24 MARCH 1990, Page 40

Zenga Longmore

"Smatter? Whatcha blubbering for?' `They beat me up at dinner time again. They [sniff] tore my coat and took my dinner money.'

The mother, a formidable woman built along the lines of a Wagnerian goddess, was obviously made of sterner stuff than her frail daughter. With a sweep of the hand which sent the child spinning halfway across the playground, she rasped, 'How many times do I 'ave to tell ya? If someone

'its you, 'it them back twice as 'ard, see! Don't never come to me again to tell me you've been bullied, you little mare, or I'll knock you bow-legged.'

Puzzled as to whether I was listening to the mother of a tiny girl or the coach of Frank Bruno, I moved closer to get a better earful. But the drama had finished. The mother was marching down the street with the weeping child scurrying in her wake.

When Kuba finally bounced up to me, I asked her (in between refusing her re- quests for Care Bear comics) who the little girl was.

`Oh, that's Arabella. Tracey don't like her so she's put The Firm on to her.'

`The what?'

`Oh, you know, The Firm.'

Was this a primary school or some kind of Mafia hideway? I pondered all the way home. How could poor little Arabella be expected to pit her fragile strength against this dastardly Firm, and why couldn't her mother have discovered the reason she was being regularly tortured after the prunes and custard?

What is the solution for bullying? Telling the teacher can prove pointless because it is often the teacher who has brought the bullying into being in the first place, by picking on a child to humiliate. A good few years back, my mother told my headmaster I was being bullied, to which the sage reply was: `Zenga is a natural victim. Her basic behaviour patterns subconsciously invite aggression from her peers.'

Truth be known, my basic behaviour patterns did nothing of the kind. The problem was, my teacher disliked me to such an extent that he was unable to look at me without wincing violently. The other children felt they had carte blanche to throw their weight about without the teacher minding. As soon as I moved into a new class, headed by a more discerning teacher, school life magically became bully-free. Adults tend to despise a bullied child as a little cissy and to give more respect to the bully: the least they could do is comfort the one and punish the other.

There again, I must admit I've been bullying Lambeth council for months to mend my bedroom window. The frame broke during the storms, and the window flapped open every time a wind passed, wrecking every breakable object in the room. Each visitor to enter my flat tried his or her hand at mending the window, but none succeeded. Council repair-men actually turned up the other week, but left when they saw the window, mumbling, `Sorry, luv, thought it was glass you needed. Nah, we couldn't tackle a job like this, no way.'

But last night, Boko called round. 'Bit nippy in here,' she remarked, and before you could say 'draught', she'd mended the window. My nights are now trouble-free, except for the occasional nightmare featur- ing The Firm.