This is an extract from memoire that I have recently completed,
‘A Fruit Cake Just Exploded’ ;
other extracts may follow or the book is available on Lulu.com and also Amazon.
Living out where we did in the countryside, there was a school bus laid on to get us there. From the very first day on the coach there might as well have been a bull’s eye painted on my back not helped in anyway by being the last to be picked up; I had no option but to endure the daily, ritual humiliation. The fact that the bus always full, almost over full by that point didn’t help one bit. If I had friends they were only of a fluid and formless sort that, in this hostile environment there was no way of them showing any allegiance to the ‘targeted one’. My already limited associations were almost nullified by the trouble that developed around my wholly unwarranted notoriety.
Having squeezed my rapidly growing frame through the tight mass of bodies, the only spaces left were always well away from the lady escort; she always seemed oblivious to anything that went on there anyway. Having run the gauntlet, on reaching the back of the bus I would be confronted by the consistent trouble makers waiting for their fix of fun. Every morning I hoped for a space near the front but it hardly ever happened. Although the term ‘special’ had been with me for what seemed a very long time for so many different reasons, most I hadn’t minded; sticks and stones and all that. Here in the crush and chaos, what should have offered a pleasurable enforcement of physical closeness with my peers, I sadly stood no chance at all in gaining anything but pain.
It was the time when you still paid for your school dinners, every day, in cash. Unfortunately I was not ‘special’ enough to get free meals, more’s the pity. Of course my tormentors soon knew this and although I was not the only one that had been fleeced, it seemed that I was an eminently easy target. On my way out of the house each morning I would pick up the plastic bank bag with just the right money in it, slip it securely into my inside pocket knowing full well that there was little chance of it making its way to the dining hall. Except fop the first time it happened I never made any fuss. Other kids had dealt with it all in the past and it was just my turn. I had seen the results of making a stand for yourself. Bruises were hard to hide; an empty feeling in my stomach during the afternoons was not. When I got home I would generally lie about what we had eaten for lunch, that is if I couldn’t manage to avoid the questions altogether. At least my avoidance strategy was being honed by the activity however ineffective; week in, week out. As long as the bullies got what they wanted it was all relatively manageable, tolerable even but, a slightly bigger problem was looming as yet unseen on the horizon.
At the start of one new school year, the relief of the long summer holidays was now lost and the school dinner money system was changed. Meals would be paid for at the start of each term and directly to the school. What was going to happen now? Would I be left alone if I had nothing to hand over? That would be have been great but sadly, it was not to be. Once the loss of revenue was noted it took only a short time to decide what I would have to do or supply in its place. While the details were formulating it was considered great fun to belittle my appearance, my size, my clothes or anything else that they thought would make good sport instead. My hopes of any relief were a lost cause.
The trend for hair cuts was to wear it long and generally in an unkempt look, I couldn’t even get that right. I was developing an interest in hair styles even then but it didn’t seem to help with my problem. My father had always used Brilcream, a throw back to his days in the RAF I expect and of course I had to try it, like it and so used it regularly. At least I tried many times to emulate other men’s looks, I never quite managed the smart suave sophisticated style that my father always had. This tonsorial fopar, amongst my many other failings, became the principle reason for what would become my classroom nickname, ‘the greasy slime’; I railed against it every time I heard it and yet did nothing to get away from it. If that wasn’t enough my obvious weight problem became another easy target along with my dress sense and inarticulate attempts at any kind of retort and in the end felt that I just had to live with it all.
Back on the blitzkrieg of the bus, not having any money allowed me to get away with only the infliction of verbal abuse and a bit of roughing up now and again; I was happy that at least I didn’t get the full beating that others had in the past. However, the lull in proceedings wasn’t going to last for long. Those involved eventually got bored but just couldn’t seem to leave me alone. Instead of the steady stream of cash, they had been looking for an appropriate replacement. Anything would do so, I lost books, a few pieces of equipment, pens, rulers, compasses, some expensive, some trivial but none of it seemed to be enough to satisfy their febrile minds. Most of these missing items were easy to explain away compared with the occasional tear in my shirt, writing on my blazer or the disappearance of items from my little used gym kit. Sometimes you could see these items hanging from the hedgerow where they had flown out of the bus window. Although I managed to explain all sorts of things away over the many months, it got more difficult all the time.
My physical size, obesity as it was although not spoken of, was not helped by an unsubstantiated insistence that I needed to be fed all the time. It was something that we as a family had always indulged in, food, food and yet more food. Early excuses that my so called ‘puppy fat’ would soon disappear apparently did not raise any concerns and i just keep eating, a growing boy, needs lots of energy, all sorts of nonsense. To this barren end I had open access to and was supplied with numerous treats, just in case I got hungry before lunch or on the way home or anytime really. Each morning I would help myself from a large brass bowl in the lounge, Mars bars, Topic, Crunchy, Bounty; it seemed like every type of confectionery known to man was available. All that was on top of whatever I was given openly. It was this excess of bounty that became my antagonists new currency.
You might have thought that this was an easy, acceptable option, I got to eat less junk food and they stayed off my case but oh no, that was far too much to expect. Cash had been divvied up between the gang relatively easily; now, just one or two chocolate bars didn’t divide up so well between the group. This meant that I had to supply more, and more, and then more. In the end I had great trouble disguising where the household supply was disappearing to each week. Of course I lied about eating it all despite the fact that no one actually saw me eat very much, nobody ever questioned the fact that I could have eaten the amount that went missing; I would have been hospitalised if I had. Despite this general malaise at home, in the end on the bus it got just too much for me to cope with and without knowing quite how I did it, I stopped it, dead. At least I thought I had anyway.
Thinking that I had been cleaver and had nothing to give them they had nothing much in the way of new interest to taunt me with, my arms were very sore from the thumping that I received on the first morning. Suffering it all in silence I eventually just melted into the school day. Knowing that I should have felt some pride at my resistance, having anyone share in my small glory would have meant having friends that held any degree of interest in me or my problems; there was no-one. Being invisible was nothing new or difficult and I managed to keep out of the way of any other potential repercussion between lessons. At lunch time the game was up.
The head bully boy supported by his rather unattractive henchmen confronted me in the play ground well out of sight of any staff. Despite it not being any real surprise, I panicked when a pair of scissors appeared from his pocket the blades glinting in the sunlight. He grabbed my tie and I waited for the pain and the blood. His bad breath whispered sickly into my ear that I needed to pay more attention to getting them what they wanted and not being such a sad sick bastard. He pulled his face away and sneered grotesquely as he hacked my tie right through just below the knot. The small ugly group evaporated into the background.
Uniform was very strict at that time and I only got through the afternoon by saying that I had lost my absentee tie somewhere in the lunch break. When I got home I had to use the same excuse.
Using one of my brother’s old ties the next morning but still with no chocolate I was very determined on the outside, while bricking it on the inside. My arms were even more sore that day. When I was pinned up against the brick wall later on I was definitely thinking that I would feel the cold steel this time. Fortunately it was only the tie, again. That would be the last warning I would be getting, apparently. The teachers fell for the lost tie line again but my mother didn’t.
In the busy kitchen at home I was grilled about it for what seemed like hours. With no plausible explanation I had to clarify matters for my father when he had finished work; this was almost unheard of as my mother normally dealt with this sort of thing. Thinking that I had fudged my way out of it even to my sire, I was rather disappointed to find that it was not going to be ignored this time. Getting more concerned by the hour wasn’t helped by not getting on the bus the next morning; I was taken to school instead by my parents.
Being a generally good student I had been fortunate never to have seen the inside of the headmaster’s office other than to help with some menial project or other. This was different, this was serious. In no uncertain terms I was made to tell him what had happened and his normally quiet, pleasant, leadership style changed to the one that he reserved for such injustices.
Having only given up one name, the offending student was summoned to the office and the matter was discussed with him there in front of us all; I didn’t know who was more embarrassed. His semi literate protesting wouldn’t constitute a discussion but later that morning, once my parents had left, he received several strokes of the cane. It was not the first time he had heard the whoosh and felt its sting. Although I didn’t get to witness the event, to add insult to the injury he was told to produce two new ties for me by the end of the week. He did produce something but it was just the half of another one of mine that he cut off the very next day. He left the school for good very soon after.
As with many bullies they rarely work alone and when the beast looses its head, the rest generally fall aside helpless; I was lucky that this was how it fell for me. Although that small part of my life was much better, I didn’t get away from the verbal abuse about my hair and clothing and of course I still couldn’t shake any of the derogatory nick names. In fact it probably all got rather worse in many ways but I had managed to develop a thick and thickening skin. My splendid isolation, I think that’s where it all started and I must have found it beneficial if not mandatory for survival from then on.
About twenty years later I saw one of the former bully boys at a wedding reception. Fortunately he didn’t recognise me but, for just a fleeting moment, I considered asking him how he thought things had worked out for us all; for whatever reason, I couldn’t be bothered.