Tales from the salmon netting on the River Spey in the north east of Scotland

2. The Joy Division

March 4th, 2008 by John Bennett
 2. The Joy Division: Play Now

Sandy Geddes, skipper of the summer crew, walked slowly down the bank with Jake and Black Alec, holding the top end of the net and watching as Robbie and the three new recruits ran the last shot of the first week of the summer salmon netting season. When they’d rowed the coble over to the far bank they turned downstream and rowed hard to the bottom of the pool then back across to where Sandy, Jake and Black Alec met them. The Stingman landed then grounded the boat before coming down to help Robbie, Gonzo and the Puddock haul the other end of the net. After killing the three grilse they caught, the crew, excepting the Stingman whose job it was to keep the boat off the river bank with the 20 ft long wooden pole they called the sting, slung the long painter over their shoulders and hauled the boat back up to the bothy by the viaduct.
Half an hour later, with the fish boxed and the bothy and coble locked, Sandy, his first mate, Robbie, and the two regulars, Jake and Black Alec, stood by the netbox looking down with some disdain at the three younger, new recruits lying on the grass by the bothy, physically wrecked by their first week’s work. The Gaffer, who was due to come up from Tugnet with their pay, was already over ten minutes late and the crew, tired and anxious to get home, had started bickering amongst themselves.
The Puddock, whose hands were cut and blistered from a week on the oar opposite Robbie, moaned loudly.
“Feeling a wee bitty sair are we boys?” asked Jake – a short man with a wiry build who ran a small croft in Clochan and supplemented his income working on the summer crew.
“When I get home, I’m going straight to my bed,” muttered the long-haired student, who had in the course of the first week acquired the nickname Gonzo, because as Robbie said, “he looks like thon boy fa plays drums in the Muppets.” It had been pointed out to Robbie by both students and the Puddock that the drummer in the Muppets was called Animal, but he wouldn’t be swayed and the name Gonzo stuck.
“Sandy, faur’s the Gaffer? I’m needin awa,” said Black Alec.
“Aye Alec, I’m needin the same masel, but there’s nithing I can dee,” said the skipper.
“It’s typical,” said Black Alec bitterly, “they work us fur the week and then they treat us like dugs. If we wis in the union, there’d be nane o this hinging aroon waiting fur oor hard earnt py, if the Gaffer wisna here at five on the dot, we’d be oot on strike.”
“Och, nae wi the union again Alec, we went through that last year,” said Sandy looking unhappy. Black Alec scowled and spat on the ground.


“Hey Stingman, fit’s that say on yer t-shirt?” asked Robbie, addressing the shorter-haired of the two students by his job title. The Stingman, who was lying with his eyes closed on the grass, didn’t answer.
“Oi, Stingman, fit dis it say on yer t-shirt?” repeated Robbie, louder this time.
“Joy Division,” replied the Stingman with his eyes still closed.
“Aye, but fit’s that?”
“It’s a band.”
“Like rock and roll?”
“Sort of.”
“And ye like this band?”
“Yep, they’re good.”
“De ye like em?” Robbie asked Gonzo.
“Nae chance; Joy Division are rubbish,” said Gonzo dismissively.
“No they’re not,” said the Stingman, opening his eyes and sitting up to defend the reputation of what he had recently concluded were his fourth favourite band of all time after The Velvet Underground at number three and before The Smiths at number five.
“Oh right,” said Robbie to Gonzo, “so fit music div ye listen te?”
“Heavy rock, heavy metal.”
“Heavy metal? Fit’s that fan it’s at hame?” asked Robbie.
“Led Zep, Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Rush, that sort of thing.” Robbie looked nonplussed.
“That’s ancient that stuff,” said the Puddock, “rave music’s the thing. Ye’ve got te move wi the times.”
“Why have you go to move with the times?” said Gonzo heatedly, “heavy rock is the best. And if you like something and you think it’s the best, what’s the point in changing just for the sake of it.”
“That’s like you wi yer tea, is it Robbie?” said Jake.
“Aye, I suppose so,” said Robbie who’d eaten the same tea since the day when, aged twelve, he informed his mother that mince, tatties and peas were his favourite meal and that he wanted it for his tea every night for the rest of his life. His mother, prone to spoiling the young Robbie, whose father had been killed in the second world war, didn’t refuse the request, reasoning that he would get bored with his new diet soon enough. A fair judgement, but one that proved wide of the mark for, though what Robbie had for his lunch and breakfast varied, thirty years later she was still preparing the same tea for the son who’d never moved out. Even when Robbie was in Dr Gray’s Hospital for two nights to get gall stones removed, his mother got the bus into Elgin and bought him in his mince, tatties and peas in a Tupperware box, and when she fell and broke her hip a few years later she arranged for Eileen next door to come in and cook Robbie his mince, tatties and peas.
“Do you not get bored with mince?” asked the Stingman. Robbie shook his head.
“What about Christmas? What do you do then?”
“I hae a Christmas denner for ma denner, and mince, tattie and peas fur ma tea.”
“It’s richt guid mince like,” said Sandy, in support of his first mate.
“Oh, so you’ve hid Robbie’s mither’s mince?” said Jake, suggestively.
“I’ve hid it as weel,” said the Puddock.
“Fan wis at?” asked Jake, smirking at the students.
“It wis aboot three year ago, fan ma faither took us up te first fit. I hid some then.”
“Mair than some,” muttered Robbie, “ye hid the hale pan.”
“Wis it guid?” asked Jake.
“Aye, it wis,” said the Puddock with a wistful look on his face.
“Fit aboot you Black Alec, hiv you hid Robbie’s mither’s mince afore?” asked Jake. Black Alec nodded.
“Am I the only een in the hale summer crew apart fae the students that’s nae hid Robbie’s mither’s mince?” asked Jake, winking at Gonzo, who was trying desparately not to laugh.
“Faur’s the gaffer,” said Black Alec angrily, “I’m needin to get awa.”
Sandy looked at his watch again and hoped that the Gaffer would appear soon.


“So fit kind o music is it that Joy Division play?” asked Robbie.
“Have a listen,” said the Stingman pulling the personal stereo from the pocket of his jacket.
As the Stingman rewound the tape Robbie examined the headphones suspiciously, as if they might deliver electro convulsive therapy or the like, before gingerly putting them on. Having found the right place, the Stingman pressed play, Robbie winced.
“Ye listen to this fur enjoyment?” he said, incredulous. The Stingman nodded.
“Fit’s it like?” Jake asked Robbie, after he’d removed the headphones.
“There was a lot a droning in the backgroon and the boy – weel, ye widna cry him a singer – he wis bawling awa, but I’ve nae idea fit he wis saying, and I’ve nae idea why they’re cried Joy Division, it’s the maist depressing thing I’ve ivir heard in ma life.”
“That’s the point; it’s ironic,” said the Stingman.
“It’s rubbish is fit it is; fit that singer needs is te get oot in the fresh air and dee some hard work and then he’d feel a bitty better.”
“What, like us?” said Gonzo rubbing his back, ironically.
“Mebbe the boy could dee wi’ some o’ Robbie’s mither mince,” said Jake smiling.
“He’s dead, Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division is dead,” said the Stingman, starting to get annoyed with the lack of respect afforded his fourth favourite band of all time.
“Aye weel, ma mither’s mince is guid, but it’ll nae bring him back,” said Robbie. Sandy looked at his watch again and sighed.
“That’s it, I’ve hid enough, fit this country needs is a socialist revolution to get rid o’ the toffs and the royals and the bosses,” said Black Alec, presumably angered by the fact that the salmon fishing was ultimately owned by the Crown Estates.
“Alec, de ye nae think it’s a wee bit o an overreaction, wanting to kill the Queen and young Charlie boy jist because the Gaffer’s twinty minutes late wi yer py,” said Jake, “and onyway, I thocht you voted Nationalist in the last election.”
“I did,” said Black Alec defensively, “I dinna see ony problem wi’ that. Fit I want is an independent, socialist Scotland.”
“So you would call yourself a national socialist?” asked the Stingman innocently. Black Alec thought for a second.
“Aye, I suppose I wid,” he replied. Jake, annoyed by Black Alec’s constant moaning, decided to join in on the joke.
“Mebbe you should start yer ain National Socialist Party,” he said wandering off behind Black Alec.
“Mebbe I should.”
“Then ye’d be able te sort oot the Gaffer,” said Jake, raising his right forefinger to his lip and zeig-heiling with his left as he goosestepped up and down behind Black Alec.
Sandy looked at his watch again and wondered what could be keeping the Gaffer.


“O.K then, fit’s this hivy stuff like,” said Robbie. Gonzo slipped a tape of AC/DC’s For Those About To Rock album into the personal stereo and Robbie put on the headphones a second time. After a minute or so Robbie removed them again.
“Och, it’s jist the same as the last stuff.”
“What,” said Gonzo, clearly disagreeing with Robbie’s judgement. The Stingman shook his head, “no it’s not,” he said, “it’s nothing like it.”
“It is so. I mean the boy’s screaming instead o moaning, and it’s a wee bitty faster, but it amoonts te the same thing: jist a hale lot o noise…you boys should listen to the King, noo there’s some real music.” However, before Robbie could say any more on the subject of Elvis Jake held his hand up and pointed down to the bottom of the Bridge Pool where an osprey was hanging motionless in the air above the brae. All the crew turned to get a better look as the bird dropped ten feet then hung for an instant before dropping the final forty feet into the shallow fast-flowing water in between the pools. For a moment the bird sat where it landed, looking around as if not sure what to do, then with a couple of flaps of its wings it took off, struggling clear of the water with a shining grilse held tight in its claws, and the summer crew were still watching the osprey fly slowly up the river with its catch, when the Gaffer pulled into the clearing by the bothy.
“Sorry I’m late boys,” he said, getting out of the pickup, “but the Bank in Fochabers was on strike, I hidta g’inte Elgin to get the wages.”

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