietly, but the only thing she could smell was the American’s pungent after-shave lotion.
“Paets’ll burn owerweel so long as thir dry,” Willick said brusquely. At the moment, the only fossilised fuel he was interesed in was North Sea oil and he wondered how long it was going to take the Occidental man to get around to making a fresh offer for the land at Craawell.
“You have quite a lot of peat on the island, don’t you?” Joe asked Willick.
“Aye, aboot a thoosan acre o’ hid.”
“From what I’ve seen, I guess there’s quite a lot of it on the land where we’re gonna build the oil terminal at Whanclett, and there’s even more out on the Golta.”
“On the Golta,” Joe repeated. “You know, the stretch of moorland between Whanclett and Roan Head.”
“I ken fine whar Golta is,” Willick said irritably. “Bit hid’s jist caelled Golta. Thor’s no ‘the’ attached tae hid at aell.”
“Oh, I see. You just call it Golta, huh?”
“That’s right, an’ if thir’s wan thing I kinna stick, hid’s fock comin here an’ changin names o’ places tae suit themsels.”
“How right you are, Bill, and I sure appreciate you keeping me right on that point. The one thing we’re gonna aim at when we come here is to cause as little inconvenience as possible.” Joe looked throughtful for a moment and said, “Another aim of ours is to be good neighbours and I’ve just been thinking about all this peat we’re gonna have to get rid of when we start excavating. If we put it all into a big heap, do you reckon the local people could make use of it for fuel?”
“I dinna think hid’ll be for muckle good tae anyeen bae the time hid’s been chowed up wae the diggers,” Willick replied. He wished the gappus would stop blethering about peat and state the real reason for his visit.
As if reading what was in Willick’s mind, the American said, “I guess we’ll have to talk about the peat some other time and get down to business now.”
He reached for the briefcase that was standing at the end of the sofa and took out a large-scale map of Flotta. Spreading it out on the floor between him and Willick, he pointed to a rectangle that was outlined in red ink and said, “Now this is the land that you own within the designated area, isn’t it?”
Willick bent down for a closer look at the map and said, “Aye, that’s Craawell.”
“As a matter of interest, how come you own a piece of land so far away from your homestead? That must be all of two miles from here.”
“Weel, thoo sees, the owld filla that yeused tae bide there wis an uncle o’ mine, bit he niver mairried an’ so whin he died hid wis left tae me. I hiv the title deeds for hid ower there in the dresser if thoo wants tae seem them.” Willick looked towards the dresser and Maggie rose to fetch the deeds, but the American waved her back to her seat.
“It’s OK,” he said. “We don’t need to see your title to the land at this point. All the other landowners are negotiating with us through a lawyer, but I believe that you turned down the offer of his services.”
“You know, of course, that we are paying all the legal expenses, so it wouldn’t cost you anything to have the services of a professional adviser.”
“Oh, aye. Yin laayer that the ither fock’s taen on wis along here tryin tae git me tae wirk through him as weel, bit I telled him I could look efter me own affairs.”
“OK, in that case we’ll be quite happy to deal with you personally. Incidentally, since we first spoke to you, we’ve decided to increase our offer for your land.”
“Oh, aye,” Willick said, and smirked at Maggie as the American bent down to take some papers out of his briefcase.
Joe glanced at one of the papers and took a small calculator from his jacket pocket. He tapped out some figures on it and said, “We’ve decided to make a final offer of twelve hundred pounds an acre for the land that we want here on Flotta. That means that we’ll pay you £14,280 for the 11.9 acres of land at Craawell.”
“I aelwis caelled hid twael acre,” Willick pointed out.
“OK,” Joe agreed. “Let’s call it twelve acres and we’ll be talking about a round figure then.” He tapped the calculator again and asked, “Will you sell your land for “£14,400, then?”
“Whit aboot caellin hid £15,000? That wid be an even more roond figger.”
“I’m afraid we can’t do that,” Joe laughed. “Because that would mean upping our offer to all the other landowners as well.”
“Ah’m no’ right sure that I want tae sell hid though,” Willick said doubtfully. “Hid’s twael acre o’ good grunn an’ if I sell hid, Ah’ll hiv tae git rid o’ a lock o’ me kye. Dis thoo want an answer right awey or can I hiv twa-three days tae think hid ower?”
“We realise that you have a big decision to make and we won’t press you for an answer at this point in time.” Joe folded up the map and put it back in the briefcase, together with the other papers. He handed Willick a card and said, “here’s my telephone number. If you have any problems or want any more information, just give me a call.”
“Aye, Ah’ll deu that.” Willick took the card and rose to put it behind the clock on the mantelpiece.
Joe Robinson got up as well and, holding out his hand to Willick, said, “It’s been great meeting you again, Bill. Sorry I’ve got to dash off so quickly, but I’ve got a boat waiting down at the pier.”
They shook hands and Willick said, “Likly wi’ll be seein thee soon again, though.”
“I’m sure you will,” Joe agreed. “By the way, we’ll have various advisers and consultants coming across here during the next few weeks. Have you any objection to them going on your land at Craawell and taking soil samples and so on?”
“None at aell,” Willick replied. “Aell me bales is aff o’ the lann so thir’s nothin they can hurt.”
“Good.” Joe shook hands with Maggie and said, “I’m sure looking forward to seeing you good folks again soon.”
“Ah’ll gae thee a run doon tae the pier in me van,” Willick offered.
“No thanks,” Joe replied. “It’s only a five minute walk and I can use the exercise after being cooped up in a London office most of the time.”
Willick and Maggie went out to the end of the house with their visitor and as they watched him striding down the road, Willick said, “Whit did I tell thee? Thir increased thir offer bae more than twa thoosan aelready so mark me wirds if I dinna git twenty thoosan oot o’ them yit. Hid’s jist lik daelin wae a gaanaboot man, only this time Ah’m sellin instead o’ buyin.”
“I hopp thoo kens whit thoo’re deuin, beuy,” Maggie said worriedly. “If thoo disna watch thee step, tho’ll be left sittin wae Craawell. Aell the other fock’ll hiv thoosans in the bank an’ wi’ll hiv nothin.”
“The niver a bit,” Willick said confidently. “I ken whit Ah’m deuin aelright.”
The following Saturday morning, Willick went down to the shop for a gallon of paraffin and found Davick dismantling the partition that separated the shop from the room that served as the post office.
“Whit’s gaan on here?” Willick enquired, stepping over a pile of splintered boards. “Are thoo hin an earthquake or did someen send thee a parcel bomb?”
“Morning, Bill. What can I do for you today?” the shopkeeper asked. He threw down his hammer and hurried behind the counter, obviously impatient to get rid of his customer and carry on with the demolition work.
“Whit are thoo tryin tae deu?” Willick enquired, sitting down on the edge of the counter and surveying the gaping hole in the wall.
“I should have thought that was obvious,” Davick replied, with a trace of exasperation in his voice. “But in case you hadn’t noticed, Ah’m – I’m taking down a dividing wall, otherwise known as a partition.”
I can see that, thoo gappus, bit whit are thoo takkin hid doon for? Thir’s better widd in yin partition or any that tho’ll buy the day tae pit up in hid’s place.”
Davick sighed and said, “I’m taking the partition down to enlarge my premises.”
“Whit’s pitten this idea intae thee head aell o’ a sudden? The shop’s been big enough tae deu for the last sixty years.”
“Don’t you realise there’s to be an influx of over six hundred oil workers? I’m going to make the two rooms into one so that I can have an open-plan shop and the customers can help themselves to whatever they require.”
“Faith, thi’ll no’ be aback at hid if thir lik some o’ the men that wis here in the wartime,” Willick grinned. “Dis thoo mind aboot the sodgers that staeled eggs fae the Smiddy an’ than pinched a fryin pan oot o’ the shop tae fry them in? Beuy, I wid lik tae hiv seen thir faces whin they cracked the eggs in the pan an’ the peerie burds fell oot. They’d taen the eggs fae under a cluckin hen, thoo sees, an’ they wis burded.” Willick roared with laughter and said, “Beuy, I wish I’d seen that.”
Davick managed a rather forced smile and asked, “What was it you said you wanted?”
“I didna say, beuy, becase Ah’m in no hurry. Jist cairry on wae whit thoo’re deuin, bit I think thoo’re wastin thee time.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Becase for wan thing the men’s only tae be here for ighteen months an’ for anither thing the Yanks telled me that they wid hiv iverything at the camp that they needed. They said that hivvin six hunder men here widna affect the islanders at aell becase thir wid be no need for the men tae come up through the island.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“Thoo disna want tae believe hid, thoo means, bit that’s whit they said. I expect thi’ll hiv some kind o’ canteen lik the wans the NAAFI ran in the wartime.”
“Did the oilmen say anything about where the permanent staff would be staying? Maybe the oil company will build houses on Flotta for them,” Davick said hopefully.
“They niver said anything aboot that.”
“Perhaps the County Council will build houses here for the permanent workers. I’ll have to put forward a proposal to that effect at the next District Council meeting.”
Willick stared at Davick for a moment and said, “I thowt thir wis somethin different aboot thee the day an’ noo I ken whit hid is.”
Davick frowned and asked, “What do you think’s different about me?”
“Whit wey are thoo spikkin so Englified the day?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean why are thoo spikkin tae me as if I wis the minister?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Thoo kens fine whit I mean,” Willick growled. “Thoo’re been tryin tae pit on thee English tae me iver fae I cam in the shop.”
“And what’s wrong with using the Queen’s English?”
“Thir’s nothin wrong wae yeusin the Queen’s English if yir born in England, bit thir’s no point in the liks o’ thee or me tryin tae spik hid becase wae only pit wir feet in hid,” Willick retorted. “Ah’m niver yeused English fae the day I left the skeul.”
“Yes, but remember that shortly there’s going to be hundreds of men here who won’t understand us if we speak to them in the local dialect.”
“Weel, hid’s jist too bad for them than, becase Ah’m no’ changin me tongue for anyeen.”
“It’s probably different for you, because you won’t be meeting so many of them as I will.”
“So thoo hopps,” Willick sneered. He stood up and said, “Come an’ gae me a gallon o’ paraffin, becase I hiv better things tae deu the day or sit here listenin tae thee chantin.”
“You may scoff, Bill, but I’ll guarantee that even if you don’t change your accent, you’ll change in other ways when you become a rich man.”
“Not a hopp, beuy. Ah’ll niver change,” Willick vowed. He glanced out through the end window of the shop and said, “I winder whit boat yin is that’s comin in tae the Pan pier.”
“Whit?” Davick started and looked at his watch. “I should hiv – have been down at the pier meeting those people. Come on, let’s get this paraffin measured out.”
They went out to the shed where the paraffin was kept and as Davick was filling his can, Willick asked, “Whar’s comin wae this boat the day? Is hid fock tae deu wae the oil terminal?”
“I suppose you could say that. Actually, it’s members of the Orkney Conservation Society who are coming to look over the land where the oil terminal’s going to be.”
“An’ whit his thoo tae deu wae this Conservative Society? I aelwis thowt thoo wis a Liberal.”
“It’s a conservation society, you dope. You know, people who safeguard wildlife. I know nothing about them except that they phoned up for a car to run them to the site of the oil terminal.”
“If thir lookin for wildlife in Flotta thir come ower soon,” Willick said, picking up his can of paraffin. “They wid need tae come back here whin thir’s six hunder men in the camp at the North Side an’ than thi’ll see some wild life on a pay-night, I expect.”
The following Tuesday afternoon, Willick was restapling a wire on his fence near the lower end of Pirliebraes’ road when Davick’s car pulled up at the road-end and Joe Robinson got out. The car then sped off in the direction of Stanger Head, as the American walked the dozen yards to where Willick was working.
“Hi, Bill,” Joe said, shaking Willick’s hand. “How are you today?”
“No’ so bad,” Willick replied and smiled broadly. He was certain that the American was back with an increased offer for Craawell, as he had heard the previous day that the other landowners’ lawyer had turned down the oil company’s offer of twelve hundred pounds an acre.
“Good, good.” Joe set down his briefcase and looked across at the young cattle that were grazing in the field alongside. “I see you’ve got good grazing for them here. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen greener grass than you’ve got here in the Orkneys.”
Willick was about to remark that he understood the grass in Texas was also very green, but suddenly realised that this could lead to a long discourse on cattle rearing in America. He curbed his natural instinct to talk about grassland production and muttered, “I widna say.”
“I guess that as a farmer you’ll have a great affinity with the land and with plant life,” Joe said.
“Weel, I lik the lann owerweel, bit most o’ the plants I come across are weeds, an’ I deu me best tae git rid o’ them.”
“I see.” Joe looked a little disappointed at Willick’s reply. “Tell me, Bill, have you ever heard of a plant called Tufted Saxifrage?”
Willick shook his head. “Naa, Ah’m niver haard o’ that een,” he said.
“I must confess I hadn’t either until a few days ago, but this isn’t surprising, because it’s a very rare plant. It only grows on a couple of Scotch mountains and in a few places in North Wales.”
“Oh, aye,” Willick said, without much interest.
“Correction,” Joe smiled. “I should have said that up until a week ago it was thought only to grow in those few places.”
“Oh, aye,” Willick said again. He wished the oil company had sent up a negotiator who would get straight down to business instead of rambling on about plants or peats.
“Yeh, it’s a very rare plant indeed, and it’s thanks to your very own Orcadian friends that another specimen of the Tufted Saxifrage has been found.”
“I see. An’ whit freends o’ mine is hid that’s funn this Tufty Thingummy?”
“I don’t know if they’re actually personal friends of yours or not, but it’s your Orcadian Conservation Society that made the discovery.”
“Oh, yin wis the fock that landed at the Pan pier last Setterday. I didna see any o’ them tae spik tae, bit I dinna think any o’ them wis freends o’ mine, or they wid hiv come up by the hoose a look.”
“Well, I guess that you’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future, because it was on Flotta that they found the Tufted Saxifrage.”
“An’ whararboots on Flotta did they fin hid?”
“Can’t you guess?”
“I hiv no idea,” Willick said. Then a thought struck him and he asked, “Hid wisna at Craawell, wis hid?”
“Right first time,” Joe said excitedly. “Ain’t that great news?”
“I dinna ken,” Willick said, scratching the back of his head. “Dis that mean that the grunn at Craawell’s wirth more money noo?”
“It’s certainly a very valuable piece of land you own now,” Joe replied. “It’s really unique, in fact, because there are so very few places where Tufted Saxifrage grows.”
“So hoo muckle are thoo gaan tae offer for hid noo?” Willick asked bluntly.
“But surely you don’t want to sell it now that this absolutely marvellous discovery has been made?”
“Of coorse I still want tae sell hid. Whit am I carin aboot this Tufty Whitiverhidis?”
“I’m afraid there’s a slight problem, Bill,” Joe said, looking uncomfortable. “You see, the Tufted Saxifrage is a protected species of wild plant and it’s an offence to uproot it.”
“Well, the truth of the matter is that your land is no good to us now. We intended having a fairly high earth bund on your land as part of the landscaping plan for the terminal, but that’s all gone out of the window now that a protected plant has been found there. I guess we’ll have to rethink the whole landscaping project.”
Willick’s face went ashen and he leaned against a fencing post for support as the significance of the American’s words sank in.
“B-b-bit,” he stammered. “Bit are thoo sure hid’s this Tufty thing that’s at Craawell? Likly yin gappuses fae the Mainlann hiv made a bloorick an’ hid’s jist some peerie flooer that thir no’ seen afore.”
“No chance. The Orkney Conservationists phoned us yesterday to say that they had identified the plant and I flew up this morning with two botanists from Kew to check it out. The two experts positively identified it as Tufted Saxifrage and were over the moon about it. Dave Sinclair’s off up to Stanger Head with them now to look at the plants along the cliffs there, and then they’re coming back here to have a word with you.”
The colour rushed back into Willick’s face and he said vehemently, “Thi’ll be hivvin no wirds wae me. Whar gaed aell this fock laeve tae go pokin aboot on me grunn, anywey?”
“If you remember, you did give your consent when I asked if our consultants could go on your land, and it was us who invited the OCS over.”
“Whit lik is this dashed thing o’ a plant, anywey?” Willick asked.
“I have a few photographs of one with me,” Joe opened his briefcase and showed WIllick four photographs of a small plant with white flowers and tufted leaves.
“Ach, Ah’m seen yin thing growin at Craawell right enough, bit I jist thowt hid wis some kind o’ a weed,” Willick said. He looked at Joe slyly and asked, “If yin plant wisna tae be funn at Craawell the morn, wid thoo go ahead than an’ buy the grunn?”
“Why shouldn’t it be there tomorrow?” Joe sounded puzzled and then took a sudden step back when he realised what Willick was implying. “I hope you’re not thinking of removing it?”
“Why no’? Hid’s on me grunn an’ sheruly I can deu wae hid whit I lik?”
“Oh, no,” Joe said quickly. “Let’s get this clear. This plant is protected by law and it’s an offence to pick, uproot or destroy it. It has been positively identified as growing on your land at Craawell and it if was suddenly to disappear, so that we could develop the land, both you and my company would be in all sorts of trouble with the Conservation Society. We are very conscious of the need to preserve the environment and the last thing we want is to lose credibility with the conservationists.”
“Bit could wae no’ dig the thing up wae a good grain o’ earth aboot hid an’ pit hid somewey else?”
“No, no, no,” Joe said firmly. “My company just couldn’t afford to be associated with an action like that.”
“So that’s hid, than,” Willick said gloomily. “Fourteen thoosan pound lost becase o’ a blasted weed. Whar wid credit that?”
Joe shrugged and put the photographs back in his briefcase. He picked it up and said, “I take it that you don’t want to see the two botanists.”
“They can go an’ jump in the Gloups for aell I care,” Willick growled. “An’ that’s jist whar Ah’ll pit any o’ yin whalps fae the Mainlann that I fin nosin aboot at Craawell efter this.”
“I’m sorry that things haven’t worked out as we expected, Bill, but I guess it’s just the way the cookie crumbles,” Joe sympathised.
“I suppose so.” Willick sighed and added philosophically, “Still, whit ye niver hiv, ye niver miss.”
“I’ll better start walking along the road now to meet those two guys, but I’ll be seeing you again,” Joe said, extending his hand.
“Aye, fine hid,” Willick said absently, as Joe shook hands with him. He picked up his claw-hammer and, with shoulders hunched, began to walk slowly up the road to Pirliebraes.
To avoid disappointment to readers who may be thinking of going to Flotta to see a specimen of the rare Tufted Saxifrage, it must be pointed out that there is no trace of the plant at Craawell now. In fact, when the Orkney Conservation Society made a furtive visit there a week after their discovery, all they found was a patch of burnt vegetation and a faint smell of paraffin. When questioned by a police officer, the owner offered the explanation that his property had perhaps been struck by lightning.