Tug of war at school


The Bully

The bully was called Boyle. Straight out of a Roald Dahl book, this hardened endomorph with his pocked-face and ratty moustache made my first few months in secondary school hell. I would dread going to school, fear the walk home. Boyle was an omnipresent threat along with the flood of salty tears, waiting behind my eyes.

By means of distraction as he pummelled my face with his great unwashed fists, I used to attempt to count each individual hair of his moustache. I never succeeded in getting beyond four.

He would end each session by emptying the contents of my rucksack into the alleyway. His final act was to kick my Tipexed pencilcase into a pile of white dog turds – a final insult to several minor injuries.

It seemed like Boyle had access to a Victorian bullies’ manual – his destruction of my self-esteem being textbook, his methods so ruthlessly well-drilled. I did however draw some limited comfort from the fact that if he had read this manual, it would have been the only book he had ever read and even at that stage, I had read lots.


The Love Interest

I held hands with Michelle for the entire seven hour Barnes’ coach trip to Calais. This was a momentous and magical thing. The fact that we weren’t even sat next to each other made it all the more so.

We arrived in France and were promptly and unceremoniously dropped at the entrance to a hypermarket the size of Wootton Bassett. Presumably, we were meant to wander these motorway-like aisles and ‘learn’ French. Perhaps by studying the labels of a thousand fruit jams and shrink-wrapped packets of flesh we would grasp the complexity of French grammar – a kind of linguistic osmosis.

Somewhere in the boiled sweet aisle Michelle disappeared. Kidnapped, perhaps? A victim of a foreign land.

After failing to find my sweetheart for two hours, I eventually ordered a baguette, some cheese and an apple in my best formal French from a bemused checkout woman as she rung up my items.

I found Michelle waiting by the coach. It was immediately apparent that something had gone wrong in our fledgling romance. I didn’t know what exactly, but the whispers between Michelle and her friends in the car park were not the giggly kind. This spelt trouble and ultimately, it meant that for the return journey there was no tiny sweaty hand to hold, only a very large sweaty cheese.

The other boys used their camemberts to conceal illicit bangers and flick-combs, their rebellion ripe for all to smell. I was left with mine that I had bought for my mum. Girls always fall for a bad man, I conceded as we docked at Dover.

After Michelle, the love interests were numerous. Several a minute in fact. A 90s’ trend for bottom-hugging and highly flammable polyester trousers was more than enough to ignite my indiscriminate passions. Unfortunately, gangly and spotty as I was, I did not inspire the same all-consuming lust in others. I was much better off listening to Britpop under trees, where the shadows hid my shortcomings and Kula Shaker taught me how to be cool.


The Universe-has-turned-against-me-and-I-wish-I-was-dead-most-embarrassing-moment

By year eleven I had figured out how to survive sports day. Participation was mandatory, but the event, well I was free to choose. So I picked triple jump. It took place the day before sports day, away from the crowds and was over in just 30 minutes.

I’m not saying that the triple jump wasn’t humiliating. My legs were long but my co-ordination woeful. I was like a gambolling giraffe taken out mid-sprint on the savannah by an unseen poacher. Without fail, I would end up face first in the sand. This would be repeated three painful times until I triumphantly shook the sand from my pants, blissfully aware that tomorrow I was free to chuck on a band t-shirt and amble down to the trees behind the quarry tomorrow and do whatever Kula Shaker would do.

With the pressures of the competitive world of secondary school athletics firmly off my shoulders and wearing my favourite Blind Melon T-shirt, I baggily swaggered my way to the trees to join my friends.

The quality of Swindon soap bar in the summer of ninety-nine was far from great. Despite being more PVC than THC, more engine oil than cannabis oil, the dark brown hash we smoked did enough to turn the crowds and the running track into impressionist smears of colour.

It didn’t last long of course, before the paranoia kicked in – an all-consuming, jaw-clenching, eye-twitching sense of impending doom. I was trying desperately to focus on the tug of war that was taking place in the centre of the field and not the fact that death was almost certainly about to befall me. It looked like the two teams were suspended in amber, orange-hued grimacing faces, limbs splayed like pre-historic mosquitos, so still on the horizon. I willed this image to the front of my mind, hoping it would occupy my thoughts.

I started to giggle – the claustrophobic paranoia subsiding into a ripple of warming insanity. It was at this moment that I heard what sounded very much like my name being spoken by God – so loud that the air crackled with its power.

Again my name, electric and fizzing around me – I looked up towards the heavens. Nothing. I heard it once more but this time it was accompanied with a sharp pain in my ribs. It was my mate, jabbing me repeatedly. I stopped looking up and instead looked down and across at where he was pointing, over towards my school that were now all looking at me. Not in a passing glance kind-of-way – staring at me. I stood up. It was what they wanted. I was being summoned.

Mr Coward – a rather meek and mild-mannered math’s teacher – was addressing me across the tannoy.

This was truly unbearable – each step was heavy as I made my way through the crowd – a sea of pimply white faces braying like donkeys. My brain and eyes and heart all imploding at once, a firework display finale in reverse as my body failed to cope with what was happening.

A tugger had sprained his thumb and some joker had mentioned my name as a suitable last minute replacement.

The tannoy crackled once more.

“Here comes the Blind Melon. Here he comes now. The Blind Melon approach’eth.”

Mr Coward had apparently found his muse, mustering more enthusiasm than I would ever have ever though possible. Gone was the church mouse, this lion was roaring.

I have never ever experienced such embarrassment or ever felt more like a Blind Melon than I did right then.

The laughter eventually died down and I joined my position on the rope. I started to pull. With the coarse fibres burning my palms, I pulled and pulled and screamed and screamed. Then it was over. I was on the floor, but it was ok. We were all on the floor. It meant we had won.

I was a Blind Melon no longer, I was a winner.

About the author

Tom Spooner

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