When you are 11 years old and starting Secondary school, it is very important to establish who is hardest in the school. I started Haslingden High School in September 1980 and the rumours had already begun before we had even been assigned our new class. A number of names were flying around the assembly hall about who was going to be "Cock of the school", as we refer to it in England. The pupils of Haslingden high school came from a number of schools from each of the areas that made up part of the Rossendale valley. The cocks of the primary school had already been long established. The names that kept recurring were Wayne Nicholas, Linden Page, Lee Halstead and Anthony Drake -guess what? They all ended up in my class. Great, I thought here comes 5 years of bullying. Wayne Nicholas it turns out, after a month of fights becomes the undisputed heavy weight champion of Haslingden High School, probably because he was a man, whilst we were all still kids. I discover this the first time we have football practice and a communal shower thereafter.
I get off to the worst of starts with Wayne Nicholas during my very first lunch hour at the school. The incident went something like this. We had just finished lunch and I am sparking up a conversation with my new class mates. A group of us are standing outside the dining hall, discussing who is the hardest lad in the school, to which Brian Kenyon replies "It's Wayne Nicholas, without a doubt, he was the hardest guy at our school and nobody will beat him. He once had a fight with Cornflake and wiped the floor with him". Now I don't know who this Cornflake was and I will probably never find out but what I do know is that my reply was met with total disdain and aggression by Wayne Nicholas, who was unexpectedly standing behind me. My reply went exactly as follows "What! that spotty faced,carrot nosed prick". This was in reference to the acne that taken a hold of his face and his hooter, which even to this day I can only picture as a carrot. Before my words had even ejected from my lips, Wayne Nicholas had rabbit punched me to the the back of the head and I was on the floor, pleading mistaken identity. The next 5 years were spent paying for this comment, quite literally, as Wayne took it upon himself and his Hench men to turn me upside down, shake me and empty my pockets of all its coin. In retrospect Wayne was the reason that I resembled a malnourished African in my formative years because I was unable to afford to eat lunch. I only wish that I was referred to as a starving Ethiopian in these times of middle aged spread.
Needless to say, I am well down the pecking order in the hard man stakes. In fact, I am slapped to the floor by Gillian King in the pie shop queue for pushing in, during my second year. I have to retreat to the back of the queue with a red hand print on my face and a quivering lip. If it wasn't for my ferocious temper I could have escaped any fights at all during my 5 years at school but my 2 second outbursts ensured that I had 2 fights during my time at Haslingden High. To call them fights is potentially against the trades desciptions act, as both of them bore more resemblance to a a circus act.
So, here we go, fight number one. I'll start with the less entertaining of the 2. Being located in a Lancashire cotton mill town, Haslingden high school has more than it's fair share of Muslims and being the early 80s, racial tension is running high. To put it bluntly, the blacks and the whites don't mix. It is almost like self imposed apartheid by both parties. The Muslims stick to their side of the playground and the whites stick to theirs and never the twain shall meet. That is until I get into a fight with a Muslim guy in what is known as the "Quadrangle", the area between the playground and the school. I could not tell you what this fight was about, my explosive temper once again got me into a situation which I did not want to be in. If I remember rightly the person in question was actually a friend of mine. My 2 seconds of sporadic violence subsides and I find myself surrounded by at least 30 kids shouting "scrap, scrap, scrap". No idea how kids do that but as soon as their is a scrap they are there, like doggers around a Ford Mondeo. The Muslim in question is pummeling me around the head with stealth, accuracy and power, whilst I bounce off the wall, still contemplating how I got myself into this in the first place. Not being a person with a fighting mind, I am unsure how to abate this barrage of Muslim fury. My only weapon is my flexible legs, with which I attempt to kick my aggressor in the head. Unfortunately, my legs are slightly more flexible than I ever imagined and my ridiculously over extended limb becomes lodged in a yellow waste paper bin which is attached to the wall at a height of approximately 4ft. I am literally stuck in the bin with one foot, whilst the other leg is doing it's best to keep me upright, which is not easy with Mohammad Ali using your head as a speed ball. My holding leg eventually gives in and I am left hanging upside down from the bin, quite literally "white trash".
Now, if you thought that was tragic, wait till I tell you about my second fight. Once again I have no idea how this comes about but I end up in a fight that I seriously do not want to be in. This time my slogging partner is Carl Green, who happens to be a very good friend at the time. I can only predict that the fight originally came about because he took offence to me calling him "Grotchy Green", which in hindsight is of no derogatory offence to his person, only his name. Anyway, Carl does not like to be referred to as "Grotchy Green" and it has almost come to blows on several occasions.
The location for our "pummel in the playground" is behind the prefabricated buildings that double up as overspill classrooms. Once again, news of our pugilistic act spreads like wild fire around the playground and herd of kids descend upon us like a swarm of Asians at the January sales. "Scrap, scrap, scrap", they so so delightfully chant. If only they knew what was to follow, they would have changed their chants to "crap, crap, crap". Carl Green being the aggressor in this little battle, throws the first punch, which as it turns out, is the only punch in the whole charade. Before I tell you the climax to this pathetic event, I should inform that besides my flexible legs, I also possess a huge mouth to my armoury. My party trick to this day is the ability to eat a moderately sized apple in one bite, OK it's messy and convoluted but an apple in one bite none the less.
The punch is hard and fast, far too fast as it turns out, for me to close my gaping face hole. His fist flies through the air and has totally enters my whole apple eating mouth, which clenches his knuckles with a Venus fly trap like quality. That's right, his whole fist is in my mouth and out of a mixture of shock and an inability to think of a better plan, I chomp down on his hand with the force of a pit bull terrier. Grotchy, who is as shocked as I am, tries in vain to release his fist but to no avail. It is check mate. Realising that he is not going to release his hand, he begins to claw away at my inner gums, whilst I retaliate by increasing the PSI of my jaw clench. Meanwhile, the crowd are still chanting, but as news of the futile spectacle, from the inner crowd reaches the outer crowd, they begin to disperse. The bell goes to signify the end of play time and Carl Green and I are left, 2 solitary figures, joined like Siamese twins, fist in mouth. There are tears in both our eyes and I want to concede but am unable to do so because I am unable to speak. Carl, is saying "Do you concede"? and I am thinking "of course I want to concede, my mouth feels like I could eat a water melon in one bite right now, never mind a moderately sized apple". However, a fist in ones mouth does no lend itself to speech.
Eventually, a mutual agreement is reached or rather a mute ual agreement is reached, using a mixture of charades and sign language. I open my tattered mouth, to release his swollen, black, tooth marked hand. We make our way back to the next lesson, 15 minutes late. The teacher asks me why I am late, I am unable to reply.