There are times when the rules aren’t enough, when justice fails to take action. In these moments, we feel obliged to seek it out ourselves, and it can be bloody, and cruel and dark. This is what I discovered at school, in a far lighter sense. Perhaps it even prepared me for the real world of taller children. I would have preferred to have been able to confess my secret identity as Batman, but here, irritable schoolboy will have to suffice. The crimes in question revolved around the petty, were fuelled by boredom and jest, and can be condemned to the highest degree, of being a general ruckus. Pranks, insults, stolen stationary; these are the weapons for the holy war against your fellow school captives, simultaneously the crimes and subsequent punishments which spiral into everlasting grudges. Or until the end of lunchtime. There are no bases, no tranquil spots or time-outs, not at school. Whether we were in lessons, eating lunch, or coming onto school grounds, attacks could strike at any time. The only benefit of attending a grammar school in this situation, was the creativity behind these offensives.
That time at the end of a biology class where your group is sent to the front to explain that, shockingly, that body part we’ve been staring at all afternoon, really does serve a purpose (I’ve always campaigned against fashionable kidneys). The three of us have our parts, our speeches ready. I’m ready to talk about pee in a way I’ve talked about before and I’m bursting with excitement, as one might imagine, but I come in after my partner. We researched different topics. So when he stands up it takes me by surprise during this introduction – “Today we will talk about how the kidney works….and now Poncho will say what it does and how”. This is the part where he takes a step behind me with a smirk as he watches me improvise wide eyed, in front of an expectant teacher and class. My third partner doesn’t come to my rescue naturally. How would that be funny?
Have you ever dissected a kidney in a science class before? If not, let me assure you, they reek. Worse than a free public bathroom, outside a party club in London. Fun to cut up so long as you can hold your breath. So it’s amazing really, how my partner managed to to get as far as his next class down the corridor before he realised he was transporting one of these kidneys in his rucksack alongside his textbooks. The smell from his bag was in a way, the exact opposite to how trust works; built in a second, takes weeks to destroy.
In preparation for our rugby lessons, we came to understand that we’d need to get a little rough. To help us understand this acutely, the teacher paired us up and instructed us to tackle each other to the ground. No ball, no teams, just pure wrestling in the mud. I was not the strongest or biggest by far when I was 12 years old but I tried hard. But no matter how hard I tried, I was no match for my partner when he beckoned his friend to help him push my head into the mud. When the teacher turned to find my hair matted in thick, crusty mud, he commended me for getting, stuck in.
There were two changing rooms, each being able to accommodate 20 students. There were no lockers though, so our bags and clothes had to be folded on the benches themselves. Just about anyone could have gotten to them. That’s why my partner could hardly single anyone out when he put on his shirt and found he couldn’t do up the buttons. He must put on some weight with all the wrestling. But he did his best and wriggled into his clothes as best he could, not understanding what could have made them shrink. Until we all came out to head to our next lesson and he met up with his friend from rugby, whose arms were somehow no longer long enough to peek out from the ends of the sleeves. It’s fortunate they were in different school houses with different school badges, or otherwise to this day they might not have recognised the switch.
Younger students in my school really did have big mouths. My generation kept quiet with the exception of the odd idiot here and there, but half the first year students were more than happy to rush down the corridors yelling profanities at us, laughing as they escaped round the corner.
That corner really is a blind spot. Lockers were lined up along the walls on either side, so you couldn’t see all too well until you make the turn. If you took your time, you’d find my umbrella propped up between the doorframe, almost like a tripwire, except not because that would be dangerous. The first year that ran by us with his usual insult was foolish enough to look back grinning so he could catch our insulted faces. Unfortunately as he turned the corner we couldn’t see him fly, but we did get to hear that delightful dull thunk as his head crashed into the locker. Pleased with the trick, my friend reset the trap and returned to our post. Four first year students did this, and at no point, did that metallic thunk ever become less satisfying. Some tried jumping at the last second, some yelped too late in panic. One boy was just in a rush and really didn’t deserve it, but the fall was no less beautiful. We left a very proud, head shaped dent in that locker.
Waiting after school for our Japanese lesson to begin, the three us paced about the corridor talking about a party my friend was organising. The more he discussed it, the more nervous he became, while the second student investigated the guest list. There was one omission in particular that he teased him about. Glancing out the window I spotted the teacher coming at last, but failed to warn my cohorts.
“Why don’t you invite her?”
“I’m not inviting her”
“Bet you, Freakazoid, she likes you”
“No she don’t”
“Oh yeah, she wants you, you coward. Call her. Go on”
“Shut up, man”
“I’ll call her. Tell her Freakazoid likes her”
“Don’t do that!”
“Why don’t you just invite her!?”
At this precise moment the door opened.
“Because I have a massive god damned hard-on, that’s why!” he yelled.
Our Japanese teacher looked at him in shock and not knowing quite what to say, shuffled past very quickly. Unfortunately though she had arrived with others that I hadn’t spotted. Following her closely were the headmaster, the deputy head, a school governor, two parents and their two children, one of which must have been about seven years old. They all walked briskly through, brushing past my red faced friend.
This friend was not very creative when it came to come backs but he did have one advantage over us. He was a Chinese student in a Japanese language class and he gobbled up kanji like sweets. It was a very simple punishment. He simply announced to the teacher that we have a spontaneous kanji test to see how well we were doing. He knew full well, our teacher was not the kindest to slow learners. After the test papers were taken away, the teacher shuffled away to the office and he flashed round on us defiantly.
“And I’m not a freakazoid!”. (I have no idea what a freakazoid is, how he came to acquire such a name or why. I just knew it deeply annoyed him).
At sixth form, only four students had cars. Each car could accommodate five people, one of which belonged to the driver. So at lunch time, we all knew, there were only sixteen available seats for escape. First come, first served. The entire year group would drive forward to reach the cars in time, to be the lucky few to cast off toward corner shops, fish and chip places or just down to the park. Some guys promised to reserve me a seat. They laughed as they drove away, just as I arrived. As it turns out, it was for the best, as the car returned with only three students. One unlucky member had been deliberately abandoned at the supermarket as a joke.
A simple plan. Alongside other refugees of the car surge, we bought a stack of post-it notes from the supermarket, and then spent the morning before lessons outside the school. By lunch time, the drivers came out to find their cars “post-it-ed”, tyre to roof in yellow paper.
Smaller strategies that came up:
Waiting until bags were left unattended and then filling them with leaves. It’s quite fun in a history lesson when the teacher instructs you to get your textbooks and one desk explodes in a ball of wet leaves.
Hanging bags off the latch of a window, and precariously dangling the open contents from a few floors up. The owner can reach it of course, but can they rescue it without spilling a few books into the pond? Exciting stuff.
Watching in delight when you’re, while residing in the UK, a country famous for its rain, still the only boy in school carrying a damn umbrella…in the rain.
Unscrewing the backs of someone’s fountain pen, so that when the owner tries to idly spin it in their hand, half a tube of plastic whizzes across the room. Particularly good in silent exam rooms.
Walking into another classroom with a group of friends and lifting up the stack of lockers to be taken to a different room. A more strenuous and ambitious move, but very satisfying when you see students go back to pick up their books.
Testing the limits of restricted sites on a computer, with somebody else’s login details.
Cramming students into a locker and padlocking it (I didn’t believe it were possible until I saw it for myself. After that I was sold on the concept)
Borrowing Tom’s pen that he got from the joke shop, the one that delivers a five volt electric shock whenever it’s clicked. And then lending it out to a student with braces on his teeth and waiting patiently, oh so patiently, for him to idly bite the end of this pen with his metal adorned teeth. I only saw this happen once. And yes. It was glorious.
Taking a pound coin from somebody (take, not steal. You shouldn’t keep it), and then super gluing it to a brick wall (although we discovered through trial and error that an epoxy adhesive with a pinch of regular super glue makes it extra snug). A pound might not sound like a lot but when you’re 12, that’s sweet money at the corner shop, and no kid in their right mind passes up sweet money. When the owner of this coin eventually gives up, the joy continues; every kid who spots it will have a go at prying it off.
Throwing grapes through classroom windows. This might not seem like much but grapes bounce and richoet nicely, and I have been witness to some incredible trick shots to the faces of unsuspecting students mindlessly eating lunch.
I considered all these infantile tactics would come to a swift end when I left school, and joined the adult world. That all of it would be useless, wasted memory to serve no more purpose than to make me smile now and then. But I was wrong. The adult world is run by children, and most are just as petty and small minded as when they were 12. Except now they have cars and salaries. So although they might have dropped the old tactics, there’s still lots of creativity left for new ones.