The Beating Up of Dartford Grammar.
I was in my second year at Crayford secondary so I must have been thirteen or so when this shameful event unfolded.
It was a bit odd how this all came about, considering that one evening after school we had a basketball match arranged against Dartford Grammar School, and as was usually the case we had won very easily. So you would have thought that we would have all gone home, happily basking in the warm glow of sweet victory. But oh! how wrong could you be.
After the game, we were all in the changing rooms larking around, as thirteen year old boys tend to do. When Larry Breeds came out of the showers and declared.
"We're gonna get those fuckers, and give 'em a good kicking."
The mood changed instantly, we had turned into a pack of blood lusting animals. Actually that’s a bit unfair, because animals only tear things apart they’re going to eat, and what we were about to do was for fun, or at least it was for Larry. I don’t think with hindsight the rest of us had the slightest clue what was about to truly happen.
As we left our changing room, the Dartford lads were slowly milling out of theirs. Larry was definitely our leader, at least for this particular event. We held back, allowing them to leave the school grounds without raising any suspicions. As they exited the front gates there were six of them and five of us. But once they were all out of the gate they momentarily stopped. They were saying their good-byes to each other, and with that, three went to the left and three went to the right. Now I knew which way I was going to go, right may not have been on my side that night, but it was certainly on my way home. Strange though, Larry also went to the right, even though to go to his house he should have turned left. He obviously wanted the pack to stick together, and I was no follower. So the fate of the Dartford boys who turned to the right was sealed.
I'm going to try to explain to you what happened next, as a series of factual events, I can't explain why it happened and I might not be able to convey the utter shame that it did happen, but this is it.
We were walking along Iron Mill Lane so close to the Dartford trio that they knew something was amiss. At first they tried walking quicker, but we just kept up with them. Then as the boy in the middle turned and started to say, "what do you want?"
Larry took a short run up and drop kicked him clean in the back. As he went sprawling to the floor all the contents of his bag came tumbling out, there was sports kit and books flying everywhere. As he started to pick himself up, the other two lads were attempting to pick his stuff up. But they too were then punched to the ground and their bags were emptied, and the contents kicked all over the road .
Who did what and to whom has been lost with the passing of time, suffices to say that we were all equally guilty. All three slowly got to their feet, however if they thought it was all over then they were sorely mistaken. We forced them to start running, but they were reluctant to leave their gear behind at first. But we gave them no choice. After a few more punches and a few more kicks they started to run. We ran behind them spitting kicking and punching them all the way into town, that's about half a mile or twenty minutes worth. They were only spared because the town was busy and us brave lads didn't fancy getting caught. So I made my way home and didn't give it another thought, not for now anyway.
6 We Were Bang To Rights.
About a month had passed since the infamous night of the basketball beatings, and the brave boys of Crayford were going about their daily routines of lessons, sport, lunch, lessons, sport, a bit of shoplifting, and home.
It was a Wednesday morning, I was quietly sitting minding my own business in second period history. When some little squirt of a first year, that’s about a year eleven for those of you to young to remember, came in and handed Mr Evens teacher of history since 1700, a note. I'd better explain that one, he hadn't been teaching history since 170O, no he wasn't that old. He taught all his lessons from the same book "A History Since 1700." Anyway, he unfolded the piece of paper, glanced at it and read out two names, " Martin Harris and Nicholas Hughes, leave all your stuff where it is and go straight to the sports hall."
Now at this point alarm bells certainly weren't ringing for me. If it was trouble normally you'd be sent to one of the offices, and after all we hadn't done anything bad for ages. So we trotted off chatting away to each other without a care in the world.
As we arrived at the sports hall, there was a row of boys lined up against the wall, and three PE teachers, plus Mr Potts my form teacher, stood about three yards away, facing them.
"You two get in line and shut up." Mr Potts shouted at us.
As we entered the vast space the atmosphere was tense to say the least, we did as we were told. There were still a few fourth year girls clearing up volleyball equipment, but Mr Tappin (head of PE) 's patience had run out.
"Leave all that, ladies please, and clear off, " he bellowed at them.
They didn't need telling twice, and as the last one approached the door, "and close the door thank you," he finished with.
As the door slid shut there was a momentary silence. This was one of those one second life times. It was broken by the calm voice of Mr Potts, head of English.
"Right, you lot listen very carefully. I've received a letter from the head of Dartford Grammar. He says that after last months basketball match, three of their boys were savagely beaten up on their way home.and their books and clothes were destroyed. He says that he's waited this long to inform the school because he wanted to lessen the impact it would have on the lives of the guilty."
I bet those bashed up boys wouldn't have been quite so compassionate if they'd been given the choice. I thought to myself.
" Right, first of all," he said.
He read out four names and asked them in turn if they were involved, and one by one they nodded their guilt. Now to this day I've no idea how they knew who was involved. I think that it probably was just and educated guess based on past performance. But none of the shame faced four tried to deny anything.
" You four go and stand over there," he pointed to the adjacent wall. They slowly made their way over, heads bowed.
Now, my name wasn't called, was I free? was I in the clear? That feeling lasted all of about two seconds. He then turned his attention back from the guilty row to the innocent
"Anybody else involved,had better own up now, because if we find out later, it wont be me that your dealing with, it'll be the police."
I had to make a quick decision. That lot were bound to grass, and if the police were told then they'd definitely tell my old man and that couldn't happen, no that certainly couldn't happen. So reluctantly I raised my hand.
"Go stand over there," pointing to the wall of shame.
I made the short journey while he released the innocent.
Once the sports hall door had slid shut for the second time all hell was let loose. All I remember about this was that all four of them (teachers) were screaming at us all at once. About how we had shamed the whole school, every last pupil and every teacher. How the grammar boys and their masters had shown such great compassion for us scum in not going to the police. How lucky we were because it had happened outside of school and so they couldn't expel us. This tirade seemed to be never ending. In fact it went on for about five minutes, then as quickly as it had started, quiet returned, the tsunami had passed. We stood completely stunned by there unbridled wrath. They stood a moment and composed themselves.
"Right." Said Mr Potts. "This is what’s going to happen. Tomorrow before registration you'll go to Mrs Wakerels office (head mistress) and you'll each get six strokes of the cane. A letter will be sent to your parents and their head has requested that you replace all the lost property, so a bill will be included in the letter. You are all on report for two months. Now get out of here."
As we filed out from the hall the enormity of what had just gone down was beginning to percolate through. First of all, being caned, no one cared about that, if anything that would just add to our notoriety. No for most, it was being on report. Aside from having to take a bit of paper with you everywhere you went and continually get it signed, you were barred from representing the school at anything. No sports, no choir, no chess, nothing. Now not to put to finer point on it, us five were the backbone of every boys sports team of our year, they couldn't possibly allow this. This seemed to be the main topic of conversation of the other boys. But for me all that was ringing in my ears was.
Letter home, letter home, leeeettteeerr hooooome. Oh my god if he finds out I wont have to worry about playing football, cos I'll be dead.
So the next day we all got caned, we all went on report and we all became local heroes. And I put my very cunning plan into operation.
7 The Letter Home.
It's vitally important that when this letter arrives that I intercept it. But why? you may well ask. Well first of all my father was the biggest nastiest bastard in the world, and if he'd found out what we'd done to the Dartford boys, he wouldn't have just beat me, he'd probably do me in once and for all. So this is what happened. From the time we were disciplined at school I had to get to the post before he did. So began my daily routine, and it went something like this. The postman arrived every day at approximately 7.45am and I had a paper round that took, depending on what day of the week it was and how heavy the bag was between an hour and a half to two hours. This meant I had to be up and out every day by 5.45am. This was a massive ask for a lazy teenager who usually had to be dragged out of his pit every morning, but this was definitely an emergency.
So anyway, I would arrive back at the house in time to watch him start posting the letters, every last one of them with the potential to cause me great pain and anguish. I would be sitting on the front door step with my dirty ink stained bag clasped tightly round my neck waiting and watching, like a leopard waits on its prey. Waiting until he reached the house next door. Then I would quickly and as calmly as a thirteen year old could ever be with a death sentence hanging over him, get up and walk in through the kitchen door, I'd walk through the living room, where if they were up, that is to say if mum and dad were up, meet the postman, who by now would be on the other side of the door. As he drew back the letter box and pushed the mail through, I would take it with one hand whilst placing the forefinger of the other hand in the letterbox hole, so that when the knocker came crashing down it would hit my finger silently. I would then drop any letters into the paper sack. At this point I would get the customary shout from the living room.
"Don't take that filthy bag upstairs, put it in the garage."
That was my cue, I'd go out of the front door, walk up the drive and into the side door of the garage. Once in the garage I would slump down on to one of the deck chairs that were strewn around the place, amongst all the other junk that had accumulated over the years. The adrenalin would be pumping through me, but the hardest part of the day was over.
I would then, with one eye on the window, light a cigarette, take a couple of deep drags, and turn my attention to the business at hand, the mail. My father was an accountant and he worked from an office at the back of the house. What this meant was that every day amongst the usual household stuff, (bills etc.) would arrive about twenty or so letters from the Inland Revenue. They were always in brown envelopes with "INLAND REVENUE" marked on the front. After I'd opened a couple of these in error and the penny had dropped, it was easy to quickly scan through them, dropping them back into the sack one by one. I'd then be left with domestic stuff they were easy, the utilities always have their names on the front e.g. British gas or BT. Over the course of the next three weeks this scenario took place every day.
After the mail was checked, I'd put the unopened stuff under my coat and quickly walk to the front door, post it with a nice loud knock and return inside through the kitchen door, just in time to see the old man scraping the letters off the mat. On the odd occasion that I had opened a letter I just stuffed it in my pocket and stuck it down a drain on the way to school.
As I said, this went on for about three weeks and then the great day finally arrived. It was a posh white envelope, it actually had N.W.K. Schools stamped across the top (North West Kent Schools). It couldn't have been easier. I went through the usual routine, except this time I didn't stick it down a drain, I kept it. It was a souvenir, a testament to my skill and persistence and proof that I'd dodged the bullet. The only problem I had now was that contained amongst the description of what we had done to those boys was a request for a payment of twenty-five pounds to replace the uniforms we had so callously ripped from their backs. Twenty-five pounds! where the hell was I going to get that from. My paper round only paid one pound twelve and a half pence a week. The money was to be paid within the week and any questions don't hesitate to contact Miss Wakrel head mistress. Oh my god! seven effing days and twenty-five quid. But lets look on the bright side, for now I was safe. I couldn't wait to get to school.
8 Parkins Comes Up Trumps.
As soon as I ran in to Larry, he was stood there waving his letter, the sweet grin of success plastered across his face.
"You got it then," I said.
"Yer," he smirked.
"I’ve got mine too," I said." But what you gonna do about the money?"
"I've almost got mine," he said.
The feeling of camaraderie was instantly replaced by one of pure loneliness.
"Oh you have," I said slightly disbelievingly.
"Yer," he said. “I've been robbing the old man, a few bob here and there for ages, I'll just give 'em that."
"Great," I said. " But what am I supposed to do?"
"Dunno," he replied, as he walked away still smirking.
What the hell, something will come up. I thought, as I turned and headed for class.
And, as luck would have it, I didn't have to wait too long for that something.
I was sitting in fifth period geography that afternoon, relating my problem to Andy Parkins, good friend and school lunatic, when he said.
"I'll get it for ya."
"How?" I said, somewhat disbelievingly.
" We'll have a collection round school tomorrow lunch time.
Great, I thought, I've just got away with G.B.H, and now I was gonna get done for demanding money with menaces.
"Don't worry," he said. " I'll do it, and anything over the top I'll keep for myself.
"OK," I said. "Seems fair enough to me.”
So straight away he set to work, he spent the afternoon break spreading the word, that it would be in everyone's interests to pay up, if you know what I mean. He would give them until break tomorrow morning. They had the night to panic and the morning to get the cash.
The following day I thought it best to lay low and so after my paper round, instead of heading to school I got on a bus and went to Woolwich on a solo shoplifting trip. But by midday curiosity had got the better of me and so I hopped back on the bus and headed for school.
On my arrival I scribbled my dads signature on my report card and went to my registration room. Mr Potts was sitting at his desk.
"You're a bit late aren't you," he said, without the slightest hint of irony in his voice.
"Yes, sorry sir, I've been to the dentist, can you sign my card?" I lied.
"Give it here," he said, barely looking up from the books that he was marking.
I slid the dog eared piece of card under his nose, he signed it and slid it back. I swear, I could have got him to sign anything. Anyhow, I picked it up and left.
Now where to find Parkins?
I walked down the stairs of the English block and out into the crowded lunch time playground. There he was with a group of quivering first years concluding the last of his business. As I strolled over he turned to me with the grin of success plastered across his face.
"How'd it go," I proffered.
"Great," he said, jangling his change laden pockets.
"We'll have a sort out at break, it's to late now."
So an hour passed and we meet on the top playing field. It was far enough away from the classrooms so that you could smoke without being seen. We both sat down on the grassy bank, but he seemed reluctant to hand over the proceeds of his mornings work.
"I've had a count up in maths," he said.
I bet he never got the irony of that statement,” I thought to my self. “He's never counted anything in his life let alone in a maths lesson,
"I've got about twenty-seven, fifty," he said.
I understood immediately. Two pounds, fifty for him, wasn't gonna do it. So before we came to blows, I said.
"Look Andy, give me twenty quid and you can have this stuff.”
I showed him the contents of my bag. It was stuffed with a mixture of sweets biscuits and all sorts of miscellaneous pens and other junk from my mornings work in Woolwich. This seemed to do the trick. So the deal was done, I'd easily make the other fiver up by selling more stolen goods.
Once I'd collected the rest of the cash I took all the change into Barclays bank and came out clutching two crisp new notes. I now knew how Andy Parkins felt, it seemed such a waste having to hand over all that cash, but that afternoon that’s exactly what I did.