In the latter part of my childhood, I basically had four big fictional stories “on the go” (primarily in my head, acted out with lego / repurposed other toys, or as imagined repurposings of videogames – and occasionally in comics and stories!). The four were
Teddy Bear Wars
aaand… Anti Bully.
Except, if you’d asked me at the time, I would have insisted Anti Bully (or Anti:Bully, as the logo had it) was real life. It was, in fact, partly real life and partly fiction. You might call it a LARP where the other players don’t know they’re part of it. And the “combat” (if any had actually happened) certainly wouldn’t have involved pulled punches!
There was also an “abbreviated” logo with just the black bits.
So, what was Anti Bully, then? Well, at the time, it was a “spy agency” me, my brother and our friends Robert, Thomas and Wayne ran. It also had various other members who came and went, but those five were the main ones. In fact, it wasn’t even called Anti Bully, most of the time. It started out as something like the MM-RG Spy Agency (named after me and Robert), later becoming the DM-RG Spy Agency (after I quit in a huff for like 20 minutes, then re-joined as a ‘ranker’, with my brother as the leader). Robert then became the leader, naming it Eagle Spy Agency. He then moved away, taking the name with him. My spying shut down for a while, but was revived as Anti Bully around 1997 (when I REALLY should have been too old for such things), for a couple of summers.
We had decided to form a spy agency at some point in mid-early 1995 (or maybe late 1994), right at the end of primary school, when my brother and me both bought the Funfax Spy File at a school book sale.
Robert was also round our house, at the time (he may have bought one of those files, too). It took us about 5 minutes of looking at it to decide to become spies ourselves. We let our friend Thomas in on it the next day (he and Robert went off on a “mission”, while my brother and me stayed at home waiting for them – maybe we were grounded, I really don’t remember). Anyway, our spy agency hadn’t been in existence more than an hour and we’d already had two tantrums and fights about it (the first two of MANY). The Funfax Spy File had a page where you could write in the names of your spy ring. Robert immediately claimed leadership (he did things like that), after some wrangling we decided me and him would be joint leaders, while my brother would be second-in-command. Except, in his file, he put “Mr David Martin” in the “Master Spy” box, because he thought reading out “Mr David Martin” in a strained, posh-sounding accent was the funniest thing in the world. After I threw a wobbly, we decided that, in our agency, “Master Spy” would be the name for the second-in-command, the leader called, erm, “Leader”.
Anyway, we then practiced spying, which involved trying to sneak through the house as quietly as possible (with no penalties for messing up, though), and passing a note to the next agent. My brother was supposed to wait in another room, but joined Robert, and hid with him. I passed the note to Robert, saying “now take it to… DAVID!”, the latter part shouted, as I saw him hiding in the darkness. The next thing I knew, I was flying backwards from a two-legged kick, and he somehow still managed to punch me three times before I hit the ground. He did all this while saying “I thought I heard a whistle! I thought that was our secret signal!”. That reminded me that we did actually need secret signals, but I was too busy trying to punch back, at the time.
First battle report: 2 agents bruised, enemies not even aware we exist.
Anyway, we did come up with a whole range of secret signals later, all terribly-imitated animal sounds. The only one I can remember was “coo coo” (not a cuckoo sound, actually just saying “coo coo”), which meant “come here”.
I think the name “Anti Bully” first appeared in an unrelated comic strip, about which I remember nothing at all. It was probably like the Bash Street Kids, only all the characters would have looked identical, and probably didn’t even have names. Later, in 1995-6, I tried to start up a separate spy agency at school, which was called Anti Bully, while the DM-RG / Eagle agency was the “home” one. I only had one school friend who was immature enough to be involved in such a thing, and he got some major health problem, resulting in him being away from school for entire terms. By this time Robert lived in “far away” (for kids without cars) Chatteris, and Wayne lived in also-distant Pymoor. But we dedicated ourselves to fighting bullies and criminals, wherever they were found!
…so, who were the “bullies”? Well, some of them were real bullies, of course, but most were just people we didn’t like. Some of them were people we didn’t even KNOW, and some of them didn’t exist at all! I told you this was a mash-up of fact and fiction. While the other three stories were games played with toys / written about in comics, Anti Bully existed in the form of our “mission reports” and “investigations”. These have only a very tenuous connection with reality. We’d go out on “spy missions” (kidding ourselves we were doing outdoorsy, boy-scout, woodcraft stuff. Actually we were just walking around in conveniently-then-fashionable camouflage, and looking at distant people through barely-functional toy binoculars), find some bit of screwed up paper, or see somebody walking their dog miles away, and write up some exciting account of finding “secret messages” and “observing enemy agents”.
No, I mean I looked up over a plant-covered fence and somebody’s turned-away head was literally right up against the other side of it. Nearly shit myself.
Anyway, I’d actually almost forgotten about Anti Bully, until I was forced (by a badly-insulated, damp house) to have a major clear up over Christmas 2015. I discovered the old Anti Bully folder (the files had once filled two of the extra-thick A4 ring binders, but had, at some point, been consolidated into one). It made interesting, if incredibly embarrasing, reading. I chucked some of the stuff away (many “case notes” were repeated several times), and decided to blog about the bizarre crap that remained.
The files are broadly separated into “mission notes”, “encounters”, “cases” and “instructions”. They all have several odd symbols drawn on them, as the files were organised and indexed in several ways, and at several different times.
One of the funniest sets of symbols is the “departments”. After the Spy File (and the later Minifax Spy File, this was basically a plastic binder thing, with slots to slip in the tiny, A7-sized books. If I remember rightly, all these books were on woodcraft, codes, disguises etc – no stories!), Funfax released a successor called INTERactive Secret Agent. This made use of the advanced, modern technology of, erm, casettes (on thier way out, even then), which contained some of the story dialogue, and appropriate sound effects. The file itself featured stuff about spycraft, codes, disguises etc (as well as bits to fill in, puzzles, and so on), the three additional books you could buy (and the one it came with – making a total of four tapes, which was as many as could fit in the plastic holders on the inside covers) were all about going on missions for INTER (I can’t remember what it stood for), rather than the disjointed themes of the earlier Funfax Spy File.
This was the best picture I could find on Google.
Anyway, INTER was broken up into different departments, so I decided the same thing must be done with Anti Bully… all 8 members it had, at it’s absolute height. One of them was called Weapons Or Equipment Dept (WOE Dept), there was also a FAR Dept, MAP Dept, and a bunch of others. The “Weapons or Equipment” were just toy guns, pretend binoculars (with maybe 1.5x magnification at best), walkie talkies with a range of about 7 paces (we once tested it by holding down the morse key and walking away), and other such items. I occasionally invented ‘secret devices’, the best one of which was a spring-loaded toy rocket launcher off a G.I. Joe, attached to my wrist by one of mum’s 80’s wristbands. That could have caused somebody to have a slight pain in their eye for a minute, that could.
Anyway, on to the files. The Mission Notes were scribbled descriptions of things we were doing on our “missions”, which were walks or bike rides around the village and (very) nearby countryside. They’re surprisingly legible considering, and many are precisely dated – allowing me to see that I was acting like a 10-year-old when I was 13 or 14. Oh god, the cringe!
Newly-drawn maps of where most of our spying happened. The park and school are considerably different, now.
Most of our missions were totally uneventful (though any little thing like finding a new bit of litter, or seeing a ‘suspicious’ dog walker in the distance, would be blown up into observed activity by enemy agents), but on the rare occasion we came into conflict with our enemies, the mission would be written up as an “encounter”. These were often blown vastly out of proportion. If we hid behind a hedge and watched some “bullies” playing football in the park, it would be illustrated as a heavily-armed gang patrolling, secretly observed by us.
That bit at the top, described as happening in “Autum” 1993, was actually from before the spy agency existed.
Yes, even Anti Bully had retcons!
If they spotted, and came after us (one fun-packed afternoon was spent this way), it would become a tale of how we “interfered with” their “planning”. In my head, the bullies were an enemy spy agency, just like ours, with ranks, carefully-kept files (that we dreamed of capturing) and plans for secret missions. Their mission was to steal penny sweets from the village shop, light small fires, under-age smoke and other nefarious crimes, what with them being the ‘bad guys’. Of course, far from being an enemy agency, they were, in fact, just normal old children / young teens hanging out. We were the weird ones.
A reasonably typical encounter. Probably one of the last proper ones.
Some of our later agents (including two suddenly-discovered distant cousins) were even friends with the “bullies”, and treated the thing as either a joke, or as some sort of gang warfare. I was trying to make a plan to recapture the “bases” (hedges you could get under) in the park, with military precision (even involving a tank), and one of them asked me when we were going to go and “get” one of the kids I’d named as an enemy. I really went off on one, about how the agency was not about “getting” kids, but was “professional” XD.
Anti Bully had many notebooks and different folders, over time. This is a rare survivor.
if the bullies failed to provide us with their presence, so we could wishfully-think it up into some heroic battle between good and evil, we just plain invented “encounters” in our heads, or faked them. One of the coolest / funniest was when we were building our own base in the park, and some of the older kids (later designated “bullies”, but at the time “civilians”) came along, and insisted that their dads had discovered the base first, so it was theirs. The base we were building was in roughly the same location as one my dad had mentioned as existing in the late 50’s – early 60’s. Of course, kids in those days didn’t claim ‘ownership’ of a bit of hedge on public land. Anyway, we told these two kids about our spy agency (I used to blurt it out to all sorts of people, including a half-Italian ginga at secondary school, who was barely sane), and they went off, warning us about “enemy agents”. Pretty soon we were attacked by a weird guy in a strange blue mask, who would always run off into bushes or fields before we could catch him (we were all pretty slow, weedy and unfit – at the time. Thomas later joined the Navy). The other two kids would alternately show up, asking if we’d seen “the maniac”. Naturally, those two were swapping the mask between them, and pretending to be “the maniac”, but we could never prove it.
That one wasn’t written up until about 2 years later, for some reason.
On another occasion, “enemy agents” were hiding in the farm yard behind our house, throwing the odd stone at the fence, or whispering in voices only two of the four of us could hear. Later, while I was looking through a hole, I saw Robert hit the fence with a stone, out of the corner of my eye. A flurry of accusations and denials later, I realised I’d never actually been looking at the fence when we’d heard stones hitting it. However, later on, we actually saw loads of earth being thrown over the fence at us, so there was clearly an actual gang of bullies on the far side. The fact this was a few minutes after Thomas had left for home, and he’d had a whispered conversation with Robert just before going, probably had nothing to do with it. This was, naturally, written up as a great victory over the bullies.
I used a bunch of odd code-words, inspired / stolen from contemporary SAS books. “Ratline” was “going home after a mission”. I don’t know what “Case 1K” is, though.
On occasions when we were writing up encounters that had happened to only one of us, we were bounded only by our imagination. Robert once single-handedly fended off an attack on his garden by over 100 bullies (there was probably only about that many kids in the village as a whole – of all affiliations). He had been deflecting thrown stones by hitting them back with the inside of his wrist (the “hardest part of your hand”, he insisted), and had taken down hordes of bullies by throwing his bike and skateboard at them.
Oddly, while they were ready to storm his back garden when he was alone, when there was three of us, trying to provoke about 15 of them into another battle (by shouting insults then running in the gate), only one of them ran up to the gate and shouted “come on then” a bit. The 100 that attacked him before must have been all the other bullies, clearly.
Once Robert had moved to Chatteris, he got involved in some amazing adventures. The bullies there (who were, of course, in the same nationwide agency of united bullies) had built a two-storey underground base, with a stockade of spiked logs around it. This was a thing it was totally possible for bratty, selfish, disorganised 90’s kids to do. They’d also built some impact-detonating “shockwave grenades”, by, as Robert described it, “doing that thing where you get old engine oil and…blahblahblah… in an old coke can”. Curious that the phone line went bad at only that moment, eh? Luckily, he was able to steal some of these oil bombs, and hurled one of them into the entrance of the underground base. It collapsed, and he escaped as the angry bullies extricated themselves from the mass of earth and wood.
The map of the base in this picture was drawn from our phone conversation. The “real” one is below.
As he was describing this to me over the phone, one of his other agents (he had loads of them, in both Little Downham and Chatteris, who none of the rest of us ever met… oddly) bought him a letter. He opened it, very noisily (it was almost as if he was holding the phone right up against an envelope) and told me his agent had found out the bullies were planning to build an even bigger, 5-storey underground base with file rooms, weapon rooms, planning rooms, etc (all things that bullies actually needed to bully effectively). It was also going to have a 6ft high log stockade. I started working on a plan of attack to destroy it, which was even written up as a sort of comic strip. Note the bullies running away from the terrifying firepower of a toy gun loaded with conifer seeds. Naturally, this attack never happened, and I never even saw the base. I didn’t even see one of his stock of captured oil bombs, come to think of it.
Bullies always keep detailed records of their bullying.
The next category of files are the “cases”. These were our major investigations into totally real and genuine plots by the bullies. The very first case, when the agency started in around 1995 (it was just before I left primary school, anyway. The very last Scholastic Book Sale I went to at that school was the one where we got our Spy Files), was The Car Case. This was, come to think of it, something else that Robert came up with. Though, this time, there’s a chance it might actually have been real (mind you, before the spy agency, we’d had a period of UFO investigating, which was a veritable feast of bullshitting from all of us). Basically he saw some teenagers trying to open the door of a car parked outside his house. A few days later, he decided some girls walking around the village were part of the gang, and we followed them for a bit. They probably thought we were horny young boys who didn’t know how to act around girls. Even if he did see an attempted car theft, I doubt the girls in question had been involved in it.
Haha, I forgot about Robert saying one of the girls had been captured, but used her diamond ring to cut a hole in the police station window and escape. How he was privy to police knowledge, I don’t know.
The next, and longest, case was The Big EA. Apparently all of the bullies and young, petty criminals from the whole of East Anglia (who all had a secret network of information-sharing, of course) were going to come to Little Downham to bully us, steal penny sweets, start tiny fires etc. Quite how they were going to do this without attracting police or parental attention was not something we bothered ourselves with. Imagine a sudden traffic jam to and from the village of parents’ cars, with accompanying crime wave that “we had nothing to do with, though, mum”. Or the barely-used bus suddenly crammed with kids coming to and from the village, with the accompanying vast increase in calls to the police, but nobody being able to put two and two together. Nobody but us, anyway, the sole defenders of law and order to have discovered the truth! For at least a couple of years, whenever we successfully spied on bullies, we’d kid ourselves we’d overheard them talking about “the big one” and “training for the day”. I also convinced myself that a bunch of teenagers I saw hanging around in Littleport were “preparing for” it. I even did a comic strip about the day The Big EA happened – Anti Bully making a foray into complete fiction, and not for the first time, either XD.
Now, while The Big EA was clear nonsense, it was in fact a “guys, this is worse than we thought!” expansion (coming from mouth of somebody with a name beginning with R) on an earlier case called The Big E (for Ely). This smaller event, in which a bunch of bullies (well, the friends of people we had decided were bullies) would come to Little Downham for a surge of bullying… actually happened! Though the “bullying” was actually a crowd of maybe 30 of them hanging around the bus stop and shouting insults at us as we went past. We cycled past several times, trying to overhear information about the “real” Big E, which we thought this was just a planning meeting for. Some of them may even have pocketed some penny sweets from the shop, and passed a ciggie or two around – and not one of us was able to stop this sheer anarchy!
On a smaller scale, but no less ridiculous (and primarily investigated by you-know-who) was Operation Fencekill. Having nothing to do with the extrajudicial murder of a seller of stolen goods, it was, in fact, an investigation into the kidnapping of one of Robert’s trusted (imaginary) agents, nick-named Goldwing.
Which is totally not the name of a motorbike.
Who had kidnapped him? Why, none other than the leader of all the bullies, and head organiser of The Big EA… Jazz Ice! Yes, Jazz Ice… he was a shadowy figure, and nobody knew his real name, apparently. Robert actually pointed him out to me once – he was an older teen, visiting some other kids, and they were playing football in the school playground at the weekend / after hours. This may have been the same day we tried to start a fight with them.
Anyway, apparently Jazz Ice and his shadowy cabal were holding this agent hostage, making him phone his mum and say he was “staying with a friend” (for like 8 weeks), and trying to… I don’t even know. To Robert’s credit, he had kept a detailed day-by-day log of his “investigations”. He only seemed to find out important information on his own, though. Whenever we tried to find out information about it together, the bullies didn’t even mention it. Robert actually moved to Chatteris while it was going on, somehow finding out more information about a kidnapping that had, presumably, happened in Little Downham there, than we could on the spot!
A note from Robert. He was worried the bullies had “found out about” us investigating a kidnapping they were responsible for.
Another case was called either The Bomb Case or The Destruction Case. Either way, the day before going on holiday somewhere, I heard our neighbour and a friend talking about how to make molotov cocktails. Disregarding the fact this is just a thing that boys do (hey, upper-middle class woman who is now saying “isn’t this how it starts?” and “those kids are a Columbine in the making”: You are thick and wrong), I assumed they were actually going to make bombs. It didn’t help that, a few days after we came back from our holiday, they got hold of some firecrackers and chucked them over the fence at night.
By this time Robert had moved away, and what was now Anti Bully was primarily Me, my brother and Thomas. We’d set up a dead letter box, on a tiny “bridge” (two planks of wood over a dyke) in the village allotments. We used to leave each other messages in it nearly every day, then phone up the other guy and basically tell them everything that was in the message. It’s a good thing the bully spy agency hadn’t thought to tap our phones, eh? Now, as we were going on holiday, I only had time to quickly leave Thomas a message in the dead letter box, not to phone him and tell him it was there. Did he think to go to the dead letter box and check it for left messages, during the week we were away? did he FUCK. The first he knew of the bomb case was when we got back and told him in person. The very waterlogged and unreadable message was collected and got rid of – couldn’t risk the enemy finding out what we knew about a conversation two of them had almost certainly forgotten they’d even had, by that time.
I probably expended more effort on writing up the bomb case (at least three pages about it, all of which said basically the same thing) than I did on investigating it. But some time later we did find two litre-sized, thrown-away plastic bottles (of the sort milk comes in). One had a tiny, sticky bit of blue residue in, and one had a tiny, sticky bit of orange residue in. These were obviously bomb-making chemicals, and got taken away and chucked somewhere else.
Also in among the case files, though not really a case, was plans for something that was first called Park Attack, but later called Operation Jackpot. “Park Attack” kind of gave away what it was about – a plan to attack the bully-‘owned’ bases in the park, and recapture them. Though, of course, the moment we went home for tea, the bullies would take over again, and we’d be back to square one. The operation was inspired by one of the series-ending Soldier, Soldier episodes where they actually went to war. We were going to gather up all our agents (all 5-6 of them, though the plan called for about 50), get super soakers and other toy guns, build a pedal-powered, turnip-firing TANK,,, and launch our attack! Even if we had managed to do this, we’d probably have found only 3-4 bullies in occupation of one of the bases, and not the “10 in one, 15 in another…” numbers, in 24-hour occupation, that a certain guy who’s name rhymed with Bobbert insisted he’d seen.
Also, the plan called for an open, obvious, frontal attack on the bases by racing across the park. A more effective, and doable, plan would have been to creep in across the fields and attack from the rear. We could probably have even ‘captured’ one base in that manner, with the numbers we could muster.
The, erm, perfectly clear plan.
A few other cases came and went. After Robert moved away, Thomas said he’d found an enemy dead letter box, with a note in it written by somebody called JNK. He later spied on a group of bullies who said they’d found our dead letter box (I did actually move it), then spotted and chased him.
Robert, in keeping with his personality, immediately launched The Bulldog Case (Bulldog was Thomas’ code name), accusing him of writing the “enemy message” himself. Some of his evidence was compelling (similar handwriting), and some of it was nonsense. Thomas had reported spotting a piece of paper in the Allotments, assumed, and written, that it was Robert’s, only it wasn’t, and Robert used this as further ‘evidence’ that Thomas was a traitor. I, wanting to stop infighting, so we could concentrate on “the real enemy”, immediately disbelieved everything Robert said about it. Though Thomas almost certainly had written the note himself, anyway. It’s not like Robert had ever faked anything XD.
The “note from the enemy” that Thomas found, and one of his own notes, which he said had been screwed up by bullies, who had found it in the dead letter box.
There was, actually, almost constant infighting and distrust in the agencies. Robert once randomly accused my brother of being a traitor, because he’d “seen him talking to the bullies”. This was obvious bullshit, my brother was hardly out of my sight on missions, and I, too, had sometimes talked to the bullies while other agents were at a distance. Still, on another occasion I did pretend my brother was an impostor in disguise… but that was just an excuse for a punch-up. Like we needed one.
The last case, in late 1998, was launched when I left a secret “we went this way” sign in the Allotments, and a few days later discovered somebody had added a bit extra to it. I “launched a full investigation” (by this time, Anti Bully was basically just me), which discovered absolutely nothing.
The last category of files is “Instructions”. This was either plans for weapons, pedal-powered tanks, knicker-elastic-launched gliders, a submarine (there was no lake, sea or river near the village), or articles on spycraft. The latter was mostly copied from children’s spy or detective books we’d borrowed from the library, only with loads of spelling mistakes and crappy illustrations.
Fortunately we never attempted to build these things. Imagine if we’d got that glider into the air, or drowned ourselves in a home-made sub.
I also had a few maps, battle plans (my brother and I spent hours drawing these things. Somebody at primary school told me that if you cut the end off a cap gun’s barrel, it would shoot ‘bits’ that would “sting for 10 minutes”. So we planned out how we’d do various shootouts with bullies – assuming the “sting” would be as incapacitating as death, but ultimately harmless) and crappy spycraft articles I’d made up myself.
The founding of the agency, the Car Case, Big EA and early part of Operation Fencekill all occupied the summer of 1995, during which I started at secondary school and founded the first, short-lived, version of Anti Bully (the “home agency” was still MM-RG and DM-RG at that point). The two Car Case girls actually went on my bus! But that had largely petered out by then. Somebody in one of the higher years at school had the nickname Jozz. I found some graffiti saying “Jozz smells” in maths class, and nearly had an orgasm as I convinced myself it actually said “Jazz smells”, meaning Jazz Ice went to my school, and I could track him down and find out Big EA and Fencekill information. But after a term or two I was getting pretty badly bullied, and concentrated on keeping cryptic, anal records of that bullying (which, naturally, just made it worse).
After Robert moved away, we carried on visiting him for a while, talking about spy stuff and doing some very small missions (Getting out of his back garden and ‘patrolling’ the empty field beyond). We also acted out Galactic Conquest lego battles, drew The Gun comics, or played videogames, though… it wasn’t all spying! Sometime over the winter of 1995-6, we had some bullshit argument, like kids do (I think we’d forgot the cause of it before it even ended), and I didn’t talk to him for ‘ages’ (it was probably less than 6 months, but seemed like years, at the time). At around the same time, a passed-around family tree thing revealed that another two boys in the village were our cousins. They were immediately recruited, and Thomas and Wayne got more involved, making the summer of 1996 a vintage one for spying.
A base found in Pymoor. We thought we’d captured it from the bullies, but I remember the metal cans and wheels being super-rusty. It had probably been built by kids in the 80’s or even 70’s!
I got back in touch with Robert, and visited him a few more times (this is when The Bulldog Case happened), but he was getting too old for it. Eventually, whenever I phoned him up, his mum always told me he was out. I got the hint and dropped it (though I did want to excitedly suggest uniting Eagle Spy Agency and Anti Bully into United Spy Agencies, or USA, with appropriately star-spangled logo).
A very generic, self-mocking plan.
On the first of September, 1996, we had the most ‘fun’ and action-packed day of spying in the whole history of the agency. It started early in the morning, when Thomas came round and told us he’d spied on a huge gang of bullies, who had spotted him, and chased him away with water bombs. This may have actually happened, as there certainly was a “huge gang of bullies” out and about. Well, about 7 kids we didn’t like. We went out, down one of the country lanes leading out of the village, and started to make a base. Some of them came riding down the lane on their bikes, and I was fumbling for my gat (a dart-shooting pistol with a magazine), but they just rode past us, calling us sad, stupid etc. One of them said “E’s got one of them guns”, as I held it against my backpack in an attempt to look intimidating. It wasn’t even loaded with the ‘more painful’ conifer seeds, they wouldn’t fit properly in the mag.
After that, we went home for some ‘training’, well, running out of the back door and shooting three targets. I was explaining all the things you weren’t allowed to do to ‘cheat’, and my mum (hanging out the washing), snaps “not asking much, are you?”. She absolutely hated our spy agency (as well as every other activity we did, show we watched, game we played, music we listened to and friend we made. Later on she hated every girlfriend I had, except for one… though she hated the idea of me visiting that girlfriend’s country). We went out again, and were hanging round near the school / one of the shops, when she came past in the car and stopped. She told us to “stop doing yer spy missions!”, to which I shouted “tough!” as she drove away. My brother had an attack of the morals, and said he was going to tell her I’d said that. I told him I didn’t care, and we went into the Allotments. We left our bikes there, got over the fence into the school field, and crept up to the hedge dividing it from the park. The bullies were on the swings, and we were trying to listen to them, when we heard them saying they were going to the shops, which would mean they’d come through the school field. We just ran like hell (hearing them shouting, as they spotted us), grabbed our bikes and raced away.
Me and Thomas got home, he went upstairs while my mum confronted me in the kitchen, barking “TAFF… IZZIT?” and grinning like the Cheshire cat, as if knowing what I’d shouted at the back of the car meant she’d scored a massive victory. I just grinned back and said “YÆS, IT IZ”. Before long, we heard a commotion next door – the gang of bullies had come to collect our neighbour, and wait in ambush for us. Mum told us not to go back out, and that she’d either drive Thomas home later, or (more likely), that he’d have to risk a 7-against-1 fight on his own. I wasn’t having that, so we tooled up with Super Soakers, got our bikes ready, and prepared for the fray.
Now, the gate down the side of the house opened inwards, so we could probably have opened it carefully, and took off at top speed, getting well away before they spotted us, if at all. But I decided to instead bang the gate open and ride away shouting “GO! GO! GOOO!” like a Hollywood hero. We were not even halfway down the drive before I heard the bullies shouting “there they go! come on!”. We went belting down the road, at proper standing-on-the-pedals speed, but, at the time, my brother had asthma (well, I suppose he still does, but it actually affected him back then). I heard him getting out of breath, so told him to split off down a side road and hide.
Thomas and I got to his house, and after he’d gone in I was readying myself to head back home, knowing the rough ‘square’ of streets I lived on would be bully-patrolled. Then mum suddenly showed up in the car, saying she’d escort me home. I was almost disappointed. I had an incredibly slow ride home, mechanically performing all the signals and looks-around that I’d been taught in Cycling Proficiency, to mum’s annoyance. I even heard her screaming “JAHST GAHÜW”, over the sound of the engine, as I did my “lifesaver’s look” for turning right, from a major road to a minor road.
After getting home, I learned why we’d “lost” the bullies. They’d assumed we were going into the Allotments, and followed my brother, who was in the process of turning back. The road he had taken was a loop with a dead end, but at the end there was an alley, which led back to the road he came from. The bullies chased him down the road, so he rode down the alley. Only one of them was waiting for him at that end, but had to jump out of the way of his bike. He went back home and told mum where I’d gone.
Another new map, showing roughly where it happened. The scale is way off, though.
We were, naturally, banned from doing any more spy missions, and from associating with Thomas. naturally, we were straight round his house and out for more missions on the very next day.
1996 was waning by then, and by the summer of 1997, Thomas had got too old for spying. Now the agency was mainly Me, my brother, the two cousins and Wayne, all 1-3 years younger than me. A few other members joined, but they were people I didn’t know, some of whom were friends with the bullies.
In 1997, with the cousins in tow (and occasionally Thomas or Wayne), we set about building a base all of our own in the Allotments. The cousins had some old arrows (of the shoot-from-a-bow kind) which we stuck in the ground, then leaned a box against them and covered it up with pulled-up long grass. I also had an army surplus camouflage net, which I told them was for emergency use only. I went away to ‘scout’ for 5 minutes, came back, and they’d inevitably put it up, saying “we thought we saw a bully”, and pointing to an old man weeding his Allotment. I actually took some photos of this operation, allowing you to see some actual pictures of Anti Bully in action! (Hey, it was all film in those days, taking photos of anything was a rare activity).
As well as the hideout, we had “bomb cases”, which were the dried-out, woody husks of some tropical fruit. They looked like giant peanuts. The idea was to fill them with dirt and throw them, so they’d explode on impact. After finishing the hideout, we went around the cousins’ house. There I threw a wobbly over some childish argument, and cycled home. I stopped off at the hideout to kick the wall down, smash up the bomb cases and scratch “die” into the dirt on the floor. The others came to our house later, looking shocked and asking why I’d wrecked all our hard work. I said I hadn’t even been to the hideout, and that the bullies must have done it. Considerably one-upping Robert by blaming imaginary bullies for actual physical damage!
Some on-photo, biro annotations have been shooped out. Badly.
Also, that little bridge, in the top photo, was the first dead letter box. We left notes on the old, single-plank bridge underneath it.
As you can see, by the time the photos were developed, I’d kicked the other two, Ben and a different Robert (about whom I can remember absolutely nothing) out of the agency, as traitors.
The 1997 agency was barely stable, lots of younger kids joined, thought it was “about” being in a gang, and “getting” the other kids. They all quit / were fired after disobeying orders. By this time, I’d become the Captain Mainwaring-style leader by default. I even instituted a “points system”, to maintain discipline. People could be kicked out for getting 5 points. Some of them got 15 or more in a single day, but I always let them off, just to keep the numbers up.
I’d also started ‘rating’ the different weapons we had, on a system that worked on range and ‘firepower’. Plastic swords were Level 1. Wayne bought a friend to the agency, who I don’t think even he knew that well, and the kid thought the whole thing was about getting into fights. He noticed the swords we were both carrying were marked “Level 1”, and just randomly turned to me going “less ‘ave a level 1 faight!”. He eventually quit after being asked for a password to enter our garden. He’d only been told them 5 minutes before.
Over new year’s 97-98, we went round Wayne’s house and spotted some actual crime! Well, the one bar (more like a portacabin) in the village had sold beer to some underage teens, and we saw them drinking it through a hole in the fence. My mission report also mentions an “army of druggies”. Because there’s absolutely no other reason a bunch of teens would be out and about, in the vicinity of the one bar, on new years’ night, right? It must have been a drug deal!
Some more spying happened in the summer of 1998, but I can’t remember much of interest. The cousins and other friends kept leaving, re-joining, and leaving again. Wayne found some “drugs” in Pymoor, and chucked them in a pond, because he’d have had to pass a police car while “taking them back for evidence”, and didn’t think of telling the police.
Some of the other people from Pymoor, who had quit started up their own spy agency, unimaginatively called Anti Anti Bully. We finally had enemies who were organised along the lines of our own agency! Shame Pymoor was all of 4 miles or so away, and therefore way too far for us to spy on / battle each other. Wayne did join their ranks as a double agent, though. He “got information” on their organisation, which amounted to their names, and the fact it existed. This was the most successful piece of spying we ever did. Our cousins, meanwhile, also started up a group to fight against us, but that didn’t come to much.
They know all our codes and passwords, so we MAY need to change them!
Right at the end of 1998, even hanging about in the park was too childish for the “bullies”. I went on missions that were nothing more than walks or bike rides around. At least it was exercise.
In 1999, the year I turned fift-fucking-teen(!), the end of Anti Bully came. I was investigating a potential base, possibly used by our cousin’s agency (which was no longer active. They’d probably forgotten it even existed), when some little girl pointed out that the barrel of my Super Soaker was poking out of my backpack. I thought “what an annoying kid”, followed by “I bet she’d think this whole Anti Bully thing was childish, if I told her about it, though”, followed by “wait, what the FUCK am I doing?”. I abandoned the attempt to “look for clues” in a bit of overgrown hedge, crammed between a crumbling wall and a garage, and went home.
I think I probably harboured vague thoughts of continuing Anti Bully in some form, but that was really the start of a “flat spot” in my life where I didn’t do spy missions, was too old to act out things with lego (or teddy bears), and couldn’t think of decent comics to draw. I even started one called “Some Thing!” (later named Time Travel Patrol). Yes, I started to draw it before I’d even thought of a name!
Basically, I spent the rest of spring and summer 1999 waiting for the internet to happen (or watching videoed South Park episodes over and over – especially the Damien one). It looked like there was no chance of us getting a computer (even the worst ones were over £1000), until we came into some money unexpectedly. An internet-capable PC was literally the first thing out of my mouth, when I heard. When we did get a 450mhz Fujitsu monster (and set it up, very slowly and angrily, while my aunt, who has a habit of butting into, and ruining, important occasions, stood nearby and laughed to herself), I briefly considered creating a computerised Anti Bully file, but put it to the back of my mind – that part of my life was over!
Yellow is teachers, green is us
In the end, Anti Bully managed to actually prevent absolutely no bullying at all. In fact, the school version managed to cause some (we told the teachers about a big fight, which even had an “entry fee”, and got basically the whole of Year 7 except us into trouble). But I’m not sure that worries me, over much. Most of the bullying I endured in year 7 was because I made a loud and unnecessary joke about owning a flying car, or ran around the corridors making Millennium Falcon noises (followed by “and other noises made by the big, round spaceshippy thing out of Star Wars”). A (school) year of bullying later, and I’d learned the very important lesson that nobody wants to hear this shit, and that I should shut the fuck up and face the front. An absolutely essential lesson for becoming a useful and productive member of society, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Later bullying was because I was an Anarchist, and believed in abolishing government, currencies and countries. I deserved everything I got, there, too. I’d have been a right loudmouth prick if the bullies hadn’t intervened. Like one of these modern “Social Justice Warriors”, I should imagine.
The bullies actually taught me more about good citizenship than the actual “good citizenship” (not called that, obviously. They were called PSE, though I think it’s now PSHE) classes. All I remember from them is doing a crossword where the answers were all terms for genitalia. And that was 1995, so imagine how bad it is now.
But what, you might be wondering, happens to the bullies themselves, after they’ve forced the loudmouth, bratty “rebel” kids at school to conform? Well there was really only two main ones at secondary school. One killed himself while drink-driving, and the other currently lives on the nonce wing of one of her majesty’s guest-houses. So they both naturally selected themselves out of a society their behavior helped to stabilise and maintain.