On the first day of the new school term, full of pride and hope for the future, I rode my little red bike to my new secondary school, down Cole Avenue into Podsmead Road, to the front entrance of the Crypt school. I would be one of the smallest boys at this school in amongst a mixture of older boys, some good, some bad, some bullies. I was to encounter bullying here, the like of which I had never experienced before. I arrived and put my bike in the bike sheds and walked up the drive towards the playground. I didn't know anybody, I felt very alone and very vulnerable, I had that 'butterflies' in the stomach feeling. I hadn't got very far when some older boys started to take the mickey out of me, I wasn't very amused and told them to bugger off. They thought this was very funny, coming from a first year. John Haines, a second year student, who was later to become a good friend, swiped the cap from my head and wouldn't give it back, they were all laughing and giving me the run around. I had a job getting close to John, but when I did, I punched him as hard as I could. A fight started and we fought until a master dragged us apart. It was not an auspicious start at my new school.
I found the masters very forbidding, not at all friendly or supportive, like they had been at my other schools. Not at all like Mr Stephenson, the headmaster and Mrs Millard my form teacher at the Moat. I had been a popular pupil at school and had a good relationship with the teachers, who had always told me that they expected me to do well academically. The teachers at the Crypt all seemed to treat us like we were rubbish. Shouting for any reason, no matter how small and taking every opportunity to belittle us or to try to instil fear into us.
I very quickly thought, 'I don't like this place very much. Bullies in the playground and bullies on the staff.'
I had always been very strong willed and could never stand for any kind of bullying. The more the staff tried to bully me, the worse I got. I don't think I had ever been in trouble at school before I came to the Crypt, now I was in trouble all the time. I was determined that no one would bully me.
I can't remember any of the teachers names except for Bert Beddis, the religious instruction master. He was the only one I remember who treated me in a decent manner. The rest were a bad lot and I have erased their names from my memory. There was a particularly nasty science master. All I remember about him, apart from his attitude, was that he was a tall man, with a big nose and a habit of rubbing both sides of his nose at the same time. The first two fingers of his right hand making the form of a V sign, while he paced around the classroom daring us to incur his displeasure. The rest I have just blotted out.
It was too far for me to get home at lunchtime, so again I was supposed to have school dinners. I refused point blank, so I started taking
a lunch box. Mum packed it with sandwiches, a biscuit, an apple and maybe one of her cakes. The rules at this school were that all food was to be consumed in the dining hall, whether it was brought in or was a school dinner. There was no chance of them making me sit in the dining hall, to eat my sandwiches. I ate them sitting on the sports field, or under cover, in the bike sheds if it was raining. The teachers caught me doing it many times, but couldn't make me stop. They gave up in the end. I was starting to get to them because unlike most of the boys, I couldn't be intimidated. Once I decided on a course of defiance, I never gave in.
I was starting to think more about girls in a sexual way. There were very few sex magazines about then and what there were, I didn't have the nerve to try to buy. I went into a shop in High Street, Tredworth, on the corner of Moor Street, across from the Golden Heart. They sold second hand comics at the far end of the shop. Next to the comics were second hand nudist magazines, such as Health and Efficiency and Spick & Span. The owner tried to keep youth's away from that pile, but he couldn't always watch close enough. Every now and then I managed to slip one up my jumper. I would pay for the comic and walk away. I couldn't wait to get somewhere quiet, so I could have a look at my prize. In these magazines, the women's private parts were always retouched out of the photographs. It was years before I realised that women had pubic hair. One day I got greedy and stuck two or three of these mag's up my jumper and started to walk out. The problem was, they were made of shiny, slippy paper and trying to keep them trapped up my jumper, without looking too conspicuous, proved impossible. I exerted great pressure with the side of my arm, but they kept slipping down. Just as I got level with the counter, they fell to the floor. Quick as a flash, I bent down, picked them up and ran out of the shop, jumped on my bike and was gone. I don't think the shopkeeper even realised what had happened, but I didn't risk going there again.
We were sitting in our living room on weekend, not long after I had started at the Crypt, when we heard a terrible banging and bumping in the hall. We ran out to see what had happened and found Mum slumped at the bottom of the stairs. She was conscious, but her speech was slurred and she was obviously not well. She came out of it and insisted that she was all right. But she wasn't all right, it was the first sign I had seen of an illness which was to affect all of our lives. The dizzy spells and blackouts became more and more frequent and she was becoming ill for longer periods. Her parties stopped and most of her friends faded away. Granny Wilson, Mums mother, arrived from Scotland and moved in with us to help Mum with her illness and help look after us. I didn't appreciate what she was doing at the time, I later found her to be a lovely woman, but as a young boy, she brought with her, a new regime, much more strict than I had been used to and I didn't like it. It wasn't long before we were arguing almost continuously. At it's worst, we had a fight, with brooms, both of us striking and parrying most ferocious blows. I caught her a blow to the leg and she threw her broom down and said she'd had enough and was going home. We compromised a little, after that encounter and we started to learn to live with each other. She was a great help to my Mum, in the early days of Mums illness. I didn't appreciate gran until years later.
It soon became dangerous for Mum to go up the stairs at all and Dad asked the council if we could get a move to a bungalow. They offered us a prefab, close to where Aunty Ina lived, so we did a swap with the family that lived in the prefab, at 98 Fourth Avenue, Tuffley.
The house next door to No 98 had been burnt down before we moved there. It had originally only been in a block of two, so it was left on it's own, quite a long way from it's nearest neighbour. Gran went back to Scotland, as there was nowhere for her to stay now. The prefab wasn't big enough. We settled in, Gordon and me in one bedroom and Mum and Dad in the other. We hadn't been there long when Mum took a turn for the worse and was taken to Frenchay hospital, in Bristol. It turned out she had a brain tumour, that was inoperable and would have to be controlled by drugs. She was there for what seemed a very long time. Gordon and I were left mostly to our own devices. Dad was always at work, somewhere or other, so we had to fend for ourselves.
I had little or no parental control or guidance from this point. I would make my own decisions from now on.
Soon after we moved here, we got a little brown, mongrel puppy. We named her Tina. She was a wonderful dog, so full of love. She would become my best friend for many years to come. I took her with me, everywhere I could. We went up the hill together and wandered all around the estate, we became inseparable. She was an independent dog though. I never kept her on a lead, so wherever we went she just walked along with me, doing her own thing. Sometimes she would decide to go home and just head off on her own. I never worried when she did this. She was always there when I got back.
A few months later, it was coming up towards Bonfire night. My cousin Hugh knew everybody around so we soon got in with the local boys. The bonfire was to be the joint effort of all of us in the gang. We collected anything that would burn. The bonfire was built on the waste ground next to our house so I had to watch it as much as I could, in case a rival gang set it on fire before the big day on November 5th. Hugh knew where to get the best wood from, so we went far and wide bringing large amounts of wood, stacking it higher and higher. It was huge by the time we finished. When it was lit, there was a large crowd there, of all ages, from all around the area. It was a real social occasion. We had food brought by some of the Mums and potatoes to bake in the fire. It was the best bonfire night I ever had.
Hugh was into making kites, he made some so big that when they flew, we had to be careful not to be carried into the air. They were mostly traditional shaped kites made from two canes in the shape of a cross, covered in brown paper. We carried them to the top of Robinswood hill when the wind was strong. They were difficult to launch, but once they were up, they flew to tremendous height. It could be very exciting, if not a bit frightening. The power of the wind was awesome as we held on to each other in an effort to control the big kites. I hung on to Hugh so that he wouldn't be carried into the air, we were both dragged along struggling for control. We soon realised that when the wind was that strong, we would have to stake them to the ground or risk being dragged along. It was really good fun. That hill was a great playground. We made dens in the ground. We had secret places that we had excavated. They were well concealed and were rarely found by anyone else, although there weren't the amount of people using the hill then. It was still difficult to gain access to it without crossing private land. We got inside these dens, lit candles and made ourselves at home. We sat around in our little hole in the ground and told jokes or stories of our bravado and finally emerged blinking into the sunlight, filthy.
It was nearer to school from Tuffley than it had been from Matson, but things were no better, I was starting to struggle with the work and becoming increasingly belligerent towards the teachers. For reasons only known to himself, Dave Wykes, who was a year older than me, was repeatedly bullying me. He tried to make my life a misery, but I was becoming increasingly independent and tougher every day and he never succeeded in wearing me down. He continued until I became a dangerous prospect, then he gave up. I never paid Dave Wykes back for the way he treated me, but that was only because our paths never crossed until my rage had subsided a little and in later years, I thought of it as being insignificant,
John Ewers was a good friend to me, although he too was a year older. He was an inoffensive type, so was unable to help with the bullying problem, but he was supportive, because I think he had had some of the same treatment. I didn't make many friends at this school and have forgotten most of the other boys there.
As the days went slowly by, I became increasingly isolated at school, I didn't like it there and I didn't want to bother with it. It became more and more of a problem for me to fall in with the rules. They sent letters to my home, but Mum wasn't there and Dad didn't care very much. He had his own problems to worry about.
After numerous incidents, I set off a small bomb, made from household chemicals. For some time I had been experimenting with a particular chemical mixture and had pretty well perfected it. I put it up against the door leading from the playground into the gymnasium. When it exploded, it blew a hole through the bottom corner of the door. Some teachers came running out, to see what had happened, but I made no attempt to escape. I just stood there and said, 'how did you like that then.' I was taken to see the headmaster, who decided, it was time I was referred to a psychiatrist. After the consultations with the psychiatrist, his report stated that I was not unbalanced, but in my own interest, it would be best if I was removed from the Crypt school.
Because of the problems at home, with Mum being in hospital and Dad working, it was recommended that I go away to a boarding school. Dad wouldn't be able to afford it, but I was offered an assisted place at a school in Sussex.
I was undecided about this, but on balance I thought it might be a good opportunity, so I agreed to go.
I can't say anything good about my experience at The Crypt except for going to see the school play. It was the most professionally presented play I had yet seen. Up to then I had only seen children's productions, but Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice acted out on the school hall stage was absolutely superb. I can still see the bright green light sparkling off Shylock's emerald ring. That school undoubtedly had a lot going for it and maybe it suited some of the boys but it didn't suit me. They tried to teach through domination and intimidation, when what I needed was encouragement. It was like trying to mix oil and water.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.