ViolenceExtract from his book, My Wasted Life
© Copyright 2022 by Alex Frew
When I first started work as a vanboy in the 70’s, delivering lemonade, I had a driver called Jimmy. Jimmy belonged to a school that thought violence was acceptable in the working environment. So he hit me all the time.
The hitting mostly consisted of slaps on the head, particularly the back of this organ, but he was also known to punch me on the arm or shoulder with the odd kick to the leg thrown in just to vary the violence. Those of you who think this was quite a wrong thing to do in the workplace are right. The only problem was then and now that if you are young and not of a particularly strong personality, naive and scared of your elders then it seemed quite a natural thing for them to do.
I was not really a ‘victim’ for many reasons. I was young and robust, I was quite good at dodging the blows if I saw them coming, and I had been used to being bullied at school where I was also hit on a regular basis not just by my peers, but by teachers. For instance, Mr Lindsay. I was at secondary school at Kilmarnock Academy just a couple of years before. If you wanted to suffer from institutional cruelty just attend a school full of thugs and unreasonable bullies.
I am of course referring to the teachers. The academy had three main buildings; the old school, a gothic looking sandstone building with a clock tower, the new school block which was still being built when I started the academy, and the tech, the front of which was across from the Dick Institute. I suspect the tech was the old Kilmarnock Technical College, and it too was made of red sandstone and was a rather nice looking building. It was only three storeys high and the classrooms were limited. I think it had been annexed by the school when the academy had to open its doors to the hoi poloi in the early seventies. Anyway, inside the building had some lovely sweeping stairways with balustrades of dark, polished wood with brass studs embedded in the banisters at intervals. At the top of one of these stairways was Mr Lindsay’s class and we had to wait in line to get in. I can’t remember what he taught but that day is seared into my mind. I was known as a big, soft target and as usual where there was a line I was being picked on.
The occasion is notable in my mind because it is the first time I remember my temper breaking as it did many times over the years after that. It is my theory that the human psyche is a bit like a cup of a certain size, once the cup is full it overflows. In my opinion I have a sweet, reasonable nature. I am kind to animals and small children, I like fairy tales and fantasy, I enjoy the wonders of nature and I love learning new things. In other words in the eyes of the merciless I am a powder puff. I put up with many of the endless petty humiliations in a vain hope that they would go away. This particular day a boy called Davy dressed in the fashionable checked trousers of the day and a denim jacket had decided to enliven his day by slagging me off and interspersing his words of ‘fat b**tard’, and ‘numpty’ with kicks to my somewhat robust legs. I remember feeling down and miserable because other people in the line, including girls were having a good laugh at the spectacle of wee Davy picking on this much bigger boy.
I was hot, bothered and angry and suddenly it all became too much. I gave a bellow as he kicked me on the back of the legs that would have done credit to the Bull of Basham, turned and picked up Davy with a strength I had not known I possessed, ran to the top of the stairs and hung him over the banister.
I feel I may have said something in terms of ‘I’m going to f**king kill ya, ya wee bampot’. Davy was suitably terrorised and as the red mist cleared I let him go and he ran back to the line. However by that time Mr Lindsay had come out of the class alerted by the commotion. I can’t remember what he taught but I suspect it was maths. He was a young fair man, barely thirty and had obviously played rugby at college. He saw me with Davy, and gave a roar and collared me with a swift motion that would have done credit to a striking cobra and pulled me into the class, then turned on me and informed me I was to suffer that indignity known as ‘the belt’. The belt, also known as the tawse was not a belt at all.
It was a strap of leather tapered at one end to fit the hand of the person wielding it, and split into two towards the other end for maximum impact. Now normally I took the belt without a murmur even though most of the time it was enforced, I felt in an unfair and arbitrary manner, mostly because I had been skipping school. It seems extraordinary to me that my form master thought hitting me with a leather strap would encourage me to attend class.
Regardless of that consideration, I was now faced with a besuited bully who was determined to assault a fourteen year boy with a barbaric remnant of the 1930’s. I remember standing there panting heavily in panic. Assaulting a teacher was unthinkable, as was fleeing the building.
“Put out your hands,” he said. “No,” I replied. Not once had he asked for my side of the story, and the ample, bruises on my legs would have testified to the persistant bullying I had suffered at the hands of Davy and his ilk. I am not easily roused but for once in my life I was taking a stand. “Hold out your hands,” he said. Again I refused. He made me stand for the rest of the lesson. Then at the end he turned on me.
“If you don’t take the belt I’ll march you to the headmaster’s office and it’ll be much worse for you.” At 14 you are naïve, what happened next could not have been ‘much worse’ but I could not know that and I finally put out my hands, just wanting to get out of there. He belted me five times on each hand.
Now I have to tell you, being belted is not only painful it is a wildly wilful method of punishing young people. The aim of the perpetrator is not always accurate because they are often angry with the young person, so quiet often the twin lashes of the tawse do not just hit the target but also the wrist and the lower arm. Children have tender skin and in my own case, and that of numerous others the belt led to injured fingers ‘scadded’ wrists and bruised arms.
Lindsay put the belt away and dismissed me with a curt nod, but I stumbled out of there weeping and traumatised. For days afterwards I could hardly pick up a pen or indeed think of anything else. If Lindsay is still alive I hope you read these words and realise that your unfair belting was the reason I started playing truant again. It seemed that I was subject to violence from my peers and violence from supposed betters. A school is a jungle and I was just another peaceful herbivore to be hunted down and eaten.