A Knight’s Tale (31: Mugging & More)

One day when still in primary school I managed to get lost on Wimbledon Common with my friend Tom McGuinness.  We were forbidden to do this trip on our own. Because we couldn’t find our way home, I did not return until 9 p.m., by which time my parents had involved the police in a search.  Had we had a dog then my dinner would have been in it.  I was sent straight to bed without a meal, but fortunately Mum relented and brought me a delicious tray of home-cooked food.  Somehow that beats breakfast in bed.

It was among these trees that I was subjected to my first mugging.  I was a rather large ten year old and had beaten a fifteen year old in a school playground fight not long before.  I had admonished this lad for bullying a friend of mine.  He had therefore challenged me to a fight at lunchtime.  With considerable trepidation I had, at the appointed time, been led into the centre of a ring of what seemed to be the whole school.  I can still hear the cries of “Fight, fight”, and feel the pushes of the excited audience whenever I stepped back a bit.  Like all bullies, he was a coward, and collapsed as soon as I fought back.  I was, however, no match for the three teenagers in the Wimbledon Common wood who sat on me and searched my pockets.  This time I had ventured out on my own. Fortunately I had no money.

I never had another playground contest, although I was prevailed upon to join the boxing club at Wimbledon College.  Not actually being interested I used the fact that my parents couldn’t afford the subscription as an excuse to decline.  Unfortunately I was then told I would not have to pay.  I knocked someone out in training and that was the end of that.  Some time afterwards, a boy called Rickards, much smaller, but very handy with his fists, who kept a list of those he could beat up, decided it was my turn for the treatment.  I offered no resistance, and was duly beaten up.  I still remember the acute shame, but no way was I ever going to hit another boy.  Mohammad Ali was much more successful when standing with his arms hanging down; perhaps he had more nimble footwork.

Some thirty odd years after the attack on the common I was walking from my counselling room in Harrow Road, W9, along Portnall Road, when I noticed a left trainer with a leg in it very close to my own left leg.  The next thing I knew was that someone was sitting on my back-pack which was on my shoulders.  I also carried a bag of books.  Although I remained standing I began to feel myself losing consciousness.  I was aware that an arm was around my throat and I imagine pressure was being applied to the relevant point in my neck.  It was not unpleasurable, rather like the moment of succumbing to gas and air at the dentist’s.  Nevertheless I realised I’d better shift the arm, which I managed to do, just as I felt another pair of hands  ferreting in the back pocket of my trousers.  By then I was down on one knee, still clutching my bag of books.  Remaining rather dazed, I rose, and turned to face my assailants, who decided to run off into the warren that was the Mozart Estate.  In those days I would have stood a fair chance of catching them had I not been too dazed to run.  Instead I walked after them, which was not much use.  I passed a middle-aged man leaning against a skip.  When I asked if he had seen two hooded young men he looked at me with hazy eyes, and said: ‘Want some hash, man?’.  ‘What am I doing here?’, I thought.  It was not until afterwards that I realised that the winder of my Longines wristwatch had gouged a hole in the back of my hand.  Perhaps that was what they were after.  Fortunately it has a very strong bracelet.  All they managed to take was a train ticket for my return journey to Newark.  Unless one of them was keen on a one-way journey to the Midlands, I imagine they were rather disappointed.  For about a month thereafter I retraced that route hoping to come across my attackers again.  Eventually I realised how stupid that was and put it behind me.  I still have the watch.


  1. That was quite an adventure! Glad you were alright at the end. Oh, I can just imagine their faces when they see that they a have single ticket to share among two! Sharing the haul, eh? Haha 😀

  2. When I was in my early forties, I found out where a boy who used to bully me all the time lived. I thought it would be nice to take my baseball bat and go and see him but decided eventually, he wasn’t worth losing my job for. Nevertheless, though, I still hate him with a will. I have tried not to, but he spoiled my first two years at grammar school. I spent them hiding from him. And I couldn’t have fought back. He was a fifth former with a group of cronies, bullying a first year.

    1. I could have managed them in those days. My idea was to drag one to the nearby police station, leaving one behind. Once I’d cooled down, I gave up the idea. Thanks very much, VJ

  3. Oh my! Somehow I just cannot imagine you being stupid enough to go after the muggers! I’m glad you came to your senses! Your tales of youthful fights reminded me of my one and only. I was in first grade and some girl decided she didn’t like me, I guess, so she punched me in the back when I was standing at the restroom sink washing my hands. I turned around and scratched her in the face. So much for boxing!! She screamed bloody murder and ran out at which time a teacher apprehended us both and took us to the principal’s office. He called her in (she was bleeding) while I sat outside the office shivering in fright. She left without even looking in my direction. She had a bandage on her scratch. I started to cry. The principal put me on his lap and comforted me. With hiccups and mortification, I explained what happened. He comforted me and assured me it would never happen again… and sent me back to class. He was right… it never happened again… and I determined to be as compassionate to others as he was to me from that time forward!

  4. This reminiscence has come as a great surprise to me. I suppose because mugging is a relatively regular occurrence here (three close family members have had awful experiences in this regard) that we fondly imagine that such things do not happen in ‘first world’ countries. Then again, is there such a thing any more? This is not a happy memory, but a real enough one to provide an interesting perspective of your past. May your future continue on its peaceful road.

    1. Thank you very much, Anne. There was a time over here that I happily intervened when someone was being attacked (several times over my younger years). Now I would hesitate, not least because they might well be armed. However, I don’t think we can be as fraught as your country,

  5. Despite the facts that must have been childish boldness or scary moment at the time, I’d say it was a near-fun memories of your boyhood. Being a girl, I don’t have such rough memories; I was usually quiet, rather observing
    and thinking-a lot, yet exploring girl that grew up to be one. ?

  6. Hi Derrick, two unpleasant experiences. My mom was also mugged in the UK in a park and I know a blogger who was very badly attacked in a London park. I have not been mugged [touch wood] but I have had a home invasion which involved a gun to my head and being tied up. My dad realised something was wrong and called security. When I heard the ensuing shouting match, I untied myself and pressed the panic button for more help.

  7. Wow – Derrick. For someone with no taste for physical altercations, you certainly had more than your share of them. Being attacked by two people until you were nearly unconscious sounds terrifying.

  8. Such adventures you’ve had, Derrick! Those muggings sound scary–and to be mugged twice.
    I’m glad you got safely home when lost in the woods, too. I imagine that could have been much worse, too.

  9. Yikes! 😮 OH, my gosh! 😮 But, YAY, you! And I’m SO glad you lived to tell the tales with your tail intact!
    (((HUGS))) 🙂
    PS…as a little girl growing up I often told off bullies who were picking on other kids. The bullies were always bigger and older than me. Mostly males. Often they listened to me and stopped. I think they were in shock that this little pipsqueak girl was the only person standing up to them. Fortunately none of them retaliated against me. But some of them knew I had 3 brothers they’d have to face if they did.

  10. You were brave and resilient! Still are! When my son was about 13 he got suspended for fighting at school after having been bullied for some time. We took him to a counselor who wisely asked, “What might have happened if he had not fought back?”

  11. Those are certainly reminiscences with a change of style and pace. Looking back, it must seem almost unbelievable that they ever happened to you. Then again, I remember those train trips you used to take to lunch with your London friend, and some of the inconsiderate behaviour from fellow passengers could easily have turned nasty.

    1. Your memory of earlier posts is impressive, Gwen. I could add many adult anecdotes of such encounters – often of my intervening when someone else was in trouble – I could never not.

      1. I’ve always had a retentive memory, but now I think I’m developing the writer’s trait of swooping on interesting tidbits. And your stories evoke the scene.
        I warn everyone – never tell me your secrets!
        Good on you for standing up. I know the feeling.

  12. I remember having read about the mugging during your younger days in one of your earlier posts, but you have put the incidents here in the perspective of your general aversion to brawls. Your experience confirms that the brain plays an equally important role as the brawn in such encounters. You did well to abandon the search for the assailants in Wimbledon woods —possible introduction of weapons by the rivals would have complicated the quest for belated revenge.

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