Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bully off

This is a bit of a cathartic rant, brought about by recent exposure of the subject matter in the local and international media. Normal service will be resumed in due course. The reference to field hockey is a bit of an accident. While I was looking for a hockey-related picture I learned that ‘bullying off’ is no longer how a match is started. You can tell I’ve not played hockey in many years.

It’s pleasing to see that schools nowadays seem keen to publicise their Zero Tolerance to Bullies. Such a thing never existed when I was at school, all those aeons ago. In my day, back in the days of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, school bullies were simply a fact of life. I am nevertheless mystified about how bullying is controlled nowadays. Surely the “We’ll get you after school” syndrome remains unfortunately alive and well.

A whole series of big boys made my life in a succession of schools a form of purgatory for about 14 years. A side effect, perhaps, of my performing well academically but being a dismal failure on the sports field. Talking posh was never going to help; neither was being up to a year younger than my classmates . Torment was constant and unremitting, from physical assaults with fists, boots and hockey sticks, verbal jibes, theft of my personal property, to writing obscenities in my exercise books and on one occasion, vandalizing my bicycle so it had no brakes as I rode down the steep Dingle Road, unable to slow down for the A38 trunk road at the bottom.

“Stand up for yourself,” said my father, “Bullies are cowards. Hit them back and they’ll leave you alone.”

So I did. Unfortunately, in the real world, the proverbial Big Bad Wolf doesn’t run away never to be seen again. What actually happened is that I got into trouble for fighting, and then had my face filled in after school by the same gang of teenage thugs. So much for ne bis in idem. Trouble is, I always think beyond the immediate satisfaction of breaking the nose of my antagonist to the inevitable painful retaliation. Not fighting back doesn’t reduce bullying either; an unresisting target is an easy target.

It was all made worse by some members of staff. In front of classful of boys, a teacher once advised me that I was obviously gay for preferring badminton to soccer. Much derision followed. Another took apparent delight in destroying my self-esteem by ridiculing my work aloud in class again and again. Did he do it to others? Not so I noticed. Teachers’ taunts were parroted at me by my classmates for weeks, months and even years afterwards.

What did I do about it? I retired into a private and slightly unpleasant world of my own, submitted schoolwork on time, swotted for exams, and had few friends and no social life. It’s no little astonishment to me now that I didn’t simply give up and drop out.

What should I have done about it? Made friends with my tormentors, perhaps. Oh yes, that’s sure to work: the captain of the school soccer First XI and his knuckle-dragging cronies are sure to want to associate themselves with me. Given into my violent desires, perhaps, instead of suppressing them? I’d have become one of those same sociopaths who made my schooldays a misery. Telling a teacher or a parent produced little in the way of sympathy, and if a bully were hauled into the headmaster’s study he’d eventually catch up with me and wreak his revenge. All futile, then.

Thankfully the physical abuse ceased by 1980. To anyone who’s read this far and has suffered or is suffering as I did, I can confirm that things do eventually get better. Other than that, I’m afraid I don’t have any answers.

To my shame and irritation I can’t simply drop it and let bygones be bygones. Thirty years on, and very little is required to get a load of unpleasant memories flooding back as if they happened only yesterday.

The injustices systematically meted out on me and others are probably why I continue to detest injustice in all its various forms.



Dave said...

A fine piece of writing that expresses very well what I believe a lot of young people must feel today.

It also shows how your formative younger years shape your thoughts & ideals to this very day and I think a lot of us can relate to part (or all) of what you have said....

Seabee said...

Very true Dave.

Mr Goat, I never went along with that old 'school days are the happiest days of your life' cliche, utter bullshit I always thought. Like you, I couldn't wait to get out of the place.

I didn't have the bullying problem, although there were inevitably bullies at my schools. It was just a fact of life wasn't it.

Anonymous said...

Y'know, you've rekindled memories that I sometimes prefer didn't actually exist! (only because they're painful)
I was lucky in a sense that I didn't get bullied at school - by the age of 14 I was 5'8" (tall for a girl) but in a weird kind of way, because I was 'big' I was 'expected' to be a bully, which just didn't happen.
When my son changed schools (he chose to go to a boarding school), he was bullied mercilessly for the first 3mths. He never said a word about it - just that he was desperately unhappy. (He was a big (near 6ft) lad) When I eventually got it out of him, he explained what the bullies were doing to him (pissing in his bed, wiping snot on his pillow, making sure he was kept awake the night before a big match etc) I was to put it politely, fucking livid! Despite his pleas not to, I got in touch with the school principle & demanded action. It's a long, complicated story, but the outcome was that various boys got suspended & my son was given help by a kind of foster family.
The next time I went down to his school, I made sure that 'the boys' see ME, in my tattooed 'you wanna fuck with me kiddo?' glory. I made a point of putting the word out that I'd run with a crew of Hells Angels (in the past) & would not hesitate taking the law into my own hands, should any form of bullying against my son ever take place again.
From that day on, attitudes swiftly changed - especially after the suspensions.

I'm physically big, have my tats & in biker gear, can certainly look 'the part', but it literally is a front, which I must admit, comes in handy sometimes. I've only ever used violence once in my life & that was in a time of desperation. I'm a big, cuddly softy, even if I do swear! When it comes to bullies though, I get bloody angry.........after reading about your teachers, gawd almighty, I would've loved to meet them in a dark alley one night. Their utterances were despicable & that's putting it lightly.


I.M.Deluded said...

The more I read about Engligh schools, the more I want to be a teacher at one - what a great way to approach menopause. Bring back the cane I say....

It's obviously made you stronger though. Glad you're not bitter about it.

Gnomad said...

Well said Mr Goat. I had a similar experience of school myself, you have my every sympathy.

Now that I am a teacher myself I have a policy of absolute zero tolerance towards bullying in any form. I do seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with bullying incidents and ensuring that minor cases do not escalate.

Paraglider said...

Well done for writing this. It's all too common still, though I think it really was worse in the bad old days of the 50s and 60s where, post-war, there wasn't a lot of sympathy or engagement going around. "Just stand up to them" was the pathetic norm. At least now the issue is talked about.

Martín said...

since I am not a native English speaker, the complete meaning of "bitter" escapes me, but I do detect it (at least what I understand of it) in Goat's words. I also feel it in myself. Maybe I feel sad as well. Bullies are something that makes me not want to be me. I loathe them. And in my case at least, they didn't make me stronger; they killed a part of me.

Martín said...

I hope you don't mind if I take (with due credit) this wonderful piece of writing and translate it to Spanish for a post in my blog. Let me know if you're against it.

Grumpy Goat said...

Feel free to translate and post it, Martín.

Martín said...

Mr. Goat, thanks! Sorry I didn't answer before but I've been away.


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