Chapter 34: Teach Me, Master

If you’re expecting an intense series of life changing experiences bookended by Dudley struggling around an assault course at the start, and flying around the same course to the theme from Rocky at the end, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

I didn’t have time to rebuild Dudley from the ground up, and even if I did, changing him from upper class twit to stone cold killer was well beyond me.

My only goal was to get him to focus on one thing at a time so that when I told him to do something I had confidence he would actually do it. With a normal person, you’d just say, “Look, I want you to do this thing, and it’s important, really important, so don’t stop until it’s finished. No matter what happens, this is your number one priority. We’re all counting on you, okay?” And the person would understand.

That kind of approach wouldn’t work with Dudley. He would certainly agree to the task, but once he got distracted (by Flossie, by a passing bird, by the sound of his stomach rumbling…) he’d forget what he was supposed to be doing. I needed a way to demonstrate what ‘important’ actually meant.

“I want you to pile these on top of each other.” I placed a handful of small stones in front of him. They were my collection of shots for my sling. I had selected the flattest ones, ten in all.

Dudley kneeled down next to me. “You want me to build a tower?”

“Exactly. And while you try to do that, I’m going to distract you. Whatever I say or do, I want you to ignore me and stay focused on building the tower. Nothing else matters. Understand?”

He nodded and lined up the stones on the ground.

I stood up and positioned myself on one side of him. “Ready? Go.”

Dudley put the first stone on top of another, carefully balancing it for maximum stability.

I leaned forward so my mouth was close to his ear and started screaming at him. “You fucking piece of shit, I hope you die!”

Dudley knocked over the the two-stone tower and recoiled from me, a look of shock on his face.

“What? I said I was going to try and distract you. You’re supposed to ignore me, remember?” I could see the concept of what I was trying to do take root in his brain, like a mushroom growing in the crack of a dead tree. This was the only way to make him actually get it. Now the door was open, I just had to kick him through. “Let’s try again.”

He nodded, got back into position and waited for me.

“Okay, go.” He put the second stone on the first, the third stone on the second. “You’re useless! You’ve always been useless. No one likes you because there’s nothing good about you.”

I was yelling in his ear at full volume. Full on abuse with no pauses. And I had plenty to say.

“The world would be infinitely improved if you didn’t exist. Your mother would abort you now if she had the chance, you fucking failure!”

Dudley’s hands were shaking. He had stacked five stones on top of each other before they tumbled down.

“Again! Keep going, you loser. Don’t wait for me to tell you—start again. If you haven’t accomplished the goal, you keep trying. Holy shit, you dumb fuck, that was only four that time. Again. Again. Hurry up. Stop listening to me and focus. Do you want to be this hopeless for the rest of your life? Don’t look at me, these questions are rhetorical, you arse-wipe, look at what you’re doing. Quicker!”

I kept it up for ten minutes before my voice started getting hoarse. Dudley managed to get to seven stones but he was shaking all over and breathing hard from the pummelling. I straightened up, my back aching, and stretched.

“Maurice, take over.”

The others were sat watching, a mixture of embarrassment and concern on their faces. Maurice hesitantly came over and took my place.

“Remember,” I said to Dudley. “it doesn’t matter what he says, ignore it and complete the task.”

I nodded at Maurice. He exchanged an apologetic look with Dudley, and then launched into it with a surprising amount of gusto.

“You miserable maggot! What do you think this is, a holiday. Get on with it. Do it. Do it. Do it. I hate you. Your mother hates you. God hates you. Jesus died for your sins, you piece of garbage. Not my sins, not anyone else’s sins, just yours. You will go to Hell, you and Hitler, no one else. Him for being an evil bastard, and you for just being you.”

I was impressed. The religious angle was a nice touch. Dudley at least seemed to have stopped taking everything personally and was able to concentrate on building his tower, although he still hadn’t got past seven stones.

“Can I have a word with you?” said Claire.

“What?”

“No, in private.”

Reluctantly, I followed her. She stopped behind some trees and crossed her arms, her face full of frowns. “Look, I know you’re doing this for a reason,” she said in a forced whisper, “but you don’t have to be so cruel.”

“Yes, I do,” I whispered back. “I’m not making him do this. If he wants to stop, he can. It’s up to him, not you.”

“I know that, but he’s trying his best, we all are.”

“No, you’re not. You know how you know when you’re trying your best? You feel terrible. Your body hurts all over, you’re exhausted, you can’t think straight, you want to give up but you keep going, hating every minute. It’s horrible. That’s why nobody does it. It’s much easier to not try your best and just say you did. The way you’re saying it now.”

Claire clenched her jaw and made a weird little grunt. “I don’t know how to talk to you. Everything you say makes me want to punch you in the face.”

I shrugged. “I don’t know what your problem is. I’ve told you from the start, you can all pick up and leave any time. Walk off hand in hand and go make friendship bracelets for each other as you slowly starve to death. My only advice would be, if you do resort to cannibalism, eat Dudley first.”

I returned to Dudley hunched over his tower of stones and Maurice running out of steam.

“Welsh people don’t like you. French people don’t like you. German people do like you, which is even worse.”

“Flossie, your turn.”

Flossie, who had been massaging the bite she’d received—thanks to her rough hessian trousers, it hadn’t even pierced the skin, just left a red mark—looked up at me in horror.

“Ah can’t.”

“We have to show him it’s not personal. If only some of us do it, it’ll look like me and Maurice really hate him.” Complete bollocks, of course. I just wanted to see what she’d come up with.

Flossie slowly got to her feet and walked over to swap places with Maurice. “What do I do?”

“Just distract him. Dudley, you’re nearly there. This time.” I gave him a thumbs up, which only confused him. “Okay, go.”

Dudley started stacking. Flossie stood there frozen for a moment, then spun around so her back was to him and started singing.

“Look at mah bum. Look at mah bum. Look at mah big, big bum.” She was jumping up and down and slapping her own backside as she sang. “Look at mah bum. Look at mah bum. Look at mah big, big bum.”

Dudley’s whole body shook. He was bent over the rocks, a twisted knot of focus, but three, four stones and the tower would topple.

“Look at mah bum. Look at mah bum. Look at mah big, big bum.”

“Don’t you fucking look, Dudley. Keep going. Nothing else matters.”

Sweat was pouring off his face. Tom Cruise deciding whether to cut the green or yellow wire couldn’t even come close to this scene for pure intensity.

Flossie was getting into her little song and dance, wiggling and jiggling as she sang. “Look at mah bum. Look at mah bum. Look at mah big, big bum.”

Dudley got up to nine stones before they fell, quite an achievement. He leaned back with his eyes tightly closed, and roared at the sky. “Arghhh! It’s not fair! I want to see her big, sexy bum!”

Flossie stopped and turned around, her face flushed beetroot-red.

Dudley opened his eyes and looked at her. She made a ‘yeep’ sound and ran away.

“What?” Dudley looked at the rest of us. “Where is she going?”

Claire headed off after Flossie. “It’s alright, I’ll get her. I don’t think anyone’s called her bum sexy before.”

“That was good Dudley. You did well.”

He looked disappointed. “I didn’t do all ten.”

“I’m surprised you got to nine,” I said. “I tried it before I gave them to you, couldn’t get past six.”

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