I have a lot of time for Nick. I identify with the kind of boy he was in his early years.
I was born in 1942, and saw almost nothing of my father in my first two years. It was wartime, and he was in the Merchant Navy: and I think that was why my relationship with my mother was so close. She and I were living in Knowsley Road in Bootle, only 400 yards from Gladstone Dock (which was then the biggest dry dock in the world). The docks stretched from Gladstone Dock all the way to the Pier Head in Liverpool, and were of course a prime target for the German bombers. They weren’t that accurate, and their bombs destroyed a lot of our road. The roof was blown off our house…
When my dad came home he thought my mum had made me too soft. Apparently, I didn’t take that well to this stern stranger kicking me out of her bed. “You made such a fuss we had to slap your leg” my mother told me much later. Oh yeah? Let me guess who actually did the slapping…
I didn’t remember that, though I do remember the “smacking” all through childhood. My dad had had a tough upbringing himself and he knew no other way. I was terrified of him, and of the violence that exploded out of him if he decided my brother or I had ‘broken’ one of his many rules.
Both my parents wanted me to shine at school, and not to be “common” like the children all around us, who played out in the street. My dad didn’t go to the local pub, and we kept a shop which my mother ran because he worked long hours as a tugboat maintenance engineer with the Alexander Towing Company. He voted conservative and described our family as “upper working class”.
They sent me to Miss Pride’s Preparatory School in Litherland Park when I was four, and schooled me as rigidly as they could in what they thought was “Standard English” pronunciation – to distinguish my voice from the extremely thick local Liverpool dialect spoken all round the enclosed Englishman’s castle that was our house, and where my dad was absolute ruler. I never “played out.”
My mum confessed to me in adulthood that she thought they’d ‘overdone it’, as far as I was concerned. I was the elder, and from early childhood developed a fear of failure that has stood me in firm stead ever since.
So maybe you can imagine what it was like for me when at 5 I began attending Gray Street Primary School, which my father had attended before me, in bare feet up to the age of 11, like most of the children in Bootle during the First World War. After that basic educational experience, he had got his first job in a local chip shop picking the eyes out of potatoes…
He impressed on me how important it was to be tough: to stand up for yourself. But how could I? I certainly wasn’t tough enough to stand up to him. Not for a very long time… And only then at the cost of being declared “no longer known” at the address where – by then – he lived alone.
I was an obvious soft target, and terrified of the bullies in that Bash Street School… I still remember the name of the worst one. The one thing that kept me going was knowing that the cruel little toe-rag wouldn’t pass the scholarship and I would. Once we got to 11 years old, he would disappear with so many others like him into the hell-hole that was St George’s Secondary Modern, and I could take my chances with a fresh set of bullies in the three form entry Bootle Grammar School for Boys.
It was quite bad there too, for a while. What saved me finally was going to Boxing Club. I have to thank my dad for that, to be fair. I was a good pupil, and although I was always better at English and Languages than I was at anything else, I got pretty good at boxing quite quickly. There was some excitement at the club about how rapidly I was progressing, though I knew I had no interest in developing it any further after that blissful day when I faced down my main tormentor one day in the playground. I still remember his name as well. And when it came to it, he chickened out and wouldn’t fight me, and I never had any trouble with him after that.
So I understood Nick’s fierce joy when he found he had a power he could use to climb out of his fear pit. My childhood left me with an ingrained detestation of bullies; and when I finally became head of a large coeducational school in a deprived area of London, I worked very hard to try to ensure that no child attending that school needed ever be afraid of anyone. All any child with a problem like that had to do was to tell me, and it became my problem.
That protection extended to 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anywhere in the world.
That’s the kind of protection Gordon made available to Nick, and the kind of protection the Eight Team would like to be able to offer to everyone in the world.
Now wouldn’t that make the world a better place?