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Grub’s been invited to go to a karate taster session. I’m thinking, it’s a bit – well, shouty, isn’t it, karate? All that ‘Eyes On You Sir!’ stuff? And, no matter how you dress it up, it’s basically about fighting, right? And don’t you need to buy a whole load of kit, like dressing gowns and bits of rope?

Maybe, I say.

Later that day: on the way home, Moth dawdles. I turn around to call ‘Hurry up!’ or ‘Come on!’ or ‘Keep up!’ [Like we’re in some kind of hurry!] And then I spot Ben. Ben is a 15-year-old boy from the nearby secondary school. Part of his walk home is the same as our walk home. We’ve got to know Ben a bit, over the past couple of years, chatting and that. Gentle lad.

‘Hiya Ben!’ we say. But Ben’s not smiling. As he approaches, I see that his face is blotchy and bruised. His hands are shaking. He’s trying not to cry, and he’s got a big, fat, purple, swollen split lip. A group of lads has just jumped him. They beat him up. One of them punched him. Another one was shouting ‘Go on! Get him!’ They were all wearing the same uniform as Ben.

We walk Ben home. Grub and Moth follow behind, silent. [They don’t need chivvying now.]

By the time we get Ben home, I know that: 1) He is used to this, it happens all the time, even at primary; 2) it’s not as bad as last year’s attack; 3) his sister had her rib broken by bullies; 4) his brother’s getting a pot put on his broken wrist today and 5) someone let their dog shit in Ben’s family’s tiny front yard because there it is, a big Mr Whippy dollop, right in the weeds near the gate, and Ben says they don’t have a dog, and he steps squish squelch right in it as he rushes indoors to get the school’s number for me. I don’t say anything about the police, not yet. Ben needs an ice-pack. But most of all, he really, really needs his mum and dad. Or maybe that’s just me, projecting.

Later, I remember about the karate. Fighting? Behave yourself! It’s not rough, it’s an art! A philosophy! It’s about self-discipline, mental focus! Skills every young man needs… [Right?]

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