Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1901-1935)
Was a brilliant but tragic novelist whose finest work “Sunset Song” formed the first part of a trilogy entitled “A Scots Quair” Which is undoubtedly one of the best pieces of Scottish literature to emerge from the early 20th century….
Of all this: I was entirely ignorant when I first saw the brown tourist information sign indicating the “GRASSIC GIBBON CENTRE”, a small museum dedicated to his life and work. This is situated in the small Aberdeen-shire village close to where he was born and also his final resting place.
Looking at that sign a germ of an idea had begun to form in my mind, here was the potential for a serious wind-up but first I must give some background to the story.
Jenny and I were the first to arrive at the nearby cottage we had all rented for a week’s Hind stalking on a local estate, the whole gang was to follow in dribs and drabs over the following week. It was a system we had begun about five seasons before on The Isle of Arran and it worked well. This was our first excursion to this part of Scotland and we had been looking forward to it for weeks. The drill was quite simple, half the guys would ruck up with us on the Sunday afternoon, get some stalking done, then depart Wednesday morning making way for the second wave on Wednesday afternoon. Myself, Jenny and our friend Pauline would be staying the week acting as coordinators/house keepers I would get some stalking in when I got chance.
It was to be this second wave that were destined to become the target of the proposed wheeze. One of the things that helped to add plausibility to what followed was the exterior of the Centre itself, visible from the road was a children’s adventure play ground complete with climbing frame and tyre/rope swings all of this behind a tall net fence, designed, I suspect to contain footballs rather than simians. The only other “prop” available was two empty wiper blade packets found in the back of Rob’s motor these where to prove pivotal.
Wednesday soon came around and saw the departure of the first band of happy stalkers and the arrival of the second squad, Steve and Suzie and another of the Arran team Colin. We helped them in with baggage and rifles and showed them their respective billets. Minutes later we were all in the kitchen drinking tea, I was called upon to deliver a complete report on the antics of their recently departed mates… who had shot what? How far? How many? Did anybody miss anything?
I let them absorb my report. “Oh!” I said casually “We did have some excitement on Monday” I began to weave the story of how we had been visited by three of the keepers from “that place up the road”, “did you see the sign as you turn in?” all three nodded affirmative. “Yeh! These blokes where in a golf cart with the Gibbon Centre logo on the side and armed with tranquilliser guns and what looked like bloody great butterfly nets”
The head dude was telling us about the great escape and had we seen anything? When the guys in the back of the cart shouted “There” “Over there” and pointed to that stand of timber just there. The newcomers peered across to where I indicated through the kitchen window. “All hell broke loose,” I continued, “this guy leaps back behind the wheel and they tear off across the field.” At that point Jenny took up the story, “ God! I have never seen anything so funny, there was about half a dozen of them in those trees” she began. “The keepers just charged straight in scattering the buggers everywhere” She carried on with her description moving back and forth across the kitchen with her arms held loosely above her head in imitation of an enraged gibbon. “First they went one way, then the other, then back across the field”. “Then they all disappeared behind that hill.”
I was proud of her; it was masterful. Suzie was convinced, Steve and Colin less so and said as much. I said, “please yourselves, but watch your vehicles” the bas**ds trashed the wipers on Rob’s Volvo.” “It should be OK now though”, I said reassuringly, “They had caught them all up by Tuesday afternoon” “all except one, the big alpha male called Barry and he’s probably half way to Stonehaven by now”. I left it at that.
It was some time later that evening when Steve walked back into the lounge with the beer he’d found in the fridge. “Christ! I thought you where winding us up about the Monkey thing, but I’ve just seen the wiper boxes in the pedal bin!” I saw Pauline glance over to Jen she smiled quietly.
The next morning Steve was bouncing, he had gone to load his van with his rifle and the rest of his kit, and was astounded to find the wiper blades on his van and Colin’s Rover pointing skyward. (Which was where I had left them before I went to bed). “The F**ker hasn’t damaged them but he’s had a go” “mmm! Must have been disturbed,” I ventured. “…Chewed Rob’s to all to buggery”
I gave them directions to the estate and where they where to meet John our friend, mentor and estate stalker. He had been briefed and could be relied upon not to let the cat out of the bag. He didn’t, He picked the cat up and ran with it!
Sat in the heather enjoying their piece they started to tell John about the gibbons. Expecting howls of derision… he just nodded. “Aye! They’ve done it once before, but gibbons are no as bad as chimps yer ken?” “ A load escaped from Monkey World in Iverurie, took weeks before they darted, shot and trapped them all”. This was retold to us all over dinner that night, after of course, greatly embellished descriptions of their stalking prowess. “Yes” I added “I remember John telling me about that.” Apparently one had got his self on the roof of Asda and was flinging his own poo at the horrified shoppers below” Suzie looked quite pale. “Yeh! They do that,” observed Colin.
What I thought was going to be the final piece of “evidence” was about to fall into place. Friday night we where joined for Dinner by Pauline’s husband Dave, Who would normally have been with us for the week but had business meetings in Glasgow he couldn’t avoid, (again, he’d been tipped off!)
As we sat down to eat Jenny and Pauline began to “enlighten” Dave of our adventures. “Oh! I saw a bit about that on Reporting Scotland last night.” He responded, “Apparently they’ve recaptured them all but one.” “Yes!” That’s Barry” Exclaimed Suzie pleased with her contribution.
All remained quiet despite continued surveillance with binoculars from bedroom windows. That is until Saturday. Dave and Pauline along with Colin had left, leaving only Myself, Jenny, Steve and Suzie to Hoover, tidy up and return the keys on Sunday morning. It was probably about nine-o-clock that night when Steve announced he was going out to phone the mate who was looking after his dogs. This entailed walking half way up the lane toward the main road where the first usable mobile signal was available. I said I would come too and we could get some logs on the way back.
We had just got about level with the garage/wood shed and Steve was showing me a photo on his mobile (completely screwing any night vision). All of a sudden something came crashing out of the garage, shot past us and went steaming up the lane huffing and puffing. I got as far as “What the F….” spun around to return to the safety of the cottage light only to see Steve about ten yards in front of me shouting at the top of his voice “F**KIN HELL ITS BARRY!!” I thought for a big bloke he could move some! I got back to the relative security of the lounge to hear Steve telling the two girls all about his close encounter with what was clearly a dangerous killer.
Suzie was listening intently to every word Jen just glared at me and said, “Can I have a word”. I was led into the kitchen while Steve continued the narrative, I was promptly told in a harsh whisper, “Look this has gone far enough Suzie’s bricking it” Jenny was convinced I had brought Steve in on the joke and we had made up the whole beast in the woodpile bit. “Honestly no” I entreated “something did come boiling out of there, it was probably a Charlie or a badger or a bloody dog from the farm sniffing after that doe that’s hanging up in there” “besides Steve ain’t that good an actor” “OK…I believe you” she conceded.
We both returned to the lounge where Steve had poured himself a big dram and Suzie looked a lot happier with the glass of Merlot in her hand. We had just got ourselves a drink and had sat down, When BANG! Something heavy hit the window behind the curtain. “SH*T!!” we all yelled as one. Suzie was the first on her feet “IT’S BARRY” she screamed “HE’S AFTER FOOD” and she disappeared into the kitchen only to reappear seconds later with a bunch of broccoli and a pack of Co-op bacon (un-smoked) and thrust them onto Steve’s lap “GIVE HIM THIS!!” she pleaded. “PUT IT ON THE STEP!” We talked her out of this as a strategy. Suggesting that it would only encourage him.
I don’t know to this day what hit that window. Daylight inspection revealed nothing, possibly bird strike? It does happen even at night.
We all left for home Sunday full of our Aberdeen-shire adventure.
…and the victims?
Colin claims never to have swallowed a word of it.
Steve likes to let us think that he still believes it was all true.
Suzie? Well poor Suzie still worries about shopping in Asda.