Scotland Street Volume 17, Chapter 56: Fishing at Ratho
“And you say that he wants you to go into partnership with him?” she asked “Is that definite?”
Bob inclined his head. “Yes, he made a firm offer. And he said that I can acquire shares in the business as I go along. Some of my wages each month will be used to buy my stake. After three years, I’ll be the joint owner. It’ll be fifty-fifty.”
Big Lou said that this arrangement seemed fair to her. “And it’s what you want to do, isn’t it? I’ve always thought you wanted a business of your own.”
Bob looked relieved that Lou understood; he should never have entertained the possibility that she might not.
“I’ve always liked the idea of being my own boss, Lou – just like you. You don’t have to report to anybody … except Matthew, I suppose. But even Matthew can’t tell you what to do – just because he owns part of your café. That correct, isn’t it? You have everyday responsibility for how things go. You’re the CEO, I suppose.”
Big Lou protested. “I’d never call myself that. This is just a wee business, Bob. I’m just the person who makes the coffee. There are no great decisions to be made. How many rolls to order, I suppose. How many rashers of bacon we need. That sort of thing. You don’t have to go to the Harvard Business School to learn how to do any of that.”
“But it’s the small businesses that keep the country going, Lou,” said Bob. “It’s people like you who …” He shrugged. He was finding it difficult to express what he was thinking. He admired Lou, not only because she was big-hearted, but also because of what she stood for. Big Lou belonged to a face of Scotland that was fading away: the old, rural Scotland, where people were direct and courteous; who did not judge others on the basis of what they had, but valued them according to what they were; that old, vanishing Scotland where people treated one another with decency and respect, and where they didn’t litter their every sentence with obscenities. Some people said it was never like that, but there used to be such a country, Bob thought, although it seemed to be getting smaller every day, as if viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. Bob was not a sophisticated man; he had not had many educational advantages, but he could sense what was happening to the country, to so many countries – everywhere, in fact – and he had no difficulty in identifying it for what it was.
“I’m nae better than anybody else,” said Big Lou, thereby proving that she was much better. “I don’t deserve any special praise, Bob.” Once again, that meant that she did. “Anyway,” she went on. “If you want to make sheds, you should make sheds. It’s decent work, Bob.”
He stood up and kissed her. “I love you so much, Lou,” he said. “I’m not the sort to go on about that sort of thing, but it’s true. I know it’s not necessary for me to say it, but I wanted you to know.”
She kissed him back. “They’ll be lining up for these sheds of yours, Bob, so they will.”
With Lou’s blessing, he started work with Eddie two days later. Eddie showed him the power equipment, and made sure that he understood the safety procedures to be observed when using the large circular saw. “Be careful,” said Eddie. “I know somebody who lost three fingers on a machine like that.”
“I will,” said Bob. “I promise you.”
They designed a shed together, and Bob made the shelves. Eddie said that he could tell that Bob was a natural woodworker. “You’ve got it, Bob,” he said. “Not everybody has it. You have.”
Bob relished the praise. Few people had praised him before, and he basked in the warmth of the compliment. And once they had their website up – a simple affair, headed: Need a Shed? Contact Eddie and Bob for the best sheds in Scotland. Nae messing. – orders came in for sheds of all shapes and sizes. A farmer in West Lothian ordered three large sheds for his turkeys. Bob designed special anti-fox provisions, which involved wire mesh being dug into the ground to a depth of three feet.
At the end of their first week in business, when they had prepared the timber for the first two turkey sheds – erecting them would be another matter – they decided to take a day off. They had been working long hours each day – almost sixteen hours, on average – and Eddie’s wife, Jill, who worked for a nursing agency, insisted that they take a break. “It’s no good being successful in what you do if it ruins your health,” she said. “Go fishing before you start the next order.”
Eddie consulted Bob, who suggested that Eddie should come into town for breakfast at Big Lou’s, and then they would drive out to Ratho and fish from the canal bank. “You never know,” he said. “A cousin of mine caught a muckle old pike out there. A monster. Big teeth. You never know. Put him back for another day.”
Big Lou made them bacon rolls. Eddie said he had never tasted bacon rolls to equal them. “You get to heaven,” he said, “and the bacon rolls will be like this. You ask the Pope, and he’ll confirm.”
Out on the canal bank, Eddie said that he thought that he saw a movement in the water that could be a large pike. Or it could be a rat, he said. Bob wondered whether ferrets could swim. Eddie told him they could. “They can do most things they need to do,” he said.
It was a warm day, and the sky was wide and empty. To the south, the land sloped up towards the Pentland Hills. The air was mostly still, but there was just enough wind to move the top branches of the trees in their full summer foliage. A plane, an elegant white tube of metal, dropped down towards the airport a few miles away. Bob saw the sun glint off the aircraft windows. There was no sound.
Eddie said, “I think there might have been a fish going for my bait. I felt something.”
Bob looked at the float in the water. “No,” he said. “I think that was just the wind on the float.”
“True,” said Eddie. “But still, you never know, do you?”
You don’t, thought Bob. You don’t.
© Alexander McCall Smith, 2023. The Stellar Debut of Galactica MacFee, published by Polygon, price £17.99, is on sale now. The author welcomes comments from readers and can be contacted on [email protected]