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.