Brian Edwards Media

The Lone Ranger comes to town – finally! A personal experience of bullying.

When I first saw the story about Casey Heynes, the 16-year-old Sydney schoolboy who’d been bullied for most of his school career and who finally snapped and turned on his tormentor, I was taken back to my own experience 60 years ago at Dunmurry Primary School, just outside Belfast. You’ll need to know that Anderson & McAuley was  the Belfast equivalent of Smith & Caughey or Kirkcaldie & Stains. ‘Cheeser’ was our nickname for the headmaster whose real name was Mr Chesney.  This is the story as I tell it in my memoir Daddy Was A German Spy – And Other Scandals:

 

  Like most schools, Dunmurry Primary had its resident bully. Nelson was an ugly fat boy. These days you would say that Nelson was an unhappy kid with body image issues who needed counselling. But in those days it was OK to say that Nelson was an ugly fat boy. Nelson threw his weight around – literally. He would jump on your back, then punch your lights out when you were on the ground. No one ever fought back and unless one of the teachers was around, no one ever came to the victim’s rescue. Nelson could have starred in a 50’s Western as the really bad dude who terrorises the town. Where was The Lone Ranger when you needed him?

 I was a favourite target for Nelson whose bully radar may have detected a nervous kid with pacifist tendencies. You never saw him coming. Nelson didn’t bother with foreplay. There were no threats or intimidation to warm things up. You suddenly found yourself spread-eagled beneath a mountain of pummelling lard.

 I put up with this for several months. Then, one day, something snapped. Nelson had just had his fill of beating the crap out of me and was wandering off in search of another victim when he got a sudden surprise. The wimp Edwards had appeared from nowhere and was riding on his back, his skinny arms round Nelson’s throat, kicking the living daylights out of the back of Nelson’s knees. A small crowd had gathered.

 ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’    

 Nelson’s reputation was at stake. He had to deal with this pathetic upstart. I was on the ground again within seconds. Nelson’s right foot was advancing towards my groin. I grabbed it and heaved. Suddenly it was Nelson who was on the ground and I was up. The crowd had grown.

 ‘Fight! Fight! Fight! Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!’

 Some foolhardy kid called out, ‘Give it to him, Brian, give it to him!’

 I gave it to him. My pugilistic technique could best be described as frenzy fuelled by blind panic. I kicked, I punched, I flailed.

 ‘Fight! Fight! Fight! Nelson! Nelson! Nelson! Brian! Brian! Brian!’

 We were both on our feet now. Nelson had a bleeding lip and murder in his eyes.

 ‘You fucking little sh..’

 I would love to say I planned it, but I didn’t. It was sheer good luck that the toe of my now scuffed Anderson and McAuley right shoe connected with Nelson’s scrotum.

 ‘Oof!’

 Nelson was on the ground again, screaming in agony.

 ‘Brian, Brian, Brian!’

 Time to deliver the coup de grace. Well, it would have been if Cheeser hadn’t arrived on the scene.

 ‘What the hell is going on here? What is Nelson doing on the ground? You’re bleeding, boy? Were you fighting? Did someone hit you?’

 ‘No sir,’ said Nelson, surreptitiously clutching his genitals. ‘I just tripped.’ It was the noblest act of his young life.

 I was never bullied by Nelson again, and nor was anyone else.  The Lone Ranger had come to town.

***

I suppose the moral of the story is that what you can’t afford to do is let the bully get away with it. Passive resistance doesn’t work with bullies. Someone has to take on the role of The Lone Ranger ‘pour encourager les autres’. So even though it turned out that the kid who was filmed punching Casey Heynes in the face had been a victim of bullying himself, I think Casey did the right thing.

 And a footnote to this story. I want to send a huge bouquet of flowers to Campbell Live which has not only featured several thought-provoking items on the subject of bullying, but last Thursday devoted an entire programme to a fascinating panel discussion on the topic. That’s rare in the 7pm slot, where the programmers live in terror of boring viewers with anything longer than 6 or 7 minutes. Well done, Campbell Live. Take a bow, John. 

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31 Comments:

  1. Much as I abhor violence, I do like hearing a story of a bully getting his comeuppance.

    But the pressing question remains: what did your Irish mammy have to say about the state of your flash shoes?

    BE: A solo mum on a reasonably slim income, she wasn’t pleased. On the other hand, she always refused to buy anything but the best and never from Catholic stores.

  2. Amen. Those of us who were bullied and who eventually fought the bully and won can relate.

    It is, actually, a Rite of Passage, and a defining moment in many young lives.

    In that respect, bullies provide a valuable public service: as punching bags for those who need to toughen up to achieve greater things.

  3. Couldn’t agree more with your comments about the Campbell Live programme last Thursday. It was indeed great to have a ‘commercial’ half hour on one topic – the panellists were first class. I am firmly of the opinion that our children are ‘inoculated’ with crap children’s TV programmes, primarily from the USA – that country where violence seems to reign supreme in their export of TV programming, both for children and adults, and in real life, sadly. These TV programmes must have an effect on our kids if they are allowed to watch this rubbish, which is also broadcast on TV2 and TV3, if not other free to air TV channels. One of my sons mentioned recently that he is not keen on his sons, two of our grandchildren, watching the Cartoon Channel on SKY TV, even though the eldest is 9 years old. His preference is for the Nick Jr channel, when they do watch kids’ TV, as the Cartoon Channel is just too violent – I totally agree. I might add that the despite the violent TV which emanates from the USA, I felt totally safe walking the streets of Manhattan several years ago when visiting New York, after dark, which I definitely don’t feel venturing onto the streets of inner Auckland when the sun has set.

  4. I’m involved in ‘men’s groups’ and over the years have heard several stories from men, when, as teenagers they had finally had enough of their fathers bullying them and had fought back and won. Now that is a ‘Right of Passage’!!!

  5. I’d like to hear from a bully who got his/her comeuppance. Was a lesson learned or did they go on to bully others in later life, perhaps in the workplace (verbally or physically).

  6. I’d like to raise a dissenting voice amid the nostalgic testosterone here. I was bullied fiercely for the duration of primary school, from the age of seven to 12. It was done by one amin ringleader and his family/mates. They beat the crap out of me several times, merely whacked me in passing daily and also demanded money with menaces, which I ended up having to steal from my financially struggling parents.

    I broke down when I was nine and told my father who waited outside school one day and hammered the leader. The next day I was hospitalised and left in no doubt as to what would happen if I grassed them up again.

    So I suffered on, mostly with annoyance-level violence, although they did stop asking me to pay for the pleasure.

    Later on I took up martial arts and became quite good at it, representing at national level and so forth. They began to leave me alone, but mostly because they were now going to a different school. Occasionally I’d bump into a group of them on the street and if there were enough of them they would give me a hiding. It only ended when I left town for good.

    What I’m trying to say is that it’s all very well to say “You must look a bully straight in the eye and fight back”, but that’s bullshit; that’s the sort of old-school tripe that Garth George would recommend. It doesn’t work for most victims of bullying, because you can’t be protected. Fight back and you stand a fair chance of ending up in hospital and sure the perpetrator may get suspended or spoken to by the cops, but that is no consolation when you’re lying lonely in a hospital bed with broken ribs and fear bubbling out of every pore, believe me.

    BE: I think it’s unfortunate that you have to dismiss other people’s views and experiences as ‘bullshit’ and ‘old-school tripe’. How an individual responds to bullying is likely to vary from person to person. In my own case and in the case of the Australian kid, they’d had enough or ‘snapped’, however you want to put it. The outcomes appear to have been satisfactory. What you offer is a counsel of despair. Probably the best thing to do is to report bullying the first time it happens. But the evidence that’s emerging from reports on school bullying in New Zealand seems to be that that’s unlikely to achieve very much. Simply putting up with being bullied doesn’t seem to me an acceptable alternative.

  7. Great, I spend 20 minutes carefully crafting a reply and it disappears. In summary – stand up to him/her and fight back doesn’t always work. I can tell you that from experience of lying in hospital busted up after doing so and in abject terror because I knew I was in for more of the same.

  8. I consider myself extraordinarily lucky. I have gone through life without having been the subject of bullying at school, home or work and I often wonder why. I have never been sexually harrassed either which makes me feel inadequate.

    I am not particularly well built (kick sand in the eyes, seven stone weakling rather) and am not aggressive and from the earliest days at school have always been something of a loner.

    I am curious why some people appear to attract bullying and others like me are seemingly fortunate and sail along without any problems.

    BE: Interesting. A couple of my schoolfriends and I came to the conclusion that there were some people who just had ‘bangable faces’. Awful, I know, but possible true nonetheless.

  9. There has been research on why some people attract bullying Ben. There is evidence that posture as you walk past seems to indicate victim or not. Therefore there is training that can be done to change the way that you present yourself which deflects possible attack. There is also ways of deflection. In any case the focus in the current debate should include what a victim can do to protect himself, without running the risk of getting beaten up by worse bullying. Not all Brian Edwards stories have a happy ending.

  10. @ ben: sexual harassment is not a compliment. you shouldn’t feel inadequate, you should feel extremely lucky.

  11. Nice story Brian. And good reply Don.

    The problem I have with this whole media frenzy is the selective amnesia which is accentuated by the above 2 reminiscences. Bullying isn’t worse today – in fact I think it is probably less than it was.
    Bullying was so prevalent in my day – the 70s – it was almost institutional. Teachers could still beat us with whatever sadistic device they chose.
    The unusual, poofters, fat and mental (as we lovingly referred to the IHC kids) were mercilessly teased, beaten and ripped off…by eveyone who wasn’t one of them. School was like a pool of fish…as soon as blood was sensed the feeding frenzy started – not led my the troubled kids – but usually led by the cool/together kids showing everyone who was on top.
    We now have cameras – kids are doing the reporting and gathering evidence…good on them, I wish we had it when I was young. The media are just lazily sucking up the free footage without any real in-depth analysis of a culture that has existed for years, and the modern, so-called PC culture of our schools is actually trying to sort out…with some sad failures, but alot of un-noticed successes.
    I bet John Campbell witnessed the kind of stuff he’s so shocked about now when he was at school…I certainly did…all the time.
    Last night on TV we saw the sad tale of Mark Lundy – and the bullying he had to put up with at Palmerston North Boys High…if only his mate had a video camera.

    BE: Don and The Real Tony. Comments occasionally go into Spam. We retrieve them as soon as we notice.

  12. Don: “Great, I spend 20 minutes carefully crafting a reply and it disappears”
    …same just happened to my rant…hmmm

    JC: If the net is working slowly WordPress decides that comments are ‘spam’ and pops them into our spam filter. This has only started to happen since we upgraded our system. So apologies if your prose disappears. It will normally appear again amongst the Viagra and porn sites, and I’ll fish it out!

  13. @The Real Tony – Hey, mine reappeared, I’m sure yours will too.

  14. Thanks Don…it was a goody too if i do say so myself. I’m holding off writing it again just in case…if it doesn’t show up it was complimentary of yours and Brian’s great reminiscences.

  15. A JC: Nice to see Brian leaves you to rummage around ‘mid the viagra and porn emails…

    JC: Which is where I found this!

  16. I agree with Don.I do not agree with physical violence as a method to address problems.I was beaten senseless by three boys on my way home from intermediate.I saw the principle (actually my father did )and the entire school was given a warning.The boys never touched me again but went on to lead lives of violence.The problem lies at the begining not the end.All those boys came from broken violent homes and went on to possibly continue the cycle.Brian’s actions dealt with the symptom not the problem.The earlier this trait is recognised and publisised the better chance of treatment and a less violent society.
    Bullies in the workplace who verbalise their actions also need to be treated rather than be promoted into management.The worst workplace bullies in my experience have always been managers who use their power to express their personal inabilities.

    BE: Well, I’m not in favour of violence either, but what you’re proposing may be a counsel of perfection. Passive resistance may simply not work with many bullies who are simply encouraged to carry on with their behaviour given the lack of consequence. And, sadly, it is often too late to deal with the learned and ingrained behaviours of people with anti-social behaviours. I’m perfectly happy that I ended Nelson’s bullying of me and other kids by attacking him back. On a slightly different tack, what is perfectly clear to me is that the situation where the victims of bullying are unable to return to school, because there tormentors are still there and their safety cannot be guaranteed, is an absolute abrogation of natural justice.

  17. There is also a You Tube interview with Richard Gale (the kid picked up and slammed by Casey Heynes) in which he discusses his own experiences of being bullied over his school years. It’s possible that his brash taunting as depicted was in response to his own experience, and he was trying to compensate by targeting Casey Heynes.

    The several other examples featured in the Campbell Live slot site all appear to have a similar thread that might explain something about the mentality. In each case there is some individual difference (eg., size, appearance, race, speech impediment) that the bully takes as licence to target the victim over.

    The topic has generated much discussion about what the best way to respond is: whether to fight back or risk giving the bully license to continue.

    In a 1936 book ‘The power of non-violence’ there’s relevant discussion about the bullying mentality, re: the concept of suggestion:

    “If one man attacks another with physical violence and the victim hits back, the violent response gives the attacker a certain reassurance and moral support. It shows that the victims scale of moral values in regard to violence as a mode of settling questions is the same as that of the attacker…it makes the attacker sure of his own savoir-faire, of his choice of methods, of his knowledge of human nature and hence of his opponent” (R.B. Gregg, 1936, Routledge).

    The author expands the concept by offering a potential other response (not responding with counter violence) that surprises the attacker, because it is outside their expectations of what will occur. The respondent displays a self-controlled steady, fearless, calm attitude.

    The author refers to this as ‘moral jiu-jitsu’, and goes on to address potential objections that this is a ‘soft’ attitude, and acknowledges that ‘if one has not the special courage or discipline to resist wrong or violence without counter-violence, then I would agree (with Gandhi)it is better to be violent than cowardly’.
    (Perhaps this statement applies to Casey Heynes).

    The theme is that there is a discipline involved, and the bullying mentality can be addressed in this way if the targeted person(s) develop it.
    I’m definitely not endorsing ‘just putting up with it’ which would encourage bullying, but suggesting that perhaps targeted kids could be taught similar methods to deal with it.

    Having written all this, I hasten to add there’s much more to the book, the content of which is still regarded as applicable today.

  18. @Shaun: “The respondent displays a self-controlled steady, fearless, calm attitude.”
    There are programs that teach such responses. When I have met bullying amongst kids my first response is to the “victim”. His getting reassurance and starting to look for strategies for coping can help.

    Often the bully looks miserable rather than happy with his/her lot. Must be something in that.

  19. In reply to ‘The Real Tony':
    Oh puh-leez! Don’t vindicate Mark Lundy’s frenzied brutal murders by blaming schoolboy bullying!
    I was bullied on a regular basis in high school by a group of three and, like all the school, also experienced corporal punishment – but have not morphed into a murderous sociopath!
    Maybe that’s what’s missing these days at school: the pain and immediate impact of a caning in front of the class. Some public humiliation may belittle the bullies into line!
    But there’ll be do-gooders who claim today’s PC systems work! Well sorry, but the statistics are SERIOUSLY proving them wrong…

  20. Interesting none of the commenters have referred to the Campbell Live panel’s advice. It was as Brian has said, a blessing to watch it for the whole time.

    The key advice was to report the bullying to an adult asap. Preferably a teacher. The school DOES have options including standing the bully down for a period of time and permitting return to school under very specific conditions. If any of the conditions are breached then the bully can be expelled. From any school. Also, the school board must be involved. They represent the community and the best results come from the community level educating the bully that their behaviour is unacceptable.

    All good advice. More parents must tell their children what to do when it happens, and follow through with the school.

    BE: However, my memory of this excellent programme was that all three guests agreed that expelling the serious bully did not achieve anything. You merely exported the problem to another school. And the likely outcome was that the bully would then end up in borstal, prison etc. Unfortunately what this led to in more than once case was the victim not being able to return to school because the school couldn’t guarantee his/her safety. It’s pretty clear to me, as I suggested somewhere else that that isn’t right, that it is a breach of natural justice. It’s a law and order truism that the abused kids of today are the abusers of tomorrow, whether as bullies, people who torture animals, spousal abusers or violent offenders. The victim and the bully both need help, but helping the bully should not be at a cost to the victim.

  21. I agree that a “counsel of perfection “may be unrealistic but beating the bully only endorses the use of violence as a method of control.I agree with ianmac ,bullies have problems which need to be dealt with ,and exhibit themselves as violent antisocial actions.

  22. Brian, I wasn’t suggesting that people shouldn’t fight back, just that I dislike the attitude that it is always the thing to do and almost the duty of the victim. Every situation is different and as such there can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.

    In general, though, being bullied did give a rather uncompromising attitude towards anyone who uses favourable imbalance of power to their own ends and an absolute contempt for those who use violence casually as a way of affirming their own self-esteem. So some good came of it all.

  23. I attended a seminar paid for by cypfs in 1995 and, as a teacher, wished the ministry of education had run it as not many teachers were aware of it. A couple from the u.k.(delwyn and eva tattum) presented findings from a lifetime of research into bullying- and detailed methods they had used in schools and in prisons to counter bullying. they had cut the suicide rate at a prison, in the 90s, by ninety percent, when their programme was implemented.
    first- as far as schools go- they say-and i agree- that children have to, most usually, by law, attend school. it is therefore the schools’ responsibility to ensure physical and psychological safety for all students. they first put out a survey for all students to do, like a secret ballot, in class time and it was submitted for analysis. the survey asked if kids were bullied, type of bullying, where bullied, what time, etc. therefore hotspots for bullying could be identified so staff could patrol at time and place the bullying occurred, thereby preventing it. also, a little later, a mailbox was set up- in tandem with the lunch order box so mailers could stay anonymous and could report fears or something that was going to go down. this was all completely and absolutely confidential- and that’s what made it work. also, if a teacher saw a bully at work they did not haul victim and bully together as it caused trauma for the victim and mana for the bully.yes, i am the bully. the bully was immediately removed from the situation and a major loss of privilege or work in isolation or loss of recess,etc ensued.
    currently, as i still teach i do role play with kids so they have strategies to get along with others or deal with unwanted behaviour. fun but valuable. might sound p.c. to you guys but it is nice to have happy empowered kids at school.now we have texting, kids could more readily communicate. schools can do this fairly easily but they have to take it seriously.

  24. It seems to me that the when the bullying issue flares up it gives the bring-back-the-birch brigade the platform to call for a ‘return’ of their vision of society, a punitive, restrictive one where the bullying is carried out by those in authority.

    Names that come to mind are Garth George, whose crocodile tears mask the fact that he is on record as more or less condoning the terrible abuses that went on on the armed forces and in boy’s homes up to the 1980’s, and who thinks that gays, solo mothers, young people, etc are lesser beings. Bob McCroskie also rates a mention, who seems to think that light smacking is the same as shaving a child’s head and more or mess making him feel terrible about himeself, and of course, Mr Laws, who openly calls for mass sterilisations and think its OK for police to beat or allow a mentally ill/disabled man to be beaten.

    Anyway, I digress. I have to confess, I was a victim of school yard taunts, and at times am still affected by it to this day. For example I still feel really uneasy when people borrow my things. I know they are going to give it back, but still, its just a hangover from back then.

    Sometimes I wish I had taken the fight to my taunters, and to hell with the concequences. And I think that is the best way to deal with bullies. Stand up to them, whether they be at work, at school or in the family.

  25. bje. A great comment. I watched Kelvin Davis MP on Maori Tv last week explain in a few minutes how when he was Principal of an Intermediate School up till 3 years ago, he managed bullying. He had team of researchers baseline the problems. He had the children survey the incidence of bullying in the previous month. The 4-5 names of bullies surfaced. Parents of the bullies and teachers and BOT were involved. A year later the survey was repeated. Bullying had dropped 95%.

  26. Our younger son was bullied severely at primary school. It happened before school, during school and after school. About the only place he felt safe was at home. We got the police involved after an incident on the bus that left him with bruising. They were good and dealt with that particular bunch. The school, however, was useless. The (acting) principal basically denied there was a problem and pretty much refused to do anything. In the end after another incident on a bus, this time outside the school gate we withdrew him from the school and sent him to another. The reason being the principal was involved in the incident and basically blamed our son for what was happening and punished him. He then lied to us about what happened. The actual events were told to us by our son and others on the bus confirmed it.

    This was after we had withdrawn both our sons from another school in the same area because it had a severe bullying problem acknowledged by parents in the district but, again, denied by the school.

    This was between 1998 and 2002. I doubt that much has changed since.

    BE: Thanks for that. Discouraging but good to know.

  27. The next step after a principle has ignored your pleas is to take it to the Board of Trustees.My experience has been to keep trying until you find someone who is willing to help.There is always someone who is willing to help.

  28. Brian. Kelvin Davis has a post on Red Alert describing in his straight forward way how he handled bullying/violence at his Intermediate.
    http://blog.labour.org.nz/index.php/2011/04/06/bullying/comment-page-1/#comment-166042

  29. It was interesting to read your post The Lone Ranger comes to town – finally! A personal experience of bullying. @ Brian Edwards Media.

  30. to be fair my criticism isn’t always constructive…

  31. Nice story. I have one so similar, but separated by a few decades and many Km’s.

    My nemisis didn’t come within 50mtrs after the fat redhead (me) snapped and tore him a couple of new openings.
    When I watched Kasey the Sydney lad, I thought, he’ll feel good about this for the rest of his days – as I still do. I could actually see the flicker of pride in his eyes. Nice.

    Looking back now I think it is possible to demand “respect”… it just took a while to figure that’s what had been missing.
    Also happy to note, my personal bully finally grew out of it… when he went to prison.