Play safe – or not, as long as you have fun.

beach4

One day last summer I went for a walk along the seafront in the town I grew up in. As we walked along I reminisced about the time I had spent there as a child and the things I had got up to;

I described, in detail, a game we played that involved jumping into the sea in a narrow channel where the tide rips through at great speed. We would see how far down the beach we got swooshed before we could get back out.

“Didn’t they have the red flags then Dad?”

“Er…yes, but we took no notice because it was such fun.”

I went on to describe how we would take a running jump from the sea wall onto the sand 15 feet below, seeing who could perform the most exciting aerial acrobatics before landing in a heap on the beach.

“Didn’t you used to get hurt though?”

“Er…only sometimes, and never too badly.”

We got to the cliffs at the end of the beach. We used to wait until the tide was high enough, climb up and leap off into the water in places free from rocks. I thought about telling the kids we didn’t used to cycle this far, but knowing that they can sense a lie I came clean.

“Wasn’t that dangerous?”

“Yes, and I expressly forbid you guys to do that or anything like it.”

I am, of course, a hypocrite.

It was not without a little pride, mixed with parental concern, when the first photos my son messaged us from university were of the injuries he got bombing his new local hills on his skateboard. Play safe – but do play.

Bully boy

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I am not proud of this. I am in fact ashamed of what I am about to recount. I am not writing it to try and get some kind of absolution or forgiveness, no excuses, I made my own choices and I will not try to make light of my actions.

 

I was a bully at school. This was not a full-time occupation, mostly I got along with people I liked, ignored those that I didn’t and was too busy to care less about whether or not other people liked me. I was not a model student; homework was often neglected, I was caned on more than one occasion, I skipped school occasionally and once told a member of staff I was a twin (it was a big school, she believed me and often used to comment on how she never saw me and my brother together) There was plenty of fun to be had and I enjoyed my time.

 

But in the sixth form a new boy joined. To add some background, he was the son of my English teacher, who I had had more than a couple of run-ins with, he had transferred from a school that did not take post 16 students and settled in quickly making friends and enjoying school. I took an almost instant dislike to him, no reason – I just didn’t like him much, I reserve the right.

 

It started with small things, withering looks, snide comments, never missing an opportunity to say something unpleasant. I am, by nature, quite cowardly so there where never any physical confrontations – just making the most of chances to ridicule him.

 

Then came the election. I don’t even remember what the election was for, some student voice/council type thing. My nemesis stood for election, obviously too big an opportunity for me to miss, I stood against him and ran a counter campaign. Posters, badges, leaflets – all slightly ridiculous, a bit unpleasant and quite unnecessary; but I did it anyway, and in an aggressive manner that I enjoyed rather too much.

 

This was the beginning of the end, after that my short attention span lost interest (girls, beer and work avoidance taking up a large part of my small brain.) The remainder of the time at school turned into passing scowls and mostly mutual contempt.

 

Fast forward 30+ years……

 

There is a fabulous independent picture house near where I live. The manager organises regular screenings for disabled children, it is a model of what an independent cinema should be showing a great range of films and being accessible, well maintained and well run. Guess who the manager is. In a spell of remorse for my reprehensible and egregious behaviour I thought I would attempt some restorative steps.

 

When I checked on Facebook I found his profile, he is enjoying life as a writer, cinema manager, dad and musician. I didn’t know if this blast from the past would add anything to the quality of his life, or just rake up a bunch of stuff he has moved on from. It felt arrogant and conceited to intrude on his life in this way so I decided to let sleeping dogs lie.

 

It was at this point of finding out what he was doing that I found that one of the books he has written is about his time at school. It is a fact-based work of fiction, though some names stayed the same. My best friend Claire appears as the love interest, and the main protagonist in the bullying stakes has the same name as me, he is portrayed as a real lowlife, cowardly, duplicitous and full of himself.

 

This is not how I would choose to be immortalised, but I guess I earned it. I have included, in the spirit of fairness, the link to his book. If you want to know what I was like as a foolish young man (not my own rose-tinted opinion).

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Young-Punks-Andy-Botterill-ebook/dp/B005F60U2W/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405444663&sr=1-3&keywords=andy+botterill