Apr 14
Snubian’s Schooldays
icon4 Apr 14th, 2008 | icon2 Memories |

Throughout my school life I sought to remain neutral, like Switzerland during World War II. My avoidance of conflict with schoolyard bullies was largely due to my obvious lack of strategic military importance. I bothered no-one and was left alone in return. There was, however, one chilling episode during which I was the target of an orchestrated campaign of terror.

The year was 1980, and I was in Year 5 at New Lambton South Public School. In those pre-Facebook days your friends were the kids who lived nearest to your house, preferably within an easy walk or bike ride. Most afternoons (or “arvos” as we called them back then) I would seek out one or other of my mates who lived nearby, and we’d head off for an hour or two of boyhood fun.

Two kids who lived just a few minutes walk from my house were Mark Hodgson and Chris Ashman. They were dipshits really, in the dumb class at school, and well on the way to a life of crime. Chris had recently arrived at our school from England. He had slicked-back blonde hair and a fat-lipped, buck-toothed grin that just made you want to swing your Coca-Cola yo-yo into his face. Mark was a chubby, bowl-headed turd whose favourite pastime was whacking people on the back of the head when they were least expecting it. Chris and Mark lived just a few houses apart from each other and were inseparable.

One day I got the word from Mark that there would be a game of footy after school, with Chris and a couple of others including Chris’s older brother, Nick, whom I hadn’t met. When I went round to Mark’s house that afternoon I could tell right away that Nick Ashman was a total and utter prick. He was probably in Year 8 at that time; a full grown man as far as I was concerned. He was tall and skinny, with a mop of ginger hair, and narrow eyes. And he hated me on sight.

We walked to Alder Park, a large oval near my house, and started kicking the football about. There were only four or five of us, so a game of a footy was impractical, but we worked out some rules and split into teams. Nick and I were on opposite sides – something which, in hindsight, was probably pre-arranged. Things were ominous. Nick had a pocketful of lollies and as we took our positions he spat a half-chewed Chico in my direction.

For shits like Nick Ashman footy was simply an excuse for violence, and he wasted no opportunity to get in a punch or a dead leg during a tackle. Soon Nick got the ball and was running down the field with me chasing. I caught up, got alongside and, without thinking, stuck out my foot and tripped him. He went down hard but was up in a flash, glaring at me, walking in my direction, fists clenched. I forget exactly what he said but it was something like “You’re gonna pay for that” or “You’re fucking dead”.

Of course I had no option other than to flee. Luckily I was a zippy little bastard back then, thin as a whippet and twice as smart. I ducked and weaved with Nick in hot pursuit, and after a minute or so he gave up and I headed for the safety of home. On the way I passed another schoolmate, Dimitri Kloussis, who was sitting on a swing eating an ice-block. He had witnessed my narrow escape and asked me what had happened. I tried to be nonchalant about the whole episode but inside I was shitting myself.

The next day at school things didn’t look good. Mark and Chris made it plain that I would most likely be dead by 3:30 that afternoon. I didn’t know precisely what to expect, but I got more scared as the afternoon wore on. When the bell rang at the end of the day I headed out to meet my fate.

My usual route home from school was a beeline over the back fence, across the storm water drain and through Alder Park. When I got halfway across the playground I could see a group of kids gathered just on the other side of the drain. Nick Ashman stood head and shoulders above the rest. Fuck. There was no way in hell I was going to cop a bashing from this pommy thug. I turned around and hot-footed it to the side gate, thinking I could sneak home a different way. I sprinted the few hundred metres in record time and made it home unnoticed.

Below is a map of the area, with the school in the top right and home in the bottom left. My usual route across Alder Park is shown in green and my detour in red.

The next morning I walked to school with Mark, who made it clear that my reprieve was temporary. Nick Ashman had a good memory, he explained, and my appointment for facial re-arrangement had been re-scheduled for that afternoon. Luckily for me, my tormentor was monumentally stupid. I ran home via my secret route again that day and he was none the wiser.

Nick waited in the park every afternoon for a couple of weeks (it seemed like years) and apparently never cottoned on to the fact that I was simply taking a different path home. Nevertheless, I was constantly gripped with fear, and this wasn’t helped by Chris Ashman’s continual reminders that his brother would “never forget” what I had done to him. Eventually the situation began to dissipate, until Nick was waiting for me only two or three afternoons a week, and then he gave up altogether. My theory is that he had in the meantime discovered girls, or pot, or both.

My primary school’s website now prominently displays their strict anti-bullying policy. It’s gratifying to see that my sacrifice made a difference for future generations.

Postscript:

You are probably wondering what came of the characters in this story. I didn’t really hang out much with Mark and Chris after this, for obvious reasons. Soon afterwards we moved into high school, and they plummeted to the lowest realms of academia, while I remained in the top class. I knew that Nick went to the same high school, and we crossed paths once or twice. But either he didn’t know who I was or didn’t care.

As for their lives beyond high school, sadly, time has erased almost all traces. The last time I bumped into Mark Hodgson (which was, admittedly, about 20 years ago) he was training greyhounds. As for the Ashmans, who the fuck knows? In the words of George Herbert, “living well is the best revenge”, so I think I probably had the last laugh.

More literary readers will notice the similarity of the name Ashman to the notorious bully Flashman, of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. The coincidence is not lost on me, I can tell you, but at least I wasn’t roasted over an open fire.

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