My mother was wailing like a banshee at the headmaster, but I could just about make out the intense conversation between the two. I had lost count of how many kickings I’d had that week, but my Mam had reached tipping point and she demanded that the (useless) headmaster would finally do something about it and grant me basic levels of protection.
Shout out to Mr Foster of Sherburn Primary School! You spineless coward.
And then he said it:
“Mrs Middleton, your child is the least popular child in school by far.”
Those words cut deeper than any punch to the face to a child and from that moment, my soul was broken. I already felt useless, depressed and bereft of confidence, but his affirmation confirmed the worst and I just accepted that life was supposed to be this cruel.
My Mam couldn’t believe that he’d said this and how he all but denied any responsibility in keeping me safe. I was too young to comprehend that and the banshee-wailing turned into more of a snarling, ravenous wolf.
I acted out in the worst ways possible from here on in. Daily beatings and verbal humiliation were part and parcel of school and being a single-parent child, without a masculine presence in my life heightened my sensitivity to it all. I became a pathological liar, resented everyone around me, my anger levels were off the scale and I was always the ‘naughty’ kid, and this is in an already very naughty school at the time!
Then came the dreaded day when I was supposed to fill in the form for which comprehensive (secondary) school I wanted to go to. You get three choices. Most people in my school went to Belmont, a school barely a mile away from my village. Then it was a naughty boy rite of passage that you would get permanently expelled from Belmont and get passed onto Gilesgate school.
Which would clearly have been me. Only one problem – these are the schools where the people who were beating me up were going to go to. And they were much bigger now.
Most of them were gypsies (yes, like the Snatch movie), taught how to fight from a very young age, whereas the most martial arts experience I had was doing The Karate Kid crane kick in my bedroom (but I sure did show that clothes horse a thing or two). They were ‘hard’ lads and I was ‘soft,’ soft as a Victorian Sponge Cake.
I couldn’t even bring myself to fill in the form, I felt physically sick and I told my mother that if she sent me to any of those schools – I would do something very silly. And I meant it.
I was not protected. For that you need the powers that be (school, police etc) to be competent and compassionate and they were far from that.
I realise now that I put my mother under a lot of pressure here, but it needed to be done. We were poor and didn’t have a lot of options (especially with my track record), but she listened and even as a slender little vegetarian – she would turn into a growling Pit Bull Terrier in the blink of an eye if anyone harmed her pup.
She once famously got a hold of the scariest of local rogues and informed him that he was a bit of a bastard. His mother took umbrage, hammered on our door that night and enquired; “My son is a bastard?!” My Mam replied that it took her a long time to work that one out, but sadly the comedic value was lost on the woman and she beat my mother up on the doorstep.
A couple of years later, fuelled by Linda McCartney Veggie pies, and 5-months pregnant with my sister – my Mam got a hold of a larger version of him on a public bus in front of all of his cronies and told him pretty much the same thing!
Hell hath no fury like a north-east mam scorned.
I digress, back to the form – we wrote down St. Leonards as the only option, a catholic school 4 miles away from the village with a good reputation. I wasn’t even catholic, but we simply had nothing to lose.
You don’t shoot, you don’t score.
Within a week we received an official letter of invitation from the Headmaster, Mr. O’Keefe to see if I was suitable or not.
Shout out to Mr O’Keefe! You gave me a second chance and I ended up making your life hell and I sincerely regret it, you’re a good man!
I couldn’t believe it. The date came and Mr O’Keefe was scary as f**k. Tall, old-school Irish catholic who clearly didn’t take any shit. Any time I made a statement he wanted me to back it up, he had no time for any nonsense.
The hour was up and in Chris Tarrant, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire fashion, after an agonisingly long pause – he told me that I was officially accepted. I couldn’t believe my luck! He then informed us as I was christened Protestant at birth that we wouldn’t receive a free bus pass to get to school and back.
I got a paper round to supplement pay for that, which I am grateful for as it taught me the value of money and I grew a solid work ethic from a young age.
Secondary school was very different to primary and I experienced something that I never thought I would – I was popular. Well maybe I wasn’t to the smarter, more refined kids who probably thought I was a bit of a dick and I happen to agree with them.
But I had friends and I had never had them before and I felt almost human…but it came at a price. You see in secondary school I was finally good at some things. I was pretty handy at distance running and also good at making people laugh.
However, my love for the latter superseded the former and many times I was banned from participating in races, as I was constantly suspended from school. The typical class clown. Making people laugh and torturing teachers were my priorities and I lapped up the attention. Especially when I discovered that girls like a boy who can make them laugh – it was game over once I worked that one out!
My Stepdad was on the scene post-secondary school, I even had siblings, the unbridled joy of FHM magazine and I had friends inside and outside of school – yet I was still acting like an absolute scumbag. What’s the deal?
The aforementioned thugs were still completely obsessed with making my life a living hell and they would get on the same public bus as me. Like I said, they were bigger now and it was more of a problem. I started to fight back and have a bit of balls about me – it felt really good to finally have some dignity, but I was simply sick of it and it really got me down.
They would randomly appear at parties and kick me in. Show up at football matches and chase me during them (probably why I became so good at distance running). They would jump out from behind buildings when I was walking alone and beat the living shit out of me.
It wasn’t rare for me to leave the house and come back in tears with a black eye or two and a bloody nose. Sometimes people would pretend to be my mate and work as a double agent with them to get me alone. I grew incredibly paranoid and nervous in my teens and all of my class clown bravado was fake. Classic case of tears of a clown.
When you’re living in a constant state of pain you attract more pain into your life and it becomes a vicious cycle. My beloved cousin died of brain cancer when I was 13 and it fed my bitterness and anger for the world. I was constantly suspended from school and my reports always had the same rhetoric; that I was smart, but I’d never live up to my potential because I ‘resented authority.’
They were right. In the last year of school I got suspended for the very last time after having a fight. It was self-defence, but I admittedly lost my mind in the moment. Of course no people of authority believed me and why would they? Your reputation always goes before you and I don’t blame them for not trusting my word.
This resulted in the punishment of not running in a race that I had been looking forward to for months. It cut like a knife and I finally had the self-awakening thought of; “I can’t go on like this.”
My Head of Year had a heart-to-heart with me. Shout out to Mrs Brown! Legend of a woman! She basically said that I was frustrating as shit because I was clever enough, but I will inevitably chuck my life away because I’m a massive knob. I’m paraphrasing of course, I don’t think she even knew how to curse, bless her little catholic cotton socks.
I started applying myself properly from this moment, but it was a case of too little too late. My potential grades were lower because of my bad history, I had been put in lower seedings of exams.
The big wide world hit me with a Ricky Hatton uppercut after school. Most of my friends from home went on to further education at university, whereas I started what would be a string of soul-destroying jobs that I didn’t want and fell into an oblivion of debt. I always felt that I was living below my potential, but I had conditioned myself to failure because of how I acted in school.
I sowed and I reaped.
I would love to look some of my teachers in the eyes and apologise. I actually did last time I was in England, he humbly accepted.
Shout out to music teacher Mr Grehan-Bradley! Who’d have thought that I’d have become a classical music fan in later life?!
My life is amazing now, but I did it the hard way and I didn’t really get my shit together until I was 30. If you know a class clown who is hellbent on throwing their life away for some cheap laughs – please send them this from me. It’s written mainly for lads, but same logic applies for both.
Dear Class Clown,
They’re laughing at you, not with you. I know that’s difficult to believe in the heat of the moment of your glory. But when you get sent out of class, their short-lived euphoria will die down in a heartbeat and they will forget about you in the next.
Because you are the weak link and the teacher has identified that. Chucking you out allows the stronger to grow together and they will grow without you. Choose to be strong. It shows great strength not to give into your natural urge to disrupt, instead of aiming to excel.
If you’re a rebel at heart – that can be a good thing. Sometimes it’s noble to make a stand against the masses, but you must choose your battles wisely and succumbing to your weakness every day isn’t a wise battle to choose.
While they’re getting good grades, you’ll be getting bad ones. I know you’ll shrug your shoulders and say that you don’t care and maybe you don’t. but trust me – when you meet these people later on in life and they’re doing well and you’re miserable, scrambling around in your brain to try and explain why you’re not – you will care.
You will care when you want people to take you seriously and they don’t because you’ve put years of effort into conditioning them to consider the opposite.
If you’re not good at any particular subjects, but you are decent at a sport that you love – make that a priority over being an idiot. Don’t become one of these bitter old men propping up the local bar, who tell you what they could have been every Saturday night. No one takes these people seriously either.
If you don’t feel you’re particularly good at anything at all, you’re probably wrong and lacking self-confidence.
If like myself, you are acting out because of pain that someone caused you; channel that pain. Put it into physical exercise (which will calm you down and make you feel more positive) or into writing, or volunteer somewhere.
Use that pain for the greater good, as opposed to causing more pain in the world because those teachers that you’re having so much fun terrorising have feelings just like your Mam, your Nana and anyone else who you love dearly. And how would you feel if someone hurt those people?
Yeah, yeah I know what you’d do. Because you’re a tough guy, right? You don’t fool me, I was you.
Using that pain to get ahead in life is a good start, but it’s not the only answer and if that’s your main focus – you will burn out.
Self-love is much more sustainable. If you learn to truly love yourself you will feel worthy of success and more happiness in your life. More doors will open and better opportunities and higher value people will arrive.
Laugh all you want at this, but unlike them – I’m not laughing at you. I care about you because I’ve been you and I have suffered after school because of my behaviour. I only stopped being the clown before I started this blog, if you want some inspiration to what is possible when you stop being a clown – take a look at the 50 countries I’ve seen and all the good people I’ve met along the way.
P.S. Girls don’t like losers either.
Song For The Moment: ‘The Great Pretender’, By Freddie Mercury (originally by The Platters….but come on. Freddie FTW all day long!)
Oh yes I’m the great pretender (ooh ooh)
Pretending I’m doing well (ooh ooh)
My need is such I pretend too much
I’m lonely but no one can tell