Fighting Part 1
Another common attribute of the Middle Manager is competitiveness. You have to enjoy a good fight. I certainly did and I did so from a very early age. Well, when your local newspaper says of your birth “Miracle Baby!”, what would you expect. An immaculate conception? I have been dining out on that particular headline for years. It actually probably means that my mom was a fighter too. After all, it was she, not me, who lost all the blood. I just had to hang on in there and survive. I came out the wrong way up, back to front, choking myself with my own umbilical chord. But, I survived to be told the story of it.
And so I did. And so I do. If anyone has ever hit me I have always hit them back. That is, with the exception of any women (and there have been a couple who have given me a slap or two over the years). Hitting a woman is a big taboo. Real men do not use their fists on women. But men, no matter how big or how many, I always hit back. Never show fear. Never back down. Sometimes I got my hitting in first – what Americans might call “pre–emptive” hitting. On occasions I would take a beating. But, mostly I won. I was pretty hard. I am still quite capable of aggression if called upon but I rarely play the hard man these days. And, I hope I won’t have to.
I learnt mom’s lesson quickly. Not long after this the “incident with the dog” happened. My aunt and uncle (he of the Marvel comic collection) had a boisterous boxer dog, Spicer, that was just about the same height as myself. On one particular visit the boxer dog apparently came whelping into the lounge, its bobble tail firmly between its legs, followed by yours truly with blood around my mouth, declaring: “Doggy bit me so I bit him back!” Sorry doggy. I guess I’ve always been more of a cat person. And, for those of you who are interested……..it DOES taste just like chicken! Sorry Spicer.
There have been other notable scraps through the years. At the Junior School I was once concussed enough to be sent to a doctor after being set upon by “Big Boys” from the local comprehensive. Apparently they had entered the playground, stolen our ball and dared us to go and get it. And so I did. And so I received a bit of a kicking until a teacher came and chased the gang away. I got the ball.
There was the time I hit LH around the head with a cricket bat. LH was one of the rare black kids at Junior School and was by far the hardest kid in school. But, at least he respected me after being knocked for six. He turned out to be a thoroughly nice guy once you got to know him, but, I admit that this was a rather extreme ice breaker. Sorry LH.
Then there was the time I made the boy in the year above me at the Junior School cry, and, apologise to my sister. I forget his name, but he was bullying my sister. He made her cry. I twisted his arm until he apologised. He didn’t learn his lesson though for some years later, when I was about 15 or 16, my sister came home from school in tears. This same boy, who went to another all boys Grammar School and big rival of my own, recognised her on the bus on the way home. He hurled abuse at her all the way. Without a word to anyone, not to mom, not to my sister, I sought him out. I took a different route home. In the full uniform and regalia of my own school, alone, I got onto the number 40 bus which carried Erdingtonians home from Aston. He was sat right at the back, in the middle of the back seat, on the top deck of the bus, surrounded by his mates. When I stepped up it was like a scene from a Western bar-room gunfight. The whole bus went quiet as I walked the length of the bus. It seemed a very long way. As I neared him there was an instant of recognition. Calmly, I simply told him, “Don’t you ever make my sister cry again” and then pummelled him in the face. No-one intervened. And, when the 16 year old bully began to cry in front of all his mates, I simply turned on my heel, walked back down the bus, and got off at the next stop. I said not a word when I got home. He never made my sister cry again. I hope he has never made anyone else’s sister cry either. Bullying and cowardice often go hand-in-hand.
Grammar School itself was one big fight. Even the organised “sports” were violent, with punishments meted out by hard men. The gym teachers. Ex-Royal Marines and utter bullies. Most of the “games” organised by this pair involved cruelty, torture or pain of some kind. Never their own. Their behaviour would not be tolerated today – the kids would sue. But, it did help to make men out of most of the boys.
PE (Physical Education) consisted mainly of two games – “Pirates” and “British Bulldog”. Pirates was rarer because it involved getting every piece of gym equipment out, and we only had an hour. The “trial” consisted of being chased around the room by the two best athletes in class. If (i.e. when) you were caught, or, if you put a foot on the floor, you were sent to the Sacrificial Altar. You would be made to take off your PE vest (not as rare an occurrence as you may think in days when you played games in either “colours”, i.e. with vest on, or in “skins”). You would be made to lie face-down over a buck with arms by your side. And, then, the gym teacher would slap you hard in the middle of the back with the palm of his hand! The game would not end until an inspection proved that every boy wore “the mark”……
British Bulldog was much simpler. It involved all of the class except the two biggest boys standing at one end of the gym hall. The Bulldogs stood in the middle. The boys then had to run from one wall to the other without being “captured”. To be “captured” you had to be lifted physically off the floor. This was the job of the Bulldogs. These two twin brothers were very good at it. They were big, black, and proud. They were both giants from a family of giants. Just look up any history of British athletics and you will find a member of their family, famous for throwing something very heavy a lot further than anyone else. In these days that included me and my classmates. There was just one rule. Boys had to resist. If you were not considered to be resisting enough then the Sacrificial Altar would come into play. Once “captured” you joined the twins as a catcher until there were no more boys to catch.
I do not remember a single boy complaining about such treatment. They did not dare. To show such weakness was an unwritten taboo. I am sure that no parent was ever told, otherwise there would have been complaints, parents to see the Headmaster. I t never happened. The only complaint that I can remember being made against these two complete b*stards involved a boy in another class but in the same year as myself. He was the boy who smelled. Every school has one and he was ours. He was scruffy, he had no school blazer, his hair was long and unkempt, and, he smelled. Apparently after one particular PE lesson he refused to join his classmates in that other ritual humiliation which came with PE – the communal showers. This humiliation involved stripping naked in front of your classmates. You have to remember that this was a time before central heating and power showers, before boys discovered underarm deodorant. We were the talcum powder generation. The generation who bathed once on a Sunday or after football. We were also at an age when involuntary erections were common. Adolescence, what fun! Once naked you had to run the gauntlet of cold water jets.
This boy refused to strip. I don’t know what kind of home life the poor wretch may have had. I cannot imagine what lack of parental care produced such a feral child. And I did not care. None of us cared. We were young boys and all we knew was that he smelled. The gym teacher lost it. He stripped the boy himself. He produced a wire brush – often used to cajole slow gauntlet runners. He yanked the boy into the shower and he scrubbed him clean. This boy complained……
Such institutionalised violence was not without side effects of course. Violence often erupted in the Quadrangle and elsewhere. From time to time boys would organise mass contests of British Bulldog involving the whole school, and all ages. The other Quad favourite was Murder Ball. This involved two teams whose purpose was to score by throwing a tennis ball through the opponents goals (hitting the wall between two wall-mounted dustbins). That was rule one. Rule two (and there were only two) was that whoever held the tennis ball could be murdered – punched, kicked, wrestled, anything went…..
Entry filed under: childhood memories, School. Tags: british bulldog, bully, childhood memories, dog bite, fighting, handsworth grammar, institutionalised, manor hospital, miracle baby, murderball, Walsall.