The Brain Abhors A Vacuum

So says Scott Fraser, Forensic Neurophysiologist. In my world there is a skeleton of facts that is fleshed out by imagination.

When I write I have the nugget of a memory and over the years the memory is only kept alive by re-thinking and re-imagining it over and over. It is called reconstructive memory. We ALL do it. There is no other process for keeping memory alive as far as I know. It does suffer from the flaw – anyone, anyone, please say it ain’t just me – that we are all terrible at remembering and keep it whole by adding bits as required.

Anyone, anyone at all, who claims to recall accurately an event more than a few hours old is just deluding themselves and, at worst, practising an intentional deception on others.

There is a really interesting TED Talk on the fallibility of eyewitness accounts by Scott Fraser that is definitely worth a watch. Watch it, you’ll be stunned.

So, if anyone wonders if what I say here is actual fact then bear in mind that the way I try to put flesh on the skeleton is by making it slightly humorous. I like to laugh at the past ‘cos why get dragged down and bogged in it. We could all wallow in self-pity, but that sucks. As is oft said by me;  Illegitimi non carborundum .

Oh, and if you find yourself bumping up against eye-witness accounts then do question them, thoroughly.

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Ninja Ho

Much as I expected, Mum read the last post. Apparently she is now interviewing Ninja for a one-off overseas gig. I am not scared as I know the CSC Ninja Squad will end up offing the wrong person. Mum has a propensity to grasp c. 50% facts in a way that only makes sense to her and puzzles the bejesus out of those in full receipt of reality.

I am reminded of a funny but apt phrase I am fond of that I learnt whilst in the police reserves. One slightly older and more experienced officer was keen on telling drunken arses whom were on the verge of arrest, “don’t confuse me with the facts, I have made up my mind” Their puzzled looks were priceless, just prior to the handcuffs going on. If they squeaked too loudly about fit of said ‘cuffs he’d give them a friendly pat on the back, as they were hoicked into the mini-cell in the back of the van, and assure them that , “don’t worry, I am sure they’ll stretch”. Oh how we laughed.

Back to more mother lessons and madness:

  • Racism. Back in the 70’s mum would merrily re-tell jokes to us kids that, by today’s standards, would be considered racist. However, her actual regard for other people, regardless of race,  was not tainted in this way. There was a big influx of Sikh immigrants into Western Canada in the late 70’s. The vast majority were agricultural specialists and in the time-honoured Indian immigrant fashion (Kenyan Indians, Idi Amin and corner stores in the UK anyone?) arrived somewhere with sweet FA, an incredible work ethic and tight family bonds. With this determination to succeeded and make a new life you’d get under-performing farms being taken over and magically the land would start producing vast quantities of fruit and veg. Oh how this made the lazy white racists seethe. We lived in a rural community and there was one such farm down the road.  Some  graffiti soon appeared on the road. A start and finish line that bracketed the Sikh’s property was sprayed on the road and hastily scrawled were the words, “Paki zone 500 mph”. Mum was appalled. I mean properly appalled. She took some homemade preserve – of which there was always a many and varied selection – as an offering and marched the quarter of a mile to the Singh family house. This was not a time for regular walking as that would just not adequately communicate the seriousness of the matter. This was proper pissed off English woman striding. The Home Counties twinset and pearls sort of pissed off that results in strongly worded broadside to the editor of a vaguely right wing broadsheet kind of pissed-off. Us kids were terrified as something had clearly set her off but, collectively, we all knew that for a change one of us wasn’t going to get some learning.  It was not uncommon for Mum to become the self-appointed anti-racism, school fundraising, CSC writing standards or whatever Monitor. So, the Singh’s must have wondered what to make of this slightly demented middle-aged English woman holding marmalade and banging on the front door. Hints of the Raj… When they answered she went inside – she rarely ever required an actual invitation to as the sense of entitlement from “doing the right thing” didn’t require pleasantries – and proffered the culturally inappropriate preserve and announced that we, the wider community but she really meant she,  didn’t all feel like that and in her view the Singh’s were  very welcome additions to the community. She probably offered to locate  the perpetrators as she knew everyone in this small rural community. You can imagine the Singh’s baulking slightly when the inevitable follow-up to the location offer was a public beating possibly followed by a lynching of these dumb white boys. She departed by apologising for the sorry state of the Canadian education system that their kids were to join, that lead to such poorly written graffiti. As any fule knos it was accusing them of being from the wrong country, Canada was metric, no road car can do 804.672 kmph  and there ought to have been a full-stop in there as well. 
  • Immigration. Poor, did I mention we grew up pretty poor? Veg gardens, shopping at the second-hand clothes store, old and tired cars etc etc. Nonetheless, Canada took an influx of Laotian Boat People – refugees that escaped in tiny and vastly overcrowded boats, can you imagine what Health and Safety would say? – and we the Shadbolt’s (mum really) sponsored one of these families into BC. Because Mum spoke French fluently and so did the family matriarch they were matched. I can only imagine the poor woman that headed the refugee family being hit with the whirlwind that is Sara in best intentioned help mode. Though I suppose that if she had fled with family on an overcrowded fishing vessel then she had demonstrated that she could handle challenging situations. This lady and here family, who may well have been hoping to slip unnoticed into society, of a country that is made from immigrants of all flavours,  was wrong. Like it or not she was going to be socialised, taught English, settled, integrated, befriended etc etc and that was that. Mother had decided what was best. End of. Still, you can’t argue the charitable intent and beggars can’t be choosers etc. According to my other brother, Eric, one of the youths is quite a handy Asian Gang member now. Mum takes the very sanguine view that Canadian prison is still better than the Laotian alternative.
  • Sponsorship and Money Management. No one can budget like my mother. It is the only thing I have ever heard acknowledge my dad for. “He may be a bastard – or similar etc etc – but he taught me to budget” Despite spending many years in or near poverty she always had money for Christmas presents, bills and enough to sponsor a couple of kids through Plan. No matter how little we had, she correctly reasoned, there were always folk worse off.
  • Fundraising. To carry on the financial theme it is worth noting that when Sara decided to raise money then it was damn well being raised. No seemed to be a word she was unable to process. Despite her English roots it is something that doesn’t trouble her. Relatively recently she politely demanded a decent contribution from a rock star. This poor guy had obviously figured that rural Canada was a good place to build a big pad all tucked away and melt into occasional obscurity. Wrong. Mum got wind of him and it was pointed out to him that as he now resided in the community and was clearly obscenely minted, an appropriate contribution was expected. As he was so put off I believe he gave her vastly more than the number she suggested just to be left alone. A very wise move imho…but wait until next year my friend. Not such a bright move after all, eh? The local primary school has her to thank for a pretty awesome adventure playground back in the day. It involved committees. However, I have a vision of a bunch of co-opted and terrified members doing exactly what the Chair – guess who the Chair was? – suggested they do.
  • Homosexuality. Whatever, this comes under the heading of ethnicity as far as she is concerned. However, I do have a distinct memory of standing with hands on hips and thumbs pointing forward. She very sweetly whispered in my ear, “Don’t have your thumbs pointing forward my dear. Only homosexuals and interior designers stand like that.” WTF??? Baffled? You will be.
  • Nudity. Mum just couldn’t be bothered with other people’s hang ups and would stroll around the house naked and often sunbathe as such. My mates and I were at a friends house in town when another friend, George, rocks up and is clearly traumatised. When we enquire as to the problem it transpires that George dropped by my house looking for me and my mother greeted him wearing nothing other than bikini bottoms (thank god for small mercies). When a slack-jawed George managed to stammer out that he was dropping by to see me he was promptly upbraided for staring at her chest. It was politely enquired of him – a 16-17y old Catholic boy – whether or not he would extend the courtesy of looking her in the eyes and not the chest. Poor bloody George was probably scarred for life. To make it worse for him she was his Nanny when he was a nipper. That and all the Catholic hang-ups I s’pose.
  • Religion. Mum decided one day that we would all become Catholics just to get us into a good school. Not being content to do anything by halves she dragged us to  Mass, hither and thither to church events and enrolled us in a Catholic school in Chilliwack. Though I am led to believe it is far more civilised now the ‘Wack was a shithole of a place. We were involuntarily baptised at about age 11. I protested strongly as even then I was pretty sure organised religion was an utter crock used to control poor and thick people. The approach to this dilema and moral crisis was laid out thus: if you say anything other than yes I will beat you to within and inch of your life. At 11 that is a no-brainer. I felt that if on some slim chance there was this all-powerful and understanding deity then he’d know I kept my fingers firmly crossed. Chris reminded me that he was an altar boy for the money from sing-a-longs, funerals, weddings etc. He got extra if he stood by the graveside. Obviously for some of the more innocent lads it may have been danger-money. Not for Chris, his mother ensured we’d have no wet and wooly behaviour. Dead is dead apparently. With hindsight I am not really sure she had fully embraced the whole Catholicism thing.

Chris has kindly supplied some food based memories.

  • Eating. As Chris observed, I could probably write a book about Mum’s views on food. We both remember poor Nicky, our half-sister, taking a dislike to some broad beans. Nicky was told that if she didn’t finish them then there would be no pudding. Rather unwisely with the stirrings of pre-teenage defiance Nicky decided to stand her ground. Wrong. Mum’s view was that you finish the food in front of you, all of it. She wasn’t going to tolerate attitude from a young girl. Nicky sat there for several minutes making it hard on herself by eating them one by one. She then tried to pretend she was sick and spat some half-chewed beans back on her plate and claimed that she was ill. Mum breezed by, reiterated the finish it all view and then observed that Nicky was to eat the part masticated deposit. Mum then went further by explaining that we were all eating strawberry cheesecake now and it was far tastier than sicked-up broad beans. We three brothers we were pretty merciless and I can remember a lot of exaggerated enjoyment over said cheesecake. We were little bastards to poor Nicky. Siblings, gotta love ’em.
  • Eating well on a budget. Two dishes have scarred us. The first was beef heart in peanut butter. If I’d have known vegetarianism was an option I may have swung that was. Foul doesn’t begin to describe it. The second was a memory that was re-ignited when Chris referred to stuffed marrow. The stuffing was delicious but the marrow was wet, squidgy and ‘orrible. It was homegrown so it was damn well being eaten. Chris couldn’t even look at a courgette for many years after leaving home. I’ll eat them but they aren’t no.1 on my list. The best intentions to feed hungry kids sometimes led to occasional culinary wrongs. Still, it was probably good for the soul to be force-fed the delights. When I had to eat a worm-omelette on a survival course it was not a challenge.

It feels like I have plumbed a line of enquiry here. It is also a good cathartic thing to get it all down. The kids of today eh? Don’t even know they’ve been born. Pah.

Lessons From Mother

I know I can bore. I am also aware of my propensity for repetition and exaggeration. I have many close friends and family who have shared this with me more than once. A close friend who, upon hearing me start a sentence with, “My mother said…” politely suggested I may like to write down the pearls of wisdom and Mum stories as a) people buy cheap trashy books like that and b)they were fed up of hearing me repeat myself. That’s the polite version of being told to STFU.

I tried to be offended but the thought of money from selling  trashy books dampened down the feelings of deep hurt. I had a fleeting “if I won the lottery” moment. Really fleeting. Could have been measured in nano-seconds, in fact. It finished with a mental image of the book in a wire bin alongside the autobiograpy of Wayne Rooney in a discount book store. Oh the shame. Would rather change my name to Michael Gove and tell people I play the piano in a whorehouse than languish beside the Spud Faced Nipper in a bargain bin.

As a complete aside, but hey, wtf: I get the feeling that I merrily split infinitives but have no idea how or what or when. Probably doing it now. Hi ho. Doesn’t bother me as I have no idea I am doing it. If it bothers you, and if you are that way inclined, as I know several of my circle are, I am trying to care. Really though, I just can’t. If I even knew what an infinitive is I’d die a more knowledgeable person. Oh yippee.

Back to the list, but before that I’ll try and give a brief idea of why I have a very weird relationship with my Mum. Though I guess most people feel that. Freud could have devoted a lifetime to it but she probably would have weirded him out in some way and he would have left puzzled and slightly scared. Anyhow, in a previous post I rather dramatically suggested she abducted us (I have a long-suffering brother as well) but apparently she did. She lived in Canada, we lived with our father in the UK after they divorced. He sent us on a summer holiday and she didn’t return us. We had no idea and on reflection she had a v. clear idea as from Day 1 she talked as if he was bored of us and had given us over to her care. We were too young to know or care as we were with our mum, and what kid doesn’t like that? As a teenager I was re-homed back with my father because, “if he doesn’t take you I’ll have you put into care”. Thankfully, he did the decent thing.

Herewith the list:

  • Beating. Mum had/has a firmly held belief that, especially with boys, the shortest route to their brain is usually through their backside. In the spirit of learning (lessons I guess) we were were regularly and enthusiastically beaten whilst growing up. The fact is that the majority of the time I think we deserved it.
  • Fairness. A fond memory is when I witnessed my brother getting his licks. We spent a large amount of time trying to pin the blame for various misdemeanours on one another so I had probably dodged a few bullets and pinned the blame on him. She broke an entire pack of wooden spoons on Chris in a week.  The price of a replacement pack was taken out of his allowance as, “no one should be that naughty”. Oh how I laughed. I think I got a smack for that. Mum was nothing if not a keen sharer when meting out learning.
  • Domesticity. She taught me how to sew, iron, clean and cook though. My brother and I were allowed to make the most foul concoctions in the kitchen. Her view was that we were learning and indeed we were. Both of us are pretty decent cooks now. When I joined the Sea Cadets I was issued a uniform, came home with it and very politely and patiently explained where the creases were to go and just how the badges were to be sewn on. She then marched me to the ironing board, iron and sewing kit. Yup, now I can iron and sew as well.
  • Chores. On Saturdays we were always keen to go and play. Before that we had to do our chores. Mine was cleaning the back bathroom and Chris’ the front. Think of a barracks inspection by a Drill Sergeant and up the intensity by a factor of five. We had to stand whilst our handiwork was scrutinised. She had a real penchant for a clean lavatory and if it didn’t gleam above and below the waterline, then time to start over as it was likely that the rest of the bathroom wasn’t unreasonably shiny and ready to double as a food preparation area. I remember being regularly exhorted to get my hand right in the loo with the Ajax and clean it properly. Happy days. I can clean the loo well now.
  • Equality. “Playing” with Chris once I threw a stone at him as I am sure it was adding to the point I was trying to make. Sensibly, Chris ducked and the stone smashed a plate of glass on the house. Cue Chris looking very pleased at my impending punishment, as would I if the tables were turned, when the scrupulous sharer emerged with fire in her belly to mete out retribution. I was told that I would be docked half the cost of the glass from my allowance and then, get this, Chris was to be docked the other half as, in her view he shouldn’t have ducked and allowed the glass to be broken. Astonished and disbelievingly, Chris very reasonably observed that it was a big rock travelling at high speed and it would have hurt him. He was informed that he should have “taken it like a man”. How I laughed, again.
  • Work ethic. Mum is incredibly hard working and proud. She felt that there was always a job if you were willing to do it. Her mantra was “McDonalds are always hiring”, which is true. When we grew up as a family of four kids and two adults in the late seventies and early eighties things were pretty harsh. My step-dad was a helicopter pilot which was a very seasonal feast and famine sort of thing. He would be away working for three months one moment and laid off the next. I distinctly remember Mum had a job on a mink farm skinning minks. She stood there all-day beside the chap that gave the live mink the good news and was then passed the still warm body to her to skin. In case you didn’t know, minks are some of the smelliest animals going so Mum carried Eau de Mink with her everywhere she went. Didn’t really register the social implications as a kid but mingling with others must have been tough. You couldn’t just shower it off. If you read this Mum then may I offer a humble “Chapeau”.
  • Self-sufficiency. She also ran a pretty impressive veg garden and about 1/8th acre – maybe more – was grown for food for use. To keep the kids semi-interested, as a source of cheap labour we were allowed to grow our own pumpkins with the aim of getting the largets one come the village produce fair. Totally random as to who won the biggest pumpkin competition, but it was ultra-competitive as the pumpkins were marked when young and green,  and by scratching your name on with a nail. As it grew the scar tissue was just an expanding name. V. cool and removed any opportunity to claim another as your choice all along.
  • Hard lessons. I rose v early one morning, and wandered into the garage where the gigantic chest freezers were located, to be confronted by my mother taking some freshly born (sub 30 min) kittens and, one by one, giving them a firm bop on the head. Understandably surprised and a bit of a cat lover, as I had assumed my mother was up to that point, I enquired why she had gone all Hitler on them. She was very cool and replied that there weren’t the resources for them to survive and doing this was a humane precursor to chucking a weighted sack in the river with said kittens in – a traditional unwanted pet disposal method in rural Canada – as it was the decent thing to do. All this was very hard to argue against as she was correct on all counts. It wasn’t nice or pretty but she was absolutely doing the necessary thing despite the unpleasantness of the task.
  • Yobs. Mother used to be quite high up in an operational role in the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC from now on) and worked in high security men’s prisons. Mum is a guest in the UK of our then govt prison big-wig, Martin Nairy, and when not sharing her wisdom at a conference goes to visit some ancient old relative. After apparently being taken on a slo-mo but white knuckle ride, the octogenarian lady proclaims that she can’t park her car in the usual place as there is some boy rollerblading back and forth across the entrance. Despite the pensioner’s protest, Mother disembarks and politely requests the young lad go and skate elsewhere. She is met with a less than polite reply. Next thing said young man is being dangled up against a wall by a 65 year old woman who, in her words, used “prison speak” on him to get her point across. When pressed her for a fuller explanation of prison speak I heard words that I was surprised my mother knew, let alone in context. The encounter ended apparently with an offer to, and I quote, “break both of his fucking legs” if he didn’t go now. All delivered with a big smile. When he objected from a safe distance that he’d tell the police he was met with a snort of derision as she observed that the police are hardly likely to believe that a frail old woman had assaulted and properly scared a burly young lad.

So Chris calls me today to check if my appeal to him, Eric and Nicky is serious. I explained that I didn’t just want stories of crazy – which are entertaining I grant you – but also of lessons and insights. Now in our forties and we still don’t *quite* trust one another…

[This post will carry on as long as Mum doesn’t have me killed by a special ninja squad from CSC]

Death Comes To Us All

No, this is not about murdering bullies. I was going to try and up the mood a notch after the last few posts with the woe is me theme. Unlucky as when I was tootling home from a very satisfactory swimming session (trying to stay fit and be a coffin dodger myself) when I hear this amazing young woman talking on Radio 4 – if you are in any doubt it is the most amazing radio station in the world – about death. She is a palliative care doctor in her early thirties and was diagnosed with some filthy cancer a few years ago and is now confounding the statisticians by living well past her sell by date.

Although she knows that she is now, in old doctor chart speak, CTD. CTD is shorthand for Circling The Drain and is not written with any mocking, just a factual observation that death is very near for the patient concerned. In the mollycoddling PC world that we live in today I am told that this is discouraged to the point that doing this could lose you your job. Pity, because it is quite a clever and amusing TLA in the world of death that doctors mostly exist in. My personal favourite though is DTS, as in Danger To Shipping, to describe someone who has become, how do you say this delicately, I can’t so extremely obese will just have to do. Pejorative to fat folks apparently. The fact is that there are few things within ones gift to control. Being fat, or not, is one of them. Same as smoking. But I digress. Back to the imminent arrival of the Grim Reaper.

I think this woman – Dr Kate Grainger – is doing a great service. She tweets, has written a few books and is generally interested in ensuring that an inevitable process is made comfortable and the mystery that some people are determined to cloak the process in is stripped away . Death is an inexplicably taboo subject and I can’t see why we need to avoid it. The terms deployed to camouflage death are numerous and baffling. Passed, passed on, gone to a better place (really, a crematorium or hole in the ground is always better?), no longer with us (no shit, I thought they had popped out for milk?) and so on. If I have to use a silly euphemism for death then it has got to be “shuffled off this mortal coil”. Brilliantly English way of getting the point over whilst dressing it in a bit of wit.

Dr Grainger has plans to Tweet her own death as a way of making death more socially acceptable. Bravo. It’s a free world and she is getting the PR and bringing the issue to forefront. Follow Kate at @GrangerKate . Wish her luck, give her strength, say goodbye. It’s natural and you have the opportunity to improve the lot of a fellow human. Good eh?

I may be being a little flippant, but I do realise and have experienced the emotional trauma and loss that a death of someone close, that death comes freighted with all manner of pain and suffering. That too is natural. I still don’t think we need to pussyfoot around the topic.

Although there is no need to bash on and on about it as your friends end up marking you for a morbid bore. Oh wait…, never mind. Oh yes, that’s it, one of life’s few certainties is death. And taxes.

How To Beat Bullies

The previous post, Phlegm, attracted a reasonable amount of attention from interested anti-bullying parties. That got me digging about a bit in the old grey matter and fanned my occasionally Neanderthal problem solving instincts.

I get the fact we are civilised people and have evolved the capabilities to go beyond curing problems with a well-aimed thump.   However, I think that we want to put our pasts behind us and embrace ever higher levels of civility to the detriment of recognising our basic flight’or’flight genetic roots . When we eschew the old ways of violence we are very pleased with ourselves as we have risen above base behaviour. There is also a Third Way. Read on Grasshopper…

The fact is that when one is being bullied it is pretty Neanderthal. It is a power game where one party abuses their power and derives an inner satisfaction from doing so. Let’s not get airy-fairy about this. It ain’t pretty now, it was never pretty and it never will be pretty. Get over it. And when one is the recipient of abuses of power the balance of power needs to be redressed and sometimes ,unfortunately for the squeamish higher order people, this requires a bit of disciplined violence.

You can intellectualise the bejesus out of it and wrap it up in various layers of well-intentioned fluff but the balance of power needs an immediate and sharp readjustment, with a bit of full on but careful agression. We all know bullies are deep-down cowards so I advocate the short sharp shock treatment when one is being repeatedly physically intimidated or actually smacked about. I talk from actual experience and am not standing back and theorising here. Additionally, this is not about triumphing it is about seeming to be quite unhinged and dangerous. The aim of your efforts is purely to escape relatively unscathed, run away like a coward – for that is what I am – and most importantly to be left alone in future.

When I grew up the male chit-chat often turned to fighting and the importance of “fighting fair”. Often referred to in the context of fist fights because I guess one is just supposed to punch the other person in a gentlemanly manner between midriff and jaw. Bizarre, as I was never trained to box.

As far as I could ascertain this meant no shin kicking, kicking someone who is down, bollock stomping, eye-gouging, nostril ripping, hair pulling etc etc. Essentially, all the good stuff that puny wimps need to use to win. We were conditioned that should one ever find oneself in the unfortunate position of having to fight then it should be a fair process. Eh? If you are fighting then you are fighting to win. Rules, don’t be soft. I believe the aficionados of scrapping refer to this as Cage Fighting these days.

May I humbly suggest that in my experience over several such encounters whilst growing up – I went to 11 schools so you figure out who got picked on – that when backed into a corner you go completely bat-shit crazy. If you are going to go down this route then don’t forget that famous intellectual Donald Rumsfeldt and his Shock and Awe speech. You are going for shock, awe but in addition a hasty retreat.

I suggest that you may like to commence the loving with a bit of bollock crunching. Get your head down and charge in and start by going straight for the crutch with your dominant hand, let the balls nestle in your cupped hand and then give them a good friendly squeeze just as hard as you can. This approach generally takes their mind right off the hitting/shoving/spitting that they had in mind and also introduces quite the element of surprise. Use this to your advantage and do remember keep your head down.

Young men are generally pretty homophobic in the early-mid teens (I know I was) so the friendly if unexpected straight in for the genitals approach also unsettles them mentally as it somehow “isn’t right”. Once you have shown intent and they have fought you off their battered sac it is time for a bit of head action. They ought to be reeling in surprise at this stage. On a good day, if you really get the pair nestled in your hand so you can bump them off one-another it may be all you need. You’ll know because they will recoil with shock and horror and scream unpleasant things. Make your peaceful intentions clear by retreating smartly and certainly out of range. If grabbed you’ll get a proper beating and having a fight isn’t the point as you’ll lose.

However, if you didn’t make a great fist of it then feel free to take advantage of the element of surprise. I encourage you to up the lunatic quotient a bit and grab the head. Start the getting to know you process by trying to scratch their eyes out. Additionally, if you can hook one or two fingers in a nostril/s and give the nose a firm and friendly tug upwards it gives them something to concentrate on other than their testicles, which is a kindness really if you think about it. A bit of banshee wailing never goes amiss. 

Your next step is getting the hell away. But…they now think you are a properly dangerous loon and some even lapse straight into victim mode as if you were the aggressor. Screw ’em. You both know. The aim is merely to reset the tone of the relationship where they no longer think it is ok to beat on you and humiliate you in front of others. You know that awful feeling of dread come lunch hour when you knew it would start? Yeah, that’ll be gone too. Trust me. It is such a wonderfully liberating feeling. If they start on the victim thing then do remind everyone how it was they that picked on you for some time first.

Hey, this really was about beating bullies. Good luck.

PS: I can’t believe I actually need to say this but I am assuming that you have tried the sensible approaches first like changing your routes etc. This is last resort stuff. It is definitely not cool to actually pop an eyeball out or Mike Tyson their ear. What is cool is if they think you might.

Phlegm

I had come to Canada from England – apparently kidnapped by my mum but that’s for another time – and because I could read without using my finger and dribbling on the page I was considered, incorrectly, gifted, so was bumped up a grade.

I was bullied all through school for the simple reason that I had skipped a grade. You’d have thought I had actually appealed to my mother and the grade school teachers to go and inflict intellectual torture on bigger kids instead of hanging out and being a kid with kids my own age. Being able to read sooner meant that I was bullied. A lot. For one year I was even bullied by two girls. One of them had been required to retake a grade and was a proper scary piece of work. I like to fondly imagine that she is in the clink now – murdered a junkie in a deal gone wrong? Although, I am sure she will be the scary scary bull-dyke that runs the entire place. I suppose everyone needs to find their niche.

That particular round stopped when I was sat behind one of the two in class and as I looked down one day I was greeted by a rapidly spreading puddle of pee and that the head of this particular river of piss was the chair occupied by one of my torturers. With a heavy heart and a sombre expression I did the only thing a decent well brung up young boy could do and started squealing with delight as I excitedly drew the attention of everyone in the class to this rapidly expanding yellow puddle. Her credibility took a knock and she rather lacked the presence to bully me when we both knew that, though younger, I had a far more developed let-down reflex. With the accomplice wetting herself out of contention then the first one gave up as well. After all, it’s only fun if you have a crowd to play to.

The guy who delighted on picking on me and was a very accurate gobber, was in my year and was a proper dunce. He was so incredibly stupid that he’d been held back a year in Sixth grade. Who the hell is that dumb? Kelly took exception to my accent, the long words, which meant anything with two or more syllables, and the fact that he was a giant and I was puny person two years his junior. It is usual for everyone to just be shuffled along the conveyor belt that is primary education as it takes a lot longer for the real thickos to come to light. Either that or they already ride the small school bus to somewhere different and are never seen of again. It was a small village school and everyone knew everybody else and yet Kelly failed Sixth grade. Still, he was a crack shot at gobbing and hit me in the face from a good three metres away. Take the grossness out and you have to admire accuracy like that. I somehow doubt this skill was extrapolated into something useful later in life and if you had met him it would become much harder to argue against state decreed sterilisation.

I had never been spat on before. I’d been spat at but it had always been a poor attempt. This time, however, was unfortunately well aimed. The main glob of spit caused a direct hit on my left cheekbone and all the spray forced me to screw my eyes shut. Still, I was immediately conscious of the fact that this was a proper solid chunk of phlegm as it hit with some force. Wet but with a surprising amount of substance. And it stank. It really reeked of someone who hadn’t been taught any oral hygiene, ever.

As small boys we used to refer to these delights that had to be hawked up, from somewhere deep within one’s respiratory tract, with a great deal of effort prior to spitting at little brothers, in a distance or accuracy contest or at bullying victims, as Prairie Oysters. Did you know that the best way to get at least another metre of distance when hocking a loogie was to take a step towards the agreed line and then sort of flick your body sideways with the head turned through 90 degrees and loose it off when the head was being cracked like a whip? Get your timing and aim right and it really works wonders to the departure velocity. A bit like a magnum round really. Additionally, a good Prairie Oyster flies nicely due to the enhanced aerodynamic properties imparted by the solid core and is always preferable to just plain ‘ole saliva. Why do boys get favoured for the sciences you ask? Because we were learning about physics long before it even became a discrete subject.

For what it’s worth there was a monumental lack of parental involvement with young Kelly and though living down the road from us in a nice suburban neighbourhood Kelly’s house looked like it had been dropped on the plot from a great height. Caught up in it were various rusting home appliances that seemed to live outside yet have no function other than ornamental, large swathes of plastic sheeting nailed to unfinished parts of the building that were coated in mildew and a pick-up truck that appeared to be held together with string and primer. My mum used to refer to it when giving directions and would tell people that they knew they were nearly at our house when they passed the plot that looked like a trailer park after the tornado had hit it.

I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to my step-father as he finally taught me to deal with physical bullying. It was the sort of talk that is deeply frowned upon these days, which is probably why it was so effective. When I finally confessed to him that in Grade nine I was being regularly terrorised by this group of lads he gave me some stunningly effective advice. “Dominic, take your belt off and wrap the soft end around your hand but keep it hidden. When they corner you make sure it is outdoors and you have some room to move then start whirling the belt buckle around and around. Look right at them and look crazy. Pick one and crack him with the buckle and see what happens.” It worked. I was never intimidated again. There were plenty of words from a distance but they all thought I was completely unhinged and was best avoided. It was incredibly liberating and I smiled inside as I suddenly sensed the balance of power shift.

This now meant that I could get on fantasising about Jenny the French horn player that sat beside me in band and the heavenly Patricia in one of my classes. Frankly, I didn’t think it was possible to have an erection for so long. Very careful consideration had to be given to getting out of one’s seat as the priapic state seemed to have no end and even verged on the painfully uncomfortable at times.

Growing up was just a barrel of laughs.