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A peek inside the covers

Robert Coulthard loves it all. Big city life. Lots of boltholes. Aberdeen’s a little city. A one horse town. Not on the radar and so just the spot to slip into obscurity until fate declares war on obscurity and then it’ll be a village with nowhere to hide.

‘If this happened in my country, the police would pull them in,’exclaims Tommy as they walk away, to the stall holder’s obvious relief.
‘Not here!’ The driver shakes his head. ‘Here it depends who you talk to in police. We have to be … what you say … ?’
‘Sleekit?’ suggests Tommy.
‘Sleekit? I like this word.’
‘It’s Scottish.’
‘I learn Scottish now. I start with sleekit. We Russians are sleekit.

On Saturday 31st July 1965, nineteen year-old MacHardy had just come out of Woolworths with a copy of The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man when he was confronted by a stream of young demonstrators marching noisily down Union Street. Banners flying high: Aberdeen YCND, Aberdeen Anarchists, Syndicalists, Aberdeen Young Communist League – around a hundred young people singing and chanting anti-war slogans. Standing beside MacHardy on the pavement was a middle-aged man with ginger hair sprouting from his ears, screaming, ‘Get back to China.’ A diminutive girl of around fifteen with long dark hair and a placard with No hegemony over Vietnam scrawled across it turned to him, laughing disdainfully, and shouted back, ‘Moron.’
‘Hey, Tom! Come and join us.’ 

Ian Ross had spotted Tommy and was waving to him. MacHardy hung back. He didn’t belong with these people. Ian was chanting, ‘Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?’ And their cries were heard 2000 miles away in Washington DC, where Lyndon Baines Johnson and his thinning-haired inner-circle declared, with more than a whiff of sulphur, that it was the USA’s duty to kill babies to preserve freedom and democracy. 

With the sound of the marchers ringing in his ears, Tommy MacHardy made off up the road, crossed into Belmont Street, noticed that anarchists had been deploying catapults again against the armed wing of the state, glanced thoughtfully at the cracked army recruitment office window then stepped inside. 

The idea that the British state should go to such lengths to procure weapons for a conflict it steadfastly refuses to acknowledge as a war probably rests quite easily in the Soviet mind. Governments are pretty much the same the world over – can’t slip a postage stamp between their policies on home security is Coulthard’s own view.
In his own modest way, Coulthard believes he has done the walk, step by cold calculating step, straddling the fuzzy line between good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. Government sanctioned. He needs to put this negativism behind him, to bury the angst and ethical dilemmas. The world is full of bampot dictators and dodgy freedom movements propped up on the moral high-ground by sanctimonious and Machiavellian Western democracies. If he’s to be honest with himself, he recognised that a long time back. He’s not the one starting conflicts. He could sit at home watching the news on television, tut-tutting whenever another poor shot-up bastard turns bleeding eyes to the cameras, but what good would that do?

The Ireland-bound arms will take the normal route, first by roadthen they’ll be shipped out. Off the Irish coast they’ll be transferred by fish baskets to fishing boats off County Down, most likely overseen by UK intelligence aircraft and navy submarines maintaining the tradition of maritime free trade. These must be some of the most protected shipments around. Rarely intercepted. Expedience being the driving force in conflict. Allegiances as firm as shifting sands.

I’ve brought in a bag o’ Aitken’s rowies. I’ll even heat one up for you – an’ you can have a daub o’ jam if there’s still some from our last raid o’ the canteen. Aufa fine, y’ken you like them.’
.… Sue circles her hand in an exaggerated wave as she opens the door, fortified by the thought that Greg would be keeping a rowie warm for her return.
 

The colonel taps his sunglasses against a window shutter. They hear the creak of a floorboard and the door is flung open. In the doorway stands a man in profile; very tall and willowy. A hand shoots out a welcome. Eighteen inches above it is a grin so wide you could park a bus in it. Above it a high brow topped with silver white hair in an Ivy League cut.

According to Ross’ view, Cassidy’s was a world of black and white in which recruits were willing to believe whatever they told them. Straightforward, easy to remember certainties essential to every good soldier but especially his sort of man. Bare bones lessons in politics – communism – bad; every other form of regime – good or tolerable. Irish republicanism must never succeed – responds only to the firm hand. Mediator Bell, aka Cassidy, appeared to attract enemies like fleas to a dog. Ross wrote that Cassidy’s wars would never end. Enemies could come and go, names and nationalities could change but one of life’s certainties was that the future would always throw up fresh targets. Flexibility in foreign affairs. Flag and Crown. In the greater scheme of things it wasn’t your past adversary you had to be concerned with but those yet to be identified. Friends or foes only words beginning with “f”. Simple philosophy happily accommodated by the British establishment through its networks of interests, its clandestine activities, its surveillance systems and, most effective of all, its confidence in a docile and indifferent population.

About alex chisholm scotland

Author of Banana Pier

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