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The Willows,

25 Old Barn Close,




(Telephone Brighton: 496052)


August 8th 1971


Dear Steven,


By the time you get this I shall be dead have passed away.

The Quack doesn’t hold out much hope of my hanging on until Christmas. I haven’t mentioned this to your mother yet. She will find out soon enough.


Although this is not the way I would have wanted it to end, I still believe that, when all is said and done, the credits, nominally, outnumber the debits in the ledger of my life. My career at The Bank has been most satisfactory; as has, I think, my marriage.


Allow me to offer a few words of advice that will stand you in good stead in the years to come. Beware the current fashion for navel gazing. I have yet to encounter a problem which did not improve immeasurably by behaving as if it did not exist. Never try to play the hero. Walk away from trouble whenever you can, and, should that prove impossible, stand on the periphery and affect an air of supreme indifference.


I trust this will be of some help.


Best Wishes,




PS. Make the most of all your opportunities at the Bishop Berkeley Grammar and keep up the piano lessons. I only wish I had been able to learn a musical instrument when I was at school. But, of course, there was a war on.

JULY 2005


No one died in the fathers’ race this year; it was rather more serious than that. We sat, track side, on the arse numbing miniature chairs that the Year Fours had dragged onto the school field, dipping stale Bourbons into plastic cups of orange squash and wondering when we would be allowed to go home.

Miss Clitoris, the Head teacher, was haranguing the spectators with a megaphone. ‘What a spineless lot. Now, come along you chaps. It’s only a bit of fun.’

I wouldn’t normally have allowed myself to become embroiled. But my son, Jimmy, had abandoned the group of athletes warming up for the next non-competitive bean-bag-throwing challenge and was skipping across the field towards us. ‘Go on Dad, it’ll be a laugh.’

‘Yes, go on Steve,’ said his Mother, smiling amiably like an SS interrogator. ‘Give James a day to remember.’

Caroline had spent most of the afternoon coseying up to Malcolm the Househusband. They’d been doing the Parents in Partnership course on Wednesday mornings, and I was getting pretty sick of hearing how great he was with the kids and how he’d given up a really good job (i.e. much better than mine) to spend some quality time with Posey and Rebecca.

Well, if the delicate little flowers were being spared the opportunity of becoming better acquainted with the harsh realities of failure, I didn’t see why an experienced middle-aged loser like myself should have to suffer so public a humiliation. Fortunately the solution was staring me myopically in the face.

‘How about you, Malcolm,’ I said. ‘Are you up for it?’ Tell you what, Cazza,’ (a term of affection my wife abhorred) ‘I’ll have a bash if Malcolm does.’

The Househusband was disguised as a disgraced scoutmaster: black socks and Jesus sandals, voluminous, khaki shorts, a sweaty arm-pitted shirt in the finest bri-nylon and double-glazed John Lennon spectacles. Given his views on schools as exam factories, of the importance of letting children develop at their own pace (‘just because my kids need hot-housing doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.’) and his penchant for setting Posey and Rebecca Zen riddles before bedtime, I had a pretty good idea about his attitude towards competitive sport. Or so I thought.

‘Go on then,’ he said, squinting in my general direction. ‘It’s been at least ten years since I broke into a trot, but as Miss Clitheroe says, it’s only a bit of fun.’

Caroline’s words of encouragement were shrouded in sadism. ‘Good for you.’

And Jimmy’s penchant for Americanisms was never more irritating. ‘Way to go, Dad!’

In the absence of an alien spaceship to whisk us to safety, we joined the line of retro-trainered, replica football shirted, young Dads trooping towards the starting line. I didn’t allow myself to look back at Jimmy, but I could feel his proud expectant gaze burning a hole in my Marks & Spencer’s hoodie. Nine years old was far too late to be learning that his Dad wasn’t Superman; I should have told him years ago. My father was a forty a day man. Even if he had taken an afternoon off from the bank (which, mercifully he never did) he would rarely walk a hundred yards, let alone embarrass me by attempting to do it at speed.

The Househusband seemed strangely oblivious of the disgrace to come. ‘Next term, we’re organising an auction of promises for the new interactive whiteboards. I was rather hoping you might like to help out.’

‘That’s my busiest time of the year, I’m afraid.’ (This was actually true, though even if I’d suddenly become a gentleman of leisure I would rather have had a complimentary drink with a time-share salesman than get involved with the P.T.A.) ‘Otherwise I’d love to.’

‘What a shame,’ said Malcolm, looking genuinely disappointed.

But my spirits were taking a turn for the better. The other competitors were all so palpably at least fifteen years younger than The Househusband and me that I realised all I needed to do to save face was show Mr ‘there is nothing more precious than the innocence of childhood’ a clean pair of heels. I even had a little joke with Miss Clitoris about introducing a special veterans’ event.

You must have heard that urban myth about blokes who turn up for the fathers’ race in their spikes. Whilst most of us would baulk at such bare-faced competitiveness, not wanting to be being beaten by Baden Powell’s older brother is quite a different matter. Some of the younger chaps crouched satirically in their imaginary blocks, but Malcolm the Househusband simply extended his arm in front of him like a tango dancer.

‘To your marks, get set, go!’

Lampard and Rooney shot into the lead. I thought it prudent to pace myself. All the same, I was in the zone. For a couple of seconds I felt like I was doing that slow motion sequence from Chariots of Fire; then I realised I was just running very slowly. Twenty yards in I hit the wall. I was wheezing like my father during his final illness (he sat on the yellow sofa getting steadily grumpier) and my head echoed with the dull thud of Clarks trainers on the balding yellow grass.

Down at the finishing line, the crowd were making a high-pitched attempt to spur their heroes to one final effort. It was then that disaster struck. If I say, ‘old ankle injury’, then you’ll probably know what I’m talking about. I must have caught my trainer in a pot-hole because the next thing I knew, thirteen stone nine-and-a-half pounds of finely honed athlete were tumbling to the ground.

Even at this point, my one thought was for Jimmy. Mustn’t let the kid down. I glanced surreptitiously behind me. Malcolm the Househusband was nowhere to be seen. That was all the encouragement I needed. If I’d been a horse they would have shot me, but I stumbled bravely to my feet and limped lamely onwards.

Perhaps the silence that erupted as I threw myself over the finishing line was the sound of one hand clapping. But I didn’t care. Honour had been satisfied. Little Jimmy could sleep easily in his bed that night. If only the same could be said for Posey and Rebecca.


Malcolm the Househusband was still clutching the David Maynard Memorial Trophy when he popped his head around the medical-room door to enquire after my well-being.

‘How’s the patient Miss Clitheroe?’

I focused on the Pokèmon poster, secretly wishing that the trained first-aider had been one of the younger, more attractive members of staff and not the menopausal headteacher.

‘He’ll live,’ she said.

(They’d only just finished raising the money for that defibrillator. In view of last year’s tragedy, it was in pretty poor taste.)

‘By the way Malcolm,’ she simpered, ‘congratulations again. That was a super performance out there.’

‘Funny thing is,’ he said, ‘when I was at college I was more of a four-forty-yards man.’

People of my age use the term ‘college’ for one of two reasons: either to disguise the fact that they didn’t go to a proper university or as a modest way of letting you know they were at Oxbridge. I knew with chilling certainty that in Malcolm the Househusband’s case, it meant the latter.

I include this sporting anecdote because, despite Caroline’s protestations to the contrary, I feel sure that what happened later that evening was directly linked to my unfortunate performance on the track.


‘We need to talk,’ she said.

Having just fought my way through another two chapters of Harry Potter I was in no mood for one of her clear the air monologues. ‘Jimmy’s not asleep yet. Can’t it wait?’

‘Not really.’

They’d both been behaving rather badly since we got back from sports day. At least Jimmy perked up a bit when I said he could go on the Xbox. But Caroline was doing her ostentatious tidying act; noisily gathering up abandoned CDs and videos during The Bill and making a huge pile of my socks and underpants. As if she hadn’t had all day to do it.

Whenever my wife started on the grown up stuff (how desperate she was to go back to work, how she didn’t know who she was anymore, how I never listened) I tried to focus on a point just above her head and let the words wash over me like a mountain stream. It doesn’t always work, and sometimes you end up with a bastard of a stiff neck, but I recommend you try it sometime.

‘OK,’ I said, looking up at her. ‘What’s so important that it can’t wait?’

She paced the lounge, as if trying to bump up her score on that Pedometer thing she got off a crisp packet. ‘I think I may be developing feelings for someone else.’

It was more like a bucket of icy water than a mountain stream. ‘How do you mean?’

‘Well, a bloke,’ she shrugged.

‘But that’s impossible.’ Well, it was, wasn’t it? The only people she ever came into contact with were the other Mums on the school run and the women at her Pilates class.

Wait a minute! It was all becoming horribly clear. That fathers’ race was suddenly taking on a new and sinister, symbolic significance. What is it they say? Cherché le Househusband. ‘It’s that bastard Malcolm, isn’t it?’

It was strange to hear laughter in the middle of a marital dispute; like sunshine in the rain, but without the compensation of a rainbow.

‘You daft sod. What are you talking about?’

‘That Househusband. Him with the sweaty armpits and life membership of Amnesty bloody International.’

‘What’s Malcolm got to do with it?’

‘It’s him, isn’t it?’

Caroline has perfected a look that could wither even the hardiest of perennials. ‘Don’t be an idiot. I’m always telling you what a together couple Malcolm and Dagnor are. If you hadn’t made such a fuss about coming to their barbeque, you could have found out for yourself.’

True on both counts, but wouldn’t you be rather suspicious of a middle-aged couple who never have a bad word to say about each other and come out with disgusting statements like, ‘our sex life is so much more rewarding now that we’ve learnt to take our time?’ As for vegetarian barbecues… well, I rest my case.

‘So who is it then? Where did you meet him?’ I never thought I’d turn into one of those dull-witted dolts in books who haven’t a clue that their wife’s been shagging the dentist even though the reader spotted the significance of remedial orthodontic work in the first chapter.

‘His name’s Robert. We haven’t actually met yet.’

Had she interrupted a perfectly serviceable episode of The Bill just to tell me about her imaginary friend?

‘At least, not for twenty years or more.’

‘I’m sorry, I’m not with you.’

‘And don’t I know it,’ she said, rather unnecessarily, considering I was the wounded party here. ‘Look, I met him on the Internet.’

‘But you don’t even know how to switch on the computer.’

‘Jimmy showed me.’

They say it’s always the kids that suffer, but you don’t expect them to be the ones who engineer the break-up in the first place. ‘You what?’

Even mid-confession, she couldn’t stop herself stacking up my back issues of Sound on Sound and stuffing them into the magazine holder that looks like a miniature deckchair. ‘I went on that whatdoyoucallit, web thingy where you look up your old school friends?’

Unlike me, Caroline can get quite sentimental about her school days. I once caught her showing Jimmy her school photographs and I know for a fact that she’s got her old jacket stashed away in a cupboard somewhere. ‘Rob and I went out together in the lower sixth.’

I’d read about this sort of thing in The Observer Magazine. Why do they do it? Isn’t it pretty obvious that if they’ve settled for middle-aged mediocrity, then Danny - the captain of the first eleven, with the sparkling line in dead-baby jokes and extensive collection of Led Zeppelin records - probably has too? ‘I’m sorry Caroline,’ I said, trying to sound like I was taking it well, but at the same time pissed off, ‘I don’t know what to say.’

‘Just listen for a change.’

‘I’m listening.’ (She used to love my Frasier impression - not a flicker.)

You see, Caroline only ever does honesty Xtreme. I like to skirt around the edges of things, but she has this pathological desire to explain exactly how she’s feeling. ‘We split up because he wanted to concentrate on his A-levels. But I never stopped thinking about him.’

‘Well thanks a lot.’

‘Not all the time, it was nothing like that. But he was always on a back-burner, you know? I just, kind of, wondered what he was up to.’

‘Would you mind coming to the point.’

‘I didn’t even think he’d reply to my message. And then when we started e-mailing each other, it turned out we still had so much in common.’ She picked up Darth Vader’s helmet and returned it to the Lego box. ‘And when I heard what a hard time his wife was giving him, I just felt sorry for the guy.’

‘Well you would, wouldn’t you?’

‘Look, don’t be angry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I’m only telling you now because I thought you ought to know.’ (Shouldn’t it have been me that was on the verge of tears?) ‘I just needed someone who’d listen that’s all. Rob’s great at that, he…’

The first time I saw my mother crying was on the day after the funeral. She was sitting at the bottom of the stairs in a pair of pink carpet slippers. ‘Now you’re the man of the house,’ my Uncle George told me as we traipsed towards the Crematorium car park, ‘you’re going to have to look after your Mum.’ I wanted to give her a cuddle or something, but since that other cliché – the one about Dad being a ‘fighter’ who was bound to get through it - had turned out to be a load of bollocks, I crept back to my room and played Subutteo.

I’ve always found Caroline’s sobbing pretty difficult to ignore. Most people make an effort to choke back the tears. She just lets it all hang out.

‘Say something, Steve.’ (Well, what the hell did she expect?) ‘What are you doing?’

‘Packing my things.’

She followed me upstairs. I grabbed an Adidas rucksack from the bottom of the banisters and wondered what token bits of clothing to chuck in.

‘Come on Steven, this isn’t what I wanted at all. All I wanted was to talk.’

‘Well you could have fooled me.’

I raced around the bedroom like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, filling my rucksack with the first items that came to hand: underpants and some trainers, a Marks & Spencer T shirt, jeans from The Gap, that paperback about the cynical media guy who (surprise surprise) was turning out to be a brilliant single parent, and some Boots own brand shaving foam. I wasn’t really bothered because I knew it wouldn’t last for long. The only thing I couldn’t live without was my laptop, and that was in the van.

Jimmy’s drowsy voice froze us both in our tracks. ‘Mum, Dad. What’s going on?’

We teetered on the landing; the last couple in a game of musical statues. Caroline glared accusingly, daring me to tell him the truth.

‘Nothing to worry about, son,’ I said, trying to remember what colour my toothbrush was. ‘Ask your mother in the morning. Off with that light now.’

We tiptoed downstairs. I stood and watched the credits of The Bill, not really wanting to go through with it, but preferring to avoid the hours of futile soul-searching that would almost certainly be the requirement of a mutually satisfactory outcome. ‘Oh bugger, where are the van keys?’

‘Kitchen table,’ she said. ‘Next to the Frosties.’

‘Bloody hell.’

‘Look Steve,’ she said, handing me the keys, ‘this is really silly. I don’t know why you’re doing this.’

And neither did I. Except that I was stood there with an Adidas rucksack full of essential household items and – even though what I really wanted to do was tell Carrie that I couldn’t bear the thought of living without her – I was afraid that if I didn’t go through with it, I’d look a complete idiot. ‘I’ll be in touch.’

Carrie and I had got into the habit of kissing whenever one of us went out. We puckered mechanically before both realising that it was hardly appropriate. ‘Where will you stay?’ she said.

I didn’t have a great deal of choice. ‘I’m going back to my mum’s.’


I never dreamed I’d be doing this at the age of forty-five. When I first discovered the doyen of solitary pleasures, (in this very bed, the one with Bobby Moore, George Best and Chopper Harris still air-fix glued to the headboard) I little thought I’d still be at it when I was an old man. Bestie looks on disapprovingly: ‘Where did it all go wrong, Steve? Where did it all go wrong?’

The day after Jimmy’s sports day, I went back to my wife. Unfortunately, Caroline had decided she wanted a ‘trial separation.’ Now as far as I’m concerned, the term trial separation is a polite way of dumping someone whilst still dangling the false hope of reconciliation to stop them going psycho. ‘It’ll give us both some time to think,’ she said. ‘Maybe once we’ve stopped taking each other for granted, we can work this thing out.’

It was small consolation. Five minutes later, she’d got herself a job as a supply teacher and Malcolm the Househusband had kindly agreed to act as Jimmy’s childminder. How long would it be before she met up with her old school chum, Robert; the man with the listening skills of Michael Parkinson and two As and a B at A Level when it actually meant something?

We only moved down from London so that I could keep an eye on my mother - that and the schools, of course. We bought a place on a sixties estate, about ten minutes drive from her place. It meant we could pop in whenever we liked without having to stay for a meal or worry about whether Jimmy was going to say please and thank you in all the right places. Believe me, the last thing I ever wanted was to end up living with her.

Caroline has got the idea that Mum is going a bit ‘doolally’, but I can’t say I’ve noticed. If you ask me she’s no different from any other eighty year old: she keeps repeating the same stories, she’s always cold and she thinks that Carol Vorderman would make the perfect daughter-in-law.

I feel like a middle-aged Norman Bates. I’ve already started eyeing up the contents of the knife drawer. This old house is a museum of my unhappiness. Apart from the extra phone line I’ve had to put in for the lap-top, it’s pretty much exactly the same as Dad left it in 1971. And if you were expecting cool lava lamps and orange swirly wallpaper think again. My parents were nearly forty when fate brought them together at a church picnic in Arundel. The fifties was their decade of choice; not the rock and roll bit, but the rationing and the repression, the lino in the hallway and the short back and sides.

This isn’t getting any easier either. My right arm is going into spasm and if I don’t do something pretty drastic I shall end up like poor old Dave Maynard after last year’s fathers’ race. I run through my trusty back-catalogue. From first fumblings in brassieres to sophisticated sex acts in British Rail lavatories, it’s all grist to the mill. But nothing seems to hit the spot. Eventually I’m forced to resort to the final married man’s taboo. I start fantasising about my wife. It seems to do the trick. I lay out a carpet of Kleenex, from the root of my cock to my belly button. In the old days I had to go right up to my nipples.

‘Go on son,’ shouts Bestie, ‘give her one from me.’

‘Get in there,’ yells Chopper Harris.

Bobby Moore looks more po-faced. He seems to read the situation perfectly.

‘Thank God for that.’ The earth doesn’t exactly move, but, due to the extra bulk I’m carrying these days, the bed squeaks and screams like a delirious lover.

‘Steven. Steven, darling, what are you doing in there?

Oh shit, it’s my Mum. ‘Hang on a minute, I’m just…working.’ (Virtually true, give or take a couple of letters.) She hasn’t surprised me like this since the time I managed to sneak a copy of Parade out of the barber’s. But it must be like riding a bike, because, in an instant, I’ve rolled up the tissues, scoured my paunch for the last drops of the summer wine and dispatched the soggy ball (‘skill fans’) to my Arsenal Double Winners 1970-71 waste-paper basket. I even have time to douse myself with the ‘Lynx effect’ before my Mother barges in.

‘Are you all right, dear? There was this rather peculiar…’ In the old days she would have knocked.

‘It’s OK, Mum, I’m fine,’ I say, wishing I wasn’t wearing the Gap Jeans with the buttoned fly. ‘I was just testing a new microphone.’

Jimmy didn’t get swimming lessons in Year Three because they were building the new pool. Due to my Dad’s unfortunate demise, it was the same with me and sex. Thanks to the National Curriculum there is now no such thing as a self-taught masturbator, but back in the winter of discontent it was a simple case of sink or swim.

‘Why have you got your curtains closed?’ says Mum, ripping them open so that I’m blinking in the late afternoon sun. ‘It’s still lovely out there.’

‘I needed them like that for the acoustics. Otherwise the sound bounces off the windows.’

Mum regarded the birds and the bees lecture as a father’s prerogative. On my fifteenth birthday, she handed me a faded leaflet they’d given Dad when he got called up. Although it offered few clues as to how to go about contracting them, it was a fairly comprehensive guide to the colourful world of venereal disease.

‘You mustn’t spend your whole life lying on that bed. I know you’re upset about…’ There’s that look of panic in her eyes, like an actor who’s forgotten his next line. She tugs at her silvery curls and glances anxiously into the wings for the prompter.

‘Caroline, Mum?’

She hasn’t even noticed that I’m frantically buttoning my trousers. ‘Yes, yes of course,’ she whispers. ‘Yes, Caroline of course it is.’ She stares at the beige wood-chip and mouths my estranged wife’s name, (‘Caroline, Caroline, Caroline’) before shuddering back into life. ‘You mustn’t live in the past you know.’

‘No Mum.’

‘That won’t do you any good at all.’ She takes the photo of my first day at The Bishop Berkeley Grammar School from the top of the dresser and wipes it with her housecoat sleeve. Dad insisted we went into the garden so he could get a snap of me in my new uniform. I look like Hugh Grant after they caught him with that prostitute. ‘Now I know you’ve got some work to do, Steven, but you must eat. We’ll have some tea in twenty minutes. I’ve done your favourite – shepherd’s pie.’

‘All right, Mum.’

‘I’ll give you a call when it’s ready.’


I fire up the lap-top and log on. OK, I admit it, this isn’t strictly speaking what I’d call work. In fact, I don’t really know why I’m doing it. I just haven’t had time for a proper look since Jimmy showed me how to register during one of our wretched Saturday afternoons together. ‘Mum’s on this site all the time,’ he said, ‘spends hours on it.’

The whole idea of a website where you can make contact with your old school friends is deeply flawed. Any man who claims to have enjoyed his schooldays is either a syphilitic dictator in a dodgy banana republic or suffering from a severe dose of amnesia. Sometimes it’s best to let things lie.

To be honest, I thought it could be a good way of getting back at Caroline, but of course I’d forgotten a crucial detail. Carrie went to a mixed comprehensive, whereas I was privileged enough (or so my Dad kept telling me) to attend an all boys Grammar School. Not much chance then of resurrecting a smouldering passion. Although Simon Perrin (‘Sci - Fi’) ‘Running my own IT company in Worthing’ might disagree. Like several others, he seems to have invented a new and more flattering nick-name, because, as far as I remember, S C Perrin was known as ‘Poof Perrin’ (or occasionally ‘Simon the Sodomite’ by the sophisticates) from the first morning of the second form to the last private study period of the upper-sixth.

So why am I doing this? Well, boredom for a start. Wasn’t the internet God’s gift to pornographers and the terminally bored? And there is a certain fascination. I mean, I wouldn’t be seen dead at one of those, ‘let’s roll up our trouser legs and sing the school song’, Old Boys’ Dinners, but I’d quite like to be a fly on the wall.

As a rule, it’s only the ones who consider themselves to have been Grammar school success stories - i.e. became Lord Lieutenant of Sussex or a tediously eccentric Tory MP – who post little messages. Most of the class of 77 have turned out just as you’d expect: a liberal sprinkling of solicitors and civil servants, insurance brokers and actuaries, a couple of teachers (‘acting Deputy Head of a Sixth Form College in Luton’) and ‘Yid’ Coppin who - surprise, surprise - is ‘working with computers’. Several affect a tone of amused amazement at their status as pillars of the community. Take Graham Forshaw (née Foreskin) for instance: Don’t know how, but I ended up as a partner at Kleiberson-Jankworth and the proud father of teenage girls. As if a 2:1 from The LSE, three years of accountancy exams and God knows how many hours of dull procreative sex just happened by accident.

There are, of course, a couple of notable omissions. Minor celebrities who probably assume that everyone knows what they’re up to anyway and don’t want to be bothered by some sycophantic insurance salesman who claims he used to be their best mate. No sign for instance of that journalist they always wheel out on those ‘100 best’ programmes to make ironic witticisms about chopper bikes and the miners’ strike, or the lead singer of a late-eighties Madchester band who now runs tai chi workshops in East Grinstead.

Jeremy Clancy isn’t there, either. Although, given that I don’t suppose his schooldays were the happiest of his life, it’s hardly surprising. You wouldn’t know him as Jeremy Clancy anyway. You’d know him as ‘Funicular Railway’, the author of the Ginger Vitus-Dance books. If you’ve got kids, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Jimmy and I have read all six, and we’re both looking forward to next month when number seven (Ginger Vitus-Dance and the Swimming Pool Shenanigans) comes out. Ginger isn’t quite in the Harry Potter league yet, but I read in The Independent that Disney have just bought the film rights and whenever they interview him in the Sunday supplements, it’s obvious that Clancy isn’t exactly strapped for cash.

Perhaps it’s my natural affinity for the underdog, or perhaps it’s just a case of post-onanistic depression, but I’m going to spend the last five minutes flicking through for the ‘spastics and wankers’. I don’t use the term literally of course; we all fell into the latter category sooner or later. No, ‘spastics and wankers’ was a technical expression used to denote the great unclean: a marginalised group of individuals (they even had their own football match) who were so low down the pecking order that, apart from an all-purpose ‘spaz’, ‘poof’ or get out of my fucking way, didn’t even rate an unpleasant nick-name.

Now here’s a case in point. I don’t think I ever knew Atkinson’s Christian name. What I do recall are his gigantic ears and how irresistible they proved to a whole generation of his schoolfellows. Sadly for him, the batwings were not the only cross he had to bear. When someone discovered that Atkinson was claustrophobic, it was only a matter of time before they put it to the test. One lunch break, a group of classmates dragged him down to the assault course and used their briefcases to imprison him in the tunnel. I don’t think I shall ever forget the pathetic scrabbling noises. Well, if I can still remember, you would have thought that he could, but it seems ‘The Reverend Derek Atkinson and his wife Diana would be delighted to welcome any old Grammarians who happen to be in the Winchester area.’

And here’s another one. This guy even had his own theme tune: ‘Smelly Housego, it’s just one of those things you put down to his family. Adrian Housego was the fat kid who doubled as a human punch ball and the butt of a million politically incorrect jibes. He was also the victim of the most unspeakable crime ever perpetrated with a Mars Bar. Why on earth would someone like Housego want to be reminded of the worst days of his life?

‘Hurry up Steven. Your dinner’s ready. Don’t want it to get cold now.’

‘OK, Mum. Two minutes.’

I can see why people get addicted to this. I start looking back a few years to see if anyone has got their leaving dates wrong. When I get to 1975, I come across a name that provokes in me a reaction bordering on the extreme. ‘Holy shit,’ I whisper, suddenly aware of the hairs on the back of my neck and a stabbing pain in the pit of my stomach. ‘It can’t be.’ The strange thing is, I don’t know if I’m excited or terrified.

David Back was what you might call ‘a bit of a laugh’. He wasn’t the class clown exactly; he was more like a cross between a social satirist and a particularly sadistic holiday rep. He certainly had the knack of getting everyone to join in, although I dare say I wasn’t the only one of his contemporaries who was secretly a bit relieved when they found out he was leaving. Dave didn’t stay on for the sixth-form. His mum decided it would be best all-round if they moved up to Northampton for a fresh start. I never did find out what happened to him. But given his almost fanatical devotion to the school cadet force, I expect he ended up at Sandhurst, just as he always said he would. Dave and I weren’t friends exactly, but we did hang around for a bit after my Dad died. His Dad had gone off with an air-hostess, and, as members of single-parent families long before they became fashionable, I suppose I felt we had something in common. Like I said, Dave could always be relied upon for a few laughs. In the dark days after my Dad’s death, laughs were few and far between.

‘Hurry up, Steven, it’s on the table.’

‘All right, Mum, I’m coming.’

Dave Back’s message is short and to the point: Divorced and living in Milton Keynes. It’s quite a relief after the sickening litany of high-flying careers and happy marriages. In fact, it’s such a damning testimony that it almost makes me feel good about myself. So much so that on impulse, I find myself messaging him back:

Long time no see. Steve Tennant (Separated and living with my Mother)


About me

I am a fifty-something Englishman with a passion for wild swimming and musical theatre. ‘Bullies Reunited’ is not a memoir, but a fictionalised account of my recurring nightmare with some jokes thrown in for comic relief.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
Certain aspects of my schooldays and the dreams I've had about them on a regular basis ever since.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
It's partially inspired by a scene in the book, but also the idea that most Englishmen are overgrown schoolboys at heart.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Trying to get the balance between being humorous and writing what I consider to be quite a serious book that I genuinely care about.

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Jack's Fight has Just Begun
Saints and Sinners
How would you feel if it happened to you?
Nina's Nebulosity
In full darkness, a ray of light brings hope.