Thursday, 16 January 2014

Ty The Bull

My top friend, Brenda Perlin,

has designed a website to highlight the issue of  bullying. I thought I would help disseminate the site as the issue is important to me.

Please have a look and share with anyone with  kids, or who may be vulnerable to bullying, either in real life, or increasingly, online. 

This website is co-designed by young Rex, who is her partner's 10 year old grandson.

Glad to help and glad to publicise. I detest bullies and bullying, not just because I got a big slice of bullying cake at the Catholic school I went to in the late seventies. I think it's important to adults to intervene the MINUTE they suspect bullying. Forget all that, well, it'll make Little Johnny stronger nonsense, INTERVENE. GET STUCK IN.

The story appears elsewhere on the blog, but it's worth repeating. 

The original can be found here:

Best Years of Our Lives

You are thirteen, and it is your turn today.

You don’t know why it’s your turn today, but you know that it is.
The atmosphere has been building up for weeks.

Those little incidents.
Brief encounters.
Minor skirmishes.

You have never experienced anything like this anticipation before, and you’re scared. Your stomach is turning over as if you’re staring down the side of a skyscraper. You are tense and dizzy, and you wish you hadn’t had seconds at dinner.

Manchester Tart.
Two slices.

You’re thirteen, sitting round a school desk, your satchel packed and blazer on.
Five boys are staring at you.
You know it’s your turn.

You’re paralysed. Panicking. You cannot move. You’ve never known a feeling like it.  Trepidation courses through your veins. Your body is charged, and you want to cry. But you don’t. Weeping will only make things worse. You wish it isn’t your turn today, but it is. You pray.
That’s what they taught you to do at Primary School.
When in trouble.
God will provide. God will save. They taught you to pray before they taught you to read, those nuns. You really need Him, but as you’ve long suspected, He isn’t there and somehow, even if He is out there, you know He isn’t going to help.
You’re on your own.

You look at the faces of the five boys around your communal table.
You look at the girls sitting round the communal table behind you.
It’s planned.
You don’t know when they planned it, but they did.
You shut your eyes.
Mrs. Dixon has just given a lesson on punctuation, and you cannot remember anything she has said about full stops, commas, and semicolons because the whole class is staring at you, and they’ve been staring at you for three quarters of an hour because it is your turn.
Your turn.
Other people have had their turn.
They got to Paul Fisher last week. He still hasn’t come back to school.
They got to Clare Finch last month. She had to move classes. Then she had to move schools.
They got to David Gunther two months ago. They say he’s gone to a special school. One where they listen to quiet music in class, and there are doctors in white coats, instead of teachers in stinky jackets and polyveldts. It's twenty-seven minutes past three, the old clock above the blackboard tells you. You wonder whether the classes in the surrounding classrooms know it’s your turn.
(Please, God.)
They’re staring, your classmates.

On Friday nights, as a treat, your mum lets you watch a regular ITV programme called Appointment with Fear. Every week, they show an old horror film. Taste The Blood of Dracula. Frightmare. Dracula, Prince of Darkness. Bride of Frankenstein. Curse of The Mummy’s Tomb. The House That Dripped Blood.
You love horror films. All the old classics.
Plague of the Zombies. The Reptile. Vampire Lovers. Blood Beast Terror. Twins of Evil. Deathline.
You and your mum watch them together, and you drink Horlicks and eat digestive biscuits. Your dad is always in bed asleep, ready for a five o’clock start. He’s always working. You’ve learned that the function of men is to work, and the function of a father is to work harder and to build a home. That’s what you’ve learned.
Scream and Scream Again. Dr Terror’s House of Horrors. Asylum. Trilogy of Terror. Dracula Has Risen From The Grave.

You love your mum.
All your friends love your mum because there are no rules in your house. It’s open house, and she’s a great cook and gives your friends treats and cakes, but the people who come round your house are different friends from another school, closer to where you live. Not the people staring at you now, all from other parts of Nottingham who come in on buses. Bestwood, mostly. Sherwood. Top Valley. You’re dad wasn’t happy for you to be schooled with all these people, but he couldn’t afford to send you anywhere else. Times were hard. He blamed Ted Heath.

Catholics. They’re all Catholics from Ireland.
You don’t even understand religion, and you don’t go to church. You don’t believe in God, thinking it’s all a bit stupid. Your mum doesn’t go, and your dad doesn’t go. Your mum is too busy being a mum, and your dad is too busy working. You want to go to a different school, and maybe your classmates detect this. They choose their targets carefully. They choose them for a reason.

Sometimes your mum allows your friends to come to stay and watch Appointment with Fear. They don’t tell their mums that they’re allowed to watch horror films at your house.

Last month, The Midwich Cuckoos was on. 

Sean and Shaun, and Adrian and Barry, and Dominic and Michael, and Francis and James, and Brendan and Peter, and Tom and Fergal are staring at you like the kids in The Midwich Cuckoos.

They’re sniggering behind their hands. Their blazers on. Regulation white shirts. Oversized, loosely tied, brick-tie knots. Behind you, there is Sheila and Mary, and Annie and Connie, and Margaret and Elizabeth, and Catherine and Jane. Blazers. White blouses. Oversized, loosely tied, brick-tie knots. Lacquered hair and makeup. Giggling behind their satchels.
You are paralysed with fear.
(Please God, make it not my turn. Please save me from this and I’ll go to church on Sunday, and forever.)
It’s twenty-eight minutes past three and Mrs. Dixon is a stickler for time. She’s sitting there putting pens and chalk into her denim bag. You like Mrs. Dixon and you want to tell her what’s going to happen, but doing that will only make things worse.
You can only hope that this will be the last time.

You’ve had warnings.
Francis punched you in the face before PE a week ago and followed it up by stamping on your back. He walked off laughing as if he’d done something to be proud of.
Adrian stabbed you in the hand with a screwdriver.
Keelan approached you in the cloakroom outside the Biology labs while you were finishing off your homework. He gestured to an Adidas bag hanging on a coat hook on the other side of the cloakroom and asked you to come over and look inside. Curious and just a little bit naïve, you got up to see what he wanted you to see. Before you reach the bag, he hits you over the head with a rounder’s bat. It is the first time you’ve been hit on the head like that, and you squeal. You will never forget the sound of the bat rattling on your skull as long as you live, the whiplash cracking, like a snapping plastic ruler. You fall to the floor and bang your forehead on the tiles. It is agony, but it doesn’t hurt anywhere near as much as the sound of everyone in the cloakroom laughing at you while you lay on the floor.

Boys and girls. 
The best years of your life.

That was just the preamble. The beginning.
You are scared this afternoon, and you have never been as scared in your entire life. You want to cry, but you daren’t. It will only make things worse.

The bell for home time goes. So does the first ten millilitres of the liquid in your bladder that stains the front of your underpants. You make a run for the door, but Keelan is already by the toilets outside. You don’t know how he got there. He punches you and you go down on your knees. He takes advantage of the freedom and space around him to kick you in the face.
They’re on you.
Mrs. Dixon can’t stop them, how can she, and she walks past into the bright sunlight outside the New Learning Block, into the banks of freshly planted trees and the rolling carpet of the newly turfed school fields.
It is a beautiful sunny, Indian summer day, in nineteen seventy-eight.
You are thirteen.

You are down, your nose hurting from the impact of Keelan’s punch. God hasn’t helped you. In fact, perhaps to punish you for your lack of faith, He’s made your perceptions that much keener. You can see them forming an orderly queue to stick the boot in. You can hear their laughter and smell their excitement. You notice their shoes. The boys are wearing one of three types of shoes.

Shoe type one: Platform soles popularised by glam bands such as The Bay City Rollers, Slade, and T-Rex.

Shoe type two: Cork-soled brogues with a half-moon front, known as Spoons.

Shoe type three: Ordinary leather-soled brogues, also with rounded fronts. Most people in your class are into Northern Soul, and they say these shoes are mint for sliding across polished floors. The relentless impact of the shoes in your face and along your body is wedging you underneath the cloakroom benches, keeping you tight in the confined space. It is making it difficult for you to breathe and impossible to move. You can’t even protect your face.

The girls in your class are wearing just the one type of shoe. Girl Shoe type one: Leather-stitched moccasins with plastic corn-coloured soles. Mocs, they call them. You notice the sole of one as it crashes down onto your face and you cannot believe that you’re being stamped on by a girl.
You realise that all of the girls in your class are kicking you.
They hate you. Boys and girls.
In the first thirty seconds of the attack, you are kicked thirty times and then you lose count.
There is a break from the kicking. Adrian kneels down, picks his spot and punches you. His punch connects with your left eye socket and shuts your eyelid. You have never experienced a jab of pain like it, and it soon turns into a thudding in your forehead.
You can see his face, and it is etched with something.
Hatred. That’s what hurts most.
You wonder when Adrian started to hate you. You went to St Francis of Assisi school with him. A nice school with nice teachers. You loved Primary school. Your mum knows his mum. You thought he was a friend. You used to play marbles with him on the playing field running parallel to the classrooms. You used to swap Green Lantern comics.
You competed with him in spelling tests.
I got nine.
I got ten.
I got seven today.
I got eight.
I win!
You don’t understand why he’s hitting you like this as if he wants to kill you.
As each separate class emerges from the classrooms in the Learning Block, a coagulated, blazered mass of third-year schoolchildren, some break away from the flow to join in the ritual putting in of the boot.
Most of the people hitting you are Forest fans riding high on the back of their European Cup successes. One, who leans on your nose with his knee, has hit you several times before for being a Notts fan. You are outnumbered in the school by ten-to-one, at least. You wonder whether this has anything to do with the beating, or whether it’s just religion, or something else you don’t understand.
Then you start to black out.
As you’re being kicked, the blood pouring from your nose, the pain dulling by the second as you start to lose consciousness, your bladder gone, trails of poo releasing itself under the weight of the beating, something weird happens. Something strange.
You don’t know why, or how.
Maybe God is helping you after all because you can feel your fear dissipate.

Before long, you are no longer afraid. The worst they can do is beat you.
You aren’t going to die.
You are going to hurt for a month.
Your education is ruined.
You will never have confidence in anything the teachers and nuns at school tell you about life ever again.
You are going to hate all the teachers who failed to protect you.
You are going to hate all the mad, frustrated, ultra-violent people who are beating you without pity, with the intention of inflicting as much pain as possible.
You know that you are going to hate the people in your class forever, but you aren’t going to die.
This is over.
Your turn is over.

The beating is so bad you know it can never be repeated. They’ve gone well over the top, the naughty Catholic boys and girls of Corpus Christi school. They’ve gone laughably over the top, the worst session of Feel The Pain imaginable.

Ho hum.
A teacher emerges from inside the Learning Block to see what the fuss is about. In your confusion, you can’t quite place the concerned voice shouting and though his voice is distant, as if you are hearing it through a glass bottle, you see the consequence of his appearance. You know that everyone is running for it, squeezing through the door three at a time, escaping into the sun, leaving you wedged and bleeding under the cloakroom bench.

Two of your classmates, Andy and John, the only two people in your class not to hit you, help the teacher, Mr. Davies, to prise you out, pick you up, and take you into the boy’s toilets to clean up. The toilets stink of cigarettes, you notice. 

All the toilets at Corpus Christi stink of cigarettes and the bowls are never clean.

They cannot understand why you are not crying. You’re in agony. Three of your teeth are loose. Your glasses - crappy National Health horse chestnut tortoise shells with springs on the arms - are wrecked, both lenses cracked and the frames twisted, but you don’t mind that - you spend most of your school life without glasses, you often break them yourself. Your nose is broken. You can feel it shift and loosen when you touch it. Your ears hurt. Blood drips from the canal of the right ear and you fear they’ve done some permanent damage. Both eyes are black, and you’re lucky not to have broken a socket. Your school shirt is covered in blood. In the mirror, the blood on your shirt looks curiously like the face of Jesus. You lift up your ripped shirt and blazer. Your entire body is covered in yellow bruises inflicted upon you by Spoons, brogues, Northern Soul moccasins, and Glam Platforms. Your legs are stiff, and you can hardly stand. There’s a recession on, and your dad is not going to be pleased about having to buy a new blazer, but you’re no longer afraid, and although you’re in some considerable pain and you find it difficult to move your face, you start to laugh.

That night at home, after the school nurse tells you that you’ll be okay, miraculously, you spend the evening taking phone calls from your assailants. Your phone has a lock on the dial to prevent you from calling anyone. At twenty pence a minute, the phone is for emergencies only, dad says. Your mum has the key, but you never ask her to remove the little cylindrical lock nestled on the number seven. You know times are hard, and you’re a good lad. You don’t burden them.

Please don’t snitch, the disembodied voices say.
We’re sorry. It all got out of hand. Please don’t tell.
We’re sorry.
Please don’t tell.
It got out of hand.
Adrian calls you, and while you cannot see his face, you know he is scared about what he’s done.
His voice is trembling. Please don’t tell on me, he says.
None of the girls who kicked you calls. Not even Helen O’Reilly, who stamped on your face. She didn’t call even though her brother, Nicholas, has your phone number.
She bent her knee and put her heart and soul into the stamp. You will never forget her blank and merciless face. You learned something about girls you didn’t know that afternoon.
I won’t tell, Adrian, you hear yourself utter.
I won’t tell, Ben, you hear yourself say.
I won’t snitch, Kevin, you hear yourself confirm.
There is a concert violinist in your class. There is someone with ambitions to be a doctor. Adrian wants to work in the City of London. You could do some serious damage to their career aspirations. How are they going to get a job? All three of the people with skills and ambitions laid the boot in.
A doctor? None of it made any sense to you, but, on the other hand, it made perfect sense.
All of them laid the boot in, but you won’t tell on them. Your mum is crying and wants to go up to the school and get the teachers - even the police - involved, but you won’t let her. You won’t tell on them. You have nothing but contempt, and each phone call hardens the contempt further. You hate them, and that hate burns deep into your soul.

Your dad takes you out into the garden when he gets home from work. He proceeds to give you the most important piece of advice you have had up until that point and afterwards, you know that the advice he has given you will last you for the rest of your life.
Son, if you can’t beat them, join them, he says.
You can see in his face that he’s tired after another twelve-hour shift at the brewery. He works six days a week, sometimes seven. The only time you see him for more than an hour is either at the match on Saturday afternoon, when Notts are at home, or on Sunday afternoon, asleep in his vest, snoring on the sofa, with Star Soccer on the telly, and four cans of Double Diamond on the occasional table next to him, the smell of Sunday lunch in the ether. They never show Notts on Star Soccer, he’s fond of saying. They definitely never show Notts on Match of the Day.
You love your dad. He would never lie to you. If you can’t beat them, son. Join them. You are surprised at this advice, but still, you sense a door opening to a different world.
Thanks, dad.
You’re welcome, son.

There are some fantastic resources online which offer advice and support.

Think bullying isn't an issue? Watch the first twenty minutes of  "Kidulthood" and then chastise yourself for your naivete.  Warning: it isn't nice - and the film is made by young people too.


  1. My kids have been bullied and it was horrific. To experience the affects of bullying as a family is something I wish on no one. The feeling of helplessness, the loneliness, the pain ... it needs eradicated! What a star you are Brenda for getting involved. Kudos to you and Rex n x

  2. Thank you so much for sharing. I think most people are very passionate about this subject. You wrote an amazing story. It really touches me.

  3. Thank you, you two. Your thoughts are much appreciated. I am sorry that your delightful kids were bullied, Ngaire, but I know with your support they'll survive. You have the additional issue of cross culture to deal with. Back then, Brenda, there was this culture of "toughening up", particularly boys, You didn't tell on the bullies and parents didn't intervene. The teachers were shocking. One just walked past out to the car park as if nothing was happening. In those days, you just hoped it went away. There was no anti-bullying resource or policy. Nowadays, if my son had taken this treatment, I would have been up to the school like a shot, no question, and I would have had prosecuted the people doing this. I'm sure Ngaire, you would have done the same. It's the modern, humane way of doing things. Life has moved on. There is no excuse for letting kids suffer it alone. Back then, it was just barbaric, a war zone. Schooldays. Best years of our lives? I always laughed whenever anyone said that to me and I wouldn't go back to being young for all the tea in china, as my Grandma used to say. Thank you, you two and I wish you both the very best and Brenda, if there is anything I can do to help, let me know xx