Two powerful life lessons:
- Hurt people hurt people.
- Kindness is a powerful weapon.
London Borough of Hammersmith, 1985. It was about to become Hell for Teachers, and I The Dark One, my minions aplenty. This strict, all-boys school had become a powder keg in the face of oppressive authority and ingrained tradition. Every morning, we were barely through the gates of this Gothic castle before the same, cranky teacher, Mr. Stone, would bark at us for something. “Sheridan, wipe the eye liner off!” (It was an eighties thing). We fantasized about that man’s assassination, and what it would mean to the pupil population: he’d become our very own Archduke Ferdinand murder-catalyst that triggers a century of chaos and destruction. As I glared into a restroom mirror to reapply my war paint, I asked myself, why just dream it?
A stagnant waiting line for the dining hall sparked our Glorious Revolution. Occupying a square outside the hall, at least a hundred teenage schoolboys were hungry for their daily bread, and the impatient exhale from their nostrils into the frigid air looked like dragon’s breath. I decided to exploit this discontent, and the time was right to get our demands met (though I wasn’t sure what our demands were other than mayhem). Like all revolutions, it would be triggered by terrorism, so if I were to become their leader I would need to engineer an act of terror.
I muttered rebellious remarks to the boys, told them they were acting like “a bunch of slaves,” encouraging them to start surging the waiting line, like knights besieging a castle with a battering ram, and they complied with passion. There wasn’t just strength in numbers, there was anonymity, a tactic that would soon define the radical faction of our movement. Mr. Stone, the tyrant teacher, was the lunch monitor, and he was forced to let us in despite his yelling, red face.
It had begun, but a more significant act of violence would be needed: it was time for that assassination. So, once we were all seated inside with our food, and Mr. Stone’s back was turned, from at least twenty-five yards, I fired a roasted potato at his head. It was a Hail-Mary shot, but it was a direct hit, and everyone saw it. A gravy-stained Stone yanked me by the ear, out of the masses to see the headmaster, but my subsequent crucifixion by The Cane merely made me a martyr, and the legend was set in motion.
We shut down their sterile school library and its contrived collection of books through co-coordinated attacks on the silence with “noise bombs.” A noise bomb was multiple platoons of boys yelling gibberish at different times in different locations, and then dispersing, innocently blending into bookshelves. Before the librarians could figure out what just happened, they had no weapon other than a frantic sshhhh! hissed at nobody in particular. I watched my platoons in action from the first floor balcony, nodding my head in approval, and, after this played out a few times in one afternoon, the staff closed the library in disgust.
Chemistry lessons were our best chance of burning the place down, and believe me, we tried. Methane gas taps with no tube attached were “accidentally” opened and ignited to create flamethrowers, sulphuric acid got knocked over onto textbooks (whoops), and inverted glass Petri dishes exploded like bombs when placed under the stool leg of any of our dissenters once they sat back down on it. And the genius was nobody was to blame. “Another bin fire, Sheridan? Well… everybody out! Again.”
“For the first time in the school’s history,” the headmaster hissed at one morning assembly, “the cafeteria was closed down because of the dinner ladies being bombarded with debris!” It was a fine accolade for our riot against their lousy prison food, with special thanks to our catapult “archers” who covertly operated behind a wall of innocent faces.
One teacher actually cried and walked out of a lesson, never to be seen again. We were steadily bringing the system to its knees, and our oppressor couldn’t pinpoint why.
Before registration each morning, I walked into the classroom with my arms splayed to my comrades as I walked through a salute of catapulted paper pellets. My collective of terror ran like a well-oiled machine because everyone had a purpose, based on their specialty, each individual participating in something bigger than themselves. Bullying of the weak or different became a thing of the past because we were all working together now, comrades against a common evil. The brainy kids gathered intelligence and let the other kids copy their homework, the small kids snuck into inaccessible spaces to plant devices and seize supplies, Pakistani kids taught Urdu vocabulary for encoded communications, and the rugby players ensured compliance and broke things. I approached figureheads from other classes to franchise the idea so if one cell went down another would rise up in its place. We were all equal, but a few close aides and myself were The Untouchables, directing everything, but never accountable, so the teachers couldn’t cut off the snake’s head. This wasn’t kids behaving badly; it was a movement.
But one teacher was granted amnesty from our wrath because he was seen as one of us, a.k.a. kind of cool. Mr. Bearman (his real name) drove a black Saab coupe convertible, and always wore open black shirts with a black velvet jacket, whilst other teachers wore ties and pressed suits. He had a fashionable hairstyle, and, coolest of all, it was his name shown as author on the textbooks we read. Somehow his horse’s mane hairstyle and accessories made him look more than just a history teacher trying to fit in with us. In between warning the class of repeating the mistakes of twentieth century political history, “The Bear Man” and I had these brief moments of eye contact I couldn’t explain; straddling a Roman nose, his sunken black eyes were like doorways into some place dark but necessary. It was as if he knew what I was up to and was trying to keep me corrected and focused on some purpose I had, but I didn’t know what it was, and that he couldn’t tell me less it look like favoritism. I merrily gave The Bear Man my best work in this one pocket of harmony and order. Every other class was Hell on Demand, and heat from the oppressor was turning up and towards me.
As our cause had grown more radical I could sense support from my comrades dwindling, and I wondered if I’d been betrayed on the mid-March afternoon I was sat down in front of my English Literature teacher, Mr. Watts, for a private, one-on-one meeting. He no doubt suspected it was me who had cried, “Havoc!” to let slip the dogs of war, but this parlay was going nowhere. Mr. Watts leaned against his desk, arms folded and glaring at me without saying a word. I sat at my desk and mirrored him, arms folded and glaring back, my unspoken words: Prove it and I don’t care how it was punctuated.
Mr. Watts broke the silence with a single word: “Why?” Trust an English Lit teacher to search for the hidden meaning. His question sent something hot and unwelcome bubbling up from my gut and into my head as I unconsciously attempted to answer his question. Under a furrowed brow, my bitter glare became a pitiful stare, and then I broke down into an uncontrollable torrent of tears.
Mr. Watt’s angry demeanor melted away as he hurried towards me. “What’s wrong?” he said. I howled at the ceiling tiles, “My parents are getting divorced!” (This wasn’t as common, back then, and I was the only kid in the class harboring this secret.) I sobbed against the desk, harder than before. To my surprise, the oppressor’s envoy, Mr. Watts, threw his arms around my shoulders and told me it would be okay, and that he was there for me if I ever needed anything. He dissolved my anger on the spot. I could no longer try to destroy people like Mr. Watts. So it ended. His kindness quashed The Rebellion of ‘85, a tranquilizer dart fired at my raging teen soul.
“A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.” – Proverbs 18:19
“If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat… For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” – Proverbs 25:21/2.
Note: This article is an extract from Peace of the Action- Your 7-Day Life Detox. Get your copy of this FREE 146-page book by clicking here.