Write a piece on your experience of bullying, they asked me. I had no problem with that. My main memory of my primary school days is of a little jerk who took delight in twisting my arm up behind my back in directions it was never meant to achieve. It hurt. The memory still hurts. So I sat down at my keyboard and started to think back…back…back in time. But I didn’t reach my primary school days because suddenly another memory popped up.
I was eighteen years-old and working backstage at an old variety theatre in England. My fellow stagehands were a lot of fun and we enjoyed many laughs together every day. Well, not quite all my fellow stagehands were fun. There was one of them I simply couldn’t stand. Don’t ask me why. We simply didn’t get on. He was irritating. He irritated me, the acts, and the other stagehands. This guy, let’s call him Galen for reasons that will be revealed, liked to point out that he always had a better way of doing things than anyone else. He had a better way of opening the theatre curtains than me. He had a better way of telling jokes than the star comedian. He even had a better way of sweeping the stage after a show. This attitude became more obnoxious with each passing day. At first we’d just shake our heads and look heavenwards when Galen’s name was mentioned. But as weeks turned to months we became more critical.
“THIS WAS ALWAYS DONE BEHIND HIS BACK AS WE WEREN’T CRUEL PEOPLE ALTHOUGH, IN HINDSIGHT, I FEAR YOU MIGHT NOT AGREE WITH MY ASSESSMENT.”
He had a slight lisp so we would mimic that as we’d claim to know a better way of making a cup of tea or the correct way of stirring in a spoonful of sugar. This was always done behind his back as we weren’t cruel people although, in hindsight, I fear you might not agree with my assessment. I was a bit of a cartoonist back then and I’d noticed that Galen had a strange way of walking. In fact that’s how he got the name Galen because it reminded me of that particular character from the ‘Planet of the Apes’ TV series. The inevitable happened. I drew a spoof cover to a comic book version of ‘Planet of the Apes’ with our Galen centre frame. We passed it round and all laughed. The picture ended up stuck on the wall of the Flys high above the stage. And there it was one evening as I was pulling up a backcloth that I turned to find Galen looking at the sketch. He didn’t say a word but turned and looked me in the eye. The sorrow I saw remains with me to this day, 43 years later. I was a bully and I hadn’t even realized it. I had hurt Galen a lot more than my primary school bully had ever hurt me.
I’ve met many people I don’t like since those theatrical days, but I’ve coped with them. They’ve driven me to distraction at times but I’ve never resorted to bullying them. Bullying isn’t necessarily to do with muscles. It’s too easy to act like a bonehead and go along with the crowd…especially if they are ‘nice’ people as we were. Physical or mental, bullying sucks and sticks for life. We move fast in the 21st Century and sometimes we need to slow down and THINK! Reverse the roles with people who irritate you and make sure you don’t become one of us bullies.