In the run up to Christmas, several of us contracted a nasty bug.  For some it resulted in a snottery nose, for others a prolonged bout of flu’.  In my case I was full of the cold and my sinuses ached, so I took a drop of toddy and retreated to bed, exhausted.

I dozed fitfully, but at some point I must have sunk into a deeper sleep which combined with the bacteria, cratur and medicine to make my dreams feverish.  My mind seemed to travel out into the wilderness of prehistory, and the dreams’ shadows filled with wild beasts.  All the creatures of Scotland from the era before man – bear, lynx, elk – but the closest in every respect was a great grey wolf.

He came out of the shadows into a pool of moonlight, sank onto his haunches then raised his muzzle to the sky, leaning towards me as if sensing a change in the weather.  I must have turned over in my restless sleep, and the wolf sensed that, too.  He looked to the bedside cabinet, casting his eye over the pile of crumpled tissues, the empty Lucozade and Benolyn bottles, and a dog-eared novel by Nelson Algren, called A Walk on the Wild Side.

The wolf sniffed haughtily.

“Once, when I was younger, I wanted to be a novelist.”
“Uh huh, buddy.  I was idealistic, fresh to all this.  I wrote 400 pages of allegory, and entered it into a competition.  I thought the twist was original, after all not even George Orwell gave animal characteristics to his human protagonists.”
-How did you do?
“They commended it, said it was very different to anything else they’d read.”
-So who won?
“A woman with a tight-set mouth and mean beady eyes – Historical Fiction.  Same as all the other books that all the other publishers brought out that year.”
-That’s a pity, seeing as you had something original to say.  A lone wolf.
“Right.  But it’s easier if you’re a sheep.  Then it isn’t about doing what you believe, it’s doing what you believe somebody will publish.  But a wolf can’t be a sheep – we only try on their clothes for a while.”

At that, the wolf sighed – the artist manqué.

“Once I got over my crushed aspirations, I got interested in architecture.”
-Oh yes?
“Yep, I developed some sustainable housing, tried out three different external wall constructions – straw bales, recycled timber, unfired bricks.”
-That sounds pretty cutting edge.
“It was – we built one of each for a housing fair up north.  But the scheme ran late, over budget … but there were structural issues with the straw house, then the timber kit one.  Between you and I, the structural engineer got the wind loading calc’s wrong.”
“Wasn’t good at all, and soon I was struggling to keep the wolf from the door.  But I picked up some more work eventually – funnily enough more eco-housing.  Years back I did a lot of industrials – woollen mills, sheepskin tanneries, clothing factories and all that – but now it’s just about the sustainable communities.”

The wolf rolled his eyes theatrically.

“So anyway – we were given a site on the Union Canal at Emmanuel – an old brickworks.  Usual thing I thought, homezones, SUDS, cram in hundreds of people boxes.  Oh no, not good enough at all: sustainable community it is then, provided the sheep keep buying, of course.  So off I went to discover what was sustainable about the masterplan, and started asking the client representatives some awkward questions.  Damn my inquisitive nature, eh?”

“Funny thing mind, initially they didn’t look like pigs – but they were still worried about somebody blowing their house down.”  The wolf chuckled, produced a cigar and in one action unwrapped it, chomped through it and spat out the dog end. 

“So I said, you’ve got this sustainable thing round the wrong way, pigs.”
-How d’ya mean, Mr Wolf? asked the first pig, condescendingly.
“You need to create the jobs *before* you build the houses, otherwise you’re just building another dormitory for Edinburgh.  That ain’t sustainable.  And why are you demolishing all of the brickworks anyway?”
-How d’ya mean, Mr Wolf? asked the second pig, defensively.
“It’s a lot more sustainable to reuse the existing buildings than knock ‘em down – and if you keep them you can have instant starter units for small businesses.  Plus you can build your  new stuff from recycled bricks – that’s sustainable.
The third pig opened his mouth to say something, but Mr Wolf fixed him with a glare – the pig closed his mouth again, and tapped a trotter nervously on the boardroom table.
“And … you need a railway station here, else all the sheep will just get in their 4x4’s and drive along the motorway to Edinburgh Park.”

There was a long pause.  The first pig, more practiced than the others in dealing with uppity consultants, came back at the wolf –
-We brought you in thanks to your straw bale experience – thought you were an expert in the ol’ organic greenwash, Mr Wolf?  Why keep the manky old bricks?
The wolf looked at the pigs with a mixture of pity, despair, and lunch eyes –
“Think about it this way – first they found clay at Whitecross – then they built a brickworks here – and finally created a village for the brickworkers.  In that order.  But you want to build far more houses for people than your new offices and workshops can employ.  And you’re chucking away the site’s natural resources, too.  It’s one thing to pull the wool over the eyes of sheep, but surely not the wolf.”

At this, he lit up the cigar, pursed his lips, and blew smoke in the direction of the pigs.  They grew agitated, grabbed their iPhones, long black coats and attaché cases, then fled the room…

At this point I woke up, with sweat streaming down my back, but I retained a strong impression that the dream had been real.  I wrote down as much as I could remember, in the hope that it would make sense once my head cleared.  I was left with a fading image in my mind of three pigs stumbling over a smoking wasteland where the largest refractory brick works in Europe once stood.

Happy New Year, Mr Wolf. :-)

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