The politics of the playground #1000speak @1000speak

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I wrote here the other day about being bullied. As a growing youth I was tall for my age. My parents had a chart that said ‘if you are X at ten you will be Y at 18’ Another of life’s disappointments as I rapidly reached five eleven and stopped. Not an inch more. The elusive glamour of six-foot was not for me.

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That’s me next to the Scout leader – and I wasn’t the oldest in the troop.

But being big made me a target for a certain type to challenge. Sort of the crash test dummy of the playground. I didn’t notice so much at primary school but transferring at eleven to a school where none of my peers went meant I stood out. It had an upside – I was picked for the rugby team in the second row – up to then I had had no sporting accomplishments and, frankly I hardly excelled as a puffy unfit lump. Our first game in the September gloom of 1968 was not an experience in the Summer of Love, more the Summer of Mud. We lost, from memory 43-0 and we did well to achieve that zero, given how far backwards we, in the forwards, went.

If  being part of such a shambles gave me a protective sheen I didn’t notice it as a couple of boys picked on me. To be fair it was episodic bullying as they had other targets too but I well recall a day – sun out, probably after Easter – when they challenged me near the long jump pit – well away from the prying eyes of teachers, not that they would have cared – school policy was to put any boys who fought outside together in the boxing ring and let them slug it out under Queensberry’s Rules – and there I was buried.

I was delighted to move schools at 12 to the pastoral setting of Brockenhurst in the New Forest – our school motto Inter Silvas Quaere Verum or some such which means Amongst the trees, seek the truth – apt at 16 with a burgeoning sexual desire and the proximity of the Forest’s plentiful supplies of its own-brand magic mushrooms, but bugger all use to a 12 year old beyond evidence of a hazy attitude towards people. I slotted in and for a year all was well.

But then we moved to an Annex while the main school was prepared for its big change to convert from All-years Grammar School to Comprehensive Six Form college. My third year was isolated. We had two classes of about 25  pupils each and the only times we interacted was playtime. In the other form there was a bruiser whose name escapes me now but he picked on me and others as we were part of the geeky class (back then we were Swots, not Geeks). This charmer pushed and shoved and abused several, me included. Then one day he stole our football.

We were an organised group and we all chipped in a few pence to buy a class football to use in the breaks. The other form didn’t. After much provocation that moment he picked up and made off with our ball was it for me. Placid me. I saw red – actually a rather deep and satisfying vermillion – and I swung a punch at said yobbo. I had never swung a punch before. Nor since, outside of my rather ineffective boxercise classes that I now undertake in a no doubt forlorn effort to prevent my stomach becoming a curtain for my knees. I missed. I tried again. I missed again but he was ready. He swayed in the approved fashion, and picked me off, just below the eye.

Note to self: don’t get hit when you have a tendency to swell at the slightest knock. I think we were both surprised how quickly my eye ballooned. He backed off and threw our ball back. I touched the new archipelago that had settled, Surtsey-like on my cheek, and wondered why it didn’t hurt. I felt nauseous but no pain.

He left me alone thereafter. Shame, the fear that one of my random haymakers might connect? I don’t know. The indifferent girls whose own torture was to pull an unsuspecting boy into the girls’ toilets where, no doubt, they carried out evil, egregious and oddly fascinating experiments on their victims, took notice of me for the first time wanting to hear about my war stories. A side bonus.

I had stood up, not in any considered way but in an emotional, f*** the consequence sort of way and it worked. But it worked more on him than me. It was like he realised there might be a consequence and not always as graphically in his favour as in our fight. He stopped picking on us as a form, as the weaker, effete bunch we were. It wasn’t a smooth transition to Peace in Our Time but there was a transition and no one invaded our Sudetenland.

Am I advocating violence? No, especially violence as bloody useless as mine but finding a way to stop a bully, to make pause is what is needed. It could have been anyone not just me. It took the first step. Can we help people take that first step? I think so. I hope so. It is our duty to try.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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14 Responses to The politics of the playground #1000speak @1000speak

  1. Autism Mom says:

    “It is our duty to try.” Agreed. Well said.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. willowdot21 says:

    This brings back sad memories, I was bullied at school and I have always been annoyed at myself for never standing up to those who made my life hell… well done you ! Yes we must empower those who re bullied!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Norah says:

    Good on you, Geoff! You must have given that fellow quite a surprise. Maybe he was satisfied with the emotional damage he was doing with his non-contact bullying, and was then frightened off by the effects of physical violence, and what could happen to him. While I don’t condone the use of violence either (particularly when enraged), it worked for you that time.
    The situation reminds me of one told by my Hub about his friend who was also tall for his age. When the bully decided to pick on him (the tall friend), he learned very quickly not to, and the tall friend became the sort-of protector of the playground without actually having to do anything other than be there.
    I agree wholeheartedly that we need to encourage everyone to take action against bullying. Talking about it is one thing, and important, but action is what is required.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rachel M says:

    Well done you for standing up to the bully. Bullies are used to getting their own way so I guess they don’t expect anyone to stand up and fight.

    But I’m more concerned about these experiments the girls were performing on unsuspecting boys in the toilets …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: IF WE WERE HAVING COFFEE: BUSY SOCIAL LIFE AND BLOGGING. | willowdot21

  6. Fortunately I was not bullied at school, but I was at work. I stood up to two of them there and even though it resulted in six weeks off work with stress, their attitude towards me changed completely, whereas a few others left all together. It’s a story I maybe will tell one day.

    Thanks for the flashback, Geoff. I’m only 5ft 6, and would be very happy with 5ft 11 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Charli Mills says:

    Bullies pick on the easy marks, the ones most likely not to fight back. But when the spark happens, usually they back down and go pick on someone else. How to stop a bully from going on to the next person? Perhaps protecting the most vulnerable would help. You were tall as a boy!

    Liked by 1 person

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