Paul Fitzpatrick: London, March 2021
Doggin’ (playing truant, bunking off, playing hooky)
There was a time when the term doggin’ had different connotations from what it has now.
Although, on further inspection, it could be argued that there are some similarities to both activities……
You don’t want to be recognised.
You spend time in the woods
It isn’t as much fun as you’d imagined
(and I’m not talking from experience here folks!)
When we were younger, ‘playing truant’ was romanticised in cartoons and comic books, and latterly in films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, usually with a mean Truant Officer playing the pantomime villain.
By the time we got to secondary, bunkin’ off school had become one of those rites of passage, that everybody who was anybody had done, and if you believed them, they were having a ball.
It sounded exhilarating – better than sitting in Algebra wondering what language was being spoken, or in French – again, wondering what language was being spoken.
I have two vivid memories of doggin’ school, because I only bunked off twice.
The first one involved four of us and it had been meticulously planned right down to the last detail (well nearly)….
On the chosen day we all left the house as normal and met at a pre-arranged spot, craftily and covertly, we then double-backed to our pal Nuggets house, as his Mum and Dad were both out at work.
The plan was to spend the day living it up like young lords, whilst all the other saps were in class.
The first part of the plan went like clockwork and by 8:30am we were safely entrenched in Nuggets front room; my house was on the same street and another lad lived nearby as well so we had to take measures to ensure that we wouldn’t be seen.
This was 1971 so there was no daytime TV, Nugget wasn’t particularly into music so he had no vinyl apart from one of those Top Of the Pops compilation albums, his radio had no batteries and he didn’t own a pack of cards or any board games.
Nugget didn’t need any of this stuff because his passion was his pets.
The cockatoo that he taught to say ‘f*ck off’ was a mainstay, the Alsatian that had teeth like a grizzly bear was now an old friend but he had a surprise for us – a brand new (untrained) Ferret that thought Xmas had come early.
Naive? Stupid? Mental?
Take your pick, we were oblivious to the dangers of this feral polecat as we all coo’ed over it like it was the fluffiest bunny from fluffy-bunny land….. until it started to draw blood.
It was a viscous little critter with teeth like razors, and worst of all, once it was out of its cage, it was damn near impossible to recapture it or fend it off.
A few years later I would go and see Monty Python and the Holy Grail at The Rio cinema in Bearsden, and the killer bunny in that movie reminded me a lot of Nugget’s savage weasel.
By the time it got to 9:30am we were bloodied, bored and ready for a mid-morning snack.
Mindful of our need to go unnoticed, we attempted to crawl on our tummy’s like commando snipers from the lounge to the kitchen, however by doing this we placed ourselves within chomping range of the ferret, who was having his own mid-morning snack.
On opening the fridge, we found 2 triangles of dairylea cheese a slice of spam and an egg. There was Nesquik but no milk and half a Tunnocks teacake with a mallow so hard that Michelangelo could sculpt David from it.
This was the point that Nugget remembered Friday was the family shopping day.
One of us suggested roast ferret as an alternative but Nugget, understandably, wasn’t too keen on that idea..
By 10:00am we were so fed-up, hungry, and intimidated by the beast of Stonedyke that we decided to walk to school and say we’d missed the bus, more than happy to take any punishment that was winging our way.
This doggin’ lark wasn’t all it was cracked up to be…….
Cut forward a term and we were ready to try again, however, the second episode proved to be a bit more spontaneous as we were actually in school when we decided that we’d bunk off for the afternoon.
There were 4 of us again and we decided we’d go to the bakery at Bearsden Cross for a leisurely sit-in lunch before meandering off to see what the day had in store for us.
We had no idea at the time, but what the day had in store for us was an afternoon that would bring more wrinkles to our teenage brows than a stressed Sid James!
In terms of doggin’ school, we’d done the stay-at-home bit and it hadn’t been much fun, so we thought we’d try the great outdoors this time.
This would have been fine – if we weren’t all in full school uniform.
This would have been fine – if we had genuinely looked like 5th or 6th years heading home for study leave instead of wet 2nd years bunking off, particularly my mate Geo who looked about 10 years old.
This would have been fine – if we had an actual plan for how we were going to fill these 3 hours.
Indeed, the only plan we had was to keep away from any main roads so we headed up towards Bearsden Golf Club.
None of us particularly knew this part of Bearsden and just as we got to the top of Thorn Rd, we saw a police car and panicked, scattering off in all directions, before meeting up in a wooded area which we later discovered was the Bluebell Wood, or, our very own ‘Pine Barrens’ – for any Sopranos fans out there.
I had never been there before, or even knew it existed, and I’ve never been back there since.
We weren’t sure if the police had actually seen us before we scattered, but we decided we needed to keep on the move.
On hearing a dog in the distance and to illustrate the paranoia, we convinced ourselves that there were sniffer dogs on our trail.
Indeed, we were in such a genuine panic that we actively looked for a stream to walk in, to ensure there would be no scent for the imaginary hounds to trail!
With no sense of direction we just drifted further and further into the darkness of the woods, doing all the things that daft boys do, like tripping each other up, using each other for pine-cone target practice, climbing trees and observing the wildlife, hoping we weren’t being tailed by that damn ferret, which coincidentally had recently escaped from Nuggets house never to be seen again (just like the Russian in Pine Barrens!)
On reflection, this would have been the perfect time, nay the only time in our young life’s to have benefited from those Wayfinder shoes we’d been obsessed with in Primary school.
The compass in the heel and the animal track sole, could finally have been put to some use.
(See Colin’s excellent post for more on Wayfinder’s!)
Instead, our unanimous footwear of choice that day was the very popular but unsuitable penny loafer, great for terra firma and for dancing to Hi Ho Silver Lining at ski-club discos but hopeless in a soggy, slippy woodland terrain.
We’d been wandering around the woods aimlessly for a couple of hours by now when one of the crew thought he heard traffic, this was a promising breakthrough so we marched off in said direction trying to work out what part of Bearsden we were going to end up in.
“Courthill”, “Baljaffray”, “Colquoun Park”, none of us had a clue.
We could see houses, cars and a road through a gap in the trees and the sense of relief was palpable, but we still had no idea where we were until we saw the road sign –
Peel Glen Rd…..
“Aww noooo“, we were in the middle of deepest, darkest Drumchapel, plus the name Peel Glen struck terror into our young hearts, this was the heartland of the feared Peel Glen Boys (PGB).
The PGB had gone by reputation (and graffiti) alone until recently, when a few of them had cornered about 6 of us outside the Rio cinema in Bearsden and took all our money whilst we were queuing to see a movie.
Their talisman went by the name of Jim Finn and he had a menacing 6-inch scar on the side of his face.
His notoriety went before him but he wasn’t what I imagined, he was short and had a baby face that belied both his age and his reputation, he reminded me of a young Al Capone and we all gladly and politely handed all our money over to him in fear that our faces could end up looking like his.
Slightly bemused that there had been no resistance, despite the numerical advantage in our favour, Mr Finn seemed quite charmed by our genial generosity and wandered off into the night looking for meatier challenges, I’m sure.
I’ve been involved in branding & marketing for much of my career so I recognise great branding when I see it, and when I think about it now, Finn’s 6-inch scar was a genius trademark in terms of promoting his particular brand, much like Capone in 1920’s Chicago.
It was an open secret that Finn carried an open razor inside his Wrangler denim jacket, but in truth, he rarely had to brandish it to get what he wanted.
I knew Drumchapel reasonably well back then, I’d played football at most of the schools, my dentist was there, I got my haircut there (pre Fusco’s) I went to the swimming baths regularly and also to the compact shopping centre with a Woolworths where I’d very recently bought Run Run Run by JoJo Gunne, but I’d never been in this part of ‘the Drum’ before.
I knew however, that if I could find Kinfauns drive I could navigate my way home.
We asked the first wee wummin we saw, and I wanted to give her a big hug when she pointed to the next road, just 100 yards away.
Once we were on Kinfauns we just followed the yellow brick road, carrying out a series of jogs and sprints. Prophetically, in the words of the catchy Jo Jo Gunne song, we literally did ‘Run Run Run’ all the way home.
“You better ride home baby”
“He was born outside of the law”
When we got to Canniesburn Rd we looked at each other, clothes covered in mud, twigs & ferns poking out of our hair, drenched in sweat, ruddy-faced and up to high doh, and we all just burst out laughing.
We knew we’d shared an experience and would have a catalogue of stories from the day, which was kinda the whole point of the exercise, but we also knew in our heart of hearts that doggin’ school wasn’t something we’d be revisiting any time soon – however much we bummed it up to anyone else – it was just too damn stressful.
After the fiasco of ‘ferret-gate’ months earlier, at least we could now say that we had ‘been there , done that’ and (got the t-shirt), and at the end of the day, that was good enough for us, or at least for me anyway.
I decided then and there I would gladly take double Algebra over a Sid James forehead any day of the week!