Too Cool for School

When truancy goes wrong

Joseph Yossarian

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Headshot of amiling thirteen year old schoolboy wearing blazer, shirt and school tie
the young truant (my own photo)

It was way too sunny to spend the day cooped up in a classroom. Having been raised on comics in which characters often played truant to go on fishing trips or similar adventures, I decided to emulate them. I went into school to get my attendance mark on the register, and then I sneaked off.

As I walked along a farm track that led down to the riverside, the noise of the traffic behind me faded out, to be replaced by a much sweeter sound; the song of a skylark. I was reminded of a line from Blake’s poem The Schoolboy, which we had recently studied in English class.

And the skylark sings with me:
O what sweet company!

For this particular fourteen-year-old schoolboy, smoking, exploring and mischief making were on the timetable that day.

Keeping a Low Profile

I decided to walk to the town of Bedlington, some three miles away on the other side of the river. Here I would go unrecognised by the locals; an important factor, as a previous truancy trip had come unstuck when I was spotted in my home town by a friend of my mother’s, and she didn’t hesitate to snitch.

I made my way along the riverside walk and through the maintenance tunnels of the huge iron railway bridge that spans the river Blyth. After much trudging, I arrived at Bedlington town centre, parched, and weary from the walk. I was also hungry because I had spent my dinner money on cigarettes. I passed the time looking in shops and aimlessly wandering around.

An assortment of trees, from which rise black steel girders that hold up a railway bridge. Against a blue sky, the bridge recedes from the top left corner of the image.
The railway bridge I walked through (my own, recent photo)

Looking back, I wonder what the point of the venture had been. I was forfeiting a day’s education in order to tramp around the pavements on my own, bored and hungry, and with a three mile walk home on an empty stomach to look forward to.

In the afternoon, I decided to have one last cigarette before heading home. I went into the local Presto supermarket, where I sat down on a long row of seating that stood against a wall facing the checkouts. It may seem odd today, but smoking inside a supermarket was tolerated, if not encouraged, back…

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Joseph Yossarian

Freelance writer and blogger from the north-east coast of England, specialising in true crime, childhood memories and whatever takes my fancy.