APPEASEMENT DOESN’T WORK
... well, not for me it doesn't
Four-time Walkley Award winning political commentator and Churchill Fellow, has returned to the fray over concern that the integrity of news dissemination is continually being threatened by a partisan media.
I went to school at Lloyd Street State School in East Malvern, two minutes’ bike ride from home. I kept to myself and had no friends. I longed to kick a footy but the kids only kicked it to each other.
I was very shy and pissed my pants a lot at school because I was not game to ask the teacher, Mrs Greentree, if I could I be excused.
She would read us ‘The Faraway Tree’ while we sat enchanted on the floor. Mrs Greentree had long black hair, pale skin and very dark eyes. I always sat in front of her so I could see the tops of her stockings when she crossed her legs. I actually saw a suspender one day but I never got to see her knickers.
I must have reached the age of around eight and my status at school had not improved. I was still introverted, extremely self conscious and the other kids would give me one hell of a time. I recall my school bag and its contents reeking of the onion and tomato sandwiches I had each day for lunch.
There were about ten kids who used to hang out together with a ringleader called Titch. They would take my lunch and kick it to each other. This went on for a whole year. I hated school.
One day I was sitting on the wooden bench in a corner of the yard attempting to be inconspicuous so I could get to eat some of my lunch before Titch and his mates found me. As usual, they did find me and took my lunch. They were pulling my sandwiches apart and laughing at the contents when I stood up, without thinking, and said, “Give that back!”
That’s when things started to deteriorate.
Titch emerged from the pack with all the other kids behind him yelling for him to “get” me.
Titch was the renowned tough kid of the school. He wasn’t that big but he had a confident strut and was thick set. His voice was trying to break prematurely and it crackled. His blond hair was stiff and stringy. He was the man.
With all these kids telling him to get me, I knew there was no way that Titch would be backing down. He walked straight up to me with teeth bared. I knew I had reached a watershed in my life. He looked like a giant.
I saw myself on the asphalt, bleeding and badly injured. I was going to get the shit beaten out of me anyway, so I determined there and then to do some damage before I went down. This was a unique thought for me.
I had never shown aggression before. I always knew the capability was bubbling in my gut but I only allowed it to simmer because I feared the consequences of following through with retaliation.
I was happy to be well away from the popular fulcrum of the schoolyard. I was strong, much stronger than any of these kids. I had legs like lamp-posts from peddling my bike with huge hessian saddles full of morning newspapers.
So far I had dodged altercations, I didn’t like fights, but it was starting to cost me. My extremely religious parents’ instructions were to always walk away, but it wasn’t working. My unwillingness to respond violently had invited endless attacks from those who knew I was an easy mark.
It had become a burden I was no longer prepared to carry.
I was f***ng mad for once. I had years of lost sandwiches to make up for. I was shaking and must have been as white as a sheet as Titch got to within punching distance. I was astonished to see he was nervous too. His bottom lip was quivering. “Maybe Titch doesn’t want to bash me”, I thought. “Maybe he needs to be this aggressive to hold his position as leader of the pack. Maybe I could be his friend.”
His teeth were green and his breath stank. His voice was still crackling as he said, “Oh yeah, and what are you goin’ to do about it?”
They had hit me in the face before, many times, and it had left a buzzing sound. I could feel exactly where the first punch would land this time. It would be in my stomach. My muscles were tense in anticipation.
Fights between kids at school usually started with a lot of verbal and physical posturing but this time I decided to skip the shadow boxing stuff and go straight for his sneering face.
I swung first and quick, without any notice, straight at his bared teeth. I felt the impact of my fist landing on hard teeth and soft tissue. I heard something crack. It was a tooth. It was swinging by a thread from Titch’s gum. There was a contorted, shocked look on his face as he slumped to his knees on the asphalt. I had also broken his nose, I think. He began to bleed.
I looked at my hand to see my little finger on my right hand was completely mangled. I wondered if the cracking sound was my finger.
Titch was holding his face, screaming, with 9 or 10 other incredulous kids looking down at their hero in disbelief. There was a strange silence, like we had moved from the pretend world into the real one.
No-one, including me, knew what to do.
Titch the mighty was on the ground on his knees crying, holding his face with blood streaming from between his fingers and it was all too much to take in. No-one retaliated. It somehow, eerily, didn’t seem appropriate.
I walked off trying to straighten my little finger which was skewed at right angles.
From that day on, my life was a different life.
Word of the fight (well, it wasn’t really a fight, just one punch) spread like wildfire through the school. I was instantly popular. Everyone wanted to know me.
The other kids actually kicked the football to me, I became a leader and some time later I even became friends with Titch, who was actually a top bloke.
No-one ever stole my lunch again... we had far more important and exciting things to do than steal kids’ lunches. And did we ever!
So, now each time I pick up a pen I’m reminded that appeasement doesn’t work.