Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections: Bill Drummond

Bill Drummond | 27th January 2023

Every year, we give over all of December (and usually most of January) to a series called ‘Shadows and Reflections’, in which our contributors share highs, lows and oddments from the past 12 months. Putting the series to bed for another year is Bill Drummond.


A small dead Roach on the bank under the Junction

Thursday the 1st of December 2020

Dear Reader,

I must have murdered several thousand fish in my time.

Mainly when I had begun my apprenticeship as a trawlerman back in Autumn of 1974.

And while I would be standing knee deep in the fish that I was murdering by the hundred by slitting their guts open, I would be watching with total awe and wonder at the Gannets who would be diving bombing the sea all around our seven-man trawler somewhere up around the Northern Isles. These Gannets were about as beautiful as creation could get as they speared their catch and swallowed them whole. 

For years I would carry in my right front pocket of my jeans, the knife, that I had been specifically given to carry out these mass murders. I would keep it there so I could feel it and remember, what industrial death felt and smelt and tasted like. 

Today is the 1st of December, one of my favourite days of the year, the first day of Winter. For some reason I am not getting the Seasonal Affective Disorder like I used to get in my middle years. I almost seem to be embracing the darkness. 

To celebrate it being the first day of winter, I am back up under the Junction. I am here to paint the portrait of Heron on my wall. Was wanting to get it done along as redoing the one of Jack the Pike, that I did a year or so ago. I was wanting to do this to mark the publication of the last of Tenzing Scott Brown’s plays Under The Junction that was written by Tenzing Scott Brown at this time last year.

But while I was still unloading the van, and checking things out, I noticed that Heron was back. She was watching me from the far bank of the canal. She had a small fish in her beak. I wanted to film her. I pulled my phone from my pocket. But Heron had other ideas about the film. Thus, I let Heron take creative control. Just before I hit the play button on my mobile phone, Heron dropped the small fish and took flight. My mobile phone filmed her flight until she disappeared amongst the raging beauty of the concrete columns. 

Then I got on with getting my stuff together so I could get on with painting Heron’s portrait on the wall. This took longer than these paintings usually do. Tracey Moberly was standing on the opposite bank shouting instructions at me when I was getting the line of the neck of Heron wrong. When I got it done Tracey Moberly took the photos of the painting.

Photograph taken by Tracey Moberly

It was while I was attempting to make my way back through the undergrowth of the far bank of the canal with my ladder and pot of white paint and roller, past where Heron had been standing on the bank before it took flight, I noticed a small dead fish on the canal bank. It was the one that Heron had dropped before taking flight. It was a young Roach. I have never had a relationship with a Roach. They never meant much to me. Never even dreamt about them. But there this Roach lay dead. Not even a satisfying snack for a Heron. Its life bereft of any purpose. At least all those thousands of fish that I had murdered back in 1974, would have ended up being eaten as fish suppers somewhere. But not this small dead Roach. My phone takes a photograph of it. It is photo used at the top of this letter to you.

It was then I decided that when I come back here with The Travelling Salesman, the week after next, to flog the first forty copies of Under The Junction, I will paint a portrait of this small dead Roach. But the painting will be of it as an adult Roach. As if it had lived its full seventeen years and handed on the baton of life in this canal under this Junction.

Yours Sincerely,

The Elderly Gentleman

Post Script:

This Post Script is being written in early January, it is only in that past couple of days that I got the portrait of the Roach as an adult done, thus the delay in getting this letter out to you.

Photograph taken by Tracey Moberly