Andy Bodle fights and flees the pecking order.
“Brigands demand your money or your life. Women require both.” —Samuel Butler
There were over 200 students in the fifth form at Ridgeway, but such was the lure of a £6,000-a-year desk job at Nationwide that only 25 survived into the sixth. Louise stayed on, naturally, but Beth Kennedy was off like a greyhound from a trap. Amanda Bell, too, forsook learning for earning. The exodus also took Kerry, Tara Casey, Catherine Thorpe, Monica Cardinale and Nicky Ormondroyd.
Compensation came in the form of three new arrivals: Annabel, a shy, moon-faced girl from Old Town; Dean, a gobby northern lad; and Naomi, who one unkind soul once described as a Barbie left on a radiator.
Annabel and Naomi were best mates from day one. Dean decided immediately that Naomi was the girl for him, and within a couple of weeks, she had capitulated, despite the fact that he was a dead ringer for Elmer Fudd and that her name, in his thick Manchester accent, sounded like the cry of a wounded sheep.
I had little to do with them to begin with. Annabel was even squarer than me, Dean was full of himself, and Naomi, with her slight frame, floaty Laura Ashley dresses and shrill, girly giggle, seemed shallow and insubstantial. For the first year, the extent of our contact was a polite greeting when we passed in the corridor: “Hello, Andrew,” Naomi would say with a smirk, even though I’d been an Andy for 10 years.
In any case, I was too busy pursuing my Louise to notice anyone else.
I’d tried to stop wanting her after the garage incident, I really had. But as sixth formers in a skeleton sixth form, we shared more classes, and with fewer classmates, than before. My family had also by this time moved to Old Town, so Louise and I often got the same bus. And most of all, Louise was lovelier than ever: flirting, touching, confiding. I fell deeper in love with her every day.
She also had a serious boyfriend. Alex was 22, six foot two, devilishly good-looking, confident, with a job and a car. He was buying her presents I couldn’t afford, taking her places I’d never heard of, and showing her Lord only knows what wonders in the bedroom. I was a boy trying to compete with a man.
So when a random night in the Wheatsheaf led to an invitation to a house party in Chiseldon, I leapt at the chance. This would be the perfect opportunity to fall in with an older crowd and pick up some invaluable cool points.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Some of the older lads, in their late teens and early 20s, evidently took exception to the upstart in their midst, and locked me in the kitchen cupboard. They let me out only after I managed to punch a hole in the door.
As I was rinsing my bleeding knuckles in the sink, a brown-haired girl called Jill put her hand on my shoulder. She fetched me some plasters, muttered some kind words, and then, when we’d fixed ourselves some drinks, we found an empty room and talked.
After about an hour, the boys who had locked me in the cupboard burst in and grabbed me. They carried me into the lounge, where everyone was gathered. Then, while two of them held me down, the other two started ripping off my clothes. “We’re getting you ready for Jill,” they laughed. “Come on, Jill! Your boyfriend’s waiting!”
With a superhuman effort, I fought off my attackers and ran outside, minus shoes, jacket and shirt, and ran and ran through the muddy fields until I reached a phone box, where I called Mum and Dad and got them to pick me up.
The next day was a bleak and breezy Saturday. I told my parents I was taking the bus into town for my regular shift at the shoe shop, but instead of turning left down the high street towards Trueform, I turned right, and headed for the tallest building in Swindon.
No one challenged me as I entered the Wiltshire Hotel; no one saw me climb the stairs all the way up to the eighth floor. After reaching the top step, I paused to catch my breath, then looked around. There. A large window, with a latch. That should do it. I checked that I was still alone, opened it, and climbed out on to the ledge.
I wanted a couple of minutes’ contemplation before I took the plunge, so I lit a cigarette and pressed play on my Walkman. Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required. Ace.
I finished the cigarette in four drags. “Right,” I thought. “I’ll jump at the end of this song.”
But as that track faded out, I remembered that I quite liked the next one, too. I’d go after that one instead. Then that song ended, and I realised the next was my favourite.
Thus passed the entire album; and so, by the time the Walkman clicked off, had my urge to self-destruct. I sighed, climbed back in, then trudged to the shoe shop, and was docked an hour’s pay for being ten minutes late.
In every social species, from naked mole rats to wolves to chimpanzees, there is a hierarchy. Biologists have a term for the individual at the top of that hierarchy: the alpha. The alpha of the group is almost always male. And one of the chief benefits of alpha status is that you get your pick of the females. You are, after all, better able to protect them, better able to provide for them, and better able to eliminate or neutralise rivals.
Alphas achieve their coveted position in many ways: by violence, intimidation, cunning, political alliances, or a combination of all four. It is alpha males that monopolise the mating pool; alpha males that account for your skewed ancestor ratio; alpha males that contribute the lion’s share of genetic material to the next generation; and alpha males that, in humans, tend to accumulate wealth.
Can you see the paradox here? If alpha males do most of the reproducing, everyone alive today is descended from a long line of alpha males. We are therefore likely—males especially—to have inherited many “alpha” characteristics: ambition, aggression, high sex drive. But by definition, in each generation, only a select few can actually be top dog. In each generation, those who don’t clear the ever rising bar face a life of frustration and genetic oblivion.
This was previously published in Womanology.
Image credit: wsilver/Flickr