One day when he was still in short trousers my dad and his dad were on the far side of
the Forth, at Barnbougle estate, across from the family home near Granddad's work place
in the quarry near Inverkeithing. They were on the broad beach there, having rowed over
from Fife, looking for coal and coke washed up from the Granton gas works down the
coast, when a man carrying a shotgun approached from the trees and they got to talking.
This proved to be the laird and local land owner, the guy whose estate my granddad and
dad were on.
Whether he was coming to move them on or not we don't know because he and grand-
dad got to talking and discovered that, like most of that male generation, they'd both been
in the trenches. The laird, of course, had been an officer, but the experience had arguably
left them with more to unite them than to separate them, which was maybe one of the few
good things to have come out of the whole catastrophic War To End All Wars.
My dad remembers Granddad gesturing towards him and saying something like, Well,
at least the boy here won't have to go through the same thing I did.
This was the late twenties. The laird shook his head sadly and told my granddad that
he was very afraid he was wrong, and there would be another war, just as big and just as
bad, if not bigger and worse, before too long. And quite possibly just in time for my dad
reaching call-up age.
Granddad grabbed the barrels of the laird's shotgun before he could do anything to
stop him and levelled the gun at my dad's face. My dad stood stock still, staring terrified
into the double barrels. The laird stood frozen goggle-eyed as well, though still holding
on to the rest of the gun. 'If I thought you were right,' Granddad told the laird, 'and this
wee lad would have to go through anything like what I had to go through, I'd blow his
head off here and now, and know I was doing him a favour.'
Then he handed the man back his gun and marched off back to his boat, followed an
instant later by my still quivering father.
The laird was right about the coming war, of course. Dad served in the Royal Navy
during the war, based at Scapa Flow in Orkney for a large part of it. Granddad died just
outside the quarry one day when he was 65, playing football during his lunch break.
In the news, Uday and Qusay, Saddam's sons, displayed dead. Saddam's grandson died in
the same attack but they don't show his body. It occurs to me that if Saddam is creeping
round the desert in a pick-up with one big barrel of anthrax left over from his patently
long-deceased WDM program, now is the time he'd use it. Nothing of the sort happens.
On the other hand, the continuing attacks on American soldiers in Iraq are supposed to
stop now. They don't, and another few die.
The quest continues; I'm off to Inveraray, Campbeltown and - hopefully - Arran. Then if
the timings work out I'll join some pals in Greenock for a card school. M5 again, alone,