Where was I when my friend really needed me?
"A FRIEND in need is a blasted nuisance," so goes the corrupted version of the saying. What the phrase in its original form does is to turn this colloquialism around.
"A friend in need is a friend indeed," is a statement that the ones who stand by you in times of trouble are those whom you can truly regard as friends.
With this in mind I failed a good friend completely through self-interest when I was needed, and the real shame of the matter was that a quiet word from me in the appropriate ears would probably have stopped the whole thing before it really had the chance to get going.
I bottled the opportunity out of fear – fear that I myself may well have become a target for the sort of abuse and ridicule which was heaped upon someone who had befriended me as a stranger to the area when I was nine years old.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
By that time the bullying, for that is what it had become, had spread throughout the school and I could well have stopped it from even germinating – I didn't.
Dad's job was relocated when I was halfway through junior school and we had to move with it. This took me away from family and all the friends with whom I had grown up. It was a time of major upheaval when you are nine going on ten, and I looked forward with trepidation to my first day at a new school where all the other pupils knew each other and I, as a newcomer, was the focus of interest for some 250 minds.
Mum and Dad took me in that first morning and the headmaster was a welcoming friendly face. My parents were assured that I would be well looked after and one of the boys in what was now "my year" was summoned to take me to my class.
Mr Hardy, the headmaster, had the kind of comically stern manner which he carefully cultivated towards the children and they obviously loved him for it.
"Ah, Hawksworth come here, boy!"
David Hawksworth was two weeks older than me, about my height, bespectacled and with light brown hair. He stood to attention in mock response to the command.
"Take Peter Nelson to Mrs Graham's class, lad, and don't lose this one. It took us ages to find the last unfortunate we trusted to your care."
David smiled at this clear attempt to ease me into the comfortable routine of Seddon Street School and my worried expression at Mr Hardy's words. One look back at the head told me that this would be the start of two wonderful years and the beginning of a friendship which was to last for seven before I managed to completely ruin it by abandoning a friend in his time of need.
There may have been a combination of factors which conspired to marginalise David at secondary school. His dad had been injured in an accident at work which affected the family income, and I know that for quite a while things were financially tight for all of them.
His grandmother died shortly after the move and I noticed that he developed a marked nervous twitch. Things like that tend to get picked up by new classmates, particularly from a competing school in the area which acted as a feeder to the grammar.
That in itself became noticed by new faces, their comments reverberated quickly around the place and were adopted by older pupils who started following us around at break times and lunch.
To his credit, David ignored it all at first but when something happens every day from the start of lessons until you go home, I suppose it can be wearing. His ignoring of the taunts only served to inflame the bullies and I left him alone to his fate one afternoon after school.
I knew then and there that I had lost the trust of my closest friend and it was to be a further three weeks before he even spoke to me again.
Normal practice was that I called for him on the way to school and we would catch the bus together, but suddenly he was not ready when I knocked at the door and I would leave alone. He then went to a different stop and took to sitting in the upper area of the bus.
He avoided me at school and started spending time alone in the library at breaks and lunch. This, of course, went down very well with the teaching staff. However, it only served to exacerbate the situation as he became known as a swot and that gave rise to more bullying, and even at this stage I could probably have done something about it.
David's parents could not afford a telephone, so the only means of getting in touch was for me to actually walk to their house. I tried this on a number of occasions, and although his mum and dad were aware of our falling out and what had caused it, they took great pains not to become involved.
I let the matter ride for a couple of weeks, but in the end my dad told me that if I valued the friendship I should meet the problem head-on.
David's weekends were always taken up with football on the recreation ground and I had always been welcomed. Taking dad's advice I walked down there one Saturday to find a game in progress.
Normally latecomers were just told to join one particular team and the match carried on. This time was different. They spotted me early and everything stopped as I walked on to the field. It was clear that I was not welcome any more, and David came running up from the other end of the pitch as Big John approached me.
"Leave it, Johnnie!" he shouted, "It's my problem."
He was too far away and I never saw the punch coming. The next thing I recall was looking up into a blue sky with a number of very angry faces staring down at me.
"Think you're clever, don't you? Mates are supposed to stick together. That's what we do around here."
A sharp kick in the ribs reinforced the point, followed up by several handfuls of dirt scraped off the pitch. David arrived too late to prevent the assault and broke past John's attempt to hold him back.
"I'm really sorry about that, but you shouldn't have come. It's lucky for you that they don't know all of what's happened," he said.
I got up, dusted myself down and wiped the blood from my lip where the punch had landed. I tried to explain that we still needed to talk and that I wasn't prepared to let our friendship die without a fight, but his reply shut the door firmly in my face.
"You should have thought of that weeks ago. I gave you enough opportunities to tell what happened, but you bottled it. I would have stood by you without a second thought, and if you were as much of a friend as you thought, you would have done the same."
He walked slowly away and went back to the game, leaving me standing alone and friendless. Suddenly, I knew exactly how he had been feeling all that time. It was the last time we played football again and even at school there always seemed to be an injury which prevented him joining in.
I had to smile though when he got his revenge on the lot of them in one go, and it must have given him endless pleasure even through a considerable amount of pain.
The school team had been selected to play a trial match against the newly formed county under-15s, and the regular goalkeeper was on holiday. Those who had perpetrated the dressing room slashing of David's uniform were playing that day, and must have thought that he had been put firmly in his place.
His reliability between the sticks had never been in question, but when a clash with the county centre forward resulted in a dislocated finger David was clearly in some pain.
An appeal to the games master went unanswered and as the finger swelled up, his willingness to handle the ball diminished and the opposition quickly cottoned on. A 15-0 drubbing ensued and he was the only school player to leave the pitch smiling. A hairline fracture was the result of the accidental clash, and the games master was reprimanded for his lack of attention. David never played for the team again.
So here I sit now, years later, waiting for my interview appointment, an unemployed English teacher with a family, a mortgage and a credit card debt. The screening panel consists of the headmaster, the head of English, the chairman of the board of governors and the finance manager, one David Hawksworth. I want the job, and if ever there was a time for a friend in need, it is now – ironic, isn't it?