There's a reason Wayne Macken stuffed his cheese sandwich in my trumpet.
There's a reason Ashley Clarke threw sticky weed at my jumper. I know why Daniel Cooper repeatedly punched me in the stomach and Louise Birch put snails in my PE bag.
It was because I was an idiot. I deserved to be bullied. In fact, I would go further. I needed to be bullied.
Had I not been bullied, I would never have learned the important social skills I required to get along in life. To be humble, to be sincere, to be kind, to be helpful, to be forgiving. I was arrogant, showy, aloof, judgemental, critical, selfish and unsociable. To put it simply, I needed my worst traits bullying out of me. Just as my braces straightened out my teeth, so classmates beat out my obnoxiousness.
I often cried myself to sleep as a schoolboy. I spent most days feeling sick with loneliness and nerves. I wet myself regularly because I was so frantically insecure. I was punched and, more often, completely ignored.
Boys would knock at my house in the evenings and run away cackling at the hilarity of the very premise that they would wish to socialise with someone so listless and meek. I was invited to birthday parties that didn't exist. I was banned from playing football at play times. I played hide and seek but was rarely sought. My cardboard model of a static caravan with working fold-out bunks was stamped on and burned.
But here’s the thing. I accept that I was bullied because of my behaviour. My classmates didn't like me and looking back I can see why. I was an irritant to them. They were hardly going to offer me a structured programme of coaching with step-by-step achievable goals and monthly mentoring workshops. This was primary school. They were going to make me assimilate by calling me names and kicking me. And it worked.
So Wayne didn't sabotage my trumpet to teach me humility. I expect humility remains a word he cannot spell. His campaign of practical jokes forced me to realise that I should stop giving his Learn To Read books withering glances from behind my C.S.Lewis. Ashley Clarke didn't throw sticky weed at me because he wanted to make me more bold. His jeering taught me that if you walk around like a victim then you will be a victim. Daniel Cooper taught me that being timid, apologetic and pathetic is liable to get you punched and sometimes you just have to punch back harder. (Tit for tat works, as long as your tit is bigger than their tat.) And Louise opened my eyes to the fact that girls do weird stuff when they fancy you (it transpired the snails in my P.E. bag were a gift. Thank you Louise, though you might have invested some time in searching out something more original than the common Helix aspersa.)
Of course, bullying a child because of something beyond their control or because you are simply envious of them is a terrible thing and that kind of physical, mental and emotional torture must be dealt with robustly. Some children are tortured by bullies and I’m not saying they should be left to fend for themselves. But allow me to make a distinction between the vile and systematic bullying of a person simply because they are vulnerable and different, and the bullying of a child who just winds everyone up. If your daughter is nauseating, she will be bullied. If your son's personality is pungent, he will be picked on. That is life. Isn't it better that they are forced to change?
Perhaps the confusion here, comes from the word 'bullying' itself. I wonder if we should introduce a distinction between violent physical and emotional attacks on the vulnerable and the forced assimilation of the aloof. 'Humbling' perhaps? I wasn't bullied at school. I was humbled.
You see my point. In life, one must learn to laugh at jokes that aren't funny, to bite one's tongue when someone mispronounces a word, to be kind when someone is less fortunate than oneself. One must hide one's light under a bushel. (My bushel looked like a cross between Miriam Margolis and Blackpool Pleasure Beach.) To be thoughtful, confident and kind.
I may not always be those things, but I do try, and I try because I was bullied. I’m certain of it.
So when I look back and think of that little boy, sobbing under his duvet at the thought of another day at school, I feel sorry for him but would I change it? No. I'm grateful to my bullies. They saved me.