Of all the strange customs in British schools in the sixties and earlier, one of the most prevalent was an initiation rite known as “Bogging”
Now, dear reader, I can assure you that no soggy ground or wildlife is involved. No trips to remote Irish landscapes or anything that might resemble what you think of when you hear the word “bog”. But bear with me and you will soon be familiar with this particularly silly custom. Avid readers of old classic tales of public schools will immediately recall fagging or caning or slightly more obscure rituals such as toasting or roasting or some such odd name. The one thing they all had in common was that they reinforced the principles that older meant better and seniority was all! If you disagreed with this then you were in for a bumpy ride.
So, when I was sent off to boarding school I should have been at least on guard. I was joining a term later than the others because of differences in the Scottish and English exam systems, but I was still far too innocent and worldly unwise to even consider that I would be involved in any ritual embarrassment.
And sure enough, embarrassment was being prepared. After all tradition just had to be kept up, didn’t it?
Unfortunately nobody had explained the niceties of the situation to me. Tradition was that when you arrive as a newbie you just accept what is in store for you and then after a certain amount of time it will be your turn to do the same unto the next batch of new kids.
Life would have been so much easier if someone had bothered to have a word in my ear beforehand, then I could at least have played along with the game and sorted things out without too much hassle. As it was there were a number of factors that the traditionalists should have also been made aware of.
Before heading to boarding school in the south of England I had spent a couple of years in Pakistan, which had then been followed by a much tougher and rougher regime in a primary school in a suburb of Glasgow.
Neither of these environments had much in the way of old school tradition and Glasgow had introduced me to the lesser known aspects of self defence. These were extremely effective but not covered by any rule book.
And so it was that when I was to be initiated into the traditions of my new school things started to go wrong right from the start. I still maintain that if someone had bothered to alert me in the first place then things would not have been quite so awkward.
The first that I knew of this quaint school custom was when a group of older boys grabbed me and hustled me off to the toilet block. Although they were laughing amongst themselves it was clear that it was not going to a laughing matter for me.
Which was when my training, particularly in Glasgow, cut in. There is a move known as a Glasgow Kiss, which suddenly came into play and caused a great deal of awkwardness. Instead of having a rather wet and disgruntled newbie in their midst there was rather too much blood pouring from noses.
In fact the whole episode got rather out of hand and although I wasn’t aware of it, it led to a rather stiff letter being sent to my parents.
Apparently the authorities didn’t think too highly of my self defence techniques and mention was made of “following the Queensbury Rules”.
I only heard about this much later on. At the time I just knew that I had avoided the dreadful “bogging” which was basically having your head shoved down a toilet and the thing flushed several times.
Curiously the tradition suddenly lost its glamour and I know that by the end of the next year the whole thing was regarded as unnecessary. I do know that I never got bullied or picked on after that, despite being one of the smaller pupils. Clearly it pays to follow the Glaswegian motto: “In wi’ yer heid!” when facing the opposition.
Of course I failed the Gentlemanly test, but then who cared, I certainly didn’t!