Notes from a niseach
MacBIRD: A Shetland Tragedy
(The scene takes place on the old ramparts of the town of Lerwick. Standing there is a battle-scarred veteran of a long war with the humans who walk the streets below, FLIGHT COMMANDER MacBIRD, LAF, DFC. Beside him is a new recruit to these scenes of warfare, ORDINARY AIRMAN GULLCAN.)
MacBIRD – This is the spring-time of our discontent
Made glorious summer by the fishing-net,
The means by which we feed our young,
The means by which the hurly-burly’s won
For our survival – for each day and night
The citizens of Lerwick lay out delights
For our great stomachs, leaving us well-fed,
Our chicks not hungry when they go to bed.
GULLCAN – How can this be? For I must confess
Fear at the thought of all these nets
The citizens have spread around town,
Aware their folds can catch my flight
And leave me trapped for days and nights.
After all it’s usually our wish
That mesh can catch our prey – the fish –
To bring great shoals to port and shore
And let us feast on scales and guts galore.
MacBIRD – Oh, fear not. There’s nothing to be trapped in,
Not like the confines of the wheelie bin
That other coastal towns have long invested in.
(Our cousins in the south have, for their sins,
Complained for years of being stuck within
Its darkness – and it seems no din
Of squawking beak or beating wing
Can get them out once they’re locked in.)
No. That net’s a simple mesh to slip
A beak inside and tuck and dip
On all the delights gathered there
For a thousand gulls to eat and share.
GULLCAN – Oh, yes. I’ve heard of all the wonders.
Spaghetti trails and chicken korma.
Mince and tatties, reistit mutton.
No wonder that we gulls can turn out gluttons.
MacBIRD – You’re right. There’s nothing there that might hamper
A beak to feast on dirty pampers.
(My cordon bleu – for there’s naught I like to taste
More than a household’s foul, domestic waste.)
Believe me, gull. A bird can eat its fill,
Allowing Shetland council to pick up the cleansing bill.
GULLCAN – Oh great commander, tell me what to do,
So I can one day hunt as well as you.
MacBIRD – Very well, for I can give you tips
That might allow apprentice gulls to rip
Black plastic bags and gorge on all that they contain.
Mouldy bread. McCain’s frozen oven chips.
A three course meal. Some kit-kats and tit-bits.
GULLCAN – Oh, good. Show me all that you can show.
Teach me everything you’ve come to know.
MacBIRD – You pick your victim. A housewife in a haste
When she is putting out the household waste
Upon a roadside verge in town
Is the perfect person to swoop down
On, knowing she’s unlikely to tie
The net securely, before she flies
Off in her Corrola, takes the wheel, accelerates,
Heading to some appointment for which she’s very late.
GULLCAN – Thanks. I’ve put your advice down in my book,
The one I clutch – at all times – in my webbed foot.
MacBIRD – Well, note this too. The boy who’s asked
To put the rubbish out does not complete the task
Sometimes, but leaves the net undone,
Charging down the road to look for fun.
And then, too, there’s our simple canine friends
Drawn to our daily harvest by its scent.
Like us, they smell each black bag on the street.
Refuse, by any other name, would smell as sweet.
Then they pick at it with paws and teeth
To find out all that lies beneath.
Their exploits provide the perfect opportunity
To open up the net for you and me.
GULLCAN – Now that advice is heaven sent.
I’m texting it to all my friends.
MacBIRD – The more that’s there, the more we store awa’,
More gulls upon the streets than folks at Helly Aa!
GULLCAN – And serves them right. For taking all our wings
To fix on helmets, we’ll steal everything!
(Slight pause for outburst of wild, demonic laughter.)
But enough of that. Time we were on our way.
What plans do you have in store for us today?
MacBIRD – After watching both Dambusters and Top Gun,
I’m heading to my new place in the sun.
My des res. A first class window ledge
Where I can swoop on those who leave the Lodge,
Take off their wigs, dislodge their hats,
See if I can cause their thin, grey hair to part.
And then I’m going to squawk and call
When councillors are flocking to the Hall,
Find some location where I know I’ll speak
More sense than they do when they meet,
Especially when their feathers are a-flutter
About what to do with all this flapping litter,
Drowning out each voice of sense within,
Whene’er they talk of wheelie bins
And any other measures. “Keep the nets!” I’ll say.
“It has fed and satisfied us throughout our days.
Keep the nets! There’s no other way to try
And keep fat the creatures that both forage, fly
And bombard pedestrians walking on the Street,
Knocking them and rocking them off their landbound feet.”
GULLCAN – Let’s say our words before we go.
The words that all the seagulls know.
“Round about the fishnet go,
Where Shetlanders their entrails throw . . .”
BOTH – “Hubble bubble, toil and trouble.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fennet snake
Below a fishnet boil and bake;
Eye of ling and toe of cod . . .”
(Exuent. The two birds leave the scene, heading to both Lodge Morton and the Town Hall .)
Donald S Murray