Reports from the production of this year's Bridging the Gap short documentaries, part 2
I've spent the past three months hanging around on wasteland in Cranhill, Glasgow. Cranhill is perhaps best known for spawning Scotland's most successful rock brothers Angus and Malcolm Young who formed AC/DC and, least we forget, another famous son of this fine scheme – Junior Campbell from the Sixties' beat group Marmalade, but perhaps best known as the man who penned the iconic theme tune to 'Thomas the Tank Engine'.
Rab and Michael keeping their eyes in the sky, hoping for a capture.
Prior to my film endevaour, Cranhill represented something different to me. When driving from Glasgow to Edinburgh of an evening, you pass three tower blocks on your right as you leave Glasgow. These blocks with their semi-circle reflectively-glazed peaks were the first blocks in the city to incorporate what can only be described as a visual bungle. I am talking about the city authorities' attempts to brighten up our city's night skyline by adding insipid lighting decorations to every housing tower block over 15 metres high. These particular blocks with their ill-conceived illumination have always felt like they mark your exit or your return into Glasgow, and for that reason, I find them a reassuring landmark which has become a focal point in my short film.
Over the past three months, I've spent days hanging around directly in front of these tower blocks, spectating and documenting a century-and-half old, little-known Scottish sport called doo fleein' – or pigeon flying, if you're not familiar with the colloquial terms.
Danny offering some last-minute instructions to one of his new contenders.
The sport in its simplest form involves men who keep pigeons as pairs, male and female, from Monday to Thursday. At the weekends, the birds are split and sent to the sky individually. Another competitor – or doo man as they're known – will see your bird, be it a male or female, and send up a bird of the opposite sex. The sport is: which bird can charm the other bird back to the opposing doocot, or pigeon loft.
The sport may sound fairly basic from this description, randy pigeons having sex with other randy pigeons. But don't be fooled, this sport involves tactics and knowledge which can only be gleaned by years of experience as well as knowing your birds' strengths and weaknesses.
Pigeon getting some sustenance before heading out to charm another bird.
My main protagonist and our gatekeeper into understanding something about this sport is Rab, a 44-year-old man who's been flying doos since he was 14. Rab has allowed me access into his world over the past months. He spends each and every day tending to his flock, which is spread across three sheds in his back garden as well as the doocot, which stands like a monument directly in front of the aforementioned flats.
The doo fleein' world is one of stiff competition and of constant claims and counter-claims of foul play (no pun intended). Meeting John and Danny, two of Rab's main competitors, has been a tricky affair. As an outsider, you're viewed with suspicion, especially with a camera. They've seen me spending time with Rab in the field next to his doocot – and feel that they have as much of a claim to being the number-one doo-fleein' champ in Cranhill as he does. They've allowed me to follow their routine as they prepare to do battle in this ongoing local rivalry – where no doo man is your friend when you have a bird in the air.
John looks like he's in pain but he's actually calling one of his girlies.
Overall, my experience so far has been one of adventure and constant learning, the ebb and flow of trying to tell a real-life story which evolves constantly. My starting aim was to give insight into this idiosyncratic and little-known sport, as well as to give an understanding of the commitment, passion, and rivalry that doo fleein' holds for its competitors. As I sit here and write, I find my mind wandering off to Cranhill, wondering what I'm missing. I don't think it will be very long before I have a few doos in my shed out the back.
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