Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Defining Moments

There are some times in a life when you come up against a realization. I'm not talking about a moral choice, here, or a recognition of what is the Right And Noble Thing To Do; I'm talking about experiences where you realize, helplessly, whose side you are going to be on, take it or leave it.

It once happened to me years ago, when I was about sixteen or seventeen in fact.

Our school, like most in those days, had a Policy on Smoking. (It had to have, because just about everybody puffed away then, watch old films and you'll see.) The policy was, of course, that there was to be no smoking in school uniform, on or off the premises.

Anyway, one afternoon two lads on the bus home from school lit up (you were allowed to smoke on the upper deck of buses, then.) And a third lad saw them and remonstrated with them, so naturally enough, they told him to fuck off. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing he said he would report them, and he did.

Now get this, this lad was not a prefect or a monitor; had not, as far as I am aware, any right at all to go enforcing regulations against all and sundry, so why he did it, apart from being a creep, I do not know. And what he didn't know, was that Authority, aware of the enormous social example and peer pressure involved, was desperately turning a blind eye to the flouting of the rule.

So Authority, next day, was not at all grateful for this information, which put it in a bit of a bind. It did what Authorities always do when someone blows an inconvenient whistle: it ratted. The two miscreants were promptly suspended, but instead of smuggling the informant out the back door, Authority then let it be known who had grassed, sat back and washed its hands.

And there was a riot. I didn't know any of this at first; I was Library Monitor that day, which was the sort of dumb job they landed on senior pondlife who were regarded as too unreliable/too little imbued with the School Spirit, to be promoted prefects. I had to stay in the Library, stamp out books and try to enforce the No Talking rule, while the teacher in charge skived off for a well-earned fag and a cuppa up the staffroom.

We could hear this sort of dull roaring from a distance. The Library, which was usually full of people avoiding the cold, wet playground, emptied rapidly. I sat like Horatius at the bridge wondering what the hell was going on, until two lads burst through the door. They'd had a tremendous experience and they couldn't wait to share it.

Apparently the sneak had been rapidly surrounded by a vengeful, baying crowd and was only protected physically by a reluctant ring of prefects as he was hustled into safety and then sent home. Not a teacher to be seen. The two witnesses vied with each other in recalling the episode, what they had shouted at him, how one of them had spat in his face, on and on. Their eyes were gleaming, their faces flushed, their mouths were wet. I've never assisted at a bullfight or a fox-hunt, but I guess you would see the same symptoms there. And these were young lads, who had nothing to do with the original offence, weren't even friends, I found out later, of the smokers. Goddammit, there were people in that crowd who, as they talked about it later, you realised didn't even know the origin of the row. They'd just joined in the baiting out of....?

Well, it all simmered down as these things do. I can't even remember what happened to the main protagonists, whether they all returned to that school or not. But what I do remember, looking at those exultant faces, was feeling in my gut, "Well, I don't think much of the creep who started this, but, by God, I like your sort even less."


Blogger Sally's Life said...

Being reminded of schools days does bring a shiver to the spine.

The hapless ones who didn't hear/see the riot but because they didn't join in are sidelined by those that did.

Oh the disappointment when we have matured then found that some have never left the playground tactics behind.

5:17 pm  

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