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Kerry McLean: How a bully's attack on a primary school classmate still bugs me all this time later

Kids can be cruel to each other. Stock image posed by models
Kids can be cruel to each other. Stock image posed by models

By Kerry McLean

There are certain memories and the images they invoke which always stay in very sharp focus in our minds. Of course, we have the monumental occasions - big days in our lives, weddings, births, deaths - but there are also those strange little moments which, for some reason or none, stick.

I can still see the big brass box sitting at the foot of my great-granny's high-backed chair as she reached into it to fish out a humbug for me. I must have been all of two years old.

I still have a memory, as clear as day, of sitting on the toilet - lid down, you'll be relieved to hear - watching my daddy put soapy bubbles on his face from his old boar hair shaving brush before scrapping them off with his silver-handled razor, rinsing it in the sink after each stroke.

Another magical moment that's left an indelible imprint in my mind's eye comes from my teenage years working as an au pair in Brittany. I was sitting cross-legged on the beach, grabbing handfuls of white sand, just to feel the grains run through my fingers, while watching my little charges frolic at the edge of the sea.

Nothing bizarre, funny or unfortunate happened to make me remember that split second in time so clearly but yet, there it is. It's funny how the mind works.

It's probably easier to understand why one particular moment from my school days stands out. I must have been around eight years old and, as my mum was working full-time and my granny lived just around the corner, my big sister and I were allowed to walk back to her house on our own after we finished for the day at our primary school.

My granny lived, and still does, in a big housing estate. As there were loads of young families, there would regularly be a small army of us marching back home together. We'd grown up with each other, playing out on the streets almost as soon as we could stand up. We knew which of the older girls would share her sweets and who would have all the gossip on the go.

We also knew which of the boys to avoid. Some would find it funny to put itching powder down your back or flick chewed-up bits or paper at the nape of your neck. Mostly harmless, though annoying. But then there was one particular day when one of the older boys, known for being a bit of a bully, started picking on a boy in my class, first verbally, then poking and spitting on him.

Five minutes out of school and the younger boy was in floods of tears.

The older girls, including my sister, tried to speak up, to stand between the boys and make it stop, but the other lads were quiet, knowing the attack could be redirected their way instead. But that wasn't the worst thing. The elder boy spotted a bug on the pavement and lifted it up. He grabbed the smaller child's hand, put the insect on it and told him to eat it.

Luckily, an adult came into our midst, the moment was gone and the young lad escaped. But that moment, when his eyes were huge and full of horror, as he looked around at each of us for help and we, in turn, seemed to hold our collective breaths, is as sharply in focus now as it was all those years ago.

I've no idea what happened to the bully. There were other incidents when he picked on smaller children, but then he disappeared from our gang and no one seemed to know or care where he'd gone.

This week I bumped into the young lad who escaped his enforced insect snack. He's now in his mid-40s and living in Edinburgh.

He's made a huge success of his life, but I found it difficult to take in the details as we chatted. All I could think about was that one grim moment from all those years ago.

I hope it didn't leave as lasting a memory in his mind as it did in mine.

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