Rock Climbing With The School Bully, Part III: Life Skills

Public service announcement: For the benefit of foreigners, Minstrels are a British confectionery staple consisting of chocolate in chocolate shell. They are wonderful and if, once my scheduled MRI scan has happened, it turns out that I do indeed have peripheral arterial disease, they will be in no small part responsible. Je ne regrette rein, except not eating more of them.

While acknowledging that we are mid-way through a story of childhood confectionery theft to illustrate a series of connected posts on the theme of bullying to, in turn, highlight the need for the establishment of a new trade union for non-clinical NHS staff, I sometimes wonder if stealing cars is still a thing. It was a national sport when I was growing up, especially in Canning Town. In case you are unfamiliar, this is a part of London where, traditionally, West Ham fans are made. Not now, obviously, as it’s all organic bakeries and Guardian readers and pronouns and what not, but for decades it was wall-to-wall claret and blue and an almost comically criminal place. Well-liked local notables included Mono and his dog Trio, who only had four legs between them, and Frank the Wank, a harmless man with an unfortunate muscular affliction that made him appear to be constantly nursing a tremendous invisible phallus.

The most Canning Town crime ever happened to an acquaintance of mine at some point in the 1990s. He was surveying a roof prior to doing some work or other when he noticed an urchin trying to break into his van, parked below. When the urchin failed to heed shouted warnings and threats, my acquaintance ascended to pavement level and remonstrated with him further. Unmoved, the urchin replied ‘OK mate, what’s happening here is that I am going to steal your van, and you are going to watch me’. With this, he forced the driver’s side door, hot wired the steering column and made good his escape. My acquaintance said that what annoyed him most was that he didn’t even bother to hurtle away in a cloud of screeching tyre smoke, but drove off within the speed limit, stopping at some nearby traffic lights in accordance with the Highway Code, whereupon he could be heard adjusting the radio and hurling an unwanted CD from the offside passenger window.

(On the subject of car crime, the Ford Sierra became legendary at our school due to a manufacturing fault that made the windscreen easy to pop out and sell on, due to the rubber surrounds expanding with a blast from a hairdryer. You could also bypass the central locking systems of the day, which operated on compressed air, by cutting a tennis ball in half and banging it against one of the door locks. Also, pretty much everyone knew how to open padlocks with spanners, and how to distill cyanide gas from silk. Not that everyone went around doing that stuff all day, of course, but still. Life skills, mate.)

My Minstrels were stolen by Nat Baker with the same efficient nonchalance as a roofer’s van in Canning Town. I’m sure he just said ‘I’m having those’, and fucked off with them. I tried to wrestle them back in a rough-and-tumble kind of a way, but was restrained by one of his huge hands appearing on my black Lyle and Scott jumper, along with some nonsense threat like ‘Right. After school’ as if this was Grange Hill or something. I don’t recall feeling nervous during the intervening afternoon, perhaps presuming that our respective legal teams would sort it out. I do, however, recall being told I was going to be ‘marmalised’ – the only time I have heard this preserve-based adjective – and being advised to feign epilepsy as a result.

Incidentally, I offered to do this a couple of decades later at Joe’s wedding in order to have the ceremony waylaid, the shamefully inaccurate consensus being that this would be a good idea, if only so I could sober up enough to do my speech. In neither event did I do this, however, so did indeed find myself facing marmalisation over some Minstrels and, a couple of decades later, witnessed Joe’s wedding taking place as planned and on schedule. On one of these occasions, though, I had a sharpened compass point in my pocket as an aid to any stabbing-in-the-face opportunities that may arise. (I should point out that by ‘compass’ I mean the technical drawing instrument, not the navigational aid, because on neither occasion would knowing where magnetic North was have been any help whatsoever.)


Main: Truth in advertising. Not sure where this was taken. Tottenham I think.

Top: Unused Ministry of Kitchenware apron labels. I miss the Ministry of Kitchenware, and intend to bring it back as an online store in 2023. Most of the old manufacturing plant still works, and it’s just sitting there and everything.

Lower: Old publicgriefjunkie t shirt label, found by my current girlfriend in a drawer in our haunted bookshop of a house.

2 responses to “Rock Climbing With The School Bully, Part III: Life Skills”

  1. Been reading your blog for a number of years and have to say how much I enjoy it. Now living in Australia I grew up in a vast Council estate in north east London and have worked in healthcare in both England and Australia for the last 30 years. Your musings therefore resonate greatly with me. On the subject of car theft…I had a school teacher in the 1980’s who lived in Leytonstone, he complained that his car got stolen from outside his house one Saturday night, reported it stolen only to find it returned to its regular spot in his street the following Tuesday. This happened several times apparently until finally being returned to him permanently after which the engine blew unexpectedly whilst travelling down the M11. Just thought I’d share that, keep up the good work and be assured that a blog post from Runton brightens up the clusterfuck that is modern healthcare

    • In Leytonstone in the 80s, your teacher was lucky that he didn’t get his house stolen from outside his car, really. Someone was probably borrowing thr car to, I dunno, pop up to see family in Yorkshire, and then just bringing it back. Stuff like that used to happen in that part of London, it was quite a surreal place. Would’ve been nice to get it MOT’d before giving it back for good but you can’t have everything.

      Yes, healthcare is bananas alright. I sort of hatelove my job, like most of my immediate colleagues. In many respects, the NHS is more like a cult than anything else, and the longer my nurse training goes on, the less inclined I am to be an actual nurse. Being a ward nurse looks awful, although being a radiology nurse, which is where I am at the moment, is more of a larf and you can muck about quite a bit, which is something I suppose. I’d like to end up in midwifery but we’ll have to see. To be honest, I’m more into the idea of unionising the lower-band staff, as it will give me something to do between x-rays and, as a by-product, save the NHS.

      Anyway. Thanks very much for the kind words, and I hope everyone in your hospital just gets better and goes home.

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