I hate it when I don't get replies from people I write to. But, for once, I am glad I never got a reply from the BBC, now that the truth about our Jim has revealed its full horror. They must have been able to see through the transparent ploy to get myself a free West Ham kit - and so I was lucky. It seems that the serial abuser and his friends may have given away more than just a few badges in the years he was welcomed as a trusted friend.
The furore surrounding Jimmy Savile, the BBC and 'others' - and now we are hearing about Cyril Smith too - has got us all thinking. We have been wondering how such a culture could exist where open secrets are tolerated, where terrible things that are rumoured but unconfirmed remain hidden and victims are too terrified to speak up for fear of being called liars. As a nation we are agonising over how such a character could hide in plain sight for so long. How could it have happened?
I know how. That's because something similar happened at my school in the mid-eighties, albeit on a smaller scale. It ended years later in 2005 when a female teacher strived to uncover the 'cover-up' and an ex-pupil, who could no longer bear to live with the memory of an 'indecent assault', finally found the strength to seek retribution. As a result, the abuser, a former teacher, spent four years in prison whilst another in the ring hung himself and a third went missing in Australia.
As part of the investigation Thames Valley Police came to interview me. I was in the same year at the school as the victim and knew the accused. He was my form teacher. He had also made sexual advances towards me that I had fought off - literally - so actually I wasn't surprised. I genuinely didn't know about the indecent assault, but why didn't I say anything about my experiences at the time? Because I felt like no-one would have listened? It was his word against mine. 14-year-old versus respected teacher. Adult versus child. Boy versus the establishment. Would they have listened? I will never know, although I think I could hazard a guess.
Let me explain further. I went to an all-boys grammar school in the south east of England. Since it was in an area where the 12+ exam still existed, it was the 'posh' school in town. According to those at the local comprehensive we were all 'poofs' and wimps and the teachers were no better. That was the way it was. And it was. Some teachers weren't afraid to 'try it on' with the boys. They were brazen and we - the pupils - all knew about it. It was institutionalised acceptance, an open secret. Does that sound familiar? It wasn't until twenty or so years later that it was exposed for what it was: systematic grooming and (attempted or otherwise) abuse by a ring of predatory paedophiles.
I don't know whether or not the headmaster knew what was going on in his school on a daily basis but I know he failed to report the accusations until his retirement. Instead he tried, at least, to get rid of the abuser so he could do no more damage within the school itself. Never mind what happened out of school. For the sake of the school's reputation he said nothing (read corporation, party, company whatever here). The ironic thing is that the school's reputation wasn't up to much anyway, if only he'd been able to look beyond Oxbridge.
So I don't know whether or not he spotted the potential victims of abuse being sent from classrooms around the school to the Bursar's office for their 'mark out of ten' with drawing pins (this is something I heard about after the court case). I don't know if he saw lunchtime classroom privileges being given to some boys (me) and not others.
I doubt very much if he saw the teacher who granted those privileges turning up unannounced during lunch. I know for sure that he never heard me shout "Fucking get off me you fat c*nt!" at the teacher who violently grabbed my inner thigh during one of those lunchtimes. I doubt he saw me punch the teacher (who is now dead) in the face as he sat on top of me trying to touch my genitals during a "working session on the school magazine" at his flat (where he later hung himself).
I doubt even that he saw my friends laughing as this happened. And I am sure he would have objected had he seen what I saw, when the same teacher, helping a second year student in class, slipped his hand into the boy's pocket. After all, this was just a part of life in our school and I hate myself for not speaking up about it. But with a Head with his head in the sand, who could you turn to? If a similar thing happened at the BBC, well, who knows?
What fools we were to be drawn in by the promise of work on the school magazine, an underage pint or even just some attention from people our society told us to respect and look up to! The audacity of that group of teachers, fostering an atmosphere where you could make a joke of - and get away with - inappropriate touching under the table, is staggering. And I am not making this up or being homophobic when I say that the title of this piece is taken from a discourse that happened in class on a regular basis. The teacher (the one who topped himself in his flat) would ask the class "are there any more queries?" to which the class would reply "Only you sir!" in their shrill middle class voices. It is breathtaking isn't it? An fearless double bluff. If only it had stopped there we might have been able to laugh at it now.
Fortunately many of us were able to draw the line and deal with it. We could stand up for ourselves. We may not have had the vocabulary that exists today to call it what it was but we could stop it ourselves. We were intelligent, middle class, from good homes, with good prospects in a good school. We never thought about the lonely, the vulnerable, the dispossessed, the weak and the needy because we were simply trying to survive in a school rife with bullying and abuse. How would they have coped with the advances of a trusted teacher or famous face? How would it have ended for those who were invited back to the dressing room or to the master's flat and couldn't defend themselves?
We now know the truth. It ended in the most miserable way possible.
But the question still remains. Why didn't we say anything? Why didn't we bring down this school? Why didn't those in charge do the right thing? Well, there was no media hysteria or Childline to listen to us or even offer a platform for discussion, just the resignation that this was the way it was. At the time no paediatricians were being beaten up for sounding like they were up to something. We had no vocabulary for paedophile, abuser or the act of grooming. We had no voice.
I asked my mother about that time in my schooling and she said that she didn't worry because she knew I could take care of myself. I had marked the teachers to avoid with stars on her list for parents' evening, saying "You have to watch these ones. Some of them try it on. But I'm ok, 'cos I know what they are up to."
I had fought for myself and eventually they left me alone because of it. If only I could say the same for those who weren't so able.
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