Ben’s story, part 2.
He enjoys his work, particularly on the checkout, but says he is looking to do an Open University degree in geology. “That interest started in 1996 when I first saw Twister, the film with Helen Hunt as a tornado chaser. Having watched that and other films like Dante’s Peak – about a volcano erupting – I just fell in love with the whole idea of natural disasters and decided I wanted to get a job to do with that.”
“How long will the course be?”
“About three, four years.”
“And will you get support with the fees?”
“I believe you can, yes.
“Once I’ve passed I’d like to apply for a job at the Met Office in Exeter, work there for a couple of years, then move on to the National Hurricane Centre in Florida and get a government grant to set up a geology lab in either Wyoming or Montana. If I don’t get that I’d like to move to the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Honolulu.”
Ben needs to get the bus in an hour and I ask if I can put a microphone on him and have a walk around town, getting some pictures of the harbour while it’s holiday weather.
He takes me first along Fore Street, the pedestrainised shopping street with a Co-op food store at each end and a small Tesco in between. One of the Co-ops used to be a Somerfield but rather than closing the store there are now two identical stores within a hundred yards of each other.
At the end of Fore Street we pass Bridget and Steve’s Rio Fish Restaurant – there are, unsurprisingly, dozens of fish restaurants and chippies in Brixham – and drop down into the edge of the harbour next to a statue of William, Prince of Orange. Ben knows his local history: “He and his Dutch army landed here in 1688,” he says, “he then became William III.”
We walk around the harbour towards the quarter-mile long breakwater with a small white lighthouse at its tip. I take picture postcard shots of the sailing boats standing on their keels and the pastel-coloured houses on the hillside opposite, as Ben talks about his time at YES.
“If it hadn’t been for YES, I don’t know what I would have done,” he says matter-of-factly. “While I was at school I was bullied constantly and the teachers did nothing. There was no help at school, I felt as if I was the one doing something wrong. On my way home I’d go at first to YES and there was always someone I could talk to. They were the ones who helped me.”
He tells me the bullying was much more than just name-calling. He probably tells me more than he’d be happy for me to recount. I’m familiar with just how serious bullying can be, having wrote last year about a charity that supports the most severe cases.
“Did you ever consider taking your own life?” I ask tentatively as we walk past the 500-berth Brixham Marina.
“Yes, I did. When things were really bad I did, at that time, think about killing myself.”
We’ve reached the breakwater and the pebble beach beyond. Several parents and their young children are throwing stones into the sea. In between telling me about his turbulent youth, Ben is giving me an extensive commentary on the sights of Brixham. “That big building on the other side is our new fish market… it’s all lit up at night … and it’ll have a restaurant inside by the summer,” he says.
We turn back at Breakwater Beach and Ben is keen for me to know that now he supports another local teenager who is being bullied. “He knows he can speak to me whenever he wants,” he says, “and I like to think it is helpful for him to talk to someone who has been through it.”
Knowing just how small Brixham is, I ask, “Do you ever see the people who bullied you?”
“Occasionally. They are grown up now, some of them with children of their own. I think they are embarrassed by it all. They wouldn’t want it to happen to their kids… that’s the Golden Hind, you know, it’s only a replica.”
As I take some shots at the bus stop, another young man bounds up, asks something of Ben and is gone again. “That was Pete,” says Ben. “He’s another young volunteer.”
At the bus station two number 12s come, one after the other. “They are every fifteen minutes,” says Ben, “The front one will go and the back one will move up but not leave until the next one comes.” Although we are early, my interview finished, Ben says he will wait for the bus he normally gets.