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   Chapter 2 Captive

Attention Span and Other Stories By PaulineWiles Characters: 12712

Updated: 2018-01-11 12:03

The press never got tired of hearing this story.

Even though Izzy was bored of telling it, magazines and newspapers loved to hear about her first day of paid work and the profound effect it had on the scraggy girl who would grow up to be voted Scotland's leading businesswoman, three years in a row.

'You picked daffodils?' said the journalist, a sandy-haired young man with a striking russet beard. 'At the tender age of ten?'

'Yes, ' said Izzy politely, although to herself she thought, not so tender, really.

Harvesting daffodils had been one of the few paying options available to teenagers living in the Grampian villages. In the autumn, it was potatoes – tattie picking – wetter, muddier, colder. By September, the weather climate in the mountains around Aberdeen could already be harsh.

But in spring, plucking yellow buds from the green hillsides sounded almost romantic. Izzy had to beg her mother to let her gobble down some toast and sprint to the war memorial in the middle of the village, where the minibus was due to pick workers up at five.

Mum was exhausted. She had been at the laundry since six, stooped over the endless sheets from nearby hotels and overalls from the meat factory.

'Go if you must, ' she'd said to Izzy. 'Just get away out o' mae hair.'

She knew her mother was dying for a cigarette, but too stubborn to smoke one in front of her only daughter. Izzy tugged on her wellington boots, now a size too small, and half ran, half hobbled to the pickup point. The bus, which turned out to be a ramshackle van, was just pulling away, but stopped when Izzy hollered and waved frantically, desperate not to miss her first chance to earn a wage.

'But when you got there, you weren't impressed?' The journalist seemed content to rehash an old story.

Izzy shook her head. 'Ten daffs made a bunch. A bunch was worth two pence.'

She paused, as she always did here, for the reporter to work out how bad that wage was.

'This was the early eighties, of course, it went a wee bit further then, ' she clarified.

'Still, a hard way to make a living, ' said the reporter rhetorically.

Izzy didn't bother to agree with him. If he couldn't even phrase a question…

She glanced at the clock on the wall behind him. They were in her office, a comfortable space with springy carpet and sage green walls, which Izzy found both calming and encouraging. A potted plant sat on the coffee table between her and the reporter: even today, she couldn't bear to buy cut flowers, always wondering what pitiful wage had been paid for their harvest.

'So you quit, ' said the reporter, clearly knowing the answer already. Izzy's story had been widely shared.

'Well, I didn't give notice, if that's what you mean. I just queued up to get paid for the bunches I'd picked, then walked away.'

'How many bunches?'

'Twenty.' Two hundred daffodils. Izzy had been one of the youngest there, kids much older than her bent over the rows of tightly budded blooms. All of them counted carefully, some muttering aloud, before applying the rubber bands with sap-soaked fingers.

'So, your first pay packet was forty pence?'

'Yes, ' said Izzy.

'And then what? You could nae get home again? The minibus wasn't leaving until eight?'

'That's right. I worked out by half past six I was being exploited.'

'And you started walking? Towards home?'

Really, this interview was beyond the pale. He hadn't asked her anything original. The next question was bound to be –

'And how far was it?'

'About fifteen miles, ' Izzy replied, suppressing a yawn. Generally, she didn't mind being interviewed, although she'd much rather discuss the company's future plans than this legend. 'But it didn't matter, because I hadn't gone far when the bus came.'

'The bus!' The young reporter echoed her words as if she'd said winged chariot. 'And it stopped for you?'

Izzy explained that back then, on the country roads, they didn't have bus stops. You flagged the bus down and hopped aboard. She decided to propel the story onwards. She had to pick up milk on the way home, wanted to stop and see Frazer, too.

'So I asked, how much is it, and the driver asked, how much have you got?'

'How much had you got?'

Clearly, the journalist hadn't been listening, unless he was foolish enough to think Izzy got pocket money in those days. 'Forty pence, ' said Izzy. 'Obviously.'


The driver, whose name badge read F. Paterson, had cocked his head on one side while he considered. Ten-year-old Izzy had stared fixedly at him, waiting for the verdict, hoping desperately for a fare she could afford.

'Then he said, "Well, let's call it fifteen."'

'He didn't take all your wages?'

'No, ' said Izzy patiently. They'd established that, after all.

'You think the real fare was more?'

'I'm sure it was, ' said Izzy.

'And that's why, years later, when the driver tracked you down, you took him in?'

Maybe this reporter was cut out for the job after all. He certainly had the ability to exaggerate.

'I didn't take him in. I just helped a little.'

It had made the newspaper. Izzy Robertson, newly voted 2010's Scottish Businesswoman of the Year, told the story of her first day's employment to the Press and Journal. The bus driver, by then homeless and in failing health, had come forward to claim his fifteen minutes of fame.

Acting anonymously through her solicitor, Izzy had arranged a place for him at an old people's home near Hazlehead Park. The staff who'd helped him unpack a single suitcase reported he had just forty pence in his pocket at the time.

'Remarkable, ' said the reporter. 'That you remembered him.' He gestured around Izzy's expansive office with its view of the River Dee, as though this was an excuse to forget her beginnings.

'Not at all. It was a memorable day in my career.'

Swearing never to work for such meagre wages again, Izzy had taken her twenty-five pence profit and turned it into a pound by buying cheap chocolate bars at the village shop and selling them for a bit more at school. Then she'd done it again, and again, until her teachers declared the little business inappropriate and drove it underground.

Izzy crossed her fingers behind her back, still heedful of her mother's abhorrence of lying. 'Mr Murray, it was a pleasure talk

ing to you but I have another meeting.' She slid a promotional brochure across the table to him. 'There's a press pack here, I think it contains all the background information you'll need to flesh out your article.'

Having shown him out, Izzy consoled herself that the soap opera on BBC2 at eight o'clock that night could be considered a meeting. Quickly, she tidied her desk, jotted down three key things to achieve tomorrow, and turned off the lights. Her assistant was long gone, hopefully home with her kids, and with enough energy that she wasn't sending them out daffodil picking to get some peace and quiet.


Izzy drove halfway home before stopping at a corner shop for milk, then pulled into the car park of Hamilton House. The railings were missing from the front wall, as many were in Aberdeen, a scar from the war years. But a row of blue hydrangeas made a cheerful effort at order and softened the severe granite walls of the home. The bushes had grown in the four years that Izzy had been coming here, surprised to find she liked the whist drives, tea parties, and Christmas lunches. The old people cackled with delight at the terrible jokes in their crackers, and made valiant efforts to chew corn on the cob with false teeth. She hadn't expected to find a family here, hadn't realised how lonely her single existence had become until she found herself attending singalongs and making Easter cards with the rest of them. But there was something soothing and companionable about sketching eggs and bunnies and, yes, daffodils.

She found him in the smaller of the lounges, playing patience as usual.

'Uncle Fraze, ' she said, waiting to interrupt until he tutted and gathered in the cards from a failed attempt.

'Well, young Izzy, ' he said, as he always did, oblivious that Izzy was now past forty. 'How's my high-powered lass? Tired of doing deals yet?'

'Not yet.'

After the daffodils and the chocolate selling, Izzy learned to type, and by sixteen was an assistant at a small firm of solicitors. By twenty, she was at a bigger firm, and noticed how long the senior staff spent shredding documents each day. At age twenty-five, Izzy launched a confidential shredding service, followed a few years later by building maintenance and janitorial services. The day before her thirtieth birthday, she purchased her first office building and leased it to a tenant a week later.

Now, Izzy perched on the ottoman beside Frazer's chair and looked around. This wasn't such a bad home, as they went. It smelled of soup as well as disinfectant, and there were enough male residents that the elderly women didn't go after them like prey. Of course there were mishaps, especially among those whose memories were capricious. Things were stolen and later discovered hidden under the pillows of ninety-year-olds who didn't know their own name. And there was a big to-do when a grandmother of twelve helped herself to a jelly baby from her neighbour's tin, not understanding that the container had long ago been re-purposed to hold spare buttons. That incident ended in a trip to casualty.

'I am tired of journalists, though, ' said Izzy. 'They just hash over the same old stuff. You know, the daffodils, the bus fare, all that.'

Frazer had been shuffling his cards, but stopped to cough. It was a rasping sound which made Izzy shift on her perch. When his wheezing stopped, he drew in a long, hesitant breath, as if nervous the act of breathing might send his lungs into spasms again. Then he carried on shuffling.

And shuffled.

And shuffled.

'Fraze?' Izzy said finally, when every card must have been randomised at least three times. 'Are you okay?'

Uncle Fraze, who of course wasn't her uncle at all, balanced the pack on his knee and fanned it with one hand, rippling the cards gently so that Izzy could feel the breeze.

'Pick one, ' he said, splaying out the pack for her.

Izzy chose quickly. Decisiveness was one trait which had got her where she was today. She looked at the old man, waiting, and when he nodded, she turned it over.

'Six of hearts, ' he said. 'I knew you'd pick hearts.'


'I made a deal with myself, that if you picked hearts, I'd tell you something.' Another short wheeze. 'Confess something.'

Izzy waited. Holding her nerve during uncomfortable silences was another of her core skills.

Frazer began to cough again, this time at length.

The two other seniors in the lounge showed no reaction.

Izzy put her hand on his, still waiting.

'It wasn't me, ' Frazer said finally, studying the playing card. 'The bus driver, it wasn't me.' He didn't look at her. 'I did drive a bus for a bit, ' he added, as if that mitigated his deceit. 'But whoever it was picked you up that night on the road to Auchenblae, it wasn't me.'

'I know, ' said Izzy, noticing his untouched medications, laid out beside the cards.

'You knew?' His voice was hoarse. 'And yet you've been paying my room and board for four years?'

'Well, I wasn't certain, but I suspected.'

Now, he wasn't wheezing. He wasn't even breathing, just staring.

'Why? Why would you do that, for an old man… like me?'

Izzy shrugged. She thought of her comfortable home, now owned outright, and her well-padded bank account. She thought of cuddling with her cat, her soap opera on the television. She thought of her mother, in an early grave, the father she never knew, her own dogged determination to claw her way out of circumstances which left her open to exploitation.

'I figured, ' she said, 'you might be the same bus driver, and you might not. It didn't really matter.'

She paused, needing time to swallow the lump in her throat and articulate her thoughts.

'I've been there, ' she said. 'And I do remember. When you've only got forty pence in your pocket, you don't question the real fare. You don't wait to be thrown off the bus. You just lift your chin, and you meet their gaze. And you take all the help you can get.'


>> Author's note: My first paid work was picking daffodils in Scotland at age eleven. I abandoned this employment after the first few bunches and the bus driver did indeed ask how much money I had, before suggesting the fare for my journey home. But fiction takes over from there, and unlike Izzy, I enjoyed a comfortable, stable childhood.

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