In a change of tack for a blog, which should usually be taken as seriously as a beach ball, I want to talk about the “lost boys” from school. Of course The Lost Boys starred Kiefer Sutherland, and came out in 1987, a time when he appeared in everything but your breakfast cereal. This time I’m not referring to a gang of vampires who never grow up, but the pupils who disappeared during our school days,
Bullying was something endured at my school. We were picked on as a group rather than individually, which resulted in a strange sort of camaraderie among us, and made it bearable. I first heard the pneumatic drumbeat of New Order’s Blue Monday when it was beaten onto our heads by a six former using a metal-tipped, marching stick. Even now I wish it hadn’t been the extended 12″ mix. The pain was excruciating, yet the song was (literally) drummed into me with such effectiveness that to this day I remain a fan of New Order, although less so of marching sticks. We were fortunate not to be picked on individually, and I presumed no one was. But I‘m beginning to fear my assumption was wrong.
Parenting is about letting go. It’s like de-compression in deep sea diving. You gradually introduce the wider world to your child from the safety of a secure home environment. For the infant, life begins as an extension of the mother. As psychotherapist Donald Winnicott said, “there’s no such thing as a baby.” The mother slowly withdraws, allowing the child to explore other relationships with father and siblings. The toddler is cocooned in the home with close family, while the wider world is kept at bay. Slowly, the sometimes horrifying, larger world is introduced via – nursery, primary school, secondary. But for some children the world can be too much. It can be too cruel, too unforgiving and too uncaring.
At our school, some pupils left for the summer and never came back. On our return to the next year, amongst the flurry of choosing the right shoes, identifying which subjects the attractive girls had chosen before copying them, and asking barbers to cut your hair to match Chris Lowe’s on the Pet Shop Boys’ Actually album cover, those boys who didn’t return often went unmissed. The quieter, more timid types who had suffered individual bullying silently and stoically could not face another year, and retreated back to their home nest, or the hope of another school. Perhaps with an over-involved mother, who in a desperate attempt to protect her injured child, did all she could to prevent it from occurring again, closing the doors on the outside world. The lost boy retreating to the safety of parents, who begin to age. And who eventually, behind the net curtains, he begins to care for in their frailty. His life orbiting around a dying star, which at its death, leaves him utterly unequipped to deal with the loss, or the wider world. He’s lost all he had, maintained no friends, or job. He remains in the empty family home, behind the curtains, living on soup and surrounded by the ghosts of love; lonely and scared and scarred.
The lost boys are among us, not vampires, but existing in half-lives, still trapped in the mesh and consequences of adolescent bullying, while the perpetrators live on in ignorance to the consequences of their irresponsible actions. It is for these folk that I became a social worker. These people need the support of the welfare state and to whom society has a duty of care. The welfare state was never intended to be a lifestyle choice, but should always be doing all it can to support those too meek or damaged to compete in a high achieving, cut-throat society. The welfare state, and our own individual acts of kindness, should be an extension of a family’s love, and which reassures those in need that they are not entirely alone; that there is a nest. That the school bully might be paying tax to afford a welfare state is a sweet twist of fate.