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My Priest

By Simon Berry

I don’t remember exactly where I purchased my priest. Let’s just say in all probability it was on an early visit to the Highlands, around fifty years ago, and it was in a shop of the kind once common in Inverness but now rare as hen’s dentures.

I do remember making the journey north, having been offered a lift by someone at my work in his Morris Minor. We set off early and chugged through remote (from Glasgow) outposts such as Blackford, Newtonmore and Carrbridge. On such a long trip we needed several stops on the way. I remember glimpsing the Perthshire hills in the distance and then the Cairngorms, impossibly blue, and realising the Highlands were a quite different country.

The following day my travelling companion went off to see the monster. My scepticism restrained me so I spent a rainy afternoon exploring the town. Making my way back down to the river from the disappointing castle I came across the curiosity shop. It had streaked windows and a dusty display of household trinkets, books and records (vinyl), Highland dress shoes (black brogue) and sporrans with possibly a stuffed deer’s head or two. In those days preparations for the Sabbath got under way early and other shops were putting up their shutters.

There I found my piece of brown antler, intriguingly rounded at each end to reveal the pale bone inside. Into the slightly broader end there had been neatly inserted a plug of lead. It was perfectly weighted and possessed a reptilian texture. As soon as you picked it up you realised this was an implement made for an identifiable purpose ”like a stone axe head unearthed at a dig“ and that was to knock some living being unconscious.

When my companion later called it a priest I’m not sure I truly believed him. As a Clydesider he had no more knowledge of Highland ways than I had as a Brummie. It’s called that because a fisherman uses it to brain the fish he’s just caught, he explained, to make sure it doesn’t escape overboard. He administers the last rites to the fish, he continued, sensing my scepticism. See, just like a priest. I knew he was Catholic so I was hooked.

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