Eat This, Jumbo Mercer! By Trevor Plumbly

As you get older, you tend to reflect on the people who influenced your early life. Looking back, I can honestly say that Jumbo Mercer made a major impact in my formative years, but then if Stephen King had attended the same school he’d have had an impact on him too. Despite the nickname, Jumbo wasn’t fat; he was stocky, confident and showy, whilst I was skinny, nervous and introverted. Bullying in English single sex schools at that time was as much a part of the curriculum as the ‘three Rs’: they even gave badges and titles to some of those thugs to elevate them even higher above the norm.

Jumbo and his prefect mates were selectively cruel and stalked their prey with a sort of Dickensian menace. If you weren’t a member of Jumbo’s gang, the best thing to do was to maintain a low profile, but achieving that required a degree of cunning. According to the available literature, ‘cunning’ was restricted to foreign natives or petty criminals and therefore not a desirable talent, but what the hell! Bugger popularity, I just wanted an injury-free school career.

Realising that safety in numbers wouldn’t work (weedy kids en masse are, after all, still weedy kids), Billy Edwards and I formed the underground resistance. Knowing that Jumbo’s attention span wasn’t capable of sustaining the thrill of the chase for too long, we kept on the move at break times, leaving the stationary targets to cop it. Sports were no problem: if Jumbo was in goal, you either missed or provided an opportunity for a spectacular save. Taking his wicket, or scoring too many runs from his bowling, might feel good at the time, but it carried a later cost. The classroom was my biggest problem: answering questions too quickly or too often, along with teacher recognition, made you a smartass. Jumbo never achieved smartass status and inflicted all manner of punishment on those who did. So average or just below was the healthiest place to be on the class ladder.

Looking back I remember the most frequent comment on my reports was: ‘Trevor is capable of doing better’. Of course I bloody well was! I just preferred life without torment and warped humiliation rites, as opposed to a couple of gold stars and a scholarly pat on the head. The years have mellowed my thoughts of Jumbo. I forgive the Chinese burns, the chewing gum in my hair, stolen lunches and all the other petty cruelties, but in turn, I hope I am forgiven for grassing on his gropings with Spotty Simpson’s sister behind the bike shed, for sabotaging his homework whilst he was out torturing some other poor little sod, and for spitting in the cheese and pickle sandwiches before he and his mates ripped them off me.

Billy’s and my resistance never won the battle, but after all the years I can still see Jumbo passing through the school gates, pushing a bike with two punctured tyres, clutching a satchel full of C marked homework. Some schooldays really are the best days of your life!

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