Third year at Fleetwood Grammar School,
September 1963 to July 1964
1. There’s no doubt that I was a bright boy, for by the third year at Fleetwood Grammar School I was in the fast stream, in the class that would go on to take its GCE O-levels a year before all the others. But in some respects I was a most unpleasant boy. We have already seen some instances of my deplorable behaviour towards Jones. All my learning and education wasn’t stopping me from turning out to be a petty vandal and a bully. Let’s leave my vandalism till later. The bullying showed itself through a first-year boy called Andrew Pickup.
 E.g. The Apple IncidentEasy pickings
2. Pickup’s was already a familiar face; he lived round the corner from me down Neville Drive, Thornton in one of the newer bungalows on the right-hand side. But he appeared in the first year at Fleetwood Grammar School that September. He was a pale, spindly boy, small for his age and easily reduced to tears by teasing. My friends the Webster twins had already demonstrated this once by jumping up and down round Pickup, gesticulating with their hands with mock blows, and chanting, “Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, YAH! Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, YAH!” The rapidity with which Pickup’s face puckered and tears flooded from his eyes was amazing.
So I knew that Pickup was easy pickings, and took a number of opportunities at school to corner him and torment him, usually pushing him around but only occasionally making him cry. Once, while in the playground, I even kneed Pickup in the crotch, and I was greatly amazed, for Pickup gave no signs of distress. (Although first-years for the most part were stationed at “Broadway”, they had to come up to the main building for school dinners, so that was when I would see him, in the boys’ playground.)
E. M. Hall
3. The Deputy Headmaster at this time was E. M. Hall. In contrast to the Headmaster, Dr. Grieve, who was a mild, pleasant-tempered man, Hall was a disciplinarian of stern countenance. He was tall, sparely-built, with a craggy-featured face and hair that rose in a quiff like a frozen wave of the sea. That face left a permanent impression on my memory. Hall’s cruel eyes seemed to peer out of vast hollows and his cold, gravelly voice issued from between yellow, rotting teeth, from a mouth whose shape can briefly only be described as trapezoidal. His open mouth reminded me of the destination indicator panels on the front of Ribble buses at that time. Hall had a slight impediment in his speech; his “l’s” sounded thick and he couldn’t pronounce his “r’s” properly (“pwlopewlry”).
4. I had long moments of terror every morning when—after Dr. Grieve, the Headmaster, had ended prayers and with a flourish of his long, black gown had walked off the platform—Hall would emerge and take the Head’s place behind the lectern. Hands crossed, he would grip the edge of the lectern with his long, bony fingers. Clawing the lectern thus, he would bend to peer—eagle-like—at the crowd of boys and girls who stood there below him.
Sometimes, all he then did was denounce the activities of the “runatic fwlinge” which had created some minor disruption of the school’s discipline. More often, though, he would give out names of boys whom he wished to see that morning.
That’s when my heart would start beating swiftly—as Hall, in a low monotone, listed them one by one.
“I want to see Shipway, Brade, Randon and Cwlabtwlee after this assembry.” Phew! The churning in my stomach would begin to subside as the last name was mentioned.
5. One morning, though, Hall named just one name: “I want to see Coopewl after this assembry!” Woe and woe! My heart started thumping; I could feel it pounding against my ribs. No “Shipway”, no “Brade”, no “Randon” or “Cwlabtwlee”. Just—“Cooper”. And oh, the fear, the sheer sensation of fear spreading through me as I walked up the boys’ corridor towards Hall’s tiny office which looked out on to the quadrangle! How differently I had felt the last time I had been in that room, before Hall had arrived at the school!—when it had been a stationery storeroom, when the worst that could happen was that one might be accused of tearing pages out of one’s old exercise book when one presented it for replacement.
6. Hall was already there when I knocked on the door. As we stood facing each other in the room, Hall told me that it had come to his attention that Pickup had on a number of occasions been bullied and that my name had been mentioned in connection with this. Fearing punishment and shameful exposure, I denied all Hall’s charges.
The confrontation seemed to go on and on, endlessly.
“So, you deny that you have ever victimised Pickup?”
“Yes,” I gasped.
“You have never picked on him at all?”
“Hmm!” Hall fixed me for a moment longer with his stare, then reached into his pocket. “Do you know anything about this?” he asked.
7. I watched Hall’s hand as it emerged from his pocket, holding a very realistic model of a dog turd. My fear turned to utter dismay.
“No,” I replied. This was a transparent lie. Hall must have seen the absolute panic on my face as he brought the thing out. The turd was, of course, mine. I had bought it from a joke shop in Blackpool and had amused myself by leaving it around in class. I had recently noticed that it had gone missing.
“Oh,” replied Hall, “that’s stwlange. It was found in the horrow in the wall next to your desk.” In the far corner of the prefabricated classroom, next to where I sat, part of the plasterboard had sometime in the past been forcibly removed, and I had left the turd on the wooden frame that was exposed there at my right elbow.
8. Hall continued to pose his pointed questions, and I, all hope of escape lost, continued to give monosyllabic replies.
“So, you don’t know anything about Pickup being bullied?”
“You don’t know anything about this?”
9. Then I, as it were, “cracked”.
“All right,” I said. All at once, the feeling that had been growing and growing inside me became an almost overwhelming ecstasy. “All right!” I gasped. “Yes, I do know!” I could hardly breathe. I said a few more words, or—should we say?—I seemed to hear myself talking. The scene had taken on an appearance of unreality, as if I had stepped outside myself and was merely an observer of what was going on.
Hall’s stern features softened. His manner became quite mild. “Now what would your parents say if they found out you had been a bully?” I half-sighed, half-gasped. “No, don’t worry,” he went on, “I think your ordeal here has been punishment enough.”
Hall continued speaking—“You will wleport to me for detention…”—but in my relief I was no longer listening, and I missed his instructions as to the time and place of the detention. I was also confused because he had just said that I’d had punishment enough.
10. And now he was showing me to the door. “So, we’ll hear no more about this bullying, eh? I mean, Pickup isn’t a very strongly-built boy, is he. And look at yourself—good physique—you’ve no need to pick on him.” I had no need to assert myself, prove myself, by harassing those weaker than myself.
These words restored a bit of self-respect to me. Actually, I had previously thought of myself as quite a weakling. Comparing myself with boys like Peter Gooding I had thought myself rather puny.
11. I saw Gooding at mid-morning break. “What happened?” asked Gooding.
“I’m in detention,” I replied, between gulps of milk from the third-pint bottle. The government’s welfare foods programme ensured that every child was provided with a third of a pint of milk each day at school. And no using a drinking-straw for us! We just swigged from the bottle. And if any were left over, we might drink two or three in that quarter-hour break.
12. Next morning, Gooding and I and the others assembled as usual in the boys’ cloakroom, prior to walking by classes to the main assembly in the hall. We sat on rows of wooden benches beneath the coat rails, eyed by a prefect at the end of each row. Just then Hall, his features darkened with indignation, came bursting through the corridor door.
“Is Cooper here?” he demanded.
I looked up and started to rise.
“Come here, boy!” Hall shouted. “Come with me!”
Hall led the way down the corridor to his room. The panic of the previous day was again making itself felt.
“Why did you not wleport for detention last night?”
“I–I didn’t know it was last night!”
“Oh, come on now!” bellowed Hall. “I specifically told you to see me after school!” His voice was deafening.
“I–I didn’t remember w–when you said I had to—”
“—Then why didn’t you come to me and ask?”
After this, Hall started to cool off somewhat. It was obvious that I hadn’t deliberately tried to spite him. So he just set another time for detention and let me go.
13. I found Gooding, who was just on his way with the others to assembly. He looked really quite worried.
“What happened?” Gooding quizzed me. “We could hear Hall shouting, all the way from the cloakroom!”
Needless to say, I did report for detention that evening. My explanation to my parents, as to why I was late home, was that I had got into trouble over the trick dog-turd. They knew that I had bought it, so I only got a good-natured “You should have been more careful, then” from them. Naturally, the other matter of Pickup was not mentioned, and fortunately for me the school kept quiet about it as well.
Pickup, some three or four years later (school Sports Day, 1967)Pickup is mentioned again in my diary-entry for Monday 31st January 1966.
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