A short story: Jock walks the gangplank

A short story: Jock walks the gangplank

by Christopher Anderson
article from Wednesday 4, October, 2017

A MAJOR INDUSTRY in Edinburgh in the fifties and sixties was printing and publishing and this required paper.

The importing of Esparto grass was used to make high quality paper, and boats would make the long and arduous journey from North Africa to Granton harbour where on arrival it would be taken by train or road to the paper mills.

The crews on these boats also supported another industry prevalent in the Granton area and that was the local prostitutes who were keen to get on board and ply there trade, earning good money from sailors who had been at sea for months. The police knew this and often raided the boats, routinely giving the girls a warning, and the captain and crew a lecture about the illegality of bringing these girls aboard. The authorities knew it went on but like the police were more or less powerless to stop it.

On a summer’s night in 1958 a boat carrying Esparto grass entered Granton harbour and as was usual the ladies of the night, whose patch the harbour incorporated, were smuggled on board. After a few hours things got out of hand, due mainly to the large quantities of drink consumed by the crew, and an argument soon broke out regarding payments for services rendered. This quickly became very heated with the ladies refusing to leave the boat. The captain had no alternative but to phone for police help knowing he himself would be in trouble for allowing them on board in the first place.

The call came into the station and the sergeant on duty decided to send a policeman of many years experience to sort it out, also having the added reassurance this policeman   would not succumb to the drink as had befallen many other younger policemen when they had been sent on a similar errand. Jock was a rarity in the station in that he could not drink and on the odd occasion he had succumbed had been ill for days. So, confident the situation would be handled in the correct and proper manner Jock was duly sent on board the ship to sort out the argument.

He quickly ascertained that the men, having struck a deal with the ladies, were now intent on keeping the money that they had promised, and when Jock  informed the sailors that they had in fact broken the law and he could arrest them they quickly agreed to pay up.

After securing payment for the woman and giving all a cursory warning Jock was offered a drink in the captain’s cabin to which he refused and said he did not drink. The captain took this as a challenge and said he had a drink that had very little alcohol in it but tasted good. Again Jock refused but after constant pressure from the captain and the crew thought he would just have one drink and leave.

One drink led to another and Jock began thinking he had finally found a brew that did not affect him and so carried on drinking. After a couple of hours where he had made best friends with the very crew he had administered the warning to Jock decided to take his leave.

On climbing the stairs from the galley Jock securing his hat took the wrong turning and instead of going down the gangplank he walked of the ship in full police uniform and landed in Granton harbour.

The inebriated crew then had to launch a rescue mission to get him back on board and Jock spent the rest of his shift tucked up in a cabin bed sleeping it off, with his uniform blowing in the wind pegged onto the rigging of the sails.

No one would have been any the wiser about the incident if it were not for the fact that Jock decided to put a claim into the police insurance for the ruination of his wrist watch which he had been wearing at the time of his plunge.

A full explanation was demanded from his superior officer and it was decided to withdraw the claim although all his colleagues, having wished they had been there to see Jock swim, contributed to a collection to buy him a new watch, waterproof of course.

PC 30B Chris Anderson served in the Edinburgh City Police (1954-84) and was a valued member of its Pipe Band that won the Grade 1 World Championships in 1963, 1964, 1971, 1972 and 1975. In his eightieth year (2012-13) he wrote many articles  for ThinkScotland.org based upon his wealth of policing and piping anecdotes and following his passing in September we are pleased to publish as a tribute a mixture of unpublished stories and old repeats every Wednesday for readers to enjoy.

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