If you’re of a sensitive disposition, cover your ears now. Oops, too late. I’ve been away for a quite a long time since the last story update in which the village bullies were introduced: the terrifying Dom O’Brien and his 2 cronies. (Juggling a hobby-comic with the rest of one’s life is not easy. All in all, it takes at least 2 days to do each one of these pages). After a bit of a « diversion last time, I’m continuing the ‘« Defending the Seventies‘ story in which the bullies were briefly glimpsed.
Dead, after School…
It’s awful, the impact that bullies have on kids (and adults). I recall – as many of you probably also do – being so scared of leaving the school gates, having been told earlier, “After school, you’re dead!”
The walk home was a route dotted with danger hot-spots, where you might be ambushed, grabbed and shoved against the wall and threatened with murder. Ironically for me, one of those danger zones was beside the local church.
If I saw those guys as they were – now, I’d no doubt be astounded at how young and small and unscary they actually looked. Just little kids! But if they were tough enough, threatening enough, confident enough and just a couple of years older than you, they looked like scary big men.
Only one ever hit
Funnily enough, looking back, I see that most of the bullies never actually even hit me – never mind killed me! But an exception was a guy in secondary school. I’d considered him a friend, and he hung around with us nerds. One day, he seemed to take it into his head to start hitting me. Looking back, I think he wanted to impress the real tough guys in the class who ruled over us (but never hit us). After all, he’d been hanging around with us nerds, and might have preferred to hang around with them instead. Our nerdiness might have been ‘catching’, and we certainly weren’t impressive to associate with. I was an easy target, for use in his experiment. One day in science class, he just started punching me in the upper arm, with the second knuckles of his fingers. Not too hard, but repeatedly. Enough to get very sore after about 5 minutes. I kept telling him to stop and to f**k off whilst trying to laugh it off – instead of hitting back. This just showed him what a pushover I was. After a year, he ruled my life. I was in fear much of the time. Thankfully, after the Intermediate Certificate exams, he, and many other thugs and morons left the school.
My dad, who grew up in Liverpool and got into fights daily, told me: “Kick him hard between the legs and smash him in the face as hard as you can, John. He won’t ever bother you again after that.” I was never up for testing the theory. What if it didn’t work? Wouldn’t he be like an enraged bear?
Another reason why I didn’t hit him was my fear of damaging another person. I’d lost my cool a few years earlier in Scotland when I was around 8. One of my friends – again – started being nasty to me, and the torment went on for days. Finally, I punched him in the eye, with a tight hard fist, just like dad had showed me. I was proud of myself, walking on air on my way home. I think my parents were proud too. But that night, I went to the weekly Cub (Scouts) meeting and the boy was nowhere to be seen. The other kids told me that he’d had to be “brought to hospital to have an operation on his eye.” I believed them, and the mental block that I’d previously had against hurting people returned with greater force.
That experience, helped to make me a pushover when I came to Ireland in 1977. My Northern Irish grandad had warned me about the south of Ireland lads, “Those ‘Free State’ boys are tough. Watch out for ’em.” Was he concerned, or just trying to scare me? (OK, now I’m seriously wondering why he told me that… was he just toying with me? Trying to scare me?) I was a quietish, soft type of 9 year old who was into toys, comics, sci-fi, playing soldiers and making things. I wasn’t the sporty type. I stuck out like a sore thumb: yes, I was a Bully-Magnet.
I probably also seemed quite middle-class. On top of which, my family kept moving around. When we moved to Scotland from England in 1972-ish, I was “an English bastard”, and when we moved from Scotland to Ireland in 1977, I was “a Scottish bastard.” You see, I’d got a bit of a Scottish accent by then. So there were lots of reasons to try to bring me down a few pegs: foreign, middle-class and arty. And all the better that I was a softie – very unlikely to hit back, especially after my eye-bruising incident.
So what do I tell my son to do nowadays? “Kick ’em in the nuts and smash ’em in the face”? Walk away? Tell us, and we’ll deal with it? Tell the teacher and be called a squealer? Stand your ground? It’s a tricky one alright.
– John White