Monday, 12 August 2013

Under pressure. Part 2

Last week, I wrote about how I never felt any pressure at exam time.  I had the useful if unspectacular facility of doing well in academic tests.
     But this post is supposed to be about a different kind of pressure, that in physical confrontations.  I shall draw a veil over my Army boxing record, one win and two losses - in both of which I was flagrantly robbed of the verdict.  I distinctly remember my face repeatedly landing full-blooded blows on my opponent's left glove.  To my surprise, none of them counted in my favour.
     Two fights at primary school stick out in my memory.  One I would certainly have lost if it had continued; the other I definitely won.  But lately I have come to realize that the attitude I took into each encounter, the state of mind I experienced, was far more important than the outcome.  It's probable that this has become clear through my deepening understanding of the martial art mindset as I continue to practise and study tai chi chuan.
     The first was with Ronnie J.  He wasn't exactly a bully, certainly not vicious in the Flashman mould.  He was bigger than most of the class, about half a head taller than me.  I think now that his harassment of others, and it was little more than that, was his way of being noticed.  Maybe it was a way of compensating for his lack of scholastic achievement, to put it kindly.
     He had been at me all day, pushing me around, making snide remarks about my performance in the 11-plus exam.  I was the only one in our year to get a place at the Grammar School. As we left at the end of the day, he gave me one final shove that almost sent me sprawling out of the door onto the pavement.  I remember clearly the anger I felt.  It truly was a "red mist" moment.  I turned and went for him with no sense of fear, just a desire to get in a few punches at his smirking face.  I remember I had to strike upwards to get at him.
     I remember too the look of surprise, almost hurt, on his face.  It was like, "What did I do?  Why are you having a go at me?" To defend himself from the onslaught of this furious dwarf, he stuck out a fist, using his longer reach, and caught me full on the nose.  It started spouting blood - as noses tend to do when they meet a fist - but that didn't stop me.  By that time, some mothers waiting for their children to appear had seen the fracas and ran over to haul us apart.
     In the second encounter ( I believe it was only a week or so after the first) I was surprised that I felt no anger at all.  I was heading home from school when I heard a shout behind me, "Hey, you - Wells!"
     I turned.  It was Richard W.  This one did have a reputation as a bully, so my brother informed me later.  I hardly knew him.  He wasn't in my class, I'm sure.  He started shouting but I couldn't make out what he was saying.  There was no reasoning with him.  He seemed angry about something but I didn't know what. He pushed me, I pushed him off, then he started with his fists.
     This one was as long as the other was short.  It didn't have the Cinemascope effect of the classic rough-and-tumble between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen in "The Quiet Man", which ranged up hill and down dale over a good acreage of the West of Ireland.  But it seemed to last for a good ten minutes, first on the path across The Meadows, then out onto the road, a quiet cul-de-sac, past the home of the twins, Nita and Nesta, where the hollyhocks bloomed, back and forth across the street, past Gerald Bowering's house. Then we turned up the rough track which led to three identical houses, in one of which the fearsome figure of Alec the gardener held sway like Mr Macgregor in "Peter Rabbit".  A crowd of homegoing kids followed the action.
    That's where I finally got the upper hand.  He was getting hurt and I wasn't.  He turned away.  I landed another couple of punches on his back, just to show I could keep going if he was up for it.
     He wasn't.  I ignored him and went home.  He never bothered me again.  I still don't know what the fight was about.  Perhaps he thought he could "do a Ronnie" on me.
     Was that the start of my "cool" approach to confrontation - and to life in general?

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Under pressure - in exams, in fights

Every year I watch with amazement the television coverage of schoolchildren squealing with delight and hugging each other as they discover the results of their A Level exams - or whatever they call them now. Somehow the cameras never catch the poor souls weeping in the corner or putting their heads down the toilet.  The old-school cynic in me might suspect that almost everyone passes, getting lucky in the multiple choice world of modern education.  The media cynic in me might suspect that the presence of TV cameras could have something to do with it.  (I'll be sitting my Grumpy Old Man Finals soon.)

     When I were a lad, such displays of emotion were never seen.  A well-hidden inner glow of success, maybe, or a carefree "What the hell, I'm going to be a mechanic, anyway" was about all you would get.  So it would seem that "coolness" about success was endemic then.  Or maybe the others hid their elation or despair better than kids do today.  I can honestly say that I just accepted the fact that I was reasonably gifted academically.  Later it became clear to me that I was particularly good at passing exams, and that was probably because I never fretted over the results, never felt any pressure.

     Boys who did well at exams, the swots, could become targets for bullies.  Looking back, perhaps I should be grateful to John K, who came out top of the class, every year, every month it seemed, whenever there was an academic test of any kind in almost any subject.  My main claim to fame was that I was always coming second to him - except for one year.

     The odd thing is that John knocked around with, and seemed to outsiders to be part of, the JPS gang. The stories that went around about some of the indignities he suffered at their hands could bring tears to your eyes, tears of imaginative empathy rather than sympathy with his plight.  Our laughter was as cruel in its way as the homo-erotic bullying itself.  On one occasion it was rumoured that a coat of shellac was applied to parts of his person.  It was bragged of, to much merriment, as "adding lustre to his cluster".

     The one year when JK did not do well, in fact I don't believe he gained top marks in even one subject, was, sadly, our final year at school, when almost everyone was pushing for university entrance grades.  Had the bullying had an effect (other years had not suffered) or had his own or his parents' expectations pushed him too hard?  In that year, I came out top dog, getting top marks in the school in two subjects, while nobody else managed more than one.

     The school mag records that he came back next year and did as well as he had habitually done, gaining a scholarship.  Good for him.  You'll have to look back through this blog to see how my Uni career came off the rails, or rather didn't get off the starting blocks, to mix a metaphor.  (I went to a Grammar School, as you can tell.)

    Time has caught up with me, as it usually does of a Sunday evening, so both my readers will have to wait till next week for the "fights" part of this post.  One I won and one I lost, but the attitude I took into each encounter is more important than either result.

     Coolness rules, OK.