16th July 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Notes from a niseach

, by , in Shetland Life

Worshipping the fishing net: a fable

Once upon a time, there was an island in the North Sea where the people worshipped the fishing net.

It formed the centre of many of their rituals. They would use it to protect the flowers and vegetables that grew within their gardens. They would drape it over their walls and fences. But most of all, it was a sign of their loyalty to the household gods to which they paid homage. They would take their old belongings and wrap them up in its mesh, leaving their offerings beside the roadside for the island charioteers to come and take them to the central temple. And lo, when they beheld what they had done, the elders of the community would nod their heads and declare that this was good.

“This is the finest way of worshipping the gods. This is the method that our ancestors have used for generations.”

This was not the view of some visitors to the island, who examined what they did and thought it very strange. In their communities, they employed large grey containers with wheels for that same purpose and thought it a much more respectful way of giving honour to the gods. And so they remonstrated with the islanders, trying to point out the folly of their ways.

“Your old folk have to walk two or three times to the roadside,” they would say, “bringing their offerings in many separate bags. Surely it would be much better to give praise to the wheel. It would mean they would only have to make a single journey while giving worship to the gods.”

But the elders of the community only scoffed and smirked, pretending not to hear. “It is our way,” they said. “And it must not be questioned.”

But the visitors persisted, continuing to trouble the elders with their words.

“But many of your offerings do not arrive at the temple,” they declared. “Instead they are blown around the streets on blustery days. Surely those who labour in the temple must be displeased at that. Surely the household gods must be angry.”

“No. They are not.” the elders answered. “Each time they see these offerings blown around the streets, they think this good for it is called recycling. It is the latest innovation in the mysteries of our faith. Besides, if anyone fails to fasten nets properly, allowing their offerings to escape, we have ways of preventing this.”

“And they are?”

“We write them long and complicated epistles, threatening them with legal retribution.”

“And does this work?”

“Probably not. But it causes people to tear and rend their clothes in anger, thus adding to the offerings of that particular household.”

It was then the visitors noticed the seabirds. They gathered in huge numbers around the buildings of the island towns, forming huge gluttonies of gulls. They would land in the streets and poke their beaks through the mesh of the fishing nets. Occasionally, they would gorge upon the food contained within the household offerings, growing fat and dangerous upon its contents. They could be heard squawking and squalling around parks and gardens, proclaiming their ownership of all that was contained within the island’s boundaries.

“There are more of these creatures here than there are in the land of the wheelie bin,” one of the visitors pointed out. “Is there any reason for this?”

“It is because we are surrounded by the sea” an elder answered.

“But I come from an island surrounded by the ocean,” one of the visitors interrupted. “And the people there do not have this problem.”

But before the elder had a chance to answer, a gull swept down from the vicinity of the island’s Masonic lodge. It parted the air a short distance away from the elder’s balding head, forcing him to dive for cover within its doors.

“There is no problem,” he declared, before he disappeared for a pie and pint within its walls.

Yet within a short time, it was clear that there was one. Gulls strafed the streets, bombing those of the island’s population who possessed the courage to walk there. They gorged upon the household offerings left beside garden walls and lampposts, growing fat and ever more dangerous on what was strewn around there. They called out loudly and mercilessly, announcing how delighted they were to live in the land where the fishing net was sacred.

Some months later, a fat man who looked like a reincarnation of Alfred Hitchcock arrived on the ferry to the island. A crew of actors and cameramen followed in his wake . . .

Donald Murray