Daily Mail journalist and former editor of Cosmopolitan, Leah Hardy usually does articles like "The bling and bargain store: it sells everything from diamonds to loo rolls - no wonder Coleen's joined the hordes heading to Costco", "Wrinkles, cellulite, even stretch marks - there's a laser treatment that'll combat just about everything", "why airbrushing skinny models to look healthy is a big fat lie", "how to apply fake eyelashes properly" and "the snampoo and set has never been more fashionable". So one imagines she must have felt pretty deeply to lift herself out of her cosy, pointless rut and pen the following little number ...
For most of the day, the number 70 bus trundles peacefully through some of the nicest parts of London - from leafy, suburban Ealing, via the million-pound houses of Notting Hill to the elegant stucco terraces of Kensington.
Yesterday, on a sunny, peaceful afternoon, I sat quietly reading a newspaper on this bus, with a variety of ordinary, mostly middle-aged people like me. Then the doors opened - and all Hell broke loose.
A tidal wave of children, fresh out of their local comprehensive, poured onto the bus, jostling and fighting, deliberately pushing passengers aside, pressing the emergency alarms and screaming obscenities. Girls lolled against doors, chewing gum and swearing loudly.
Two of the 'children' - the ringleaders who looked about 25 but were probably 16 - were as tall as adult men, with dreadlocks, incipient beards and trousers worn to show their underpants topped with an approximation of school uniform. They swore loudly, especially at the driver when he had the temerity to ask them to stop pressing the alarm, and stared challengingly around the bus, daring any of us to stare back. We all looked away. A gentle-faced Muslim woman in a headscarf shrank back against the side of the bus, flinching at the vile language.
In front of me sat two small, bespectacled boys wearing neat versions of the same school uniform. They had got on at the previous stop, presumably to avoid sharing a bus stop with this rabble. They stared fixedly at the floor. I realised, with a sense of shock, that we were all - old and young, male and female - scared stiff of a bunch of kids.
And how they revelled in it. Dripping with a terrifying self-confidence (all those lessons spent raising self-esteem as opposed to teaching, say, history had clearly paid off) and steeped in the toxic culture of 'respect' and entitlement, these kids knew they were the untouchables.
'This is so stressful,' I whispered to the middle-aged Asian man next to me. 'Yes, it is,' one of the small boys said. 'And it is like this every single day.'
A boy, aged about 13, plonked himself down beside the two small boys. They didn't say a word. Then suddenly one of the ringleaders approached this lad - who was also wearing the uniform - and started slapping him around the head.
The boy, confused, put out his hand to stay the blows. The older boy glared at him. 'Are you touchin' me? Are you disrespecting me? Take your hands off me or I will do something to you,' he hissed.
I felt my heart rate soar. The boy removed his hand quickly, only for the blows to start again. 'Please stop, I don't like it,' he pleaded. 'What are you going to do about it? Are you threatening me?' was the retort. I turned to the man next to me and said: 'This is awful.' He nodded.
Then things stepped up. The boy who had been hit got up to get off the bus. 'You ain't going nowhere until I say so,' said his tormentor, blocking his way, as the other kids cackled with pleasure at this psychological terrorism. The doors closed.
The same happened at the next stop. Then something in me snapped. I felt sick and angry at myself for being frightened of these yobs. I imagined my own son being bullied and nobody daring to intervene and my mothering instinct took over. I stood up, rang the bell so the driver would open the doors, looked the boy-as-big-as-a-man in the eye and said, calmly: 'Let him get off the bus now.'
He was astounded. Clearly, being spoken to by an adult like this was a new experience. 'Why is you interfering?' he demanded. 'What's it got to do with you? I'm teachin' him a lesson.'
'This is unacceptable,' I said, adrenaline coursing through me. 'It is bullying. I want you to let him off the bus now.' In the stand-off, the younger boy slipped under his tormentor's arm and scuttled off the bus. The older boy said to me: 'F***ing mind your own business.' My hands were dripping with sweat. And yet he looked deflated.
I sat back down, my heart racing and asked a child what school they went to. He told me. 'What you tellin' her for?' the ringleader demanded. Then, rightly surmising that I planned to complain, he sneered: 'I don't care. I'll tell you the head's name if you like.' Clearly, he was familiar with her office, but, equally clearly, she held no terrors for him.
Eventually, the bus disgorged its yobbish cargo and it was quiet again. A well-dressed woman in her 30s sighed: 'I have to travel on this bus regularly and it happens every time.'
'I can't believe I was the only person to say anything,' I exclaimed. 'I tried once,' she replied, 'with a man who was probably in his 70s and we asked them to stop swearing. They punched him. I asked the driver to throw them off the bus, but apparently he's not allowed to do that because they are "just children" and he doesn't call the police because they won't do anything because they are "just children".'
I felt shocked. No wonder these kids felt entitled to do anything they liked. They could do anything they liked. But there was to be a further shock. I heard one of the well-behaved children address a fellow passenger as 'miss'.
A teacher? I stared at her in disbelief. 'Do you know these kids?' I asked. 'Yes, I work at the school,' she said.
'But you didn't do anything,' I stuttered. I thought of my Seventies and Eighties schooldays and the vigorous response of my old teachers to bad behaviour and quailed at the thought. But the teacher was unrepentant. 'I will deal with it professionally in the school,' she replied. To which I said: 'But that doesn't help the kids who are being bullied and the passengers who are being pushed around. Why are you scared to speak to your own pupils?'
She looked huffy and defensive. 'I'm not scared, but it's not professional. I will deal with it professionally tomorrow,' she repeated.
Now, I'm honestly not a teacher basher. I adore my own children's kind and committed teachers at their London state primary school. I certainly don't envy anyone who has to try to teach Shakespeare to quasi-adult thugs like these. It must be the toughest job in the world. But it cannot make that job any easier if your pupils know you are too craven to ask them to stop bullying each other or intimidating members of the public while they are in school uniform. How can you expect to command the kids' respect in the classroom if they see you sitting silent outside it?
Of course, the teachers aren't to blame. The blame must lie with lazy parents, a culture that venerates foul-mouthed oiks, a music business that promotes the concept of unearned 'respect' in violent lyrics and videos, and adults who are too scared to challenge children's behaviour. I think we need to start reclaiming our public places, buses, trains and the values of a civilised community.
Later, I looked up the school's Ofsted report and was unsurprised to see it had a 'good' rating and was praised for its excellent 'pastoral care' of pupils. Yet it was clear that bullying was rife. I pitied any conscientious child trying to learn in the shadow of such thugs. As for me, I hope I will continue to have the courage to stand up to yobs.
And when, in three years' time, I need to choose a secondary school for my son, I shall ignore Ofsted reports and instead travel on the bus that passes the school at 3.30pm. I suspect it gives a rather more accurate picture.
The GOS says: She's being too kind to the teacher on the bus. This is a disgusting display of cowardice. But while one must condemn teachers' failure to contain the rising tide of disorder and disrespect (to use the term in its proper context this time) in and near schools, and should also condemn the politically-motivated left-wing sociological tinkering that is at the root of that failure, one must also acknowledge that teachers have got a pretty good excuse for keeping quiet: almost one in four teachers in this country has been a victim of violence, according to a survey by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
And three years ago the Guardian had this to say: "Two-thirds of teachers in the UK have been physically or verbally assaulted in the past year, with 17% threatened in incidents involving weapons, according to new research. Almost all teachers (99%) said they had been verbally abused by their pupils in the past year, with 74% claiming it happened at least once every two or three weeks. Over 20% of teachers had been verbally or physically assaulted by a parent or guardian, with 6% falling victim to an intruder in the school."
When searching on the internet for some figures about this, I stumbled on a website from Canada. There, the number of teachers reporting assaults or threats by pupils was 4% in the country and 7% in cities.
either on this site or on the World Wide Web.
Copyright © 2010 The GOS