I noticed this evening that BULLYING HURTS is trending on Twitter. It hit a nerve, because bullying is something I know about.
I went to a boarding school in the north of England between 1982 and 1989. For the first two years I became accustomed to running the gauntlet of the older pupils, especially those in the year directly above mine. It wasn't really bullying as much as a well-worn ritual of making life difficult, and I wasn't alone in being on the receiving end of cruel jokes, taunts, minor physical abuse and being given stupid and menial tasks to do as punishment for the most minuscule of transgression. It was the way of the world and everyone got on with it, and when our year moved up to become 2nd Years, we treated the new 1st Years with the same disdain meted out to us.
I expected life in the boarding school to become easier and easier as the years progressed, but had something of a shock waiting for me when I returned as a 3rd Year in 1984. There was a new boy in our year, and he was different to the others. He had lived abroad for a long time and had a brash confidence about him that bordered on arrogance. He didn't immediately make many friends. Was that partly why he behaved the way he did later on?
After a few months of settling in, this new boy - let's call him Peter - decided I was an easy target. I was quieter than the other boys, and was obviously more sensitive. He started by picking on my physical appearance and added in the fact I had a limp because of the disease I'd had in my hip as a child and the numerous surgeries I'd had as a result. I'd previously been given a nick-name by the rest of the school which connected me to a famous motorcycle racer with metal in his legs, but that wasn't really hurtful; in fact I liked the name. Peter made his names as nasty and vindictive as possible, calling me a cripple and other horrible things as often as possible. He knew it upset me by the way I reacted, so he kept doing it.He soon added a physical element to his abuse, putting me in headlocks and punching my arms when he got the chance.
I wasn't alone in the bullying. Another pupil in our year - a tiny slip of a lad with the nick-name "Twiggy" - also came into Peter's sights, and by Christmas we were glad to get away from his constant abuse. At boarding school, the only time we were away from his crap was in lessons. He was in the same dormitories as us, and made the most of any time he was alone with us. I remember quite well that he wasn't half as bad when there were other boys around.
By the end of the 3rd Year, both me and the other boy had had quite enough, and made the massive mistake of telling our parents about Peter's bullying. They in turn told the school, who told Peter's parents, and he was given a stern warning as to his behaviour.
When we got back into the 4th Year in September 1985, Peter was waiting for us. When he got his chance, he told us we were both evil little snitches who would now suffer even more for daring to tell on him. Nice. We were the guilty parties all the way, and the 4th Year was utter hell for a lot of the time. He found a diary I had written with entries about a girl in the day school I had a massive crush on. He delighted in keeping it and threatening me with revelation to the whole year. I was wise and lucky enough to steal it back and destroy it when he wasn't around one day.
"Twiggy" left at the end of the 5th Year, having managed to administer a black eye to Peter on one occasion, much to the amusement of the rest of the school, who knew what Peter had been doing. He was still not very popular.
From then on, things eased up. Into the Sixth Form years, Peter eased up on the abuse, even trying to be friendly with me at times. I played along, but didn't trust him one bit. The experience he had put me and "Twiggy" through wouldn't be forgotten quickly.
Years later, at a school reunion in around 2003, there was no sign of Peter. No-one at the reunion knew of his whereabouts, and didn't really seem bothered. The one person who was interested in where he was, and was slightly upset at his absence, was "Twiggy", who was now a strapping, 16 stone, shaven-headed man, dressed in military-style clothing. He stated quite plainly that he would like to punch Peter if he ever saw him again. He didn't stay long at the reunion, and I found myself feeling quite lucky that whilst I hadn't forgotten what had happened, I didn't harbour any violent intent towards my tormentor.
If I met Peter now, I'm not sure what I'd do, to be honest. I'd probably try and laugh it all off to his face, but I'd like to think he felt some kind of remorse. I don't hate him or pity him or anything clichéd like that. I just hope he knows that what he did was pretty awful, and affected two people quite profoundly. I can forgive it, but I will never, ever forget what it was like to be bullied.
And now that I have my own children at school, I watch like a hawk for the slightest hint that they are suffering the slightest of bullying. If there's any sign of it, I'm going to make sure they don't have to stand for it. I believe now that it has to be nipped in the bud before the person doing the bullying thinks they can get away with it.
Bullying hurts, and it needs to be stopped.