Aberdeen, Grampian Region, 1979
A cold-hearted beast of a dog.
A mind-numbingly tedious day of imprisonment in a Scottish primary school. A day of fear. My nine-year old self was completely stressed out, having survived that day’s English versus Scottish playground fight with just a few scratches. And I was in desperate need of some respite. I plunged through the door of Number Something (Come on, my memory’s not that good!) Duthie Terrace, all ready to collapse onto the beautifully-worn floral carpet, only to be greeted by …
Sharp-yellow fangs. Peeled-back lips. Saliva spluttering out onto my face. A beast of a dog. A beast held back by it’s new Mistress. A beast in the company of my mum.
The beast was hanging by it’s studded collar from my mum’s Hulked-up fists (1). But I truly thought that the beast was intent on consuming my nose for its tea. Tea? I hear you query. It would have you for its dog’s dinner, not for its tea! But you would be wrong on that count, because in the late 70s all Brits ate teaafter school hours – not dinner (2)! And Scottish dogs were no exception to the rule.
Frantic and frazzled the dog’s new Mistress may have been, but she wasn’t really all that ferocious. And, she was no match for the strength of the beast (3). The beast lurched forward, knocking me to the ground, and pinning me to the frayed hallway carpet with its ginormous forepaws. Had I had a moment in which to think about it, the beast would have reminded me of a Velociraptor. For those of you who are not familiar with this particular species of dinosaur, then the Velociraptor has sharp, serrated teeth and large sickle-shaped claws to assist it in puncturing the skin of its victim. Fortunately, the beast was not really related to the Velociraptor. In reality, he was a distant relative of the Oviraptor.
Because, instead of puncturing my face with holes, the beast paused and licked my nose. On hindsight, I believe he had gender dysphoria; his mothering instincts having kicked in, the beast thought I was an egg – and he was just checking on me to see if I was safe. This must be true because, after licking me, the beast turned around and sat on me with his great hairy backside. And just to add to the insult, proceeded to fart very loudly (4).
Keen to be clean, the beast then dragged his bottom along the buttons of my knitted-by-Nanna-bottle-green-school cardigan, leaving behind a brown residual liquid. Full of Scot’s pride, he did a quick turnaround, and stood back to admire his handiwork.
The hands of a Hulk pulled me up from the floor, nearly ripping my arms out of their sockets. By this time I was, of course, a quivering wreck and fully expectant of some sympathy. But did I get any? No. Not any at all. My mum was laughing at me.
“Say hello to Skip darling! He really likes you.”
What? I’d just been eaten alive and I was being asked to say ‘hello’ to this beast. A beast with the happy la-di-da name of Skip! Astounded, I opened my mouth. No words came out.
Wham! Crash! Growl! Snarl! Leap!
Big Brother had, at that opportune moment, arrived home from school too. The beast changed alliances. Big Brother was pinned to the carpet within nanoseconds. I laughed and made my escape upstairs to find refuge in my bedroom. “Ugh! Yuck!” I heard behind me – my brother’s reaction to being used as a bottom reliever.
You might be thinking that that was the end of it, that Skip the Beast’s initiation ceremony was over. But that was not the end at all.
It was not the end and it was nothing compared with what was to follow. You see, Skip had a highly-sensitive sense of smell when it came to deceased felines. And he was clever enough to be able to detect the exact locations of old Dirty Monkeys (5), even after they had ostensibly been cleaned up with Dettol (the disinfectant of every woman’s choice in the seventies). And Skip’s hobby was to drop down a new deposit in the very same spots.
“Oooh, you Dirty Monkey!” my mum proclaimed every time she returned home from work to make a new discovery. “What will your father say?”
I did stop to ponder about why a Dirty Monkey (6) should have a father. But I thought it wise not to ask. Who knew the goings on of a work-tired mum’s mind? She had been washing dishes all afternoon in a self-service restaurant, so was most likely suffering from hallucinations of some kind. And anyway, all was forgiven when Skip bounded up to his Mistress, jumped up at her pleated tartan and got his tongue caught in the kilt pin.
At one deep look from his big brown eyes, my mum’s heart melted; she kicked off her work shoes, settled herself down in front of the gas fire with a cup of tea and bore-up resignedly as Skip licked away the sorrows of her we’ve-been-standing-up-all-day-and-had-to-listen-to-moaning-customers’ feet. I think Skip had a particular fondness for the texture of the American Tan brown tights from Marks and Spencer.
School-tired, I sat down with my own cup of two-spoons-of-sugar tea. Strangely enough, Skip wasn’t at all partial to my white-all-the-way-to-the-scabby-knee socks. This type of favouritism from a canine was, however, something I was quite prepared to overlook!
You see, Skip had a bit of a predilection for detecting the urinal odours of other canines. Sniffing and snouting around lamp-posts and fences for the most favourable and tasty spots, he would lap up whatever he could get his tongue around. You may be thinking that the poo
r beast must have been thirsty, but let me assure you that he had no shortage of drinking water. Because, although it didn’t really snow all that much in Scotland, it did rain an awful lot and Skip loved to drink up all of the muddy puddles (7). In this way, the beast could squirt the downpour out with pinpoint accuracy. Skip always left a liquid-gold souvenir of himself on the very lamp-post he had licked clean during his last walkie.
My mum’s American Tan tights turned a sort-of-liquid-gold shade. I did point this out to my mum, but all she said was, “Yes, they have faded; they have been through the washing machine a few times!”
Liquid gold was not as bad, however, as chocolate brown.
The probably-once-grey pavements in our local area were painted all over in the beautiful colour of our earth. Dirty Monkeys in a variety of different shapes, shades, sizes and scents littered the paths and gutters up and down our very long terraced street. In Aberdeen, in the late 70s, dogs were highly respected – they had a free-for-all-canine facility in any available pedestrian area. Skip was the beast of a large dog, too much of a challenge for a ten-year old dog-handler, and dragging him away from a feasting of chocolate was more than I could manage.
I suppose that the reader is expecting me to kill Skip off at this point. After all, the Cool family’s beloved ginger Tom cat, Bobby, died and came back from the dead in my ‘Cat Litter’ blog post.
But, in the scale of things, Skip was the lesser of many evils. When it came to the broader more-human issues of communal toileting zones, rather than being a beast, Skip was a mere lamb!
Beasts. Bullies. Lambs. Beastly bullies. Beasts of the bogs.
In the Aberdonian primary school, bullies had a special relationship with communal toileting areas. The Scottish loo was a synonym for a bully’s throne.
In the ‘Girls’ toilets, the bullies ruled. They ruled over the toilets and they ruled over the
Gingers and the English.
I was ginger and I was English (8). My luck was up (9)!
It is as well that Jay Cool is imbued with the genes of the great (if somewhat psychopathic) red-haired and bloodied fighters of skill and prowess, William the Conqueror (my 28th Great Grandfather) and Robert I Capet of France (my 33rd Great Grandfather). Because, there were numerous times on which I unknowingly called upon the spirits of my ancestors to support me in fighting my way out of the girls’ toilets, fending off punches and kicks from a gang of bully girls.
In time, of course, after repeated escapes, I did the wise thing – the sensible thing. Like many gingers who came before me and all those who came after me, I stopped visiting the school toilets. This was all well and good but, by home-time, by three o’clock, I was in pain. I hobbled and hopped my way home in the same manner as a Chinese girl with bound-up feet (5), taking tiny-tiny steps – in the hope that what had gone in (10), would not, of it’s own accord, come out!
“I really need to go,” I declared to my walking companion.
“You can’t go here,” said Florrie.
“But, I already am going here!”
Florrie did her best to look the other way and to pretend that she wasn’t with me. But, luckily, her Mum had forbidden her from walking home alone. Even walking home with an accident-prone English girl was better than walking alone. So Florrie was stuck. Florrie was stuck and Florrie was unique. She was unique in her association with I, Jay Cool, because there were others – other girls at school, who had helpful siblings. Helpful siblings who ran up to them in the playground to remind them that they were forbidden to play with me, and that mums would be told! Florrie had no siblings. Florrie was an only child. An only child and my only friend (11).
My only friend did what all only friends should do. She did her duty. She put both arms out and blocked me from the view of passers-by as a yellow trickle ran down my legs and flooded out onto the pavement and around Florrie’s feet. As Merlin the wizard stood by King Arthur, even at the risk of being found out and executed by the same, for practising sorcery – Florrie stood by Jay Cool. What loyalty!
Aberdeen, Grampian Region, 1980
Loyalty. Back to Skip. And back to Bobby. Ginger Bobby. English Bobby.
As you have probably gathered by now, Bobby was a true Cool. Bobby was a blood relative. Members of the Cool family were all united in a common cause – we all had to fight for the rights and survival of the ginger gene, and of our English heritage.
But Bobby, you see, like the rest of the Cool family carried the MC1R gene. A gene inherited from the royal families of Europe (12). With a God-given place in this world, Bobby, like his predecessors – William of Normandy and Henry VIII (Jay Cool’s 2nd cousin 14X removed) – and like the rest of his family was (still is!) immortal.
Skip, on the other hand, was a black and white Scottish border collie. Skip was adopted. A cat like Bobby could die and make a comeback all on his lonesome ownsome. Skip, on the other hand, was a special case. Skip, with all his oddness and his toilet fetishes, needed our protection. Skip was mortal. Like Florrie had stood by me, I would stand by Skip. The Cools would stand by Skip. With the proper love and attention, Skip too could live forever.
The Cool family were moving back to England. And Skip the Scot, now one of our own, and upgraded from the status beast, was coming with us!
And, just as I had attempted to dance the Highland fling in Suffolk, when my dad announced that we were moving to Scotland, I now danced for joy because we were moving back to England.
Only it wasn’t really England – not England as I had known it.
It was no return to the sand, salt and stones of Felixstowe beach.
Immingham, a mass of tall chimneys puffing out hideously, horrendously, gut-wrenching clouds of black smoke.
Barely England at all.
Sewage and chemical waste flowed out of Fison’s fertiliser factories – out into the murky waters of the River Humber.
And the Cool family was about to take up residence.
Perhaps it was no bad thing that Bobby had been left behind, buried in a garden in Aberdeen. As we moved out of Duthie Terrace, I prayed that those who moved in after us wouldn’t dig him up. And I prayed that the Scottish worms wouldn’t dig tunnels into Bobby’s decaying bowels, as they pooped out their own particular brand of Dirty Monkeys.
Skip. Factories and fertiliser. Our new life.
Disclaimer: Please read Jay Cool’s ‘About the Author’ blog post.
(1) Actually, our new dog’s collar wasn’t really studded. My parents, who at that time believed they were the descendants of Henry VIII’s bum-wipers, rather than the great man himself, would never have paid for such an extravagance!
(2) If only the same still applied. If only school dinners were made compulsory for all children, come five o’clock, modern mums could simply knock up a few Marmite sandwiches for their kids and have done with. This would leave more time for the important things in life – watching back episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? and spending hours on Ancestry.com.
(3) Sorry, mum, but you did say that, back in the 40s, your parents had made you go to piano, not body building classes!
(4) Go on, mum, I can say the word ‘fart’ just once, surely?
(5) Yes, do please read Jay Cool’s blog post of the same name – yet again!
(6) For those who ignored the last footnote and have still not read Jay Cool’s ‘Dirty Monkey’ blog post, even for the first time, then a Dirty Monkey to my misinformed mind was a synonym for ‘poo’, rather than a derogatory label given to the poo’s Producer.
(7) Due to the short lifespan of the muddy puddle, courtesy of Skip the beast, ‘Peppa Pig’ hadn’t yet been invented. Little did we know what awaited to cast it’s die of doom over us in our future existence!
(8) I do feel it necessary to point out here, that the Bog Bully is not unique to Scotland. Bog Bullies in the 70s and 80s could be found in school toilets up and down the width and breadth of the UK. And Jay Cool, Jay Cool who was frequently on the move up and down and around the coast of the UK, speaks with authority on this matter.
(9) Although my luck was up in that moment, it was a good omen for the future. For, whilst in Aberdeen, a wonderfully good old lady who lived in a snug little house in Footdee, kindly informed me that the reason she was ‘blonde’, rather than the usual ‘grey’, at the ripe old age of eighty, was because as a child she had been ‘ginger’. Gingers, apparently, are immune to the very ageing effects of the grey hair. Unfortunately, she was lying – my now brown fringe is speckled with grey!
(9) I knew all about this topic, because Aberdeen’s University Museum had a sliced-off Chinese foot, with bones exposed and toes curled under, immortalised in a glass tank full of formaldehyde.
(10) Yes, this is a plea for sympathy – with the sole aim of enticing more viewers into embracing my blog posts.
(11) In truth, the ginger gene has its origins in the proportion of our human selves made up of Neanderthal DNA. But that is something that, for the moment, Jay Cool is choosing to ignore.
(12) In the late 70s, we still received free bottles of school milk. Full fat milk, non-homogenised – milk with thick-rich cream on the top. And I, Jay Cool, always won the race to see who could finish their milk first.
Photo: The photos of ‘Fangs’ and ‘Footdee’ are creative commons image provided courtesy of dreamstime.com.