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Do Unto Others?
I can remember at school always managing to more or less tread
the middle ground and avoid the notice of the school bullies,
being content at the time to thank my lucky stars and watch them
take it out on someone else less fortunate. I guess I was
actually a bit of a coward but somewhere along the way being
blessed with the ability to run faster than most everyone else it
seemed quite natural to make full use of the ability whenever the
situation warranted it. I have absolutely no memory of the
incident at all but apparently there was one occasion where full
of fear I ran like the wind deserting a friend who couldn't run
as fast. The price he paid for being somewhat slower afoot was to
be thrown bodily into a river. It is a source of some
embarrassment that almost every time I see him or a member of his
family now, the tale is retold no matter what the company.
Bullying is in the news a lot these days and thankfully seems no
longer to be tolerated but looking back it was rife and some of
the kids who were those that were constantly picked on must have
had a life of unimaginable hell. I tried being a bully once. I
can't remember too many of the details. Just vague impressions
remain of how I was in a group of kids and how we were taunting
our victim who was scared. Somehow I strayed over the line of
simple name-calling and ended up pushing shoving or maybe even
hitting him. Try as I might I can't remember which action caused
the result but I don't suppose it really matters because he
wasn't really hurt but what did matter to me was the result. He
started to cry. I had made him cry. I remember him running away
from the group shouting back at us through his tears . . . and I
remember feeling sick. Sick that I had caused someone to suffer
in that way. Sickened by the way I had abused the power I had
been given by the group around me. I've never really tried
I stood up to one of the lower ranking bullies once. We were in the changing rooms after a 'games' lesson of some sort and somehow this boy singled me out for some extra sport. Whatever he did was pretty insignificant but perhaps because games was never my favorite subject somehow I was pushed that little bit too far. I guess you get a feel for who you may have a chance at and who to stay well clear of and just accept your punishment if it's your turn although I don't know if conscious recognition of this entered my mind at the time. He pushed me just a little too far and I ended up pushing back. There was a small and very brief 'tussle' before the games teacher interrupted and separated us. His retribution for our misbehavior for a worrier such as I was, could not have been worse. He announced that if fighting was what we wanted to do then so it would be. A couple of days later toward the end of the week we were both to turn up at his office after classes for a form of detention where we would have a boxing match and sort out our differences. Well it is one thing reacting on the spur of the moment with a full flow of adrenalin pumping through your veins, it is a very different thing having to wait and anticipate getting beaten to a pulp for a couple of days. I've always worried about what to others are the smallest silliest of things. Being put into a running race on our school sports day would see me unable to sleep or eat normally for days beforehand even being physically sick with the worry and stress. Having to powerlessly wait those couple of days was pure, agonizing hell. I don't remember what sort of an act I put on but I obviously couldn't let anyone know I was scared to death. At last the time arrived and trying to mask the fact that I was shaking like a leaf and was about to end up sat on the floor because my legs would surely soon give way I joined my nonchalant opponent and knocked at the teachers office door. I was sure that my heart must be audible pounding in my chest and perhaps it was and it was that which induced the teacher to announce he didn't have the time. He made us shake hands and that was the end of that. That particular bully seemed slightly less bullying toward me from then on but it was no happy 'Disney' ending and we were certainly never friends.
With hindsight it is possible to wonder if the teacher was actually particularly clever and had used the psychological approach to resolve the situation. Then again it seems unlikely when I remember this was the same teacher that singled out a member of a class, set him running around the football field and then announced to the rest of us that if we could catch him we should 'debag' him! Like baying hounds off we all set in eager pursuit but the memory sits uncomfortably with me now. Thankfully he escaped an uncertain fate and reached the safety of the last corner flag.
I was seventeen at the time. I was just starting to develop an
'adult' social life and was regularly going out on an evening
with school friends to local pubs for drinks. We were under legal
age but most of us, especially the taller ones like me, could get
away with it without being challenged about it.
After a brief dalliance with 'punk' I'd been introduced to heavy rock music and because of their association with motorcycle culture and my parents disgust, had really started to enjoy listening to the heavy metal bands of the time. By all reports the loudest, and of course being immature that meant the best, was Motorhead. I went to see them a couple of times at the Colston Hall in Bristol and even on one occasion camped out overnight with a friend in the ticket queue to ensure we got the best seats in the house. With hindsight I don't think it would have much mattered where we sat, and in fact sitting in the street outside would probably have given us a better appreciation of the sound. They were loud. They were very loud. They were so loud you couldn't hear them. All you got was a deafening wall of noise with no distinguishable hint of a familiar tune. For days afterwards my ears would whistle and hiss as they tried to repair the damage! It was the custom of the time that fans of the group would emulate their heroes by wearing bullet belts and biker style jackets with the Motorhead emblem meticulously hand painted on the back. This appealed to me not least of all because I was childishly fascinated with firearms and the war and had a collection of shiny, brass,7.62mm cartridge cases laboriously collected from the grass of an army firing range in Pilning on the banks of the River Severn. To buy one of the belts was beyond the reach of my meager income so I set about trying to make one up. I didn't have enough of the necessary machine gun belt clips so I spent hours and hours in my fathers garage with a drill carefully drilling twice through each cartridge case so that I could string them all together with some old push bike brake cable. It was not adjustable so it was 'made to measure', with the couple of clips I did have acting as the buckle. I'd managed to buy a cheap biker type leather jacket from somewhere but so precious was it to me that I was loathed to paint on it so instead I set about painting the logo on a suitable old waistcoat that served as my 'cutoff' worn over the top of it. I spent hours and hours on that logo copying from a record cover, painting Dulux gloss white with a fine paintbrush, freehand onto the fabric. Studs and various other badges adorned the lapels and this was what I would go out wearing! In my innocence I knew nothing of the significance and danger of wearing such clothes. It just made me feel ok.
The pub we were in on this particular evening was I believe called the 'Beaufort' in Downend, Bristol. I was there with others, which included a distant relative of about my age. As usual I felt awkward and insecure when encountering what I thought were unfriendly stares from a couple of the local 'hard nuts' but had started to learn to accept it as part of pub culture. Around closing time my cousin and I left the bar and went outside to begin our walk home in the darkness. All I remember now is that quite unexpectedly I found myself lying on the hard, cold asphalt of the gutter with kicks and punches being directed at my head by the 'hard nuts'. Quite understandably ( I would have done the same if I'd seen them coming ) my companion had run away in terror. Eventually, satisfied I wasn't moving, my punishment was ended and I was left to lick my wounds. Somehow I picked myself up and managed to walk the mile or so home to wash away some of the blood and go to the safety of my bed.
Sheepishly appearing in the kitchen the next morning all swollen and bruised and unwell with swallowed blood, my mother was startled and called my father in from the garage. I'm sure I was fearful of the consequences but my father was insistent that the police HAD to be called. Statements were made and photographs were taken for evidence. I had to go to hospital to have my broken nose examined but no treatment was deemed necessary.
Eventually the case was heard at the Staple Hill magistrates' court. I had to go, dressed in all my best clothes, and face the men who had done this to me. There was no defense and they were found guilty of assault and were fined.
I was awarded a small sum as compensation but it was a small sum even then and is laughable when I consider that my whole life ever since has been moulded by the experience.
I live in constant fear of a repeat, even now!
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