Authors: Carl Merritt
All my feelings of grief, loss, relief, guilt, anger and helplessness came out as I pounded the pavement through the driving rain that miserable day. I ran straight through puddles without even hesitating. I shed tears, torn by the sadness of not having a father around to help and support me.
I eventually ran into West Ham Park, more than a mile from home. It was about midday and there I was, a barefooted waif charging across the park as if I had a firework up my arse. I remember it was very muddy and my feet were caked in the stuff.
I found a quiet bench, sat down and sobbed. I just wanted to get away from all the violence and unhappiness. What was it about men that made them bring violence into our home? Around this time I’d realised most of the families round our way were in just as much chaos. Poverty and domestic bliss don’t exactly go hand in hand, do they?
Eventually, darkness started to fall in the park and I began shivering. What could I do? I didn’t want to go back to that bastard Terry, so I stayed put. Eventually my older brother John turned up with Terry. I felt like screaming blue murder at them, but what was the point? I shrugged my shoulders and eventually walked home with them but I refused to talk to Terry, who glared at me for the entire journey. I really hated his guts. Our war was only just beginning …
ith my nasty ‘stepdad’ Terry on the scene it seemed like my mum had gone from one waster to another. Dad was well upset that Terry was going out with Mum because they’d been mates since school. Terry was always tense whenever my dad turned up to see us. But when I look back on it, Terry was tense all the time. He was tall with blondish hair and a broken nose, and always looked a bit mad, if you know what I mean. He was always ducking and diving and I think that’s why he flew off the handle so easily. He’d been inside, where he’d met some right hard geezers. I reckon he was watching his back because other villains were after him. Yet for all his hard ways, he wasn’t much of a boozer.
Terry and I were never going to hit it off as pals so, by the time I was thirteen, my hatred for him was pretty intense, and I was quite a big lad for my age. One day he set about punching
my tiny little mum yet again – and this time I really snapped. I’d just walked in from school with my brother John and we opened the door into the kitchen to find Terry lashing out. Mum was cowering beneath him. That was it: we both grabbed him and started throwing punches. But then Terry got me by the throat. I thought he was going to kill me. John smashed him over the head with a vase and he let go. That’s when I completely lost it and tried to beat him to a pulp. How dare he even lay a finger on my mum? In the end, I had to be dragged off him before he was severely injured.
John and I then stormed out of the house after my mum made it clear she’d give this arsehole the benefit of the doubt. We couldn’t understand why she put up with it. But there would be a lot worse to come.
I know a lot of people will think I was nothing more than a punch-happy bully, but I was far from it. I only ever got into fights as a last resort. And some of the younger kids at school even asked me to help them out if they were being bullied by older kids. I reckon you have to stand your ground in life and help others less fortunate than yourself. My mum always brought us up to respect other people’s feelings. ‘If they don’t bother you,’ she’d say, ‘you leave them well alone.’ As a result, me and my brothers were never involved in any school bullying or stuff like that. It just wasn’t our style.
So when my older brother John had a bust-up with a kid called Robert Allen at Forest Gate High, it almost sparked World War Three. John had come home one afternoon with his face looking like the Khyber Pass. Terry went crazy because he thought John should have put up a better fight. Terry was a racist bastard and he didn’t like the fact that Robert Allen
was a black kid. Later that afternoon he dragged me and John out by our ears and forced us to go out in his motor, looking for this kid. It was all well out of order. Terry kept ranting and raving about how ‘that black bastard should be taught a lesson.’
We eventually spotted Allen on Wood Grange High Road. Terry pulled his car up around the next corner and grabbed a length of hosepipe filled with sand out of the boot. Then he turned to John, pushed it into his hand and told him to use it on Allen. John looked terrified but shoved the hosepipe up his sleeve. Then he and I began walking down the street towards this kid Allen. We knew Terry was watching us closely.
Allen turned round as he sensed we were closing in on him. He smashed a bottle against a wall and pointed its jagged edge at us. He knew what we were after. We wanted revenge. I started running towards Allen but then a hand grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and pulled me back. It was Terry, and he insisted John should be the one to get in the first hit with his lethal hosepipe. Terry was one sick puppy.
John looked more scared than his prey, but then he whipped his weapon out and smacked it across Robert Allen’s face, slicing open the flesh on his cheeks and forehead. Then John got hold of Allen’s ears and started smashing his head on the pavement over and over again. It was not a pleasant sight. And throughout all this, that evil piece of dirt Terry was egging him on, ‘Come on. Kill the black bastard.’
But we only wanted Allen’s head on a plate because he was a school bully, nothing more, nothing less. John completely lost it that day and continued giving Allen an almighty pasting. A couple of women across the street began shouting at us to stop
it. Then someone else yelled: ‘We’ve called the Old Bill.’ Terry immediately screamed: ‘Get in the car – quick!’
We drove off just as the cozzers came screeching around the corner. But I knew that wouldn’t be the end of it. That night Terry tooled us up and warned us that Allen would most probably be back with reinforcements. He handed me a machete blade and John was given a cutlass as long as a cricket bat. Terry had his own butcher’s axe. He told us to keep our weapons near us at all times. That vindictive nutter was loving every minute of it.
The following day Terry’s prophecy carne true. Robert Allen turned up with his two older brothers outside our house. I was just looking out the window for the milkman when I spotted them coming up the garden path. They stopped about five yards from the front door and one of the two brothers started taunting us to come out and face them.
Just then, at least a dozen other kids wearing Forest Gate High School uniforms swarmed along the path behind them. It was a matter of now or never. We had to catch them off guard. So me, John and Terry came charging out of the front door like a herd of rhinos. Terry slammed his axe over the gate, just missing one of the brothers. ‘Come here! I’m gonna cut you in half!’ he yelled; and I for one believed him.
The other two brothers and those school kids took one look at my machete and John’s evil-looking cutlass and turned and ran. Looking back on it now I realise that Terry didn’t give a toss about us. He just got off on the violence of it all. We didn’t have any problem with Robert Allen because of his colour. We just didn’t like the way he was going around bullying kids at school. Terry no doubt got a kick out of having two big kids by
his side armed to the teeth. I think he manipulated us that day and we followed him because we were kids, just doing what we was told.
The next day me and my brother John had to report to the headmaster. Terry said we should deny everything. But from that day on we became known as a menacing family with violence flowing through our veins, which wasn’t strictly speaking true. Sure, we’d got involved in one incident, but Terry had egged us on. Now me and John were known as nasty pieces of work. Other kids at school didn’t have the bottle to talk to us, which made us both feel even more isolated. That attitude undoubtedly caused me a lot of problems later in life.
Around this time I got into a lucrative sideline painting walls at Liverpool Street Underground Station with my uncle Pete whenever I could bunk off school. I also worked on the dodgems at local fairgrounds. I had a bit of aggro when other kids got rude, when they saw me talking to my black mates. But I soon sorted them out.
Some people had the effrontery to call me a ‘nigger-lover’ behind my back but I didn’t care. My black mate Robbie was known as the ‘Bounty Bar Kid’ because his black friends reckoned he was black on the outside and white on the inside.
We were all very shocked by the race riots in Brixton later, which was all over the TV news for days, but that coverage had a nasty backlash round where I lived. I was working at the fair on Wanstead Flats at the time. Two massive black kids called Delroy and Leroy smashed up a hotdog stand and then they and a few other kids tipped it over. Suddenly there was a full-scale riot going on. The cozzers then turned up in full force and the
mob – now about fifty strong – headed away from the Flats and towards the Forest Gate shopping area. There, they smashed shop windows and looted TVs and stuff before heading for another shopping area called Green Street. It was bedlam. Truth was that both white and black kids joined in together and used it as an excuse to go on the rampage and nick a few things. It was completely out of order.
Just before I turned fourteen, I fell for a pretty young neighbour called Tracy, who was two years older than me. I really thought this was it and I’d spend the rest of my life with her. Then I stupidly went and got her pregnant. She was going to boarding school and her stepdad and mum insisted she was taken away and ‘seen to’ so the pregnancy could be terminated. I’ll never forget the day I went to Plaistow Hospital by taxi to pick Tracy up. Naturally she was very upset and I tried everything to comfort her but it wasn’t easy. I grew up a lot on that day.
My mum was fantastic and made a real point of looking after Tracy, as we were both too young to take on the responsibility. Tracey was getting on so badly with her family she came and lived with us for some time. We carried on going out together for three or four months after she had the abortion but it was never the same again.
At fourteen, I really thought boxing held the key to my future. I was doing well in the ring and could pack a mean punch. The trainers at West Ham Boys’ Club all reckoned I’d go far and the idea of using my fists to fight my way out of the poverty trap really appealed to me. Even back then I felt a responsibility towards my mum, brothers and sister. I wanted to do good by them. I wanted them to be proud of me. One day,
just before Christmas in 1979 I went down to the Pigeons pub near our home where my mum worked most nights as a barmaid. Back in those days, kids weren’t allowed in boozers, but the manager let me in because I didn’t drink and I loved playing pool,
That day I had a winning run at the pool table and beat this other boy, aged about seventeen, three games on the trot. He looked really narked off by the end of the third game. His mates were also taking the piss out of him for losing to a younger kid.
A few minutes later I waved goodbye to Mum, who was behind the bar and walked out of the Pigeons. As I stepped onto the pavement, an iron bar smashed right into the side of my head. I could feel my cheekbone cave in. Then the iron bar came back at me again, this time catching my jaw with an almighty crunch. I must have blacked out then because the next thing I remember is being in the back of the pub manager’s car as he drove me to St Mary’s Hospital in Stratford.
I was in a bad way. They had to wire up my jaw and completely rebuild my face using specialised plastic. It looked like the side of my head had been used for target practice at a golf driving range. I told the doctors in the hospital that I didn’t want the cozzers involved. I ended up in there for four days and doctors informed me I’d be drinking through a straw for at least a month.
But that was nothing compared to the stress I felt about the threat to my boxing career. The doctors refused to commit on whether I’d be able to get in a boxing ring again, so I went to see my trainer down at West Ham Boys’ Club. He told me there was no way I’d ever be passed fit enough by a boxing board medical to fight again because of the plastic plate they’d fitted in the side
of my face. After I left the gym that day, I cried. I felt as if my life was effectively over. What future did I have if I couldn’t fight in the ring?
My mum broke down when I told her the news. She knew how important boxing was to me. It was the one thing I was any good at. It was the one thing that might have helped improve all our lives. Within a week I found out where that bastard who attacked me lived, and started planning my revenge. My jaw was still bound up and I was hobbling on crutches, but none of that put me off. The manager of the pub went with me and even offered to do it for me, but I knew I had to do it myself, otherwise I’d never exorcise those demons.
I had no second thoughts. I remember almost slipping on the icy pavement as I struggled up the garden path to his maisonette. I knocked hard and firm on the front door. This was it. I wanted to hurt him as much as he’d hurt me. To be honest about it, at that moment I wanted to kill him.
The stupid bastard didn’t even recognise me when he opened the door. But he certainly recognised the baseball bat that sank into his skull. ‘Leave it out!’ he screamed as the second and third blows came raining down on him. ‘Why are you doin’ this?’ he asked after the next thud. For a moment I thought maybe I’d got the wrong man, but then I recognised the same orange t-shirt he’d had on when I’d beaten him at pool. As I looked down at his crumpled body on the doorstep, I spat on him. Now it was time to get on with the rest of my life.
My attacker moved house shortly afterwards and the attack was reported in the local paper. It referred to a ‘mystery doorstep attack’. There was even a photo of the victim. His face looked like it had just been through a mincing machine. The
paper said it was a mugging, but that was rubbish since nothing had been taken from him.
Up until that incident I’d always been on the edge, but at least I was a reasonably content sort of kid who kept his head down and got on with his boxing. All that changed after the attack with the iron bar. I didn’t like anybody any more. I didn’t trust a soul apart from my mum, brothers and sister.
The next couple of months were a living hell as I hobbled around home and school trying to pick up the pieces of my life, still harbouring a deep resentment. The elation I’d felt at getting revenge on that other boy had soon worn off. It was a lesson I learned about revenge: it may seem sweet at the time, but it doesn’t solve any problems in the long term. I lost a lot of weight and stopped going to the gym because I couldn’t see the point any more. My mum tried to pamper me to make up for what had happened. But I still presumed everyone was a threat to me apart from my family and was determined always to get the first punch in if it ever came down to a tear-up.
I still get nightmares about what happened to me at the Pigeons that night. Sometimes I’m outside my attacker’s front door and he’s fighting back. I can feel the pain that he caused me, even in my dream. Often, I wake up to feel if I really am injured, and there it is, this hated piece of plastic that changed the whole course of my life. In another nightmare my assailant swings the iron bar over and over my head and I slowly sink into the ground, until there is nothing left.